We downsized this year, moving from our big old house with seemingly infinite amounts of storage to a still-spacious-but-half-the-size new home a few blocks away. This entailed giving away half of our books, and even with that we have a generous amount in storage. Somehow, I have managed to shoehorn my (downsized!) collection of 350 or so cookbooks into my office and kitchen. What can I say? I’ve pared down to the essentials. But fear not, dear reader! Just between us, I have found that I have room for a few choice new cookbooks on these already over-stuffed shelves. I just couldn’t help myself. I guess as vices go, reading and obsessing about food is pretty tame, so I’m giving myself a pass this year … again. Here are the books I’m recommending this year, perfect for gift giving — or hoarding!
If you’re a “Queer Eye” fan who cooks, you’ve already bought this book. But for those of you who need convincing, the man can COOK. He’s more than eye candy! This talented Polish-Canadian chef subscribes to the theory of buying the best ingredients seasonally, and recognizes that comfort food is important to our well-being. You’ll find inventive takes on favorites like Pomegranate-Walnut Chicken Stew, Alsatian Tart with Miso-Glazed Squash, and a Hi-Lo Poutine that will blow your socks off.
The Great British Baking Show
I am OBSESSED with this lovely, benevolent cooking show, and you should be, too. Unlike mean-spirited American reality cooking competitions, the warmth and laughter that flow between contestants “under the tent” feels genuine. They compete for themselves, and real friendships form with their “rivals.” There is no skullduggery or one-upmanship, and I think we all could use a little of this positivity in our lives. So, to that point, this book just delights me. Happily, the recipes have all been adapted for American kitchens, and the very clear instructions include baking timing so that you can plan accordingly. I plan to start with the Chocolate Drip Cake with brown-butter sponge, followed by Nancy’s Pear & Hazelnut Cake. On your mark, get set, BAKE!
Chicago’s favorite son and James Beard Award-winning chef Paul Kahan is also a yoga enthusiast, and this, his second cookbook, is all about chilling out and cooking with friends — “Sharing Food We Like With People We Like.” There’s a bit of a DIY feel to this book that inspires participation, as you’re encouraged by the chapter headings to “Make Some Grains,” “Roast Some Roots,” “Melt Some Cheese,” and “Make a Simple Dessert” to create a meal. This is a go-with-the-flow cookbook, with some terrific recipes that feel doable because the vibe is so low pressure. Bonus: If you’re a fan of the chorizo-stuffed, bacon-wrapped dates that they serve at avec, you’ll find the recipe here.
Lidia Matticchio Bastianich
No trip to New York City feels complete without paying homage to La Cucina Italia at Lidia Bastianich’s Felidia on the Upper East Side. For the first time, this James Beard Award-winning chef shares the original recipes that have made this place such an enduring classic. The prolific Bastianich (this is her 16th book) spares no detail in this volume, providing recipes for everything from a boozy Rhubarb Negroni and a creamy Risotto with Pear, Grana Padano and Balsamic Vinegar, to Butternut Squash Parmigiana and Limoncello Tiramisù.
Ivan Orkin and Chris Ying
The term gaijin, which is Japanese for “outsider,” aptly describes chef Ivan Orkin (of NYC’s Ivan Ramen), who despite being a fluent Japanese speaker living and working in Tokyo for years, was still a tall, gangly white man, and thus never on the inside. Happily for us, that only fueled his fire, and his ramen is legendary. But this book doesn’t focus on ramen, but rather on his personal take on classic Japanese comfort dishes, like Pan-Fried Pork Cutlets in Ginger Sauce, Stir-Fried Udon, and Savory Okonomiyaki pancakes. This is food to share with the people you love, soul stirring and satisfying.
Isa Chandra Moskowitz
This self-taught chef — owner of Brooklyn’s and Omaha’s Modern Love restaurants — took to vegan cooking with a vengeance, and shares her passion in an approachable way, giving you the building blocks you need to learn to create the dishes within. Dishes like Warm Oyster Mushroom Salad with Quinoa and Baby Greens and the Polenta Puttanesca will actually satisfy your meat cravings while still remaining virtuous. Top it off with her Banana-Cinnamon Swirl Muffins or Chocolate Pistachio Biscotti and your meal is complete. Everyone has a vegetarian or vegan in the family that longs to be recognized!
