Saturday, December 21, 2013

Best Books of 2013: Cookbooks

This is the cookbook segment of January Magazine’s Best Books of 2013 feature. You can see our picks for the Best Crime Fiction of 2013 here. Still to come are our choices of the Best Non-Fiction, Best Fiction, Best Books for Children and Young Adults. -- LLR

Jones Atwater is a musician, sports fanatic and struggling author. He lives in Ohio with his Fender Stratocaster, Pearl, and his cat, Rhea.

The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Dessert Cookbook by Brent Ridge, Johh Kilmer-Purcell and Sandy Gluck (Rodale):
If desserts are the food that floats your boat, as they do me, you will love The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Dessert Cookbook, no question. This is a stunning book. I just don’t know how else to say it. A perfect selection of recipes, from totally over-the-top to basic and down to earth. Wonderful photos by Paulette Tavormina. Sensible organization. (Not always a given.) And -- most important of all to me -- the feeling that anything that will be attempted will be successful. If your tooth is of the sweet variety, this one should be at the top of your list.

Guy Gourmet by Adina Steiman and Paul Kita (Rodale) 
There was a time that cookbooks aimed entirely at men would be composed of stacks of recipes for huge portions of fatty foods -- mostly meat -- and how to put them together easily into different, now edible stacks. And, truly, that time wasn’t so very long ago. Despite its manly appearance, Guy Gourmet (Rodale) is a different sort of animal. While the design, presentation and even food choices all seem pretty testosterone-led, the emphasis here is on lean and healthy. Not surprising, in a way, considering the book was prepared by the editors of Men’s Health. But even that phrase has different, deeper connotations than it used to. Men have different expectations of themselves these days and most often “strong” and “lean” are included in the definition. And though the recipes are top-knotch and spot-on -- carefully selected for flavor, leanness and ease of preparation -- in some ways, they are not the heart of this book.

Whiskey: Instant Expert by John Lamond (Princeton Architectural Press)
This is the tiniest book that I could imagine being considered for the Best of the Year but, despite it's tiny size (pocket-sized, really) it packs a powerful punch. Considering the topic, that shouldn’t be such a surprise, I guess. Whiskey includes everything you need to know in a handy and intelligently put-together guide. Which whiskey comes from where? Which distilleries are important in what country? What can you expect from this whiskey or that one? Casks, blends, malts: if it’s a question about whiiskey, the answer is here and ready to access elegantly.

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Aaron Blanton is a contributing editor to January Magazine. He’s currently working on a book based on his experiences as an American living abroad.

Fish: 54 Seafood Feasts by Cree LeFavour (Chronicle)
Every successful cookbook has something that sets it apart. Sometimes it's the unique world view or experience set of the author. (Think Anthony Bourdain.) Sometimes it’s the chef’s celebrity status. (Martha would work here as well as any other. After all, we only need to drop that one name.) But for some -- and this is a surprisingly small group -- it is nothing beyond the food. Food. Glorious food. Cree LaFavour is like that. If you weren’t sure, you can see it repeatedly demonstrated in Fish: 54 Seafood Feasts. The recipes are sharp, modern and tempting. Despite this, they are also, for the most part, surprisingly simple: the methods fast and fussless. The ingredients lists short and sweet. The resulting book is redolent of all of these things and the very essence of food as it should be now: fresh, simple, delicious and -- where possible -- local. This is one of the good ones.

Moosewood Restaurant Favorites by The Moosewood Collective (St. Martin’s Griffin)
Moosewood has perhaps been the top vegetarian destination in the United States for four decades. And among a certain set, even if you’ve never thought of visiting Ithaca, New York, to partake of Mollie Katzen’s actual Moosewood-prepared food, some form of Moosewood cookbook has been part of the vegetarian’s cookbook library during all that time. Moosewood Restaurant Favorites is a far-cry from the earliest Moosewood efforts: mimeographed backroom affairs with little hand-drawn illustrations to show technique and even food. This Moosewood cookbook is as bold and sophisticated as the vegetarian movement itself has come to be, reflecting all sorts of palates, appetites and preferences. And if you are that rare creature: a vegetarian who has never heard of Moosewood, get ye to a bookstore now: you’re in for an incredible surprise.

One Pan, Two Plates by Carla Snyder (Chronicle)
In our culture, we are obsessed with time. Because of this, it is inevitable that some of the basics begin to become neglected. Unfortunately, one of the most basic basics of living that often gets left behind is eating properly. I know affluent, professional people whose evening meal is a constant decision about which take-out place to frequent on which particular evening. And no matter how good the take-out, there’s a part of me that really thinks that all that food made with only sustenance in mind (no thought for either love or health) just can’t be good for you. In One Pan, Two Plates, Carla Snyder not only addresses these very basic concerns, she does something about it. “I can’t help you with your laundry or bills,” Snyder warns in her introduction, “but One Pan, Two Plates can help you get a healthful meal on the table in less time and with less cleanup.” The book is focused on making beautiful one dish meals for two people -- a couple, perhaps or a parent and child -- but some of these would be terrific for a single, as well: dinner tonight and lunch for one reheated at work tomorrow. Either way, life gets a whole lot healthier.

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Sienna Powers is a transplanted Calgarian who lives and works in Vancouver, B.C. She is a writer and conceptual artist.

The Best Things You Can Eat by David Grotto (Da Capo Lifelong)
Since before the book came out in January, 2013, I have adored The Best Things You Can Eat. Of everything I read this year, it’s the one book I went back to again and again. What’s the best thing to eat if you have a cold? What can you eat to help prevent cancer? What will help bad breath? High blood pressure? Settle an upset stomach? This is not you mother’s nutrition book. Almost everything here feels fresh and surprising. For instance: here’s something I’m sure you did not know. What will help you fend off cavities? Cheese! It helps improve overall oral health by preventing loss of minerals in the teeth. And what will help you sleep? Lettuce! With that in mind, wrap some cheese in some lettuce and settle in. This is a terrific book.

