The best cook­books of the year — for all types of cooks

The Denver Post - - LIFE & CULTURE - By Bon­nie S. Ben­wick

If you had never bought a cook­book be­fore this year, the crop of 2016 could build a first-rate culi­nary li­brary. But be­cause you are read­ing this, you prob­a­bly own cook­books. (Come to think of it, who doesn’t? Even my friends who say they never cook have some on their shelves.) Well, you’ll want to look through this list, too, with an eye to­ward re­plac­ing a few ti­tles. That’s how im­pressed I am with what’s on of­fer.

Bak­ers can de­light in Dorie Greenspan’s must-have com­pen­dium of cook­ies and the stun­ning pic­to­ri­als of Uri Scheft’s breads; South­ern and Ap­palachian foods get star turns from Asha Gomez and Ronni Lundy. Plant-based eat­ing ad­vances in heroic leaps and bounds, thanks to Isa Chan­dra Moskowitz and to the Philly team of Rich Landau and Kate Ja­coby. A few notable chefs tried to shake up the cook­book sta­tus quo by splat­ter­ing a mess here and slip­ping in pro­fan­ity there, but L.A.’s Jes­sica Koslow man­aged to set her­self and her work apart to bet­ter ef­fect.

It was es­pe­cially nice to see some backup singers of the culi­nary world, a.k.a.”with” au­thors, step out on their own, such as Genevieve Ko and Ju­lia Tur­shen. If we were pressed to com­pose a short­list, both their books would be on it.

And I’m hap­pi­est to re­port the recipe col­lec­tions that al­ways draw me in the most — hand­some, prac­ti­cal, full of dishes you have to try — come from the wis­est cooks I know. They in­spire and teach us.

Cook­books are listed in al­pha­bet­i­cal or­der within each cat­e­gory:

For bak­ers

“Art of the Pie: A Prac­ti­cal Guide to Home­made Crusts, Fill­ings, and Life,” by Kate McDer­mott (Coun­try­man Press, $35). She is the Piechi­a­trist, af­ter all — a ti­tle that speaks to the bits of wis­dom shared in this pages. This book is the next best thing to tak­ing one of her classes. Recipe to try: Apri­cot Pie

“Bet­ter Bak­ing: Whole­some In­gre­di­ents, De­li­cious Desserts,” by Genevieve Ko (Rux Martin/Houghton Mif­flin Har­court, $30). Mo­ti­vated to update clas­sics with more al­ter­na­tive flours and less sugar,

Ko has cre­ated some of the most in­no­va­tive fla­vor com­bi­na­tions you’ll find in a bak­ing book, such as Fen­nel and Cur­rant Corn Bread; Buck­wheat Al­mond Ap­ple Cake; Toasted Wal­nut and Grape Clafoutis; Ch­est­nut Kisses.

“Break­ing Breads: A New World of Is­raeli Bak­ing,” by Uri Scheft with Raquel Pelzel (Ar­ti­san, $35). Scheft, the force be­hind Le­hamim Bak­ery in Tel Aviv and Breads Bak­ery in New York, has contributed might­ily to the canon of bread-fo­cused books not only for his wiz­ardly use of Mid­dle East­ern in­gre­di­ents but also for help­ing to cre­ate such stun­ning process and tech­nique photography. Recipe to try: Dill Bread “Clas­sic Ger­man Bak­ing: The Very Best Recipes for Tra­di­tional Fa­vorites from Pf­ef­fer­nüsse to Streuselkuchen,” by Luisa Weiss (Ten Speed Press/Pen­guin Ran­dom House, $35). This over­due guide is a happy mar­riage of Euro­pean craft and Amer­i­can sen­si­bil­i­ties. One Weiss tip that will may come in handy else­where: Euro size “M” eggs are equiv­a­lent to large ones in the States.

