Best Cookbooks of 2010

Nothing makes a better gift than a lushly illustrated and deliciously written new cookbook. From a famous baker to the best restaurant in the world, The Daily Beast picks the best cookbooks of the year.

Noma: Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine

Noma: Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine by René Redzepi is one of those coffee table cookbooks—its large square format and immensely complicated recipes would seem unwieldy in the kitchen. And one of the rare cookbooks worthy of placing alongside your art books—both because Ditte Isager’s photography is stunning, and because the subject matter is about as philosophical and sophisticated as is possible for a book of recipes.

In case you missed it, this year, after four years of dominance by Spain’s El Bulli, Noma of Copenhagen was voted No. 1 at the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards. Thirty-two-year old Redzepi’s 12-table restaurant offers an extreme, haute version of indigenous, seasonal food. All of the ingredients are hyper-local and most of them are handpicked in the neighboring wilds by Noma’s team of full-time foragers. Of course, the esoteric ingredient lists would make this book a serious challenge to actually cook from—try sourcing musk ox, axelberry shoots, or bleak roe—but you can revel in the strange beauty of Redzepi’s wizardry and passion. And hope to one day score one of those 12 tables.

Heart of the Artichoke

Heart of the Artichoke by David Tanis feels very of-the-moment. The book is arranged by season, and features several composed menus for each—at-home versions of what Tanis might serve at Chez Panisse, where he is the head chef. It has an appealingly eclectic feel and ranges from high-to-low brow (from Aunt Jemima’s pancakes spiked with jalapeños and a page-long treatise on the joy of Ziploc baggies—to a recipe for spring lamb with rosemary that begins “In Spain and Italy, tender, milk-fed baby lamb is well-known and appreciated….” But Tanis doesn’t limit himself to the Cal-Euro cuisine of other Chez Panisse cookbooks, and indeed his forays into the “ethnic” such as a “Feeling Vietnamese” and Mexican-inspired “Ripeness of Red Chiles” menus provide some of the most appealing recipes in the book. Tanis describes himself as “a restaurant chef who has always preferred to cook at home” and his recipes read accordingly, simple yet elegant.

The Essential New York Times Cookbooks: Classic Recipes for a New Century

Amanda Hesser’s The Essential New York Times Cookbooks: Classic Recipes for a New Century is like the Metropolitan Museum of cookbooks. A compendium of the Times’ most raved-about and influential recipes, the book offers a little something for everyone: from a 1897 recipe for Hot Cross Buns to Vichyssoise à La Ritz (1957) to Licorice Ice Cream (2000). The book is vast in scope and the longer you spend with it the more fully you will appreciate its seemingly inexhaustible collection of real and sometimes surprising gems. As you head toward your old favorites, something relatively unassuming (Delicious Milk Punch?) will undoubtedly catch your eye and reel you in. Hesser also offers useful insights into how the many recipes relate. The recipes have been thoughtfully culled from the Times’ vast recipe archives and meticulously tested. (Full disclosure: I helped Hesser test a few of the recipes in the book.)

In her introduction, Hesser calls the book as “a kind of 150-year flip book of American cooking,” which seems apt. The personal, easy tone of the chapter introductions and recipe head notes make the nearly 5-pound beast of a book a compelling read. Hesser’s book is not an update of Craig Claiborne’s New York Times Cookbook, which has sold more than 3 million copies since 1961, but might be considered a 2.0 version. It’s stylish and serious but also decidedly eclectic and fun.

Plenty

Vegetarians often define themselves by what they won’t eat. Enter chef Yotam Ottolenghi, whose popular column in The Guardian, “ The New Vegetarian,” features recipes for dishes that are meatless, but are less about denial than about the joy of vegetal bounty. His recently published Plenty (which is due out this spring, but is available on Amazon via the U.K.) offers a cornucopia of recipes in this vein. Ottolenghi, who owns the eponymous takeout shops and a restaurant in London, is from Israel, and has a bold Mediterranean-Middle Eastern sensibility. Quinoa salad is sprinkled with dried Iranian lime; barley salad is brightened by pomegranate and dill. Ottolenghi’s first cookbook features a similarly inspired—and inspiring—collection of recipes, among them several meat and fish preparations as well as desserts. Anyone who has had the good fortune to pop into one of his London shops can attest that Ottolenghi’s salads look as good in real life as they do in the photographs of these books—which is no small feat.

In Keys to Good Cooking: A Guide to Making the Best of Food and Recipes

In Keys to Good Cooking: A Guide to Making the Best of Food and Recipes, Harold McGee distills our modern scientific knowledge of food chemistry into a nifty definitive volume. This handbook offers tips for both cooking techniques and ingredient sourcing—and indispensable advice for food safety. McGee is unique in that he doesn’t simply tell you what to do, but takes the time to explain why and the science behind it. Not only does McGee offer a method for estimating the quality of stored eggs without cracking them open (“place one in a bowl and add water. A fresh egg will lie flat, an older egg will lift its blunt end toward the surface, and a very old egg will float”), but he also explains with scientific reasoning that the contents of eggs shrink and deteriorate as they age. This book would make a perfect gift for the novice cook and the well-seasoned one alike: It provides concise answers to the trickiest kitchen quandaries and conundrums.

