For F&W's forthcoming Best of the Best recipe collection, we tested a year's worth of cookbooks to single out the finest.

Live, Love, Eat!

by Wolfgang PuckDespite the drama of its title (the chef who created Spago in Los Angeles has always harbored a touch of Hollywood), this collection of 125 recipes from Puck's current Food Network series is appealingly homey. The dishes range so widely it's as if Puck culled through his personal recipe box without worrying about themes. Everything is doable, although some dishes—the delicious turkey mushroom burgers, for example—require some effort.

A Return to Cooking

by Eric Ripert and Michael Ruhlman Ripert, the world-renowned chef at Le Bernardin, Manhattan's four-star seafood restaurant, journeys to the Hamptons, Puerto Rico, the Napa Valley and Vermont, cooking only what's local and fresh, and the result is inspiring. Some recipes are predictably cheffy, but their range is vast, and many are winners. A creamy soup of shrimp with fresh coconut milk, calabaza squash and avocado is fragrant with ginger, lemongrass and cilantro. And cod with wax beans, chorizo and a soy-sherry sauce is spicy, buttery and amazingly original.

My Kitchen in Spain

by Janet MendelMendel, who's lived in Andalusia for more than 30 years and written five previous Spanish cookbooks, makes authenticity simple, combining easily accessible ingredients to create tastes that will be entirely new to most Americans. She flavors deviled eggs with shrimp and pimiento-stuffed olives, for instance, and stuffs roast chicken with smoky ham, hard-cooked eggs and pine nuts.

Perfect Cakes

by Nick MalgieriThis volume, by the veteran author and director of the baking program at New York's Institute of Culinary Education, amounts to a handbook for cake-making. Even recipes that look a bit been-there-done-that (lemon-buttermilk pound cake, blueberry crumb cake) still taste superb, and the many new items (zuccotto alla ricotta, a domed sponge cake filled with chocolate and ricotta mousse and covered with pistachios) are fun and enticing.

Baking in America

by Greg PatentA comprehensive paean to home baking—nothing too frilly—by a master who won the Pillsbury Bake-Off as a teenager. Patent's book spans more than 200 years of American baking. Each chapter begins with a historical overview, and the fascinating tidbits about ingredients, techniques and equipment include quips from bakers through the centuries. Among the finest recipes here are the Kentucky chocolate sheet cake, with a crumb so fine that it tastes almost like a mousse, and the (truly) perfect apricot-berry crumble.

The Zuni Cafe Cookbook

by Judy Rodgers Rodgers, who's been cooking at San Francisco's beloved Zuni Café since 1987, has spent her career pondering and experimenting as few other cooks have; this is her magnum opus. Among the excellent recipes are the Zuni hamburger (for which you season and grind the meat yourself) and the warm Zuni chicken salad, made with pine nuts, olives and bitter greens. But this compendium of culinary wisdom is about far more than what to make for dinner; Rodgers' six-ingredient recipe for chicken stock, for instance, is three pages long. She offers variations, tips and hints on what to look for, listen for, sniff for and taste for. And on top of everything else, she's a terrific writer with a delightful voice.

Michael Chiarello's CasualCooking

by Michael Chiarello with Janet Fletcher Chiarello's recipes are sophisticated yet so unintimidating that you could prepare them in the evening after getting home from the office. The founding chef of Tra Vigne in St. Helena, California, and the host of two PBS cooking shows, Chiarello makes his food in a style that's both comfortably Italian and inspired by California's wine country. That combination adds up to recipes like addictive crispy white beans with chili oil; succulent, smoky quail with bacon and honey; soft polenta topped with marinara, Parmesan and basil; and a linguine with clams and bagna cauda butter that's an inventive twist on traditional linguine with clam sauce.

Ken Hom's Quick Wok

by Ken HomFinally, wok dishes that won't send non-Asian cooks running to Chinatown for ingredients. The book's fitting subtitle is "The Fastest Food in the East," and the recipes are not only fast, they're also accessible. Hom, one of the world's best-known Asian chefs and the author of four previous cookbooks, provides entirely accurate prep and cooking times, and he goes far beyond Chinese dishes, delving into Burmese, Thai, Indian and Vietnamese stir-fries as well.

Chez Panisse Fruit

by Alice WatersThis is the eighth cookbook from Chez Panisse, the incomparable Berkeley, California, restaurant where Waters, its founding chef, developed her widely influential ideas about using the best local ingredients at their peak—and of course that's what this book is all about. It's organized around the different fruits, each of which gets a thorough, thoughtful introduction. Among the predictably sweet dishes are some equally delicious savory ones: Sicilian-style swordfish stuffed with currants and pine nuts; chicken à la Normande, which puts the combination of apples and onions to lovely use. An ideal companion to take along to the green market.

Complete Vegetarian Cookbook

by Charmaine SolomonSolomon has published more than 25 cookbooks in Australia; this is an updated version of an adventurous, often Indian-inflected one that's been a hit Down Under for more than a decade. Rice with fresh cheese, nuts and vegetables, Moghul-style, is complicated to prepare, but the marvelous combination of flavors and textures makes it worth the work. Peanut wafers are crispy, exotically spiced and nearly impossible to resist. Not everything will be to everyone's taste, but the book is an inviting change for those who've had it with run-of-the-mill vegetables.