“The Car­damom Trail: Chetna Bakes With Flavours of the East,” by Chetna Makan (Mitchell Bea­z­ley, $30). The former “Great Bri­tish Bak­ing Show” fi­nal­ist em­pow­ers the av­er­age home baker to ex­per­i­ment. Recipe to try: Curry Onion Tart “Dorie’s Cook­ies,” by Dorie Greenspan (Rux Martin/Houghton Mif­flin Har­court, $35). It was worth the wait. The author al­ways keeps her au­di­ence in mind, with clear di­rec­tions and ideas for sub­sti­tu­tions.

Recipe to try: Dorie Greenspan’s Peanut But­ter Change-Ups

“The Rye Baker: Clas­sic Breads From Europe and Amer­ica,” by Stan­ley Gins­burg (W.W. Norton, $35). The ge­nius of this col­lec­tion is that it has the power to neu­tral­ize peo­ple’s love it/hate it re­la­tion­ship with such an as­sertive fla­vor. The book is geared to­ward se­ri­ous bread­mak­ers who won’t mind seek­ing out un­usual in­gre­di­ents.

For a cul­ture dive

“The Aleppo Cook­book: Cel­e­brat­ing the Leg­endary Cui­sine of Syria,” by Mar­lene Matar (In­ter­link, $40). As the souks of this former world food cap­i­tal lay in ru­ins, the chef-author links Mid­dle East­ern foods and his­tory.

Recipe to try: Meat­balls in Sour Cherry Sauce

“Cúrate: Au­then­tic Span­ish Food From an Amer­i­can Kitchen,” by Katie But­ton with Genevieve Ko (Flat­iron Books, $35). The Carolina-born chef-restau­ra­teur, whose men­tors in­clude Fer­ran Adrià and José An­drés, makes Span­ish food with lo­cal and widely avail­able in­gre­di­ents.

Recipe to try: Cod With Tomato Sauce and Gar­ban­zos

“My Two Souths: Blend­ing the Fla­vors of In­dia into a South­ern Kitchen,” by Asha Gomez with Martha Hall Foose (Run­ning Press, $35). The author’s sure hand and Ker­ala roots make for a stun­ning fu­sion of culi­nary tra­di­tions. It can be as sub­tle as adding nut­meg and white pep­per to the bat­ter of an an­gel food cake or as seam­less as pork in a vin­daloo-in­spired gravy that can be mopped up with car­damom corn bread.

“Land of Fish and Rice: Recipes From the Culi­nary Heart of China,” by Fuch­sia Dun­lop (W.W. Norton, $35). You won’t find a Chi­nese food cook­book with shorter in­gre­di­ent lists than this one has — a wel­come sur­prise for the genre.

Recipes to try: Spicy Chi­nese Cab­bage; Cool Steamed Egg­plant With a Gar­licky Dress­ing

“Mex­i­can To­day: New and Re­dis­cov­ered Recipes for Con­tem­po­rary Kitchens,” by Pati Jinich (Rux Martin/Houghton Mif­flin Har­court, $30). The em­pha­sis is on ac­ces­si­bil­ity here, from one of Wash­ing­ton Post Food’s fa­vorite au­thors.

Recipe to try: Stir-Fried Green Beans With Peanuts and Ar­bol Chilies

“Preserving Italy: Can­ning, Cur­ing, In­fus­ing, and Bot­tling Ital­ian Fla­vors and Tra­di­tions,” by Domenica Marchetti (Houghton Mif­flin Har­court, $23). Ex­pect sure-handed ad­vice with a clear and per­sonal point of view.

“Scan­di­na­vian Com­fort Food: Em­brac­ing the Art of Hygge,” by Trine Hah­ne­mann (Quadrille, $35). The range of recipes steps out­side the typ­i­cal Amer­i­can casse­role zone, yet it of­fers a level of en­tic­ing fa­mil­iar­ity, es­pe­cially with grains. The con­cept be­hind the ti­tle — how to cre­ate a good feel­ing around one’s self, of­ten with food and com­pany — is not ex­plained un­til you’re well into the book. But you won’t re­gret spend­ing the time it takes to get there.

