DCPLive is a blog by library staff at the DeKalb County Public Library!
May 2 2014

How to cook a book

by Dea Anne M

Cookbook publishing, in this country at least, used to have a fairly rigid path. You might be an “expert” such as Fannie Farmer, a domestic scientist whose Boston Cooking School Cookbook came out in 1896. As immensely  popular as Farmer’s book became, she paid for it to be published.  You might be a corporate entity such as General Mills, whose creation–Betty Crocker–became a cultural icon and birthed a seemingly endless series of cookbooks such as Betty Crocker’s Country Cooking and Betty Crocker the Big Book of Cakes. You might be an established chef such as Jacques Pepin, whose first book, La Technique, is still used as a textbook today and who has published numerous books since including Fast Food My Way and Essential Pepin: More than 700 All-Time Favorites from My Life in Food.  Naturally, there have always been talented amateurs like Irma Rombauer whose Joy of Cooking has been continuously in print since 1936. Generally speaking though,  getting a cookbook published could be very difficult for anyone without the right credentials or connections–or enough financial wherewithal to pay for an initial printing (as Rombauer did).

Well, the advent of the personal blog has changed the publishing landscape and the popularity of cooking blogs cannot be denied. Part of the appeal, I think, lies in the fact that these bloggers are not usually professionals (i.e., chefs) and though many may have experience in the food industry, for the most part they have no specialized training. What the most popular food bloggers share, and convey through their writing, is enthusiasm and a unique vision. A good photographer doesn’t hurt either. Blogging about food and cooking isn’t a guaranteed path to print publication. One has to be able to write well, of course, and most bloggers who get book deals have a lengthy and firmly established presence online as well as a following of devoted fans.

Would you like to check out the print offerings of some of these bloggers? DCPL has plenty to choose from. Here are some that are fairly recent and certainly notable.

First up is Stuffed: The Ultimate Comfort Food Cookbook: Taking Your Favorite Foods and Stuffing Them to Make New, Different and Delicious Meals by Dan Whalen. On first flipping through the book, you may very well say to yourself, “Wow, this guy really likes Mac and Cheese!” You’ll find Lobster Stuffed Mac and Cheese Balls, Mac and Cheese Stuffed Chile Relleno, Mac and Cheese Ravioli and what has to be the ultimate…uh…”stuffed food”…Mac and Cheese Stuffed Burgers. This is the somewhat startling item featured on the book’s cover. (Whalen did his own photography, and he is good). It doesn’t look like my sort of dish but I know a couple of ten-year-old boys who would consider it completely awesome. Whalen is the author of the popular blog The Food In My Beard. Whalen’s writing style is humorous and upbeat, his recipes creative, and his enthusiasm for cooking is infectious. Stuffed is a fun book and well worth your time. You might pass on stuffing a hamburger with mac and cheese, but you will certainly be inspired to get into the kitchen.

Ever wonder how to spend quality time in the kitchen when your days are filled with caring for your family? Check out The Naptime Chef: Fitting Great Food into Family Life by Kelsey Banfield. Banfield, a passionate cook, found her usual naptimecooking patterns completely thrown after the birth of her daughter.  Once the baby started napping in the afternoon though, Banfield discovered how to cook all or parts of meals during that quiet time and began sharing her techniques and tips on her blog The Naptime Chef. As most regular cooks know,  it isn’t the actual cooking time but the time spent prepping a dish that can be an issue. Banfield provides really practical make-ahead tips with each recipe as well as a “naptime stopwatch,” which tells you how much time you’ll spend prepping the dish and how much time cooking. Preparation time for most of the recipes is 20 minutes or less, so you really can prepare meals during your child’s naptime, or soccer practice, or after bedtime. I am not a parent myself, and the book assumes a certain level of basic skill, but it seems to me The Naptime Chef could well be a valuable resource for any busy parent.

In 2005, Anna Ginsberg committed to baking a different cookie every day for acookie year and to writing about it on her blog Cookie Madness. Nine years later, the site is still going strong and includes recipes for pies, cakes, and other baked goods. The Daily Cookie: 365 Tempting Treats for the Sweetest Year of Your Life is the in-print result of Ginsberg’s baking adventures. It’s one of the most fun cookie books I’ve seen. Each day’s recipe is themed to a “holiday.” Are you an Elvis fan? Pay tribute by baking a batch of Peanut Browned Butter Banana Bacon Cookies on The King’s birthday (January 8th). Is celebrating Barbie’s birthday (March 9th) a must at your house? If so, don’t miss the Pretty Pink Melt-Aways. One feature that I especially like about this book is that a color photograph accompanies each recipe. I’ve recently dropped wheat and wheat products from my diet, but Ginsberg provides gluten-free as well as vegan options.  The Daily Cookie is a must try for anyone who like to bake (or eat!) the sweet things in life.

Merril Stubbs and Amanda Hesser’s elegant website Food52 is the inspiration behind The Food52 Cookbook: 140 Winning Recipes from Exceptional Home Cooks. A distinctive feature of the site is that many of the enormous number of 52recipes come from the site’s followers. These home cooks hail from everywhere and together have created what is literally an online community cookbook. The best of these recipes have been collected in The Food52 Cookbook. This is a gorgeous book with its clean layout and color photographs of each recipe.  The recipes are organized by season and include such delicious sounding fare as Lemon Basil Sherbet (summer), Cider Braised Pork with Calvados, Mustard and Thyme (fall), Lentil and Sausage Soup for a Cold Night (winter) and Absurdly Addictive Asparagus (spring).  Make no mistake, this is not a cookbook for kitchen novices or anyone on the hunt for “quick and easy” recipes but for experienced and passionate cooks this one is a definite must.

Finally, we come to Deb Perelman who creates the wildly popular blog Smitten smittenKitchen. The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook features the inventive recipes, witty writing and lovely photography that have won Perelman’s blog so many devoted fans. She provides do-ahead tips, fun anecdotes and a fair number of delicious sounding vegetarian recipes such as the tempting looking Mushroom Bourguignon. Perelman is obviously a devoted baker and the number of bread, scone, cookie and cake recipes might make the carb wary take pause. Regardless,  I would urge any devoted cook to take a look at The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. It will be well worth your time.

Do you follow food blogs? What are some of your favorites?

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Lesley B May 2, 2014 at 11:29 AM

If you’ve given up gluten, Deanne, you will want to check out Shauna Ahern’s books, Gluten-free Girl: How I Found the Food That Loves Me Back and Gluten-free Girl Every Day, from the blog she writes with her husband, chef Daniel Ahern.

Dea Anne M May 3, 2014 at 10:01 AM

Thanks Lesley! I’ve read both books and they’ve been very helpful. My issues aren’t as severe as hers but I’ve received a lot of good advice and encouragement from these books.

Patricia D May 6, 2014 at 11:29 AM

I want to shout about Titli’s Busy Kitchen on YouTube. She’s an English lady living in Wales who has been around the world and likes to cook. Her recipes are great, very doable and she is a complete riot. She also has a garden vlog which we love. Also love Parents Need to Eat Too by Debbie Koenig (in the collection) which I still use though mine is now helping with the cooking. Finally, I love Kathleen Flinn’s blog (cookfearless.com) as well as her two books, also in our collection

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