Gift Guide: The Ten Best Cookbooks of 2009
Our gift-guide marathon continues. Don't know a cookbook-user? Try our full complement of lists. —Ed.
I've always had a big collection of cookbooks, many of which have been given to me around this time of year. But before starting at Cook the Book I was much more of a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants style cook.
My heavy shelves of cookbooks acted more like coffee table books. I'd browse for inspiration, then head into the kitchen armed only with an idea. I reserved my recipe-based cooking for projects that I felt required exactitude and expertise that surpassed my own. It might sound a little overconfident, but I had always considered myself an intuitive cook—and a stubborn one at that.
Cooking pretty much exclusively from cookbooks for the past year has been an exercise in self-discipline, and a fantastic one. My repertoire has expanded infinitely and my technical skills have improved vastly. With every new cookbook came an exciting trip to the store to gather supplies. My kitchen was no longer a place just to make dinner—it was a test lab. Cooking other peoples' recipes offers an insight into their lives, their families and childhoods, their homes, restaurant kitchens, and pantries.
We've gone through stacks upon stacks of cookbooks to come up with a Top 10 Cookbooks of 2009 list to inspire some gift ideas for the cookbook enthusiasts on your holiday shopping list. Without further ado, here they are in no particular order after the jump.
1. 660 Curries by Raghavan Iyer: This was my maiden voyage into the world of Indian cooking. Iyer's recipes have freshness and a light quality—the polar opposite of the Indian buffet steam table standards. I have gone back to this one time and time again, especially for vegetarian curries. Available online, $15.61
Recommended Recipes: Stewed Beets with Beet Greens and Ginger with Chunky Potatoes with Golden Raisins, especially for weeknight meals.
2. Well Preserved by Eugenia Bone: Inviting and intriguing, this book makes the the world or preserving and canning into something worth boiling jars for. Making bacon at home seemed like something only pioneering farm wives would attempt, until I read How to Cure Your Own Bacon. Available online, $16.47
Recommended Recipe: Preserved Zucchini is a great way to hold onto the summer's bounty of squash for a few weeks longer.
3. Real Cajun by Donald Link: This was our pick for Food52's Tournament of Cookbooks. Link's recipes and narrative are both humble and rich—the dishes feature modest local ingredients dressed up with some serious Cajun flare. Available online, $23.10
Recommended Recipes: Fried Chicken Livers with Hot Pepper Glaze and a Game Day Choucroute, which Link makes for his buddies on football Sundays.
4. Canal House Cooking, Vol. 1 by Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton: This self-published labor of love is one of the most beautiful books I've seen all year. Hirsheimer and Hamilton have a picturesque studio in Lambertville, Pennsylvania, where they create these lovely seasonal dishes. Available online, $19.95
Recommended Recipes: Tomatoes All Dressed Up for Summer and Cold Lobster with Homemade Mayonnaise epitomize summer.
5. Endangered Recipes by Lari Robling: This is full of fun, kitschy, and nostalgic food. Robling features recipes from seasoned home cooks around the country that might have fallen out of fashion but are still well worth preserving. Available online, $12.21
Recommended Recipes: Borscht and Noodle Kugel both brought me back to my grandparents dining room table.
6. Japanese Hot Pots by Tadashi Ono: This book took me the farthest out of my comfort zone. But with the help of chef Ono and Japanese food blogger Harris Salat, I was able to replicate these communal soup meals at home, no problem at all. Available online, $16.50
Recommended Recipes: Salmon Hot Pot with its silky tofu and salmon roe (which I have made many, many times since posting about it) and the Sumo Wrester Hot Pot is a guaranteed winter warmer.
7. The Pioneer Woman Cooks by Ree Drummond: I think I might have been the only person in the world who wasn't a daily reader of the Pioneer Woman blog before getting a copy of her book. But Drummond's sweetly sentimental stories and hearty down-home recipes made me a quick and devoted convert. Available online, $11.50
Recommended Recipes: BBQ Jalapeño Poppers and Simple, Perfect Chili.
8. L.A.'s Original Farmers Market Cookbook by JoAnn Cianciulli: This collection of recipes from the namesake market tells the story of the diverse vendors that make up this uniquely Los Angeles institution. With cuisines from places as varied as Russia, Mexico, and Indonesia, this book is a veritable melting pot of amazing dishes. It's kind of like going to a mall food court—a really good one. Available online, $15.61
Recommended Recipes: Kalbi (Korean) and Spanakopita (Greek).
9.How to Roast a Lamb by Michael Psilakis: This shattered all of my preconceptions of Greek cuisine. Chef Pskilakis has been championing Aegean food in New York for a while now, spreading the word that Greek doesn't have to mean over-dressed salads of feta and olives or moussaka that can double as mortar. These dishes are brimming with unusual tastes and textures, fresh herbs and crunchy vegetables that cry out with delicious Mediterranean flavors. Available online, $18.90
Recommended Recipes: The Lamb Burger was even a favorite of my lamb loathing dinner partner. Pork Soffrito with Spicy Peppers and Cabbage is an inspired take on the typically dull cut of pork.
10. The Craft of Baking by Karen DeMasco: Like any good meal, my list of favorite cookbooks ends with wonderful desserts. Demasco's desserts are not only sweet but really smart. She drives home the point that dessert doesn't have to be an afterthought—they can be the main event. My particular favorites were those incorporating nontraditional ingredients into the realm of dessert. Available online, $23.10
Recommended Recipes: Jasmine Rice Pudding and Sweet Corn Custard.
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