Favorite Cookbooks: Jen Altman

Favorite Cookbooks: Jen Altman Recipe

You guys ready for another favorite cookbook list? It's a good one. For those of you who don't already know her, meet Jen Altman. I crossed paths with Jen years ago. She's an amazing photographer and author, talented cook and baker, and the mother of three lovelies. The Polaroid photos Jen would post to Flickr from her old cameras were what initially captured my imagination. I was continually inspired by her spirit of adventure and love of travel. I met up with Jen last year in Marrakesh when she was one of the hosts of this incredible photography workshop/retreat in Morocco. We were roommates, and it was awesome (heads up: they're doing two sessions this coming Feb). Jen kindly agreed to share her favorite cookbooks with us...

Jen Altman

JEN'S COOKING STYLE (in her own words):

I'm sort of all over the place. I spent a lot of time in restaurants growing up (both dining and working) and have developed a fairly adventurous palate. But I also fall into patterns. With three little girls and my husband and I both working and traveling so much, sometimes it's so easy to just fall back to standard favorites. Then I hit a wall and am so bored with everything I'm doing in the kitchen - and for good reason - the creativity has been sapped out of the process. This is when I come back to my collection of cookbooks. I started collecting books in my early twenties when I was working in bakeries and pastry kitchens. I've also been traveling a lot for work lately and that has been incredibly inspirational. After recent trips to Singapore and Morocco my mind and palate alike were full of inspiration. I recreated many of the recipes for my family that I found on those trips and I have this rather magnanimous dream to create a book based on a year traveling with my family, discovering dishes, creating recipes inspired by these travels and our adventures abroad. In the meantime, I have my collection of cookbooks...


- Joy of Cooking has been a staple in our kitchen for about ten years. It's covered in flour and butter smudges, but that's okay. Most weekends my husband will make a batch of waffles or pancakes for breakfast with extras to freeze for our girls for the week ahead. Though he's modified the recipes a bit to create pretty much the perfect slightly-crispy on the outside and soft on the inside waffle - he always comes back to these recipes for portions and basics.

- Susan Branch's Vineyard Seasons was one of the very first cookbooks my mother gave me in my early 20s. At the time I adored the presentation - all the handwritten recipes and kitchen and lifestyle notes - and the beautiful watercolors. The recipes are easy, creative and very east coast - there are several that still enjoy regular rotation on our dining table. When I look at this book now, it reminds me of how passionate I was about food then and I love remembering the early days of ingredient exploration.

- Sweet Myrtle and Bitter Honey by Efisio Farris is my Sardinian bible. My husband and I lived on Sardinia in our mid-twenties - we fell in love there, it holds a pretty special place in our hearts. We were young and without a great deal of financial commitment, so we dined out a LOT. I honestly can't say if it's the sweetness of those memories that makes me love Sardinian food so much, or the flavor profiles that seem so incredibly basic and innovative at the same time. One of our favorites is Seadas - a fried pastry filled with mozzarella then drizzled with bitter honey and topped with a touch of lemon zest.

- Baking With Julia by Julia Child and Dorie Greenspan is another kitchen bible of sorts. While I've held on to a lot of baking recipes from my early days in my father's bakery and working in pastry kitchens, this has filled a lot of holes - I absolutely love the pizza dough recipe in this book.

- To learn those things I wasn't picking up in a pastry kitchen, like boning a fish for example, I bought a copy of The Professional Chef, published by the Culinary Institute of America. It has since become an indispensible reference for both kitchen basics and working with new-to-me ingredients and methods.

- I picked up Jamie Oliver's Happy Day's With the Naked Chef while we were living on the Norfolk/ Suffolk border of East Anglia. We lived in a 500-year-old thatched roof house in a very small village. Cambridge was 40 minutes away. Norfolk was 40 minutes away. Aside from a few local pubs, our dining options were severely lacking. This was the time that I really learned to cook with meat - I made my first roast and Yorkshire pudding and a lot of roast chicken. This book guided me through.

Jen Altman

- A neighbor recently brought over a copy of Tamar Adler's An Everlasting Meal. It's really changed everything for me - the way we shop, the way we eat. And she is a poet - she makes the experience of not only reading but, the act of carrying out these processes almost spiritual - it's such a beautiful read.

- I recently picked up Sophie Dahl's Very Fond of Food for the photography alone. But we've already made quite a few dishes - it's a gem - it's beautiful, the cooking is simple, her style of writing is fun and quirky - I really love it. I feel like her cooking style is similar to mine and I'm a sucker for cookbooks that are divided by season.

- Another fairly new book for me is the Blue Chair Jam Cookbook by Rachel Saunders. This is a book that also originally pulled me in with its beautiful photography. To me, flipping through this book, it's not just about making jam and preserves - I feel like she's also sort of showing you this lifestyle - of slowing down, savoring and in turn makes the process - or ritual of jam making - that much more intimate. Having recently moved to the mountains of Western North Carolina - where canning is a culture upon itself, I'm really starting to slow down and appreciate these kind of books and recipes so much more than I ever did before.


Thank you for taking time out of your crazy busy day to do this Jen! xoxo -h

For those of you who are interested in keeping up with Jen's life and work, you can keep up with food-related posts and pics at Nectar, her portfolio, and her soon-to-be-open shop, Cisthene.

Lead photo by the lovely and talented Susannah Conway.

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