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It’s the most wonderful time of the year, namely, when I get to tell you about the books I’ve been cooking from and poring over all fall. This year’s crop runs the gamut — some from big city restaurant chefs, some by small-town home-cooking enthusiasts — but all of them inspiring and gift-worthy…
Company: The Radically Casual Art of Cooking for Others, by Amy Thielen
If the measure of a good cookbook is that it is ‘of a place,’ then Amy Thielen’s Company wins. Thielen, the James Beard Award winning author of The New Midwestern Table (and onetime host of Food Network’s Heartland Table) lives in the woods of northern Minnesota with her husband and son, “close to the night stars but far from any nightlife.” Her latest cookbook is an ode to having people over, not entertaining (or the “E-word” as she calls it), but project cooking and long visits, where people spill out into lawns and everyone hangs around fire pits or outdoor grills, even in the middle of winter. The book is organized by occasion (fish frys, holidays, family brunch around the fire pit) with a complete menu for each. Tbh, her lyrical headnotes and the photos of snowscapes, pine-framed lakefronts, and wool coats hung next to wood-burning stoves, are as much of a draw as the food.
Try these first: So many recipes call out to me (Buttercup Bourbon Pie, Deviled Egg Dip, Stretchy Mashed Potatoes with Cheese), but if the point is to follow a complete menu, I’d start with her “Creative, More-Time-Than-Money Sort of Menu” for six
Bake Smart: Sweets and Secrets from My Oven to Yours, by Samantha Seneviratne
“There are plenty of how-to-bake books,” writes food editor Samantha Seneviratne in Bake Smart. “This is not one of those. I want to tell you some of the things that no one else has ever told you about baking, the secrets I tell my friends.” Organized by ingredient (Butter, Sugar, Eggs, Flours, Nuts & Cocoa, Yeast), the recipes here are sophisticated and the flavors are surprising, but thanks to her annotated recipe-writing — where she simultaneously troubleshoots and explains why you are using certain ingredients (“preground cardamom never tastes as good as the freshly ground stuff”), they somehow remain consistently approachable. Also, the elegantly styled photos, taken by Johnny Miller, really shine the spotlight on what matters most here: the sweets.
Try these first: Masala Chai Shortbread with Prunes and Tea Glaze, Pistachio and Chocolate Eclairs, Coconut Lime Layer Cake.
Latinísmo: Home Recipes from the Twenty-One Countries Of Latin America, by Sandra A. Gutierrez
Despite the encyclopedic feel of this glossy, 300-recipe, 550-page cookbook, this is, in Sandra A. Gutierrez’s words, “a collection of recipes from home cooks who, like you and me, have to decide what is for dinner when the family is hungry or time is short.” Devoted to the 21 cuisines of Latin America, and with graceful cultural sensitivity, Gutierrez covers distinct regional recipes — acknowledging the similarities and differences between countries — and tracks the influences brought on by the role of colonialism, as well as immigrants who moved to the area throughout the centuries. If you’re interested in a “category killer,” this one’s for you.
Try these first: Yuca Cheese Puffs (El Salvador), Tapado (Seafood Stew, above; Belize, Guatemala, Honduras) and Fougazza Rellena (Stuffed Ham and Cheese Focaccia with Onions; Argentina)
Start Here: Instructions for Becoming a Better Cook, by Sohla El-Waylly
Yes, you can absolutely flip through this coffee-table sized 577-page cookbook to find inspiration for dinner tonight (Tofu and Bon Choy with Ginger Garlic Scallion Sauce? Brothy Same-Day Slow-Roast Whole Chicken?), whether that’s a dinner for your six friends or just yourself. But, as Sohla El-Waylly (teacher, restaurant veteran, contributor to all your favorite food media brands) will tell you, context is everything when you’re learning how to cook. Each chapter explains a basic cooking principle — not just techniques, but real 101 concepts like temperature control and the way grains and legumes hydrate — and then offers recipes that illustrate those concepts. The dishes are divided equally between savory and sweet and involve a lot of hand-holding — Sohla practically begs you to mess up for the learning experience.
