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Monday, February 23, 2009

Cookbooks: The end of an era for me?

The other day I was in a store and picked up a cookbook I had never seen before. It looked intriguiging. I flipped through the pages. I questioned just how many recipes I would make from it. How many recipes would satisfy the crazy preferences of both me and Sir Pickypants? (We all know just how hard it is to please both of us.) I ended up putting it down and walking away.

I've bought a few new cookbooks in the past two or three years. I always buy them with high hopes. I fall for big names and glossy covers and beautiful locations (say the word "Italy" in a cookbook and I'm all over it). I buy the book, start looking at the recipes and whittle down the ones I can actually make. This one has bacon? Nope. This one has cheese? Nope. I can just forget the fish section most of the time. The meat section has to be ignored as well. Then I have to weed out which vegetable-based recipes will please both of us. By the time I've gone through the entire cookbook, I have maybe six recipes I can use if I'm lucky, with another six recipes I can make as compromise meals (where I make meat for myself and fish for Kevin).

Last night, I wanted to make dinner and I still had a lot of tortillas left over from my soup last week. I needed to figure out what to do with them. I didn't go to a cookbook. I went to a blog (in this case my own) and made Chipotle Chicken and Pinto Bean Tacos. I started this blog to archive and share my own recipes. It seems like I'm heading in a direction away from cookbooks.

My most recent purchases (purchased over the course of the last two or three years) have been Jamie's Italy, Giada's Family Dinners, and The Lady and Sons Dessert Cookbook. I was very excited to own Jamie's book, but I've barely touched it. I've coaxed a few recipes out of Giada. I suppose that one was the most useful because she has two recipes I was constantly downloading from the Food Network site that are in that book. I've made a handful of Paula's desserts as well. I just don't think I have any go-to cookbooks.

When I was in college and first learning to cook, I relied heavily on my paperback copies of The Frugal Gourmet and The Frugal Gourmet Cooks with Wine, but unless I really want to remember a specific recipe, those books stay on the shelf.

I'm beginning to wonder if the internet is beginning to make cookbooks obsolete. When I want a recipe for a specific dish, the first place I go is to the Internet, rather than my cookbooks. I google ingredients if I want to figure out what to do with a particular vegetable. I have a pile of blogs I read regularly and pilfer recipes I like from them. I watch the Food Network and if I like a recipe I see, I go to their website. I do advanced searches on Recipezaar and Epicurious. Many times I don't even use recipes. I just look at recipes on TV or on the internet, take what I like from them, and create recipes of my own. I'm not a skilled enough baker to do that with desserts, but I'm slowly figuring that out. One of the Food Network chefs even said that cookbooks are a waste of money (including his) because the recipes are so readily available online (although I suppose, as with my Giada book, that if you're constantly downloading the same recipes, having them in cookbook form is useful). I can't remember the last time I used an actual book with pages for recipe.

I'm wondering if this is a trend. There is part of me that searches for the Holy Grail of cookbooks. Because I have no formal training, I still long for the book that's going to tell me the perfect technique so that I can properly cook the basics and then expand on them with my own style. I am not sure which one to get. I have Le Cordon Bleu Complete Cooking Techniques and Knife Skills Illustrated but I'm wondering if How to Cook Everything or Cooking for Dummies or some other book will suit me better. Sometimes I look at these technique books and think, "Screw it! I'm just going to find a recipe."

Obviously not everyone feels the way I do about cookbooks. There are entire blogs centered around using cookbook recipes. Some people still love their books. I still wonder if I'm not alone in finding I use cookbooks less and less. The Food Network, Internet recipe sites, blogs, and my own head seem to be my biggest recipes source right now. Is this a trend? Am I just lazy?

Even though I don't use them, I still have a hard time resisting cookbooks sometimes. There is no place like Bonnie Slotnick's to help me remember what a great world of cookbooks we have out there.

19 comments:

Bellini Valli said...

Most often I head straight to the Internet to find a recipe. My cookbooks are collecting dust, but I do love them!!

The Blonde Duck said...

