R Is for Readers

published Dec 5, 2017
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(Image credit: The Kitchn)

It’s been a stellar year for cookbooks, with literally hundreds of titles released (and a few more yet to come). How to choose amongst rubble to find the jewels for your holiday gift-giving? We’ve done the heavy lifting for you by selecting 25 of the best of the best from 2017.

There’s something here for everyone on your list, from the daily cook in need of inspiration to the mad-lab scientist to the aspiring mixologist. Keep reading — and maybe add a few to your own wish list.

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25 Cookbooks to Give to Hungry Bookworms This Holiday Season (Image credit: The Kitchn)

Cookbooks for Getting Dinner on the Table

  1. Dining In: Highly Cookable Recipes, $30: Alison Roman brings us a brash, playful but ultimately authoritative guide to getting something delicious on the table. With menu items like Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Hot Honey, her recipes are innovative and interesting while remaining accessible and, well, cookable. This book will inspire memorable gatherings for years to come.
  2. Smitten Kitchen Every Day: Triumphant and Unfussy New Favorites, $35: This long-awaited second cookbook from Smitten Kitchen’s Deb Perelman was a runaway best seller even before it hit the market, and for good reason. Perelman’s recipes are always inventive yet approachable, and simple without being boring. Get a stack of these and give them to everyone you know!
  3. Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking, $35: This New York Times bestselling cookbook has already been hailed a masterpiece and will no doubt be in top rotation for years to come. Samin Nosrat is everyone’s best friend, bubby, and most exacting professor. This book is a great gift for the new cook who is looking to learn foundational techniques as well as the more experienced cook who wants to up her game.
  4. Ready or Not!: 150+ Make-Ahead, Make-Over, and Make-Now Recipes by Nom Nom Paleo, $35: The Paleo approach to eating is becoming more mainstream with each passing year, and Michelle Tam of Nom Nom Paleo remains on top of it all with this second cookbook. Designed to accommodate any of life’s situations, from last-minute panic to a more leisurely make-ahead approach, Michelle continues to prove that Paleo is a bright, bold, and fun way to cook and eat. Would work well for non-Paleo folks, too.
  5. Back Pocket Pasta: Inspired Dinners to Cook on the Fly, $28: This book is a revelation for those who find themselves challenged to pull off quick but interesting meals night after night. In this colorful volume, Colu Henry presents a brilliant solution — 75 recipes that come together in the amount of time it takes to cook a pot of pasta. Yes, dinner can be that simple, that quick and, most importantly, that delicious.

Moving Memoirs and Food Lit

  1. Give a Girl a Knife: A Memoir, $26: The arc of Amy Thielen’s coming-of-age story begins at her stove in rural Minnesota, swings widely out to the glitz and glamour of top New York restaurants, and settles back into the cozy potatoes-and-gravy roots of her Midwestern childhood. Both a writer and a chef, Thielen brings a sharp eye and a beautiful sense of detail to this funny, wry tale of a food-obsessed life.
  2. What She Ate: Six Remarkable Women and the Food That Tells Their Stories, $27: Food writer Laura Shapiro takes up the notion that a person’s food stories can tell us a lot about them, offering a deeper, more provocative look into their lives. Here she examines the food and eating habits of six well-known but unlikely women, from a poet’s sister in the 18th century to the editor of Cosmopolitan magazine, to reveal a more complex understanding of who they are and the society they lived in.
  3. Notes on a Banana: A Memoir of Food, Love, and Manic Depression, $27: This poignant memoir from the founder of the beloved food website Leite’s Culinaria takes on many grand themes (family, food, mental illness, and sexual identity) yet remains a deeply personal, bitingly funny, highly relatable read. You will laugh, you will cry, you will want to march straight into the kitchen to try your hand at that sausage-flecked Portuguese soup.

Cookbooks for Sweets and Baking

  1. Sweet: Desserts from London’s Ottolenghi, $35: Yotam Ottolenghi does it again, this time partnering with his longtime collaborator and recipe developer, pastry chef Helen Goh, to create a stellar collection of sweet treats. With more than 100 recipes that emphasize Ottolenghi’s signature flavors (rose petal, saffron, orange blossom, star anise, pistachio, almond, cardamom, and cinnamon), this book is a must for fans of the iconic Ottolenghi cookbooks as well as those who love desserts.
  2. Bread Toast Crumbs: Recipes for No-Knead Loaves & Meals to Savor Every Slice, $30: Do you have a busy, thrifty (but very enthusiastic) bread baker on your list? Boy, are they are going to love this one. Alexandra Stafford begins with a simple no-knead recipe that explodes into dozens of variations such as Quinoa and Flax Bread, Cranberry Walnut Dinner Rolls, and Toasted Coconut Loaf. But what makes this book truly ingenious is how Stafford highlights the many ways to use that bread as it ages, from toast to crumbs.
  3. Modernist Bread: The Art and Science, $625: Four years in the making, this five-volume, 2,300-page comprehensive library offers more than 1,500 traditional and avant-garde bread recipes and techniques beautifully illustrated by thousands of photographs. In other words, this is not just a set of books — it’s a revolution. For the geekiest, most obsessed baker on your list. And at this price, your most beloved.
  4. BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts, $35: This best-selling cookbook features the very best recipes for all the classic American desserts, from Oreos to Lemon Meringue Pie to homemade Snickers. But this is more than a cookbook — author Stella Parks also digs up the history of some of our most iconic sweets, with some very surprising reveals. (Are you sure that the original chocolate chip cookie recipe came from the Toll House Inn?)

