Sadly, I think the idea of the “lazy days of summer” is now pretty outdated, but many of us still see summer as the season to tackle projects we don’t have time for the rest of the year. For anyone who likes to take on cooking projects, the public library has a veritable treasure trove of books that can help you on your way.
The Project: Brush Up Basic Cooking Skills
A summer cooking project can be as simple as wanting to learn how to make a few simple meals from start to finish. In that case, here are some great all-purpose cookbooks:
How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman. A modern “how to,” that can both help you find something tasty for dinner and answer the question “what do I do with this?” for unfamiliar items in the CSA (community supported agriculture) box.
The Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker, and Ethan Becker. The classic American cookbook. I used to avoid it, thinking the recipes were too complex, but for many basic dishes, the techniques are surprisingly simple.
The Real Girl’s Kitchen by Haylie Duff. Based on her food blog, the actress introduces recipes for a variety of meal and snack options. Her gushing about kale might also make this a good choice for the next project on our list!
The Project: Try a New Diet
I’m not a fan of “dieting,” but I do sometimes explore ways to cook food that fit certain dietary choices or lifestyles. My favorite story about this is that I realized I needed to learn a couple vegan dishes when I had a vegetarian friend and a lactose-free friend over for the same meal. All my vegetarian dishes at that point involved cheese! If you are trying to change eating habits for health reasons, or just looking to expand your repertoire, here are some fun specialized cookbooks:
The How Can It Be Gluten Free Cookbook by the America’s Test Kitchen editors. For those who need or want to be gluten free, but miss old favorites, the America’s Test kitchen team takes on the task of figuring out how to make them. America’s Test Kitchen is famous for making a dish dozens of times until they get it just right, so you can be sure these have been well-rehearsed.
Teen Cuisine: New Vegetarian by Matthew Locricchio. Aimed at teens who are new to vegetarianism, this option includes vegetarian versions of traditional “meat” dishes, like BLTS, nuggets, and sloppy joes, and also has a good selection of vegan recipes.
Veganomicon: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero. Like The Joy of Cooking for vegans, this includes “how to” sections on vegan ingredients, plus a wide range of recipes.
The Project: Take DIY to a New Level
Cooking options these days run the range from a Betty Crocker “no bake” dessert that you just have to mix up to cheese that you make after milking your own goats. If you are interested in taking a step closer to the goats this summer, here are some sources that help you learn to make those things that we are all used to buying at the store:
The Cake Mix Doctor by Anne Byrn. If you are just starting on the journey to making things yourself, this is a fabulous resource. Instead of jumping in all the way, you can try out these hybrid recipes: each starts with a cake mix, but they’re all “doctored” to make them more interesting and more delicious.
Make the Bread, Buy the Butter by Jennifer Reese. When she lost her job, Reese embarked on a quest to see just how far she could take “making from scratch.” She went as far as getting her own goats and chickens, but she’s more realistic in what she recommends the average reader do. This book is as great for the stories as for the recipes, but the recipes are also fun and useful (it helps that each dish includes a “hassle” rating).
The Project: Relive Your Favorite Series in Food
It’s amazing how many book and show tie-in cookbooks are out there. If you’re feeling an urge to live out your inner Katniss or Mrs. Patmore, take your pick from these sources:
The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook by Emily Ansara Baines. Containing both an upstairs section (with dishes for up to eight courses, plus tea) and a downstairs section, this collection of authentic recipes will please anyone interested in traveling to Downton Abbey via food.
The Unofficial Game of Thrones Cookbook by Alan Kistler. Looking to escape to Westeros? Look no farther than the creative recipes Kistler puts together, including options for meals, snacks, and desserts.
The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook by Emily Ansara Baines. Chock full of recipes, this collection runs the gamut from dishes mentioned by name in the series to imaginative supplements. Some of the ingredients might be a little difficult to find (a raccoon, anyone?), but there are lots of book-related musings to make this a fun read all around.
The Project: Dessert
Because dessert is always a worthy cause:
Teens Cook Dessert by Megan and Jill Carle, with Judi Carle. Sisters Megan and Jill are regular teen home cooks who first got interested in cooking (like so many of us) because of dessert. Here they share a trove of recipes, along with techniques they’ve learned from years of hanging out in the kitchen.
Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World: 75 Dairy-Free Recipes for Cupcakes that Rule by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero. Those looking for vegan or lactose-free baking options, here’s a delicious guide.
-Libby Gorman, currently listening to Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira