Red Plaid Book

Last night I stayed up late reading a book… a cook book.
Better Homes & Gardens New Cook Book

I grew up with this book. My mother received a copy of it for her wedding shower, and I taught myself to cook by flipping through this book’s pages. My mother’s copy is tattered, stained, and torn, but precious. In the years since I’ve been away from home there have many times when I’ve wished for this book either because of the beloved recipes, or because of the many, many handy charts it contained. Substitutions, measurements, cooking times, safe internal temperatures, how many pounds of fruit equal how many cups of cut fruit, canning instructions for different foods… It’s all there. Along with certain recipes that I used to make as a teenager and haven’t made since.

And I got the version like my mother’s that’s in a ring binder so I can add new pages (like the no-knead bread recipe that Jen posted) as I like. But I’m so glad that I didn’t actually get my mother’s version, as the version I got has updated recipes, nutrition information, a section on 20 minute meals, easy identification of vegetarian meals (and a bigger selection of meatless entrees) and instructions on how to make the recipes in a slow cooker (for recipes that can be made in a slow cooker). It also has a conversion table to adjust the bread recipes to a bread machine.

Last night I flipped through the book and drooled. So many possibilities… so many wonderful meals. I’m excited to cook. I want to plan a fancy dinner party. I want to start making breakfast on weekends.

Also in food news, I’m going through a strong meat aversion phase again. This has caused some problems with convenience and I’m not getting the protein I need. We were buying quorn tenders and other fake meat products, but they’re so expensive. And I’ve let tofu go bad in the fridge before because I couldn’t eat an entire block. So, Sunday night I took a block of extra firm tofu and cubed it. Then I spread the cubes out on a cookie sheet and put the cookie sheet in the freezer. The next morning I flexed the cookie sheet and the frozen cubes popped off and I put them all in a bag. Last night Kristin made stewed chicken and rice, and I reached into the freezer, took out a number of tofu cubes and popped them in the microwave for 90 seconds and plopped them in my bowl of seasoned rice. No extra effort to get me protein! No need for me to prepare a separate meal! Kristin kept the chunks of chicken big enough for me to scoop rice from around them and I just added my tofu. I think this is a system that’s going to work well.

So. I think this question has gone around the net already, but I’m going to ask it again… what, in your opinion, is the must-have cookbook for your home? Why? Also, have you come up with any clever solutions to kitchen/food problems that you’d like to crow about?


20 thoughts on “Red Plaid Book

  1. Oh dear God, I love my (older) copy of the BHG cookbook. I may have to get that one as well!

    I don’t know if it’s in there, but the copy I have has a great recipe for shortbread. It couldn’t be easier, either. I started making it when I was living alone, long long ago, and wanted something sweet. I was poor, so I didn’t have much in my pantry. Fortunately, it only called for flour, butter, and sugar. SCORE! It turned out so good, that I made some for my family and friends at Christmastime for several years. If you do make it, though, don’t do the “pat into a circle on a cookie sheet”. Instead, if you’ve got them, press the “batter” into a round cake pan. So much more even!

  2. The above cook book is a must have in my home. I don’t really cook out of it very often, but it’s invaluable for basics how-to’s, conversions, etc. And, the sentimental value is irreplaceable.

    I love “Desperation Dinners” by Beverly Mills and Alicia Ross. They claim that every meal can be made in 30 minutes or less. Which is pretty close. What I like the most though is their philosophy about cooking. It’s really given me the freedom to cook by feel, it doesn’t all have to be perfect and from scratch. I buy this cook book for everyone who is getting married, moving out etc.

    Happy cooking! I promise I’ll write for the project again soon.

  3. Now I’ve got to add that one to my list of cookbooks to pick up….

    I love cook books, however, since Susan is such a picky eater I barely even bother breaking them open any more…

    I love my Joy of Cooking, that one gets looked at the most in my house.

  4. Ah the short bread recipe! I know that one well as we were REALLY poor growing up and we never had snacks in the house and this recipe made a sweet cookie out of ingredients that were guaranteed to be in our cupboards!. I think that’s one of the recipes that I recognized in there when I was flipping through last night.

    Ditto: I’ll have to check out desperation dinners as that’s normally how I feel as dinner time approaches.

    Jen: I say cook for you and the kids and let S fend for herself if she doesn’t like what you make.

  5. I made my own, truth be told, but I’m a cookbook WHORE. I seek them out – the older, the better! I LOVE LOVE LOVE my grandmother’s old one, which had newspaper clippings stuffed in, and the like.

    But what I did (in my “pre-child” days) was to take a 3 ring binder, a BUNCH of sheet protectors, and just simply put recipes in them.

    I refer to that most.

    After that? Spice and Spirit – the complete Kosher cookbook. It’s AWESOME.

  6. Megan and I both grew up with that cookbook, as well. We both brought a version of it to our relationship. Sadly, out versions are not in binders and thus the pages are coming out a bit.

  7. The Joy of Cooking, absolutely. My wife and our best friend can spend an entire Sunday afternoon flipping through it and planning and drooling. Make sure you get the new edition–it’s so much better than the previous one!

