15 Best Cookbooks Of 2012
Buying someone a cookbook for the holidays = Cool. Buying someone a little ingredient they'll use with it = The Coolest. Here's your guide to both.
FOR THE ONE WHO GRILLS A MEAN STEAK
Charred & Scruffed by Adam Perry Lang with Peter Kaminsky. Any good grilling book is less about specific recipes and more about technique. Adam Perry Lang's book is no different, but his technique certainly is. Rejecting the traditional wisdom of the-less-you-move-the-meat-the-better, Perry Lang's style is active: scruffing and flipping the meat as much as possible in order to create nooks and crannies where a crust can develop. He shows you how to make his signature meat paste, herb brush for basting, and board dressing — all compelling, delicious techniques that could change your grilling game.
Gift it with: A bottle of garlic salt, one of the ingredients in Perry Lang's master rub recipe.
FOR THE ONE WHO LOVES THE FARMERS' MARKET
Canal House Cooks Every Day by Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton. This cookbook is wonderful and gorgeous. Hamilton — who worked in the kitchens of Saveur, Martha Stewart Living, and Cook's Illustrated — is the duo's food stylist. Hirsheimer — former executive editor and founder of Saveur — is the photographer. Canal House is the studio and workshop kitchen in Lambertville, New Jersey from which they publish quarterly cookbooks. Their newest book reflects an entire year of cooking and is organized by season. Not to play favorites among favorites, but this is certainly one of the most inspiring of the year and could make just about anyone want to spend more time in the kitchen.
Gift it with: Dried chanterelle mushrooms.
FOR THE ONE WHO HOSTS THE HOLIDAYS
Thanksgiving: How to Cook It Well by Sam Sifton. When Sam Sifton was The New York Times restaurant critic, he spent many Thanksgiving days at the office running the paper's holiday helpline. His hilarious cookbook is a wonderfully concise 125-page turkey day handbook, and would make a wonderful gift for anyone has or will ever cook on this holiday. "Thanksgiving, after all, always brings questions, doubts and emergencies," Sifton writes. "This book exists to answer and assuage them, and, if necessary, to apply electric paddles to chests." Watch a video of the Sifton's 6 Essential Thanksgiving Rules and learn more about the book here.
Gift it with: A potato masher.
FOR THE ONE COOKS FOR A FAMILY
Dinner: A Love Story by Jenny Rosenstrach. This cookbook reflects the personality of its author, a beloved former editor at Cookie and Real Simple magazines who has hundreds of family cooking tips to share. Unlike so many mom-written books it's never preachy, but simply warm, honest, and clever. Rosenstrach organizes it into three phrases: Part 1: "Just Married," when Rosenstrach and her husband were learning to cook themselves. Part 2: "New Parenthood," ie, "When it felt like a bomb exploded any semblance of routine or normalcy in the kitchen." And Part 3: "Family Dinner," or "the years the angels began to sing." Learn and laugh from her journey, it's really fun!
Give it with: A package of whole wheat spaghetti, one of Rosenstrach's grocery staples
FOR THE AMBITIOUS COOK WHO FOLLOWS RESTAURANT NEWS
A Girl and Her Pig by April Bloomfield. The Spotted Pig, chef April Bloomfield's restaurant in the West Village, is swamped every hour of every day and has been since it opened in 2004. She is a very particular cook who did not compromise too much here in terms of simplifying her recipes for the home cook, so they do require a lot of ingredients — and often they require a lot of steps. But when you have at your fingertips the secret to making her UNBELIEVABLY ADDICTIVE gnudi, her famous chopped chicken liver on toast, or even her recipe for roasting a whole suckling pig, it is most certainly worth it.
Gift it with: a box of Maldon salt, Bloomfield's (and most chef's) favorite.
FOR THE ONE WHO HAS SAID THE PHRASE "SOURDOUGH STARTER"
Flour, Water, Salt, Yeast by Ken Forkish. Spend a few hours reading Portland-based baker Ken Forkish's cookbook and you'll surely get a sense for how obsessively detailed bread bakery culture is. But you'll also get something a little more fun — a complete education in bread baking. He starts relatively simple with beginner recipes that use store-bought yeast and provide step-by-step photos, then he advances to techniques for a hardcore enthusiast, like how to make a levain culture. As a bonus, there's an entire chapter devoted to thin crispy pizza crust!
Gift it with: A kitchen scale — this is no time for measuring by volume.
FOR THE ONE WHO CAN'T FIND TIME TO COOK BUT WANTS TO
One Pot of the Day by Kate McMillan. There are a lot of great books on this list but this one is the most practical. (It's also the most gimmicky.) In it are 365 recipes — one for every day of the year — for one-pot meals like casseroles, stir-fries, stews, and pastas. They're nothing super special but they are compelling in their ease and simplicity. Plus, the seasonal, month-by-month organization of the book makes its size way less daunting.
Gift it with: Arborio or Carnaroli rice since a lot of these are risottos.
FOR THE ONE WITH A HUGE COOKING BOARD ON PINTEREST
The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman. Finally! At long last it's here: The first cookbook from the blogger behind Smitten Kitchen, arguably the Internet's most popular food blog. Perelman's book is brilliant for one of the same reasons her website has been so successful — homegirl can actually write! (This isn't always a strength of food blogs.) And so the only thing more compelling than her recipes is her voice. Perelman always seems to know what will make you want to cook. She's going to charm you with some story about her tiny kitchen and all of a sudden you're making pumpernickel grissini with horseradish creme fraiche dip or a grapefruit olive oil pound cake.
