by Joan Saunders –
I buy cookbooks for many reasons, but I’m definitely a sucker for beautiful images. I tell myself that if a new recipe doesn’t turn out exactly as planned, I can always show the family what it is supposed to look like.
Lots of my friends have lately been bemoaning the fact that cooking has become more of a chore, and so they’re looking for ways to rekindle some culinary joy. After all, the kitchen is where we’re spending a lot of time right now.
Leafing through a cookbook or scrolling through a blog or website is a wonderful way to pull yourself out of the dinner doldrums. I’ve found myself trapped in cycles where I go back to recipes over and over, and I get really tired of making the same meals in rotation. That’s when it’s time to go on a personal quest for inspiration.
I was introduced to the Smitten Kitchen website and cookbooks a few years ago and they have become a favourite. Their creator, Deb Perelman, has a sassy tone and a sense of humour that makes them very accessible and engaging. Her latest cookbook is Smitten Kitchen Every Day, and a number of the recipes have moved into my Top 10 list. I also signed up through Deb’s blog to receive emails on what’s new online.
Crowding the shelves in my house are many, many baking books; it’s a bit of an obsession. I love Rosie Daykin’s collections: Butter Baked Goods, Butter Celebrates! and Let Me Feed You. Rosie lives in Vancouver and my son and I actually made a sort of pilgrimage to her bakery in pre-Covid days. I know: super nerdy.
Let Me Feed You is not just about baking: it also has wonderful family meal ideas. Rosie’s ribs and homemade baked beans are fabulous. What’s great about the beans is that you cook them overnight, so you wake up to a glorious sense of accomplishment as part of that day’s dinner is ready to go.
Lately I’ve been wandering through the Epicurious website. It’s been part of the cooking universe since 1995 and has over 33,000 recipes. There are also videos, reviews and many categories to inspire. When I had zillions of tomatillos to deal with earlier this fall, this site became an essential resource.
Locally, there are many options to peruse. Rebar’s Modern Food Cookbook is now, I’m sure, labelled as a classic and their Three Sisters Burrito is astoundingly delicious. We’ve also made some amazing meals from Rebecca Wellman’s First, We Brunch. It’s such a treat to create something a bit decadent on a rainy fall morning and take time to lazily enjoy brunch.
Then there’s always Eric Akis. I have his Everyone Can Cook: Slow Cooker Meals book and it has hearty, flavourful choices. If you’re heading out for the day, it’s extremely satisfying to come home to a meal ready to be ladled out of the crock pot. I regularly clip recipes from his column in the TC and they’re always accessible and beautifully seasonal.
For vibrant vegetarian options, take a gander at anything by England’s Yotam Ottolenghi. The dishes lean on quality ingredients with layers of flavour. I have two of his cookbooks and follow him on Instagram as his positive energy and love of food shines through.
We also have a few of Jamie Oliver’s cookbooks, and his takes on classics are particularly good. His Fish Pie from Jamie’s Food Revolution is a staple at our house, and the bonus is that there are often leftovers. I also enjoy watching his TV shows as his enthusiasm for simple, delicious food is refreshing.
I could go on and on, but will finish with just a couple more suggestions. I have a number of the Looneyspoons cookbooks by the Podleski sisters and they’re first-rate. Greta Podleski’s newest cookbook, Yum and Yummer, has a recipe for roasted cauliflower with lemon and thyme that I adore (and make often!).
Some other B.C. bakers that I’ve hooked onto include Tessa Huff, whose cookbook Layered is lovely. I also follow her charming Instagram feed. From Salt Spring Island there’s Jana Roerick and her Little Island Bake Shop book. She focuses on heirloom recipes with some modern twists thrown in for good measure.
So, if you find yourself trapped in a mealtime stasis, explore some cookbooks, blogs or websites. Wander through your local bookstore and see what’s enticing. Everything might not turn out exactly as it should, but at least you can then point to the image and say: “That’s what it’s supposed to look like.” It works for me.
Photo by Joan Saunders.