Foodlovers Foodtalk Forum

What makes a good cookbook?

Posted by helen 
What makes a good cookbook?
October 17, 2007 05:10AM
I am really curious about what people look for and like in cookbooks.
In reading the interest in the latest Nigella and Jamie Oliver books I took both to the bedside table and have spent the week paying more attention to them than I normally would.
Nigella is beautiful and the food styling in her books is gorgeous. She also knows how to put words together so they flow.
Do you use her recipes regularly and what is it that you really like about them?
Also for those who have purchased Jamie at Home what do you think?

Re: What makes a good cookbook?
October 17, 2007 05:28AM
I love the way people write - which is why I buy Nigella's books and also nigel Slaters - apart from domestic goddess, I think that many of Nigella's recipes hardly qualify as "recipes", but her writing style is fabulous! I dont use her books a lot (once again apart from Domestic Goddess) but I do read them a lot.

I love the latest Jamie book for the lovely fresh recipes. Great photos also appeal to me. but I guess I love books that are well written that I can have by the bed as well as in the kitchen. I also dont like cook books that rely on a lot of store bought products - which is why I favour magazines like Dish over Taste.

One of my favourite NZ authors is Annabel Langbein - great photography and simple but sophisticated ideas. I also love Julie Le Clerc, Ray McVinnie and Julie Biuso and buy Donna Hay simply for the beautiful food styling.

i am quite obsessed by cook books and woudl even like to write one myself one day - hence my new blog! It is a bit like living a small part of the dream!

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 10/17/2007 05:47AM by Tammy.
Re: What makes a good cookbook?
October 17, 2007 05:41AM
I agree - great words and simple, clever ideas. I like cookbooks that are a good read as well as wanting me to cook. I have just bought Ruth Watsons "something for the weekend with eight around the table" which fits the bill exactly. Ray McVinnie is one of my favourites especially his column in Cuisine. Also Stephanie Alexanders Cooks Companion, although that is more of a text book but the food combinations are spot on.
Re: What makes a good cookbook?
October 17, 2007 08:29AM
I also like good photos, not necessarily of all the recipes though. Simple ideas and extra tips along side the recipes are great.

This may just be me being uptight but it drives me crazy when a recipe starts half way down 1 page and then continues on to the next...I have a couple of Nigella's books and she does this and it puts me off using them even though I like her food. I do like the way she writes.

I also look for recipes that are laid out clearly and don't have enormous lists of ingredients. I like Ray McVinnie for this reason.

For ease of use and practical recipes that look glam my favs are Bill Granger (pretty much all of his books), Annabelle Langbein, and Jamie Oliver. I used to have loads of cookbooks but have whittled the collection down to the above plus the Donna Hay mags and some that my mum wrote in the 70's and 80's. I decided that if I only used a book for 1 or 2 recipes, then it was no good (I had to be harsh as I had so many books). I read mine cover to cover and each week plan our meals from them.

Gosh, I do sound fussy but I guess when you pay so much for these books, they have got to get it right!
Re: What makes a good cookbook?
October 17, 2007 09:09AM
I think it depends on what sort of person you are. I am very practical and I can't stand cookbooks that are mainly works of art i.e. pages full of exotic photographs and very little recipe contents. If I wanted a beautiful picture book for displaying on the coffee table I would have bought just that. I don't want to read pages and pages about the author's life, house family etc. I want a book that has recipes and some pictures of the finished product- not all airbrushed but how it would look normally. I want a well set out ingredient list, not recipes that you start making and then, half way through ,some extra ingredients (not listed at the top) are added in. Sometimes I don't mind recipes with many ingredients but I do get annoyed with obscure ingredients i.e. 1/2 tsp rosewater which I have to go and buy and then never use again. Ingredients that can be purchased in NZ area always a good idea too. I like new ways of presenting old ideas. I am more inclined to buy a specifically targeted book- Chinese Cookery, Salads, rather than a general mishmash.
Well thats my little rant for the night, I will be interested to see what others think.
Re: What makes a good cookbook?
October 17, 2007 10:01AM
I like a recipe book to have a comprehensive index. I get frustrated when I can't find a recipe just because I can't remember it's exact name. I really like the ingredient indexes in Moosewood Cookbook and Enchanted Broccoli Forest. If you have a particular ingredient you want to use you can see which recipes contain it.
Re: What makes a good cookbook?
October 17, 2007 10:41AM
Penny, I am with you. A comprehensive ingredient index is imperative! Also, I do like having the photographs as sometimes recipes sound nice but don't look nice. Photos also help with presentation as well for the home cook.

