This year there are more lists of top 10 cookbooks than I have seen ever before. And now I am adding to it, although there are more the 10 books here. I know people are always saying that cookbooks are dead because the internet has taken up that space, but I disagree entirely.
Cookbooks are more personal. From a cookbook, you get an understanding of the author, whether you like what they do or not, and whether the recipes work. I feel very excited when a favourite author brings out a new book. I know these are recipes I will love and want to add into my repertoire. Internet recipes are soulless and often are adaptations from magazines or other websites. How many internet recipes have you tried that do not work?
Recipe testing is a learned skill and you know with a cookbook that recipes are usually tested by professional recipe testers.
This year produced a bumper group of books with some excellent Canadian releases.
Here are a few of my favourite books this year, in no order. All books are available online at www.chapters-Indigo.ca including the charity book.
Joe Beef: Surviving the Apocalypse
Frederic Morin, David McMillan, Meredith Erickson. Appetite, $50
A book that has 150 mouthwatering recipes; teaches you how to stock your cellar in case of disaster and has a treatise on ‘70s health food stores is a book that should be on your shelf. Quirky, fun, recipes that range from Mirepoix Bolognese, a new staple in my kitchen for veggies getting on the old side, to Gateau Renverse aux Truffe, a very special occasion delicacy. A book for the eclectic soul who likes humour, craziness, great food and everything in between.
The Last Schmaltz
Anthony Rose and Chris Johns. Appetite, $40
Anthony Rose owns restaurants that range from barbecue at Big Crow to Middle Eastern at Fat Pasha. This book incorporates all his passions and has a joyous approach to food. It is not for the picky eater or the one worried about too much fat or salt. It is just great, mouthwatering recipes that feed your inner child. The fried chicken is crispy, the chopped liver turned out like my grandmother’s, there is garlic everywhere especially in the toum sauce for asparagus. A book for people who like bold but familiar tastes.
Ship to Shore
John Bil. House of Anansi, $34.95
I first met John Bil shucking oysters and sourcing seafood in the early days at Joe Beef. I admired him them and I admire this wonderful collection of stories, knowledge and recipes that teaches us all about fish and seafood. Sadly, John died early this year, but his book stands out as a must-have if you are interested in responsibly cooking and eating fish. Beautiful photography accompanies many of the simple but satisfying recipes. A book for people to read, digest and cook from.
Bottom of the Pot
Naz Deravian. Flatiron Books, $45
Naz Deravian was formerly a native of Vancouver but is now living in the U.S. Her book is about Persian cooking, about rice, about family and the love that food creates. I found it so appealing that I tested more recipes than needed just to savour the flavours. The recipes overflow with the essence of Persian/Iranian cooking but they are not difficult, and they reward you with great eating. Many Iranian recipes balance sweet and sour flavours which give the food vitality. I loved her zucchini kookoo balanced with the sour zing of barberries.
Her dish of fragrant rice called Tahdig, an Iranian work of art, is a spectacular presentation of rice and saffron with a layer of crispy, saffron-stained rice on top. To present it, the pot must be turned upside down to reveal the saffron layer — a tense moment but it works. A book for the adventurous eater who is not afraid of the kitchen but may have not a lot of experience.
Dorie Greenspan. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $35
Dorie Greenspan is the soothing person in my kitchen. I trust her recipes, especially her baking. This book offers straightforward recipes usually with a twist which takes them to another level. The ingredients she uses are easily available and she offers lots of adaptations. They are written in a style that gives you all the instructions you need, making this a good book for beginners in the kitchen. Using her skill and knowledge you can easily adapt these recipes to make them your own. Her bacon mushroom galette was a terrific supper with a salad and looked amazingly like the picture. A book for people who love to cook and are willing to do a little extra work for great taste.
