Hardcover Cook was launched in 2017 by self-proclaimed “cookbook obsessive” Monique Llamas as a personal project to document the explorations of her ever-growing cookbook collection. Monique’s cookbook collecting passion goes back decades, beginning with a single Betty Crocker cookbook in college, then bargain cookbooks, to a carefully cultivated collection numbering in the hundreds. She’s also the host of the Cookbook Pantry podcast.
Former community manager at ckbk, a digital subscription service for accessing cookbooks online, Monique combined her cookbook obsession with her professional expertise of buying, selling, and promoting products in the natural and specialty food industries to transform her personal website into Hardcover Cook. An ingredient shop and subscription box for passionate home cooks, enthusiastic cookbook collectors, and anyone seeking to add new flavors to their pantry, Hardcover Cook is built around the idea of cookbook and ingredient pairings — a collection of specialty ingredients that will enhance readers’ experiences with a cookbook and make it easier to pick up and explore recipes at a moment’s notice.
Hardcover Cook bundles are available in four themes: omnivore, essentials, vegetarian, and baking. Each can be ordered either as a single bundle or as a quarterly subscription that includes one recently released cookbook along with 5 or more full-size pantry ingredients carefully chosen to pair with that particular book. Or you can create a custom order of individual cookbooks and pantry products available a la carte. And there’s also a Cookbook Club Guide that includes information on various cookbook clubs including Eat Your Books, Saveuer, Ckbk, Tasting Table and Food52.
As a member of several of the aforementioned clubs and groups, it’s a frequent headache trying to source some of the more exotic ingredients called for, particularly Middle Eastern ones like rose harissa and Aleppo pepper, while stationed in Japan. I’d attempted on several previous occasions to mail order jars of rose harissa to Yokosuka (doubly difficult as many online stores won’t ship to FPOs), only to have several jars arrive broken – those that made it intact I hoarded like liquid gold. I spent most of 2020 cooking my way through Sami Tamimi’s Falastin and trying to source the necessary ingredients since trips to Tokyo were off limits, so I was thrilled to discover that the Hardcover Cook’s subscription includes not only the cookbook, but the essential ingredients required to make it – and best of all, they ship to FPOs.
For the purpose of this review, Hardcover Cook kindly provided the Flavors of the Sun bundle, which came beautifully packaged. The bundle pairs the Flavors of the Sun cookbook with full-size containers of Sahadi’s Ras el Hanout, meat shawarma seasoning, and Lebanese-style za’atar along with Sahadi couscous, New York Shuk’s signature harissa, Nielsen-Massey’s orange blossom water, Iliada’s mixed olives with herbs, and Seed + Mill’s pistachio halva. A handy color bookmark introduces the various producers as well as suggested cookbook recipes with page numbers that utilize these ingredients, like Moroccan marinated chicken breasts, shawarma crusted roast beef tenderloin, harissa mac and cheese, orange blossom cupcakes with white chocolate orange ganache, and curried couscous salad with dried fruit.
In 1895, Lebanese immigrant Ibrahim Sahadi opened A. Sahadi & Co. on Washington Street in New York City. In later years, various family members joined the business and today Sahadi Fine Foods has grown to handle over 2,000 quality specialty foods. In Flavors of the Sun, the people behind the iconic Sahadi’s market showcase the versatility of these ingredients in over 120 everyday dishes, including starters, salads, soups, family-friendly meals, and desserts.
As Middle Eastern and Mediterranean dishes are my favorite cuisine, I enjoyed trying out the included spices and products to make Sahadi’s recipes, including the fruited farro salad, Mediterranean couscous salad, Moroccan marinated chicken breasts, and za’atar bread. The included spices are fantastic to spice up dips, breads, or even roasted vegetables. I love adding orange blossom water to baked goods to provide a subtle fragrance, and the included halva makes a killer addition to the tahini swirl brownies. Hardcover Cook offers products by a number of my favorite producers like Belazu’s rose harissa, Oaktown Spice Shop, Nielsen-Massey extracts and flower waters, Burlap and Barrel spices, and those hard-to-find ingredients like black limes, preserved lemons, masa harina, cascabel chilis, and Indian spices.
As finding English-language cookbooks and specialty ingredients in Japan can be daunting, Hardcover Cook allows you to continue cooking your favorite cuisines and adding exciting new cookbooks to your collection while stationed overseas (and best of all, they ship to FPOs!). Start your culinary journey today (or gift a bundle to a friend) at the website!
A quick Q+A with Monique Llamas, founder of Hardcover Cook:
Do you have a favorite international cuisine?
Monique: “I love exploring cuisines from all corners of the planet. But since launching our subscription box I’ve gotten to know Japanese cuisine a lot better. I very rarely cooked anything Japanese at home before we launched our subscription, but since launching we’ve featured two Japanese cookbooks, and it’s a cuisine I’ve come to love cooking at home. I still have so much to learn, but it’s not intimidating like it once was.”
What’s your “desert island” ingredient?
Monique: “Hot peppers in oil (my favorite is made by an Italian brand called IASA – it’s spicy, salty, and delicious). I put it on rice, noodles, breakfast burrito, a little smear on cooked meats. I really love that one in particular, but I probably have two dozen different hot sauces and chile oils in my fridge right now. I can’t imagine life without chile peppers.”
What Hardcover Cook bundle would you recommend for those new to cookbook clubs?
Monique: “Our Essentials Box is the one I’d recommend. It’s built for people who are either new in the kitchen and building their cooking skills (and pantry) or are experienced cooks looking for unfussy meals to add to their weeknight rotation.”