Amuse-bouche The year’s most exciting cookbooks
FOOD BOOKS WORTH GIFTING
BLOGS THAT MADE THE BOOKSHELF
It begins with a humble household task: dinner. This becomes a hobby, immortalized on a blog. This can become, via advertising, a full-time job, and eventually, for a lucky few, the humble task results in the holy grail: a mass-market cookbook. Smitten Kitchen Every Day and Half Baked Harvest Cookbook are such unicorns, gorgeously photographed books that came from humble food blogs. Smitten Kitchen Every Day is blogger and adopted Manhattanite Deb Perelman’s second successful book, preceded by The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. Half Baked Harvest Cookbook is Teighan Gerard’s first, written from her home in a converted barn in Colorado. Neither woman has a background in the culinary arts (Gerard worked in the fashion industry, while Perelman worked as a record store shift supervisor, an art therapist, and technology reporter, among other gigs), which means that the recipes are home-cooking simple, the ingredient lists mostly short, and the methodology approachable.
But the magic sauce for both of these books is that these women cook like gourmets, with no quick mixes, processed foods, or convenience products to be seen. The books are notably similar, as is the food within; Half Baked Harvest’s Pumpkin and Cauliflower Gratin and Smitten Kitchen’s Wild Mushroom Shepherd’s Pie could come from either book, like fruit of the same farmers-market-inspired tree. Smitten Kitchen Every Day has a much larger dessert section, with some ambitious items that be more fun to look at than to actually make, and Half Baked
Harvest is notable for including optional avocado everywhere possible. Either serves well as a gift that, a year later, will likely be spattered and dog-eared rather than sitting pristine on a shelf.
— Tantri Wija
“Smitten Kitchen Every Day: Triumphant and Unfussy New Favorites” by Deb Perelman is published by Knopf/Penguin Random House. “Half Baked Harvest Cookbook: Recipes From My Barn in the Mountains” by Tieghan Gerard is published by Clarkson Potter/ Penguin Random House.
DELICIOUS BY DESIGN
The title is your first clue that this book is not all about the food. A previously unpublished collection of Eastern European family recipes that Cipe Pineles wrote and illustrated in 1945 fills just 50 pages of the new, 136-page tome Leave Me Alone With the Recipes. What comes before the recipes — an overview of the accomplishments of the author and, through that lens, a brief primer on the history of graphic design — is as important as Pineles’ mother’s recipes for borscht and schnitzel, potted liver and stuffed cabbage.
Author and editor Sarah Rich and illustrator Wendy MacNaughton discovered Pineles’ original hand-painted and handlettered recipes at an antiquarian book fair in 2011, 20 years after the designer’s death. Impressed by the quality of the artwork, the pair enlisted the help of Maria Popova, founder of the blog Brain Pickings, and Debbie Millman, creator of the Design Matters podcast, to help them create this tribute to the largely forgotten woman who shattered the glass ceiling of the American magazine design world. The first female art director at Condé Nast and the first female member of the white-male-dominated New York City Art Directors Club, Pineles was as passionate about food as she was about design. At the heart of the book are her bright, bold gouache illustrations — a vivid blue enamel pot of chicken soup and a glowing green bowl of hot-pink borscht are particular standouts — accompanying 25 hand-lettered recipes for iconic Jewish dishes served by her mother.
In a supplementary chapter, the recipes are updated by Sarah Rich “to make the instructions clearer, and the ingredients more … enticing to the modern eater.” Rich’s revisions include swapping out the breadcrumb coating for a savory, salsa-style topping in the recipe for veal cutlets and replacing the gingersnaps in a sauce for stuffed cabbage with fresh ginger. Pineles, writes Sarah Rich in the introduction to
Leave Me Alone, “is the artistic great-grandmother we never knew we had” — and this book aims to reintroduce her work in the kitchen and at the drawing board to a new generation of readers, cooks, and collectors. — Patricia West-Barker “Leave Me Alone With the Recipes: The Life, Art, and Cookbook of Cipe Pineles” by Cipe Pineles, with contributions by Sarah Rich, Maria Popova, and others is published by Bloomsbury USA/MacMillan.
