The "good enough" cookbook (or, the "A with B and C" cookbook)

The "good enough" cookbook is a concept that's come to me over my years of reviewing cookbooks.  It sounds a little churlish (think of Obama's "likeable enough" comment and the uprorar that caused..), but it's not.  In fact, a few of my favorite cookbooks started out as "good enough" cookbooks.  It's an idea that's helped me make sense of why certain cookbooks have a basic appeal, at least for me.

"Good enough" cookbooks are everywhere once you start looking.  They might be ethnic, or single-subject, or personality-driven, or none of the above.  They're about average length (100 recipes, plus or minus). They've got nice photographs for at least some of the recipes, and good design overall.  They're priced at $18-25 for a paperback and $30-35 for a hardcover. 

The recipes are usually one page long, give or take, and in the "Something with something and something" format - or shall we say, "A with B and C," where A is a familiar component, like spaghetti or roast chicken or lamb chops or baked eggplant. B and C are the elements which render it distinctive.  Sometimes one of them is a little bit exotic, but usually not both. "With hazelnuts and currants" or "with arugula and cranberry" or "with balsamic vinegar and marjoram" or "with bacon and kumquats".

My theory is that it's often the B and C that make you buy the cookbook, or not.  Are they ingredients you personally like? But haven't before thought of trying together?  Is the A something you make pretty often anyway, like pasta or muffins or burgers or salad?  Well, then, you may have a book that's pretty hard to resist.

For me, "good enough" cookbooks play out over time.  Some of them end up visiting the kitchen more and more often - especially if they're EYB-indexed! -  till they become favorites.  And some end up being not good enough (or not exciting enough, or not original enough) after all. 

But now that I think about it, what's "good enough" for me might not be the same as what makes a cookbook "good enough" for you (incidentally, I also have a known weakness for Baskerville-family typefaces, especially in recipe headers).  What criteria reliably make you look again at a new cookbook and wonder if you have a home for it on your shelves?  What basic features appeal to you again and again?

4 Comments

  • Jane  on  5/28/2013 at 11:51 AM

    That comment about trigger ingredients is very interesting - I have the same experience with restaurant menus. If I see olives, artichokes, pomegranates, or spinach on a dish description then I'm more likely to choose that one. And it is the same with cookbooks - if looking through it, or scanning the recipe results on EYB, I see trigger ingredients then I'm more likely to use that recipe and book. Which is why the Ottolenghi recipes come up so often in my cooking as he uses a lot of ingredients I like.

  • tsusan  on  5/28/2013 at 1:33 PM

    Trigger ingredients are key...some of mine are coconut, shrimp, leeks, rhubarb, sesame, pistachios - and definitely pomegranates too!

  • Christine  on  5/28/2013 at 6:45 PM

    I have to agree as well about trigger ingredients -- a few of mine are eggplant, pesto, goat cheese, pumpkin, raspberries, & cranberries -- among others!

  • TheSpicedLife  on  5/30/2013 at 9:11 PM

    My biggest trigger tends to be the cultures I am interested in, i.e., I collect international cookbooks. :) Other triggers include bundt or pound cakes, cookies, mint...

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