Jordan Wright and Nibbles and Sips Picks ‘The Most Notable Cookbooks Of 2012′ by Jordan Wright

This year’s cookbooks brought us a wealth of ways to be engaged in food in one way or another – grow it, cook it, eat it, share it, broadcast it. While some cover the cuisines of far-off cultures, others focus on a specific region of America or share memories of meaningful meals. Books on preparing a garden’s harvest and instructive manuals on chronicling your food adventures with blogs, photos or Pinterest. Proust would be pleased. Have a madeleine and read on.

 Lifestyle Cooking

Each afternoon I am treated to lunch by the writers of the Canal House cooking series – virtually that is. From their bespoke blog they email a beautiful photograph of their luncheon with a short description of how they prepared it and what they served with it. It might come from their Lambertville, New Jersey garden; be foraged on a hike in a nearby woods; or left on their doorstep by a friend.  Sometimes a few simple ingredients combined with leftovers from their Sunday suppers or backyard cookouts become a gourmand’s delight. Written by Christopher Hirsheimer, former executive editor and co-founder of Saveur magazine and food and design editor of Metropolitan Home; and Melissa Hamilton, food stylist and former Saveur food editor, Canal House Cooks Every Day (Andrews McMeel Publishing) is a gorgeous collection of over 250 recipes for the home cook.

Entertaining 

Cynthia Nims’s Salty Snacks (Ten Speed Press) is a fun book with simple, but original recipes for making your own chips, crisps, crackers, pretzels and other savory bites and had me bookmarking a goodly number of pages. I loved the Cumin Lentil Crackers, Salami Chips with Grainy Mustard, Blue Cheese Straws, Five-Spice Duck Skin, and other tasty treats. Whether you make food for gifting, cater parties or host them, you will refer to this delightful book whenever you’re entertaining. Heads up, family and friends, the Coconut Crisps with Basil and Chiles could be in your Christmas stocking.

How To Books

Helene Dujardin’s Plate to Pixel – Digital Food Photography & Styling (Wiley) shares secrets from her career as a professional food photographer teaching photo-by-photo how to achieve the fabulous results professional food stylists use in creating those mouth-watering photos used in ads, magazines, blogs and books.

Three food-centric books from the “For Dummies” series, give tips for DIYs on how to get your message out with Pinterest For Dummies by Kelby Carr,Food Blogging For Dummies by Kelly Senyei, and Food Styling & Photography by Alison Parks-Whitfield – all from WileyNow you can write your own cookbook, blog about your Aunt June’s recipes, or photo broadcast the last scrumptious thing you ate.

Healthful Cooking and Gardening

Health nuts delight! Mark Bittman has you in his culinary sights with Leafy Greens – An A-to-Z Guide to 30 Types of Greens (Wiley). From the New York Times food writer and author of How to Cook Everything, Bittman puts together over 120 recipes to green up your diet. And who isn’t going green these days? Ramp up your anti-oxidant intake with dishes like Bitter Greens with Bacon, Grilled Radicchio and Risotto with Arugula and Shrimp. Whether its mizuna, kale, watercress, broccoli rabe, mustard greens, dandelion or collards, this nifty book will tell you how to identify and prepare over 30 kinds of greens whether found at local farmers markets or an Asian grocery.

I had a lot of fun with Vegan Eats World (Da Capo) by Terry Hope Romero – named “Favorite Cookbook Author” by VegNews. Though I am most assuredly not a candidate for a strict vegan diet, there are many wonderfully creative recipes from a wide variety of cultures that would suit an omnivore. Romero doesn’t just share her recipes and experiences that she describes as “savoring the planet”, she dreams of a vegan revolution. So imagine a tofubanh mi sandwich, a seitan Greek gyro, Jackfruit Tacos, and Korean bulgogi made with extra-firm tofu.

