Sometimes, my mornings looks like this: I crawl out of bed at 4am. There’s a buzzing in my mind keeping me from dreamworld. I prod my way downstairs and wait impatiently for a full cup of coffee with chicory to materialize before my eyes, its bitter scent sending signals to my brain that it’s time to start firing synapses, even if only slowly. Impossibly slowly. I pull a book from the shelf above my sink and begin turning, mindlessly eating words and photos.
My husband finds me two hours later. I’m curled up on the world’s least comfortable couch with a smile on my tired face, the dog by my side, a book in my lap and several torn up shreds of yellow legal pad paper–my ultra-sophisticated, self-made solution to a lack of post its–sticking out of it. Sometimes, it’s a book so old that when you flutter its edges, there’s nothing but the smell of must and dust and the stale scent of time passing. Other times, it’s shiny and new. It’s got the stamp of 2015 on its insides and when its covers spread, there’s a magical kind of creaking noise that makes my stomach light with butterflies and my mind go absent in a moment of childlike innocence, in anticipation of story time.
As one of the last posts of the year, I wanted to send you off with a few of my favorite, shiny and new, creak-when-they-open cookbooks. To use as last minute gift ideas for your favorite cook. Or to point you towards windows of culinary inspiration for your own 2016 adventures in the kitchen. These are the books that I’ve most loved this year and that continue to inspire me in the kitchen and, sometimes, even in the dark morning hours with a cup of coffee with chicory by my side and Bourré snoring at my feet.
The Nordic Cookbook by Magnus Nilsson
This book is one part recipe index, one part encyclopedia, and one part crazy. And I mean that in the greatest of ways because only someone who lives and breathes the soul of Nordic cooking could write a book that’s the product of hundreds of interviews and over seven-hundred pages long. I’ve only cooked one dish so far from this book — a traditional Potatoes Hasselbacken — and it was everything I’ve ever wanted in thin sliced potatoes. Creamy and buttery in the middle, crispy on the outside.
Preserving by Ginette Mathiot and updated by the one and only Clotilde Dusoulier
I moved to Portland, land of “you can pickle that,” without the faintest idea of how to grow, well, anything. That’s changed a good bit in the last couple of years and now I find myself not wandering how to keep something alive, but rather, how to keep something from spoiling beyond the traditional growing season. Preserving, with its informative introduction and innovative recipes for salting, smoking, and pickling, does just that. It’s not photo-heavy, so if you’re looking for gorgeous imagery, this will not be the book for you. But it is practical and written in a way that feels relatable, meaning I’m now thinking I might actually be able to pull of this whole preserving thing in 2016 after all. (Hold me to it, y’all.)
Beer Bites by Christian DeBenedetti and Andrea Slonecker
I have a unique perspective on this book because I had the good fortune of photographing a class that Christian and Andrea were teaching at FEAST this year on the topic of food and beer pairing. A class in which I was also lucky enough to be served the “photographer special,” a small plate and glass of everything the class cooked and tasted. And, as a mad beer-lover, I instantly fell in love with this book concept. It’s playful and fun, organized by type of beer (think: hoppy and herbal; crisp and clean) rather than by type of food. If you have a beer and food lover in your life, this is the book for them. And might I recommend asking them to prepare for you the Mussels in Celery-Gueuze Cream, which is some of the most flavorful mussels I’ve had all year. And y’all know how I like my mussels.
Soups and Stews by the Editors at Saveur
I’ve never subscribed to the “soups only in cold weather” line of thinking. You already know that about me. And in this book, compiled by Saveur’s editors using some of their most loved soup and stew recipes, is sure to inspire me in the kitchen throughout the seasons. In fact, I’m making the Umbrian Vegetable Soup for lunch today.
Stay tuned. And it was amazing; as was the Pakistani Lamb Stew.
Italian Comfort Food by the Editors at Saveur
It’s no secret that I have an affinity for Italian food. This is one of the countries that brought me back to life after a period of darkness through its pastas and tomatoes and cheese and gelato. It’s a cuisine that I don’t just see or eat. I feel it in my bones somehow, inexplicably. And when I flip through this book of stunningly-photographed, thoughtful Italian recipes for the home cook, I can’t help but feel bubbly inside. Ricotta Gnocchi with Olives and Capers; Crispy-Skinned Mackerel with Lemons and Fennel; a classic Florentine Chocolate Tart. I could easily cook from this book every day and be a very happy woman.
100 Recipes by America’s Test Kitchen
I wouldn’t say this book is where I’d turn for playful cooking or narrative-based inspiration so much as where I’d turn if there was a dish I just couldn’t quite get right or that I wanted to master, as was the case with my traditional latin flan. I’ve since used it as a trouble-shooting guide in the kitchen a handful of times and with each use, I find more and more value in the book and its mission.
Mexico from the Inside Out by Enrique Olvera
If you’re looking to whip up something simple inspired by Mexican flavors and history for your next dinner party, this probably won’t be the place to go. The recipes in here are bold but complex and time-consuming. That said, this book has been a huge source of inspiration to me in learning technique, ingredient combinations, and plating. It’s beauty on the inside and out also looks pretty damn good on my coffee table.
Best Food Writing, 2015 edited by Holly Hughes
As this series suggests, this book, while not necessarily a cookbook, houses some of the best words about food around. With dozens of renowned food writers contributing — including one of my most favorite food bloggers/friends/mentors, Phyllis Grant of Dash and Bella 🙂 — it’s the kind of book that will make you laugh, cry, cook and stay awake all night (or morning) turning pages.
The New Sugar and Spice by Samantha Seneviratne
I’m not sure I can gush much more about this gorgeous work of baking art from my friend Sam. All I can tell you is that I’ve continued to find inspiration in the words Sam writes, the recipes she lays out, and the photographs that accompany. And my baking game is finally improving thanks to all of her helpful tips.
Genius Recipes by Kristen Miglore (and Food52)
There are some recipes that are just plain genius. Whether it’s in method or flavor combination, they set off lightbulbs of culinary aha moments and leaving us scratching our heads, wondering how or why we never thought of that before. I say with complete confidence that the recipes in this book are all winners. And this is probably one of the few cookbooks out there that you can actually say that about.
Winter Cocktails by Maria Del Mar Sacasa
As you may already know, my husband and I have been shaking things up in the kitchen more and more these days. But I’ve found, as the sun began its annual disappearing act this year, I was longing for more wintery cocktails. Drinks that are warm or drinks with frothy egg whites; drinks with milk and drinks with warming spices. And when I stumbled across this book, actually published a couple of years ago but it’s new to me, I knew it would be a fierce wintertime companion for us this year. And it has.