Re: What makes a good cookbook?
October 17, 2007 12:14PM
I am another Annabelle L fan - have all her books and use them regularly. I have her new one on my Xmas wish list - sorry can't remember the name but it is also about her garden and how she uses her homegrown seasonal produce in her cooking.

I really like her practical style and use of basics that I can almost guarantee I will have in my pantry.

The photography is also great too and I like the way she often has little hints down the margins of different ways to use the basic recipe. I think I can say I have never had a "dud" recipe from her.
Re: What makes a good cookbook?
October 18, 2007 01:32AM
I find I have two kinds of cook book/cooking magazine

Firstly ones that I look at but rarely cook from such as Jamie Oliver, Donna Hay magazine or Cuisine. I'd put Nigella in this group too. I take ideas and inspiration from them but really just enjoy reading them with a coffee or wine. Often now I get them from the library rather than purchase them.

Secondly the ones that get thrashed and splattered and dog eared and these include my handwritten and clippings books, Taste magazine, Julie Le Clerc, Annabel Langbein, Julie Biuso, Edmonds Cookbook and Alison Holst. While some of these are very stylish books to read and look at I do find I use them frequently.

For me the NZ writers get used more because they are more in touch with the style of eating, and the ingredients and seasons. Nigella for example has a lot of Sunday hot lunches and supper parties which is not how our family eats.

I have just ordered with Food for Friends book so I look forward to this joining my collection.
Re: What makes a good cookbook?
October 18, 2007 01:55AM
A photo for each recipe.

Lots of space per page - hate the cluttered look. Even little boxes of hints and tips or quotes annoy me because it means I have to pay attention to them.

Food that works. There are many useless recipes out there, seemingly often invented for the sake of sale.

Elegant choice of colours.

Don't want all the fancy words, just the recipe, honesty and truth.
Re: What makes a good cookbook?
October 18, 2007 10:51AM
Anyone interested I have just remembered the latest book of Annabelle's.

It is "Eat Fresh - cooking through the seasons".

It will definetely be added to my already bulging bookshelf.
Re: What makes a good cookbook?
October 18, 2007 11:06AM
I really like Sophie Gray's style of presenting. Her recipes suit my style of cooking using ingredients from my pantry without having to go and do a special shopping expedition. Of course photos of each recipe is important for me and the other thing I really appreciate is substitutes for some of the ingredients.

Re: What makes a good cookbook?
October 18, 2007 11:38AM
Recipe books for reading purposes - I enjoy reading recipes mostly, and also enjoy a limited amount of preamble to each recipe. Pictures are a must!

Recipe books for cooking (but also reading) purposes - I enjoy down to earth recipes - substantial food type recipes enjoyed for their quality and quantity, rather than for titivation and scarcity of food. Don't get me wrong though - I also enjoy being able to present smart looking food. Pictures are not totally necessary but I enjoy these too.

I am a recipe book collector, but not of the coffee table book variety - oh, just look at my shelves of recipe books!!
Re: What makes a good cookbook?
October 19, 2007 01:25AM
I bought both Jamie and Nigella's book from Amazon UK. I buy anything by both cooks but funnily enough don't use them a lot (this maybe something to do with the quantity of cooking magazines and cookbook I have though). I do use Nigella recipes more as I find they rarely fail. I love her style of writing as she seems (apart from her beauty and money!) to be the sort of cook who is real and unfussy. Jamie is also good and his book beautiful. His recipes can be variable though (in my experience). My all time favourite cook whose books I buy without even looking through and use the most is Annabel Langbein. Her recipes ALWAYS work, her food unpretentious and always tasty. My aunt who lives in London and who is a wonderful cook, as well as producing/directing many cooking programmes with well known cooks such as Gary Rhodes, Madhur Jaffery, Delia Smith etc, has also said that Annabel Langbein is fantastic. She cooks a lot from her books and in fact I have just bought her latest one for her Xmas present. She says that she is her secret weapon and that many people ask her where she got the recipe from when she cooks from her books.
Julie Biuso is another favourite and I think again her food is accessible and non pretentious. Lets face it we don't all want fancy food every night, maybe just a different take on a roast lamb (try Julie Biuso's Lamb Abruzzi as it is fantastic, as is her Remo's Butterflied leg of lamb).
Anyway every couple of years I have to have a cull on my cookbooks to make more space for the new's almost a bit ridiculous!
Re: What makes a good cookbook?
October 19, 2007 12:43PM
I am a very simple baker/cook. I dont have alot of books etc.

