My Favorite Food Books of 2013

I ran across some really great food books in ’13 that I wanted to share, in case y’all got gift cards for Christmas or are looking for some food inspiration in the new year. They weren’t all published in 2013, a couple are from 2012 and one is much older, but they all really captured my mind this past year.

Check out my top 7


50 Foods: The Essentials of Good Taste

I just finished this book by Edward Behr yesterday. It’s a scholarly, refined compendium of the author’s 50 most essential foods from Anchovies to Green Beans to Pears to Walnuts with guidance on how to select, store, prepare, and compliment each food. It was educational without being pedantic; I actually learned a lot about cheese! I enjoyed reading the book as a whole but it’s also one that I’ll regularly pick up as a resource on specific topics.



Smoke and Pickles: Recipes and Stories from a New Southern Kitchen

Edward Lee‘s cookbook is a panegyric to the simultaneous elasticity and rootedness of Southern foodways. The Brooklyn-raised son of Korean immigrants has made his home in Louisville, Kentucky, cooking Southern food in a way that makes the most of both his location and his own roots. As an “ex-pat” southerner who brings both my background and my experience of life and travel to my kitchen, Lee’s approach resonates with me, as did his comparison of the ephemeral art expressed in both graffiti and cooking. He also expressed my long-held position that along with sour, salty, bitter, sweet, and umami, smoke is the sixth flavor.

I’ve chosen two books about cheese this year. They are sufficiently different from one another so I’m not overlapping – the first covers both European and American cheese while the second is solely American cheese and cheese culture – but both as written in such a friendly, accessible, and helpful way. I know that a lot of people are a little daunted by the sight of a cheese counter. The pronunciation of cheese names, the difficulty visualizing what a third of a pound looks like, the range of varieties and flavors – people are reluctant to ask questions that might make them look foolish. In person, I try to provide that friendly “face of cheese” to my customers; think of these books as your friendly local cheesemonger in book form.


Di Bruno Bros. House of Cheese: A Guide to Wedges, Recipes, and Pairings

I talked about this book right after I attended a party celebrating its launch last summer. Tenaya Darlington told us that she really wanted to name the book “How to Find a Hunk” and that’s pretty much what she’s written – a matchmaking book for finding your perfect cheese. She describes the triple cream Delice de Bourgogne as “The Vixen” and a Comté as “The Mountain Man.” She’ll make you fall in love (or lust) with cheese all over again.


It’s Not You, It’s Brie: Unwrapping America’s Unique Culture of Cheese

 In this fun book-from-blog, Kirsten Jackson disabuses us of the notion that American cheese only comes in orange individually-wrapped slices. In what feels like a cheese-themed road trip memoir, she breaks the topic down into chapters about 16 types of cheeses with profiles of 50 specific cheeses, some uniquely American and some that evolved from traditional European styles. She interviewed dozens of the cheesemakers, many of whom have led the charge in the American artisan cheese revolution. This book isn’t a cranky, stuffy cheese encyclopedia, although I learned a tremendous amount about how certain cheese are made and how it affects their texture and flavor. She also emphasizes beer pairings with cheese- not surprising for someone from the SF Bay Area- with which I agree completely. Beer and cheese are much easier to pair successfully than wine and cheese!


Plenty: Vibrant Recipes from London’s Ottolenghi

I had an omnivorous friend over for dinner recently who, upon noticing that it happened to be a vegetarian meal, said “it’s not really vegetarian, it just doesn’t have meat in it.” When I got this book by Yotam Ottolenghi, I felt, similarly, that it was so gorgeous and inspiring that you only notice later that it’s a vegetarian book. Each chapter is based on one of the author’s favorite ingredients (The Mighty Aubergine, Capsicums, Tomatoes) and is influenced by the flavors of his Mediterranean background. Whether you want to create over the top vegetarian meals or add more vegetables to your diet, this book will give you fresh inspiration.


Food in Jars: Preserving in Small Batches Year-Round

For the generations that precede mine, canning was often a necessity, a yearly marathon to preserve whatever was fresh for leaner months. While most people now don’t have the garden, the storage space or the time to put up hundreds of quarts of green beans and tomatoes and peaches, spending weeks of the summer sweltering in sauna-like kitchens, I’m happy to see a renewed interest in food preservation. Marisa McClellan’s blog Food in Jars has been a great resource and inspiration for canning on a more apartment-friendly scale and I was excited when she published this book of recipes and techniques. It’s not your grandmother’s “chow-chow by the quart” kind of canning book and there are some nice accompaniments to a cheese board (Peach Jalapeño Jelly!).


The Zuni Cafe Cookbook: A Compendium of Recipes and Cooking Lessons from San Francisco’s Beloved Restaurant

Last but not least is this older book by the sadly late Judy Rodgers. This is a book that I return too again and again especially when cooking meat. Judy Rodgers wrote about “early salting” as a way to season meat, a technique that is now being talked about a lot as “dry brining.” I used it for both my Thanksgiving “turchetta” roast and my Christmas pork roast, dry rubbing the meat with a salt and spice mixture several days before I cooked them.

