I know, I know: everyone is doing an end-of-year book recommendations list. So, I thought I would jump on board. This has been a fabulous year for cookbooks and I thought I’d let you know of a few that have I have particularly liked.
This list is eclectic and personal. I could have gone on and on and on, but in order to have a manageable list, I tried to limit it to a few categories: gluten-free, baking, canning and preserving, and crafts. These are my top interests, so I figured it was good to corral it that way.
So, without further ado, here are my recommendations, in no particular order:
I don’t think it’s any secret that I’m kind of a gluten-free baking snob. I don’t have a whole lot of patience for baked items that are not yummy and books about yucky gluten-free baked things really make my blood boil. At this point in time, there is no excuse for bad gluten-free baking. We’ve come a long way and we should know by now how to do this. My motto is: “If it’s not delicious, it’s not worth it.” So, the fact that I am able to recommend several gluten-free baking books this year is a joy and a portent of good things to come in our field!
Kyra just recently won Food Network’s Cupcake Wars competition for the third time–against gluten-full bakers. This is a big deal for us gluten-free bakers! It means that the word is finally trickling into the popular consciousness that gluten-free baking can be and is delicious! I am just thrilled for her and for us. And it couldn’t have been done by a more accomplished baker. Kyra is the real-deal. She is a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu’s patisserie and baking program. She knows how and why things works in baking. I have immense respect for this. As you know, I am a stickler for good technique and for knowing why things work in baking–and it’s a joy to see it when other people share this ethic.
On top of this, she is a lovely person (inside and out!). We had the chance to meet earlier this fall for coffee, and I really enjoyed our time together. We immediately started gabbing like old pals and had a lovely time. And afterwards, she presented me with a box of cupcakes from her bakery! Wow! I was touched by her thoughtfulness and generosity. And when I got home, I was blown away by how delicious the cupcakes were. I shared them with our neighbors and with Girlfriend and D’Ahub (I really wanted to just squirrel them away and have them to myself, but I thought that wouldn’t be very nice). And everyone agreed–they were delicious.
On top of this, I got a chance to watch Kyra in action at her baking demo at our local cookbook store (Book Larder) and further sample her baking magic. She made her Classic Cream Puffs from the book and they were amazing! It was also fun to watch her bake! There is a reason she has been a hit on TV!
Her book has an eclectic selection of baking recipes. Of course she has cupcakes, I love her inventive flavor choices: Boston Cream Pie Cupcakes, Orange-Vanilla Dreamsicle Cupcakes, and Eggnog Cupcakes (Deck the halls with boughs of eggnog cupcakes). She also has traditional items such as Coconut Cream Pie, Lemon Pound cake, and Ginger Molasses Cookies, as well as more adventurous and interesting treats such as S’Mores Tartlets and Cannolizelli (a cross between cannoli and pizelles). I am going to have a lot of fun baking through this book in the upcoming year.
This book is destined to become an all-around gluten-free cooking and baking classic–something like a Joy of Gluten-Free Cooking. It is what we gluten-free people need and have been waiting for: a book by a person who really knows what they are doing in the kitchen and who appreciates the fact that most of us just wanted regular, well-crafted recipes that are perfect for day-to-day cooking and baking. Full disclosure: I wrote the foreword to this book. I did so because I love it! It is truly a treasure. Amy is a chef who knows the important of technique (this is a theme for me in what I like) and she has learned how to use her ingredients to their best advantage. This doesn’t mean that the recipes are fussy or difficult–far from it–but it means that the recipes actually work and they taste delicious!
The book is filled with not only recipes, but with tips, pantry essentials, and substitution ideas. And it is divided into sections based on meal types: Breakfast/Brunch, Soups and Salads, Main Dishes, Grains and Side Dishes, Breads, Pizza, and More, and Desserts and Treats. She has recipes for things like Chicken Noodle Soup, Pancakes, Doughnuts, Teriyaki Pork Loin, Lasagna, Bagels, Muffins, I could go on and on. She also gives handy tips for recipes such as baking times for various sizes of pan you might use in a recipes; flavor variations for recipes such as various fillings for her quiche recipe; and tips on how to use a bread machine and a loaf pan for her breads. Truly, this book is chock full of so much information that I am quite impressed with it.
I have been lucky to have gotten to know Amy a few years ago when she contacted me with questions on how to create a recipe-testing group. Over the years we corresponded and I have been so impressed with her dedication to making sure this book is done right–and it shows in the result! This is a must-have for the gluten-free kitchen.
