On the Table
by Tracey T., December 8, 2014 8:00 AM
|As the cookbook buyer for Powell's Books, I am the lucky one who gets to choose every new cookbook that comes into our stores. This means I have a pretty sweet cookbook collection, but I try to keep my shelves under control by limiting myself to only one bookcase of cookbooks. When a new cookbook comes in, a lesser performer has to get kicked out.
No longer do I keep a cookbook because someday I might need to bake a wedding cake, or just because it has a pretty cover (I'm pretty much lying here; I have plenty of cookbooks just because I like the cover, but they are slowly getting thinned out). Most of my cookbooks are real workhorses, in all their food-splashed glory.
Below are the 2014 cookbooks that I cook from at home, and that I heartily recommend to my friends and Powell's customers. There were many other delicious, beautiful, and/or creative cookbooks released this year, but these are the ones that found a place on my shelves, in my heart, and, most importantly, in my belly! Here, in no specific order, are my favorite cookbooks from 2014:
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||Nom Nom Paleo
by Michelle Tam and Henry Fong
I don't follow a paleo diet, but I do think it is a delicious diet. Nom Nom is an AMAZING cookbook — brilliant layout, great photos, a massive amount of cooking tips, visual tutorials, and recipes that take just a slightly different look at the foods that we eat every day.
Favorite recipe: Easy Cauliflower "Rice." Regular rice isn't the easiest thing for everyone in my family to eat, and this recipe can make a lovely base for so many other meals.
Runner-up recipe: Bacon Topped Deviled Eggs.
by Claudia Lucero
One-Hour Cheese knocked our collective socks off here at Powell's. For a few months, someone was always bringing in some fresh cheese they'd made the night before. The steps and processes are presented in photographs, which is über-helpful, as cheese gives you visual cues as to when it's done — or when it's overdone. The recipes are earmarked as easy, easier, and easiest.
Favorite recipe: Ricotta (easiest). It's a treat to make this full-of-freshness cheese to include in pasta or in dessert dishes.
Runner-up recipe: Curried Paneer.
|| Dumplings All Day Wong
by Lee Anne Wong
One of my personal "signature" dishes is pot stickers, so you can imagine how snobby I am about dumpling recipes. Imagine my surprise in finding out there just may be pot sticker recipes that outshine my own. Dumplings are time consuming to make and mastering the folding techniques can be forbidding to the beginner. Author Wong provides instructions and photos outlining how to fold the various types of dumplings. There are a variety of pasta doughs to choose from.
Favorite recipe: I don't know... too hard to choose! I've tried so many of these delicious sticker stuffings, so I give up. Open the book at random and point; it will be delicious.
Runner-up recipe: Chicken, Leek and Bacon Bao. Because, bacon. But really — just open up the book and point, cook, and eat.
||The Banh Mi Handbook
by Andrea Quynhgiao Nguyen
There is just something about a Banh Mi sandwich, such simple fare with far-reaching, complex flavors. This is THE cookbook to have if you want to create these Vietnamese sandwiches at home. Can't eat bread? Toss everything into a salad or onto noodles.
Favorite recipe: Master Banh Mi. With these basic rules, the entire world of Banh Mi is open to you.
Runner-up recipe: Crispy Roast Pork. I can't say that I've made this, and I'm not prepared for the work it takes to make, but damn this looks tasty!
by Karen Solomon
If you've done any pickling in the last few years, you've probably heard of Karen Solomon, author of the excellent preserving cooking book Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It: And Other Cooking Projects. With Asian Pickles, Solomon outdoes herself in honing in on Asian recipes from various countries and heritages. Besides the many varied styles of fermented and pickled deliciousness, Solomon provides extremely thorough instructions, along with recipe viability, so there is no guessing at our pickle's shelf life.
Favorite recipe: Sweet Shredded Daikon and Carrot. Instant gratification, as this recipe is ready in an hour. (You can put these vegetables in your sandwich from the Banh Mi Handbook listed above!)
Runner-up recipe: Hot Carrot Pickle. Asian Pickles has plenty of other vegetables beyond carrots, but I love carrots.
by Terry Hope Romero
Veganomicon author Terry Hope Romero brings us a salad cookbook that is so consistently good that all you have to do is flip the pages, make whatever recipe the book happens to open to, and have a great meal. Salad Samurai is filled with hearty vegan entrée salads, often with a surprise texture or flavor (crushed toasted papadum, pickled grapes).
My favorite recipe: Couscous with Snap Peas and Za'atar Dressing. I'm in love with Za'atar this year and can't stop dumping it on everything. This salad includes figs, radishes, kalamata olives, and almonds, and so is a bit of a cornucopia on a plate.
