Welcome to the biggest cookbook season of the year! September, October, and November rival the entire rest of the year with new cookbook releases. My fellow book buyers and I cooked from a selection of cookbooks, and I've reviewed them below. I've also included a list of some other new releases at the bottom of this piece, as there's no way to fit everything in one post. Some of the cookbooks featured here will be back next month when we celebrate our annual holiday potluck! We are all busy pouring over cookbooks, picking out recipes, and basically acting as giddy as schoolchildren as we anticipate the feast.
by Adam and Jackie Sappington
Portland's own Country Cat, a restaurant loved by all — or at least by everyone I know — has come out with a long-awaited cookbook. These are recipes your grandma may have made if she came from the American Midwest and was just the tiniest bit fancy. This is rustic fare prepared with generations of family hints taken into account to make the best recipes, or as the authors put it, "glorified gramma cuisine." Do you like mashed potatoes? Then you'll love the instructions "The Cat" gives their chef, to think of the potatoes as the binder for all the sour cream and butter that makes up the dish. Sausage gravy on top? Yes, please! And not just sausage; bacon is involved too. You see, now that is your granny with a touch of fancy.
Insider tip: This requires a 9x13 pan. Don't think you can make do with a smaller pan just because it has always worked fine before with other recipes. I lost a lot of batter into the bain-marie. This spoonbread is absurdly good. Here is an extra insider tip: Don't skimp on the bacon. I think it could handle a few more strips, as long as you have a big enough pan, which I clearly didn't.
The Chef Next Door
by Amanda Freitag
I love to watch Chef Amanda Freitag on her recurring role as judge on TV's Chopped. She is as tough as she is fair. Her recipes reflect her TV personality. These recipes stand up straight, look you in the eye, and give as good as they get; they're hearty, toothsome, and full-bodied. This cookbook isn't just about the recipes; Chef Freitag imparts kitchen wisdom throughout. In the chapter entitled "Scary Stuff," she talks about the primary reasons a dish might fail. She attributes most kitchen failures not to the cook's abilities but to timing, space, and equipment. She says this not to deter anyone from cooking but to help folks understand when to step away from a recipe that is doomed from the get-go. (No time and space to make puff pastry? No mandolin for even, thin slicing? Think about choosing a different recipe.) While this is by no means a cookbook meant for beginners, it would be a boon to any new cook willing to learn from a thoughtful, experienced chef.
So simple. This is my new favorite go-to hostess recipe. Insider tip: Don't think you can whisk this together with a hand whisk. You'll end up with a ball of cheese stuck inside the whisk. Haul out the electric mixer; you'll be glad you did.
The Complete Cook's Country TV Show Cookbook
by America's Test Kitchen
This updated version of The Cook's Country includes the most recent season of the PBS cooking show. These are foolproof recipes! They have all been tested by the America's Test Kitchen folks. Many of the other ATK books get a little sciency in their explanations as to why recipes work, but in The Cook's Country, more emphasis is on delivering the best recipe. You are guaranteed to get a good recipe, and maybe you'll learn a little cooking science as well. The Cook's Country is recommended for all levels of experience in the kitchen and may be best suited to the intermediate cook: someone who is ready to graduate from boxed macaroni and cheese to making it from scratch, or someone who may have mastered the hamburger and wants to step up to steak. Or someone like me; I'm proficient in the kitchen, but sometimes I just want a good old American meal that I don't have to fuss much with and can feel confident will turn out well the first time I make it.
This is a magic crust-less quiche. So good, I made it twice in one week — once with regular flour, again with a gluten-free mixture. Insider tip: Use horseradish mustard for an extra pop. Also, neither of my pies came out with the faux crust rising up on the edges as illustrated in the book, so don't be surprised if your pie is flat.
by Lucy Cufflin
Fantastic! Booksellers love to handsell books. These are the books that we physically put into customers hands with a personal recommendation. Dear reader, I wish I could hand a copy to you. This is one of those rare cookbooks where every recipe looks delicious, and the more you can cook from your cookbook, the more bang you get for your baking buck. The recipes are user friendly, most have only a short list of ingredients, and all come with mini reviews by people who actually baked them. Lucy's Bakes comes from Australian publisher Hardie Grant, who can be counted on for yummy cookbooks.
