Saturday, December 18, 2010

Day 18: Roberta's Favorite Cookbooks

It's Day 18 in our 24 Days of Books, and we're hungry! This is the season for big, beautiful new cookbooks, and we have an excellent selection on our cookbook wall. Picking just one to call “my favorite” is not an easy task this year, but I’m going to have to go with Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table. Ms. Greenspan, long a foodie’s favorite for her baking books, lives part of each year in Paris and this gorgeous book is her love letter to everything French. It does for a new generation what Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking did for its time.

This book includes superb renditions of the classics (onion soup, chocolate mousse, roast chicken). It also has a host of completely unexpected, often radically simple, new recipes. A lamb tangine with dried apricots and inspired by the Moroccan cuisine that is a part of French tradition. A cheesy crème brûlée. Cauliflower-bacon gratin. Gorgonzola-apple quiche. And don’t get me started on the desserts! They are just what you’d expect from a master baker. And here’s the really wonderful thing about this book: The recipes are easy. They don’t contain twenty steps. They’re not simplistic, but they’re simple. This book is full of French comfort food: earthy yet elegant, great for entertaining or for quiet family dinners, inventive but also somehow charmingly familiar.

If it hasn’t occurred to you yet that you NEED this book, consider: it’s loaded with lively stories, beautiful photographs, memories, and insider tips on French culinary customs. If you love food, you will love this book even if you never try a single recipe. You can just read it for fun.

These new books made my short list this year:

The Sunset Cookbook contains more than 1,000 fresh, flavorful recipes culled from the magazine. It’s the first time they’ve done a book like this, and it’s spectacular.

The Essential New York Times Cookbook: Classic Recipes for a new Century is edited by the Times food columnist Amanda Hesser. Hard to believe that a 900-page cookbook doesn’t have room for illustrations, but there are so many recipes in here that there just wasn’t room. It’s a good book for the novice as well as the more accomplished cook. Every recipe was once published in the NY Times, some as long as 150 years ago.

Heart of the Artichoke is by David Tanis, whose day job is head chef at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California. This follow-up volume to his hugely popular A Platter of Figs contains more scrumptious food that is always fresh and in season. Tanis spends half the year in Paris, so his style is truly international as well as being intensely local.

One Big Table: A Portrait of American Cooking is editor Molly O’Neill’s love letter to regional American cuisine. 600 recipes from the nation’s best home cooks, farmers, fishermen, pit-masters and chefs are included here, along with wonderful contemporary and historical photos, memories, etc. I would buy this book for the endpapers alone. And again, this one is a good read as well as a good cookbook.

Ina (the Barefoot Contessa) Garten is in the habit of publishing one fabulous cookbook a year, and I am in the habit of buying them. We won’t break with tradition this year, because Barefoot Contessa: How Easy Is That? Is a worthy successor to all the books that have come before. Ms. Garten ‘s books prove that you don’t need special equipment or exotic ingredients to make great food. From roasted figs with caramel sauce to mustard chicken salad to tomatoes with pesto, she brings it all home.

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