Judy Rodgers writes with a gently authoritative voice that doesn’t substitute personality for skill. Her approach is deceptively simple, a combination of basic but crucial techniques and high quality ingredients that is the essence of the Northern California “food movement” absent pretense. Zuni Cafe always had a simple bowl of polenta on the menu and kept the cafe open after the terrible earthquake of 1989 selling $4 bowls of it to stunned San Franciscans, something that illustrates that she understood the real purpose of food.

Continue reading


Meeting Madame Fromage

Many of you know that while I am a general culinary enthusiast, I am also a cheesemonger. Here at Cognitive Leeks, I try to share my love of food and cooking, try to encourage and enable my readers to go boldly into the kitchen and feed their bellies and their souls. At work, I do the same with cheese (mostly).

Many years ago, I was traveling in The Netherlands and Belgium and wanted to try a cheese that I had read about, Epoisses, which is so funky and raunchy that it is banned from public transportation in some European cities. I was a sort of timid traveller then, a little nervous about the Euro to dollar rates so when I found a really lovely cheese shop in Rotterdam, I went in, browsing quietly, a little afraid to ask questions. The shopkeeper greeted me and after seeing me eyeing the case with a Epoisses several times, asked if I would like one. I stumblingly asked if they were expensive or something similarly awkward. She answered “NOTHING is too expensive to have a taste!” and went and found a runny piece of Epoisses from behind the counter and sold it to me for a couple of Euros. I’ve kept that experience in the back of my mind at work; I try to make cheese discovery a welcoming experience at work. I try to answer questions, give tastes, listen to feedback, overcome any intimidation people may be feeling. But sometimes I get a question I can’t answer so I’ve found a few wiser cheese people who I can look too for help, many on cheese blogs or on Twitter.

One of these experts is Tenaya Darlington (better known as Madame Fromage) a writing instructor at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia whose mighty cheese obsession fuels her cheese blog. After moving to Philadelphia from Wisconsin, she developed a relationship with Di Bruno Bros, one of the titans of cheese on the east coast,  (you may remember the picture I took of their store in my post about a weekend in Philadelphia.) They have collaborated on a new book called Di Bruno Bros House of Cheese: A Guide to Wedges, Recipes, and Pairings  and to introduce the book, Tenaya and Emilio Mignucci, one of the owners of Di Bruno Bros. hosted a class Sunday night at The Venue at The Little Owl in NYC. I was excited to be invited, not only to experience the cheese and pairings that were presented, but also to meet other passionate cheese people.


As I sat at one end of the table, I noticed a few faces that looked familiar and discovered that there were three Twitter cheese peeps in attendance whom I’ve interacted with for a while but never met, Matt Speigler  writes Cheese Notes and has been very helpful in my exploration of the cheese culture here in metro NYC and Colleen from Cheese and Champagne and cheese tweeter from Washington DC.

This was our menu:



I appreciated that the menu (and the book) provide a way to associate styles and flavors of cheese in a memorable and relatable way. I talk to people who, when tasting a cheese, sort of squint thoughtfully and try to think of a word besides “delicious” for what they are tasting. It seems to help when I suggest adjectives like ” green oniony” or “butterscotch” to help place the flavor in context.The book and the class expand on that premise with categories like “Quiet Type” and “Mountain Man” and then goes into background on the cheeses to help pinpoint why the unique flavors in each cheese are there.

Each cheese was served with an accompaniment and a wine pairing and a bit of explanation, guidance, and back story on each plate by Tenaya and Emilio.


The Camemebert du Normandie was the classic pairing of bloomy rind cheese, dried fruit and nuts. Subtle and approachable, nutty and sweet.


 The “Stinker” Adrahan on the menu was replaced by this Sardinian Pecorino called Moliterno, paired with apple pepper jelly and a dirty martini. The sharp pepperiness of the cheese echoed in the hot pepper jelly and the saltiness with the briny olive in the martini.


This final plate was a crysatalized caramely aged Dutch gouda called L’Amuse with candied pecans and a buttery voluptuous Blue de Bufala with chocolate covered figs.

We each took home a copy of the new book. Im looking forward to reading it, seeing what Tenaya and Di Bruno Bros. have put together. I also left happy to have learned something new from people who know a lot more than I do and feeling excited to have met more people who are really into good food, into the experience of sharing flavors with their friends, readers, and customers. Like the experience I had with the shopkeeper in Rotterdam, I’ve learned that there is a desire among “food people” to open the door and make everyone welcome in the world we inhabit, to share our enthusiasm. I left the class feeling energized and excited to keep providing that open, welcoming door for those who might be feeling timid.