Is Using a Cookbook Cheating?

I get asked all the time if I use recipes and cooking guides when I cook at home.  Of course, I use cookbooks!  Like an artist who travels to a foreign land or an interior designer who visits showcase houses, cookbooks are my window into another world.  The authors of these books look at food differently than I do.  They experiment with ingredients, give their advice on technique and their insights on flavor combinations.  Without cookbooks, I would be lost.    When I go into a book store, I immediately go to the cooking/home section to see what new cookbooks are out.  Discount stores from TJ Maxx to Homegoods has felt my wrath when it comes to scouring their home sections for off-price cookbooks.  I love them.  They inspire me.

A small portion of my cookbook collection


I still have the first cookbook I bought when I moved into my first apartment 10 years ago in Washington, DC.  My apartment didn’t have an oven, just a range top and a toaster oven.  For the first few months, I didn’t have a microwave either thanks to pesky parking tickets that kept eating into my reserve budget.  So I spent my first week eating out which got quite expensive and mundane.  After two straight nights of chicken tikka masala and $10 in my “fun budget”, I hit a wall.  I marched myself down to the Border Books determined to find a cookbook that would enable to cook for myself and save money.

What I found was a new love and passion.  I spent 3 hours in the cookbook section that evening.  I was kicked out of the store since they were closing but before I left, I did find the book that would feed my addiction.

My first cookbook.....


I admit it, the cookbook wasn’t glossy, didn’t have tons of fancy recipes or something that would impress a date.  However, over 80% of the recipes could be cooked on top of the stove and required less than 2 pots/pans, so that won me over.  And did I use it from Day 1.  It saw me through my first dinner party and my first date with the partner.  From time to time, I still refer to it for inspiration including this recipe which I use on fairly consistently for a quick and fast dessert.

SERVES 10-12

¾ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup (2 sticks) room temperature butter
1 cup sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon instant coffee/espresso (substitute 1 tablespoon of brewed coffee)
1 ¾ cups flour + 1 tablespoon for dusting pan

Place one of the oven racks in the middle position, and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Melt chocolate in a double broiler or a small bowl over a simmer pot of water.  Stir constantly until chocolate is shiny and smooth.  Remove from heat and stir in espresso/coffee.  Set aside to cool.

Add softened butter & sugar to a bowl of an electric mixer, beating until sugar is incorporated and butter is a pale yellow.  Add in eggs and vanilla at one time and mix until incorporated.  Add the flour and mix until just blended. 

Transfer half of the batter to the bowl containing the chocolate and gently mix. 

Note:  The ideal cake pan is a springform pan (8-9in diameter).  If you do not have a springform pan, use a loaf pan.  Lightly rub the bottom and sides of the pan with butter.  Dust the pan with 1 tablespoon of flour.

Spoon half of the chocolate batter in the bottom of the pan on one side and repeat with vanilla batter.  Add a second layer of batter, alternating sides, so the chocolate batter is now on top of the vanilla and vice versa.    Take a chopstick or skewer and swirl batter together.

Bake for 35-50 minutes, or until cake tester inserted in center of cake comes out clean.  Cool cake on rack in pan.

Cake will keep well in the refrigerator for up to 7 days.  Take out and bring up to room temperature before serving.


7 thoughts on “Is Using a Cookbook Cheating?

    • My first cookbook was awesome. It had these notes like “Beef comes from a cow.” I think it may have been meant for 9 yr olds who own their first apartment but it stopped me from eating out every night. And the partner is pretty good about letting my culinary fancys fly as the wind sees fit.

  1. Confession: Not only do I almost always use recipes, but somebody gave me measuring spoons that say “dash,” “smidgen” and “pinch” as a joke — and I use them. Hey, I just like things to turn out the same every time. Maybe I need therapy.

  2. Pingback: Valentine’s Day Dinner Menu Suggestions « Living Life Out Loud

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