Lisa Stander-Horel and her husband, Tim Horel have another winner with Nosh on This! I loved their first book, Gluten Free Canteen’s Book of Nosh: Baking for Jewish Holidays & More which came out last year (they are on a roll!). As you may know, a “nosh” is a snack–something you nibble on–and it is usually sweet. And Stander-Horel and Horel know how to make them. Their recipes reflect the baking expertise they bring to the table and are delicious to boot! Further, I love the fact that they bring their knowledge and recipe magic to recipes special to–but not only for–the Jewish community. They call upon the spirit of Lisa’s great-grandmother, Goldie, and memories of her Romanian Jewish legacy that provided love “doled out in several noshes a day.” After having spent 5 years in New York City while I was in grad school, I have a fond place in my heart for the old Jewish bakeries that you could find all over NYC and am thrilled to have two reference books that provide me (and you!) with the delicious “noshes” that I miss from those days.
Included in the book are traditional Jewish recipes: Honey Cake, Chocolate Pecan Rugelach, Braided Challach, Spinach Noodle Kugel, and Matzo. There are also other baked goodies such as Gooey Filled Chocolate Cupcakes (like the Hostess Cupcakes from my childhood); Coconut Snowflake Cake, Mom’s Apple Pie.
My friend Elana Amsterdam from Elana’s Pantry, has done it again with her newest grain-free book! The author of The Gluten-Free Almond Flour Cookbook and Gluten-Free Cupcakes: 50 Irresistible Recipes Made with Almond and Coconut Flour is back with a gluten-free and grain-free cookbook that makes paleo eating delicious. All of the recipes stick to strict paleo guidelines of no grains, dairy, or legumes. And they are prove that paleo is not only healthy–it’s yummy. Whenever I need to bake for folks who are on a strict no-grain, no legumes diet, I turn to Elana and her books. Again (this is a theme with me) she knows what she is doing and she has created a wealth of recipes that are healthy without being boring. This book contains baking recipes in addition to entrees, condiments, beverages. And she has a Pantry section with info about keep ingredients and equipment that are helpful in the Paleo Kitchen.
Elana includes a range of recipes from snacks like Super Spice Granola, baked items such as Paleo Bread, Bagels, and Nut-Free Crackers; to main courses such as Bacon Tart, Sesame Noodles, and Honey Lemon Chicken; to desserts like Chocolate Chip Cookies and Key Lime Pie to beverages like the Mojito Mocktail, Ginger Ale, and Flax Meal Tea.
This can’t really be described as a cookbook–even though it has recipes–but I cannot tell you how much I love this book! Written by Debora Robertson, it came out in the UK last fall. I got to know Debora on Twitter and was thrilled to find out that we both had new books coming out at the same time. I asked her if she wanted to trade books–and she did. So we sent each other our books across the ocean. At that time, her book was only available in the UK–but luckily it was released in the US this year–yay!
The book is utterly charming. It is beautifully written and photographed. I frequently just flip through it–especially this time of year–and dream of what I want to make from my garden. It has collection of projects and recipes for using plants that you can grow in your garden. There is a variety of recipes for things like Green Tomato Chutney, Quince Jellies, Toffee Apples, and Blackberry Gin (yum!). There are oodles of non-food projects like A Christmas Wreath, Flower and Herb Decorated Stationery, Scented Wax Polish, Mint Soap, and Strawberry Skin Cream. In addition, she has tips on how to propagate plants, how to make your own flower press, and even how to prettily package up your projects for giving.
This is one of the most charming and pretty cookbooks I’ve seen in a long time. Christo is a professionally trained chef, having graduated from the California Culinary Academy, an affiliate of Le Cordon Bleu. She combines her formal culinary training with her eye for design and sense of style into a cookbook that is as pretty as it is delicious. She calls her book a “cookbook with benefits”–meaning that she shows people not only how to make a meal, but how to put it together into an experience that is as enjoyable as it is good.
Her book is divided by season and then into subchapters of menus for different types of gatherings. For example, in the Winter chapter, she gives us the recipes for a Holiday Dinner Party, including ideas for holiday table decor, what to make ahead, and tips how to plate the food so it is festive and (importantly) at the right temperature. In the Summer chapter, she has a menu for a Big Family Birthday party, including Blackberry Jalapeno-Margaritas, BLT Pasta, Sweet and Spicy Pineapple Barbecued Chicken and a Strawberry Lemonade Cake. Sigh. I want it to be summer right now!
