I was speaking with my dear friend Lee Jacobs over a pint of Great Lakes Dortmunder at our local pool hall yesterday and she told me after much deliberation, she’d decided on asking for Around My French Table: More Than 300 Recipes from My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan.
Greenspan, of course, is prolific cookbook author (and blogger) who has focused in the past on baking and sweets, but here she both broadens and personalizes her approach, which may account for the gangbuster start for her book. Dorie, who’s so admired she has entire blog groups devoted to her work, is always excellent and this is a gorgeous well done book.
Lee had asked me what books I would recommend. Here are a few of the books that have caught my attention this season.
As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child and Avis Devoto is a collection of letters between Julia Child and Avis De Voto focusing on the years of Child's creation of Mastering the Art. I haven’t dived in yet but am eager to, especially after Russ Parson’s enthusiastic review in the LATimes. Avis was married to Bernard, a prominent magazine columnist and also author of a superb book out earlier in the year, The Hour: A Cocktail Manifesto by Bernard Devoto, a spirited meditation on how and why we drink.
Georgia Pellegrini has come up with a great premise for her Food Heroes: 16 Culinary Artisians Preserving Tradition, about the passionate people who create some of the world’s best artisan foods, such as Marc Buzzio, who makes some of the best, if not the best, salumi in America.
And I’ve just come across the work of Simon Majumdar and can highly recommed his Eat My Globe: One Year in Search of the most Delicious Food in the World, now out in paperback.
Harold McGee has published Keys To Good Cooking: A Guide to Making the Best of Foods and Recipes, a book for which we don’t have a category but should. Acknowledging that we don’t need more recipes, we need more technique (hear hear!), he has written not a cookbook, but a cooking book, a book about the hows and whys in the kitchen; but unlike his astonishing masterwork, On Food and Cooking (always highly recommended), which delves deep into the science of food behavior, Keys is more casual and conversational; it's loaded with practical advice, like how to make a quick beurre blanc (white butter sauce), what you need to worry about and what you don’t. That kind of practical help. This is a great book for people who really care about improving their cooking.
It's not a book for reading or cooking really, but if you have a food photographer in the house, this would make a great gift. Food Styling: The Art of Preparing Food for the Camera by Delores Custer. It's pricey but thorough and authoritative.
My pick for personal favorite of the season is Salted: A Manifesto on the World's Most Essential Mineral, with Recipes by Mark Bitterman, which I’ve enthusiastically blurbed. My reverence for salt is bettered only by Bitterman’s, who sells salt and chocolate at The Meadow. Bitterman writes well about the history of salt, the amazing array of salts available, and offers numerous recipes and techniques for using these salts.
I also admire Meat: A Kitchen Education by James Peterson, a knowledgeable work about cooking and eating animal flesh (this is what were doing when we serve steak, or a pork shop, or a rack of lamb, and it’s important to acknowledge this). Lots of color process shots which I love.
The Flavor Thesaurus: A Compendium of Pairings, Recipes, And Ideas for the Creative Cook by Niki Segnit, will rival The Flavor Bible for pairing info (I recommend both books!).
Here's one that few have heard of but that I really admire, The Lost Art of Real Cooking: Rediscovering the Pleasures of Traditional Food One Recipe at a Time by Ken Albala & Rosanna Nafziger. This is a book of cooking know-how and recipes devoted to, well, real cooking. Making your own pickles, or your own fresh tomato sauce, your own pasta and bread and sausage. To me, this is what cooking is all about.
My affection and admiration for these two people only increases the more I read their work—Shauna James Ahern and Daniel Ahern—and their latest, Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef, is more gluten-free goodness. Read their superb blog, too!
And finally, I want to mention a book from earlier in the year, highly recommended if you’re looking for a sweets book: Ready For Dessert: My Best Recipes by David Lebovitz who writes the excellent and popular blog, “Living the Sweet Life in Paris” at DavidLebovitz.com. This is a compendium of his favorite recipes that he’s reworked and rewritten. As ever, superb and recommended.
Feel free to recommend any of your own favorites in comments (please say why, if you do mention).
Post Script: Some of Your Suggestions (Thanks!)
Losing Mum and Pup: A Memoir by Christopher Buckley
The Blood of Strangers: Stories from Emergency Medicine by Frank Hyler
Primal Cuts: Cooking With America's Best Butchers by Marissa Guggiana
The Man Who Ate Everything by Jeffery Steingarten
Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky
It Must Have Been Something I Ate by Jeffery Steingarten
The Story of Sushi: An Unlikely Saga of Raw Fish and Rice by Trevor Corson
The River Cottage Meat Book by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods by Sandor Ellix Katz
52 Loaves: One Man’s Relentless Pursuit of Truth, Meaning, and a Perfect Crust by William Alexander
The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook: Stories and Recipes for Southerners and Would-be Southerners by Matt Lee and Ted Lee
The Apprentice: My Life In The Kitchen by Jacques Pépin
The Theory and Practice of Good Cooking by James Beard