I have a ridiculous number of cookbooks. I get them at yard sales, at the Goodwill, at used book stores, online, from friends, I steal them from my Mom and from my Grandpa, and from the NEMBF.
I have at least read through all of them and have come to two conclusions about myself: 1) I am more likely to cook from a book that reads like someone talking to me, and 2) I am less likely to cook from a book when the recipe looks terribly complicated. What can I say? I am easily turned off by too many of fractions.
Another conclusion I have come to is that there are some books where the recipes will never work for me. Ever.
For example, I have never been able to get a Nigella Lawson recipe to work for me. I will still buy her books because as annoying as she is on tv, she is perfectly gorgeous on paper and she's good for ideas. I found out about black cake from Nigella, so I can't really hold anything against her. But nothing I've cooked from her books has worked out for me, and I have tried a bunch of her recipes out of three of her cookbooks.
The Art of the Tart by Tamsin Day-Lewis is another recipe fail for me. It is a book that I find useful for ideas and for the pretty pictures, and not even that so much any more since I lent it out to Sassy Mo.
I own the French Laundry cookbook. It was a birthday gift to me from the Evil Twin's best friend. For some years now I have flipped through it, but you know what? I've never actually cooked anything from it. Everything looks quite complicated and I get tired just from reading the recipes. But I still read them, because I cannot help myself.
Other recipe fails come from the Alice B. Toklas cookbook (yes, I bought it for the hash brownie recipe and no, I've never made it.), Diner Desserts by Trish Boyle, The Artful Cupcake by Marcianne Miller, An Alphabet of Sweets by Marcel Desaulniers, to name a few from the sweets shelf.
As for the savory recipe fails... well those are less memorable because I am a little piglet and will eat anything so long as it hasn't either fallen on the floor for longer than the five second rule, or is completely scorched and unpryably stuck to the pan. I guess the savory tarts from the Art of the Tart would be considered recipe fails since they didn't work out for me at all. The doughs never worked properly and the fillings were bleh.
Well, so now what are the cook books that work? Laurie Colwin has never failed me. From black cake to ribs, she has never done me wrong. Through Laurie I found out about Jane Grigson's English Food and so far the three recipes I have made from that have worked exactly as described. My mom gave me Jacques Pepin's La Methode and La Technique both of which I go back to them almost as often as Mastering the Art of French Cooking One and Two. The Moosewood's Simple Supper is reliable. And if anyone takes away my copy of Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison I will julienne them fast than you can say "chiffonade".
In an ideal world I should get rid of about a third of my collection.
But the reality is that I cannot. I enjoy reading them - the recipes, the recipe preface, the lists at the beginning of what you ought to have in your pantry and what you should have for equipment. I want to know where recipes come from, when they were first made, their evolution to present form and what their relevence in the culinary world is at present. Why do we still have Fluff and cotton candy, but chowchow has disappeared from the table? How come steamed puddings fell out of favor? These are things I wonder about at night. And I feel reassured by the fact that I have all these books to look those sorts of thing up in.
So for now the cookbooks stay.
Including the entire Time-Life Foods of the World collection. For real.