I started reading Molly Wizenberg's blog, Orangette, in 2004, the very summer it started. I had just graduated from college and found myself in a crevice between two bookshelves windowless office at a publishing company in New York's Union Square, filling reprint numbers and paper costs into a handwritten spreadsheet, and sometimes taking photocopies of copyright pages up to other floors where more qualified people could glance at them. The job didn't require my entire focus, and blogs like Orangette filled the hours between my morning commute and my evening attempt to make dinner for my roommates. I'd jot down the recipes, but mostly, I came to Orangette for Molly herself. Food blogs come and go, but Orangette has lasted because Molly's readers love her voice and are eager to spend time with her by visiting the blog again and again.
She's written books, now, too: A Homemade Life, and most recently, Delancey, which tells the tale of her husband Brandon's Seattle pizzeria restaurant. I recently had the chance to ask Molly about her favorite cookbooks and food blogs. Here are her picks.
What do you look for in a cookbook? More than anything, it's a feeling. I like cookbooks that have a focus on seasonal ingredients and relatively straightforward preparations. Nothing with eight zillion different flavors going on. I like food photography that feels natural, with real mood and texture. (Heidi Swanson's books are a great example of this, as are Nigel Slater's.)
And I like cookbooks that don't shy away from giving me lots of information! I like to really dig into the details of why an author makes a certain dish a certain way, or why a given apple is best for a given preparation. (I'm thinking again of Nigel Slater, and of Judy Rodger's wonderful, wonderful Zuni Cafe Cookbook.) I like a cookbook to feel approachable, but to also be able to teach me something new.
What favorite cookbooks were used around your family home growing up? My dad was the kind of cook who would pull out a handful of cookbooks and compare recipes for the same dish, pick and choose what elements he liked, and then make his own version. The book I remember him using most often was The New York Times Cookbook by Craig Claiborne, but I remember him also being enamored of Simple to Spectacular by Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Mark Bittman.
As for my mom, I can't remember what she used! I've always thought of her as a food magazine reader more than a cookbook reader. Like a lot of cooks in the '80s, she had the Silver Palate books, and I remember her using those, but more often, I remember her shuffling through a drawer stuffed full of magazine recipe clippings.
Favorite vegetarian or vegetable-based cooking book? These days, I'd have to say Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi, or maybe Tender: Volume 1 by Nigel Slater. But I've also gone through periods of relying on Chez Panisse Vegetables, which is a timeless resource, and when I was in my early 20s, a friend gave me a copy of the great little book Fresh from the Farmers' Market by Janet Fletcher. I still use it often! Oh, and when I was very first starting to cook for myself, I loved all of the Moosewood books.
Favorite cookbook for desserts? For everyday desserts, I am a big fan of Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce. And before that, I loved Dorie Greenspan's Paris Sweets. Mostly, though, I find dessert recipes here and there, in all kinds of cookbooks. One of my favorite cakes of all time is Amanda Hesser's almond cake, from Cooking for Mr. Latte.
Favorite source for recipes when you're cooking for a group? When I'm cooking for a group, I usually do very simple stuff—a side of salmon, for instance, cooked like this—or recipes I've made a million times before and posted on my blog.
Any favorite cookbooks released recently? My friend Megan Gordon's book Whole Grain Mornings helped me perfect steel-cut oatmeal, and that's been a source of many happy mornings at our house.
What lesser-known cookbook authors deserve more love? She's not lesser-known anymore, but I love Edna Lewis's work, and in particular, her book The Taste of Country Cooking. In my world, it's a classic.
Do you think cookbooks as a form are here to stay? What about food blogs? I certainly hope cookbooks are here to stay! There's something very special about the tangibility of books. To me, they're the whole package, if you will: they're not only useful, but also visually beautiful, able to be carried around and taken anywhere (even where there's no wifi!), with paper that feels good between my fingers and makes that familiar rustling sound when you flip through, and margins that I can write notes in. I know I'm being sentimental, but I don't see anything replacing books entirely. Food blogs, for me, fill a different need. When I read a food blog, I feel a different kind of immediacy, a real companionship in the kitchen. I love that, and I'm grateful for it. Without blogs, my life would look nothing like it does! But I'm hanging onto books, too.
Which food blogs do you read these days? I always love Luisa Weiss's The Wednesday Chef, and Rachel Roddy's Rachel Eats is wonderful, too. (I also love Rachel's Instagram feed.) And there are so many others. Aaaaagh! I feel overwhelmed just thinking of how to list them all: Elissa Altman's Poor Man's Feast, Jess Fechtor's Sweet Amandine, Tim Mazurek's Lottie + Doof. Okay, I'll stop there.