Tartine Bread

The bread at San Francisco’s Tartine Bakery reportedly sells out within an hour of being baked every afternoon. So readers would be well advised to try to replicate its famous sourdough at home with their new book, Tartine Bread by Chad Robinson. Extremely detailed bread baking instructions are illustrated with Eric Wolfinger’s step-by-step photographs. Robinson developed his techniques over two decades of apprenticeship with artisan bakers in France and the U.S. and begins the book with a fascinating exploration of the history of bread. About half the book is dedicated to recipes that incorporate day-old bread—from a kale Caesar salad to sopa de ajo (classic Castilian garlic soup) to savory bread pudding—which are so good-looking that you will never discard stale bread again. These recipes are simple, yet spot-on, and lend the book a broad appeal to win over even occasional bread bakers and or bread-baking virgins.

European Festival Food

Not long after (or maybe just before) you exchange holiday gifts, you will likely sit down to a highly ritualized meal—of standing rib roast, goose, potato latkes or what have you. Europe has a particularly rich history of food rituals and ceremonies from the Greek custom of eating cheese for dinner on the last Sunday before Lent to the meat pie with mushy peas that constitute traditional Bonfire Night fare in Yorkshire, England. In European Festival Food, Elizabeth Luard has collected descriptions of these often-ancient feasts and festivals, which she peppers with fascinating anecdotes and bits of folklore, and for which she includes appropriate recipes. Not only will Luard enchant you with a delicious and soothing recipe for beef and saffron broth, one of the traditional offerings of the godmother to the mother of her newly born godchild in Hungary. Or she will explain the intricacies of the Finnish Students’ Festival, which occurs on May 1 and involves the consumption of curled fritters. Luard, who lives in London and has written 10 previous cookbooks, acquired an appetite for feasts and festivals while raising her family in a remote region of southern Spain. The book is arranged chronologically and is handily divided into the months of the year so readers can focus on seasonality.

Good Meat: The Complete Guide to Sourcing and Cooking Sustainable

Deborah Krasner’s Good Meat: The Complete Guide to Sourcing and Cooking Sustainable Meat comes just in time for the meat-rich end-of-year feasting season. James Beard Award winner Krasner offers a comprehensive guide to sourcing, preparing, and cooking sustainably raised meat. Ethically and environmentally conscious omnivores will appreciate Krasner’s thoughtful introduction, which demystifies terms like “grass-fed,” and even experienced cooks will appreciate her systematic, well-illustrated breakdown of the various cuts of meat. The tone of the book is set by its Wendell Berry epigraph: “Husbandry is the name of all the practices that sustain life by connecting us conservingly to our places and our world; it is the art of keeping tied all the strands in the living network that sustains us.” This book offers not just delicious recipes along the lines of leg of lamb with honey-mint pesto but also a thoughtful explanation of what exactly makes meat “good.”

My Favorite Ingredients

Cookbooks are a bit like plays, in that the English seem to have a real knack for producing them, and send the best ones across the pond once they’re tried and tested. My Favorite Ingredients by Skye Gyngell is yet another great new cookery book by a London-based writer. Gyngell, who is the chef at London’s acclaimed Petersham Nurseries Café, has arranged this book around 16 of her favorite ingredients such as “leaves” to “cherries” to “honey.” This quirky organizing principle makes the book feel very personal, like a good friend hanging out with you in the kitchen. Gyngell writes in her introduction: “Nature provides ingredients in the same season that go together perfectly.” Indeed, the recipes (many of which stem from the restaurant’s repertoire) are unquestionably refined, but they also feel somehow holistic and pure. The recipe for chicken with garlic and fennel, which results in a kind of herbal chicken bouillabaisse, is alone worth the price of the book.

Good to the Grain

The subtitle of Good to the Grainby Kim Boyce, “Baking with Whole-Grain Flours,” might turn you off. Whole-wheat bread is widely eaten, but whole-grain treats seem like an oxymoron. However, almost all of the recipes in the book, which is organized by grain—from amaranth to kamut—are immensely appealing. The genius of Boyce’s book is that she isn’t just substituting in whole-wheat flour for white or sneaking in tablespoons of wheat germ—rather, each recipe has been developed precisely to reveal and celebrate the nutty, grassy, or what-have-you characteristics of a particular grain. A recipe for hazelnut muffins, for example, begins “Teff flour, with its deep brown color and distinctly malty flavor, is a fantastic match for the richness of hazelnuts.” The only issue with this book is that you’ll find yourself spending as much time hunting down unusual flours to make, say, figgy buckwheat scones or injera (a traditional Ethiopian flatbread made with teff). This would make a great gift for the avid baker on your list—particularly so if you have the foresight to pair it with a couple of sacks of the aforementioned flours.