I have been catching up on a New Yorker backlog, and read most of the November 23 "Food Issue" last night. Really interesting article about the restaurant reviewing process that the Michelin Guide uses!
There was also a piece titled "What's the Recipe? Our Hunger for Cookbooks," by Adam Gopnik. I am a cookbook fanatic (although I'm not up to 101 yet, like Heidi at 101cookbooks.com, one of my favorite vegetarian-focused websites...) and I particularly love to sit in bed at night and page through cookbooks. Gopnik says that the list of things he knows how to make, and that his kids will eat "are as fixed as any cocktail pianist's set list ... [y]et the new cookbooks show up in bed, and the corners still go down."
This describes me pretty well! I have a rather short list of things I make regularly, and a somewhat longer list of things I make once in a while, but I still read the cookbooks and mark the pages of recipes I want to make. I don't feel like I'm wasting my time, though, because even if I don't rush to the kitchen to make a particular recipe, I definitely get interesting ideas from reading how different ingredients can be put together, and about different techniques for doing that.
Gopnik also talks about the different types of recipe-writing. I have to say, as a longtime lover of food writing, I always refer back to M.F.K. Fisher's prose. I have a compilation of all her essays, starting from her early writing in the 1920's. She does include recipes in some of her essays, but they are very general about amounts and cooking times. For example, in "How to Cook a Wolf," she describes how to make minestrone. She first lists the ingredients (a number of vegetables), then says "Bring the whole thing slowly to a boil... Add some pasta twenty minutes before serving if you like it ... Churn the soup ferociously, and serve over thin toasted bread or not..."
"Stir ferociously!" I love that! Gopnik talks about the very different approach of some recent cookbooks, like Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything," which gives meticulously detailed instructions, even explaining "How to Boil Water: Put water in a pot (usually about two-thirds full) and turn the heat to high." Pretty ridiculous, in my opinion! But I have read and sort of enjoyed Bittman's cookbooks (not enough to purchase any of them, however).
I'm planning a future post on some of the vegetarian cookbooks I have liked enough to purchase.