Elevenses. 11 cookbooks you should own.
The Brits do it right.
Not content with breakfast, lunch and dinner they also manufactured afternoon tea as a 3pm mini-meal with tea, sandwiches and tiny cakes to hold you over until dinner. And so that lunch did not get jealous they also threw in elevenses which is a cup of tea and a biscuit (cookie) or small cake at, well, 11am. My husband swears it is an archaic concept but I wonder. We all do it, don’t we? We stop our work and go out for a cup of coffee, a diet coke, an expensive pressed juice or a cookie from the vending machine. All at around 11am. Why not give it a name? A title, if you will? Might I present the Duke & Duchess of snacking: Elevenses and Afternoon Tea.
I wish I had named this blog Elevenses. Isn’t that a great name? Here is what it means: Something small, something bite sized. It has to do with food, mainly, but it also has to do with getting up, walking around, stretching your legs. It is not as major as breakfast or lunch but you are happy to have it and it improves your life even if just in the tiniest of ways. Plus even if his claim that it is archaic is right, remember: old is the new new. Retro is hip. Out is in. Elevenses it is.
I am not going to change my blog name but I am going to embark upon weekly elevenses. Just a little shot of something to give you a break. To give you something to think about. A little snack. Every week. Right here.
Elevenses for Tuesday, October 6th.
11 cookbooks you should own.
I own (look away Nick) about 300 cookbooks. It’s my one weakness (if you don’t count shoes and knives and devices that begin with a lowercase i). Sometimes I go through and clear out my collection, ridding myself of books that no longer inspire me, that feel heavier than the combination of their paper and cardboard and notes tucked neatly inside when I pick them up. The ones that don’t make me feel happy or excited or invencible. It’s a high bar but most of the books I own measure up. Ones that don’t….well they go. Even so, the number holds pretty steady at 300.
Every now and then a friend asks me which are my favorite cookbooks. If I could only have a few, which ones would I keep? If I were to recommend just a few, which ones would I recommend? The list I have compiled below is my personal list of 11 cookbooks I would not want to live without. Your Elevenses today.
I don’t know. Maybe I love this book because I was in the restaurant business and her book is written as a chef to her staff. Maybe I love it because I remember when Prune opened – I lived in New York City and I walked the 14 blocks south to have brunch there on a sunny summer day in 2000 right after I moved to 14th street between 2nd and 3rd avenues. I had little money and I was just learning what downtown was all about. And I loved it. I ate there and I ate at Veselka and Annisa and 71 Clinton Fresh Food and they all changed my life. Or maybe I love it because the recipes are well-written, the writing is heart warming and the photography is fetching.
The Art of French Baking by book phenom Phaidon.
The very best book you can buy to understand and create French pastries. A gorgeous gift too. Everything is laid out with simple instructions, one simple gorgeous photo and it is packed with ideas. Some of my favorites: chocolate and almond gateau, apple turnovers with cinnamon, madelines, croquantes fourrées (creme-filled croquantes).
You need a large cooking reference book in your kitchen. This is it. As the title so subtly suggests, you’ll find instruction on how to cook everything in here. It is hard to recommend favorite recipes but some of the ones I use over and over are the variations on scones, the potstickers, and the cranberry relish with orange and ginger. And all the chicken recipes.
Ottolenghi. By Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi.
This is a picture of the cover of the US version of the first Ottolenghi book. This is the best photograph in the book but don’t let that put you off of it. Four books followed this one and they are all equally exceptional (and the photography gets better). These are not the books for every night, whip-up-after-soccer-practice-dinners. Instead you will find spices you probably are not used to using and a LOT of buffet-style dishes (brilliant for Thanksgiving, Christmas or High Holy Days) This is the way to expand your culinary repertoire. There are so many great recipes in the Ottolenghi cookbooks that it is hard to narrow it down but if you don’t make the sweet potato gratin this Thanksgiving then you are cuh-razy.
There are more definitive guides to New Orleans cooking. There are more extensive guides to New Orleans cooking. There are cheaper guides to New Orleans cooking. But there are no better, more descriptive guides with recipes that actually, honestly work. And really, this is how we eat. Well, at least when he is cooking. My favorite recipes: Spinach Madeline and Crawfish Stuffing. Looking for ingredients now…
Gotham Bar and Grill Cookbook by Alfred Portale
I have been star struck once in my life: when I shared an elevator with Alfred Portale. I was hovering above my body thinking “Say something! Tell him you like his restaurant! He’s just a cook for f*ck sake!” but instead I said, “Are you getting out here?” Which was extra stupid because it was the pre-opening party of the then AOL Time Warner Center and we had arrived at the only open floor. I remember that elevator ride like it was 5 minutes ago. The lights were too bright and they made his forehead glow and his scalp shine through is thinning black hair. I didn’t care. I had loved Alfred Portale and Gotham Bar & Grill for a long time and that was not going to stop me. My loyalty and devotion to this 17-year old restaurant in Manhattan continues despite the fact that that in the restaurant universe of Manhattan that is akin to typing on a Commodore 64. Try the tuna tartare recipe (ignore the vertical plating) and the penne pasta with manila clams and chorizo.
Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child.
Is it a cheat to even include this one? Probably. If you read food blogs I’d find it hard to believe you don’t have Julia’s books. I use the crepe recipe all the time and I reference her recipes for everythign I do French even if I don’t follow it to the letter. If you do have the books already might I recommend her biography My Life in France?
The Naked Chef by Jamie Oliver.
I get that this one is a surprise, but really this is one of those books that you will surprise yourself by going back to again and again for recipes that include British dishes, pasta and lots of breads. The downside is that he intends his recipes to be simple and approachable for beginners with instructions that refer to “handful” or a “pinch” as a measuring tool. Those steps are meant to make it approachable but can also freak people out. Just relax. Don’t overthink it. It is a great book.
Cooks Illustrated does recipes the way Donald Trump does hairspray. In excess. This book contains 1000 (that’s ONE THOUSAND) tested-retested and dissected recipes along with detailed essays about how and why they achieved the results they did. There is no better collection of recipes that really, really work.
Barefoot Contessa by Ina Garten
Everything Ina Garten touches is magic and you can have the same gift with the use of her cookbooks (except for Make Ahead – don’t buy that one). This is her first and the recipes are standard summer fare. They came from her deli in The Hamptons and provided picnic foofd for the well heeled for 20+ years. The recipes are simple and good and you may wonder why people still formed a line outside of her store after publishing all of her secrets. Answer: They don’t cook. But we do! Long live the plebs!
Homemade Decadence by Joy Wilson.
I admit to having a personal interest here. Joy is a friend of mine and I can’t imagine doing a cookbook round-up without mentioning her, but let me explain one thing: Her recipes work. (And I paid for this cookbook so we would not be friends if they didn’t). Baking a cake is scary. It is a lot of committment and it is usually for a special occation so you need to be sure it is going to come out as pictured. Joy’s recipes do that. And if you aren’t satisfied by the 100 recipes in the book head over to her super fun blog: Joythebaker.com