I suppose most people learn to cook from their parents or maybe by watching cooking shows, but I learned to cook at the library. My mom cannot cook. I recently went to her house for lunch, she made steaks on the grill, one side was CHARRED the other was frozen, we had cereal. I have never watched cooking shows, except in waiting rooms, I actually enjoy them when I watch them, but I haven’t ever sought them out. Does anyone watch them? Is it a spectator thing or are you supposed to cook along with the host? Just wondering… My husband and I primarily ate out when we were younger, but then I started getting more interested in health and decided I wanted to learn to cook, so I started checking out cookbooks at the library.
I loved it when a new cart would come in with a few new cookbooks on it. A couple of the library ladies and I would fight over who would get each new cookbook first. Then we would all review and recommend new recipes to each other. I would consider a cookbook to be “good” if I made one or two recipes from it and liked at least one. Then I would photocopy (is that legal?) the recipe I liked and add it to my recipe binder. FYI, I have moved most of my recipes to the “Recipe Gallery” App on my IPhone, but I still have the binder, just in case. I now have a core understanding of how to cook, so I am not as excited by new cookbooks, but I still enjoy flipping through the new ones when they come in.
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As I was learning how to cook, I was also learning that you can very quickly determine if a cookbook has any chance of being any good. It basically comes down to three things. First, is the book published in hardback, most cookbooks are, so if you are looking at one that is paperback or spiral bound (ugh) you have to wonder why the publisher was not willing to invest more to make the book hardcover. Next, does the book have a basic “introduction to cooking” section? It doesn’t need to be a very large section, but unless the book is for advanced chefs, it should have something. Every cookbook should cover some kitchen basics, how to cut an onion, best pots and pans to use, cooking temperatures, something. Lastly, every cookbook should have a full color professional picture for EVERY recipe. I don’t think I have ever cooked a meal, that I didn’t have a picture of the finished product. There are definitely exceptions to these rules, but when you are purchasing books for an entire community and you want a good return on your investment, these rules help.
I tend to cook meals that lean toward Asian and Mediterranean influence, this is what I have come to understand as “healthy”, but when I am recommending a cookbook for someone else, I want to make sure I get them the right book for their needs. If someone asks me to show them the cookbooks, I try to find out what type of cooking they have in mind. Obviously, if someone is trying to win a baking contest, I will show them a different book than someone who wants simple meals to make with their kids. The hardest cookbook reader’s advisory will be for people who are looking for “healthy” cookbooks. Most people will have an idea of what this means to them, some people will want Vegetarian, others will want Paleo, or literally anything in-between. Let them tell you what they think is healthy and then help them accordingly. Like with any reader’s advisory, listen to the patron!
Let’s Collaborate! What is a life-skill you learned at the library? Comment below!