They say that print is dying.
Great magazines have left us (I still miss Gourmet) for lack of subscriptions and monetary interest. Newspaper presses are stopping in one city after another. Yesterday, some good friends of us said that they are reading most of their books on their telephones.
Print is dying, right?
Not in this house, it’s not.
We subscribe to the Seattle newspaper, no matter how thin it grows. (Danny’s the one who reads it every day. He’s far more up on the news than I am these days.) Stacks of books in every room threaten to topple over onto the adjoining stack. Lu loves when we read to her; she probably hears 40 books a day. (Many of them she demands to be repeated 12 times each. Thank goodness I’m still crazy about Curious George.) And even though I have started, tentatively, reading a few articles on our new iPad, and even downloaded a free copy of Winnie the Pooh to read to Lu when we are traveling, I will never pass up the chance to take a well-worn book into the bath.
From the amount of cookbooks we receive and buy every year, we’re keeping the publishing industry humming.
(Perhaps you have bought our cookbook? Or you are thinking about it for a holiday present? Now is the time to buy. Keep print alive!)
We feel really lucky. Due to the nature of our work, we’re sent copies of cookbooks from publishers almost every week. As some of you might remember, we did regular features last year where we cooked out of one book all week long and gave you our recommendations. (We especially loved David Leite’s The New Portuguese Table and Monica Bhide’s Modern Spice.) We like to test drive cookbooks for you.
In the past few months, we have been too busy traveling and spreading the word about our cookbook to spend evening after evening with anyone else’s book. Of course, this is the season for stacks of cookbooks to appear on Amazon and your local bookstore. We have been overwhelmed with choices.
We thought, therefore, we’d just share our 12 Best Cookbooks of 2010. (We tried to narrow it down to 10, but we couldn’t do it. Think of it as 1 cookbook for every month of the year.)
Oh, and we’re giving away a copy of each one.
Even in a big year for cookbooks, some stand out strong. In the past few weeks, we have been looking through our favorite cookbooks of the year, cooking here and there, curling up in bed reading to each other at the end of the night. Reading a great cookbook is like entering an entirely new world, like walking through the closet to Narnia.
For me and Danny, there are a few criteria that will keep a cookbook in our kitchen:
— trusted recipes that work
— a strong, clear voice from the author
— a sense of playfulness with food
— a feeling of joy in the act of standing in front of the stove singing through the instructions
— spices or ingredients, flavor combinations, and techniques we had never considered
— something intangible that inspires us to put down the book and go cook instead of read
We don’t run a newspaper or food magazine here. This is our personal site, entirely biased and constantly changing. So we don’t claim that the following cookbooks are The Best Cookbooks of 2010.
We just want to share them with you.
(Oh, and this list is organized alphabetically by the author’s last name (with one exception), rather than beginning with the best book and the following eleven. Also, not one of these books is a “gluten-free” book. They are great cookbooks that have inspired us in the kitchen.)
This book, Anjum’s New Indian, is the surprise come-from-behind book of the bunch.
Until a few weeks ago, I had never heard of Anjum Anand. I didn’t know she existed. However, our book editor, Justin, who has a food blog of his own, started posting photos of enticing shrimp curries and Bengali squash with chickpeas a few weeks ago and my mouth began watering.
Since reading and cooking out of Modern Spice last year (and still cooking from it — good cookbooks keep on giving), I have been eager to find another Indian cookbook that seemed approachable. I know so little about Indian cuisine and all its intricacies. However, I don’t want lack of knowledge to prevent me from eating great food. Where to begin?
I really love this book. So does Danny. It’s clear and plainspoken. Unlike some of our other favorite books of the year, there is not a lot of the author in here. Instead, she focuses on why she has chosen each recipe as a way of highlighting a particular region of India. (To say “Indian food” is, of course, an oversimplification.) The photographs are splendid and plentiful, which helps those of us unfamiliar with the dishes.
Something that struck me was her description of a Goan shrimp cake: “This is an old Goan dish that many have already been forgotten about and locals are worried that it might soon become obsolete as newer, faster recipes encroach on the New India.” I love that dispersing a recipe like this can save it. I’ll make it, gluten-free.