Crackers & Dips by Ivy Manning (Chronicle)
Though appetizer books come and go, Oregonian food columnist Ivy Manning’s approach to the very esoteric topic of crackers and dips is fresh. More to the point, perhaps, in no time at all it feels essential. Even those who are not devout fans of crackers will find appealing recipes in this book, many of them so incredibly easy, it doesn’t even begin to feel like cooking. (Just cutting and toasting and maybe drizzling. Things that everyone can do.) And “dips” really puts too fine a point on the thing. Dips, spreads and even some things that could be best considered pates and encompassing the entire range of eating style, from vegan to full on carnivore. This is an interesting, lovely and useful cookbook in a well-produced package. I liked it a lot.

Virgin Vegan: The Meatless Guide to Pleasing Your Palate by Linda Long (Gibbs Smith)
If you are considering veganism or have already made that leap, you’ve already examined the reasons why. And closely. What remains may well be just how to make it work in your life. A vegan start-up guide is called for. Enter Linda Long, the author of Great Chefs Cook Vegan and herself a long time vegetarian. If you’re going to take a single book into your new vegan lifestyle, Virgin Vegan would not be a bad way to go. Long starts things off with concisely shared basics: a few thoughts on the ethics of it all. A few more on what veganism actually is. Then on to the basics of the vegan pantry. Then what to do when you’re in a restaurant or traveling. For new vegans just starting on what can be a challenging journey, Virgin Vegan is a terrific first step.

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Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine and the author of a dozen books, the most recent of which is the mystery novel Death Was in the Blood.

Feast by Sarah Copeland (Chronicle) 
Author Sarah Copeland explains that she came to vegetarianism slowly, having been raised by people from farm families. “Sunday mornings smelled like bacon,” she writes in Feast. Her lifestyle change came on gradually, for both health and moral reasons, becoming vegetarian was “a very natural, gradual shift.” The challenge, for her as well as for many people whose eating lives are charting a similar course, is how to fill the table with delicious and varied foods and flavors 365 days a year. The resulting quest ended up with the ultimate creation of the beautiful and practical Feast. What’s the bottom line, she asks? “I always say, ‘Eat cake and vegetables!’ Eat wonderful, delicious, healthful foods, mostly vegetables, and leave a tiny bit of room for dessert.” The balance of Feast backs this axiom, with gorgeous recipes for whole food -- mostly vegetables -- tempered with other wonderful things that make for interest and diversity.

The Deerholme Mushroom Book from Foraging to Feasting
by Bill Jones (Touchwood)

There are as many books about mushrooms as there are, well… mushrooms. And like those mushrooms, some are just more collectible and digestible than others. My own collection of mushroom books -- field guides and cookbooks -- is pretty respectable. I love edible mushrooms and I love learning about them, thus feel I can state with some authority that, when it comes to cooking with mushrooms, The Deerholme Mushroom Book is better than the best of them: a golden chanterelle in a forest of slippery jacks.

The White Spot Cookbook by Kerry Gold (Figure 1)
Readers who didn’t grow up in Western Canada can pass this one by: The White Spot Cookbook will not have deep resonances for you. That, of course, is one of the reasons I loved the book. Produced to coincide with the restaurant chain’s 85th anniversary, it includes the very best recipes from White Spot’s kitchens, past and present, as well as a textual and visual history of this iconic family eatery. Gold has done a great job of translating decades of restaurant kitchen recipes for the home chef. And the history as well as celebrity input (Michael Buble, Pat Quinn, Red Robinson and others) and terrific photos and anecdotes bound together in a really well-produced book make this a very special entry into the annals of  British Columbia’s culinary history.

Modern Native Feasts by Andrew George Jr.
(Arsenal Pulp Press)

Whatever you have in mind when you conjure up the image created by the title Modern Native Feasts, you won’t be imagining anything quite like this. Chef George has taken the best of his indigenous Canadian culture and traditions and fused it with his modern training, plus a generous helping of very real talent and created a cuisine that, while it may be distinctly his, could feasibly represent a beautiful -- and delicious -- future. George’s first book, A Feast for All Seasons, is considered the definite contemporary guide to the food of indigenous North American cultures. Modern Native Feasts puts George’s personal touch on every dish. This is sophisticated contemporary food perfectly informed by the chef’s heritage and own sensibilities. I love this one for subtle commentary on what can occur when the best of all cultures are blended together with sense and love.

Tequila Mockingbird: Cocktails with a Literary Twist
by Tim Federle (Running Press)

The most difficult thing about Tequila Mockingbird was knowing where to categorize it. I’m still not sure I got it right. Drinks, bar snacks and literature are mixed here with the precision and flare of a perfect martini. A former Broadway dancer, (you might have seen him in The Little Mermaid or Gypsy) Federle’s more recent jam has been award-winning books for children, the newest of which will be Five, Six, Seven, Nate! due out January 2014. Tequila Mockingbird is something else again. Sixty-five classic cocktails paired with eloquent and engaging musings on some of literature’s favorite works. As the flap copy says, “You fought through War and Peace, burned through Fahrenheit 451, and sailed through Moby-Dick. All right, you nearly drowned in Moby-Dick, but you made it to shore -- and you deserve a drink!” A couple of hints: A Rum of One’s Own; Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margarita; Vermouth the Bell Tolls. Enough said: dust off the cocktail glasses and get reading.

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