I talk about food a lot. And other stuff.

But mostly food.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Cookbook Format and Organization

We all have our favorite cookbooks.  Some we like for the recipes, some for the tips, some for the photographs.  I'm interested to hear what format works best for you.  Do you like cookbooks that are organized by season? By ingredient? By meal?

Here are some of my favorites:

*Eating Well's Rush Hour is organized by season.
*Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything is organized by protein or other ingredient, and has techniques, cooking times, cuts and other general information before the recipes start.
*Martha Stewart's Good Food Fast is also organized by season and it has a section for Basics - dressings, sauces, frequently used techniques. I love that sort of resource.
*David Joachim's Brilliant is a whole book of tips and techniques.  I like how it's organized alphabetically with a visual index on the outer edge of the pages: 

So.  What works for you?


  1. Organized by meal for me. Then within each meal section divide it up like by food type like "red meat lunches" or "poultry dinners." That's what I like best anyway. I've never had a cookbook divided by seasons before. Sounds kinda cool.

  2. I look at most cookbooks as reference books - they should have an extensive index, and while a preface or postscript to a process is fun, there shouldn't be any chatty nonsense in the actual text of the recipe. The fundamental layout of the cover-to-cover text really doesn't do much for me, aside for the occasions when I read a cookbook for fun (yeah, we're like that, aren't we?) - pictures help, I suppose, but they also can enforce a sense of overall FAILURE, 'cause the whatsit you just made don't look nuthin' like that shiny thing inna book....

    One of the more throwing-off feelings I once got from a cookbook was Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking", that presented the reader with a "base" recipe, the structure of which was, well, structured differently, and then gave lists of variations on that dish, usually with the preface "do that stuff I just told you, but then do this part". I'm a guy, I need my recipes to read like stereo instructions - A-B-C damnit!

    Also, I kinda like to know WHY I'm doing a thing, what the process is DOING there in the bowl or in the oven - which is why I like Alton Brown's work - he's given me a lot of freedom in the kitchen, because he replaces the voodoo of cooking with SCIENCE!

  3. I second the comment above about Alton Brown. I like how he, and the folks at Cooks Illustrated, explain the science of cooking. Oh wow, now I'm thinking of Cooks Illustrated's perfect blueberry pancake recipe-- after growing up on Bisquick cakes for years, the idea of using milk and lemon juice instead of buttermilk was an epiphany for me. It actually changes the texture and makes them less starchy! And it's easier than keeping buttermilk around all the time. One of these days I will subscribe to Cooks and pick up some Alton Brown DVDs.

    But the science stuff is what I picked up since college. What I grew up with was The Joy of Cooking, which organizes mainly by meal and dish type. It was great for making desserts but also had some really weird old fashioned drink recipes and wild game recipes that were fun to read but confused me because there are no pictures and we never eat that stuff! I once got in trouble trying to teach myself to poach an egg alone with that book and the wrong kind of bowl. So I guess I prefer cookbooks organized by meal or ingredient. But I really need pictures and explanations of techniques if it's something I haven't tried before.

    My mother taught me to cook with Joy of Cooking and Out of Kentucky Kitchens, which is where most of the meal standards in our house came from. I don't remember how Kentucky Kitchens organizes recipes. Possibly seasonal, as eating in season has always been very important to my mother.