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The Best Cookbooks

Updated on February 7, 2013

Food Network Stars-How to Cook

Although she was only 17, and had no homemaking skills when she married, my mother was young, in love and had a willingness to learn. One of the things she learned to do well was to cook for her family and friends. Along with the many cookbooks she read, she learned to improve her cooking through watching the Food Network Show. She had her favorites, like Rachel Ray and Ina Gartner, and never missed a show-even during her weeks of chemotherapy treatment.

At the time of her death in 2003, she had a reputation among her friends for re-creating the dishes she found through either the televised food network series, or the multitude of cookbooks she collected through the years. In fact, her food was so popular it won her a write up in the local newspaper one year.

Being Italian, food was as important to her as her religion and her family. Like many novices her cooking skills evolved through the years. She became less stressed and more patient at the stove, which is an important factor in cooking well. She was a courageous cook-one who was willing to try new recipes and make note of their successes or failures.

Homemade Lemon Poppyseed Bread
Homemade Lemon Poppyseed Bread | Source

My Passion for Cooking

My children will attest that the gene that makes a good cook jumped a generation when it comes to my cooking. As a single mother who was also a full-time nursing student, I was not creative when it came to our family meals. The moments I impressed them came from recipes handed down from my mother. And, when I began working full time my interest was not in cooking.

Therefore, I find it a curious phenomenon that I have acquired some of my mother’s cooking spirit as I have aged. One way is that I have become much more attuned with the process of preparation. Staying in the moment with an undivided attention to what I am cooking has opened a path of patience, love and presence. I find myself now delighting in trying new recipes and being as brave as I imagine my mother had been, experimenting with different spices, flavor combinations, and unfamiliar ingredients.

Another way is that I now have a similar affinity to cookbooks that I witnessed with my mother. I love to look through cookbooks and have a small collection growing in my own home. Nothing in comparison to my mother’s volumes of books, splattered with sauces and notes written in the margins, but a collection to be proud all the same.

Perhaps it is my love for food that has resulted in this new passion. When a dish is made with a blend of ingredients that transform it from ordinary to extraordinary it is a sure hit with me. Not having a broad knowledge of which ingredients work well together, I still enjoy the way flavors develop as the dish is completed.

This passion has led to a secret I will share today: one of my long range goals is to take classes at a culinary school-the date is set for sometime in the next several years. Having announced that I will also share with you what I look for when selecting a cookbook.


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What I look for when selecting a cookbook

Photography: For overall appearance the photography is an essential part of the appeal of a ‘good’ cookbook for me. Even if I would never attempt a particular dish featured, I could never tire of imagining consuming the dish.

Title: A good title is another aspect of what I look for in a cook book. As in selecting a particular book on any subject, a book’s title can be a very personal preference that triggers memories, both good and bad. When I saw this title recently, Cabin Cooking I picked the book off of the library shelf to browse through because the title had evoked memories of family time at my father’s cabin.

Purpose: Making a decision to borrow or buy a particular cookbook has, on occasion, been based on purpose alone. Whether for basic cooking instructions, entertaining, or trying new ethnic foods, there is a wide source of selections available online, in bookstores and libraries.

Readability: Even though my cooking skills have improved, there is much I still need to learn. If I read a recipe that appears too complicated, too many steps, or filled with unattainable ingredients, I will not consider trying it. I like cookbooks that are written in an easy to understand manner, but not so simplified to hold a condescending tone.

Favorite Cookbooks

The All New Ultimate Southern Living Cookbook by the editors of Southern Living Magazine. It is filled with wonderful recipes, beautiful photography and helpful cooking tips that are easy to follow.

Farmers Market Cookbook also by Southern Living Magazine. This is all about using your local farmers’ market produce. There are several things that I like about this book. First, its support for the local farmer; second, the engaging photography; third, the ‘tips’ it offers throughout the book; and last, the simple division of the book by seasons. This is a book I would consider adding to my collection.

Savannah Celebrations by Martha Nesbit is a hit. As the subtitle indicates, this is a book filled with ‘Simple Southern party menus’. The themes include typical holiday celebrations filled with traditional foods along with menus for a St. Patrick’s Day Buffet; a wild game dinner; a seafood supper; a tailgate party, and much more.

Read it and Eat by Sarah Gardner includes information about why she chose the particular month’s theme, as well as a brief summary of each book selection. For example, her picks for January were four books that portrayed the resilience of the human spirit, meant to inspire the reader at the beginning of the year. It is a cookbook I bought for a gift and kept for myself.

Cooking Light Annual Recipes for 2011 has so much to offer regarding nutritional information; recipe ratings such as ‘kid friendly’ or ‘easy’; and appealing menus that it is hard to pass by. My one criticism is that it has few photographs.

The Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker is worth adding to a cook’s collection. It is an ‘all purpose’ cookbook laying out basic information, menu planning, recipes and a wealth of other information.

The Healthy College Cookbook by Alexandra Nimetz and Jason Stanley is a wonderful first cookbook for a student living on his own for the first time. Appealing and familiar recipes; a how to for equipment selection and stocking the pantry; and a section on using herbs and spices were three of the things I found helpful in this book.