“Vict­uals: An Ap­palachian Jour­ney, With Recipes,” by Ronni Lundy (Clark­son Pot­ter, $). The author’s a ter­rific guide to the re­gional cui­sine many Amer­i­cans know so lit­tle about. Full re­view here.

Recipes to try: The Shack’s Sweet and Sa­vory Ba­nana Pud­ding; John Fleer’s But­ter­milk Corn Bread Soup

For peo­ple who re­ally cook — or want to cook bet­ter

“Cook­ing for Jef­frey,” by Ina Garten (Clark­son Pot­ter, $35). Her painstak­ing ap­proach to recipe de­vel­op­ment and test­ing trans­lates to “easy” for the rest of us. Fans will de­light in the young-cou­ple pho­tos. The Skil­let-Roasted Lemon Chicken is des­tined for clas­sic sta­tus.

Recipe to try: Rasp­berry Roasted Ap­ple­sauce

“Cook­ing School Se­crets for Real World Cooks: Sec­ond Edi­tion,” by Linda Carucci (Author House, $28). You’d be hard­pressed to find a more com­pre­hen­sive guide for any­one who’s new to the kitchen or wants to up their game. There’s a nice bal­ance of sci­en­tific ex­pla­na­tion and prac­ti­cal tips. The author’s two ex­er­cises for sea­son­ing soup and steak may for­ever change the way you salt your food. Recipe to try: Week­night Chili “Life in Bal­ance: A Fresher Ap­proach to Eat­ing,” by Donna Hay (HarperCollins, 2016; $35). Just about ev­ery dish is pho­tographed to se­duce. The recipe writ­ing skews min­i­mal yet does not leave too much room for guessing.

Recipe to try: Burnt Al­mond Shrimp With Chilies; Su­per Green Stir-Fry

“How to Cel­e­brate Every­thing: Recipes and Rit­u­als for Birth­days, Hol­i­days, Fam­ily Din­ners, and Ev­ery Day in Be­tween,” by Jenny Rosen­strach (Bal­len­tine Books, $30). The av­er­age cook-host who’s so of­ten stumped by party menu plan­ning will ap­pre­ci­ate the straight­for­ward recipes here, as well as author’s friendly writ­ing style and party game sug­ges­tions.

Recipe to try: Cran­berry-Mar­i­nated Beef Ten­der­loin

“Poole’s: Recipes and Sto­ries From a Mod­ern Diner,” by Ash­ley Chris­tensen with Kaitlin Goalen (Ten Speed Press, $47). This is South­ern chef food you can make at home; the mac­a­roni au gratin recipe alone prac­ti­cally jus­ti­fies the book’s hefty price point. The restau­rant nar­ra­tive and pho­tos un­fold at an un­hur­ried pace.

Recipe to try: Pan-Roasted Scal­lops With Gre­mo­lata

“Sara Moulton’s Home Cook­ing 101: How to Make Every­thing Taste Bet­ter” (Ox­moor House, $35). Cook­ing is about “nur­tur­ing, con­text. A life,” the author says — and that comes through loud and clear in this col­lec­tion of tips and 150-plus recipes. Recipe to try: Cream­si­cle Pud­ding Cake “Sim­ple: Ef­fort­less Food, Big Fla­vors,” by Diana Henry (Mitchell Bea­z­ley, $33). This is re­ally Thought­ful food, as it dips into many cul­tures and comes up with orig­i­nal com­bi­na­tions. It is a fit­ting ad­di­tion to the Lon­don author’s se­ries of hand­some, well­writ­ten and hands-on-pro­duced cook­books. Recipe to try: Hard Cider Rarebit

“Small Vic­to­ries: Recipes, Ad­vice + Hun­dreds of Ideas for Home-Cook­ing Tri­umphs,” by Ju­lia Tur­shen (Chron­i­cle, $35). A cook­book can’t get much hand­ier or help­ful; the author lists plenty of vari­a­tions and sub­sti­tu­tions for all types of eaters. It’s hand­somely styled by Tur­shen as well.

