Yet, it got me pondering. Between gifts from my family and self-purchased additions, I own 14 or 15 different cookbooks. Of these, I consistently use seven or eight, and should probably sell three or four.
To determine what to keep and what to junk, I decided to break down each cookbook’s role in my kitchen, baseball-style. I’m a gigantic Mets fan from way back, and read ESPN’s Page 2 like it’s my job. So, in honor of the impending MLB season (pitchers and catchers report to spring training next month), let’s get to it:
Barefoot Contessa Cookbook by Ina Garten
This was a Christmas gift from the ‘rents, but I’m already intimate with it since Rachel (my old roommate) owned the book. To put it plainly, Ina has never failed us. She’s the kind of gal you could build a whole franchise around.
The Intellectuals (aka Stats Dorks or The Finesse Guys)
I’m Just Here for the Food by Alton Brown
The Cook’s Bible by Christopher Kimball
Alton Brown and Christopher Kimball are the Mike Mussina and Greg Maddux of celebrity chefs – brilliant, reliable, and the cornerstones of my cookbook team. Younger authors could take a note or two.
The Savvy Veteran
Everything You Need to Know to Cook Today by the people behind Betty Crocker
I don’t use this baby too often now, but Betty pretty much got me through the final two years of college, when I had to learn to cook for myself. A good starter book, it will always have a place on Team Kris.
Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich
Nearly every year, the large-market MLB teams (New York, Boston, etc.) enter a bidding war for the Next Big Japanese Pitcher. Though she’s Italian, Lidia’s that guy. And this cookbook is her money pitch. I need her to bolster my lineup and impress my parents.
Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child
Julia is to cooking what Sandy Koufax was to pitching, but truth be told, I’m a little afraid to touch this thing. I’m afraid it would spoil me for other cookbooks. Plus, there’s all that butter … not good for the booty and such.
The Hometown Favorite
My binder by my parents, a few friends, and lots of internet sources
I keep an ever-growing file of decent recipes right between Alton and Lidia. I probably use it the most, since it’s tailored to my specific tastes, and would liken it to Derek Jeter: a local wunderkind and all-around good egg that will never, ever get on my bad side.
The Utility Men
Lighten Up: Lowfat Cooking in 15 Minutes by Ginny Clark
No Diet Required by Jenny Craig
I bought these a few years ago when I was initially trying to drop some weight. The Jenny one is unintentionally hilarious (see: rich old women in foofy hats), and they’ve fallen out of my starting lineup, but both remain decent backups in case another recipe goes horribly wrong.
The Jekyll and Hyde
Fix it and Forget it Lightly by Phyllis Pellman Good
From day to day, I have no idea what this cookbook will give me. During a single week last year it produced a delicious baked bean dish, a middling chili, and a soup I would hesitate to call food. Completely hit or miss, like a streaky second baseman.
The Rookie with a Bad Attitude
The Food of India by Priya Wickramasinghe and Carol Selva Rajah
It must be said that this is a gorgeous book, and looks like a million bucks coming out of the wrapping. But the recipes … see above. It might end up traded for a player to be named later.
The Rookie with Potential
The Best 30-Minute Recipe by the Editors of Cook’s Illustrated
Looks great, comes highly recommended from scouts, and so far, has produced well. I don’t want to overuse it yet, but this could be the beginning of something special. In fact, the Chicken Provencal recipe attached below comes from this book. I made it last night, and it was OUTSTANDING. I can’t even explain. I haven’t made a dinner like this in awhile, and I run a freakin’ food website. The portions are big, too, so while the book calls for four servings per recipe, you can easily net six. (My calculations are for both.)
Ultimately, based on my designations, I’d probably chuck/sell the Fix it and Forget it book, as well as Food of India and Jenny Craig. There’s a three-volume Williams-Sonoma set that I’m undecided on, as well, but we’ll see.
Readers, how about you? What are your Hall of Fame cookbooks? Drop me a comment, and let’s get this discussion going.
Serves between 4 and 6 people
Adapted from Cook's Illustrated Best 30-Minute Recipe.
2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs
salt and ground black pepper
1 slice bacon, minced
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
1 onion, minced
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tablespoons unbleached white all-purpose flour
½ cup dry white wine
½ cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 Tablespoon minced fresh oregano, or 1 teaspoon dried
½ cup pitted Kalamata olives, chopped course
2 Tablespoons minced fresh parsley
1) Sprinkle salt and pepper all over chicken and place in a single layer in a casserole dish. (Make sure it's microwave-safe.) Cover very tightly with plastic wrap. Nuke 15 minutes on half-power. Be super-careful removing dish from microwave, as it may be very hot.
2) As chicken is cooking, heat oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add bacon and cook for about 2 minutes, until it begins to give up its fat. Add onion and 1/4 teaspoon salt, and cook 5 minutes, until onion is soft. Add garlic. Cook another 30 seconds or so, until fragrant.
3) Add flour to pot. Stir and cook "until lightly browned, about 1 minute." Add wine slowly, scraping up brown bits from the bottom of the pan as you go along. Add broth, tomatoes, and oregano. Bring to a simmer.
4) Knock heat back to low. Very carefully (it might still be hot) add chicken and any juices from dish to pot. Cover pot and cook another 10 minutes, until chicken is tender and fully cooked.
Approximate Calories, Fat and Price per Serving
4 servings: 443 calories, 17.7 g fat, $2.07
6 servings: 296 calories, 11.8 g fat, $1.36
2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs: 1081 calories, 35.5. g fat, $3.95
salt and ground black pepper: negligible calories and fat, $0.02
1 slice bacon, minced: 43 calories, 3.3. g fat, $0.37
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil: 124 calories, 14 g fat, $0.06
1 onion, minced: 46 calories, 0.1 g fat, $0.10
4 garlic cloves, minced: 18 calories, 0.1 g fat, $0.20
2 Tablespoons unbleached white all-purpose flour: 57 calories, 0.2. g fat, $0.01
½ cup dry white wine: 97 calories, 0 g fat, $0.40
½ cup low-sodium chicken broth: 43 calories, 1.5 g fat, $0.12
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes: 82 calories, 0 g fat, $1.29
1 Tablespoon minced fresh oregano, or 1 teaspoon dried: negligible calories and fat, $0.02
½ cup pitted Kalamata olives, chopped course: 180 calories, 16 g fat, $1.40
2 Tablespoons minced fresh parsley: 3 calories, 0.1. g fat, $0.20
TOTAL: 1774 calories, 70.8 g fat, $8.14
PER SERVING (TOTAL/4): 443 calories, 17.7 g fat, $2.07
PER SERVING (TOTAL/6): 296 calories, 11.8 g fat, $1.36