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F&W Executive Food Editor Tina Ujlaki picks the 10 new cookbooks that inspired her the most this year.
This was a great year for cookbooks, and whittling down a list of just 10 was hard for me to do. This kind of list, like any best-of selection, says as much if not more about the proclivities of its compiler than it does about the specific books selected. I’m a home cook; I cook most nights, usually without a plan. I’m very bad at following recipes, because I get frustrated if I don’t have all of the ingredients on hand. So while I follow baking recipes religiously, I look to cookbooks for inspiration and information, for new ideas, for unfamiliar flavors or pairings or techniques, and sometimes for something as simple as a good story. According to those parameters, here are my ten favorite new cookbooks from 2015.
Gjelina: Cooking from Venice, California by Travis Lett
If I could stock my pantry with all the simple-to-make condiments in the first chapter of this book, I think I’d be set for a year of home cooking and improvisation. I’d also be prepared to make all of the inspired, remarkably compelling market-driven recipes in this gorgeous book that features the very best examples—from salads to sweets—of just how we want to eat right now.
Food 52 Genius Recipes: 100 Recipes That Will Change the Way You Cook by Kristen Miglore
This is truly a best of the best of the best compilation, culled from Miglore’s award-winning weekly column on Food 52 that features clever, sometimes surprising, always home-cook-accessible recipes. Some of them are already in the pantheon of timeless classics—like Marcella Hazan’s tomato sauce with onion and butter. It’s a supereclectic collection jam-packed with recipes you’ll want to make again and again.
The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science by Kenji Lopez-Alt
With indefatigable curiosity and an often-corny sense of humor, the managing culinary director of Serious Eats does a deep-dive into the whys of just about every aspect of home cooking (other than doing the dishes). While my mac and cheese may still be slightly gritty, at least now I know that that’s because I never add processed cheese to help smooth it out. You could give yourself a fantastic culinary education by reading this book cover to cover, but you can also dip in anytime and put what you’ve read to use right away.
Cookie Love by Mindy Segal with Kate Leahy
I simply want to make every cookie in this fantastic collection from award-winning pastry chef, baker and self-described “cookie nerd” Mindy Segal of Mindy’s HotChocolate in Chicago. What are two great things about cookies? One is that there’s such a phenomenal payoff for a small investment of time. Another is that there are so many occasions that call for cookies, you can bake them all the time. The problem is that I’ve made Segal’s honey walnut bars four times since we published them. At this rate, it will take me years to cook my way through the whole book.
Tacos: Recipes and Provocations by Alex Stupak and Jordana Rothman
New York chef and restaurateur Alex Stupak honed his skills in the country’s best progressive kitchens, but when it came to drawing a line in the sand, he followed his heart to Mexico. Although I’ll probably never make my own nixtamal to make masa (and I probably won’t confit my wings to fill a chicken taco), I will definitely try my hand at the pistachio, rye and sweet corn tortillas in this book, as well as some of the additional 20-plus salsas and inspired fillings in this beautifully crafted, fun to read, attitude-filled paean to the rich universe that is the Mexican kitchen.
The Violet Bakery Cookbook by Claire Ptak
There’s something simultaneously modern and old-fashioned about this book that makes it irresistibly charming. Ptak is American, and the morning-to-night, ingredient-driven recipes from her East London bakery have an American feel but a continental aesthetic; it’s funny how a simple grilled cheese sandwich seems instantly more delicious when it’s called a “Comte and chutney toastie,” or when a yellow cake with jam is a “red plum Victoria sponge.” Her focus is on clean flavors, fruits and vegetables, and whole grains—I love that she puts quinoa and hazelnuts in her granola, buckwheat in her butter cookies and lemon verbena in her strawberry jam.
Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking by Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook
You could very easily read this book as the fabulous story that it is—about Solomonov, his life, his passions and struggles and triumphs—without cooking a single dish from it and still be completely satisfied. But you would be missing out on learning why tahini (or tehina, as he refers to it) matters—so much so that he devotes an entire chapter to “Israel’s mother sauce.” And that’s just the beginning of the expansive and delicious foray into Solomonov’s traditional and inspired Israeli kitchen.
Lidia’s Mastering the Art of Italian Cuisine by Lidia Bastianich
I’m not wild about the title of this tome, nor about the fact that it’s called cuisine and not cooking, but that aside, I’m heartened to see such a text-heavy, photo-free deep-dive into everyone’s favorite “cuisine.” Restaurateur, TV chef and favorite Italian grandmother Bastianich covers all the basics and more—I especially loved learning about so many regional recipes I’d never seen before.
Chinatown Kitchen by Lizzie Mabbott
I love the energy and vibrancy in this colorful, illustration-packed cookbook from blogger Lizzie Mabbott. It’s a bit like a trip through a bustling marketplace at peak time, with hawkers from all over Southeast Asia beckoning you here and there. It’s jam-packed with well-researched bits of information about ingredients. Every time I flip through, I find something I need to make right away.
Mamushka by Olia Hercules
London-based food writer and stylist Olia Hercules used to cook at Ottolenghi, but here she lets us tag along to cook and eat with her extended family in her native Ukraine. We meet the people—mostly women, the mamushkas, resourceful cooks all—who inspired her passion for cooking, and we see them in action, in the gardens, gathered around the prep table and feasting lavishly outdoors. She makes Ukraine seem like the great new home cooking frontier, and her inviting recipes make it an easy trip.