Cookbook Roundup

Gone are the days of boring, instructional cookbooks. The modern cookbook offers more than just pictures and text: it allows chefs to tell their story. Most of our favorite cookbooks from 2014 are tributes to ingredients, odes to local cuisine, and opportunities to reveal coveted recipes. With beautiful, high-res photos depicting chefs preserving herbs in their basic forms, manipulating vegetables into powders, and transforming proteins with decadent, slow-cooked sauces, these cookbooks are pieces of art.

1. Dominique Ansel, The Secret Recipes

2014 was the year of the cronut. This magical half-croissant, half-donut phenomenon swept the nation and had throngs of people lined up outside Ansel’s bakery. This book offers an adapted version of the previously top-secret cronut recipe for home cooks that will have your friends, family, and strangers lining up outside your house.  A foreword by Daniel Boulud, extensive essays by Dominique, and a brief intro provides insight into the “modern day Willy Wonka’s” background and culinary journey. The book is a more challenging, sweet-centric version of Bouchon Bakery and is organized into Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced recipes (with the cronut falling under the Advanced section).  Follow the Modernist Cuisine-esque photos and start with something basic like Mini Madelines before venturing into Dominique’s signature, and personal favorite, Kouign Amann, or the Perfect Egg Sandwich on homemade brioche.

2. Sean Brock, Heritage

Undoubtedly the most anticipated cookbook of the year, Brock’s ingredient-driven recipes truly represent the best of southern cuisine.   With chapters like “The Garden,” “The Mill,” “The Pasture,” and “The Creek and the Sea,” this book is Brock’s loving tribute to the land and ingredients. Recipes like Carrots Braised and Glazed in Carrot Juice and Tennessee Foie Gras with Country Ham, Strawberry-Meyer Lemon Jam, and Heirloom Johnnycakes represent the upscale twists on true southern food that Brock is known for. Heritage is a must-have addition to anyone’s cookbook collection (if you can find it).

3. Yotam Ottolenghi, Plenty More

Another incredible, highly anticipated cookbook from the London-based Ottolenghi. The table of contents, separated by cooking method (Steamed, Blanched, Simmered, Braised, etc.) showcases the various techniques he utilizes to amplify his insanely delicious, vegetable-driven dishes.  Recipes like Yogurt and Kaffir Lime Leaf Spread, Globe Artichoke and Mozzarella with Candied Lemon, and Grilled Banana Bread with Tahini and Honeycomb will satisfy even the most fervent carnivore in your life. The colorful photos depicting fresh, bountiful dishes make my heart jump with excitement to get in the kitchen and start cooking. What more could you want from a cookbook?

4. Margarita Carrillo Arronte, Mexico: The Cookbook

This visually stunning, comprehensive guide to authentic Mexican cuisine features over 600 recipes. Although the author instructs readers to “[c]ook the simpler dishes first. . . and then challenge yourself with the more elaborate ones”, you’ll want to pour through the entire book, cover to cover, the second you get it. Favorite recipes include Scallop Ceviche, Chicken Tinga Tostadas, Tres Leches, and 40 different salsa variations. This book demonstrates that the depth of Mexican food far exceeds chips and guac (although there’s an incredibly refined recipe for that), and takes the whole sweet, spicy, smokey thing to another level with a dozen mole recipes, including the deeply flavorful pistachio mole.

5. Cortney Burns and Nicolaus Balla, Bar Tartine: Techniques and Recipes

With 150 pages devoted to drying, curing and pickling techniques to essentially create your own pantry, this book is not for the faint at heart.  Although the recipes themselves are not extremely complicated and no chemical compounds are required, some dishes call for complex ingredients explained earlier in the book that may take days to prepare (like sauerkraut, fermented yogurt, pickled turnips, sprouted rye bread).  This book is definitely for the DIY chef who enjoys breaking down ingredients to their simplest form in order to transform them into something far more elevated. Their signature Kale Salad with tahini, kale, yogurt, yogurt powder and crumbled sprouted rye bread is a perfect example. The chefs’ knack for Eastern European flavors shines through as the book presents unique ingredients in a palatable way for home cooks.

6. Gabrielle Hamilton, Prune

If you’ve read “Blood, Bones & Butter”, you’re certainly familiar with the no-nonsense, headstrong chef and author. Unlike Hamilton’s novel, you may find difficulty navigating recipes and relating to anecdotes if you have not worked in a restaurant kitchen. Hamilton provides no hand holding, only offers of half-hearted apologies for time-intensive, daunting recipes: “I know this one is a bitch to prep. Sorry.” Recipes like Pastrami Duck Breast with Small Rye Omelette and Monkfish Liver with Warm Buttered Toast likely won’t woo the home cook, but that was never her intention. This book invites you into Prune’s kitchen and assumes you are ready to work the line.  In her Giant Frico recipe (aka Parmesan wafers), she instructs readers to “[t]ry to get it right, though, on the first shot”  Yes, chef. If you choose accept the Prune challenge, you will be rewarded with restaurant-quality dishes and a newfound appreciation for perfect knife skills, respecting ingredients, and no mistakes.

7. Marcus Samuelsson, The Recipes I Cook at Home

Recipes, trivia and playlists grace the pages of this anecdotal cookbook from the chef that transformed the Harlem dining scene. Whether you’re whipping up Bacon Biscuits with Jalapeno Scrambled Eggs & Grilled Corn to Salt-n-Pepa’s “Push It” or learning how to pickle beets and toast spices, this borderline folksy book is more fun than instructive compared to the other books on this list. The playful vibe lends itself to casual dishes that don’t include hours of prep or obscure ingredients, making it perfect for, well, cooking at home.