I’m not very good at using cookbooks.
I love them! I’m addicted to the pictures and the ideas and I have a growing collection. I enjoy the stories and getting to know the person behind the food. I like finding all sorts of recipes that I want to make and usually make myself incredibly hungry looking through them all.
I get frustrated at the recipes though. I’m not a fan of grocery stores. If I end up having to go to one for a single odd ingredient, knowing I’m going to have to buy a large bunch of cilantro or basil for one tablespoon in something (the rest of which will probably go unused or forgotten in my fridge until it smells funny and makes me feel guilty for not using it), I usually end up fudging and changing the recipe to suit my kitchen and desires.
Most of the people I know feel dependent on a recipe or a cookbook only until they feel comfortable. For some of them this means they make something once, following the recipe, and then feel more comfortable changing and diverging from it. For others, it might mean a couple more tries before comfort sets in. Lets face it, we all have different levels of comfort when it comes to diverging. Depending on the recipe and what sort of thing I’m working on I feel pretty comfortable fudging it. Which is ironic because it makes me completely uncomfortable when my sister or mother starts reading a recipe and then totally do what they want. I can’t explain this but something about watching someone break the rules makes me supremely uncomfortable!
Cookbooks are as helpful as we let them be. When we use them to give us ideas and break us out of food ruts and remind us of things we love and enjoy, they can be really useful. When we let them dictate our lives they start getting a little bossy. Add to that the internet which lets us know all we aren’t accomplishing and how beautiful and amazing other people are making their foods and we become more self conscious about our lack of style or know how. I know of several books that encourage life changes such as making and freezing all your meals on one day or living from a crock pot. Some of those ideas can be real helpful and cut the stress from life, some of them can add to our stress and make us feel like we aren’t doing it right.
It seems that the main thing to remember is to do what feels comfortable for you in your kitchen. Be flexible enough to know when to break the rules and know how to cook to your audience. People aren’t really demanding. If there are good flavors- they will be happy. If it’s presented nicely- they will be impressed. Most importantly if there is good conversation with a lively host who isn’t exhausted from figuring out dinner- they will be delighted.
Calm down, feed people.