Grocery Bag FAQ: How do you choose cookbooks and menus for the show?
We get asked this question often: "With so many cookbooks out there, how do you choose which ones to test?" And then once we've chosen a book, we have to decide which of the many recipes to test on the show. Here's a little behind-the-scenes peek into how we work:
How We Choose a Cookbook
We scour the bookstores to find a wide range of cookbooks, and we’ve been collecting all the suggestions from everyone who posts on our Facebook wall, here, or who writes in (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Every season we aim to include classic cookbooks like “Joy of Cooking”, ones by celebrity chefs (e.g. Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsay, and Nigella Lawson), healthy cookbooks (including “The Best Light Recipe” and “The New Lighthearted Cookbook”), books with buzz (e.g. “Fat“, “A16“), and ethnic cookbooks, like Thai, Jewish, and Indian, and Jamaican.
We scour the bookstores to find a wide range of cookbooks. Our aim is to reflect the many types of cookbooks found in the marketplace.
How We Choose Our Test Menu
When we settle on a cookbook, we put a lot of thought and planning into each cook day. First, we read each book from cover to cover to get a good sense of its style, information and the types of recipes offered. We then work with our production team to choose a selection of recipes that do a good job of representing the book.
If the cookbook is complicated, we stick to only two or three recipes (e.g. The French Laundry Cookbook). When the recipes look simple, we may tackle as many as eight. If the book touts a seminal recipe, we’ll often try to tackle that, just to see if we can do it. (E.g. Julie Child’s Pate de Canard En Croute from “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”.)
We also have to take into account timing to cook each dish. We often have to balance stove top and oven recipes with those that don’t require heat so that we’re not fighting to fit widely different dishes into the same oven space.
Plus, part of our test of the cookbook includes the confirming the suggested preparation and cook times. You may notice we often run out of time on cook days. Sometimes it’s because we make mistakes, and sometimes it’s because the recipe’s cook times aren’t accurate for the average home chef.
In addition, we try to prepare an entire meal for our guest chef – soup, appetizer, salad, main, side dish, dessert, etc. – providing the cookbook lends itself to that. (One seafood cookbook we tested, “A Good Catch”, didn’t include any desserts, with good reason!)
To add to this mix, we take into account previous dishes we’ve made. So if we cooked pork loin a couple of times already, we likely won’t choose such a recipe again for a while.
Finally, some recipes are simply begging to be made. For example, when we decided to test a cookbook called “Cowboy in the Kitchen”, we came across a recipe called “Son of a Bitch Stew”. How could we resist?
~ Anna & Kristina