This is a gem of a book. Lebo is a poet in addition to being a pie maker, and she combines prose poems with her recipes. She sprinkles quotes throughout the book from sources such as Carl Sagan (“If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe”) and George W. Bush (“We ought to make the pie higher”). She lists the types of pies and the types of people who tend to like those pies. Under “Cherry” she says:
“We have formed our impressions of this most American pie on canned filling. Which is more American? processed fruit in explosive syrup, or sweating in the sun while balancing on a slender ladder? Each July, the cherry pie-lover gathers hard red fruits in her dress until the moment she needs her right hand for balance, then let’s go, spills her harvest on the grass where the birds can eat the mess. She likes sun hats, tolerates baseball, and does not go to church, but prays when she is afraid of death or failure.”
In her headnote for Apple Pie, she says: “As American as what? In colonial times, apple pie was the harried housewife’s peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Children and apples were plentiful; pastry is tastier than uninvented Tupperware; and pie is still the only food that holds itself.” Sigh. I love this.
She has recipes for pie crust, of course, and for a host of pies. She has fruit pies, cream pies, ice cream pies, and custard pies. One of my favorites is “Mumbleberry” Pie, which she describes as: “an imaginary fruit used by bakers who can’t remember what they’ve put in their berry pies.” Delightful–as are the drawings by Jessica Lynn Bonin that are found throughout the book.
As you know, I am an avid canner in addition to being a baker. So, I am always on the lookout for canning and preserving books. And I love the history of things and personal stories. This book has all of this and more. It is a beguiling, quirky, wonderful, informative, and beautiful book. It is dense, chock full of stories, quotes, and history, in addition to canning recipes and recipes to us what you can, tips on canning, safety, equipment, as well as extensive charts on the fruit varieties and peak seasons by region. West describes his books as: “a guide to mastering the art of home canning, and it encompasses the cuisine and culture of food preservation.
It is beautifully written and photographed, and not only includes recipes and canning tips, but relevant quotes and stories from sources ranging from Virgil to Melville’s Moby Dick. West grew up in the South (in eastern Tennessee), and as you probably know, I aspire to be a Southern girl. I love his stories of his childhood and family in the South. He also describes his travels around the country, such as an apple-picking trip to Woodstock, NY, as well as experiences he has with preserving in his current hometown in LA.
The recipes range from the delightful (Strawberry Preserves with Elderflower Liqueur); to the unusual, Vin de Pamplemousse (literally “Grapefruit Wine,” although it is something akin to the French aperitif Lillet); to the unexpected, Canadian Ketchup, which is made with tomatoes, peaches, pears, apples, celery, onions, and spices.
This book is not only a terrific canning and preserving guide, it is a pleasure to read and get lost in as literature. It is one of my favorite books this year!
Stories. I love stories. Can you see a theme here? I am a sucker for a cookbook that includes personal narratives of the author’s childhood and adulthood and the experiences that he or she has had with food along the way. As you may know, Edward Lee gained fame from his stint on the TV show, Top Chef. Again, I don’t have a TV so I haven’t seen him on the show. But I have gotten to know him via his cookbook. He is from a Korean American family, he grew up in Brooklyn, NY, trained as a chef in France, and then eventually settled in Louisville, Kentucky where he is the chef/owner of 610 Magnolia.
He brings together these places and experiences in his book. What originally drew me to the book was the “Pickles” part of the title–the preserver in me was intrigued. He’s got several recipes for unusual pickles that I wanted to try: Bourbon-Pickled Jalapenos and Pickled Coffee Beets. He also has several variations on kimchi, the Korean spicy pickled cabbage that is Korea’s national food. He divides them up into Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter. Winter’s kimchi is Red Cabbage-Bacon kimchi (with carrots and apples) Spring’s kimchi recipe is Green Tomato Kimchi (with brussels sprouts) while Summer’s kimchi is White Pear Kimchi (with ginger and broccoli). Fall’s kimchi is the more traditional Napa Cabbage Kimchi.
He also has interesting twists on comfort food from all of the traditions he comes from: Potato-Stuffed Roast Chicken, the Parsnip and Black Pepper Biscuits; Kabocha Squash Mac ‘n’ Cheese; and Curry Pork Pies. Although I haven’t tried it yet, the Cardamom Ambrosia Salad with Blue Cheese Dressing is calling to me–I think I need to make that for one of our gatherings over the Christmas break. I have a feeling many of his recipes are going to end up as family favorites for years to come.
(Disclosure: the links are Amazon affliliate links and I get a few cents for every book bought via the link.)