Lately I’ve been getting lots of questions from friends and family regarding cookbook suggestions. So I think this week I’ll spend a little time talking about how to optimize your time in the kitchen and which cookbooks you could try based on your level of culinary expertise or interest. I’ll only be referring to the cookbooks and magazines I’ve reviewed so far. TBH I’m running out of cookbooks to review — don’t get me wrong I have loads of cookbooks but none that I’ve cooked enough from where I feel comfortable giving an honest review.
Since my first review back in November I can’t tell you how much I enjoy this each week. I think it’s been a perfect compliment to my other favourite hobby: Instagram. Last week I hit an IG milestone! 1000 photos! When I noticed that my counter had surpassed 3-digit numbers I sat back and took a pause. I mean, that’s a lot of cooking and so much food. I love that I can look back and see all of the happy occasions (somber too) and so many cookbooks, blogs, and recipes tested. Looking at those pictures helps me to feel confident that what I write here is a genuine and sincere account of my cookbook experiences. In an effort to be positive, I won’t write about cookbooks that I don’t like or don’t find useful. Many of my reviews are based on personalized hashtags for each cookbook I write about — visual evidence of some perfectly wonderful and delicious recipes. It also goes to show inexperienced home cooks that with a little practice and dedication anyone can cook successfully and beautifully. For me, my kitchen journeys have seen me through the past few decades and I feel like the things I write here should support other home cooks.
Home Cooks & Integrity:
I think I can safely (and proudly) say that I’m a home cook. What does this mean exactly? To me it means that all of the things that I make in my kitchen are carefully (and mindfully) prepared using my growing culinary knowledge. Furthermore when I post a photo or write a review I want my audience to know that I don’t take what I say or do lightly — especially when it comes to discussing someone else’s hard work and passion. Certainly before I criticize someone’s work I’m going to see what I did in the kitchen and decide whether it was my mistake or theirs. I read another review recently where the reviewer used flour instead of groats when the recipe called for buckwheat. In my mind if a recipe called for buckwheat, I’d use groats without being explicitly told to. Just as I would use whole oats and not flour if a recipe called for oats. The reviewer also commented that it was an ingredient that they didn’t use often so when the recipe didn’t turnout as expected the reviewer certainly didn’t place the onus on themselves. I can’t imagine how frustrating it is for cookbook authors to see or hear of disappointing results and know that it was nothing they did. After testing for Ella Leche, I saw firsthand how much time and effort goes into writing a cookbook and I think it is the sincerest wish of the author that the reader
like love their recipes. They even beat themselves up over typos or errors that slip through the cracks — I felt so badly for Emma Galloway when she expressed her embarrassment over some errors she found after publication (this is one of the reasons why I’m such a devotee to My Darling Lemon Thyme — her genuine and honest approach is so appealing. She is so dedicated to her craft and truly cares about the folk who use her recipes).
Notes for the Beginner Cooks:
That being said, one of the things you can do if you’re a novice home cook is to follow the recipe exactly (if you get confused use google or even contact the author — I know this sounds, well, how it sounds but when I was baking Sandwich Rye Bread from Bake From Scratch magazine, I posted several pics during the process. When they commented on one of the early pictures I commented back asking for clarification on one of the steps and they kindly wrote back. You can even post in the “comments section” on any given blog/recipe post for many sites. Most bloggers are happy to give assistance and advice. Social media is a wonderful tool). Following the recipe exactly means using appropriate ingredients, kitchen tools, and following the steps — so the first thing any cook should do is read over the steps a few times before beginning. It also helps to set your mise en place too. By doing these small things it’ll do wonders for your cooking experience. Once you’re well-practiced and confident in the kitchen you’ll get to understand how to substitute ingredients and modify recipes.
Before You Buy, Try:
Living in the age of social media is a wonderful thing because almost all blogs provide free and open access for those looking to give recipes a try. So before you even buy a cookbook, visit the blogs first (so few cookbooks aren’t based on blogs these days!). (If you want blog links, I’ve got a few listed in the sidebar.) I usually print recipes and put them in plastic slip sleeves — this way I can keep them clean (cooking is messy) and then organize them in a binder. Then I never have to search that recipe out again on the Internet. My family laughs at a little quirk I have — writing the occasion and date up in the right-hand corner of the recipe. I like to look back at what I cook and when I cooked it. Below I’ll categorize my suggestions and provide links to my previous reviews…
If You’re Beginning to Cook:
If you’re new to cooking, the perfect “gateway” vegan cookbook/blog is Oh She Glows by Angela Liddon. Her recipes are simple, well-tested, and pretty tasty. I’ve never had a recipe of hers not turn out. She chooses ingredients that are easy to source and not too expensive. A perfect way to start cooking.
