In light of this Best of Utah issue of City Weekly, I thought I’d share a handful of the best cookbooks I’ve found in the past few months. Springtime, of course, is a time of renewal. And, for many of us, it’s also a time to renew our love affair with fresh, seasonal foods from the garden and the grocer. These five excellent cookbooks can help reinvigorate your passion for cooking, as they’ve done mine.
Judith Jones is senior editor and vice president at Alfred A. Knopf, and is probably best known as Julia Child’s longtime editor; she published Mastering the Art of French Cooking and was Child’s editor until the famed cook’s 2004 death. But, she’s also a cookbook author in her own right, and her book The Pleasures of Cooking for One fills a big hole in the cookbook oeuvre. All of us cook and dine solo—some occasionally, others often. And so, Jones’ book is for all of us. Amazingly, she’s managed to take complex recipes such as Julia Child’s original cheese soufflé recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking and distill it down to a very doable dish for one. In about a half-hour, you could produce the gorgeous, delectable soufflé pictured on the cover of The Pleasures of Cooking for One. Ranging through single-serving soups, frittatas, pasta dishes, desserts, salads, entrees and more, Judith Jones makes dining solo a delicious affair.
Another immensely practical new cookbook is The Complete America’s Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook 2001-2010. I’ve been following America’s Test Kitchen in Cook’s Illustrated magazine, on TV and online for many years. Many of my most beloved go-to recipes come from America’s Test Kitchen. And so, for me at least, this generous collection of well-tested recipes is my own personal Joy of Cooking. In chapters such as “The Flair of the French,” “Tex-Mex Tonight” and “Dinner at the Diner,” The Complete America’s Test Kitchen journeys through dishes ranging from chicken-fried steak and shrimp scampi to chicken tikka masala and Tuscan bean stew. The key, though, is that each recipe here has been tested, re-tested, fiddled with and perfected. Each recipe includes an explanation of how and why the recipe works. For example, the key to the pasta with garlic and oil recipe working lies in cooking the garlic over low heat and adding a modest amount of raw garlic to the dish at the end. In addition to recipes, this cookbook is loaded with all sorts of instructive sidebars and “how-to” photographic panels. I think if I had to toss out all but one of my multitude of cookbooks, The Complete America’s Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook 2001-2010 is the one I’d keep.
Thomas Keller is my favorite chef. His restaurants—The French Laundry, per se and Bouchon—are among this country’s best. But, if like me, you crave Keller food but can’t often dine in his restaurants, you can turn to his excellent cookbooks. As with his own cooking, Keller’s attention to detail and fanaticism for flavor is funneled into his cookbooks. My copy of his Bouchon cookbook, for example, is food-splattered and invaluable to me. The recipes are spot-on, from start to finish. Soon, I suspect, I’ll be able to say the same for his new Ad Hoc at Home: Family-style Recipes. I haven’t owned this book long enough to have worked my way through all of the recipes, but I sure am looking forward to doing so. A word of warning, however: While many Ad Hoc recipes aren’t overly complicated and don’t require immense technical expertise, a majority of them do require sometimes hard-to-find foodstuffs; Keller is a stickler for quality ingredients. So, even a very simple recipe for confit of pork belly requires a slab of pork belly with skin (got a neighborhood butcher?) and gray salt—not items you’ll likely find at the corner supermarket. But, that’s half the fun of these dishes: discovering where to locate creme fraiche for panna cotta, piment d’Espelette for sun gold tomato gazpacho, oxtails for braised oxtail and mushroom tartine, or cured lemons for Keller’s sensational brined pork tenderloin. Thankfully, for the latter, he includes a recipe for cured lemons.
Spring and summer are synonymous with outdoor grilling. One of the most intriguing books on the subject I’ve come across in years is Francis Mallmann’s Seven Fires: Grilling the Argentine Way. Grilling and barbecue expert and cookbook author Steven Raichlen calls Mallmann “a genius and true visionary.” The seven types and techniques of Argentine grilling illustrated in Seven Fires are parilla, chapa, infiernillo, horno de barro, rescoldo, asador and caldero. Recipes range from a quick, grilled, boneless rib-eye steak with chimichurri to una vaca entera; a whole cow, 14-hour grilling extravaganza that Mallmann says is “a cross between a banquet and a construction project.” It’s the first recipe I’ve ever read that begins with “1 medium cow, about 1,400 pounds, butterflied, skin removed.” Remember to invite me over when you try this one.
I’m a sucker for Cajun-Creole cuisine. But, with the exception of an old, tattered Paul Prudhomme cookbook, I’ve been disappointed in just about every other Louisiana cooking book I’ve tried. Well, John Besh’s My New Orleans: 200 of My Favorite Recipes & Stories from My Hometown remedies that problem. This is a great cookbook, chock full of recipes for classic Cajun-Creole dishes like seafood gumbo, barbecued shrimp, black-eyed peas with rice, jambalaya, boudin noir, watermelon pickles and bourbon pecan pie. And, reading the stories between the recipes is as delicious as a serving of buttermilk-fried quail.
Happy spring cooking!