Cookbook Series: Organisation

I love cookbooks.

The collection.

From Left: Veganomicon, Vegan Deli, Ani’s Raw Kitchen, Raw Food Revolution Diet, The Complete Soy Cookbook, A Vegan Taste of East Africa, Vegan Soul Kitchen, La Dolce Vegan, The Joy of Vegan Baking, Vegan with a Vengeance, The Vegan Table, Breadmaker’s Guide, 30 Minute Vegan, Vegan Fire and Spice, Peas and Thank You, Vegan Brunch, The World in your Kitchen, Vegan Cooking for One, Squeezed and Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World.
However, until recently I was more a collector of cookbooks than someone who used them to cook. I love cooking without cookbooks; however, I admittedly found myself in a lot of food ruts. Let’s just say that I was making things like palak channa, dhal, Thai green curry, curried split peas (are we sensing a curry theme?), stir fries, and the same couple of tofu and Mexican dishes over and over and over again. I could probably still happily eat those dishes most nights, but since I’ve been meatless since I was 12, I kind of felt it was time for me to re-invigorate my cooking repertoire. It wasn’t because I didn’t have lots of other things that I loved to eat…it was really just because making the same things again and again meant I was guaranteed to like my food and to always have what I needed on hand.

About a year ago, I decided that I needed to stop buying new cookbooks for a while until I committed to making most of the ones from the books I already had. I figured it would not only let me cash in on my investment, but it would be fun trying to work my way through and lead me to some new favourites in the process.

I am so happy with my decision.

I’d say that in the past year I make a new dish at least 3 times per week, but often 6 or 7 new dishes. And I am STILL probably only 25% of the way through this collection. Now, I will always leave at least 25% of it untapped because I don’t really eat or make desserts (sugar makes me feel ill), and there are others that I simply have no interest in (or aren’t actually things I need recipes for). Even so, I would say I have about 40-50% to go! Overwhelming, but kind of neat at the same time.

To keep my sanity in this process, I have come up with a system to ensure that I remember what was good, what was bad and what was just okay. I will share that in this post, and then over the next several months (or probably the next year!) I will review all the cookbooks. I plant to be quite thorough because I am a firm believer that you should only review a cookbook once you’ve made quite a few recipes from it. However, I find a lot of reviews fall short of my expectations when I am looking at a new cookbook purchases, so I hope to at least provide a little clarity to the 2 or 3 people who actually read the reviews.

Onto the organisation. Here’s what I do:

  • I have gone through all of my cookbooks and made a list of the things I want to make. I have done this twice so far: once for warm weather and once for cool weather. If you arein a place that has more definitive seasons than Perth, it’d be even better to make one for Autumn, Winter, Spring and Summer. However, here we have only two basic seasons in my opinion, and even those are a bit screwy when it comes to produce. I mean, things like strawberries are in season most of the year! I’ve given up on figuring out why certain things are in season when they are, and just roll with it. I’m getting sidetracked here, but my point is that different things appeal in different weather, so I found that I needed to go through the books again when winter started.
  • The night before grocery shopping, I make a list of the recipes I’ll make for the

    Example of a recipe I've marked up.

    week. That way I can add everything I need to the list. I didn’t do this at first, so I ended up going to the store mid-week. I hate that and it can get expensive (hello, impulse purchases!).

  • When I make the recipes, I note the changes I made. I often also note the weight of ingredients I used for certain things, as I find this provides a more accurate way of making things. I know that sounds pretty pedantic, but basically I do this so that if I love something I can make it the same way again. I am not a very structured cook, but when something works really well, who am I to mess with it? Good cookbooks have groups of recipe testers for a reason: they want to get a consistently excellent result. I want that too, and sometimes that means deviating based on what I have, my dodgy kitchen appliances, and the lack of many vegan products that are available in the US. Noting all of this also helps me know what changes work and what doesn’t. 
  • After I make each recipe, I have a rudimentary rating system: a check (or a ‘tick’ as Aussies would call it) for those things that were good but not great, a check+ for things that are excellent, and a check- for things that are not so great. A few things have even got a big fat X which means never again, but that’s very rare. Luckily, most things I’ve made either have received a check or a check+. I also note anything I want to remember for next time. For most things, James and I agree, but there have been a few things I have just thought were ‘meh’ but he really liked. So I note that, too.

This was a vegetable soup with dumplings. Of course James loved it - it's bread floating in soup!

I normally use about one-quarter of the sweetener called for in a recipe, but sometimes it's still too much. This salad had sweet potatoes, so I should have known not to add any sweetener at all!

So that’s pretty much my system for keeping all this organised. In the end, it’s likely that only those recipes getting a check+ will be made again and again, but there are things that I re-visit that I like better the second time around.

A quick note to those of you that don’t like writing in books: stop being silly! To be honest I don’t understand why people won’t write in any books, but as far as cookbooks are concerned I think it’s incredibly silly. Cookbooks are meant to have worn pages, notes, stains and a range of other blemishes. It’s how you know they’re loved.

Raw Vegetable Stack from 30 Minute Vegan

Not sure if any of that was interesting to anyone, but I hadn’t posted in ages and wanted to write something simple. I know there are a lot of people like me out there that love cookbooks but find they don’t use them enough. I encourage you to put them to use! If nothing else, it will inspire you to get more creative in the kitchen and get out of a food rut. It doesn’t have to be overwhelming, and I know most people aren’t interested in making as many new recipes as I have made over the past year, so do what works for you. I happen to find cooking the most relaxing thing after a long day of work, which requires a lot of my brainpower, and a workout, which requires a lot of my physical energy. My favourite way to unwind is to make and eat something new. I find chopping vegetables to be oddly therapeutic, and especially rewarding when it results in something interesting and delicious that I have never made before.

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4 thoughts on “Cookbook Series: Organisation

  1. Isn’t it funny – I do all this the other way round. See whats in my store cupboard, find a recipe on the net, print it off and then try it with comments all over the printout. Maybe its because I don’t have many cookbooks!

    • I used to do it the other way around too. This is a recent thing. I used to just use the net, but found I was neglecting my recipe books! Plus, I found I get less consistent results online, unless it’s from a person whose recipes I have made before and know that I like. It was a big change for me to organise things this way, but now that I am used to it, it’s seems to be working out really well. And James has been happy to reap the benefits of all this!

  2. I love hearing about others’ cookbooks. I am not quite as organised – actually I often vaguely remember a recipe while in a shop and buy what I think and wing it when I get home. I tend to use a lot of online recipes but I have joined a great group this year that challenges participants to make a dish out of a cookbook based on a theme each fortnight – this has been a great way of getting me to go back to my cookbooks – I have heaps so it can be quite overwhelming and I tend to forget lots of recipes I mean to cook but for the challenge I wrote some lists to prompt me.

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