Another year, another 3,458 cookbooks (approximately) published. While many books are just peachy on a tablet or e-reader, there’s something about the hands-on approach with cookbooks, and they’re a gift that everyone loves to get. Personally, I read ‘em like novels, and I particularly connect with the authors who really share a part of themselves; books that detail exotic childhoods spent in far-flung lands, or at the right hand of a great family cook (I miss you, Bubbe!) particularly resonate with me. There’s no shortage of personality in this year’s collection, and I hope you find the ones that work best for you.
Cult of Personality:
What would this list be without an offering from the Queen of Butter? This time, it’s personal for Ina Garten, as these are husband Jeffrey’s oft-requested favorites, and as she’s had her 48-year marriage to perfect them, you know they’re pretty solid. And dare I say the man is spoiled? You would be, too, if you were eating the likes of 16 Bean Pasta e Fagioli, Shrimp and Swordfish Curry and Limoncello Ricotta Cheesecake every night. I mean, COME ON. He looks mighty pleased with himself on the cover, but then again, he is holding a slice of Devil’s Food Cake with Coffee Meringue Buttercream. Wouldn’t you be?
If you’ve been to LA to eat in the past few years, chances are you’ve stopped in at Sqirl, Jessica Koslow’s über-hot restaurant in the hipster Silver Lake neighborhood. If not, this book will connect you directly to the experience, as it’s filled with photos of her regular diners (often with their pets), her staff, and of course, the delectable food. Koslow started the Avocado Toast craze (thank you for that!), although hers is gilded with pickled carrots, garlic cream and a za’atar-like spice blend, and the toast is thick-cut and just the right blend of crunch and give. Recipes tend toward the health-conscious — this is modern California cuisine, after all — but you’ll never feel deprived, especially if you make the Valrhona Fleur de Sel Chocolate Cookies, or even the Chickpea Stew with Chard, Poached Eggs and Smoked Chile. Life is good!
Molly Yeh, a Juilliard-trained classical percussionist and Glenview native, started her food blog in 2009. After marrying husband Nick, she relocated from Brooklyn to his family’s beet farm in northern Minnesota. With that move back to the Midwest, her cooking broadened, celebrating both the bounty of the farm and her Chinese and Jewish heritages. She’s a charming writer, and both the book and its recipes are serious fun, a joyous mashup of flavors and cuisines. I think this could be the next Smitten Kitchen Cookbook — it has that much potential. I made her Chocolate Tahini Cake with Tahini Buttercream a few weeks ago and it may be the only cake I make from now on. Buy immediately for every millennial on your list, but you’ll love it, too.
Abraham Conlon, Adrienne Lo and Hugh Amano
I’ll admit that I bought this book — charming though it is, with its fanciful illustrations — pretty much solely for the Potstickers Royale with Crispy Crepe. If you’ve had the good fortune to eat at Fat Rice, you’ll know what I’m talking about. But turns out the whole book is pretty damn great. The book, like the restaurant, is inspired by the Portugese-inflected food of Macau, with its crazy pickles, curries, and the Big Daddy of them all, Arroz Gordo (fat rice!), which contains pretty much every ingredient in your kitchen — duck, rice, curried chicken, clams, olives, linguiça sausage, char siu pork and a tea egg. That might be a little out of your comfort zone, but you can definitely handle the Malay-Style Vegetable Curry and Coconut Rice.
Somer Sivrioglu and David Dale
Wow. This one is a stunner! The amazing photography captures the Turkish experience, from sunlit coastlines to exotic markets; from tables groaning with food to evocative food porn. Turkish cuisine, evolving over thousands of years and incorporating the best of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines, features gorgeous (and myriad) breads, feta cheese, fresh seafood, lamb, eggplant, olives, peppers, bulgur, rice, pistachios, figs and pomegranates among other ingredients. Turkish breakfasts are legendary, filled with meats, cheeses, pastries, fruits and breads, like the Pide with Four Cheeses. Dinner might be Chicken Kebabs with Prune-Orzo Pilav followed by Saffron-Layered Rice Pudding. This book is a feast for the eyes and the senses.
Floyd Cardoz, who grew up in India and immigrated to the States 25 years ago, cooks modern American food with international influences. His restaurant history is varied: he’s worked with Danny Meyer (Tabla) and at Lespinasse; opened both taco stands at Citi Field (home of the New York Mets) and his own restaurants (White Street, North End Grill and Paowalla) in NYC. He also won the third season of “Top Chef Masters” with his full-flavored but balanced cuisine. I can’t wait to make his Steel-Cut Oat Risotto with Kale Purée and the Chicken Tagine with Olives, Chickpeas and Pine Nuts. To drink, I’ll choose the Kachumber Kooler, a magical gin concoction with cucumbers, chile pepper, cilantro and lime. Bring on the flavor!
If you’re searching for a kosher cookbook to gift this year, look no further. Renee Muller is a triple threat: she writes beautifully, her recipes work, and as she is a professional food stylist, every picture in this lovely book will make you salivate. The photo of the Sea Salt Caramels is practically pornographic! Kosher food doesn’t have to be fusty; Muller brings a fresh eye to old favorites as well as a welcome infusion of Northern Italian cooking from her Swiss childhood. Her Sweet Chili Salmon Cubes and Frico Salad with Candied Sweet Potatoes will end up on your play and repeat list, as will the lighter-than-air Gnocchi di Casa. And don’t get me started on the Babka Swirls.
Ana Sortun and Maura Kilpatrick
My daughter lives in Boston, and we are huge fans of Ana Sortun and her mini-restaurant empire, which includes Sofra Bakery as well as the award-winning Oleana, showcases for Sortun’s contemporary Middle Eastern cuisine. You’ll find savory dishes like Shakshuka (an Israeli standard, here goosed by the spicy, herby zhoug sauce) and Kohlrabi Pancakes with Bacon and Haloumi Cheese, as well as sweets like Sesame Financiers and Carrot Cake with Sesame-Caramel Cream Cheese. So much love and flavor is packed into each recipe.
After 25 years of writing best-selling cookbooks, Dorie Greenspan is finally devoting an entire book to her single favorite food: the cookie. And what a cookie primer this is! Cookies for breakups, for every day, for holidays, for weekends … she’s got ‘em all. There’s even a section for cocktail cookies (Old Bay Pretzel and Cheese Cookies sound especially enticing) and one devoted to the essentials: butter and salt (including her famous “World Peace” cookies). Don’t read this one before sleeping or visions of macaroons will dance in your head all night long.
For Malika Ameen, her family food memories revolve around spice, particularly the cardamom that infused many of the Pakistani desserts that she first loved as a child. She translates this to her well-honed technique as a trained pastry chef, incorporating spices into sweets. You’ll fall in love with her deeply spiced Chewy Oatmeal Cream Pies filled with Black Pepper Cream, not to mention the Spiced Sweet Potato and Date Bread, or the Crispy Mandarin Baklava. Yum!
My token beverage entry will be no surprise to any of my inner circle. Gin is my spirit of choice, and I find it fascinating to read of its history, from medicinal juniper through the growth of the spice trade, to the “It” drink of London society. It exhaustively catalogues all of the gin currently in production, and provides a primer on all the greatest gin-soaked cocktail recipes, old and new favorites alike. I’ll have another.
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