Cookbooks I Won’t Live Without

What these books have in common is that they read as good as they eat. These are not necessarily the best or most comprehensive cookbooks and they are not necessarily the ones I use today. Sure flavors and techniques are key, to be sure, but all of these books also boast beautiful prose. Coming from a man whose two earliest influences were Hemingway (le mot juste) and Kerouac (“swimming in language sea”) as well as early Samuel R. Delany (jeweled and ornate prose) and Roger Zelazny (wildly personal voice in complete control), that leaves a broad range. Some are stylists, others are simple and direct, but in each one, the voice is strong and clear. I used to take about 10 cookbooks with me each year when we went to the Cape on vacation. Many of these were among them.

The Provincetown Seafood Cookbook – Howard Mitchum. The wildman chef of Provincetown, I never knew him but I ate in places and from chefs he’d worked with. The book taught me Portuguese-American fish cookery, and gave me a few techniques for seafood stews and baked dishes. I love the way he describes a dish and how you put it together, even if sometimes he’s a little over the top. He’s dead now and his books are out of print. He wrote a New Orleans cookbook from his time there that must be fantastic.

And there is a correction to my last post. Sarah, bless her heart, looked up the Underground Gourmet and found copies for me. In looking at the description, I realized I had it wrong. The book I was thinking about is The Grub Bag, by Ita Jones. It is a collection of her Liberation News Service columns from 1972. It, too, is available. She has apparently written at least one more book under her actual name, Ita Willen.

The China Moon Cookbook – Barbara Tropp. Another one who died and way too soon. The combination of orange and hoisen sauce, pickled ginger, strange flavor eggplant (a Chinese version of my grandmother’s chopped eggplant) are what stick with me still. The recipes are good to read and the attendant stories interesting and fun.

Paul Prudhomme‘s Louisiana Kitchen. You still can’t be sure he’s not Dom Deluise’s fat older brother, but his techniques for making roux, using the trinity, and spicing are what I use for my Cajun style cooking. Awesome bread pudding.

Martha Stewart’s Hors D’Oeuvers Handbook. Encyclopedic. With pictures. And so many techniques. Everything I make from it turns out good. What else can you say? There are two ribbon bookmarks attached to the binding. Two.

The Classic Italian Cookbook – Marcella Hazan. Again, everything turns out good and it’s where I go first when I have a question about Italian food. She doesn’t have a timpano recipe, but she does have one for individual casseroles that will work in the bean pot bowls I have, when I get around to it.

Tide and Thyme – The Junior League of Annapolis. I just like reading about crab and they have a lot of recipes. I used to read it at my stepdaughter’s house in D.C. so my wife bought a copy for me.

From Tapas to Meze – Joanne Weir. A companion to the Martha Stewart. It has recipes for little dishes from Spain around the Mediterranean to North Africa. Each country’s flavors are distinct and different from each other and I’ve liked almost everything I’ve cooked from it. There are a lot of techniques here and flavor combinations that I use over and over.


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