Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Food Books for the 2012 Holidays

In the way crocuses signal the onset of spring, the arrival of pallets of cookbooks heralds the impending holiday season. As food and food writing continue to grow in cultural importance the amount and variety of cookbooks grow apace. If you’ve got a cook or food lover on your list, this post will be a guide to cookbooks and food writing of the 2012 holiday seasons.

Online to Offline

Two of the best food websites have gone to print with excellent cookbooks. If you’ve ever stared blankly at a refrigerator full of ingredients with no idea what to cook for dinner and you’ve had an internet connection, you’ve probably searched Epicurious for an answer. The Epicurious Cookbook collects 250 of their “four-fork” or highest rated recipes. As practical (some would say lifesaving) as the website is, it doesn’t provide the joy of flipping around to find a recipe that catches your eye. Organized thematically, The Epicurious Cookbook is both a reference, like the website, and an avenue for discovery like all the best cookbooks are.

After years of being one of the absolute best food blogs on the internet with some of the absolute best recipes and the best pictures, Smitten Kitchen has finally come to the printed page. Deb Perelman is a self-taught cook and a self-taught photographer, which makes the quality of her photography and her recipes that much more impressive. She’ll be stopping by the store so we’ll have signed copies for the holidays.

Cookbook as Work of Art

Some cookbooks are collections of recipes, reference guides filled with practical solutions to practical problems. Others try to capture the complete experience of food, with beautiful pictures, cultural explorations, personal stories, and recipes, becoming as much works of art as they are books of recipes. Uniquely bound, uniquely organized, and uniquely covered Polpo might be the most interesting object in our cooking section. Its recipes come from Russell Norman’s Soho restaurant but it’s presentation and photographs come from a commitment to discover the soul of Venice’s back streets.

All of Thomas Keller’s cookbooks are beautiful and amazing. His newest is Bouchon, and it’s beautiful and amazing.

Food Writing

The best food writing going on today isn’t in a book, it’s in Lucky Peach, the quarterly magazine and brain child of Momofuko’s David Chang. With writing by Anthony Bourdain, David Chang, Harold McGee, Peter Mehan, and a host of other cooks and writers it is absolutely one of the best magazines out there. And it comes with recipes. Each issue is organized around a theme, the current one is “Chinatown.”

Somewhere between a cookbook and food writing and between photojournalism and travelogue is Saveur’s The Way We Cook: Portraits from Around the World. Like Hungry Planet: What the World Eats and Material World: A Global Family Portrait, The Way We Cook features pictures of people, well, cooking. As simple as that sounds, the book is absolutely fascinating. And if you happen to feel inspired, there are recipes in the back.




On the Edge

If there is one cookbook that encompasses the innovations, experiments, and revolutions of cooking over the last ten years or so, it’s the encyclopedic Modernist Cuisine by Nathan Myhrvold, Chris Young, and Maxime Bilet. Unfortunately, at six volumes, 2,400 pages, and $625 it was too encyclopedic for just about anybody not striving for a Michelin star. This year, however, the authors have released a pared down version called Modernist Cuisine at Home. It’s 456 pages contain recipes at all skill levels and detailed information on equipment and techniques. And Modernist Cuisine at Home also boasts one of the best innovations in cookbooks, I’ve ever seen. One of the problems with beautiful (and expensive) cookbooks is their beauty makes me reluctant to cook with them. Cooking can be messy and I don’t want to destroy a book I spent $50 on. Along with the shmancy, full color photographs, at home on the coffee table as well as on the kitchen table, edition of the book, Modernist Cuisine at Home comes with a spiral-bound, text only, tear resistant, WATERPROOF, book of all the recipes. You can cook from Modernist Cuisine at Home without fear of damaging Modernist Cuisine at Home. I truly hope other cookbook publishers will follow suit.

Book Recommendations Are Like Fruit Cake

Last year I wrote A Very Foodie Holiday for the Porter Square Books Blog, and, just like fruit cake, book recommendations keep for over a year. Check out the post and all the suggestions here.


1 comment:

Nancy said...

This is a great book. :-) We can have more ideas on what to prepare this coming season. delicacies that this holiday make us cheers!

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