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
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!).
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.