Another great cookbook/blog to start with is How to Feed a Family from the lovely women (Ceri and Laura) at Sweet Potato Chronicles. They provide recipes for a wide range of dietary needs and many of their recipes are new twists on old favourites. Their book is especially useful if you’re cooking for a family and if you have children who can be in the kitchen helping then you’re in luck. The strategies they provide will help any busy family “up their kitchen game.”
If You Don’t Mind Sourcing Ingredients (or paying a bit more for good ingredients) or Being Challenged in the Kitchen:
Give Amy Chaplin’s At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen a try. She provides such a comprehensive pantry review at the beginning of her cookbook that you won’t mind the challenge of trying new ingredients or methods. I know from experience that after using this book I can cook my own beans and not just rely on canned varieties. She gives enough details that any cook will be successful.
I also find Everyday Vegetarian really great for challenging me to try recipes that are completely different from any typical vegetarian/vegan recipes. Their recipe for flatbread is a revelation — their recipes are truly novel (in the very best way) and come from pure creativity (not that I mind recipes that are adapted from other recipes). Some ingredients can be tricky to source but well worth finding.
Sarah Britton’s My New Roots is another example of a cookbook with interesting and inspired recipes. So many of her recipes have revolutionized other home cook’s kitchens — case in point: her Life Changing Loaf of Bread! Even last weekend I made her chickpea tortilla chips, then nachos and all I can say is amazing! I’ve found that some of the ingredients took time to source and weren’t always available at my local grocery store. Her book is organized by season which helps to choose appropriate recipes to try (this also helps to find fresh ingredients more easily too).
If You Like to Entertain:
The Yellow Table Cookbook is for you! Anna Watson Carl does a beautiful job providing recipes and tips for creating your own special dining experiences — whether for a party of two or many. I find her recipes (for a variety of diets) simple and tasty and the ingredients are easy to source. Her personable approach looks to encourage anyone to cook and host.
If You’re a Magazine Junkie:
I love using Go Gluten Free magazine — even though I don’t observe a gluten free diet I think the recipes they provide are so good. When you have Vegetarian Chili Cheese Fries twice in one week you know it’s a family hit. Ingredients are easy to source and the variety of recipes they publish could suit any occasion.
Chickpea is a special favourite of mine — a combination of vegan lifestyle and cooking, this magazine is created so beautifully. I also appreciate the lack of advertsing, which I feel enhances the overall reading experience of Chickpea. While not exhaustive in the recipe department, the recipes they do provide are well worth the cover price.
While not strictly a magazine, I feel that Short Stack Editions could easily fit into this section. Each edition is uniquely focussed on a single ingredient and each edition is written by a single author. It reminds me of “magazines” my grandmother had that she had picked up at the grocery store while waiting in line. I find the recipes in each edition interesting, inspired, and worth a try.
My Personal Favourites:
I can’t say enough nice things about My Darling Lemon Thyme cookbook (and blog). I’ve cooked some of her recipes so often that I no longer need the cookbook. Her cookbook also helped me to feel empowered in the kitchen by teaching me how to make easy (not to me at the time) recipes such as Tomato + Basil Sauce. Did I mention that all of her recipes are damn delicious? If I had her Harissa Pumpkin + Feta Tart here I might inhale it. It’s that good. Did I also mention that her new book is set to be released (in NZ) at the end of the month? So excited!! But I’ll be waiting patiently until The Book Depository has it (I was trying to convince myself that I could spend $75 — not including exchange — to ship to Canada but I couldn’t do it…not a reflection on how fantastic I know her next book will be!)
Finally, I’ll end with Cut the Sugar by Ella Leche. Even though I was her recipe tester, I have cooked more recipes from her blog and book than from any other blog or book. Can you believe there are 87 posts on my IG already — that’s almost 10% of the recipes I’ve posted!? Safe to say that I use her recipes a lot (and enjoy them too!) One of our favourite recipes is her Wild Rice Burgers! So delicious that I make it (almost) weekly.
So there you have it. I’ll be taking the next few weeks off from reviewing to do some dedicated cooking from some new (old) cookbooks (I’ll still be around on Instagram, mind you). I’m really looking forward to sharing those reviews with you! See you in April! Here’s a little sneak peek…