I hate to play favorites with my cookbooks, because like children, each is special in its own way. But a little competition is healthy, so I’ll tell you what I really think — at least about my new darlings for 2018. I don’t want my old cookbooks to be jealous, so keep it to yourself, won’t you? Especially since a few of the books on the list are the bright and shiny new volumes from beloved cookbook authors that I have turned to again and again. I worry that their older releases will feel a bit jealous, so remember to give some attention to the workhorses already on your bookshelf. Cookbooks need love, which means reading them, cooking from them, and sharing them. They make the perfect holiday gift for friends and family alike, and while you’re at it, get a few for yourself.
New Books from Old Favorites
Oh, Ina. You are a beacon of consistency and warmth in a cruel and changing world. Do you and Jeffrey have room in your Parisian pied à terre for visitors? Asking for a friend. This book, her 12th, will not disappoint her rabid fans — myself included. Cook with confidence, she says, and your skills will grow. She teaches you to measure, prep, taste, season, and plate “like a pro,” all in the service of creating swoon-worthy dishes like cheesy Cauliflower Toasts, Red Wine-Braised Shortribs, and Fresh Fig & Ricotta Cake. All hail the Contessa.
This is Dorie Greenspan at her most delightful, sharing the dishes she cooks at home for her family. The ingredients are easily found at any grocery store; many are pantry staples. She encourages riffing on these recipes, often suggesting easy substitutions for reasons of availability or taste. There’s an easy-going flow to this book, and they feel like recipes from a (really talented) friend. My next dinner party will consist of Dorie’s Newest Gougères and Ricotta Spoonable to start; Braised Lamb Shanks with Tomatoes and Olives; and the show-stopping Triple-Layer Parsnip and Cranberry Cake. Feel free to angle for an invite.
Unlike some of this international star chef’s previous cookbooks, these recipes don’t require a laundry list of “exotic” components — here, he has limited himself to 10 or fewer ingredients (not counting water, salt, pepper, and olive oil), which simplifies the recipes quite a bit. Thankfully, there is no sacrifice of those full Ottolenghi Mediterranean flavors. Brunch dishes are a particular highlight, including the herby Zucchini and Ciabatta Frittata and the Cornbread with Cheddar, Feta, and Jalapeño. As usual, veggies get the glamour treatment, but dishes like the fresh take of Fish Cake Tacos with Mango, Lime, and Cumin Yogurt let you know that Ottolenghi thoughtfully considers every element of the meal.
Chandra Ram, the editor in chief of to-the-trade Plate magazine, recognized that the Instant Pot was the perfect foil for demystifying Indian cooking for those of us who love the flavors of Indian cuisine but are petrified of the traditional pressure cooker so instrumental to it (*raises hand*). This book gives me yet another reason to love my Instant Pot. The Orange Cumin Salmon I made was simply scrumptious — perfectly cooked, optimally seasoned with spice and citrus flavors — and super easy to boot. Next up on my list: Butter Chicken with Spiced Cashews and a side of Cherry Tomato Chutney. Can’t wait.
Umami (“the fifth flavor”) is the not-so-secret weapon of Japanese cuisine, and this book will bring clarity to what can be a confusing list of ingredients, especially to the Western chef. Learn to make lovely dashi, the Japanese stock that is at the heart of much of the cuisine. The ancient art of fermentation as a natural food preservative is delved into, as well as preparations of typical Japanese produce, herbs, noodles, and rice. A recipe for the cabbage pancake Okonomayaki, one of my personal favorites, is found here in all its glory. Don’t skimp on the Kewpie mayo or the pickled ginger!
Bill Kim with Chandra Ram
Bill Kim, a classically trained Korean-American chef who did time in Charlie Trotter’s kitchen, applies the concept of the French master sauces to Korean cuisine. Turns out what you really need to know to create your own kick-ass Korean barbecue treats at home is how to make the seven master sauces: Korean BBQ, Lemongrass Chili, Soy Balsamic, Nuoc Cham, Korican, Korean Pesto, and Magic Paste. Together with some umami-laden spice mixes, these are the building blocks of flavor and depth for dishes like Trout with Citrus-Nuoc Cham Butter, Cauliflower Steaks with Korean Pesto, and Gochujang Sticky Chicken Drumsticks.
This very personal book is part memoir, part cookbook, told with full candor by the James Beard Award-winning Israeli-American chef Alon Shaya. Always drawn to food, Shaya relates the struggles of a lonely and disaffected youth in Philadelphia and what eventually saved him. He traces his path from Israel to the U.S., Italy, a return to Israel, and finally, his home in New Orleans. Flavors from his travels and experiences inform his recipes, from smoky Stewed Okra and Bacon over Grits to handmade Tortelli D’Erbetta; Hungarian Paprikash with Tarragon Dumplings and Fennel Sausage to Labneh Cheesecake with Pomegranate Caramel and Candied Nuts. This book is a journey worth taking.
I had the pleasure of attending a cookbook tour dinner with chef Todd Richards earlier this year at Chicago’s Big Jones in Andersonville, a perfect match of Southern food sensibilities between Richards and chef Paul Fehribach. Richards told his story, and the role that food played at the heart of it. As he says, cooks can honor their history and culture without being restrained by it. That leads to cultural mash-ups like Oysters Poached in Collard Green Pesto on Cheese Crisps with Caviar, Curried Cauliflower Gratin with Crab and Sweet Potato, Chicken Liver Mousse with Chorizo Butter, and Black Pepper-Thyme Cornmeal Biscuits. Food for the soul, indeed.
