THE FUTURE of cookbooks arrived this year. Apps, e-books and videos have enhanced our kitchen skills and recipe repertoires along with our usual stacks of hardcovers and their sauce-stained pages.
That said, it’s hard to put tinsel and bows on an app. And the ideas and innovations we’ve found in this year’s print cookbooks have been a gift to us all. Here are our food-writing team’s top recommendations for holiday presents, highlighting local favorites as well as national standouts. We also added in some classics that have survived years (or decades) of changing kitchen trends and are good bets to survive many more.
Thematically, 2013 was the cookbook year of eating our vegetables in all kinds of new ways. (Tara Duggan’s creative book tagged the trend of using all parts of the vegetable as “Root To Stalk Dining” (Ten Speed Press, $22). If cookbooks reflect changes in society, we’re evidently becoming more gluten-free-, vegan- and forager-friendly, more interested in global flavors and whole grains, and more committed to slow cookers. We want to know how our favorite restaurants do their thing, and how we can replicate it at home.
Our writers have diverse tastes, but one 2013 release made it on every favorite’s list: “Lark: Cooking Against The Grain,” the gorgeous, $50 book from Seattle restaurateur John Sundstrom. In words, pictures and recipes, the book tells the story of both the restaurant and of the Northwest cooking style that Sundstrom helped pioneer. The first printing is almost sold out, so we recommend getting your hands on one immediately if you can. If not, the matching app has a beauty of its own, though it doesn’t fit so nicely on a coffee table.
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We think any food-lover’s shelf would benefit from these:
LOCAL: “Aphrodisiacs with a Twist” by Mark Sexauer (1 Pony Rye Corp., $24.95).
You’ve heard of coffee table books; here’s one for the cocktail table. Seldom does a drinks manual combine practical techniques with lively prose and sumptuous photography (by Charity Burggraaf). The original recipes by Seattle bartender Sexauer will inspire and inform professionals and novices alike. His table of contents reads like a cookbook. Chapter headings include strawberry, fennel, ginger and chocolate, along with other herbs, spices and ingredients purported to be aphrodisiacs. You’ll discover there’s more to mixing a drink than measuring. Learn the importance of ice, the proper way to enjoy absinthe and how to concoct the infusions, flavored syrups and tinctures that are the building blocks of today’s craft cocktails.
NEW: “Share: The Cookbook That Celebrates Our Common Humanity” by Women for Women International (Kyle Books, $40). Out of eight war-ravaged countries come stories of hope, resilience and courage entwined with more than 100 recipes. Some are from the women survivors of war that Women for Women International aids with job-skills training, rights education and small-business assistance. Chefs, celebrities and other supporters contributed the rest. The book’s message is that food is a common language, and humanity is best served when people gather around the table. All royalties go to finance the work the group does in Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Europe. Lush with photographs, this is indeed “a book of joy,” as Meryl Streep writes in the foreword — a wonderful collection for families to explore and cook from together.
TRIED & TRUE: “How To Cook Everything” by Mark Bittman (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $35). My first kitchen primer was “The Joy of Cooking,” then “The New Basics Cookbook” became my bible. Once I became a working mom with dinner to cook daily, I found New York Times’ food-and-opinion columnist Mark Bittman’s minimalist style appealing and his know-it-all tome indispensable. The book was updated in 2008 and has several spin-offs. I still consult the original edition, its broken spine testament to its years of service as a reference for things I can never remember (like the proportions of meat loaf ingredients) or things I don’t know (like what to do with kohlrabi). I especially like his many listicles: 12 simple additions to stir-fried pork; 26 vegetable dishes that will make converts. Faced with a package of chicken breasts at 6 p.m., I turn to Bittman, my muse.
LOCAL: “The Dahlia Bakery Cookbook” by Tom Douglas and Shelley Lance (William Morrow Cookbooks, $35). This hefty, attractive hardcover provides clear directions and helpful tips for the famous treats served at Tom Douglas’ bakery and restaurants. It’s a serious project with enticing, well-tested recipes; co-author Lance was Douglas’ first pastry chef and is now quality-control specialist. I liked that nothing was dumbed down for public consumption; we get everything step-by-step, from Nora Ephron’s favorite cookies to the Serious Biscuits of the namesake restaurant to Douglas’ signature coconut cream pie.
NEW: “River Cottage Veg” by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (Ten Speed Press, $35). A handful of prominent cookbooks in 2013 helped change the way we think about vegetables, making it clear that they can rightfully claim center stage on the plate. This one in particular features distinctive, useful, generally easy entrees that have made it into our regular dinner rotation. I especially appreciate how the author takes dishes I wouldn’t have considered simple — pita bread, say, or onion tarts — and makes them completely no-fuss. (For a more refined vegetarian book, consider Deborah Madison’s “Vegetable Literacy” (Ten Speed Press, $40), and for new ideas from an old favorite I love Mollie Katzen’s “Heart of the Plate” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $34.99.)