I’m all for growing your own berries and veggies. So over the past ten years or so our family has tended a small plot at the Chinquapin Organic Gardens in Alexandria, Virginia. Community gardening is a great way for urban gardeners to keep their hands in the soil, swap crop tips or recipes, and share summer’s bounty. So I was particularly interested in Fruit Trees in Small Spaces – Abundant Harvests from Your Own Backyard by Colby Eierman(Timber Press) an inspiring and informative book filled with concrete advice on selecting, pruning, espalier training, and preparing the fruits of your labor. Did you know you could make wine from fresh oranges or peach leaves?

Photos by Erin Kunkel who once served as Director of Sustainable Agriculture for the Benziger Family Winery and Director of Gardens at the recently shuttered COPIA: The American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts in Napa Valley, make it look easy and fun. Expect to see his produce on your plate if you are dining at Chez Panisse in Berkeley or Girl and the Fig in Sonoma. As an advocate for children’s gardening programs, he was the co-founder of the School Garden Project in Eugene, Oregon. 

Ethnic Cuisine

Phaidon Press, who last year charmed us with the Noma cookbook whose recipes used Scandinavian foraged ingredients, now brings us The Lebanese Kitchen by Salma Hage. Hage has compiled over 500 recipes from every region of her native Lebanon to bring us an astonishing collection of dishes for every course from mezzes to fattoush and aromatic desserts. Within its pinked-edged pages is also a special section devoted to recipes from noted chefs who have already come under the spell of the Lebanese cuisine.  Roasted Sea Bass in Tahini Sauce, a Middle Eastern favorite of mine, is here demystified.

Morocco (Chronicle Books) by Jeff Koehler has a subtitle – A Culinary Journey with Recipes from the Spice-Scented Markets of Marrakech to the Date-Filled Oasis of Zagora which pretty much tells you what you can expect from its matte finish pages. If I could eat this book I would. You can almost smell the rosewater and spices.  This is why everyone dreams of visiting the ancient North African nation and why those that have come away with stars in their eyes. The food is lavish, sensual and colorful.  From tagines to cous cous with a section on the Moroccan pantry that defines the country’s exotic ingredients. It is easy to follow and sublime to eat. You can follow Jeff’s culinary adventures on his website. 

Also worth noting is Rice & Curry – Sri Lankan Home Cooking (Hippocrene), a re-issue written by former Rolling Stone contributor S. H. (Skiz) Fernando Jr. The photo-laden cookbook slash travelogue, has book jacket blurbs from Andrew Zimmern, host of Bizarre Foods and Anthony Bourdain who used Skiz as a guide through Sri Lanka on Travel Channel’s No Reservations. Visit this link to read about Skiz’s DC pop up dinner this summer and more 2012 cookbook reviews.  

American Regional

Jordan with Nathalie Dupree.

Get the jump on your Charleston friends this year with Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking (Gibbs Smith). Veteran cookbook authors Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubart explore the history of Southern regional cuisine with recipes that reflect the Old South along with some modern day twists. This summer I watched Ms. Dupree making an unholy mess at a biscuit demonstration at Maryland’s National Harbor. She was as funny on that hot steamy day as she is in this book. And she gave practical tips in the same generous way she shares them on these pages.

“I always use flexible plastic cutting boards. They make life easy when you transfer dry ingredients to the bowl and cut out your biscuits,” she trilled. She went on to show how the biscuits must touch, and how she uses a 9” cake pan to nestle eight biscuits together. “That’s enough for four for the first serving. You can put in another pan after that to keep bringing out hot biscuits.” She is very clear in her instructions and it certainly emboldened me to learn to make the perfect biscuit. In this terrific compendium of all things edibly Southern you’ll find classics like Fried Chicken, Pimento Cheese and Sweet Potato Biscuits along with Peaches and Figs Wrapped in Country Ham. It’s a keeper – all 600 recipes!

