All You Need Is an Encyclopedia

Cover for The Cook's Encyclopedia of 30-Minute CookingEveryone should have a go-to cookbook. OK, I’ll rephrase. Everyone should have a go-to recipe. Something that you can successfully make and usually have the ingredients on hand for those occasional drop-in guests or Monday night “what should we eat… we’re too poor to order in… but I don’t want to cook” scenarios.

So, if you have a go-to recipe, it probably came from a cookbook. You can make that your go-to cookbook. I have just rediscovered my all-time favorite cookbook—Cook’s Encyclopedia of 30-Minute Cooking by Jenni Fleetwood. It’s a quirky little book. It rings in at a bit longer than 250 pages. Very slender for a cookbook, let alone an encyclopedia.

Why Do I Love This Book?

It pretty much has the best of all worlds:

  • Two pages of quick cooking techniques that show you how to make an easy sauce, perfect pasta, flawless pancakes, and a few other items.
  • A few sample menus from recipes in the book are meals I would actually eat.
  • The breadth of recipes is pretty amazing: Broken down by time (10-, 20-, an d30-minute recipes) and then by type (snacks/apps, poultry/meat, fish/shellfish, vegetarian, pasta/rice, and desserts), it is a wonderfully logical book.
  • Each recipe is one page and each step of the recipe is illustrated—even the easiest of steps. (You know, I don’t really need a picture for pouring half the salad dressing on the salad, but thanks anyway.)
  • The recipes really do only take the time specified, including prep. I love those cookbooks that are like, “This recipe is soooo easy. It takes a minute to toss everything together.” What it doesn’t tell you is that it takes four hours to segment the oranges, another four hours to grate the 10 lbs of cheese, and a day and a half to marinate. This book is not those books. This book is clear.
  • The ingredients are mostly things you would legitimately have in your pantry or fridge. Yes, there are few recipes that call for lemongrass (but hey they sell it in a squeezy tube now!) or instant coffee (who drinks instant anymore). But, for the most part, these are everyday dishes you can really whip up.
  • The recipes are oh so good. I have not yet had a complete dud. Granted, I have not cooked any of the four liver recipes. (Liver is really quick to cook, hence the plethora of recipes.) Of the 220 recipes, I have made 62 of them from this book and only one has gotten a so-so review.

Where Could the Book Improve?

  • I have the soft cover version and since it’s so slim there’s no easy way to keep the page down whilst cooking. (My copy is a smeary mess.)
  • It’s out of print so I can no longer give it as a gift. Published by Barnes & Noble Books, I think the last printing was in 2005. If you want a copy, you’re going to have to find a used one on a reseller site.

So, by now people have realized I have an obsession with food and cooking. Now, for the sickest part of my obsession: I realized that this book has several other out-of-print versions. So, I bought some of them, and if they are as good as their 30-Minute brother, I will share with you. These are the titles I am eagerly awaiting from a used book store in Texas:

  • Cook’s Encyclopedia of Soup
  • Cooks Encyclopedia of Four Ingredient Cooking
  • Cook’s Encyclopedia of Pasta
  • Cook’s Encyclopedia of Bread Machine Baking
  • Cook’s Encyclopedia of Vegetarian Cooking

And yes, I paid more in shipping than I did for the books. I am a total kitchen dork.

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