Hi. My name is Ivy and I have a cookbook problem. The bookshelves in my office and kitchen are packed tight. There’s stacks of cookbooks on my night stand, various end tables, and a huge row of them in my kitchen, too. I’m not one of those “mark it for later” types, either. I actually use my cookbooks as an information library for the articles I write. I use them for inspiration for feeding my picky vegetarian husband. I thumb through them to learn the best methods to approach certain kitchen techniques. And I actually do cook from them. When you make a living (sort of) writing recipes, you get tired of your own cooking, so I turn to writers I admire for recipes which I follow to to t so I can taste what it’s like to dine at their tables.
It’s been a great year for cookbooks, so I thought I share with you some of my favorites. These are books I’ve used, stained the pages of, read cover to cover, and still have out for more goes at. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did!
For the Italian food aficionado: The Glorious Vegetables of Italy, by Domenica Marchetti ($30.00, Chronicle Books). This book acquaints readers with how Italians approach most meals– with seasonal vegetables as the star. Marchetti’s fresh takes on Italian classics like Eggplant “Meatballs” In Tomato Sauce and Vegetable Stuffed Pasta Shells make the familiar new and she makes lesser known Italian veg like escarole, cardoons, and radicchio doable to even the novice. One bite of the remarkably delicious Swiss Chard Nudi (delicate ricotta dumplings similar to gnocchi) and the Italophile on your gift list will be pining for Pisa.
For the meatless Monday warrior: River Cottage Veg- 200 Inspired Vegetable Recipes, by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall ($35, Ten Speed Press). HFW is a British TV personality and sustainable food champion who has an expert feel for putting together textures and flavors, so the vegetarian cooking here is both satisfying and fairly simple to make (a rarity in vegetarian books). I’ve made dozens of recipes from this book and never tire of his clever dishes like Spinach, Penne, and Cheese “Spouffle,” and Mushroom “Stoup” (a cross between soup and stew with mustard dumplings) plus pretty photos for every recipe seal the deal; this is a book that both omnivore and herbivore will swoon over.
For the “dude food” cook: Pickles, Pigs, and Whiskey-Recipes From My Three Favorite Food Groups (And Then Some), by John Currence ($40, Andrews McMeel). Top Chef Masters contestant John Currence guides readers through his “everything from scratch” ethos in the most delicious manner–from Jalapeno Hot Sauce to Brown Sugar and Black Pepper Cured Bacon, he makes DIY fun. In addition to the homemade projects, there are loads of updated Southern dishes like New Orleans-style shrimp and cream cheese grits, Szechaun Pepper-Crusted Catfish, and Bourbon Braised Pork Cheeks. This all interlaced with cocktail recipes, great story telling, and bit of sass. It’s not light fare, but it sure is fun.
For the frazzled weeknight cook: Keepers, by Kathy Brennan and Caroline Campion ($26.99, Rodale Books). The former editors of Saveur magazine tackle the topic of getting food on the table fast in this collection of their “go-to” recipes. None of the dishes require specialty ingredients, they take 45 minutes or less to prepare, and they’re peppered with sage advice. While there are plenty of dishes here to keep the kids happy (think fish tacos with pineapple salsa, cheese-stuffed turkey burgers), there’s also a level of sophistication here–sliders are Asian Pork Sliders with Magic Miso-Mayo and carbonara pasta includes skillet-poached eggs nested in kale. Keepers will make dinner less of a chore and much more of a foolproof pleasure for the busiest cooks on your list.
For the home mixologist: Winter Cocktails, by Maria Del Mar Sacasa ($22.95, Quirk Books). The perfect book for the amateur bartender in the family, this is a collection of over 50 recipes for drinks that warm you up on a cold winter’s night. There’s excellent recipes for the usual suspects—hot buttered rum, mulled wine, eggnog, plus some cool new ideas for libations like the Rosy Cheek, a hot white chocolate drink with pink peppercorns and rum. Punches, classic cocktails, infused liquors and a few bar snack recipes keep the party going all chilly nightlong.
For the Asian food lover: The Food of Vietnam, by Luke Nguyen ($50, Hardy Grant Books). This gorgeous coffee table-worthy cookbook from the dashing Australian chef and host of Cooking Channel’s Passport To Asian strikes the perfect balance between beauty and brains. The National Geographic-style color photos are visually breathtaking and the interesting-but-doable recipes like Seared Scallops with Tamari, Lemongrass and Chili; Green Mango Salad with Crab; and Vietnamese Coffee Tarts with Pomegranates will have your travel hound friends reaching for their passports, with a slight detour to the kitchen of course.
For the pickling & fermenting enthusiast: Mastering Fermentation, by Mary Karlin ($29.99, Ten Speed Press). Fermentation is hot stuff in the foodie world right now and this is the best guide to all things beneficial bacteria we’ve come across. Karlin goes through the basics of fermenting agents, sprouting, and safety and then offers an exhaustive collection of recipes including dairy (feta, cream cheese, Greek yogurt), baked goods (sprouted whole grain breads, wild yeast sourdough), cured meats (pastrami, gravlax), and beverages (kvass, shrubs, ales). There are enough compelling projects in this beautiful hardcover book to keep your pickling pals busy as bees all year round.
For the sweet tooth: Wintersweet-Seasonal Desserts to Warm The Home, by Tammy Donroe Inman ($30, Running Press). There’s no point in making strawberry shortcake in the middle of winter and Inman, a former staffer at Cook’s Illustrated Magazine, embraces that fact in this picture-rich dessert book. She focuses instead on winter ingredients like apples, quince, chocolate, and citrus, which, it turns out, are excellent fodder for sweet things. We loved the mix of cozy treats like Spicy Mexican Chocolate Cake and Chai-Spiced Squash Pie with lighter desserts like Grapefruit Ginger Sherbet and Rosemary Meyer Lemon Tart. There is lots to love about winter, it turns out.
For the person who reads cookbooks like novels: Notes From The Larder: A Kitchen Diary, by Nigel Slater ($40, Ten Speed Press). Alright, if you know me, you know I adore Nigel Slater. He is the author of a handful of bestselling cookbooks, hosts TV cooking shows, writes a column for the UK Observer newspaper, and still finds time to grown a lot of his own food. It’s his seasonal gardener’s sensibility that makes this day-by-day kitchen diary such a good read. In a typical entry, he’ll poetically note how the fig leaves look dusted with frost on a crisp October day and then launch into a recipe for pork chops with cider glaze. The recipes are sometimes just a few sentences of general instruction and at other times are measured, so this may not be right for the insecure cook, but for those who love to read about simple, seasonal food, this diary is a gold mine.