  8. Two cookbooks that I love are: A Taste of Julie Jordan (she has a delicious and easy way to cook tofu, the wings of life salad is soooo good and a yum gaspacho recipe) and How It All Vegan (tasty vegan sloppy joe’s recipe!) that I still use even though I only lasted two weeks as a vegan. And the original Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen is really great for experimentation.

  9. BHG is my absolute favorite (their vegetarian tamale pie is one of my favorite things ever and goes over like mad at a pot luck) and the Joy of Cooking is great as well. I love the Williams Sonoma series of cookbooks… quite yummy. Another favorite is the ones put together by charity groups… the ones kids sell from school that are compilations of all of the PTA mom’s recipes and such. I have 4 of them and they are wonderful for their practical approach to things. Nothing tops my recipe box, though. When I moved out on my own, my grandmother gave me a recipe box of her recipes handwritten on cards… to me, that’s absolutely priceless… especially since I can’t call her up and ask her for things anymore. (Also, I live at LOVE it. Be sure to read all of the comments before cooking anything, though.)

    Other good veggie recipes:

    And of course:
    their veggie chili is to die for:
    add a small handful of chocolate chips or cocoa powder to it and it’s even better.

  10. oh yeah, also, for non-meat proteins that are easy to make at home, we always keep a couple of cans of beans in the house, some black beans, lentils, adukis or black-eyed peas. they have good organic ones with little salt or no salt added. i add a little salsa and some rice, and it tastes delish!

  11. Ahhh – you just made me think of my mum’s Be-Ro cook book. Every household had one, i’m sure. She used to help me make the Coffee Kisses from it when I was little, cos they were my dad’s favourite!! I’ve got to go and find that book!

  12. Another fan of that cookbook here. My mom had one too and it was well used while I was growing up. (I just looked and mine is actually Betty Crocker, but very similar.)

    I also like my “Betty Crocker’s Bisquick Cookbook”. We always have Bisquick in the house and it gives me fast, yummy recipes when I need something in a pinch. Plus a good slow-cooker cookbook is a must, IMO.

  13. I love that cookbook. I learned to cook using my great-grandmothers , which is now being housed in a safety deposit box until I stop moving every year or so. It is also the binder version and she tapped in all her mother’s recipes which she wrote out in her own hand. I love that thing!

    I would highly highly recommend The Passionate Vegetarian by Crescent Dragonwagon. My parents gave me this cookbook one year for the holidays and it has become the most loved in our house. Every recipe we have made has been absolute gold! The best thing is all the dishes seem to save well and she includes notes on freezing and preserving so you can cook ahead when you have time.

  14. yay! plaid!
    My GM was always using the plaid book, the Joy of Cooking, and Winning Seasons. Plus the D @ R was always putting out a new local cookbook twice a year.
    As for moi- I would be LOST without the America’s Test Kitchen book: New Best Recipe

    I love reading not only a recipe but how the BEST recipe came to be. For example if you are going to make mashed potatoes they try it 300 ways and tell you all about & then tell you which recipe will get you a specific result.

  15. I just got the Betty Crocker cookbook and How to Cook Everything (that latter is by the guy who published the no-knead bread recipe in the NY times). Both are really good, general cookbooks.

    I lived in a vegetarian co-op for 3 years and the most frequently-used books were the crescent dragonwagon one, vegetarian planet by dede emmons, and the Moosewood New Classics book.

    Anything by Isa Chandra Moskowitz is good too–she has an entire book of vegan cupcakes!

  16. Oh, you’ve struck a nostalgic chord! I grew up with that cookbook, too, and gave it to Myrtle when she moved out. It’ so useful, AND my novel is sort of kind of loosely based on one of its most delicious recipes. The working title of my novel is “Chicken Without Walnuts,” see. It’s a novel about the perfect (or imperfect) timing of adding (or omitting) the optional (or obligatory) ingredient. As you can see, it’s a pretty complicated novel, which is why I’m only on page two. I could write it a lot faster if I had some of that kinder, gentler pot we smoked in the 1970s.

    If it’s not one thing, it’s another.

    Lately, I’ve been cooking VERY basic stuff; but, when I want something with a little more pizzazz that fit’s hubby’s new dietary restrictions I use “Cook’n Recipe Organizer,” which I downloaded for about $30, or I use a recipe from (It was hubby’s recent diagnoses [yes, plural] that bounced me away from the whole blogger cookbook project. I’ve not written the project off as I still love to cook and eat for fun & pleasure, but at the moment it’s mostly eating for utility at our house.

    Steamed brussels sprouts, anyone? (puh!)

  17. We have How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman (I think that’s his name).
    But the BH&G one is my favorite and has many a food stain on it. My mother got hers when she got married too. And I have bought several for my friends’ over the years! I love that it tells me how to cook vegatables!

  18. The Post Punk Kitchen ( is incredible. I love every recipe Isa has ever posted, especially the seitan stew and margarita cupcakes. She’s got a great tofu scramble reciple, too. Scramble on toast with ketchup and tater tots on the side is simply divine.

    BTW– it’s nice to meet you. I’m a librarian in NY– I’ve read your site for a while, but it’s my first time commenting.

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