Best Dips and Apps Ever
by Monica Sweeney
An excellent book for those looking to further their basic party treat skills beyond guacamole and hummus. (Although you will find recipes for both in Best Dips and Apps Ever.) This comes from the reliable "Best" series from Countryman Press. It's a no-frills cookbook: it says what it is going to give you, and then it delivers. These are easy snack recipes of all varieties.
Fontina is a cheese I don't much care for, when it's uncooked. But heated up, it has an earthy and complex flavor, perfect for hot dip. Insider tip: Serve this with bread. The oil and cheese may separate a bit, and the oil is delicious soaked up in the bread.
Brunch at Bobby's
by Bobby Flay
Bobby Flay can always be relied upon for accessible and fairly easy-to-make American food. I think this might be my favorite of his cookbooks. Breakfast is my most-loved meal of the day, and what is brunch but breakfast wearing its fancy clothes. Warm toast served with a butter cream cheese mixture! Eggs poached in garlic-scented olive oil! Blackberry hazelnut sticky buns! (Fun fact: Oregon produces 99 percent of the U.S. hazelnut crop.)
Insider tip: Don't let your bread get too brown. It will become tough and hard to knife through.
My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life
by Ruth Reichl
I automatically respect any chef or cookbook author who proclaims, "Give yourself permission to make mistakes." So my hat is off to Ruth Reichl for this alone. My Kitchen Year was written from a diary kept after Reichl was summarily dumped by the shutdown of Gourmet magazine. She cooks her way out of depression and gives us an intimate look into her journey through the comfort of thoughtful creativity in the kitchen. If you've ever turned to food and cooking for comfort, if you've ever doubted your place in the world and looked to simple things to make life feel better, Reichl's deeply personal story will move you. My Kitchen Year is a quiet joy filled with recipes from Reichl's own kitchen. The recipes are lovely and of the caliber you'd expect from the former editor-in-chief at Gourmet. A book to read from as much as to cook from.
Cooked twice, both times in a bath of milk and cream, these scalloped potatoes are rich and rustic. Your whole house will be redolent of nutmeg while it is cooking. Insider tip: This is a perfect recipe to use a mandolin slicer. Thin-thin slices will pull in the cream sauce all the better. Don't have a mandolin? Maybe ask Santa for one. Mandolins are getting more and more affordable every year, and having one will make such difference in your kitchen work.
by Tal Ronnen
Vegetarian cuisine! Crossroads is elevated food styling for vegetarians, vegans, and meat eaters like me who enjoy the rush of eating food that is pure and superb. Chef Tal Ronnen, author of the popular cookbook The Conscious Cook, brings those of us who don't live near his L.A.-based restaurant Crossroads the opportunity to enjoy his Mediterranean-themed dishes in our own homes. These recipes are glamorous stars for your dining table. Many of Crossroad's recipes are a little more intricate than one usually finds in a vegan cookbook and make for a more nuanced plate. Crossroads is a must for the vegetarian/vegan who enjoys putting forth meals worth celebrating.
The Powell's ordering team enjoyed a recent potluck making recipes solely from Crossroads. Insider tip: These recipes are a little more elegant than the usual vegan fare, so be sure before you start that your pantry is prepared with the right oils and spices.
The Violet Bakery Cookbook
by Claire Ptak
What a deceptively charming cookbook this is! It looks like your granny's fusty old cookbook on the cover, but inside it's filled with recipes that are a mixture of English tradition and California moxie, as befits a cookbook by a former Chez Panisse pastry chef turned Londoner. Years ago, on a visit to London, I had hoped to visit Claire Ptak's bakery stall, but I never made it to her neighborhood. Now I'm extra pleased that I can have a mock visit by cooking from her book. (It's very expensive to get to England from the West Coast!) The first recipe up: Chocolate, Prune, and Whisky Cake. A lovely squishy-gooey cake made with almond flour. I can't seem to tear myself from the cake chapter of Violet Bakery. Coconut Cream Trifle Cake! Chocolate Sunken Soufflé Cake! While the desserts scream for attention with their deliciousness, author Ptak also covers savory baking as well.
