If you’re curious about how I assess the cookbooks I review, here are the four criteria by which I evaluate each one:
From the cover design, to the photography and page layouts, strong visuals always draw me in. They need to be both emotional and strategic, pleasing and communicative. I want moments of delight, and no confusion when I attempt to follow a recipe. And of course, the more pictures, the better!
I think cookability is equivalent to usability. Are the recipes accurate? Do I need to flip between three different recipes for multiple components (I’m looking at you, Bobby Flay!)? Are the Table of Contents and Index well organized for quick reference?
And are the recipes useful? That could mean different things to different people, but I’m always looking for food that fits into my day-to-day. I’ve never thrown a cocktail party, so a book filled with hors d’oeuvres just wouldn’t serve my needs.
Value is a shifty, elusive creature to evaluate. While the price of a cookbook is certainly a factor, it’s not the only determinant. A large, investment-worthy tome with fewer recipes but lots of detailed instructions and techniques can prove just as valuable as a discount cookbook with tons of simple, quick and delicious weeknight meals.
I have this little softbound cookbook called A Beautiful Bowl of Soup, written by Paulette Mitchell. I’ve had it forever – I think it was a gift from when when I was in college. It doesn’t look like anything spectacular, but I can honestly say I’ve cooked nearly every recipe in that book. And I’ve never been disappointed. In fact, I’ve nearly always been surprised and impressed. It has incredible value!
Yes, that’s foment, NOT ferment. And yes, I had to look it up, too. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, to foment means:
To promote the growth or development of: Rouse, incite
Perhaps the most important criteria of all, a cookbook should inspire! I try to remain conscious of how much a cookbook makes me want to, well, cook! Will it help me grow as a home cook? What will I learn? Will I be introduced to new flavors? And just how delicious is the food??
And there you have it…
…my rubric for reviewing cookbooks! After many years of shopping for cookbooks, this is what I’ve distilled it all down to.