Cookbooks: How to Get the Most Out of Them

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Cookbooks are fun for reading and gaining cooking knowledge. But are you getting the most out of your collection?

Cookbooks: How to Get the Most Out of Them | Good Cheap Eats

Those of us who love to cook invariably find ourselves with collections of cookbooks. Whether friends and family gift them to us or a shiny bright cover beckons to us from the bookshop window, we’ve got cookbooks.

Over the years, I’ve grown a collection of cookbooks that I really love. They get space in my kitchen and attention from me and my family.

Cookbooks: How to Get the Most Out of Them

Are your cookbooks gathering dust? Are you hesitant to buy a new one for fear you won’t get your money’s worth?

Consider these tips for making the most of your collection of cookbooks:

1. Read your cookbooks.

That’s right. Read them, like a book. I was once introduced at a teaching position as one “who reads cookbooks as if they were novels”. My friend Tami remembers that now almost 20 years later.

I’m not just a nerd. I have good reason for reading cookbooks.

Cookbook authors, present company included, spend a lot of time crafting the front matter of their cookbooks to explain how the recipes are configured and to communicate the spirit of the recipe collection. Just reading a few recipes won’t really give you this info.

I’ve learned so much about cooking techniques by reading cookbooks. A Feast of Soups is a great teaching cookbook. Reading it was the start of my soup-making knowledge. The Bonne Femme Cookbook offers a window into the world of French cuisine for normal people. Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day teaches you how to bake great bread.

Over the years I’ve come to “know” my favorite cookbook authors. Susan Branch, though I’ve only met her as a groupie at a book signing, might as well be an aunt and Kat Flinn could be a cousin. I feel like I know them after reading their books and getting to know their written personalities. “Knowing them” makes me want to cook their recipes. I love the books, in part, because I care about the characters they present.

If you haven’t read your cookbooks, take some time to do so. It will help you understand the author’s purpose and get more out of the book.

Cookbooks: How to Get the Most Out of Them | Good Cheap Eats

2. Meal plan from your cookbooks.

Next time you sit down to plan meals, take a few cookbooks off the shelf to guide your planning. It’s easy to google, but there’s something special about flipping through a well-worn cookbook and being reminded of that recipe you use make that everyone loved.

Build your meal plan from your cookbooks and put them through their paces — and don’t forget to flag recipes that you want to try in the future.

3. Change the recipe.

Don’t be afraid to make adaptations to recipes based on what you have on hand or what you like. However, keep in mind that most cookbook writers would plead that you make the recipe their way first. Since they’ve tested indepthly, their way should be guaranteed to work. Once you know what it should taste like, feel free to branch out on your own with adaptations.

4. Chat with friends about their favorite recipes.

Chances are you haven’t tried every recipe in every one of your cookbooks. Ask friends who own the same books what their favorite recipes are. You’ll get a heads up on what to try next and can offer your own tips about recipes you’ve tried.

What strategies do YOU use to maximize your cookbooks?

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  1. I try to plan however my husband always makes a change on the day of. So most of the time I will wing it. I don’t like to do that but how do I change a stubborn 57 yr old that wants what he wants? I am also trying to eat healthier, another issue with hubby. I enjoy reading blogs like this and on Facebook, I do print and use recipes here and there.

  2. I learned from my mom to write any changes & your review of the recipe IN the cookbook. So I write the date I first tried the recipe, any adaptions I made and whether myself or my husband liked it. My mom even went so far to say which recipes each kid liked the most! Then it’s easy when flipping through to know what I’ve tried before, what I thought of it, anything I’d change for next time, or just try something new!

  3. I love reading cookbooks

    My 7 year old wants to start learning to cook. He has done a few meals and baking with me. Any recommendations ok kids learning cookbooks?

    • Erica R. says:

      My 12 yr old son was very into cooking with me when he was younger. (Now, he prefers eating like he’s got a hollow leg, lol) We liked Honest Pretzels and also the Angry Birds cookbooks (mainly egg recipes).

    • Honestly, my daughter uses mine. We don’t have a “kid’s cookbook” that I love. They are all so busy. I’d just show him your favorite book and choose something from there. He will rise to the challenge.

  4. I started meal planning as a way to use my cookbooks, as I had so many I never used 🙂 I now have a subscription to Eat My Books, which helps me use my cookbooks better. It is like a search engine for my cookbooks, so If I have a particular ingredient to use, I can search my books quickly and find a recipe I like. I find I am cooking a wider range of dishes and the recipes are easy to find.

  5. I try to periodically revisit “old friends,” so to speak, and see if I can find any new recipes I’d like to try or rediscover ones I’d forgotten about. As my kids have gotten older, the recipes I make have changed, so I like to take a cruise through some of my cookbooks to see what I can find. It’s a relaxing exercise for me, and I almost always find somethings I want to try. I can then add the recipes to a meal plan in the next week or so.

  6. I am one who also “reads cookbooks like novels” my husband makes fun of me and jokes that he is going to go read his truck owners manual. I love getting cookbooks at the library! One of my favorites is Mad Hungry by Lucinda Scala Quinn.

    To answer your question though I often sit down with post its and tab my cookbooks with recipes for the meal plan I’m making or for future menus.

  7. Finally, some kindred spirits! I have read cookbooks like they were novels since I was 5 yrs old and most people just don’t get it. I have learned an incredible amount of knowledge from doing this. I like to use Post Its flags to mark recipes- they’re about a centimeter wide and are just the right size.

  8. I, too, read my cookbooks like delicious novels! I’ve learned so much from the authors tips and insights – and, yes, now consider many to be dear friends. This past Christmas I received two of Stanley Tucci’s cookbooks from my kids – I read one cover to cover that day!

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