30 Minute Thai is a collection of fifty recipes that include a seafood soup; cucumber salad; Pad Thai and Green Chicken Curry. This was a gift to me because my daughter knows how much I love Thai food. The recipes are familiar, simple and easy to follow. The photographs are enticing.


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    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 4 years ago from North Carolina

      Dianna-what a nice comment-thanks! I really am enjoying cooking, which amazes my daughters-so many childhood memories seem to contradict that.

      Hi Sally's Trove-what a lovely comment. I appreciate what you wrote because it resonates within. Thanks!

      Hi Michelle-She sure was! I miss her very much, especially now that I'm so passionate about my cooking. I want to share that with her and it's just too late. Thanks for your comments and share. :)

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Your mother was a talented and patient lady who was willing to spend the time necessary to hone her talents and skills! Thanks for sharing this and the recipe that your mother handed down. Passing it around!!

    • Sally's Trove profile image

      Sherri 4 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      I very much enjoyed how you wrote about your mother. As we grow, we take in much that we don't realize, until later. This seems to be the time for your inner cooking "spirit" and skills to flower. They say that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. Your first and most important cooking teacher is there for you, today, in your heart and memory. You are ready.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 4 years ago

      Your bread looks so wonderful. You are a great cook, I can tell! I have so many good cookbooks and use them to guide me for certain recipes. Such an interesting post.

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 5 years ago from North Carolina

      Hi moonlake-thanks for sharing your wonderful experience here. I am smiling reading it. I've been missing my mom a lot lately. Her cooking, besides her children, was a passion. She got better, as did I, as she aged. BHand G is a great 'go to' book.

      Do you like to look through other cookbooks? I do, which is why some of the Southern living books appealed to me: great photos and delicious sounding food. Oh, heck, nobody cares about calories and recipes are made with real butter, haha. But, my kids and grandkids now, chide me for taking so many food photographs. :) LOL It's a passion along with eating. Thanks for the vote up. Be sure to check out some of the other books even if none of the recipes appeal to you: they are nice to look at the lay out. hee hee.

    • moonlake profile image

      moonlake 5 years ago from America

      I have never heard of most of the cookbooks but I do have The Joy of Cooking. I was 17 when I got married and knew nothing about cooking. My go to book was Better Homes and Garden cookbook that I got for a wedding gift. Enjoyed reading your hub. Voted uP!

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 6 years ago from North Carolina

      Hi Tim--so glad that you enjoyed the hub. I do have many of my mom's books, and my brother has the rest of them. There were some recipes written in her handwriting that I suppose I will hang onto until I die...then, my kids can get rid of them, LOL Thanks for reading and commenting. I just finished #16 hub of the 30 hubchallenge. :)

    • timorous profile image

      timorous 6 years ago from Me to You

      Hi Denise; What an enjoyable read this was. I was wondering if you inherited any of your mother's old cookbooks. I have most of my mom's cookbooks. One of them, for the old pressure cooker is from the 40's. However, I've moved a couple of times since the last time I used it, and now it's missing..too bad, as it has the yummiest Plum Pudding recipe I've every tried, and now I can't remember all the ingredients. It may still show up the next time I move LOL.

      Full speed ahead on your 30 hubs. Way to go. :)

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 6 years ago from North Carolina

      Hi Barkley, thanks for visiting the hub. I know what you mean. Although I don't have a garden, my daughter grows an awesome garden every year and is still enjoying the fruits of her labor. I wrote a hub about it this past August called Summer Gardens and it is filled with some great recipes. Thanks for your comment. Tonight I'm working on the pepper hub. :)

    • Barkley Rosehill profile image

      Barkley Rosehill 6 years ago from Philadelphia

      The "Farmers Market Cookbook" cook book sounds awesome. I grow fresh vegatables in my garden every summer, and finding fresh recipes to make with the harvest is truly one of the pleasures of summer.

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 6 years ago from North Carolina

      Pam-thanks. It has improved. Tonight I made chicken picatta, one of my favorite chicken dishes and it was a 'melt in your mouth' result. Thanks for commenting.

      Darski-LOL that is funny about your mom knowing only 10 meals and repeating them. Funny. Thanks for commenting. I read your 'kidnapped' series -Awesome and Frightening! Is there a part 4?

    • Darlene Sabella profile image

      Darlene Sabella 6 years ago from Hello, my name is Toast and Jam, I live in the forest with my dog named Sam ...

      Wonderful hub, very delightful to hear about you mom, you are lucky and it sounds like you have good genes. LOL I am also Italian on my fathers side. My mom knew about 10 meals, therefore over and over, monday thru the end of the week, we Friday night was always taco night...LOL life...great hub, rate up peace & love darski

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 6 years ago from United States

      Denise, It sounds like your cooking skills are rapidly improving. I have acquired a lot of cookbooks to but kind of lost my interest in cooking lately. I enjoyed your hub.

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 6 years ago from North Carolina

      I do too, LOL Nice to meet you. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • Karanda profile image

      Karen Wilton 6 years ago from Australia

      Good luck with taking those culinary lessons. I can spend hours flipping through the pages of a good cookbook. In fact I probably spend more time looking for recipes than I do cooking.