My holiday cookbook selections. Photo by Donna Turner Ruhlman

My pick for best food book of the year is Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Meal, a collection of thoughtful, elegantly written essays on food and cooking. Tamar, who has worked mainly for food magazines and has also done actual time on the line at Prune and Chez Panisse, opens the book with the rather preposterous, even arrogant claim of aspiring to the level of the doyenne of the form, MFK Fisher. As it turns out, it’s not so preposterous after all. She’s the real deal. I read the galleys of this book on a beach in Okracoke, NC, this summer and enjoyed every moment of this smart, thoughtful cook’s work. For those who like to read good writing on food, on cooking, on sharing food, both practical information on cooking and more thoughtful observations on the pleasures and rewards of cooking and sharing food, I highly recommend this book.

I’ll mention other books that caught my eye, in no particular order, most of which were sent to me by publishers. I get loads, so many that it is no longer a pleasure, but I do review them so that I know what’s out there and so that I can recommend what’s good.

The indefatigable folks at Cook’s Illustrated have published a compendium, a monster of a book. There are now a lot of these big boys available now—from Gourmet, The New York Times, and others—but I love this one for its explanation of their trials and errors in perfecting recipes and their explanations of why things work. It’s the book I’ll give to my kids when they want a good all-purpose recipe book.

Ed Behr, creator and publisher of the elegant and smart periodical The Art of Eating, has published a lovely book of recipes in honor the magazine’s 25th Anniversary. Congratulations to Ed and his staff from this fan.

Jennifer McLagan has come through again with a quirky and beloved subject, Odd Bits, on cooking the nether reaches of the animals we eat. It’s important that we know how to cook the whole animal, not just the tender parts.

Mourad Lahlou’s New Moroccan is a gorgeous and fascinating cookbook on the San Francisco chefs contemporary Moroccan cuisine (written with my friends Susie Heller and photographer Deborah Jones).

Another chef/restaurant book that I found intriguing was Cooking My Way Back Home: Recipes from San Francisco’s Town Hall, Anchor & Hope, and Salt House, By: Mitchell Rosenthal and Jon Pult. I don’t why, because these books don’t normally impress me and I don’t know the restaurant but I found the food genuinely intriquging.

I had meant to blurb Girl Hunter: Revolutionizing the Way We Eat, One Hunt at a Time, by Georgia Pelligrini, but work got in the way. Was up on my bedside table when Donna shot the above photo. How can you not be intrigued by a fetching girl holding a hunting rifle on the cover?! Good luck with all your fascinating and ambitious work Georgia!

Brad Parsons has published a gorgeous and fascinating book on Bitters, highly recommend for those interested in spirits.

The beguiling North Carolina chef Andrea Reusing, who hosted a grand dinner on behalf of my new book last month, has published her first and wonderful cookbook, Cooking In the Moment.

Another chef I really admire, Marc Vetri has a new book out, Rustic Italian. And the amazingly prolific British chef, Heston Blumenthal has a lovely new book out on home cooking.

Moving from blog to book is not simply a given; they’re different media. But Lisa Fain succeeds elegantly with her Homesick Texan Cookbook.

And last but not least, a new edition of Clementine Paddleford’s The Great American Cookbook, edited by Kelly Alexander. Paddleford was one of the first American food journalists and her coverage of our country and it’s food at mid 20th Century is fascintating.

All books are long difficult undertakings. Congrats to all these authors on their excellent work, and all those I wasn’t able to mention in this surprisingly strong cookbook season.

If you liked this post on the Season’s Best Book and Others I Like, check out these other links:

© 2011 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2011 Donna Turner-Ruhlman. All rights reserved











19 Wonderful responses to “Gift Week: Season’s Best Book and Others I Like”

  • Paul C

    You missed Hank Shaw’s ‘Hunt, Gather, Cook Finding the Forgotten Feast’ … definitely up there with the others.

  • Kathi

    I’ve been following Lisa Fain’s blog for years (I too am a Homesick Texan) and you made my day by mentioning her book here – I will attest that it’s great and her recipes do a wonderful job of replicating the flavors I miss.

  • Carri

    Thank You, Michael for this list! Many of these books were completely off my radar…especially looking forward to reading Tamar’s book.

  • Nell Lancaster

    :: a fetching girl holding a hunting rifle ::

    I’m sure you meant to say “a fetching woman”. She is holding a gun…

  • Michael

    Michael, have you read “The Fortune Cookie Chronicles” by Jennifer 8 Lee? It’s a great read on the history of Chinese food in America.

  • Chuck shaw

    Next time you’re out here we’ll go to Town Hall. Excellent duck confit. A has been to Salt House and enjoyed it. Never been to Anchor and Hope, but it gets average reviews from Bauer.

    • Derek

      It’s “The Cooks Illustrated Cookbook.” You can see the title on the book in the photo above.

  • Victoria

    You must have mentioned Georgia Pelligrini sometime during the year because I got the book.

    I have six of of these books, and I ordered The Everlasting Meal after reading this column. But my favorite new book of the year (after Twenty – not just saying that, I have that in hardback and e-book and got it both ways for my assistant at work) is My Calabria, which seems to be completely off everybody’s radar. It is excellent and has a very good recipe for chicken cooked with thickly sliced onions, tomatoes, Yukon Gold Potatoes, and fresh oregano, which has become a standby dish for me.

    • Bookpoet

      “My Calabria” is indeed a fantastic book, but it was published in November of 2010. I’ll have to try that dish you mention.

  • Rosa Wippich

    I value your opinion on cookbooks and plan to go review some of these myself. I already have Lisa Fain’s book which is fabulous. Although, I have to comment that, in my opinion, your book “Twenty” is the best cookbook that I have in my collection. I’ve read it, literally, from cover to cover. Thank YOU for a wonderful book. I cannot say enough about it.

  • Natalie Luffer Sztern

    Okay maybe I am going to get off the track of this post.

    I continue to stand by “On The Line” by Ripert as THE BEST LAID OUT(visually and in content) book I have ever read. If elementary and high school text books would use this layout children would read and read and enjoy what they have to study. Although meant to be a cookbook and an introduction to life On The Line at Le Bernadin, this is a book I loved to read and continue to go back and read…the eye never tires as there are at least three different entities on any one page so the mind never gets bored. Turning pages was hard to do, for me, as i never wanted to leave any one page. I don’t publish textbooks but this was like reading a Where’s Waldo book always keeping the reader alert, informed and it was fun.

    I remember virtually every page and continue to go back and read this book all the time…I was so sorry it wasn’t even mentioned for a James Beard Award the year it came out…I have read it so many times that I think I can actually walk into Le Bernadin and know where and who and how every station is run.

  • Maggie Downey

    “The Making of a Chef” changed my life … period. “Charcuterie” is one of the best loved presents I’ve ever given. “Ratio” waits for me under the tree this year (thank you Sam). The list goes on … As I run my fingers across my bookshelves, they pause time and again on your titles. You’re far too modest, Chef. That said, I’d like to get my hands on “My Last Supper: The Next Course”. I’m a voyeur by nature, and am tickled at the thought of “seeing” others’ food fantasies come to life.

  • amy viny

    “Rhulman’s Twenty” is really fab-think you missed it. Wonder have you seen “Plenty” by Yotam Ottolenghi”? What do you think

  • Joe

    Hmm haven’t read most of the books you’ve posted here. Heard a lot about Tamar Adler’s book. Hope to still find it in stores..