Runner-up recipe: Mexican Roasted Corn Salad with Avocado. I find a warm salad very comforting. This is served with a creamy lime dressing.
||World Spice at Home
by Amanda Bevill and Julie Kramis Hearne
This one certainly flew under my radar. The rather general sounding title didn't prepare me for the exoticness of the recipes within. Spice blends such as Besar, Baharat, Dukkah... what are these? Authors Bevill and Hearne provide recipes for the blends if you don't have a spice store nearby. The recipes from World Spice at Home remind me of finding wonderful meals while traveling far away from home, food you instantly fall in love with but know you'll never be able to have again after you leave. This is why we have international cookbooks such as World Spice, so we can sometimes bring these favored dishes home with us.
Favorite recipe: Golden Butternut Squash Soup with Besar.
Runner-up recipe: Five Seed Roasted Potatoes.
||The Forest Feast
by Erin Gleeson
The Forest Feast is a book that I want to live in: enticing; welcoming, and lush. Every page is a beauty, each filled with the author's own illustrations and photography — photos shot at her house nestled in the California woods. Forest Feast is one of the most beautiful cookbooks I've ever seen, and the recipes are just as delightful. They somehow feel exotic, yet they are deceptively simple and made from nothing fancy, just good old American veggies. (Truth be told: Forest Feast is my #1 favorite book of 2014.)
Favorite recipe: Radishes with Sea Salt and Butter. I've brought these to half a dozen parties and they always are a hit, delicious with Malden salt, even better with a black ash salt for the contrast color and slightly sooty taste.
Runner-up recipe: All the other recipes. After all, it's my favorite book of 2014!
by Zoe Nathan and Josh Loeb
Santa Monica bakery and breakfast spot Huckleberry is home to some fantastic rustic breads and baked goods, and Huckleberry the book is a Powell's staff favorite. The recipes are mostly simple and all are toothsome. Author and chef Zoe Nathan has a slightly irreverent tone that makes the process of baking seem less highfalutin than one often finds in fancy-pants cookbooks. She even suggests, shockingly, that it's okay to make mistakes; you might learn something! A little something extra to take note of: the edges of Huckleberry (the book) are dyed delightfully in yellow with white polka-dots.
Favorite recipe: Chocolate Chunk Muffins. I make these as mini muffins as they are SO rich. Is there a Toll House cookie lover in your house? You'd better make these muffins for them right away, as they taste absurdly like tollhouse.
Runner-up recipe: Traditional Croque-Monsieur. Time to fess up: I didn't actually make this one. I ate it at the Huckleberry restaurant where it was hella good. I will happily make this at home someday, since I live nowhere near the Santa Monica restaurant.
||Preserving by the Pint
by Marisa McClellan
Sometimes you just want to play a bit with preserving, not set up an entire manufacturing session in your kitchen. I know I've spent steaming-hot days preserving, only to find out months later that I really don't like what I've made. Marisa McClellan (Food in Jars) has broken down large recipes into a more manageable pint size. Besides taking less space and time, the smaller size means we can experiment with flavors — not that we need to experiment much, as McClellan's recipes are already dang fine.
Favorite recipe: Pickled Eggplant with Mint, made by a friend of mine. Another nice thing about Preserving by the Pint: it makes it easy to share with friends and family without overwhelming them with a huge quart of food.
Runner-up recipe: Salt Preserved Herbs.
|| Saveur: The New Classics Cookbook
by James Oseland
Every cook needs a general all-purpose cookbook. Saveur: The New Classics Cookbook is happily ensconced on my shelves next to the Mark Bittmans and all the Cook's Illustrated (and America's Test Kitchen, and Amanda Hesser, not to mention Joy of Cooking and good old Julia Child). Saveur puts an international spin on the theme. Need some tapas recipes? Saveur has them. Need a suggestion for what to do with that leftover ginger bulb? Plenty of recipes here. Maybe you just want a grilled cheese sandwich? Saveur's recipe calls for plenty of butter. With the wide range of recipes, this is a cookbook that a teenager could start their cooking library with and keep on using until they pass their spattered, annotated, and otherwise well-thumbed copy onto their grandchildren.
Favorite recipe: Lemony Fried Cauliflower.
Runner-up recipe: Pasta with Tomato-Beer Puttanesca Sauce — a basic puttanesca, tarted up a bit with beer and gherkins.
|And, just for fun, a bonus title:
||Apples of Uncommon Character
by Rowan Jacobsen
While Apples of Uncommon Character has recipes, it's really the photography and apple descriptions that I love. Modern grocery shopping and marketing has shrunk our available apple choices down to only about five varieties. Author Rowen Jacobsen introduces us to some nearly lost and certainly many overlooked varieties. Jacobsen brings each variety of apple to life, full of personality and quirkiness, and makes for oddly compelling reading. In fact, Apples of Uncommon Character may compel you right into planting a new variety of apple tree in your yard.
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