“The Chew” might be off the air, but there’s no keeping down the irrepressible spirit of Carla Hall, who remains entrenched in our hearts. Her Tomato Pie with Garlic Bread Crust recipe is reason enough to buy the book, but throw in Sea Island Shrimp and Grits and the Poured Caramel Cake and you’ve got yourself an approachable soul-food classic.
Yes, THAT Reese Witherspoon. Let me tell ya, she might be an Oscar winner and A-List celebrity, but this gal has the Southern charm thing DOWN. She shares her beloved Grandma Dorothea’s best recipes for entertaining, along with her key entertaining advice (involving lots of love … and maybe a barn).
My daughter, an obsessive and talented baker, tells me this is her new favorite cookie resource, having baked at least 10 recipes from its glossy pages. I can vouch for the delectable Chocolate Pumpkin Swirl Cookies, which resemble yin-yang symbols in orange and brown. The Cold Brew Cookies pack the one-two punch of coffee and chocolate-covered espresso beans in the batter, so maybe best as a breakfast cookie, unless you’re planning on staying up late. Seasonal bonus: There’s an entire chapter on The Ultimate Holiday Cookie Exchange.
“Heritage Baking: Recipes for Rustic Breads and Pastries Baked with Artisanal Flour from Hewn Bakery“
Ellen King with Amelia Levin
Evanston, Illinois’ own Hewn Bakery and owner/baker Ellen King are having a banner year, as evidenced by this new book, King’s first. If you’ve ever wanted to bake your own sourdough breads but chickened out, reading this book will give you the courage — and the information — you need. Interspersed throughout the book’s recipes are stories of the organic farmers who grow the wheat. King’s dogged pursuit of freshly milled heritage grains yields fruit in these crusty, substantial loaves filled with flavor. So now, you too can savor the goodness of her Seeded Whole Wheat, Picholine Olive, and Parmesan Garlic breads, as well as the Cinnamon Roll Brioche, Carrot-Ginger Bread, and Anise Biscotti.
Lisa Ludwinski’s inventive, masterful pie recipes with detailed, easy-to-follow directions make pie making a joy, but don’t miss the smoky Peanut Butter Paprika Cookies, Rhubarb Blondies, and the signature Buckwheat Chocolate Chip Cookies from her beloved downtown Detroit bakery.
It would be far too easy to hate Chrissy Teigen. After all, she’s married to John Legend, has two gorgeous children, is effortlessly beautiful with or without makeup, and has a killer sense of humor. But it turns out she can actually cook, too, so I’m going to cut her some slack. Especially when she’s coming up with recipes like her Everything Bagel-Cream Cheese Breakfast Bake, a genius strata that even a New Yorker would love. Try her sweet and spicy Carrot Coconut Soup topped with chili oil and crispy shallots, or any dish from the chapter on Thai food dedicated to her mom, her main inspiration in the kitchen, starting with the Thai Fishcakes with Spicy Peanut Sauce. You’ll forgive her, too.
The Editors of Extra Crispy
The Extra Crispy website is devoted entirely to breakfast (and brunch) food and drink, and I am here for it. And like the site from which it sprang, fully formed like Athena, this cookbook approaches the morning meal with wit and sass, two of my most favorite attributes. You might not know that you needed a Periodic Table of Eggs until you saw theirs, or “How to Make Bacon for a Crap-Ton of People,” a very useful trick indeed. A graphic guide to knowing your coffee, complete with cross sections of milk to coffee ratios? Yes, please. Even more accommodating is the chapter on “Baking for the Easily Intimidated.” This one is a super-fun read. If you’re a millennial, this one’s for you. If not, buy it for the one on your list and change their opinion of you from “beloved but stodgy” to “so cool.”
This gorgeously photographed book — the pictures all shot by the author himself — is redolent with spice and longing. It’s the very personal way that Nic Sharma shares his story through food that makes this book so special, but never fear, as the recipes appeal on their own merit. Nuts dusted with chile, pomegranate, and sumac are bright but mysterious; a meat loaf spiced with ginger, garam masala, mint, and coriander hits every tastebud. Even non-alcoholic drinks, often given short shrift in cookbooks, get the Sharma treatment: Toasted Cumin Lemonade, Spiced Mango Milkshake, and a Ginger and Tamarind Refresher beg to be made and drunk immediately.
More from Make It Better:
- 11 Festive Restaurants for Holiday Dining Around Chicago
- 7 Easy Weeknight Dinners to Make With a Rotisserie Chicken
- It’s Truffle Season! 8 Chicago Restaurants Where You Should Order Them Right Now
Julie Chernoff, Make It Better’s dining editor since its inception in 2007, graduated from Yale University with a degree in English — which she speaks fluently — and added a professional chef’s degree from the California Culinary Academy. She has worked for Boz Scaggs, Rick Bayless, and Wolfgang Puck (not all at the same time); and sits on the boards of Les Dames d’Escoffier International and Northlight Theatre.