Green meatball curry, Bengali red lentils, Kashmiri lamb cooked in milk, Coconut chicken fry, Wild Mushrooms in Black Marsala these are just some of the dishes we’re going to be cooking in our kitchen in the next few weeks. We’re making lots of cookies for you. I can’t wait to feel those spices on my tongue.
“MaggyPam!” Lu shouts out when she sees the cover of this book.
You see, she loves Pam Anderson and her daughter, Maggy, who visited us here on Vashon in the fall. (Poor Sharon. She’s the third of Three Many Cooks, but Lu didn’t have a chance to spend enough time with her to shout “MaggyPamSharon!”) She also loves this video about the three that our dear friends Todd and Diane made about their book. Honestly, she wants to watch it every single day. She sits there, transfixed, watching these wonderful women in the kitchen, cooking food and talking, laughing and making memories as they chop herbs and onions.
“Food!” Lu shouts next when she sees this book. And she’s right. That’s this book.
Perfect One-Dish Dinners: All You Need for Easy Get-Togethers is a pretty simple, straightforward book. There isn’t a lot of narrative. (Pam, are you listening? I want more of your stories in the next one.) Instead, the book offers one after another of main dishes (plus sides and desserts) that work.
Pam writes clear recipes relying on tested techniques. In this book, she focused on helping people to get dinner on the table quickly, so there’s more time to sit around that table after the food is finished and talk. (The dishes can wait. The conversation is what matters.)
After all those times of watching the video with Lu, we’re making the sweet Italian sausage cassoulet soon!
For the past five years, I have been baking gluten-free cookies, breads, and pizzas. Honestly, the first three years were a steep learning curve. What I love about this process is the mistakes, the leaps up, the investigation, the writing of ratios, and the failures. And oh, have there been some failures.
Starting a couple of years ago, I had an intuitive feel for the flours and how they tasted, how they worked together in heat, how they rose or fell. I knew that I didn’t like the bean flours. Coconut flour left me annoyed since it sucks all the moisture out of everything it touches. Amaranth flour, once a favorite, now sits in the back of the cupboard for its grassy taste. Still, I didn’t really understand it. Sometimes the recipes worked and sometimes they did not.
Two books changed everything about the way I bake and helped our recipes to work for you. One was Michael Ruhlman’s Ratio, which started me scribbling numbers on the backs of envelopes, then covering them with flour from an experiment. The other book was Good to the Grain: Baking with Whole-Grain Flours.
You see, Kim Boyce was in a similar situation as mine (except she’s a trained pastry chef, and I’m just figuring out the craft at the kitchen counter). At home with her daughters, she intended to bake every day. She didn’t want to give her kids that much bleached white flour. So she started playing with amaranth and teff, plus other whole grains. Her book is a gorgeous evocation of the successes she had. And, it will make you hungry.
After reading and baking from Good to the Grain I realized that the way I use whole grains should be more than haphazard. For decades, gluten-free baking relied on white flours: white rice, tapioca, potato starch, and cornstarch. Those starches are important we cannot bake with only whole grains. Kim Boyce realized that too. However, as I wrote in the post where I extolled this book, past spring, finding the right balance of whole grains and starches, for taste and texture, means light-as-air muffins, cookies, and cakes.
Now, I always make sure that our gluten-free baked goods have 40% whole grains and 60% starches. In many ways, that means that gluten-free baking is more nutritious than goods made with only bleached white flour! It also works. Danny and I came up with our all-purpose gluten-free flour mix after reading Good to the Grain. We’ll be using it in the coming weeks for our holiday cookie binge. It’s 40% whole grains and 60% starches.
Thank you, Kim. You really changed my baking life. I’m pretty sure that anyone who buys this book will feel the same.
Every Wednesday, I read Melissa Clark’s column in the New York Times dining section. Most Wednesday evenings, I am making whatever dish she created in black ink on newsprint for me. Melissa has this wonderful power, not only to make you hungry (many folks can do that on Twitter), but also to make you feel you must fling away the newspaper and turn on the burners of the stove.
I truly adore her book, In the Kitchen with A Good Appetite: 150 Recipes and Stories About the Food You Love. A few weeks ago, I told you a bit about it in my post on brussels sprouts salad. I feel somehow I love it so much that I can’t write much here.
