‘Tis the season of annual lists
and more lists
(and even more lists
). As the years go by, I appreciate certain things about these lists, like the fact that no matter how plugged in we are to the cookbook world, something interesting sneaks by us. But what’s really been happening is I now realize that these lists are not so meaningful, not because they are ‘wrong’, but because what’s ‘right’ about them is not right for everyone. Open any one of these things up for discussion, and it becomes clear that there is little consensus on how people use cookbooks, what people expect from cookbooks and even what some of the basic terms mean. A recent request by Russ Parsons for input on just such a list
was a good example of this.
So this year, we’re just offering a short list of a few books we like our selves. These books work for the way we like to eat and cook. They encourage and inspire us, and are a pleasure to spend time with. we carry these books in our shop, but not on our website, as there are plenty of options for buying new books online.
Two of my favorite new British books are by authors I always look forward to reading: Simon Hopkinson and Nigel Slater. Slater’s original, The Kitchen Diaries, is one of my most used cookbooks because it’s a perfect match for the way I cook; it mirrors the rhythms of the seasons and of the meals through the week. Kitchen Diaries II (or as it’s known in the States, Notes from the Larder) lets me continue into a new year. Simon Hopkinson’s dishes always seem like old favorites, and with a bit of extra care I can elevate my cooking to something more special. The recipes in Simon Hopkinson Cooks are a bit simpler than in my favorite, Week In, Week Out, but I still approach every one of his recipes with relish.
Tim Hayward, editor of the wonderful periodical (now annual) Fire & Knives, gave us Food DIY, a how-to guide to all of the food creation that happens outside of kitchen meal prep: smoking, terrines, confits, preserving, clam bakes, spit roasting, and sloe gin among other things. It’s kind of a guy thing, and lots of fun.
I always seem to be cooking for eight, even when I’m cooking for two, but Joe Yonan’s Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single Cook is terrific. Lots of simple recipes that yield big flavor through interesting, and now-to-me indispensable, combinations. Pasta with Squash and Miso, Guac-a-chi (avocados and kimchi), and Spicy Kale Salad with Miso-Mushroom omelet are all easy and delicious. And we have signed copies available.
Gabriel Rucker et al’s Le Pigeon: Cooking at the Dirty Bird was instantly attractive, as I love cooking birds, and there are lots of tasty bird recipes to be had, including Chicken Fried Quail, Duck Nuggets, and Maple-Laquered Squab. But there’s also a lot more, including good rabbit recipes, the now famous Jacked Pork Chops, and other food you want to eat while standing around a flaming barrel clutching a tumbler of bourbon.
There are more big chef books this year than any year since 2008, which makes me nervous for the economy. I had limited time with all of them, as many are very new releases and take real work to tease out any understanding, but I’m thrilled to see Heston Blumenthal’s Historic Heston, a companion of sorts to his thoroughly modern masterwork, The Fat Duck Cookbook. In Historic Heston, the chef takes us on a 500-year chronological tour of great British dishes, which he has deconstructed and reassembled with the precision you’d expect. As an antiquarian, and a serious home cook, I look forward to spending some real time with this book. On the tables in the shop, we also have Rene Redzepi’s Work in Progress, Daniel Patterson’s Coi, Alex Atala’s D.O.M., David Kinch’s Manresa and others.
I’m a big fan of Ole Mouritsen’s Seaweeds: Edible, Available and Sustainable. It’s a masterpiece of single subject food writing. Part natural science book, part recipe collection, and part guidebook for potential food applications, Seaweeds remains readable and enjoyable even if seaweed is not a favorite ingredient. This book doesn’t just satisfy curiosity about its subject, it creates curiosity.
The one book this year that truly makes me happy to be a cookbook seller is Ed Behr’s 50 Foods. I’ve always marveled at the level of knowledge food shoppers in parts of Europe can exhibit. They really know what to look for, ask for, demand from the market sellers and grocers. Very few Americans have that sort of specific information about the uses of various ingredients, and what to look for when shopping for them. Ed Behr knows this well. In 50 Foods, he takes us on a tour of fifty foods that we need to understand if we want to cook and eat better. the writing is knowledgable, the tone is never preachy, and even the hard core food fan will come away with a better understanding of what makes great food.
There are others I’m excited about but have not yet spent enough time with, so let’s just say I look forward to cooking from Susan Goin’s A.O.C., and David Tani’s One Good Dish, among others.