Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Confessions of a Cookbook Nerd

I will readily admit that I suffer from OCD (Obsessive Cookbook Disorder). It’s not that I collect cookbooks, although I do have plenty on my shelves. No, I consider myself a cookbook nerd because I study cookbooks. And, it’s not just cookbooks, but I also study the cookbook industry. I research which cookbooks are coming soon and what are the “happening” trends in the industry. I often visit publishers’ web sites to learn about their books and authors and to see if they’re offering a sneak peek at the cookbook.

Also, I set up an elaborate system of wish lists on Amazon.com such as “Fall 2012 Cookbooks” and “2013 Cookbooks”. I then make notes such as publication dates and the name of the publisher. The books come and go on the lists according to my mood and any inside information that I’ve picked up along the way. I make full use of the “Look Inside” feature on the site. If I “look inside” and don’t like what I see, the book is off the list.

What would make me cut a cookbook from the wish list? Many things factor into my decision such as:

  • If the recipes include lists of ingredients that are long and painful such as specialized or unfamiliar ingredients
  • If I look through the index and can’t find a recipe that interests me, that doesn’t make me want to see the actual recipe
  • If I feel like I’ve seen the contents before in other cookbooks. After all, how many people can publish a recipe for garlic cheese biscuits and claim them as their own? You get the drift…
  • Finally, and I’m not being conceited when I say this, if I feel like I could have written a better cookbook. I think we’ve all read one or two of those…

If the cookbook has already been released and the customer reviews are posted, I always read through those to get a sense of what readers are thinking. However, I’ve found that you have to be wary of the blogger-turned-author reviews because they are inundated with dozens if not hundreds of 5-star reviews from blog readers. I can tell you from owning some of these cookbooks that not all of these 5-star reviews are well-deserved. I always consider the 2 or 3-star reviews because they can be a little more objective since the reviewer doesn’t have the emotional attachment that a blog follower does.

The true test for me in determining the quality of a cookbook is to take the cookbook and dissect it mentally by removing all of the photographs and the personal commentary. Now, what am I left with? Am I left with recipes that are tired or unoriginal and don’t show any inspiration other than a quirky camera angle and an elaborate tablescape? Or, do I have page after page of recipes with checkmarks by the recipes that I just have to try, recipes that take common ingredients and use them in new and original ways? 

Some of you may find the subject of cookbooks boring, but I know there are a few of you out there who share my obsession. Please comment below and let me know which cookbooks you have and love, which ones you hate, and which ones are on your wish list. If I’ve read them, I’ll chime in and give you my opinion on them.


  1. As they say, to admit it is half the battle:-) I too am a cookbookaholic and devour reading them and dissecting them. Baking with Style by Lisa Yokelson is one of my favorites, but I figuratively have over 1,000 cookbooks and really love all of them.

  2. I have two of the Pioneer Woman's cookbooks and I do love them. Have I made anything from them? NO. But I enjoy her photography! I get most of my recipes from online these days!


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