Since mid-July, the test kitchen has been inundated with tomatoes. Eastern Tennessee had record-breaking temperatures and hardly any rainfall in June, followed by a few weeks of daily afternoon...
Favorite Cookbooks of 2011
You might guess that the Joy Kitchen is well stocked in the cookbook department.
You would be right.
We love our cookbooks. For us, the advent of cookbook apps and open-source food websites has not quelled our interest in cookbooks, which seem to be getting more beautiful and interesting by the day.
Of course, part of our interest in cookbooks is purely clinical, if you will. We look at them to keep abreast of food trends and for ideas regarding not only recipes, but also tips, historical and cultural information, and photography.
But we also cook from them and read them, sometimes cover to cover. Cookbooks have become almost memoir-like in their scope and their ability to tell stories. It seems that cookbook authors have come around to the fact that food is a huge part of our lives--having enough of it, sharing it, preparing it, turning it into a lifelong passion...
For those of us in the food business, cookbooks don't so much teach us how to cook, for we should already know that (more or less anyways). They simply give us windows into how others cook and what their relationships to food are like. They amount to little slices of culinary anthropology.
The cookbooks listed below are some of our favorites from this year. We like to think they would make wonderful gifts for the food enthusiast in your life. As a disclaimer, neither the Joy Kitchen nor the Joy of Cooking nor any member of the Becker family is connected to or receives compensation from any of the authors or institutions behind any of the books listed here. We simply enjoyed these cookbooks and think you will, too.
Super Natural Every Day, by Heidi Swanson, Ten Speed Press. I'm not saying anything new here. Most food bloggers have gushed about her book all summer, and with good reason. It's a knockout. Her veggie-centric recipes (she's a vegetarian--don't let that scare you) are sublimely savory and mostly practical.
Her Yogurt Biscuits are just heavenly, her Baked Oatmeal has already made appearances at several of my brunches, her Shaved Fennel Salad is a godsend during the hot summer months, and her White Beans and Cabbage is so simple that I'm always amazed at how delicious it is.
I have cooked from this particular cookbook more than any other new cookbook this year. Almost all the recipes are completely accessible, unlike those from her first cookbook (and I like her first cookbook, but let's be honest, she calls for some obscure ingredients that are available in San Francisco and New York City, but few places between the two). I have also found that her recipes are fairly quick to make, and the reward for time and effort is exponential. Good stuff, in short.
On top of all that, her photography is stunning and the softcover book is a pleasure to hold and flip through. I think I can safely say that this was my favorite cookbook of the year.
Cooking in the Moment, by Andrea Reusing, Clarkson Potter. As a Carolina girl, I'll admit that I'm a little biased towards this book. Reusing, the chef at Lantern in Chapel Hill, NC (which you should visit if you're ever in the area), constructs lovely locavore cuisine with a little Southern/Asian twang. Some of her dishes are bare-bones (heirloom tomatoes served pretty much au naturel, for instance), and most of her recipes are pretty simple (but sophisticated--Cherry Stone Panna Cotta, Slow-Cooked Squash With Butter and Basil, and Warm Edamame With Seven-Spice Powder...), but all of them are ingredient-driven odes to fresh, seasonal, local produce and protein. Her prose also happens to be lovely.
Plenty, by Yotam Ottolenghi, Chronicle Books. Behold another vegetable-intensive cookbook. But I don't know about you, I'm always looking for another way to prepare beets or kale or eggplant, as it seems the usual way just gets tired after a while. And there's no need for that. Between the Black Pepper Tofu, Leek Fritters, and Eggplant With Buttermilk Sauce, this book had me hooked. I think I knew deep down how much I loved eggplant, but now I'm kind of obsessed.
Tender, by Nigel Slater, Ten Speed Press. This book appeals to me as a cook and a gardener. Slater writes about unusual vegetable varietals, his experiences in the garden and kitchen, and appropriate flavor combinations for each vegetable. In fact, I've used this book more as a reference for vegetables than anything. What flavors go with carrots? Onions? If you like to improvise, this feature is really nice. You'll also appreciate this book if you're a vegetable nerd--Slater even includes excerpts from his garden journal.
My Sweet Mexico, by Fany Gerson, Ten Speed Press. It's been a long time since I was pleasantly surprised by a dessert cookbook. Most baking books are typical in that they offer nothing new, but rather create newfangled versions of something that's been around for a long time. This cookbook is surprising and fascinating. I had no notion of the beauty and ingenuity of Mexican dessertery until I picked up this cookbook. I want to make everything in it. There is the colorful Milk Fudge, the sweet tamales, the Tomato Jam Turnovers, and the truly memorable Mexican Opera Cake. The vibrant colors, flavors, and textures represented in this book are simply delightful.
Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams At Home, by Jeni Britton Bauer, Artisan. If you like ice cream (ha!) you'll love this book. Making ice cream at home is always an event, but Ohio ice-cream maven Bauer takes ice cream to the next level. These recipes are only slightly fussier than your average ice cream recipe, but the results are ten times better. Creamier, more flavorful, and yet more subtle (to achieve deep flavor, Bauer often has you infuse the cream overnight rather than simply adding ingredients willy-nilly), these ice creams are worth toiling over. Some of my favorites are the Coriander Ice Cream With Raspberry Sauce, the Goat Cheese Ice Cream With Roasted Red Cherries, and the Beet Ice Cream With Mascarpone, Orange Zest, and Poppy Seeds. Fab.
Plate to Pixel: Digital Food Photography and Styling, by Hélène Dujardin, Wiley. If you've seen Dujardin's blog, you know how unbelievably beautiful her photography is. It almost seems that she lives on a strange and beautiful planet where the sun shines every day onto perfectly matched linens and dishes, rustic wooden tables, and antique props. If you have any interest in digital food photography, this book is a MUST. There are very few books on the subject, and this one is written by one of the most immaculate, talented food photographers out there. This book will help you navigate photography software, unfortunate lighting situations, food styling dilemmas, and editing.