WARM UP THE OVEN
This was a banner year for baking books. Topping many of 2017’s “best of” lists is BraveTart by Stella Parks, the resident “pastry nerd” at the website Serious Eats. Parks takes a meticulous, scientific approach to perfecting her recipes, but she cashes in on nostalgia, kitsch, and homeyness, collecting recipes for “American dessert, in all its cozy splendor, every messy, unpretentious bite.” She advises that her recipes aren’t “about making anything fancy” but
“about making everything from scratch.” In addition to one of America’s most iconic cakes — classic yellow with fudge frosting — she provides methods for crafting your own version of Oreos, Nutter Butters, Fig Newtons, and Twinkies.
On the restaurant-kitchen end of the spectrum is Sweet, Yotam Ottolenghi and pastry chef Helen Goh’s collection of recipes for lovely treats, which displays an almost global diversity. Goh has a fondness for nuts and fruits that’s evident in everything from almond, pistachio, and sour cherry wafers to ricotta crêpes with figs, honey, and pistachios. “The Ottolenghi way has always been about abundance, inclusion, and celebration,” the chef says in his preface, and this collection includes everything from Dutch speculaas, Persian love cakes, France’s financiers and madeleines, Italian amaretti, and an all-American chocolate-chip cookie.
The bread-obsessed will want to check out Jim Lahey’s Sullivan Street Bakery Cookbook. The James Beard Award-winning author is known for his no-knead breads, and you’ll find recipes for those here, as well as naturally leavened loaves, tips on sourdough starters, and lovely photos. His focus on fermenting seems timely (there’s even a recipe for lacto-fermented mustard), as does the recipe created for chef Dan Barber’s food-waste education project and one for Hamilton Buns, little ham sandwiches inspired by the Broadway musical. The book isn’t just about bread; it also includes recipes for cinnamon rolls, doughnuts, pizza, and dishes Lahey describes as “‘baker’s food’ — meals or snacks made to go with bread or cooked alongside bread, in the heat of the baker’s oven.” — Laurel Gladden
“BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts” by Stella Parks is published by W.W. Norton. “Sweet” by Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh is published by Ten Speed Press/Penguin Random House. “Sullivan Street Bakery Cookbook” by Jim Lahey is published by W.W. Norton.
NO FRYBREAD ALLOWED
The traditional indigenous diet is steadily increasing in food-world stature, which is no wonder — after all, Native peoples are the OG locavores of the continent. As Oglala Lakota chef Sean Sherman points out in The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen, the current attention to eating local, seasonal, unprocessed foods was first practiced by his ancestors, who maintained their food sovereignty through a storied knowledge of the land and its resources.
With an eye toward decolonizing the tables of northern tribes, in 2014 Sherman founded The Sioux Chef, a Twin Cities culinary nonprofit catering company and food truck aimed at reviving indigenous ingredients and educating people about their culinary heritage. Now, with a Minnesota-based restaurant in the works, he has set down his ideas with co-author Beth Dooley in a resourceful cookbook that is part manifesto, part history lesson, and all inspired and time-honored ideas.
Raised on the Pine Ridge Reservation in the 1970s, Sherman grew up eating traditional dishes made from chokecherries and wild prairie turnips, along with government-issue canned chipped beef. After burning out in Minneapolis as a corporate executive chef at age twenty-nine, he went to Nayarit, Mexico, and saw how the Huichole people had retained their pre-European culture, realizing “how food weaves people together, connects families through generations, is a life force of identity and social structure.”
Thus, The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen eschews frybread for corn or hominy cakes. Atop those, Sherman urges readers to nestle wild-greens pesto, cedar-braised bison, or smoked duck. His Indigenous Pantry section strives to line your shelves with nut and rice flours, sunflower butter and oil, corn or game stocks, maple vinegar (apple cider vinegar and a bit of maple syrup can do); cedar, juniper, and rose hips; and duck and quail eggs. Bean varieties are lovingly, meticulously detailed, as are the health benefits of braising a variety of heirloom legumes with a 6-inch branch of cedar (the wood aids digestion and strengthens the immune system).
Asides on topics like harvesting wild rice and where to buy sustainable northern fish like walleye, crappie, and smoked whitefish (Red Lake Nation Fishery ships fresh and frozen) add to the stores of useful knowledge here. The book is rounded out by recipes from other Native chefs and proponents of indigenous cuisine, including Santa Fe’s Lois Ellen Frank, who contributes a festive recipe for coriander-cured elk with dried chokecherry sauce. Pair that with a colorful salad of apples, griddled acorn squash, toasted walnuts, dried cranberries, wild greens, and sage with maple dressing, and you’ve got a holiday meal for the ages. — Molly Boyle
“The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen” by Sean Sherman with Beth Dooley is published by University of Minnesota Press.