Every January, Bend resident Marda Stoliar receives a bundle of 50 to 200 cookbooks at her front door. These she’ll read and judge for a national cookbook contest.
Stoliar is a well-known member of Central Oregon’s culinary scene. She has worked for bakeries and restaurants in Venice and Paris, and she owned a Bend bakery, The Breads of France, in the 1980s.
She has flown around the world as a consultant with the U.S. Dairy Export Council and the U.S. Wheat Associates, and opened her intensive International School of Baking (www.schoolofbaking.com) in her Bend home, attracting aspiring chefs from Vietnam to Qatar.
She also teaches baking classes at Central Oregon Community College.
Inside Stoliar’s house are hundreds of cookbooks. She reads them for pleasure before falling asleep each night, saying it gives her new perspectives on food. However, she hasn’t used a cookbook for a recipe formula in about 30 years, she says.
With all that cookbook experience, Stoliar is more than qualified to recommend the best cookbooks around. While good cookbooks that cost $60 to $70 are not unheard of, she says she can buy hers for pennies at online commerce sites.
“Getting a cookbook that gives you what you want is critical,” Stoliar says. So when shopping for books, here’s what she looks for:
• The back page, including the author’s bio and other publications.
Is this a subject they know about? If authors stick to similar subjects — baking yeast bread, baking whole-wheat breads, etc. — you can assume that they know their stuff and are expanding on their knowledge. However, if they’re too diverse — one Asian recipe book, one Indian cooking book, one pastry book from the same author — then put the book back, because they are probably reaching beyond their expertise.
* Was the book a collaboration?
If so, Stoliar won’t buy it because she’s found that collaborations are up and down in quality. “One person says puree, the other says mix,” she explains. The cooking methods should be consistent throughout. •How are the ingredients measured?
Stoliar won’t buy a book unless it has the weights of the food included, saying that 1 cup of flour can weigh a different amount for different people, based on how they scoop the flour or the brand of flour. Only measuring by weight can achieve the exact ingredient amounts. •What information does it offer on food preparation?
A good book will have good explanations for the preparation method, including how long a food can be stored, if it can be made ahead and how to change the recipe for a convection oven or high altitudes. •Are the ingredients realistic?
If some ingredients exist that you’ve never heard of, this recipe may not be the best one for you. •Are there pictures?
Stoliar prefers a book with realistic photos of the food, including in each stage of the preparation. That way, you can see the step-by-step process and how coarse they want something chopped or how thick a sauce should be. Stoliar usually checks www.JBPrince.com, a distributor of chef’s tools and equipment throughout the world. She’ll look at their recommended cookbooks and then search online for a better deal.
Once you buy your book, Stoliar says you must be a good owner: “Read the section on equipment, read the forwards, read everything that comes before the ingredients list.” That’s the expertise you are paying for.