Recipe to try: Cur­ried Red Lentils With Co­conut Milk

“The Su­per­fun Times Ve­gan Hol­i­day Cook­book,” by Isa Chan­dra Moskowitz (Lit­tle, Brown and Co., 2016; $32). This could be the sleeper cook­book of the year, as it steers party food in the mode that’s in­creas­ingly sought-af­ter and ap­pre­ci­ated. Recipe to try: Pek­ing Por­to­bel­los “V Street: 100 Globe-Hop­ping Plates on the Cut­ting Edge of Veg­etable Cook­ing,” by Rich Landau and Kate Ja­coby (Wil­liam Mor­row, 2016; $34.99). These ve­gan Philadel­phia chef-restau­ra­teurs are es­pe­cially adept at sea­son­ing and sauc­ing. From Wash­ing­ton Post Food Ed­i­tor Joe Yonan: “The book aims to help read­ers bring those fla­vors home, sug­gest­ing al­most two dozen pantry sta­ples that can span var­i­ous cuisines and in­clud­ing shop­ping lists for seven types of eth­nic mar­kets.”

Recipe to try: Korean Soft Tofu Stew

For gift-giv­ing and/or fun

“The Asian Slow Cooker: Ex­otic Fa­vorites for Your Crock­pot,” by Kelly Kwok (Page Street Pub­lish­ing, $22). The recipes are not so ex­otic, in fact, but doable ren­di­tions for any­one who has a pantry full of su­per­mar­ket-ac­cess Asian in­gre­di­ents. Slow-cooker en­thu­si­asts tired of chili, this one’s for you.

“The Bushcraft Field Guide to Trap­ping, Gath­er­ing, and Cook­ing in the Wild,” by Dave Can­ter­bury (Adams Me­dia, $17). Prac­ti­cal and sized right, for places where Google can’t al­ways be sum­moned. In­cludes a guide to what’s ed­i­ble for for­agers and key il­lus­tra­tions, in ad­di­tion to recipes.

“Chicken: A Sa­vor the South Cook­book,” by Cyn­thia Graubart (Univer­sity of North Carolina Press, $20). Here’s a tidy roundup done in good taste; we es­pe­cially like the cat­e­gories of whole birds, and pieces.

“De­cep­tive Desserts: A Lady’s Guide to Bak­ing Bad!,” by Chris­tine McCon­nell (Re­gan Arts, $29.95). The campy how-to is as in­spi­ra­tional for lovers of trompe l’oeil as it is for ad­mir­ers of the en­trepreneurial spirit.

“Every­thing I Want to Eat: Sqirl and the New Cal­i­for­nia Cook­ing,” by Jes­sica Koslow with Maria Zizka (Abrams, $40). Big props for this restau­rant chef-author who apol­o­gizes for re­ly­ing on some “sub-recipes” — those ex­tra, time-con­sum­ing el­e­ments that can bring plans for im­mi­nent din­ner to a halt. This is fun and it has a dif­fer­ent look that doesn’t alien­ate the av­er­age cook­book reader. Another can­di­date for a would-be short­list of this year’s fa­vorites.

“The Short Stack Cook­book: In­gre­di­ents That Speak Vol­umes,” by Nick Fauchald, Kait­lyn Goalen and the con­trib­u­tors of Short Stack Edi­tions (Abrams, $40). This is a vis­ually hip, color-coded com­pi­la­tion of in­gre­di­ent­fo­cused recipes found in the se­ries’ small­for­mat book­lets. The em­pha­sis is on ease, and you’ll find some of the most ac­com­plished and re­li­able chefs and cook­book au­thors among the book’s con­trib­u­tors.

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