Two top ten lists! Two posts in one week! 2015 will end with a bang for cook.can.read. When I sat down to put together my list of favorite books, I realized how many were of the cookbook variety, and knew a second recap was in order. Though I do read cookbooks cover to cover, taking notes and making grocery lists along the way, they occupy a different space in my reading universe than novels and short stories. I would never take 576 page Yucatan as my bus book, for instance… And joking aside, I know that people seek out cookbooks for much different reasons. Perhaps for the recipes, the obvious choice, but so many cookbooks now are cultural studies, with coffee table-style photography and historical details that make them a reference book for more than how to cook a chicken or bake a cake. I adore cookbooks, and I encountered some really good ones this year. Here are my personal favorites, in descending order once more, of all the cookbooks I read and cooked from in 2015.
- A Change of Appetite by Diana Henry. Some cookbook authors have beautiful pictures and just so-so food, but Ms. Henry nails both elements. Hers are dishes I wish I had created myself: fresh, covering a range of cuisines, healthful and pretty.
- Zahav by Michael Solomonov. You may have heard of (or been to– lucky) Zahav in Philadelphia. Bring some Israeli dishes to your own kitchen with this new book, which includes so many touching family stories you will find yourself reading through without even looking at recipes, then going back to see the food. I was already a fan of the spices, seasonings and flavor combinations common in Israeli cuisine, but reading the passionately described recipes in Zahav makes me more enthusiastic to try new dishes. I recently participated in the Great Food Blogger’s Cookie Swap and used the tehina shortbread from this book as inspiration for my tahini shortbread thumbprints.
- Mediterranean Vegetarian Feasts by Aglaia Kremezi. Reading this cookbook was almost overwhelming, and made me feel initially like I was the least creative cook in the universe when it comes to vegetables. There are so many simple-but-sensible combinations of ingredients here; everything looks at once perfectly plated and intriguingly rustic. I wanted to try each recipe, and I did make several with good results. Not just for vegetarians!
- Yucatan by David Sterling. A comprehensive survey of the food of the Yucatan peninsula; the word “exhaustive” comes to mind, as do the words anthropological, fascinating and delicious. It took me weeks to read through, but the details about the history and geography that shaped the cuisine of this region are presented in a way that made me wish there was a similar book for every region of every country. Like a giant encyclopedia set of cookbooks! I would read every one. For now, I will be content with Yucatan. The recipe for horchata and the various spice rubs are enough reason to own a copy.
- Buvette by Jody Williams. If you like French food, you need to own this cookbook. Some French cookbooks are overly stuffy (in my opinion), but Buvette reads like a conversation between friends over a glass of wine and a plate of fresh baguette and rillettes. I felt like I could, and should, make her recipes… and more importantly, that they wouldn’t require ten years of schooling, two fancy pans and 14 hours at the stove. This would also make a beautiful hostess gift for someone who enjoys cooking.
- Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Practical Pantry by Cathy Barrow. First of all, there are currants on the cover. So you should own it for THAT. Then, you open the beautiful cover and find so much useful and clearly-presented information, you just can’t help but be inspired. I have been a fan of Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Kitchen for years and was so excited to see that a book was coming, but wondered if I would find anything new from it that wasn’t on the blog or already in my canning and jamming repertoire. The answer was quickly and emphatically yes. This is a must-own for anyone interested in preserving. (Plus, the cover.)
- A Boat, A Whale and A Walrus by Renee Erickson. I picked this up to read because of the Seattle connection; Walrus and the Carpenter is one of the best restaurants I’ve ever eaten at and Ms. Erickson is a culinary force in the Seattle restaurant world. It made my top ten list because of the contents: this is food like I want to make. Of the chefs I admire, I wish my food brain was a carbon copy of hers, because her dishes are perfection. The pictures and stories in this cookbook are familiar, comforting, calming, and the food is magic.
- Canal House Cooks Every Day by Hamilton & Hirsheimer. Thank goodness for a dinner in January at Tallulah, spurred by the closing of a Seattle institution (sigh with me if you could go for some Kingfish crab cakes right now), with a much-missed and -adored friend and fellow food lover. Ms. K knows what is what when it comes to food and told me about Canal House– somehow I missed every one of the magazines and books. Now I am in the know, and my kitchen is forever enriched by the simple elegance of CH recipes. Every Day is understated, even though it is bright red, and wonderfully diverse, so you can find a meal for any occasion or taste. This is one of the best additions to my cookbook collection in years.
- The Slanted Door by Charles Phan. I can not tell you how many times I checked this out from the library, because I lost track months ago. (Why don’t I own a copy…?) I am often intimidated by the pantry ingredients necessary to successfully cook from a Vietnamese cookbook, but somehow this book is different, and I love every single dish I’ve made from it so far. The photography is stunning, the recipes are the perfect mix of exotic and approachable, easy and impressive; I find myself comfortable making meals I never thought would come from my kitchen. Huzzah!
- Gjelina by Travis Lett. Like the Salman Rushdie novel on my top ten books of 2015 list, I didn’t even know about Gjelina until December. Regardless of our late introduction, I’ve already made three dishes from the book that will be staples in my meal plan for years to come, including one that debuted at Christmas dinner– and was a hit. There is no question that this is my favorite cookbook of the year; it is the cookbook form of my eating philosophy. There are vegetables and spices, sauces and pickles, humble desserts with exotic flavors, carefully sourced proteins and ingredients handled with love. If I had to choose one cookbook to work from for the next six months, it would be Gjelina, and we would eat like royalty. I have so much love already for this lovely book. My highest possible recommendation.
Well, there you have it. My ten favorite cookbooks from 2015, whittled down from a list of dozens. Honorable mentions to a couple Food52 books, Huckleberry and Ikaria, which were just out of the top ten. I find it interesting that no dessert or baking books are represented here, though I made my fair share of sweets this year, and I’m happily surprised to see a nice variety of different cuisines were sampled. I guarantee that will be the case again in 2016, and I’m looking forward to all the cookbooks I’ll get to work with in the year to come! Please comment: what was your favorite cookbook of 2015?