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How to Use a Cookbook

How many cookbooks do you have in your collection? One tried and true tome you return to whenever you want to try something new? A tall bookcase full, many of which you never even look at? Or something in between. These days many people don’t even crack open a cookbook when they want a recipe, they simply Google it or peruse their favorite magazine or online recipe resource. Well, in honor of October being National Cookbook Month, I thought I’d share some ideas on how to use a cookbook.

There just might be some life in those cookbooks yet!

How to Use a Cookbook

Take an Inventory of Your Cookbook Collection

First things first, you need to know what kinds of cookbooks you have available to you. Many cookbooks have a theme, such as Italian cuisine or Christmas cookies, or cooking for kids. Other are more general such as The Joy of Cooking or the Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook.

Take a look at what you’ve got on your cookbook shelves and pull out those that strike your fancy. Perhaps you can even organize them by type so that your next visit to your collection will be easier.

Now take a look at the ones you set aside. Does one pop out at you, begging you to open it and make something wonderful? If so, put the rest away. That’s the one we’re going to work with.

If one doesn’t pop, then select one at random and put the rest away. That will be the one we’re going to work with.

The idea is to re-introduce yourself to one cookbook at a time. Maria Ribas, writing for TheKitchen.com recommends that you “Pick only one cookbook to try per week.” She knows just as well as I do, “You’re not going to cook from your cookbooks if you can’t even bring yourself to pick one.”

Get to Know Your Chosen Cookbook

There are many different ways that a cookbook can be put together. What sections does your selected cookbook have?

  • About the Author — Take some time to get to know who wrote that book. What is their background? What is their cooking philosophy?
  • How to use this cookbook — Some authors tell you exactly how to use their cookbook. Take some time to read this section. It can be empowering.
  • Ingredients and Tools — Many authors will discuss ingredients they use in their recipes and the tools and equipment you’ll need to be successful in making them. Don’t skip this section!
  • Recipes — Yes, take a look at the Table of Contents to see if the individual recipes are listed there. If not, there is probably an index where you can find them.

Select a Recipe to Try Out

Pick a recipe you want to try and read it first. This is how I evaluate whether or not I want to try a recipe.

  1. Ingredients – Do I like all the ingredients? If there are any I don’t want to or can’t eat, can I leave them out or substitute them without harming the recipe? It may take you some experiment to get comfortable with this evaluation by just reading it, but a good rule of thumb is if the “offending” ingredient is not dominant in the recipe, it is usually safe to substitute or omit.
  2. Directions – Do I have all the necessary equipment? Am I confident that I can implement the required techniques? If not, am I OK with failing? Sometimes you’re in the mood to experiment and don’t mind ending up with something you throw away. But other times you don’t have the wiggle room — like when you’re going to have company!

If the recipe you chose fails your evaluation, move on to your second choice. Repeat until you find a recipe you are willing to make.

Unleash Your Kitchen Creativity with Cookbooks

Go through this process once a week or twice a month and you’ll be amazed at what you’ll learn. You’ll find flavor combinations you like, and those you don’t. You’ll see beautiful food photography and see how well your finished creation compares. You’ll learn new techniques and maybe even expand your palate!

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About the author

Carma Spence has been experimenting in the kitchen since she was four years old and loves trying out new recipe ideas. She is the author of Bonkers for Bundt Cakes and Your Perfect Pie, as well as author and contributor to several more non-food-related books. With Carma's Cookery, she is taking her passion for empowering people and blending it with her passion for cooking, gift-giving and entertaining.