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Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Best Cookbooks of 2009

It's time for my annual cookbook round up. There were a lot of great cookbooks this year. Here are my picks for all kinds of cooks:

Ad HocAd Hoc at Home
I didn't want to include this book in my list but I couldn't help it. Sure it's a coffee table book, it's big and it's expensive but it has soul. Thomas Keller signed my book "It's all about family" and really that says it all. Food is about connecting with those you love. Ad Hoc is a book of recipes from Thomas Keller and Dave Cruz that shares those very recipes; delicious home style cooking but taken up a notch. Ok, taken up a few notches. Want to know how Keller makes a hamburger? Fig-stuffed Roast Pork Loin? Crab Cakes? Meatballs? Chocolate Chip Cookies? Sure you do. You'd be crazy not to. In addition there is fantastic photography and lots of personal stories.

Best for: anyone who appreciates really good food

Coco 10 World-Leading Masters choose 100 Contemporary Chefs
Who do masters like Ferran Adria, Alain Ducasse, Fergus Henderson and Alice Waters think are contemporary chefs worth hearing from? Get this book and you will find out! There are Japanese chefs, American chefs, British chefs, Chinese chefs, Spanish chefs and Italian chefs featured, each sharing recipes that show off their culinary point of view. Some recipes are dead simple and others are the height of complexity, but they all have the power to inspire. In a word, fantastic!

Best for: An accomplished cook, looking for inspiration

Lucid FoodLucid Food Cooking for an Eco-Concious Life
I've seen a lot of organic, green and sustainable cookbooks the last couple of years, but this is the first one with recipes I actually want to cook. Great combinations like Cucumber and Pomegranate Salad with feta and cilantro, Persian Stuffed Dumpling Squash with Rose Petal or Lemony Gold Beet Barley Risotto. See what I mean?

Best for: anyone, most recipes are not too challenging and most are vegetarian

The Southern Italian Table
The Southern Italian Table
Since my trip to Campania and then again when I tasted the food of Puglia at this year's Worlds of Flavor conference I have been obsessed with Southern Italian food. Arthur Schwartz nails it. He includes many dishes that are pure comfort food but that you are not likely to find elsewhere. The Flat Pasta with Chickpeas is a perfect example, cucina povera at its best. Both the flavor combinations and the simple techniques will delight. Bravo Arturo!

Best for: Italian food fiends

Get CookingGet Cooking 150 Simple Recipes to To Get You Started in the Kitchen
Every year I plow through many cookbooks intended for those inexperienced in the kitchen. Sadly most miss the mark. Author Mollie Katzen not only understands what new cooks are capable of doing but also what would appeal to them. Dead simple recipes for Guacamole, Homemade Italian Tomato Sauce, Old Fashioned Beef Stew, Baked Stuffed Potatoes, Steak Fajitas, Teriyaki Chicken Thighs. There are plenty of vegetarian entrees too. These are backbone recipes everyone needs to learn. These are recipes that build CONFIDENCE.

Best for: anyone new to cooking

The New Portuguese Table
The New Portuguese Table
I have to say, I've been waiting for this book for a long time. It misses a few recipes I love, such as the game sausage alheira, but it explains a lot about Portuguese cuisine and introduces the mouthwatering flavors of paprika, seafood, curry, beans, kale, sausage and pork, pork, pork! Portuguese food is often earthy and deeply satisfying. This book makes those flavors accessible. It is destined to become a classic.

Best for: anyone wanting to try something off the beaten path

The Lee Brothers Simple Fresh SouthernThe Lee Brothers Simple Fresh Southern
I look longingly at Southern cookbooks but would never cook half of the recipes I find. Too involved, too much fat and salt. But this book emphasizes freshness, lighter dishes with down home appeal such as Pickled Grapes with Rosemary and Chiles, Roasted Parsnips with Mint, Easy Shrimp Creole and Radish Butter (a most ingenious way of serving the ubiquitous radish, butter and salt combination). Lots of vegetarian dishes too. Brilliant.

Best for: anyone craving Southern comfort but without the coronary bypass

Real Simple Best RecipesReal Simple Best Recipes
Filled with quick and easy but totally appealing recipes, who wouldn't want that? Chickpea and Mint Crostini, Halibut with Lentils and Mustard Sauce, Chicken Enchiladas with Green Salsa, or Sweet Potato Risotto. Unlike some books, there are no recipes with cups and cup of cream or buckets of veal stock. These are recipes for the way people I know really cook. If it had only included wine pairings, it would have been perfect.

Best for: a beginning cook or anyone who is time-starved but still wants to enjoy great meals at home

Takashi's NoodlesTakashi's Noodles
I am a noodle fanatic and this book had some new recipes that really got me excited. The recipes can be a bit involved, but most are also easily adapted based on what you have on hand. Ramen, Udon, Soba, and my favorite, Western style pasta with Chinese or Japanese touches. I've said it before but I'll say it again, the Spicy Ja-ja Men Udon is reason enough to buy this book.

Best for: Asian noodle nuts

Ratio practically prides itself on not being a cookbook. So why did I include it? Because I think it's a game changer. It helps cooks think like chefs. It will help you become a better cook when it comes to things like pie crust, pound cake, bread, vinaigrette and stock. Get yourself this book and a kitchen scale. It's the next best thing to working in a professional kitchen or going to cooking school.

Best for: Anyone serious about becoming a better cook or in understanding how food works

Momofuku Momofuku
Last year I ate at Momofuku Ssam Bar for the first time. The flavors were intense, the dishes bold and captivating. I was smitten. I'm not sure how many of the recipes I will cook from the book. But I now appreciate what went into my meal even more than when I ate it. There are easy weeknight recipes here that I will make like the Peas with Horseradish, Ginger Scallion Noodles, Cherry Tomato Salad with soft tofu and shiso, and the totally addictive Brussels Sprouts with kimchi puree and bacon.

Best for: those who crave big flavor

Mediterranean Clay Pot CookingMediterranean Clay Pot Cooking.
Why this cookbook is not on everyone's top list is beyond me. I scarcely perused it and was immediately plotting which clay pots I had to acquire. I am eagerly awaiting the arrival of my first tagine but in the meantime I have Spanish cazuelas to cook in. Recipes you won't want to miss include Orange Glazed Pork Belly, Pumpkin Soup with Creamy Roquefort, Slow-Roasted Lamb Shoulder with Spring Vegetables, and Greek Shrimp with Tomatoes and Feta. But really I could go on and on. These are recipes you savor, romantic recipes made in traditional vessels for maximum succulence and flavor. What could be better? It also includes great little stories and anecdotes about the recipes, where they came from or their history. As they say, run do not walk, to get this book.

Best for: anyone who enjoys taking the time to create something special--someone who loves to cook!

Note: Some of these books were review copies, others I bought

Next up--recommended cookbooks by friends and bloggers