Monday, May 15, 2006


When I was younger and knew almost nothing about cooking (I once called my mother to ask how to boil potatoes), my friend Robin recommended that I get a copy of The Joy of Cooking. As others have noted, it's a book that comes in handy from time to time (like when you are asking yourself "what the hell do I do with this rutabaga?"), but for the most part, it wasn't for me.

In recent years, I realized why: I am not interested in cooking. I am only interested in preparing food to eat. Those of us who want to prepare food to eat because it is healthier and thriftier than buying prepared food are a different breed from those who want to know how to make puff pastries with a bechamel sauce and the like. We want to know simple things like, how do you prepare vegetables good enough to eat without spending much time on them? What can be done with a frozen chicken breast? Is it worth making pasta sauce from scratch? What are canned beans good for?

So in anything I write here about cooking, please keep that basic outlook in mind. Nothing I suggest will result in a food that will amaze and delight your friends - it's just not that kind of cooking. For one thing, it's very difficult to amaze and delight anyone with food that's healthy and cheap (if by "healthy" you mean, as I do, "healthy according to current medical research," and not something like, "healthy because this is wild Alaskan salmon and organic butter").

But if you are, like me, interested in preparing food to eat, and you like that food to be both healthy and on the cheap side, and preferably simple to prepare, I might have an occasional useful tip.


Anonymous said...

(Sally) The Joy of Cooking is just a crazy book. I don't need to know a dozen different ways to prepare rabbit, based on the age of the rabbit! There is probably a lot of good, fundamental information in there that would be useful even to the lazy home cook, but separating that from the other doesn't seem worth the time. The closest thing I have to a go-to cooking tome is my Jane Brody cookbook, which has good sections on veg, grains, etc.

Tam said...

My favorite was the time I looked up "casserole" in there, trying to find a recipe for some kind of casserole (any kind), and what I got was a lengthy exegesis on how the word "casserole" was being misused and what it actually meant and so on. Thanks, Joy of Cooking!

Anonymous said...

The fact that Robin recommended it should have been a clue. I can't imagine him recommending a cookbook that has recipes for casseroles or instruction on how to steam vegetables.
Did you really call me to ask how to boil potatoes? Did I laugh at you?

Tam said...

I did and you did, yes!

Debbie said...

I also don't like Joy of Cooking but in my case it's because it's like a bad dictionary. Let's say you did find a casserole. It might require bechemal sauce, which is another recipe. And that sauce might require chicken stock, which is another recipe.

I prefer the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook for an everyday cookbook. But the best is eating other people's cooking (like Mom's) and then, when appropriate, getting the recipe from them. I also have tried recipes from newspapers, magazines, a TV show, the internet, and other cookbooks.

I learned to cook in Girl Scouts. I have grated cheese with a knife. I have discovered that sometimes the back side of a knife is sharper than the cutting side of the knife. And I have actually used a knife to open a can. Oh! I felt very macho! (Very bad for knives though, don't do this at home!)

So now a sharp knife and a cheese grater and a can opener that doesn't keep falling off the can feel like luxuries to me. I don't feel the need for a food processer or electric can opener. And the biggest luxuries are a stove and oven, especially on a wet day!

Anonymous said...

(Sally) Debbie, you're so right about the annoying way everything is divided up; I like to have everything I need to know on one page or two adjoining pages. Joy of Cooking fails the basic requirement of having the relevant information adjacent in space (see: any book by Edward Tufte). It's almost like they expect that you will learn how to make four different white sauces and later prepare them from memory! How goofy is that.

Anonymous said...

Yesterday we received a book called "Deep South Staples or how to survive in a southern kitchen without a can of cream of mushroom soup". Lots of yummy southern comfort food recipes and lots of southern humor. There is even a chapter on possums but no recipes.
I looked because I promise the dogs that if they ever catch one I'll make Possum Pie. I love the really old Betty Crocker cookbook.

Tam said...

(For the confused, that last note was from my mom, who works for the Harris County library system.)

cartaufalous said...

I have a lot of cookbooks, but when I want to cook something, I usually open Joy of Cooking first. I'm not looking for a specific recipe for a casserole (something it has a lot of) as much as an understanding of how casseroles work. Other books may have casserole recipes, but even if they're tested and usable, they're probably not for quite the casserole I'm in the mood for and have the ingredients for. And if I have to modify the recipe anyway, Joy of Cooking provides more background and a better starting point. Obviously, this isn’t how most people cook.

I also like it because it has information and recipes for almost everything that I cook. Whole turbot? No problem. Brioches? Here’s a recipe that works. Gazpacho? Betty Crocker’s not going to cut it. What to do with truffles? It’s all there.

Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

Speaking of truffles...
If you are ever in Houston go to Benjy's in the Village and try the agadashi. It's served with rice that has been cooked with truffle oil. I love the stuff. Actually, everything I've had there is good. The deserts are also the best in Houston.
Tam's momm