The Noma Guide to Fermentation
Rene Redzepi and David Zilber. Artisan Books, $60
I am not a person who has been interested in fermentation but the approach and knowledge in this book had me appreciating that I should start. The book is divided into 9 sections with a primer on fermentation, lacto-fermented fruits and vegetables (try the blueberries, they’re so easy). There’s also kombucha, koji and more. The recipes are science based and meticulous. Each chapter starts with an overview giving you all the techniques, understanding and some context and history. The step by step approach makes them accessible to all of us and the time-lapse photographs are a huge added benefit. Even if you have not ever been interested in fermentation, this book will change your mind.
Ori Menashe and Genevieve Gergis. Ten Speed Press, $47
When I was in L.A., I ate at Bestia and was thrilled with the food, the ambiance and the casualness which gave it such a special vibe. When it opened in the Arts district, part of the new Downtown L.A., no one was sure if people would come but I think Bestia helped the Arts district become the trendy spot it is today. Because I loved the restaurant I was really interested in the book. Neither Ori or Genevieve are trained cooks, so the recipes are not dumbed down in any way. They are written as they cook them, making sure that the elements of flavour and balance come through. This is a clearly written book for people who want to be in the kitchen and improve their skills. And you will be rewarded. Ori and Genevieve’s new restaurant Bavel is the number one restaurant in L.A. right now.
The Nordic Baking Book
Magnus Nilsson. Phaidon, $59.95
For those of you who love to learn the origins of recipes, are information junkies, and love the history of food, you will love reading this book as much as cooking from it. Nilsson travelled around the Nordic countries: Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and the Faroe Islands, and documented the history and background of the recipes he gathered. He then went back to his kitchen and tested them all. Many recipes will be familiar. His griddled Potato Flatbreads from Norway are the same as Scottish Potato Pancakes that I grew up with. This is a heritage cookbook of Nordic baking culture and it is fascinating. Over 450 recipes.
Other noteworthy books:
I Am a Filipino: And This Is How We Cook
Nicole Ponseca and Miguel Trinidad. Workman Books, $35
Filipino food is the original fusion food including Malay, Arab, Chinese, Spanish and American influences. These are all groups that have invaded or settled in the Philippines. The food itself is a far cry from the chicken adobo or lumpia which you find in so many average Filipino restaurants. It varies by region and all of them are covered in this book. If you want to learn more about the cuisine and are willing to try new things, then this is a book for you.
Cooking for Friends
David Wood. Whitecap, $34.95
David Wood wrote a successful cookbook in 1988 which featured recipes from his popular food store. They were good, easy to make and represented the food that was current at that time. He has now produced a second book which has a similar vibe. We talk about ‘easy books’ with quick recipes to put dinner on the table quickly. This is a book that fulfills it but with a touch more sophistication. The recipes are easy, deliver great flavour and his techniques are infallible. This is a good basic book for people who enjoy some flavour in their food and are not afraid of a little butter and cream.
In The French Kitchen with Kids
Mardi Michels. Appetite, $25
This charming book is perfect for families that want to cook French food together. Michels, an elementary school French teacher and avid cook, teaches kids cooking as an avocation during the school year. She takes the fear out of French food and has everyone working together. She does not pander to the young ones either. She has top tips for cooking with kids and if you follow them it will be a happy family cooking experience.
African Food for Thought: A Tribute to Grandmothers
Linda Sadiq, Angie Rojas and Sue C Griggs, $39.50
This book is raising money for the Stephen Lewis Foundation Grandmothers to Grandmothers HIV AIDS campaign. I am often skeptical of charity cookbooks, they can be amateurish, the recipes badly written and untested. But this book proved me wrong. The book is a tribute to African grandmothers — for their courage, resilience and big hearts in the face of HIV AIDS.
The recipes come from them and have been tested and adapted for our kitchens. It is an overview of traditional foods with easy to obtain ingredients and the recipes all work. We loved the Bobotie a dish of Cape Malay origins. And there are many healthy recipes as the food was always cooked with what they grew or could find in the markets. It is a feel-good gift too. Available from the Stephen Lewis Foundation and at Indigo.