But what I do like especailly in a baking book is a photo of each recipe and plain easy recipes to follow.

With Main meals etc. I still like the easy to follow, none of this fancy stuff for us.. simply because my children wont eat it.

Hints and tips are really handy but in a seperate section of the book.

Alison Holst, Edmonds are my favs....
Re: What makes a good cookbook?
October 19, 2007 10:42PM
I see in the supermarket yesterday that Jo Seagar has just brought out a revamped copy of an old cookbook of hers - You Shouldn't Have Gone to Such Much Trouble Darling - (or similar!) for its 10th anniversary. It used to have that hideous cover with her in a bubble bath holding a glass of champers. Anyway, the new revamped version looks really lovely - a smaller size, great photos, possibly new recipes, etc. Worth checking out, I was impressed. Also love Annabel Langbein's books.
Re: What makes a good cookbook?
October 20, 2007 10:22AM
I asked this question at morning tea the other day - comments were-

A pic for every recipe
Time it takes to prepare/cook
No. that it serves
A lot of people like "seasonal chapters" so they can just check out those particular pages
Some good "basic" recipes with ideas of variations
Majority of things would be in a well stocked pantry - can cope with occassional "extras" to buy - but only say 10% of the recipes
A good cross-referenced index
A lot of people like a wee story or piece of journalling about that recipe Any kind of comment - just something to personalize it

That's all I can remember at the moment.
Re: What makes a good cookbook?
October 21, 2007 10:29AM

I agree with a lot of the comments. I like recipes that match seasonal ingredients, that don't omit essential steps in the process, and that include alternatives for ingredients that might be difficult to track down, as well as low-fat or vegetarian options where appropriate. I also enjoy the anecdotal style of writers like Nigel Slater, Jane Grigson, etc. And speaking of Jane Grigson - I was looking through all my recipe books a few days ago for something interesting to do with lightly cooked asparagus, and was struck by the fact that although JG's Vegetable Book was published in 1978 it hasn't dated nearly as much as some other books I looked at - some published much more recently. Some of her food combinations would still be considered new and interesting if they were to appear in food magazines today - not bad for a recipe book that is 30 yrs old! So recipe books that stand the test of time are important to me too - by that I mean that they don't just focus on the latest food fads or ingredients that are trendy at the time.
Re: What makes a good cookbook?
October 21, 2007 11:29AM
Helen, are you going to create a new cookbook?????

Re: What makes a good cookbook?
October 21, 2007 11:04PM
i really enjoy doing baking from cookbooks that have been put out by clubs, groups, scouts etc. The old tried and true receipes i just love these, i get them from second hand shops etc. but i also love the taste mag i do have a bookcase full of cookbooks from donna hay to jamie oliver so i have the glossy nice books to. but i do like the old put together books
Re: What makes a good cookbook?
October 28, 2007 06:59AM
The most useable cookbooks - that is the ones that are written for poeple to use and not collect dust on a shelf or coffee table just because they are penned by the Fashionable Cooks of the Moment From The Telly - are those which are ring bound.
1) eg. pages lie flat.
2) They will also be thoroughly indexed.
3) And will not pander to food fads, and the numerous "this food is bad for you" reports constantly churned out (via the media) by people with nothing better to do with their spurious qualifications and heavily subsidized "investigations".
4) The recipes will be adventurous and draw on dishes from all over the world, but ingredient lists won't require us to go searching the deli shelves each week for expensive jars of this and that from which we would use a teaspoon and then store in the fridge forever and a day until it grows mould.
5) Measures should please also be in tsp, TBSPN, cup, ounces etc for those of us who were brought up before the metric age and still can't get quite the hang of it.
6) Really helpful to be told if each recipe is suitable for freezing.
7) A really good NZ-penned recipe book will have sections on how to make the best of what's in season/cheap in the supermarket. A spring, summer, autum, winter section perhaps.

Just a few thoughts from myself and partner, Rose.

Re: What makes a good cookbook?
October 28, 2007 07:28AM
Ingredients in the order in which you use them. Indexed by different main ingredients as well as the name of the dish.
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