Give it with: A mini whisk — Perelman likes to use them for salad dressings.
FOR THE ONE WITH A SWEET TOOTH (AND AN ICE CREAM MACHINE)
Sweet Cream and Sugar Cones: 90 recipes for making your own ice cream and frozen treats from Bi-Rite Creamery by Kris Hoogerhyde, Anne Walker, and Dabney Gough. This may not be the prettiest frozen dessert book to come out this year — others were made with more photos and trendier design. But it's the best because the recipes will WORK. The authors first break down a "master" technique each for ice cream, sorbet, granita, ice pops, and ice cream cakes and pies. Then they give you all the tools and knowledge you'll need to expand on that and master the gamut of recipes in their book.
Give it with: a Zyliss ice cream scoop in a fun color.
FOR THE ONE WHO HAS CANNING POTENTIAL
The Preservation Kitchen by Paul Virant and Kate Leahy. The is not a book for a total beginner. It is a manual of advanced ideas — although perfectly easy to follow — and it is awesome. You've got to give it to someone who has the patience to dive in. Michelin-starred chef Paul Virant doesn't stop at fruit jams and pickled veggies — we're talking fermenting Brussels sprouts and homemade condensed milk — plus main courses and cocktail recipes to use them in. And he provides ingredient quantities in volume, weight, and percentages. Holla.
Gift it with: Make a baggie of the chef's pickling spice mix: 2 Tbsp coriander seeds + 2 Tbsp mustard seeds + 2 Tbsp carway seeds + 1 Tbsp fennel seeds + 1 Tbsp black peppercorns + 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes.
FOR THE ONE WHO ALWAYS PUTS AN EGG ON IT
Jerusalem, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. When London chef Yotam Ottolenghi's cookbook Plenty came out last year, it was a huge hit in the US partly because the photos are so vibrant and the flavor combinations felt new to us. But it was also because it offered 120 vegetarian recipes at a moment when many Americans were trying to eat less meat. (Also the book cover is delightfully pillowy.) Ottolenghi's newest book, Jerusalem, is just as satisfying (read: pillow cover), and this time there are colorful chicken, meat and fish dishes! Think turkey and zucchini burgers with green onion and cumin; braised eggs with lamb, tahini and sumac; and plenty of vegetarian dishes, too. Some of the book's best moments are in its essays about Jerusalem, Ottolenghi's hometown, and the mosaic of influences on its food culture.
Gift it with: A baggie of Za'atar spice
FOR THE ONE WHO BAKES COOKIES TO TAKE TO WORK
Baked Elements by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito. The recipes in this cookbook are grouped into 10 chapters according to their main ingredient: peanut butter, lemon and lime, caramel, booze, pumpkin, malted milk powder, cinnamon, cheese, chocolate, and banana. These are the favorite ingredients of Lewis and Poliafito, the duo behind the Brooklyn bakery Baked, and for each one the book offers cakes, cookies, milkshakes, brownies and more. It's a fun concept, executed well, and it makes the book a wonderful gift.
Give it with: Chocolate! Specifically Scharffen Berger's Home Baking Bar, either 62% or 70%.
FOR THE ONE WHO COOKS HEALTHY AT HOME
The Sprouted Kitchen by Sara Forte. This is such a great book — probably the most appealing of all the healthy-ish blog-to-book cookbooks of the last few years. Sara Forte's recipes won't blow your mind with creativity, but they are approachable and smart — think lots of whole grains and leafy greens — and you are going to make a LOT of them. You'll stop on the page with her husband Hugh's pretty photo of Soba Bowls with Tea-Poached Salmon and you'll think, "Woah," and you'll cook it for dinner.
Gift it with: A bottle of organic coconut oil or agave nectar.
FOR THE ONE WHO LOVES A BOWL OF PHO
Vietnamese Home Cooking by Charles Phan. Ethnic cuisine cookbooks can be scary and annoying, presupposing a huge amount of intellectual ambition on the part of their readers. This book is not like that — it is completely rad and fun. Slanted Door chef Charles Phan is one of San Francisco's culinary treasures, and whoever ghost wrote these recipes for him (thank you, Jessica Battilana) did a darn good job. As did the designer. Also: Thank you to whoever coughed up the money for photos every recipe, of the ingredient glossary, and even step-by-step photos of many things like Rice Crepes with Pork and Mushrooms. Sure, you'll need access to an Asian grocery store, but once you get home with your rice flour and tapioca starch you're going to make some really cool stuff.
FOR THE ONE WHO WOULD BAKE A CROISSANT FROM SCRATCH
Bouchon Bakery by Thomas Keller and Sebastien Rouxel. Technically this is Thomas Keller's fifth cookbook, but it really represents the talent of Sebastien Rouxel, who oversees pastry at French Laundry, Per Se, and the Bouchon Bakery. Everyone in the food media world has been freaking out in eager anticipation since the book was announced. Not for naught! The thing actually exceeds expectations (largely thanks to Deborah Jones's stunning photography). Many people who own this book won't bake out of it a lot because the recipes are pretty involved. But it's beautiful and it's going to be a must-own for pastry chefs. Should you know someone that might try their hand at homemade pain au chocolate after reading Rouxel's 300-word essay on patience and practice, this is the book for him or her.
Gift it with: A stick of Plugra European-style butter.