A perfect recipe for Sunday afternoon baking. The fresh strawberries combined with the subtle bite of crystalized ginger combined with just the right amount of sweetness for tea or breakfast. The addition of sour cream along with the butter kept the scones flaky and moist. Insider tip: It's easy to make scones a bit smaller by cutting the shapes with a juice glass for the perfect three-bite treat!
by Debra Music and Joe Whinney
Powell's has been selling Seattle-based Theo chocolate since 2008, and while it has been a delight to slap this candy directly into our maws, it's a little more decorous to make a dessert out of it first. And then set to slapping. There are a few things you shouldn't skimp on when in the kitchen, and chocolate is one of them. A good chocolate makes the difference between a good dessert and a breathtaking dream of a dessert. Theo Chocolate's dessert recipes seem approachable with a touch of sophistication. The savory recipes have a rustic appreciation of chocolate: carrots in balsamic chocolate, roasted squash with brown butter nibs, a mole recipe from Portland chef Naomi Pomeroy (Beast Restaurant, Top Chef Masters). Theo makes sustainability a high priority, so while you are enjoying the high chocolate percentage, you are also helping the world just that tiny bit (bite) more.
This was simple, and simply decadent. Insider tip: Don't think that the scant 4-ounce serving size is too small. Don't make these larger. My 6-ounce servings almost killed my coworkers with richness. None of us were able to finish the Pots de Crème at one sitting. I managed to eat mine all down, but it took all of the workday.
by Olia Hercules
Mamushka has one of the most beautiful covers coming out this season; it's evocative of the Ukrainian-spirited recipes inside. Author Hercules has filled Mamushka with her family's traditional recipes, and what is better than tried-and-true comfort recipes passed down through the years and augmented by every new generation? Hearty soups, lighter veggie dishes, preserves, and desserts — everything a well-fed family needs. Mamushka is a welcome cookbook representation of Ukrainian cuisine.
When your neighbor pops up across the fence to share a cabbage bigger than both of your heads put together... it's cabbage roll time! Insider tip: If you can't find dried barberries, dried cherries or cranberries will do. The berries were a nice counterpoint to the ground meat.
Essential Turkish Cuisine
by Engin Akin
Turkish cuisine, with its nomadic heritage, is sustainable, healthy, and seasonable. Essential Turkish Cuisine offers a broad look at the varied dishes the Turks have incorporated into their own foodways as they roamed Asia, the Mediterranean, and Africa through the centuries before settling into their own land. These are flavorful and filling recipes in a pretty book setting.
This makes for a hearty breakfast. Insider tip: If you don't want your eggs as runny as the recipe, author Akin makes the suggestion to drizzle a few drops of hot water on them. This wasn't quite enough for my picky egg eater, but putting the lid on the pan will help raise a steam for quicker cooking.
Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking
by Michael SolomonovThis is one of my favorite ethnic cookbooks of 2015. Author Solomonov, raised in both Israel and Philadelphia, exuberantly sets Israeli foods in American kitchens. Israel, a young country with a melting pot of cultures, brings intense flavors and bright colors to the table. Solomon's enthusiasm is evident with every recipe, and there are a lot of recipes. Beautiful photos show off the food and ingredients. Solomonov lends a teaching hand throughout, telling us about the foods we are working with. Zahav ("gold" in Hebrew) is a joyful cookbook and one that will live on my shelves for many a year.
Delicious and simple. Simple as long as you have a nearby spice shop that sells Aleppo pepper. Insider tip: my carrot water took way more than 10 minutes to reduce, by which time I'd wandered on to a new task and let my reduced syrup burn a bit. However, the carrots were still good! The slightly smoky flavor wasn't the intended outcome, but the smoke worked with the slight spice of the Aleppo pepper.
Here are a few other notable recent releases. This is by no means a full list; these are just a few that stayed on my desk for an extended visit of tummy-grumbling recipe browsing.
Made in India | Food Gift Love | Five Ingredients or Less Slow Cooker | Food 52 Vegan | Magpie | The Food Lab | The Hands-On Home | Tacopedia | Flavorful | Gluten-Free Girl | Cuban Cocktails | A Real Southern Cook | Jacques Pépin Heart and Soul in the Kitchen | Pimp My Rice | The Fire of Peru | The Dead Rabbit Drinks Manual | Olympia Provisions | The Homemade Kitchen | Vegetarian India | Rachel Khoo's Kitchen Notebook | Beer Bites | A. Wong: The Cookbook