(Do you remember that scene in Annie Hall where Alvie Singer says, “I don’t just love you. I lurve you. I loff you.” That’s how I feel about this book.)
Melissa’s prose manages to be both crisp and giddy, filled with conversation and descriptions of quirky relationships between people. Each recipe has an essay preceding it and usually they’re funny. (How often do you laugh at a cookbook?) Reading Melissa’s book, you just want to sit at her table and talk while she cooks and you peel the onions for the next course.
However, the book is more than chatting at the table. These recipes are extraordinary, filled with great ingredients but fairly easy to prepare. Melissa has an incredible palate. I’m still waiting to try the pan-fried cheese with anchovy-date salad, the chorizo corn dog bites, the heirloom potato latkes, and the lamb tagine with apricots, olives, and buttered almonds. I’ll be cooking out of this book for years.
There’s a batch of the gingerbread cookies, with orange zest and cardamom, in the fridge right now. Next week, you’ll see how they turn out.
Or, you could buy the book and make them yourself.
A friend of mine flipped through our copy of The Frankies Spuntino Kitchen Companion & Cooking Manual the other day and said, “Wow, this feels like an old book.” Yep. That’s the intention. This is an old-school book. The edges of the pages are gold. The size and feel of the hardback reminds me more of a Thackeray novel than a modern-day cookbook. Instead of vivid color photographs in the same style that everyone is shooting these days, this book has line drawings.
I love it.
Danny and I were lucky enough to meet the Frankies in June, which inspired this roasted vegetable pasta salad. Listening to them talk about the the ethos of their cooking, and thus the cookbook, inspired me deeply. Slow cooking, good ingredients, simple preparations, and an insistence on doing things right. As well, in their restaurants, the Frankies emphasize dishes that fill you up but don’t leave you full. Olive oil instead of butter. Plenty of great vegetables. You won’t find any recipes for ooey-gooey lasagna here.
I still haven’t found the time to make their Sunday sauce, a process that takes three full days. (I don’t feel like we’ve been home for three consecutive days this fall!) However, I certainly will soon. I love that the Frankies embrace time in front of the stove. Instead of emphasizing shortcuts and pre-cooked ingredients, the Frankies want you to spend more time in the kitchen. That’s where the magic happens.
Listen, if I had a hard time writing in any way objectively about Melissa Clark’s book? I throw up my hands and let go when it comes to Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table: More Than 300 Recipes from My Home to Yours.
I adore Dorie Greenspan. I’ve written about her so many times on this site that she might as well be a shadow contributor. Before this fall, my adoration came through reading her recipes, making her baked goods, hearing her kind, gentle voice in my mind when I shaped dough and made my way through World Peace cookie disasters. Dorie not only writes recipes that yield meals full of flavor and comfort, but she also writes them so well that you are bound to succeed.
In fact, there’s a passage in her new book that made Danny and I both want to stand up and cheer after reading it:
“Just about every time you cook or bake, you’ve got to make a judgment call it’s the nature of the craft. I tested these recipes over and over and wrote them as carefully and precisely as I could, but there’s no way I could take into account all the individual variables that will turn up in your kitchen. I couldn’t know exactly how powerful ‘medium heat’ is, how cool your steak is when you slide it into the pan, how full your skillet is when you’re sautéing, and a million other little things that affect the outcome of what you’re making. And so, I’ve given you as many clues as I can for you to decide when something is done, and I’ve often given you a range of cooking or baking times, but the success of any cooking whether from this book or any other depends on using your judgment. Don’t cook something for 15 minutes just because I tell you to check it a little before the 15-minutes mark, and then keep checking until it’s just right. I always feel that when I send a recipe out into the world, I’m asking you to be my partner in making it, and I love this about cookbookery. I trust your judgment, and you should too.”
You see what I mean about her? Anyone who pushes you to use your senses and learn to trust yourself? That’s who you want in your kitchen.
I have to tell you, I am hopelessly biased about Dorie Greenspan now, even more, after I met her in San Francisco this fall. The fact that I spoke on a panel about writing cookbooks with Dorie at BlogHerFood blew me away. What could I possibly say in the face of her knowledge? (True to form, I found something to say and probably talked too much.) She and I had a few brief, wonderful connections that will stay with me for years.
But here’s the moment that stays with me most.
