Second chance cookbooks

There are some cookbooks that become your favorites right away. They seem to spring into your hands shouting " Use me!", and within a couple of months they get so beat up it looks like they've been in the family for generations.

But then there are the other cookbooks - the ones you put aside for no very good reason, the ones that have a vaguely offputting typeface or happen to call for ingredients you never seem to have on hand. The ones with no pictures or strangely-titled recipes. In times past, those books would have lived out their spinsterhood upstairs in my library, far away from the bustle and merriment of the kitchen. But thanks to Eat Your Books, a number of mine have made it back onto the active duty roster after being summoned out of the stacks after a simple recipe search.

One of my first cookbook returnees was Terry Walters' Clean Food. I'd always liked the look of it but felt sure I wouldn't be needing a vegan cookbook all that often, so upstairs it went. But after 4 or 5 recipe-fetching treks, I figured it might as well just live downstairs, and it's been here ever since.

I re-discovered Claudia Roden's Arabesque while preparing a preserved lemon article for NPR. I must have shelved it earlier because I thought I needed the right equipment - a tagine, say - or didn't quite feel like waiting around to make preserved lemons. But once I took it down, I saw it for what it was - a standout cookbook that outshone most of the dozens of Middle Eastern cookbooks that had been published after it.

The next to come downstairs, I'm sure, is going to be Ian Knauer's The Farm. In the beginning, I felt pretty confident it was "just another" local-foods, seasonal-eating manifesto, albeit a very nicely shot one. Yet I find myself repeatedly turning to it - especially in the gardening season - for good ideas, and I never regret having done so. And though I passed over José Pizarro's Spanish Flavors when it came out last year, I tried two recipes from it this week and both were smashing.

 

What cookbooks have made you take a second look over time?

 

12 Comments

  • darcie_b  on  2/4/2014 at 4:18 PM

    For me it's the Ultimate Southern Living Cookbook. It is one of the older cookbooks in my collection (older in the sense that I purchased it first; I have much "older" books), and I put it on the "I can't reach it" shelf as new purchases entered the fold. Once it was up there it didn't come down much, but many recent searches have prompted me to dust it off.

  • DKennedy  on  2/4/2014 at 5:31 PM

    Isabel's Cantina is one book I overlooked and now am in love with.

  • boardingace  on  2/4/2014 at 8:02 PM

    I love this reflective article! I'm cooking my way through my cookbooks, so none of them are out of the limelight, but I'm always pleasantly surprised when we love a recipe that I would have never tried if it weren't for the odd ingredient I was trying to use up (thanks eatyourbooks!). It's such a pleasant surprise. And it makes up for the recipes that you think you're going to love, but don't :) The recipe that comes to mind most recently were Coconut-Lime Dream Bites from Cook's Country magazine (December/January 2012). We had vetoed most of the lime desserts I'd made thus far, and I was just expecting this to be a one-time recipe I'd try, but they were phenomenal and both my husband and I couldn't get enough of them. I will definitely be making them again! Anyway, it was a very pleasant surprise, just like the scenario you described with your cookbooks.

  • Ycool  on  2/5/2014 at 6:39 AM

    I "stole" my mother's Pierre Franey collection; the "60 Minute Gourmet" series and a few others of his. She wasn't using them and a good cookbook shouldn't be completely wasted, right? Well, there is not a dud in the bunch. I cook from them all the time. Among many things, I made my own pate (Cuisine Rapide -- Country Pate with Pistachios) which was excellent. To my guests appear to whip up all kinds of amazing meals out of these books. Franey suggests whole meals around a central recipe in most cases. They are easy solid winners.

  • tsusan  on  2/5/2014 at 9:39 AM

    Love hearing about these re-discoveries! Ycool - I had a similar pate experience with, I think, the Essential Jacques Pepin. Never thought I was a pate maker! That's another book with no duds.

  • hillsboroks  on  2/5/2014 at 11:12 AM

    Like Boardingace I don't really have any cookbooks I never cook from but like many of us I find I put the sticky note on a favorite recipe or two from a book and don't explore it again as I should. But with EYB directing me into my cookbooks I have been making use of these underused books like never before. I have a number of the Caprial Pence cookbooks with my sticky notes on favorite recipes but with EYB I keep finding so many other recipes I overlooked that now I have started pulling these cookbooks out and just browsing through them for fun and inspiration. We used to watch her TV cooking show on public television and loved her style of recipes.

  • ellabee  on  2/5/2014 at 11:20 AM

    About 20 years ago, I picked up Edward Espe Brown's Tassajara Recipe Book. It seemed like a big step forward from the extreme simplicity of Tassajara Cooking, with its attractive and colorful cover, but I just somehow never wanted to cook from it. Then a year or two ago I did an EYB search for some ingredient and it had one of the more appealing recipes. More importantly, the s.o. loved the resulting dish. So I moved it to the kitchen shelf and began consulting it more regularly, and now wonder what kept me away the first time. Thanks, EYB, for the thousandth time!

  • lesorelle  on  2/5/2014 at 11:41 AM

    My thoughts are less about a particular cookbook, but how finding a recipe through Eat Your Books always leads me to rediscover something in my library!

  • Lindsay  on  2/5/2014 at 12:58 PM

    When Judy Rodgers passed away I brought out her Zuni Cafe cookbook and was surprised how much more there was than just her roast chicken.

  • tpresent  on  2/5/2014 at 5:11 PM

    Article hit the mark! I was in a rut going to the same books, recipes, and notes over and over. Rediscovered many gems through recipes unearthed by Eat Your Books BUT also rediscovered some books, not yet indexed, that I revisited as I checked to see if they were yet indexed. Here's two that I recently rediscovered (and have sent index requests for): Down to Earth: Great Recipes for Root Vegetables by Georgeanne Brennan 500 Appetizers by Susannah Blake (bought in a warehouse store but really impressed with scope and originality of recipes)

  • Queezle_Sister  on  2/5/2014 at 5:18 PM

    Ycool - I also took my mother's unused copy of 60-minute gourmet. My kitchen is under renovation, and when I can cook again, that book will be my new focus.

  • lsgourmet  on  2/7/2014 at 6:07 AM

    I've recently rediscovered The James Beard Cookbook. I really learned how to cook from that book and then left him behind as I found other muses, Child, Roden, Casas, Wolfert, and Lidia. It's good to be back home this horrible winter making recipes like pot pies, stuffed breast of veal and so many amazing vegetable sides! Have to add to the 60 minute Gourmet side discussion - those two books have never left my kitchen shelves. They are my go to, come home from work and still get dinner on the table without resorting to take out, life savers! Anyone who hasn't tried them really should.

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