TRIED & TRUE: “Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking” by Marcella Hazan (Alfred A. Knopf, $35). Like “The Joy of Cooking” or Julia Child’s “Art of French Cooking,” Hazan’s book (really a compilation of two earlier ones) fundamentally altered and vastly improved the way Americans cook at home. Hazan gives us peerless recipes like her simple tomato sauce and her roast chicken with two lemons, but also schools us in the Italian approach to cooking, favoring fresh ingredients and simple preparations. After Hazan’s death earlier this year, home cooks around the nation took the book off their shelves to pay her tribute in the way she would have appreciated the most.
LOCAL: “The Artisan Jewish Deli at Home,” by Nick Zukin and Michael C. Zusman (Andrews McMeel, $27.99). The old Jewish deli is dead! Long live modern deli food! So say Zukin (co-owner of Portland’s Kenny & Zuke’s) and Zusman (lawyer, writer, baker, fresser). Nodding to the past, this dynamic duo give us their contemporary take on Jewish deli fare along with reminiscences and recipes from landsmen across the land. Northwesterners won’t want to pass over “Left Coast Gefilte Fish” (made with salmon and halibut). And who knew? Our own Stopsky’s Delicatessen gets star billing, sharing house favorites like Pastrami Benedict and fresh-baked pretzels, so I’ll forgive the geographic faux pas. (Boys: Stopsky’s is on Mercer Island, not in Seattle.)
NEW: “Saving the Season: A Cook’s Guide to Home Canning, Pickling, and Preserving,” by Kevin West (Knopf, $35). Traveling through the seasons, and the nation, West takes us on a road trip, literally and culinarily, capturing the tastes, textures and flavors of everything worth “putting up.” His is an encyclopedic volume of recipes, a year-round endeavor worth exploring for thrift, or for thrill. While embracing history, philosophy and poetry, West offers a practiced eye and steady hand with technique and technology. Candid conversations with friends, family and professionals — and a persuasive “Can? Do!” attitude — puts this squarely on my well-worn reference shelf.
TRIED & TRUE:
“All About Braising,” by Molly Stevens (Norton, $35). Want to know the secret to surviving another gloomy Seattle winter? This book and an enameled cast-iron Dutch oven. Stevens’ unerring direction and detailed recipes read like a gal-pal talking you off the kitchen ledge as you’re knocking out the knockouts. Her elegant coq au vin, exotic Moroccan chicken, porter-braised short ribs and Indian-style cauliflower with potatoes and peas have long been “house classics” in my house, but whatever I choose to cook from this book, the reviews are unanimous: great praise for a great braise.
Kathleen Triesch Saul
LOCAL: “Malts & Milkshakes” by Autumn Martin (St. Martin’s Press, $17.99). Martin, former No. 1 chocolatier at Theo Chocolate, has been creating a stir at her Hot Cakes Molten Chocolate Cakery dessert and cocktail bar in Ballard since 2012. This year, she poured some of that talent into a little book that’s packed with 60 big ideas to please ice-cream lovers young and old. Get your old-fashioned kicks with a Butterscotch Malt or whip up something way-cool like an Earl Grey Shake sweet with honey. And when you’re ready for a little adults-only time, dip into one of her famous boozy shakes like St-Germain and Huckleberry or, just in time for the season, Cold Buttered Rum. Tired of shakes? How about some Salted Peanut Butter Cookies? There’s even nondairy ice cream.
NEW: “Cook’s Illustrated Baking Book,” by the editors at America’s Test Kitchen (America’s Test Kitchen, $40). Though I’m known in some circles as the queen of pie-making, I get a little twitchy when it comes to other sorts of baking. So I was happy to see this hefty entry from the folks famous for getting it right. With 450 “foolproof” recipes, they’re not missing many tricks. And speaking of tricks, this book is full of great ones from the Cook’s Illustrated pantheon, like adding vodka to your pie dough to keep it from getting too gluten-gooey. And to start every recipe, there’s a little explainer, “Why this recipe works.” It helps you decide if this is the cake-tart-pie-custard-quiche-pizza-cookie-waffle-roll for you.
TRIED & TRUE: “The New Basics Cookbook,” by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins (Workman Publishing Co., $20.95). From the women who brought us “The Silver Palate Cookbook,” this treasured trove has been at my side in the kitchen for more than 15 years. I trusted it to try my hand at Saltimbocca For Two (easy) and to fix an impressive Roast Fillet of Beef with Black Peppercorns for special friends. I even took a gamble on its Duck and Olive Risotto cooked in the microwave. (It works!) Yes, the cookbook covers the basics, offering illustrated instructions, charts and tips on everything from how to carve poultry to what to do with edible flowers. But it’s also full of good ideas for all those times when you’re bored doing it the same old way.
Rebekah Denn writes The Seattle Times’ All You Can Eat blog. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nancy Leson is The Times’ food writer. Reach her at email@example.com.
Providence Cicero is The Times’ restaurant critic. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kathleen Triesch Saul is The Times’ food editor and editor of Pacific NW magazine. Reach her at email@example.com.