Aran and Danny and I were walking around the Ferry Terminal building, looking at great food and running after the kids. Danny came back from swooping up a fast-running Lu and told me, “Dorie Greenspan’s at Blue Bottle coffee right now!”
Now, I have to tell you, I’m not big on celebrity. I lived with a movie star in London once (and I’m contractually obligated to not tell you anything about that). I grew up in LA, where “celebrities” thronged at every coffee shop. I was an actor when I was a kid. Someone famous? Whatever. It’s talent that impresses me.
So I sort of stood there and hyperventilated for a moment. Should I even say hello? Dorie and I had written back and forth on Twitter for a bit, and she seemed to know who I was, which astounded me. Finally, I strode forward to find her.
All shy and not wanting to bother her, as she was preparing to leave with a friend, I said, “Um, hi, I’m Shauna.”
At that, Dorie opened her arms with a giant smile. She went to hug me, and then she pulled back. In her right hand she held half a bread roll. She ran over to the trash can, threw out the roll, and then wiped her hand on her pants before she came over to give me the warmest, loveliest hug.
I wonder if she felt my tears on the back of her jacket.
Now, you might be thinking, what does this have to do with her new book? Everything. Wouldn’t you want to cook next to someone this thoughtful and kind, this open and embracing? Dorie’s new book is her most personal, a collection of recipes from her life in Paris, a city she loves ardently, more every year. Each recipe is imbued with the gracious passion that seems to fuel her. Whether it’s roasted salmon and lentils, beef cheek daube with carrots and elbow macaroni, cinnamon crunch chicken, or Breton fish soup, every recipe inspires me to move into the kitchen.
Start cooking from Dorie’s cookbook and you will soon adore her too.
I’m a little in awe of Amanda Hesser.
Seriously, not only is she one of the most accomplished and talented food writers in the world, but she’s lovely and composed, even with 4-year-old twins. The woman knows how to string sentences together better than almost anyone else I read, no matter what the genre.
I remember reading Cooking for Mr. Latte to Danny in our first apartment together, laughing and wondering at the stories, then moving to the stove.
(Sense a theme here? We really do love the books that insist we put them down.)
Of course, I have been reading her in The New York Times since long before I lived in New York, well over a decade.
When Danny, Lucy, and I had breakfast with Amanda in New York, therefore, I was intimidated. In fact, I was a little tongue tied. (Afterward, Danny said to me, “Wow, I’ve never heard you at a loss for words before. You didn’t sound like yourself.” Great, I thought. I sounded like a blathering idiot in front of Amanda Hesser.) She could not have been lovelier. Eventually, I relaxed and sounded less like a spazz.
(Last month, Amanda came to Seattle for her book, and I had the chance to have dinner with her at Delancey, along with my friends Rebekah Denn and Nancy Leson. I was far less intimidated and talked like a (sort of) normal person, while also eating a gluten-free pizza made for me by Brandon. Once again, Amanda could not have been lovelier, more full of interesting food conversation, and gracious.)
I have to tell you, if I had owned a copy of The Essential New York Times Cookbook: Classic Recipes for a New Century before I met Amanda Hesser, I would never have agreed to meet Amanda Hesser. I would have sat there, struck dumb.
This is truly one of the most astonishing cookbooks ever published.
Imagining and sifting and crafting for six years, reading thousands of emails and letters from New York Times readers with their favorite recipes from the newspaper attached, spending too much time in the archives section of the NYT’s building, translating cooking terms from the 1800s, making meal after meal after meal late at night, laughing and stumbling and cataloging more than 1200 recipes with her business partner, Merrill Amanda Hesser took on a Herculean task.
What’s unimaginable is how easily the book reads after all that effort.
This is my new Joy of Cooking. Whenever I need a base recipe from which to start, like pasta with vodka, I can open this book and find a recipe from Craig Claiborne and Pierre Franey, from 1982. I know that it not only made the initial cut of the New York Times editors, but it also was a favorite of at least three readers. Then, it was tested by Amanda and Merrill and made cleaner in the editing. This is a recipe that works.
Also, have I mentioned that the headnotes are hilarious? I kept Danny up late one night, reading one headnote after another to him.
