Over all the years of book love, I’ve come across so many weird and wonderful books, from rare and collectable automobile repair manuals to children’s potty-training books to unimaginably beautiful books of art and everything in between. Some of my favourites have been cookery books. Since we all eat, you’d think cookery books would bring out our commonalities, and the basic truths that apply to everyone. Instead, wonderfully, I’ve been amazed at the huge variety I come across. From different countries, different dietary requirements, and different tastes, it seems we can’t get enough of trying new and surprising ways to enjoy food. Here are 10 of the more memorable cookery books I’ve found. Some are notably weird.
Cognitive Cooking with Chef Watson: A Computer-Generated Cookbook
IBM’s cognitive computing system “Watson”, made famous by appearances on Jeopardy, tries its circuitry at something better than trivia – cooking. In a creative attempt to break free of culinary ruts and open the minds of chefs to new flavour combinations, project members at IBM trained Watson, by inputting tens of thousands of recipes, flavour profiles, chemical composition of foods, complementary ingredients and the like, and Watson “learned”. This book of computer-generated recipes is a perfect example of the science behind cooking.
Cooking with All Things Trader Joe’s
Trader Joe’s is among my favorite places on Earth. Perhaps in part because I’m Canadian and can’t go there often, it holds an allure unlike any other store. Full of carefully curated selections of healthy, fun food, some fresh and whole, some partially prepared, and some convenient and ready to eat, it’s also the home of cheap wine and beer, and the best customer service ever. If I lived in the United States, I’d buy this book.
Cooking Up a Storm: Recipes Lost and Found from the Times-Picayune of New Orleans
New Orleans is absolutely one of the premier food cities in North America, with a rich history of southern recipes passed down generation to generation. With the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, many of those recipes were lost, and could have stayed that way. However, post-hurricane, the Times-Picayune newspaper became a forum for people to add and share their recipes, post pleas for a particular lost recipe, and start to rebuild the flavour of the city one dish at a time. Edited by Marcelle Bienvenu and Judy Walker, Cooking Up A Storm offers 250 of the authentic, tasty recipes that readers came together to share, as well as the stories behind them.
The Portlandia Cookbook by Armisen, Brownstein & Krisel
The companion cookbook to the hit show Portlandia by the Emmy-nominated stars and writers Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein, with 50 delicious recipes for every food lover, freegan, organic farmer, and food truck diehard. This is a funny cookbook with serious recipes for anyone who loves food. And yes, the chicken’s local.
I Like Food, Food Tastes Good by Kara Zuaro
Taking its title from punk rock pioneers The Descendents, I Like Food, Food Tastes Good is a fantastic compilation of recipes contributed by various bands. I admit I was skeptical – surely the Descendents would offer up something terrifying: “Gather the empties from around yer house. Pour the half-inch from each bottle into a pot. Watch for butts. Stir.” I envisioned ‘recipes’ involving nothing more than fast food eaten in a gas station bathroom. But I was completely wrong, and very pleased with the result. The cookbook isn’t just amusing for fans of the bands or people who want a quirky read – it’s also a real cookbook, with over a dozen things I was immediately dying to try out.
The Dead Celebrity Cookbook by Frank DeCaro
In The Dead Celebrity Cookbook: A Resurrection of Recipes by 150 Stars of Stage and Screen, Frank DeCaro—the flamboyantly funny Sirius XM radio personality best known for his six-and-a-half-year stint as the movie critic on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart—collects hundreds of recipes passed on from legendary stars of stage and screen, proving that before there were celebrity chefs, there were celebrities who fancied themselves chefs.
Literary Feasts: Recipes from the Classics of Literature by Barbara Scrafford
A collection of insightful essays on food accompanied by a host of recipes, Literary Feasts explores the significance of food in literature. Each featured meal–from Madame Bovary’s wedding feast of chicken fricassee, to Doc’s beer milkshake from Cannery Row –has been set down in recipe form as authentically as possible so readers may duplicate them at home.
Cooking in the Nude for Playful Gourmets by Stephen and Debbie Cornwell
Intrigued? Fair enough. I for one am unable to wonder about the recipes without horrifying images of badly-splashed bacon fat dancing in my head. Sharp knives, graters and slicers, and high temperatures just don’t lend themselves to naked prancing, in my books. Still, you’ve got to admit, it’s memorable.
Roald Dahl’s Cookbook
Roald Dahl did write some ghastly, wonderfully gross cookbooks for children. This is not one of those, though. This book is a mixture of anecdotes covering Roald Dahl’s family, his childhood, and his happiness at home with Liccy, his wife, and their numerous children, grandchildren and friends. For this extensive family, there is no more enjoyable way of relaxing than sharing good food and wine. The meals they enjoy together round the old pine farmhouse table at Gipsey House are either fine examples of national dishes of their heritage – Norwegian, French, British, etc – or favourite recipes that have delighted three generations of discerning eaters. Many recipes have acquired a particular significance for the Dahl family over the years, and these are introduced with reminiscences rich in nostalgia and humour.
A Treasury of Great Recipes by Vincent and Mary Price
One of the most revered and collectible cookbooks of the 20th century, Vincent and Mary Price’s A Treasury of Great Recipes has stood the test of time. It now seems clear that one of the reasons this book has become a classic is not merely the recipes. This book captures an entire
lifestyle — the Postwar, globe-trotting, Pan Am, waiters in bow ties, gourmet lifestyle. This is a Mad Men book. No quick-to-the-table Betty Crocker conveniences here. Everything about this book screams “gracious dining.” The Prices in their kitchen with gleaming copper pots. The reproductions of pages from vintage menus. The word “Luncheon.” The two-color pen and ink illustrations. The padded leatherette binding with silk bookmark. This is not to say that the Prices are snobbish. They’re cultured. And the scope and level of detail they bring to this book is loving and extraordinary.