Memoirs 

Margrit Mondavi’s Sketchbook – Reflections on Wine, Food, Art, Family, Romance, and Life is a personal favorite. Margrit, widow of Napa wine pioneer Robert Mondavi and worldly octogenarian, has written this book with her heart and soul.  It is a refreshingly candid pentimento by a lively spirit who has found both pleasure and passion in both work and life. Enjoy a memoir that reads like a private conversation with a close friend, and is beautifully composed with personal photographs, recipes and tributes from friends and family, and illustrated with her whimsical watercolor studies chronicling the couple’s private dinner menus, tablescapes and plein air landscapes. Visit this link to read my recent interview with Margrit Mondavi.  .

Marcus Samuelsson’s latest book, Yes, Chef, is an emotion-filled autobiographical journey beginning with his adoption as a child from his native Ethiopia to his new family in Sweden. The James Beard Foundation Award winner and winner of Top Chef Masters has written a thoroughly fascinating and poignant memoir that takes the reader from his culinary education in Europe to his success at New York’s Aquavit restaurant, later culminating in the 2010 opening of his smash hit Red Rooster restaurant in Harlem.  Visit this link to read my August interview with Samuelsson at the Howard Theatre.  

A Table at Le Cirque: Stories and Recipes from New York’s Most Legendary Restaurant (Rizzoli, NYC) written by its creator the Tuscan-born Sirio Maccioni and Pamela Fiori, a former editor at Town & Country and Travel & Leisure, puts you squarely at the best table in Manhattan. For close to four decades, this exclusive institution has been a glamorous watering hole for celebrities and the country’s social and business elite. Many of the world’s leading chefs have made their mark in its kitchens and the book contains recipes of some of their legendary dishes including Daniel Boulud’s Black Bass with Barolo Sauce, Alain Sailhac’s Fettuccine with White Truffles, Pierre Schaedelin’s deconstructed Caesar Salad, and noted chocolatier Jacques Torres’s Bombolini.

Local and Notable

Jersey born and bred Mike Isabella has a passion for food – earthy, soul-stretching, heart-stirring Italian food – and he’s decided to share it with the home cook. In Crazy Good Italian (Da Capo Press Lifelong Books) he takes you into the kitchen with his nonna to teach you the family’s favorite dishes. Included in the over 150 recipes that speak to his Italian roots is his famous Pepperoni Sauce, the one that wowed the judges on Bravo’s “Top Chef”. Isabella has gotten to be a familiar fixture not only on television, where he made a cameo appearance on “Life After Top Chef”, but also around the DC area with his casual resto Graffiato and Georgetown venture Bandelero. His almond and jam flavored Rainbow cookies are perfect for Christmas with their red, gold and green layers topped with chocolate. Visit this link to read my piece on Isabella’s opening of Bandelero earlier this year.

My first assignment as a DC-based food writer was to interview Carla Hall at DC’s CulinAerie, a catering company where she once taught cooking classes. I found her presiding over a TV watch party with her friends and co-workers, held the night the Top Chef finalists were announced. Though she came in second that night, the show forever changed the life of the former French fashion model in ways she could not have imagined.

Currently the co-host of ABC’s The Chew, Hall has written her first book Cooking With Love – Comfort Food That Hugs You (Simon and Schuster Digital Sales). In it she offers up her versions of simple, home-style dishes like Chicken Pot Pie and Deviled Eggs with Smoky Bacon. The amorous title best describes Hall’s easygoing approach to cooking. She continues her presence in DC as executive chef of Alchemy, an artisanal cookie company. Visit this link to read my interview with Hall on that auspicious night.

A Few More Treasures from This Year

Bouchon Bakery (Artisan) by Thomas KellerJerusalem: A Cookbook (Ten Speed Press) by Yottam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi; My Key West Kitchen: Recipes and Stories (Kyle Books, London) by Norman Van Aken and Justin Van AkenThe Complete Recipes (Flammarion, Paris) by Paul Bocuse.

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