Chickpeas in ginger sauce, spicy orange salad Moroccan style, short ribs with coffee and chiles, Maida Heatter’s popovers, or just a perfect batch of rice every single one of the 1108 recipes appeals to me.
This one will always be in our kitchen.
Thank you, Amanda Hesser. I may have been too stumbly to tell you this in person: this book is genius.
If you have been reading this website for longer than half a minute, you know how much I love David Lebovitz.
(Let me pause here and say how astonished I am that Danny and I some kind of personal connection with quite a few of the cookbook authors on this list. I never, ever expected this. Any of this. My life the last five years has been nothing but astonishment. I was a high school English teacher when I started this. You never could have told me that I would write a cookbook! Or that I would meet and become friends with some of the most respected cookbook authors in this country. I am constantly amazed. So I want you to know that this is the place from which I am writing these little recommendations, not from “Look who I know!” Some of you might read it that way. I can’t control that. But seriously, I’m like a kid in a candy store here.)
I will just say that this book, like David, is meticulous and hilarious, full of important knowledge, and leading toward the delicious.
You’re missing too much if you don’t own it.
Guess what? We don’t know the author of this book at all. No connection!
That doesn’t make us love this book any less.
Danny is a pretty entrenched omnivore. Before he met me, he could not consider a day without meat. It’s what he loves to cook and to eat. Me? I was a vegetarian for 10 years, which changed long before he met me. However, those sensibilities are still in me.
Slowly, over time, we have eaten more and more vegetarian meals. Sometimes, Danny winced, wishing for meat. However, when he started working at the restaurant on the island where he works now, he began shifting his thinking about vegetarian dishes.
You see, he has to come up with a vegetarian special for every Tuesday.
When Danny decided to make his restaurant in Seattle gluten-free, he did it for me. He didn’t realize how many people would flock to the place, grateful. And he certainly didn’t know how much it would improve his cooking.
A little deprivation breeds creativity. And so again, making vegetarian specials for people that are also gluten-free and dairy-free. Specials like roasted butternut squash and turnips, with wild rice and lentils, grilled tofu, and a parsley-sherry vinaigrette.
Now, Danny truly loves making great vegetarian food. He’s a much better chef now too.
One of his biggest inspirations for creating these dishes? Plenty.
This is a beautiful book. No one eating the dishes out of this book could feel deprived.
Ottelenghi taught me to build a depth of flavor in vegetarian dishes by roasting or smoking or pickling some parts of the dish. This changes everything. When I was a vegetarian, I ate a lot of rice and beans, and then I piled on the salsa. If I had eaten burnt aubergine with tahini and pomegranate seeds, or fried butterbeans with feta, sorrel, and sumac, or Castellucio lentils with tomatoes and Gorgonzola back then? I might never have stopped being a vegetarian.
Good food is good food. Labels sometimes stop us from trying meals that could change our lives. Gluten-free? Most of the world’s great food is naturally gluten-free. Vegetarian? It can just be great food.
Urban Pantry: Tips and Recipes for a Thrifty, Sustainable and Seasonal Kitchen might surprise you. It’s so unassuming looking in comparison to these other, sumptuous cookbooks. For awhile, I thought it was a pleasant try and put it aside.
But this book by Amy Pennington just keeps drawing me in.
Amy teaches people how to set up a well-stocked pantry, and then how to cook from that pantry. Pretty simple, right? That’s the point, something Danny and I are realizing more and more clearly. Instead of going out and buying the ingredients we fancy that day, or buying ingredients for a specific recipe, we shop each week for what is missing from our pantry. It might seem more plodding at first, but it actually breeds creativity. If we have good whole grains, gluten-free flours, lentils and beans, oils and fats, vinegars, nuts, dried fruits, and some foods that always live in our refrigerator, we can make anything. Amy’s book really helped us to change the way we organize our food lives.
You can’t help but like Amy. She’s funny and expansive, casual and passionate. She just wants you to cook.
More than any other book on this list, Urban Pantry: Tips and Recipes for a Thrifty, Sustainable and Seasonal Kitchen will help a beginning cook to start making great meals. If you have never really cooked much before, and you don’t know where to start, this is a good one.
