Let’s all stop being coy and fess up, shall we? The truth is, even those of us who work with cookbooks, write about cookbooks, collect cookbooks – heck, even write cookbooks ourselves – don’t actually cook from cookbooks. At least not nearly as frequently as we’d like to/promise ourselves we will/tell others we do.
If we still love cookbooks – and by all accounts we certainly seem to – but no longer see them primarily as a source of dinner inspiration, our selection criteria also must change. A good cookbook back in the day was defined mostly by quality of the recipes alone.
That remains vital, of course, but hardly critical. Today, story often trumps recipes. So it is with this mindset that I made my picks for the best food books of 2013, the ones I would hope to get or gift this holiday season.
“Notes From the Larder” by Nigel Slater (Ten Speed Press, $40)
Nigel Slater is a master of the journal-cum-cookbook format. He has an elegant simplicity of language that transports you to his garden, his kitchen, his table.
“Smoke & Pickles” by Edward Lee (Artisan, $29.95)
Edward Lee earned his fame on Season 9 of Bravo’s “Top Chef,” but he earned his credibility for his brash, yet respectful reimagining of Southern cuisine. Anyone who loves Southern cooking – or anyone who claims to “know” what Southern cooking is – will want this book.
“Mast Brothers Chocolate” by Rick Mast and Michael Mast (Little, Brown and Co., $40)
The Mast brothers – known best to Brooklyn hipsters as the men behind local chocolate company Mast Brothers Chocolate – have written a book of delicious simplicity, filled with recipes so evocatively photographed and so clearly written, you will cook from it.
“Reasons Mommy Drinks” by Lyranda Martin Evans and Fiona Stevenson (Three Rivers Press, $12.99)
If foul language and parenting-by-alcohol are things likely to offend you, give this book a pass. But if you have embraced your potty mouth and understand that a good drink can make far more tolerable the terrible twos right on through those horrible teens, then you will love this tiny book of cocktail recipes (and the parenting horrors that inspired them).
See the full list at PlanitNorthwest.com/foodanddrink.
It’s a wonderfully raunchy, funny romp through everything we know to be true about parenting. My only complaint? Daddies drink, too.
“Eat Drink Vote,” by Marion Nestle (Rodale, $18.99)
The politics of food and diet can be a dense slog for all but the most committed of foodies. But Marion Nestle, one of the nation’s leading thinkers on food policy, has written a book that doesn’t just inform, it entertains.
Sure, there are plenty of stats and history and discouraging tales of food systems gone bad. But Nestle has paired all that with hundreds of comics and cartoons that bring those issues humorously home. It’s odd to say, but readers will laugh hard as learn the sad truth about all that is wrong — and some of what’s right — about the way America eats.
“Kitchen Things” by Richard Snodgrass (Skyhorse Publishing, $29.95)
Don’t be fooled by this book’s cover, which sells itself as “an album of vintage utensils and farm-kitchen recipes.” That sounds kind of boring, and the recipes are amusing, but secondary. This book’s appeal is in its gorgeous black-and-white photos of old-school kitchen gadgets. Richard Snodgrass actually makes things like measuring spoons and meat tenderizers look sensual. The text is a pleasant blend of history and humorous back-and-forth between Snodgrass, his wife and his mother-in-law, from whose kitchen many of the gizmos come.
“The Art of Simple Food II” by Alice Waters (Clarkson Potter, $35)
Alice Waters makes the simplest of foods seem revelatory, even celebratory. This book, a follow to her 2007 “The Art of Simple Food,” does what so few true cookbooks seem able to these days — it inspires and makes you want to cook, to explore ingredients. Not because of whiz-bang sci-fi gastronomy or because of celebrity or any other trendiness. It’s because Waters embraces food as a beautiful thing unto itself.
“L.A. Son” by Roy Choi (Ecco, $29.99)
This is the man who gave us the Kogi food truck, the Los Angeles-based Korean taco mashup credited with taking the food truck movement respectable. His beautiful book (published under Anthony Bourdain’s imprint) is two parts story (Choi’s coming up), one part recipe (his OMG crazy good creations, like ketchup fried rice). You may never cook from this book (though the recipes are eminently doable), but it won’t matter. It’s a fun flip even if all you do is drool.
“The America’s Test Kitchen Cooking School Cookbook,” (America’s Test Kitchen, $45)
Do-it-all cookbooks — the sort that try to cover all the culinary bases — are pretty been there, done that. Mostly because smart consumers know quality often is best in niche experts. The folks behind America’s Test Kitchen (the television shows and magazines) are the happy exception. So is their new book, a comprehensive introduction to the art of cooking simply and well.
Some 2,500 photos walk readers through 600 painstakingly tested recipes, leaving little room for error whether you’re baking a chocolate chip cookie or trying to master beef Burgundy.