Reviews of this much-anticipated cookbook from chef/historian Toni Tipton-Martin have been rapturous, and I’m going to go out on a pretty solid limb here and guess that she will win another James Beard Award for her work on this gorgeous book, the story of black cooks in the kitchen over the past 200 years, with recipes that trace the forced diaspora from Africa to America, reclaiming the recipes that highlight the resiliency of the human spirit, interspersed with the history behind them. Sweet Potato Biscuits, Catfish Étoufée, Lowcountry Shrimp and Grits, and Biscuit-Topped Chicken Pot Pie find new life when you know the backstory. Fascinating and inspiring in the best way.
The scholarship and attention to detail behind Christopher Kimball’s James Beard Award-winning books are what make them so special. Even as a professional chef, I feel like I always learn something new and useful every time I open one, and this book is no exception. It’s all about technique, and there’s a lot here to unpack, but no heavy baggage, so no worries. The recipe for Curry-Coconut Pot Roast observes Rule #67, Use Less Liquid for More Flavor, while Bucatini Pasta with Cherry Tomatoes and Fresh Sage follows #23, Get Bigger Flavor from Supermarket Tomatoes. You’ll find all the tricks that make a good cook into a great one.
Time to up your dinner party game! Not that overly stuffy, too-fancy meal of old, but one that’s actually fun for host and guest alike. Like her New York Times food column, this food is approachable and craveable, the very best combo there is. Her Coconut-Braised Chicken and Chickpeas made me swoon — as did the Sticky Roasted Carrots with Citrus and Tahini, an easy, restaurant-quality dish. And my daughter has already made the Tiny, Salty, Chocolatey Cookies three times. You will return to this book again and again.
Sussman’s light-filled kitchen in Tel Aviv, along with local shuks bursting with color and flavor, was inspiration for this gorgeous cookbook that made me want to dive into a vat of za’atar. Everything about this book is just so damn appealing. Entertaining is not about perfection, but conviviality. Some staples are always on hand, along with intense flavor brighteners like her Salt-Brined Pickles, Cardamom-Kissed Schug, or Honey Harissa. And if you have a dozen Labeneh Yogurt Pops with a Tahini Magic Shell (!!!) standing by in your freezer, so much the better. Bring on the drop-in guests!
Tyler Malek and JJ Goode
The original might be in Portland, Oregon, but I’ve visited Salt & Straw outposts from Los Angeles to Seattle, and I am a huge fan of their highly seasonal and inventive flavors (Corn on the Cob with Caramel, Arbequina Olive Oil, Goat Cheese-Marionberry) and super-silky mouthfeel. But who knew it could be this easy and fun to make ice cream? Use their base, which comes together in just a few minutes, and embellish with their creative combos, or build your own fantasy ice cream. A must for the ice cream lover in your house.
Like a fine wine, cast iron just gets better with age, and it’s so darn versatile, especially if you know how to take care of it. Byrn, the bestselling author of “The Cake Mix Doctor,” knows a thing or two about this bastion of the Southern Kitchen, and she talks you through all the ways you can use it, from frying to charring, dry roasting and baking. Some recipes are “blueprints” that give you a base recipe to expound on with your own creativity, while others highlight the skillet’s versatility, such as the caramelizing of the spicy-sweet Sticky Chicken Thighs with Ginger and Garlic. Classics like Dotty’s Chicken-Fried Steak and Black Skillet Cornbread will not disappoint.
Bonus for Serious Foodies: Two Cooking Memoirs Not to Be Missed
Regan made her name at Elizabeth restaurant in the Lincoln Square neighborhood, but her journey to Michelin-starred chef from a small Indiana farm — through the minefield of addiction, navigating issues of gender and sexuality — is a remarkable one. Longlisted for the 2019 National Book Award in nonfiction, this book will stay with you.
A tale of survival, both in the professional kitchen and on the streets of NYC, Nigeria, and Louisiana. Onwuachi rose from cooking in the galleys of oil cleanup ships to the 2019 James Beard Award Rising Star Chef for his DC restaurant Kith/Kin, a celebration of his Afro-Caribbean roots. A fascinating read.