What I love is that the recipes from Amy’s pantry are never boring. Most books enticing to beginners teach you how to make plain, simple food. With recipes like walnut and garlic chicken, gremolata, cumin black pot with cabbage, and Indian pickled carrots, this book will help you make interesting meals full of flavor. You just won’t have to go out shopping every day for new ingredients if you pay attention to what Amy is saying.
One of Danny’s favorite foods in the world is the artichoke. When he saw the cover of this book, he wanted it. Of course, it didn’t hurt that the author is David Tanis, head chef at Chez Panisse half the year, host of a private dining club in Paris the other half a year. Really, this was a no brainer. We bought this book immediately. You want Heart of the Artichoke and Other Kitchen Journeys too.
I love how spare and beautiful this book is. (Having photographs by Christopher Hirsheimer makes any book breathtaking.) Some of the books we love best this year (including ours) are full of narrative, winding stories and hilarious turns. Tanis is laconic, saying only what is necessary. For example, I love that the first section of the book is called Kitchen Rituals, simple acts of being in the kitchen, like how to peel an apple with a knife in one long peel. Or the joys of Ziploc bags, taking harissa with you as you travel to spice up your life, and eating raw artichokes for lunch. This may sound like too little for a cookbook. It’s not. Each ritual taught us something about food that we didn’t know before. (I’m making bags of freezer tomatoes in Ziplocs next summer.)
This is really a book about being in the kitchen all the time. It’s not flashy. it’s not trying to reinvent cuisine, it’s not going to shout at you. Instead, Tanis suggests a life of cooking every day, without the idea that dinner has to be on the table, quickly. It’s about living a life of food, graciously.
On top of that, the man really knows his food. I want to make his tea-smoked chicken salad with ginger vinaigrette immediately.
Also, the book is arranged by a series of seasonal menus: spring, summer, fall, and winter. This helps me enormously when I’m trying to find something to cook for the evening. We could be having duck confit with crisp panfried potatoes alongside celery, radish, and watercress salad with walnut oil soon. Dessert will be spiced pears in red wine.
Truly, I want to make everything in this book. Everything.
We happily recommended Plenty, a vegetarian book full of complex recipes that will make you love your vegetables and grains. Because life is not simple, we’re also enthusiastically recommending Pig: King of the Southern Table.
This is one of the kinds of cookbooks I love most: specific and focused. Villas, a respected food writer who has written more than ten cookbooks, turns his attention to the role pork plays in the South. Guess what? It’s a big role. There’s plenty to read and to cook here.
How about Carolina pork and sweet potato pie with biscuit batter crust? Or Maw Maw’s mustard pork chops and dumplings in cider? Or sherried ham and squash casserole? I’m hungry again.
The book is filled with stories of the people who make and cook pork in the South, as well as little facts along the way. As you know, we love pork in this house. If you do too, you will absolutely love this book.
When we told friends of ours that we were planning to do this (epic-long) post, some of them said, “What are you doing? Why are you promoting other people’s cookbooks when you are trying to sell yours?”
Well, I have to tell you, that’s how we are. We love to give. We’ve been blessed enough to have these books in our home this year, and our bellies have been happy for the cracked-open books on our kitchen counter.
Also, we cannot say, “Hey, in the top 10 cookbooks of the year? Our book, Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef!” Even though some people have been suggesting our book should be in that list, we can’t say that.
But we’d like you to consider buying it. We think you’ll like it.
Here’s Where You Come In
Because we have loved these 12 cookbooks so much, we want you to have the chance to cook from them too. So we are giving away a copy of every one of these books, including ours. 13 of you will have a new cookbook soon.
Simply tell us what makes a great cookbook for you. We’ll see if we can match the winners to the right book.
(Also, if you are thinking about buying any of these cookbooks, would you consider going through our site? If you buy anything on Amazon through these links, we receive a small amount of money for each purchase. This keeps us going in gluten-free flours for all the baking experiments!)
And, believe it or not, we had a heck of a time narrowing this down to 12 books. If you are interested, here are the other books we considered:
Cookbooks That Almost Made the Cut
Food Books (not quite cookbooks but still amazing)
Will Write for Food: The Complete Guide to Writing Cookbooks, Blogs, Reviews, Memoir, and More
Cookbooks We Don’t Own Yet But Hope To Soon
What makes a cookbook great so it stays in your kitchen?