Food is love, and cookbooks are therapy. When life seems crazier than it should be, a good cookbook can be a great escape, nourishing us with creativity, education, inspiration, and confidence. Here are four new books I’m absolutely loving right now, and I’d love to hear from you in the comments, what you’re reading, cooking, and gifting this year.
Roots, by Diane Morgan
Diane is my original mentor in food writing. She teaches an excellent course on all the basics of the business, and her seventeen wonderful cookbooks attest to her great skill. Her latest takes it to a new level, with ambitious complete coverage of familiar and many intriguing exotic root vegetables.
A great cookbook can be read front-to-back and back-to-front. That is, great tips and recipes should jump off the page (high quality) as you browse from the beginning, but there should be enough there (high quantity) that you can look something up from the index and find it’s covered. Roots fits that to a T, which is why I’m sure I will turn to it often, for new inspiration as well as trusted advice on basics.
What jumps off the pages: the very tasty Carrot Margarita from Beaker & Flask; Carrot Ribbons with Sorrel Pesto and Crumbled Goat Cheese; Sushi-Style Pickled Ginger; Homemade Ginger Ale; Taro Chips; now I know what to do with Jicama; Chapter intros covering varieties, history and lore, basic use and preparation; the juxtaposition of exotic roots I’ve never heard of, with classic basics like mashed potatoes
Perfect gift for: Anyone trying to elevate vegetable consumption with more variety, year-round (should be all of us).
Modern Sauces, by Martha Holmberg
If there’s one single skill which can elevate your cooking beyond the basics, it’s mastering sauces. The right sauce can take something delicious and make it surreal. And as a parent, I use sauces to enhance and “sell” dishes which I expect my kids may not eat alone.
Just like Roots, this book is ambitious, but in a different way. Frankly, it’s hard for me to imagine the confidence it must have taken for Martha to take on such a broad book on such an established topic. But she has the confidence, and really seems to have pulled it off.
She covers the gamut: vinaigrettes, pestos, tomato sauces, cream sauces, gravies, custards, fruit sauces, desserts, you name it. Like Roots, I will use this for inspiration, as well as a go-to reference I can rely on for everyday situations and recipe development.
What jumps off the pages: Excellent chapter introductions with sections titled “What’s going on in this sauce?” and “What can go wrong and how can I fix it?”; All seven of the caramel sauces; Saffron-Red Pepper Hollandaise; An authoritative yet friendly, casual voice
Perfect gift for: Anyone wanting to elevate their game in the kitchen
The Great Meat Cookbook, by Bruce Aidells
Bruce is a great example of the principle “do one thing, do it well.” But for someone who focuses so entirely on meat, he demonstrates a thoughtful balance on the topic in a number of ways. In his sausages which are so popular at our house, he uses ingredients like fruit juices to blend in moisture, while minimizing or avoiding the traditional animal fat additives. And in his new cookbook this meat lover dares to utter “Meat as a Condiment” and labels some recipes with that category. Not many though.
It’s clear what he loves, yet it’s equally clear that the world of meat has changed substantially in recent years, both in terms of our attitudes, awareness, sustainability issues, industry terminology, and the composition of the product we find at butchers and grocers. Bruce addresses all of those topics, so there’s an educational aspect that goes far beyond the recipes.
What jumps off the pages: Categories like Great Meat Dishes of the World, and Meat as a Condiment; some great side dishes like Broccolini with Pecan Brown Butter; Goat recipes; and extensive use of Guinness, Bourbon, and Whisky
Perfect gift for: Meat lovers. Note: The book strictly interprets the word “meat” so you won’t find poultry or game recipes here.
Food In Jars Cookbook, by Marisa McClellan
The authors above spent years becoming individual experts on their various topics in the traditional way, which I greatly respect. Marisa represents a different kind of authority, a fantastic blog (which also took years) where a vibrant community comes together to provide constant interaction, inspiration, and feedback as the content comes together.
One nice thing about blog cookbooks is that even though many of the same recipes are freely available online, the book format allows for years of content to be arranged and packaged in a way that’s more accessible to a new reader. For instance, this book does a great job of walking through the basics of canning for someone who is new to it.
What jumps off the pages: Oven-Roasted Peach Butter; Mimosa Jelly; Honey Roasted Peanut Butter; and great honest writing: “I’ve heard so many people confess their canning fears. Mostly, they’re terrified that they’re going to kill their families.” Ha!
Perfect gift for: New or experienced canners
Cookbook Round-Up Wrap-Up
So which of these is more intriguing to you, and what are you reading, adding to your wish list, and/or gifting this year? Here’s hoping you can escape into something great this year, and next.