Cookbooks from Restaurants and Their Chefs

  1. Cheers to the Publican, Repast and Present: Recipes and Ramblings from an American Beer Hall, $40: The Publican — known for its convivial beerhall atmosphere and deeply satisfying food — is one of Chicago’s most popular restaurants. With 150 recipes, dozens of photographs, and pages of entertaining narrative, this book is meant to be devoured from cover to cover.
  2. State Bird Provisions: A Cookbook, $40: Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski are a husband-and-wife chef team that own a handful of beloved San Francisco restaurants, the first of which is State Bird Provisions. The recipes in this ode to their first born are quite involved in the way restaurant cookbooks are, but not impossible and would be a fun challenge for an enthusiastic home cook.
  3. Homegrown: Cooking from My New England Roots, $35: In this beautiful celebration of the foods of New England, chef Matt Jennings shares sophisticated, approachable recipes that have their roots in tradition yet are updated with a fresh, modern take. In each corner of the cover, there’s a drawing of an iconic New England ingredient — corn, lobster, maple, pig — which is only a hint of the abundance within. Not just for New England cooks, this volume has broad appeal.
  4. My Rice Bowl: Korean Cooking Outside the Lines, $35: James Beard Best Chef-nominee Rachel Yang perfected her unique, cross-cultural Korean cuisine at her many Pacific Northwest restaurants. She now shares her magic sauce (kimchi-flavored, of course) with passionate home cooks who will delight in her offbeat, vibrant combinations. Her food and her journey as a chef reflect one another to tell a true American tale of perseverance and imagination.
  5. POK POK The Drinking Food of Thailand: A Cookbook, $35: At long last, fans of chef Andy Ricker’s groundbreaking best-selling first cookbook, Pok Pok, can continue to conjure up the intense and exciting flavors of Thailand in their home kitchens — this time with booze. With an emphasis on the bar snacks of Thailand and accompanying beverages, there are also plenty of stories here to get cooks in the mood for the particular delights of this vibrant and delicious cuisine.
  6. Tartine All Day, $40: From best-selling author Elisabeth Prueitt, cofounder of San Francisco’s Tartine Bakery, comes a beautiful-to-look-at, delicious-to-eat collection of recipes. Not your typical chef-based cookbook, these dishes are the ones that Prueitt, a busy working mother herself, turns to in her own home kitchen. Elegant, practical, and inspiring, this a cookbook for home cooks at all levels.

For Slow Cooker and Instant Pot Fanatics

  1. The Chef and the Slow Cooker, $30: Stand back because super chef Hugh Acheson has taken on the humble slow cooker, using his ninja chef skills to kick things up several notches. Favorite trick: poaching eggs, then holding them at the perfect temperature for a stress-free eggs Benedict situation. Give this book to slow cooker aficionados of all ages and experience levels.
  2. Dinner in an Instant: 75 Modern Recipes for Your Pressure Cooker, Multicooker, and Instant Pot, $22: In this beautifully photographed volume, New York Times food writer Melissa Clark enthusiastically encourages cautious home cooks to get on board with the most feared kitchen appliance of all: the pressure cooker. Besides tried-and-true meat and soup dishes, readers will find recipes for yogurt making, nearly instant cooked beans, and even desserts. As usual, Clark’s voice is casual yet authoritative and her recipes are flawless.

Future Classics

  1. Meehan’s Bartender Manual, $40: Jim Meehan is a world-class bartender, with countless cocktail books and articles to his name. This comprehensive manual is his latest and covers the whole spectrum of the cocktail universe: the history of cocktails and bartending, service and hospitality, menu development, bar design, spirits production, drink mixing techniques, and how to create a well-stocked bar. Pair this instant classic with a special bottle of a favorite booze for a perfect gift.
  2. wd~50: The Cookbook, $75: Hopefully it’s not too obvious to state that this is not a cookbook for someone who just wants to get dinner on the table every night. Rather, this is the kind of cookbook that is either read/browsed for entertainment or used by those whose kitchens are more mad-scientist lab than comfy hearth. Wylie Dufresne and the staff at his now-closed NYC-based restaurant wd~50 were famous for innovative, “how did they do that?” cuisine. Now the wacky, free-wheeling, scientist-nerd cook on your list can discover all their secrets.
  3. Cherry Bombe: The Cookbook, $35: The always vibrant Cherry Bombe magazine and podcast has finally produced a cookbook. Cherry Bombe is all about women in food and this, their first cookbook, is a celebration of the talent and innovation these hard-working women bring to the industry. With more than 100 recipes, beautiful styling and photography, and dozens of stories, this volume will inspire people both in and out of the kitchen.
  4. Feed the Resistance: Recipes + Ideas for Getting Involved, $15: Inspired by the Women’s March in January 2017, cookbook author Julia Turshen quickly assembled this guidebook for using the kitchen table as a gathering place to plan and foster community. A confluence of cooking and social activism, this ACLU fundraiser offers recipes, lists, resources, and essays from people working in food, food justice, and social causes. Recipes are divided into three categories — Easy Meals for Folks Who Are Too Busy Resisting to Cook; Basic Goods + Portable Snacks; Feeding the Masses: Food for Crowd.
  5. Lucky Peach All About Eggs: Everything We Know About the World’s Most Important Food, $26: While this is definitely a cookbook with dozens of egg-centric recipes for everything from deviled eggs to soufflés, there’s a whole lot more going on than mere cookery in this book from the recently folded Lucky Peach magazine. Crammed full of information, the curious cook will find biology and history lessons, essays on art, interesting lists, and lots of how-tos. Don’t let the fun, punky approach fool you — there’s a lot of serious information here.