E picurious may be considered “new media” but we fully recognize the importance and cherished position of traditional print cookbooks in the home kitchen. We also know that cookbooks make thoughtful and useful gifts, no matter the occasion or holiday. So just in time for Hanukkah and Christmas, we present our picks for the 10 best cookbooks of 2011.
Narrowing down this year’s list wasn’t easy, given the number of good and informative cookbooks. One title not on the list but worth mentioning is Nathan Myhrvold’s Modernist Cuisine. The six-volume set is exhaustive, encyclopedic, and certainly challenging, and for some, a cookbook collection essential. It costs more than a pretty penny (list price: $625) and is admittedly specialized in its scope, but for the true cookbook connoisseur, it is a must-have—for the photography as well as the techniques.
In our top 10 picks you’ll find books that span the spectrum of specialties and approaches to cooking, and reflect current and upcoming trends and tastes. Lush photography, evocative storytelling, clear and concise instructions, and of course delicious food were all factors in our decision-making process. These are the books—listed in alphabetical order—that we want in our own kitchens.
by Melissa Clark (Hyperion)
Cooking seasonally isn’t a new concept, but Melissa Clark’s take on the genre is irresistible. A year’s worth of recipes is divided by month, with each recipe accompanied by at least a couple of tips. Clark provides helpful instructions that make it easy to transform recipes into different dishes with just a tweak of ingredients or cooking methods, and her intimate tone makes hers a friendly guide, perfect for the edible journey. The added glimpse of the culinary creativity that goes into recipe development will no doubt prove inspirational to others.
Recipe to try: Carroty Mac and Cheese
by Anita Lo (Stewart, Tabori & Chang)
Is it possible for a Francophile daughter of Chinese immigrants with Eastern European nannies to cook “American” cuisine? If you say yes, you’re in for a wonderful treat with chef and restaurateur Anita Lo’s first book. Calling her own cooking “Contemporary American,” Lo recognizes the American experience as being defined by fusion; the United States is, after all, populated mainly by immigrants and their descendants. Taking into account these seeming disparities—as well as her experiences traveling throughout the country and around the world—Lo has created a cookbook that is truly melting-pot American.
Recipe to try: Sautéed Fillet of Skate with Caramelized Apples and Chicken Liver
by Heston Blumenthal (Bloomsbury)
Want a more user-friendly version of Modernist Cuisine? Pick up a copy of famed British chef Heston Blumenthal’s newest book. You’ll find recipes that call for some of the more unusual tools and methods—a refractometer, N2O (nitrous oxide) canisters, or sous vide—but surprisingly, most recipes don’t require them. That such experimental cooking can be done at home with perhaps just a few specialty ingredients and steps makes Blumenthal’s book more accessible, and that’s a good thing.
Recipe to try: Triple-Cooked Chips
by Lisa Fain (Hyperion)
Books written by bloggers make up a growing category, and Lisa Fain’s epitomizes the best of both online and offline worlds. Blogging about Texan food in all its incarnations, Fain has a passion that spills off the screen and onto the page, with recipes that are comforting to fellow homesick Texans and eye-opening for everyone else. With humor, pathos, and a dedication to all things Texan, Fain is an enthusiastic and engaging proponent of the Lone Star State’s abundant and rich culinary heritage.
Recipe to try: Habanero Pickled Peaches
by Jamie Oliver (Hyperion)
When Jamie Oliver’s not busy trying to get Americans to overhaul their unhealthy eating habits, he’s encouraging people to cook meals and eat with loved ones. Refreshingly, even Oliver admits to having spent more time in the kitchen and less time with his family. Advocating advance planning and a reorganization of the kitchen and cooking process, he provides answers to two important questions: “What’s for dinner?” and “How do I make it?” With some practice, you’ll soon be able to produce a delicious meal—main, sides, and even dessert—without sweating too much over the stove.
Menu to try: Wonky Summer Pasta, Herby Salad, Pear Drop Tartlets
by Jeni Britton Bauer (Artisan)
Everyone screams for ice cream, especially if it’s Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams from Columbus, Ohio. Jeni’s is known for its unique, seasonal flavors—Bangkok Peanut, Wildberry Lavender, Beet Cake with Black Walnuts—but it used to be that the only ways for a fan to enjoy it were either to make a pilgrimage or to order online. Thankfully, Bauer generously shares her trade secrets, giving you a professional’s know-how to make some world-class ice cream in the comforts of your own home. And that’s worth screaming about.
Recipe to try: Goat Cheese Ice Cream with Roasted Red Cherries
by Mourad Lahlou (Artisan)
If timing is everything, then chef Mourad Lahlou’s is impeccable. Moroccan cuisine looks to be hot, and while Paula Wolfert may be credited with bringing it to people’s attention, Lahlou represents the cuisine’s next generation. His approach pays homage to the tastes and traditions of Morocco while also expounding on the inevitable global influences shaping the food as well as the sensibilities of the modern diner.
Recipe to try: Lentil Soup, Date Balls, Celery Salad
by Yotam Ottolenghi (Chronicle Books)
Sometimes it takes an outsider to shed new light on a well-worn topic: Meat-eating chef Yotam Ottolenghi makes vegetarian cooking sexy and exciting again. Counterintuitive? Yes, but it works. Imbued with a Middle Eastern flair, the recipes reimagine vegetables and grains for a new audience, though even the most seasoned of vegetarians will find the food flavorful and inventive. Ottolenghi’s gift may be the food, but he also has an infectious fervor for making traditionally sidelined ingredients the stars.
Recipe to try: Black Pepper Tofu
by Michael Ruhlman (Chronicle Books)
Michael Ruhlman’s new cookbook focuses on the 20 basic techniques he believes are crucial for every cook. In his trademark gentle but firm manner, he shows by example not just why certain things are important in the kitchen (butter, vinaigrettes, braising) but also how to achieve great results with recipes that best demonstrate each fundamental. And as with anything important, he stresses that the key to success starts with lesson number one: Think first.
Recipe to try: Rosemary-Brined, Buttermilk Fried Chicken
by Roberto Santibañez (Wiley)
If you think everything’s already been written about Mexican cooking, think again. Chef Roberto Santibañez takes a whole new route, focusing on the cuisine’s flavorful condiments and sauces, best exemplified by salsas, guacamoles, adobos, moles, and pipiânes. Zeroing in on these foundation recipes opens up a whole new world, revealing a multitude of expressions and an appreciation for the complexities of Mexican food.
Recipe to try: Carne Adobada: Grilled Adobo Marinated Skirt Steak