Try these first: The Creamiest Polenta, Classic French Omelet, Add-Anything Drop Cookies, Blueberry Pancake Cake, Homemade Mayonnaise
Seafood Simple, by Eric Ripert
When I first saw that this fish cookbook was coming out, my first reaction was: What took him so long? Eric Ripert, the Michelin-starred chef of New York’s Le Bernardin, is universally regarded as one of the world’s foremost experts in seafood preparation… which is not to say he doesn’t acknowledge cooking fish can be overwhelming, especially for beginners. The goal with this book (like the previous one in the series, Vegetable Simple), is to demystify and inspire. Clear step-by-step instructions for potentially intimidating techniques (how to clean shrimp, how to filet round fish and flat fish, how to shuck an oyster, etc.) accompany the elegantly accessible recipes, which are broken down by technique, like Poached, Fried, Grilled, and Sautéed.
Try these first: Clams in Chorizo Broth, Smoked Salmon Croque Monsieurs (above), Brioche-Crusted Red Snapper, Herb-Crusted Yellowfin Tuna.
More is More: Get Loose in the Kitchen, by Molly Baz
“When I was a fine dining line cook, I spent years being drilled with the mindset that less is always more: single dots of sauce on a plate, a whopping two ounce portion of fish,” writes Molly Baz. “But then I became a home cook and realized that in my kitchen… I want to cook and eat BOLD food with BIG personality.” Personality is always the operative word with Baz, and we don’t just get a book packed with recipes for making the most high-flavor crowdpleasers you’ve ever seen, but also a peek into her maximalist southern California life, where the music is loud, the color palette is strong, and the food is a perfect blend of messy-gorgeous. Fans who speak Molly will get what they came for, like references to her beloved Morty-D (mortadella) and a litany of her trademark abbreviating, like “Umam Lasagn” and “Zucch and Mozz.” Somehow, instead of coming across as cutesy, it adds up to infectious fun.
Try these first: Rigatoni with Creamed Leeks and Chive-y Bread Crumbs, Crispy Cutlets with Giardinera Slaw, Triple Threat Garlic Bread (made with challah, omg), and The Only Meatloaf That Matters
Make It Japanese: Simple Recipes For Everyone, by Rie McClenny with Sanaë Lemoine
There’s something so appealing about leafing through pages that feel like the cookbook version of a family recipe box. Make it Japanese is that kind of warm, easy-going book, even though Rie McClenny is a French Culinary Institute graduate who has worked in some preeminent restaurant kitchens. The charm lies in her determination to recreate the family recipes she grew up with in Japan using primarily ingredients that are easy to find in American grocery stores. I was sold instantly. How good does that rice bowl look?
Try these first: Soba Noodle Salad with Tahini Dressing; Tuna Mayo Onigiri (rice balls); Tonkatsu (made with pork tenderloin instead of chops), Nikujaga (beef and potato stew)
Scandinavian from Scratch, by Nichole Accettola
Whether (like me) you’re looking for something special for the holiday cookie box this year, or (like every bakery in America) you’ve recently fallen in love with cardamom-scented pastries, or (like my husband) you’re obsessed with smørrebrød, the Danish open-face rye bread sandwiches topped with various goodies like shrimp and eggs and pickled things…you’ll find what you’re looking for in Nichole Accettola’s love letter to Scandinavian baking. It’s a beautiful mix of the traditional baked goods of Sweden, Norway, and Denmark (“rye bread is to Denmark what baguettes are to France”), recipes from home cooks throughout the region, and Accettola’s own repertoire developed for Kantine, the popular Scandinavian sandwich and pastry shop in San Francisco.
Try these first: Cardamom Morning Buns, Smørrebrød topped with Sweet Potato, Goat Cheese, and Apple, Coconut Dream Cake (Drømmekage)
Snacking Bakes, by Yossy Arefi
You probably know by now that we are huge fans of frequent CityandCoffee contributor Yossy Arefi — her books and her world-class food photography — so when she publishes a book, we pay attention. As I wrote last week, Snacking Bakes speaks my love language, promising treats (bars, brownies, cookies, cakes) that can be made in less than one hour, in one bowl, with no fancy ingredients or equipment. In other words, you can crave a warm peanut butter blondie and then eat it less than an hour later. My kind of baking.
Try these first: Chocolate Ricotta Cake, Banana Brownie Cookies, Chocolate Chip Snickerdoodle Cake, last week’s Monster Cookies!
What would you add? What cookbooks do you love, no matter when they came out?
P.S. Nine cookbooks that earn their keep, and the 10 best cookbooks of fall 2022.