I'm into local or niche cookbooks. I make stuff off of blogs too--I guess I'm equal oppertunity!

Maria said...

I check cookbooks out at the library and find recipes online...or just create them!

we are never full said...

an real interesting topic. i think if you are a real food lover/cook, you will always want cookbooks, even if just to have a few go-to recipes that you use all the time. there's nothing as satisfying as checking out my favorite cookbooks w/ food splatters all over a page that has been used over and over and over again. i don't think i could live w/o my cookbooks. sometimes i have to get the heck away from my computer and curl up in bed w/ a few of them in order to relax and get inspired. then, later i may hit the net too!

Sue said...

You are definitely on to something. I do love my cookbooks, but I buy A LOT fewer than I used to.

As much as I love Ina, I've never actually bought one of her cookbooks. I've gotten 3 or 4 as gifts, but the vast majority of her recipes I get online.

noble pig said...

I am currently on a mission to start using my cookbooks again. It's hard but I'm doing it!

Not Another Omnivore said...

I'm an internet girl. Do what you have to do. The internet is free :)

NAOmni

Sara said...

I try to be really careful about what I add to my collection - if it's not totally unique, I don't buy it!

Lucy said...

I have one favorite cookbook, what it is clippings from all over the place that I've collected through the years & set up as a book. I have many CB's for the same reason as yourself. Now before I purchase a new one, I check it out from the library, if I really can use it, then I buy it

I've bookmarked recipes, far too many and not enough time that I'd ever make each one. I've discovered that I love collecting them though ;-)

Stacey Snacks said...

The Frugal Gourmet paperback was my first cookbook, I made so many good recipes from his books.
I am addicted to cookbooks and magazines and food blogs and.....

Theresa said...

I feel the same way you do. But you have a greater resistance than I do!! I tend to use the internet more than the cookbooks. It's great though to pull out an old cookbook and resurrect a recipe.

Bunny said...

I use to really enjoy collecting my food magazines and cookbooks but after being on the net and finding blogs I just don't spend the money on them anymore. I often look at the food mags in the grocery store and think, I can find more recipes on the net. No your not alone.

Emily said...

I usually use the internet, too. If I do use a cookbook it's usually Joy of Cooking.

carol said...

I love using the Internet and looking at food blogs for recipes and inspiration, but I have to say, I don't think I'll ever give up my love of cookbooks.....I still buy them when they appeal to me and feel like I've struck gold when I see them at garage sales...and I do still have subscriptions to cooking magazines...some I've let go but I still look forward to a few of them arriving in the mail.
Guess I'm old fashioned....I still like the idea of sitting in a big easy chair with a hot cup of coffee reading a cookbook-that's "my time"...and like Cathy, I'm on a mission to start using some of this vast collection I have more...so far-so good! :)

The Duo Dishes said...

You're not alone. We're more likely to poke around online before pouring through a book. The best thing about books is the pictures though. Those pictures can really convince you to pull our your ingredients and get going.

melissa said...

I'm an online gal too. I think for me one of the main reasons is space. I don't have a lot of room on my bookshelf and I have no room to get a second bookshelf. So I have to be very choosy.

I like my few books though. And my magazines because I can make recipes from them the month I get them and then throw them away.

By the way, in my opinion, How to Cook Everything (the updated version from last year!) is a great reference tool, like having a good dictionary or encyclopedia.

Then again there's Wikipedia, sooo...

Donna-FFW said...

I admit I go to the library first to check out cookbook, my rule of thumb is if there are more then 10 recipes I like, I purchase it, otherwise Ill photocopy or print them off the internet. I wont ever stop buying them though. I dont think there is anything more charming than a cookbook shelf ( or shelves)

Dee said...

I know what you mean! I still buy cookbooks - it's hard to resist all the pretty pictures - but the internet is usually my Go To resource for recipes. I am now making a conscious effort to put the books to better use.

Clumbsy Cookie said...

I still love cookbooks, but I don't really buy them as much either. Only if they're from a special subject or author. We allways have the internet!