Quality & Qualities of Cookbooks

A few months back, I was sent an announcement that heralded (amidst too many exclamation points and typos – but never mind) the publication of a “definitive list – a must for any foodie – of the best cookbooks of all time.” I admit that my first thought was “What? Another one?” People publish these lists all the time. The Top Cookbooks of the year, the 10 Greatest Cookbooks of all time, the 50 best cookbooks… You get the point. you can find hundreds of “Best Cookbooks of the Year” and no two will be the same because you often have no idea what criteria are being used by the people compiling each list.

Sometimes you know right away. If it’s a themed list (Top 10 Italian Cookbooks or Top 10 TV Chef Cookbooks) you have at least one solid lead on criteria. Another clue is who is putting the list together. Is it an industry publication like Publishers Weekly or Bookseller? Then sales or reviews are likely figuring prominently in their calculations. But quite often, I’m left with a list of titles and authors without no explanation beyond “awesome book and a MUST have for the modern kitchen.”  They could be judging on anything from the color of the spine to what percentage of the recipes include parsley.

It would be helpful to know what those criteria are. If I know the person compiling the list had a parsley obsession, this would inform my reading of their list and I would be able to better assess their list for my needs. If I don’t know about the passion for parsley, I might have NO clue what was actually happening on the list.

cookbooksSo, I’m not going to ask you to tell me your personal “top 10 cookbooks of 2012/2013” or your “5 best cookbooks of all time.”  No. My questions are these:

  • What qualities do you look for in a cookbook? Which of those qualities outrank the other?
  • What might turn you off a particular cookbook?
  • What takes something from being a ‘good’ cookbook to a ‘great’ cookbook?



Random Food Question Day

There is no food related holiday today – not that I could find anyway. So I pose this question: why would you make buttermilk as opposed to buying it?

I have an actual reason for asking. It’s not just that I was puttering around yesterday afternoon and was suddenly floored by the lunacy of such an action. I suppose if you were making something that required only a smidge of buttermilk, that would make sense. Of a OCD kind. But do any recipes only require a pinch of buttermilk?

And since I’ve asked my random food question – I throw the floor open to you. Is there something culinary you’ve always wondered about? A foodstuff that left you speechless? People eating the same leaving your even more so and you wonder why they would do that? Stumped with what do to with all those mangoes you got on sale?

Ask away. We might even find an answer for you.

Fashionable Foods I Frown Upon

So I’m recovering from my cough, but still have little appetite, so am finding it difficult to enthuse about food at all. Which makes this the perfect time write about food I don’t like, or rather the food that really annoys me.

Now food, in and of itself, doesn’t annoy, but rather those trends in the foodie world that render certain dishes, or vegetables, or ingredients or what have you, suddenly so ubiquitous as to put you off them for life. Perhaps you liked them before, perhaps they were even a favourite of yours. But suddenly, some food fashionista has declared them to be the flavour du jour, and now you can’t enter a restaurant, attend a dinner party, or even turn on a cookery show without being pelted with said food item ad nauseum.

Here, currently, are my top five:

1. Goat’s Cheese.

Now, as I’ve stated before, I’ve never been a particular fan of goat’s cheese. It’s always struck me as being something that belongs in the middle ages, or on a commune somewhere. I find it rather chalky and sour, as if I’d been chugging a bottle of Kaopectate that had gone off. I did, however, used to quite enjoy a goat’s cheese soufflé, until I was presented with one at four dinner parties in a row.

Because in the last year-at least in the UK- goat’s cheese has somehow become the only cheese one is allowed to serve. Enter any fashionable cheese shop these days and ask for a cow’s milk cheese, and you’ll be clubbed to death with Parmesan rinds. People claim goat’s cheese is better tasting (which is ridiculous coming from a nation that’s always made excellent cheese with nary a goat being involved) and better for you, as it apparently contains no lactose. I personally believe that lactose intolerance among the European race is something of a myth, and anyway, a continent of people who willingly add bacteria and mould to cheese for flavour should not really be banging on about the stuff being good for you.

2. Beetroot.

Again, never a particular fan of this either. That said, I’ve always been a lover of Borscht, which is where I personally feel the usefulness of beetroot begins and ends. Stew it, blend it, toss in some cumin and some sour cream, and the beetroot comes into its own for me.

But not these days. Nope, beetroot is now apparently the only root to dig from the earth and consume. Disregard its sinister colouring, which leaves you looking like a less than tidy serial killer the moment you attempt to handle it in cooked form. Disregard also its “earthy” taste, because nobody ever admits that “earthy taste” actually means “tastes like dirt”. But really, disregard the fact that the moment you introduce it to a given dish, you cannot taste anything else.

Which is why, to me at least, it should just enjoy its soup bowl and leave all other plate-ware alone.

3. Rocket, or Arugula.

A perfectly fine leaf, and lovely as an occasional peppery bite in salads and such.

But for the last three-count ’em, three- years, you cannot order a starter in a London restaurant without first hacking through a forest of rocket before you get to the point. And at dinner parties, people now find it perfectly acceptable to serve as a salad nothing more than a bowl of rocket with a few shavings of Parmesan cheese and a dribble of balsamic vinegar.


As with my first two culinary objections, rocket has no subtlety of flavour- even for a leaf- and just overtakes anything else on the plate.

4. Couscous

Really just an excuse for people not to learn how to cook rice, as far as I’m concerned. Unlike the above, I find it has little flavour at all-which is not why I object to it. Neither rice nor pasta has flavour of their own, particularly, which is why they carry the flavours of sauces and the like. Fair enough.

But couscous has specific cultural origins, and yet is now being paired with all manner of proteins (salmon with couscous? I ask you) that quite simply match it not. Also, for a grain that you need only cover with boiling water for a few minutes, it’s easily badly done. I cannot count the number of times I’ve been served a bowl of couscous that reminds me of nothing so much as the golden sands of a tropic beach. Mostly because of the texture.

5. Balsamic Vinegar.

Now of course I have no problem with balsamic vinegar itself, only that it’s now the only appropriate vinegar, if you eat anywhere other than your own home.

People use it indiscriminately, with little regard to the difference between your supermarket label and your properly aged stuff, and with even less regard as to whether or not it creates the appropriate vinaigrette for a given salad. Personally, I find it too sweet for most salads and best used rather discretely.

So imagine my horror when recently, at a dinner party, as a starter I was presented with a couscous-crusted baked goat’s cheese with a beetroot and rocket salad with a balsamic vinaigrette.

What are your food fashionista bugbears? The Fabulous Foodie wants to know. Stand up and be counted!

The Great Sandwich Survey

sandwichHello out there! The Fabulous Foodie needs you!

We’ve been doing a great deal of thinking about sandwiches lately, and just how personally important they can be to people. Everyone from the greatest gourmands to those who couldn’t boil water seems to have very firmly held beliefs about what constitutes a great sandwich. So we want to find the best. To this end we’re doing a survey of the world’s favourite sandwiches, and we want to hear from everyone.

And we want specifics. What are your top three favourite sandwiches? On what kind of bread? Toasted or untoasted? Do you make them yourself, or buy them? If you do buy them, where from? Do they require any specific accompaniments to make them perfect, such as a sour pickle, or a milkshake, or a bowl of soup?

Don’t be afraid to respond if your choice of sandwich seems eccentric, or dull, or, to a palate less finely honed than yours, downright unpleasant. There are no wrong answers or sandwiches here; only the sandwich you love.

You can respond by commenting to this post. So join the Great Sandwich Survey and make yourself heard!