Tag Archives: cookbooks

book review: The “Food Matters” Cookbook

21 Sep

I have been coveting The Food Matters Cookbook: 500 Revolutionary Recipes for Better Living, by Mark Bittman, for a while, and I got it for my birthday. I’ve used it for a few weeks now, so I guess it’s time for my review.

For the most part, I like it. It contains a lot of how-to-cook ideas and bits about technique, in the recipe instructions sections. It’s simple and descriptive. My biggest peeve is that it doesn’t contain pictures, although I can understand why (it’s already a hefty book with just the text). The dishes I’ve made have been good, and it’s given me some great ideas for lunches and breakfasts, which are the hardest for me to keep interesting.

In theory, I’d also like calorie counts, but in practice, these recipes are so flexible that it would be sort of pointless to include those. Bittman’s recipes are basic plans, not prescriptive or fussy blueprints. He includes plenty of choices and variations for almost every recipe. This approach encourages the use of seasonal produce, which I like.

This cookbook is aimed at readers who have read Bittman’s more argumentative book, Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating with More Than 75 Recipes. I like both of these books very much, and I recommend them both. If you’re not interested in reading about food, though–you just want the recipes and that’s it–there’s no reason you can’t get the cookbook alone. The basic philosophy is simple, and it’s covered in the cookbook as much as it needs to be in order for you to understand it.

favorite cookbooks

17 Feb

A friend recently asked me for recommendations for favorite cookbooks. When I thought it over, these were the ones I reach for most. Some of these are listed in the “Bookshelf” page above, but many are not. I recommend all of these, except for the ones under “Decadent Treats,” as good sources for healthful recipes and cooking ideas.

My absolute favorites:

Julia Child, The Way to Cook. This is an incredible cookbook, with reliable, understandable recipes for all kinds of things. Even though Mastering the Art of French Cooking is more famous–and perhaps for good reason; I love it too–this is the one I use more often. It is also the one that Child herself considered her magnum opus. If you do not know how to cook, and you read this book from cover to cover, you will know how.

The Moosewood Collective, Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home. I like many of the Moosewood cookbooks, but this one I have used most. The salads are great, and the Risotto with Green Beans and Pesto is amazing. It was the first risotto I ever made and the techniques are described clearly and simply.

Mark Bittman, Food Matters. I could list his collected works, because I also like How to Cook Everything, How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, and The Best Recipes in the World, but this is the one I use weekly. It has fewer recipes; the bulk of the book is about how to eat in a way that is ecologically sound and good for you. But it’s worth the price just to get the instructions for cooking whole grains and the frittata recipe (which uses only two eggs and a slew of vegetables, and which has become my breakfast staple.)

Baking/bread:
Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois, Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day. This was a gift from my sister (thanks, sis!) and has gotten constant use since I got it. This is partly because my 2.5-year-old absorbs bread effortlessly, which makes it all the more important that we eat healthful bread. This is whole-grain and, since I’ve made it myself, I know it’s not loaded with any sugar or anything weird. It’s also incredibly cheap to make and takes little time. I can’t even tell you how easy this is. And you will love the results–really, some of the things I’ve made from this book are so good, I can hardly believe they came out of my kitchen, with my crummy oven with no temperature control.

Laurel Robertson, Carol Flinders, and Bronwen Godfrey, The Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book: A Guide to Whole-Grain Breadmaking. This is a more traditional bread book, which means that the recipes require more work (kneading, whatnot), but it has a wide array of things, including a yummy muffin recipe, good banana bread (or so I’m told–I personally do not eat bananas), very good hamburger buns, etc. If you have a mixer that will knead for you, it’s not too onerous to make the regular yeast breads here, and there are excellent instructions for how to read the dough so that you get good results.

Decadent Treats and Outrageously Unhealthy Party Foods:
Alice Medrich, Bittersweet. This is an entire book about chocolate. It contains stories, personal reflections, and information about chocolate, as well as recipes. I recommend the truffles. But I recommend them for GIVING AWAY, because they are incredible and addictive.

Ree Drummond, The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes from an Accidental Country Girl. I’ll be honest: if I hadn’t been reading her blog all along, I would never have read this cookbook, because it’s so popular that I wouldn’t have thought I could like it. But I do. And it has all kinds of indulgent, wonderful recipes for special occasions. The cinnamon rolls, by the way, are fabulous gifts for Christmas.

Finally, it would be remiss to suggest that most of my cooking comes from these books, since I get so many of my recipes from the internet. So, my favorite cooking sites:

Smitten Kitchen. The 44-Clove Garlic Soup alone is reason enough for this blog’s existence–but I have never had a failure with her recipes, and I’ve made a bunch.

The Pioneer Woman Cooks, by Ree Drummond. Many of the recipes here are a little….excessive, shall we say?, but I love to read it and I have gotten some wonderful recipes. My very favorite actually is pretty healthful, which is unusual for Ree’s food: the Asian Noodle Salad, which I’ve made for a number of parties. It’s “licious,” as my son would say. Some of the recipes from the site appear in the cookbook, but of course the site has more. (There are also a few in the book that aren’t on the web site–savvy marketing and all that.)

Steamy Kitchen, by Jaden Hair. I like her Chinese recipes best and plan to cook a lot more of them someday when I replace my stove and can actually heat up a wok.