I had an idea to make a series of posts about all the cookbooks I own, but as I started thinking and writing, I realized that I don’t use my cookbooks very much. Which is not to say that I don’t use recipes or don’t use recipes I have found in cookbooks, I just refer to them very infrequently.
One of the reasons for this is that I do very little serious cooking any more. I live with two fussy eaters and am always trying to juggle their confoundingly different food preferences, so my daily cooking has settled into a predictable repertoire of “Things We All Like” with the odd foray into something one or the other will not eat. Thus is the way of most home cooks, I imagine. In my very rich fantasy life, I cook lavish dinners for my dear and wonderful friends, but I don’t really have any dear and wonderful friends nearby to cook for, since they all live on the Internet now. So I remain a somewhat frustrated chef.
Nevertheless, I would argue that I do have a pretty broad repertoire and can cook without the safety net of a recipe most of the time. Training and experience really do make a difference. I think of recipes more as inspirations than “how-to” instructions. They suggest combinations or preparations that offer some novel twist, but sauteeing is sauteeing and chopping is chopping and so on. The only real exception is in baking, where the techniques and procedures are sometimes very particular and always less familiar to me.
So my collection of cookbooks is decidedly more inspirational than practical. If I were totally honest about it, I would have to say that I have never made a single recipe from most of the cookbooks I own. Some of them were at one time very useful, but if they were at one point, I have by now memorized the recipes I gleaned from them and do not need the books to make this dish or that. Others are merely part of that fantasy world of dinner parties and lots of people gathered around a table that only exists in my imagination. Yet I still have an entire bookcase given over to nothing but cookbooks, and that’s after having given away a bunch of them the last time we moved. And tonight it’s macaroni and cheese for dinner.