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Best All-Purpose Cookbook?


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Best All-Purpose Cookbook?

Niki Rothman | Apr 7, 2006 02:45 PM

"So...", the old quesion goes, "If you could only have ONE (whatever) which would it be?" As far as cookbooks go, how would you answer?

A few years ago, I would have said "Joy of Cooking", or the only cookbook my mother, and probably a lot of Baby Boomers' mothers, had - "Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook" - the three-ringed one with the comforting red-checkered-tablecloth cover and drop dead, strangely wonderful, full-color food porn photo-illustrations of...spaghetti and meat balls! Flaming kebabs brandished by women with long red nails, "Glazed ham in all its glory!" It's so Freudian, really. But I digress, if only one cookbook could sum up America in the 20th. century, hands down, this is it.

OK, that was then, this is now. A few years ago, I discovered Pam Anderson and the America's Test Kitchen operation. America's Test Kitchen, as seen on PBS, compares and contrasts all methods and ingredients for classic recipes. What a concept! And I love Pam. She's a great, accessible writer, and in "The Perfect Recipe" I found what I thought was the cookbook I would choose if I could, indeed, only have one cookbook.

Over the holidays I treated myself to America's Test Kirchen's latest, "The New Best Recipe." I finally sat down with this massive doorstop of a book and compared it with the more svelte, "The Perfect Recipe." Pam Anderson is not credited in the new book. Yet the similarity in the titles and missions of both books would lead you to think you were just getting an expanded up-dated version.

I'm not going to go into great detail, but the differences are significant. Just using the New England clam chowder recipe, the new book uses much more bacon and potatoes and uses fresh rather than dried thyme. Amount of clams - unchanged. These are 2 different soups. Also, the new book's recipes are much, much more detailed. This could be good or bad, depending on the reader's preferences. Personally, one of the things I really love about the older book is the brevity of the recipes and clarity of the writing.

I had originally planned to pass the older version on to a friend, but now it's clear that having both of these books would be synergistic when strategizing to cook something they both feature.

Verdict: You may have your own favorite, and I'd love to hear about it, but for me, BOTH of these books add up to the ONE cookbook I would choose if I could only have one cookbook.

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