Food sections at bookstores, brimming with pretty photos and come-hither recipes, channel the five-star chef we all aspire to be: Ethnic, vegan and restaurant cookbooks are siren songs to an amateur’s inner Wolfgang Puck.
So we buy titles like "Bistro Cooking at Home" by Gordon Hamersley and "Culinary Artistry" by Andrew Dornenburg with the highest of hopes. We take them home and flip through their pages, struggling to decide which foie gras recipe to try first.
And then, when the time comes to whip up a meal, we grab the same old cookbook we’ve used for years. Turns out people with libraries of hundreds of cookbooks do the same, like these four East Valley residents who shared the one book they turn to time and again for favorite, reliable recipes.
MICHAEL McCURDY, "50-something," SCOTTSDALE
Favorite cookbook: "Betty Crocker’s Cookbook," all editions Michael McCurdy and his wife, Susan, entertain friends at their Scottsdale home at least once a week, if not twice. For them, setting out the welcome mat is an excuse to try something new in the kitchen — an easy charge, considering the couple’s collection of cookbooks has taken over "shelves and shelves" in the kitchen and garage.
The oldest selection dates back to 1890; the most-visited cuisine is Italian. "It’s a continual learning curve," McCurdy said. His passion for cooking started "with the barbecue and went from there," but really picked up when he and Susan were newlyweds, more years ago than McCurdy is willing to admit. One of their first cookbooks was "Betty Crocker’s Cookbook," the book McCurdy credits with teaching him the ropes of the kitchen. "It’s just basic American meat loaf cooking," McCurdy said.
SAVORY MEAT LOAF
Yield: 6 servings
1 1 /2 pounds lean ground beef 1 cup milk 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce 1 teaspoon chopped fresh sage leaves or
1 /4 teaspoon dried sage leaves 1 /2 teaspoon salt 1 /2 teaspoon ground mustard 1 /4 teaspoon pepper 1 garlic clove, finely chopped or 1 /8 teaspoon
garlic powder 1 egg 3 slices bread, torn into small pieces 1 small onion, chopped ( 1 /4 cup) 1 /2 cup ketchup, chili sauce or barbecue sauce
Procedure: 1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Mix all ingredients except ketchup. Spread mixture in ungreased loaf pan (8 1 /2 by 4 1 /2 by 2 1 /2 inches or 9 by 5 by 3 inches), or shape into 9-by-5-inch loaf in an ungreased rectangular pan, 13 by 9 by 2 inches. Spread ketchup over top. 2. Insert meat thermometer so tip is in center of loaf. Bake uncovered 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until thermometer reads 160 degrees.
Source: "Betty Crocker’s Cookbook" THE FAMILY COOK
CYNTHIA SEELHAMMER, 46, QUEEN CREEK
Favorite cookbook: "You’ve Got it Made: Make-Ahead Meals for the Family and for Cooperative Dinner Parties" by Marian Burros
Cynthia Seelhammer is the oldest of six siblings, so growing up, she helped her mom — "a very adventurous, wonderful cook" — prepare family meals.
Because of those childhood lessons, experimenting in the kitchen is a natural for Seelhammer. When traveling to places like Thailand, Europe and Australia, she makes "a point of getting a cookbook or two and learning about (native cuisine)." Her collection of about 500 cookbooks also includes used ones purchased at yard sales.
Yet, it is an out-of-print book titled "You’ve Got it Made: Make-Ahead Meals for the Family and for Cooperative Dinner Parties" that Seelhammer uses the most when cooking for her husband and 3-year-old son. The book features meal plans for two to four people or 12 guests and dishes that can be stored in the freezer. She likes it for its simplicity and use of international flavors.
"I’ve wrecked at least one copy and half-wrecked a second copy," said Seelhammer, who has to search for replacements at used bookstores and on the Internet.
SHRIMP SESAME WITH ANGEL HAIR PASTA
Yield: 4 servings
2 pounds shrimp in the shell 2 tablespoons sesame oil 2 large cloves garlic, minced 4 large stalks celery, finely cut 1 /2 pound lean ground pork 1 /2 cup thinly sliced scallions 1 1 /2 cups beef stock 3 tablespoons reduced-sodium
soy sauce 6 tablespoons dry sherry 2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger 1 1 /2 teaspoons hot sesame oil 1 /2 pound angel hair pasta Cook’s note: A very thin pasta is essential so that it will absorb the sauce ingredients.
Procedure: 1. Peel shrimp and cut in half. Heat 2 tablespoons sesame oil; cook garlic and celery in it until soft. Add pork and scallions and cook until pork is brown. 2. Add shrimp, beef stock, soy sauce, sherry, ginger and 1 1 /2 teaspoons hot sesame oil and stir. 3. Freeze in portions suitable for your family’s use. To serve, defrost shrimp mixture and cook pasta according to package directions. Cook shrimp mixture quickly in a saute pan on medium-high, just until shrimp is pink. Do not overcook. 4. Mix shrimp sauce with cooked noodles and serve.
Source: "You’ve Got it Made: Make-Ahead Meals for the Family and for Cooperative Dinner Parties" by Marian Burros
LINDA MIRITELLO, 45, MESA
Favorite cookbook: "The New McCall’s Cookbook"
ANIS NORMOYLE, 57, SCOTTSDALE
Favorite cookbook: Anything by Ina Garten
Linda Miritello and Janis Normoyle, owners of Cooking for Pleasure, an in-home cooking school, have offered three classes based on Cindy Pawlcyn’s "Mustards Grill Napa Valley Cookbook." The recipes have been exceedingly popular among students, if only because Miritello and Normoyle, graduates of the Scottsdale Culinary Institute, eliminated two-thirds of the ingredients and instructions — making complex recipes simple.
The lesson: Many restaurant chefs don’t consider the home cook when publishing recipes, so if you do buy one of their books, don’t be afraid to streamline.
That said, the cookbooks Miritello and Normoyle reference most often are the ones that don’t require much editing. Miritello’s favorites are anything by Ina Garten and the "Cook’s Illustrated" series ("I use it as a starting point"), while Normoyle immediately thinks of "The New McCall’s Cookbook."
"All the recipes work," Normoyle said.
Yield: 8 servings
1 cup bulgur or cracked wheat (if boxed, throw out seasoning packet) 1 1 /2 cups boiling water 1 /4 cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice 1 /4 cup extra virgin olive oil 3 teaspoons kosher salt, divided use 1 cup minced scallions, white and green parts 1 cup chopped fresh mint 1 cup chopped fresh flat leaf parsley 1 each English cucumber, unpeeled and medium diced 2 cups grape tomatoes, or cherry tomatoes cut in half 1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper Procedure: 1. Place the bulgur in a large bowl, pour in the boiling water, and add the lemon juice, olive oil and 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Stir, then allow to stand at room temperature for about an hour. 2. Add the scallions, mint, parsley, cucumber, tomatoes, 2 teaspoons salt and the pepper; mix well. Season to taste and serve, or cover and refrigerate. The flavor will improve if the tabbouleh sits for a few hours.
Source: "Barefoot Contessa Parties: Ideas and Recipes for Easy Parties That are Really Fun" by Ina Garten