I have always enjoyed reading cookbooks, especially those cookbooks written by people with a passion for what they cook. Sometimes I will mark certain recipes to create later but mostly I just read them and absorb the language of food, the style of cooking, the pace of the life they are promoting. Long before The Food Network and even public TV cooking shows (who can forget Julia Child), there were cookbooks to teach us how to cook, how to serve and even how to arrange a table.
In my fresh out of college flight attendant years, when I didn’t cook often and ate out lots, I enjoyed reading the cookbook classics- Mastering the Art of French Cooking, The Joy of Cooking, Southern Living Cookbooks and in my world, The
Gasparilla Cookbook. It was rare that I actually created one of the recipes (who has time for recipes that begin with “On Day 1” when you will be out of the state on Day 3) but I enjoyed the journey from appetizer to dessert in a way most people enjoy a good novel. I am sure I picked up some tips along the way and no doubt my fondness for cloth napkins at every meal started with these classic books. The pace of life and the recipes presented were from a time when you created a meal and everyone sat down at the same time, no TV, no cellphones. Just candles, folded napkins and a meal made out of what was seasonally available or even grown in the cook’s garden.
Rachal Ray’s 30 minute meal cookbooks, are just what you would expect- fast paced, energetic and full of optimism. They are designed to get the reader from kitchen to table in 30 minutes, and while the recipes are typically fairly easy and unforgiving, you don’t necessarily come away with any great insight into the world of cooking. You finish fast, the family gets a home cooked meal and nutritionally you are better off than ordering pizza or grabbing a “99 cent heart attack” meal. It is fast paced reading, not really lending itself to being a “curl up on the couch and lose yourself” kinda book. But when I was a single, working mom with 2 hungry sons to feed, I appreciated her commitment to home cooked meals in a hurry. And she made me realize it doesn’t have to take all day or even all of one hour to pull it off.
Bread cookbooks are rarely fast paced or demanding of unique ingredients and are my favorite to read. Years before I baked my first loaf of bread, I enjoyed reading about the science of bread making. Bread recipes are less exacting, more suggesting. 4-6 cups of flour, water warm to touch and rising times that vary with the coldness of the kitchen. Bread making is more physical than most cooking as you must knead the dough and punch it down. Starters must be fed, yeast must bloom, dough must rise and yet since the beginning of time we have made, baked and lived on bread. I have found that a simple soup, omelette or salad seems far more satisfying with a warm slice of fresh made bread. The yeasty goodness of the bread brings out the best in whatever it sits beside. Slathered with butter and jam or drizzled with honey, it makes the perfect breakfast or before bed snack and completes all meals in between.
Read a cookbook. Create a meal. Enjoy sharing the gift of food with those you love or those you have just met.