Notes from the Farmers’ Market Chef

by Barbara Cornell

Many of us in “Libraryland” like to think there must be a book out there that will fully answer a customer’s questions about any given topic. Take cooking! There must be something that thoroughly covers the subject, something with a title like “How to Cook Everything.” Wait! There is one! Mark Bittman, one of the country’s best-known food writers and a frequent guest on the Today Show, has written a whole series, beginning with How to Cook Everything (HtCE).

The original HtCE was published in 1998 and was revised (read “improved”) for its 10th anniversary in 2008. There’s also HtCE – Vegetarian, HtCE – Holiday Cooking, and the brand new (March 2012) How to Cook Everything –the Basics. I love the way he shows how your recipe should look at critical stages. As a litmus test I checked out the pie crust directions—good advice, great photos. He even shows us how to patch a crack in the crust before it gets its filling. Bittman also wrote Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating and followed with the companion The Food Matters Cookbook, advocating a “Lessmeatarian” diet.

Bittman is not the only cookbook author with high ambitions. Jane Hornby’s What to Cook and How to Cook It, 2010, is also an excellent step-by-step guide for any cook, not just a beginner. She makes her pie crust in a food processor—to each her own. But I’ll go to her for my chocolate cake recipe. The photography here is mostly shot from straight above, except for the presentation shots—very effective!

These books are great for learning techniques, but the authors try to cover so many subjects that there is little variety in specific dishes. There might be only two different pies shown, or one cake. For variety we need a series like My Cooking Class. Each title in this series (ten are listed in; eight are owned by Howard County Library System) is by a different expert. The editors chose not to number the pages but the recipes—I can see right away that there are 70 cake recipes in Cake Basics. There are 87 in Sauce Basics, including 5 pestos and 10 tomato sauces. Seafood Basics is great for someone intimidated by a whole fish on a cutting board. All the photos in this series are from above, a boon for the visual learner. In addition to Middle Eastern Basics and Indian Basics, HCLS has Vegetable Basics and Steaming Basics for the health-conscious cook.

Another encyclopedic cookbook is Joy of Cooking, first written by Irma Rombauer and her daughter Marion during the Depression in 1931, and in 2006 revised for its 75th anniversary by Erma’s grandson, Ethan Becker. You won’t find bird’s-eye view photos—or any photos, but clear and very sufficient line drawings. There is engaging and homey teaching text at the beginning of each section and a variety of recipes that defies imagination. If I were to gift a bride with a cookbook, I couldn’t do better than Joy of Cooking.

If you are going to get serious about French cooking you will need Ginette Mathiot’s I know How to Cook 2009, or Je Sais Cuisiner in the original 1932 edition. The photography is uneven, scattered throughout, but somehow giving the French name of a dish after the English gives it a …je ne sais quoi!

Now none of the above is particularly health-conscious except perhaps for Vegetable Basics and Steaming Basics, but we all know it’s all about portion control and judicious substitution of healthy ingredients, don’t we? Enjoy your holidays and consult the library for those tricky recipes!

Barbara Cornell joined the Howard County Library System in 1993 as Assistant Branch Manager at the new Elkridge Branch.

Since 2000 she has enjoyed a shorter commute to the Glenwood Branch.