It’s that time of the year again! My blog’s second annual “Best of” list is below; as part of my reviewing process, I do not look at other “best of” lists while compiling my own so that my choices remain impartial. I also like to highlight cookbooks and authors that may not be as well known in the US; many of my picks both last year and this year are from the UK (note that books from the UK / Australia are highlighted in pink; these use metric measurements, although some provide both metric and US).
Also, I generally buy the original UK editions of many popular cookbooks as I much prefer baking by weight rather than volume, which is what most US cookbook releases are converted into. This can lead to problematic volume measurements, such as the US edition of “Ginger & White,” which called for 4/5 cup of flour! However, more UK and Australian cookbook releases seem to be written with the US market in mind and include both US and metric measurements side by side.
Sesame and Spice: Baking from the East End to the Middle East (Anne Shooter, February 2015). UK. This delightful collection of Jewish and Middle Eastern inspired bakes includes recipes handed down through Anne’s family (coffee cakes, honey cakes, biscuits, etc.) and beautiful, creative Middle Eastern-inspired creations such as pomegranate and almond cakes with rosewater syrup, orange flower biscuit rings with pistachios, a great (gluten-free) baking for Passover section (Syrian pistachio and cardamom cookies, citrus lavender syrup cake, flourless chocolate, walnut and pistachio brownies), breads and sweet doughs (sundried tomato and goats cheese babka buns, chocolate orange babka, apple, date and fig challah), sweet pastries (strudel, baklava, filo cigars, rugelach) and savoury bakes (aubergene and halloumi tart with preserved lemons and mint, pashtida with courgettes, feta, and mint, bourekas, boyos, knishes). One of my first cookbook purchases of 2015 and one of my favorite baking books along with Crumb and Honey and Co.!
Favorite baking book of the year: Crumb (Ruby Tandoh, April 2015) (US edition) The youngest-ever contestant on The Great British Bake Off, RUBY TANDOH is a weekly food columnist for the Guardian, has written for British Elle, and is a philosophy and art history student at UCL (University College London). In her debut book Crumb, Ruby offers up delicious takes on cakes (fig, orange and star anise tea loaf, rye apple upside-down cake, coffee and blackcurrant opera cake), breads (leek and cheese tart, slow and steady three-cheese brioche, olive and orange crown), sweet dough (Scandinavian almond cream buns, raspberry mascarpone vatrushkas, coconut lime loaf, cherry stolen with pistachio marzipan), cookies and crackers (dark chocolate orange bourbons, rose and burnt honey Florentines, ginger-lime sandwich cookies), decadent desserts (maple pecan sponge puddings, steamed orange and ginger pudding, raspberry chocolate fondants), pies and tarts (spiced eggplant and swiss chard pie, butternut squash and mozzarella tartlets with herb pastry, pear, chocolate and sesame tart, rosemary pecan pie, spiced chocolate tart), and pastries (pain au chocolat, jam pinwheels, salmon and cream cheese parcels, fig and walnut Eccles cakes, marmalade almond galette). Very thorough troubleshooting guides and photos will assist even novice bakers in turning out delightful, delicious baked goods. Ingredients are given in metric and volume. Hands-down my favorite baking book of the year!
Kyotofu (Nicole Bermensolo, Running Press, April 2015), from the (now closed) New York bakery of the same name, combines common Japanese ingredients like sesame, matcha (powdered green tea used in the tea ceremony), yuzu (citrus), and miso paste with seventy-five American-style desserts (cheesecake, brownies, pudding, etc.). Salty miso and toasted kinako lend an umami punch to raspberry cheesecake, chocolate chip cookies and brownies, while you’ll find familiar Japanese desserts as well (mont blanc, dorayaki, rare cheesecake, roll cake). A very thorough guide to ingredients (especially potentially unfamiliar Japanese ones) and techniques means that you’ll be able to turn out exotic showstopping desserts that will have friends and family trying to guess the secret ingredient. As it is difficult to find books on Japanese-style desserts in English, this is a great introduction to Japanese flavor profiles and a fun twist on many familiar baking staples.
Homemade Memories (Kate Doran, June 2015). UK. Kate Doran, author of the Little Loaf blog (http://www.thelittleloaf.com), adds a grown-up twist to such (British) classics as jammy dodgers, treacle tart, Jaffa cakes, scones and shortbread in her first book. Inside the eight chapters (Crumbs, Sticky Fingers, Cakes, What’s For Pudding? The Ice Cream Van, Midnight Feasts, Drinks and Little Loaf Basics) you’ll find plenty of comfort bakes and fun treats like mango and chilli ice lollies, chocolate mousse with cappuccino cream, and orange blossom Turkish delight paired with a compact guide to ingredients, equipment, and suppliers.
Hot Bread Kitchen (Jessamyn Waldman Rodriguez, October 2015). Hot Bread Kitchen, based in NYC, builds lasting economic security for low-income, immigrant and minority individuals by creating pathways to professional opportunities in the culinary industry. The long-awaited Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook is divided by bread type: unleavened and flatbreads, lean breads and rolls, enriched breads, rolls, and buns, filled doughs, and quick breads and holiday breads. You’ll find favorites from India (paratha, naan, chapatis), the Middle East (hummus, pita), Eastern Europe (challah, matzo, eier kichel, bialys, knishes, kreplach, nut roll), France / Italy (batard, pan bagnat, olive boules, ciabatta) and Mexico / Latin America (pan de muertos, conchas, tortillas, guacamole, tamales, tostadas, empanadas). Another thing I liked was that various recipes are included that use leftover bread, from bread puddings and stale bread (panzanella, tres leches bread pudding with Mexican chocolate sauce, ribollita), to complementary dishes (curry, wat, stews, dips, salads) that pair perfectly with the included bread recipes. An excellent resource for home bakers, especially if you already have some prior bread baking experience. This is a fantastic treasure trove if you enjoy trying international bread recipes and new dishes; it would be fun to host themed dinners using the included recipes. Highly recommended!
The New Sugar and Spice: A Recipe for Bolder Baking (Samantha Seneviratne, September 2015). Samantha Seneviratne’s “The New Sugar and Spice” takes classic comfort bakes like cinnamon rolls, cookies, breads and cheesecake and reinvents them, using seductive hits of spice in creative and crowd-pleasing ways. In the introduction, the author points out that “the flood of sugar has diluted real flavor, muffled complexity, and concealed true richness,” so her goal was to create delicious, healthier desserts that use spices in a starring role in place of the overwhelming sweetness so prevalent in many desserts. Chapters are divided by spices (sometimes with complementary pairings), including peppercorn and chile, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove and cardamom, ginger, and savory herbs and spices. Along the way, Samantha includes stories about her family’s roots and how her Sri Lankan heritage influenced her culinary style, along with fascinating historical insights and storage tips on the various featured spices. Cinnamon, hazelnut and date buns, ricotta cheesecake with bourbon-raisin jam, orange and honey baklava, orange-clove pull-apart bread, and saffron currant braid were all recipes that instantly called my name. In addition to familiar treats, you’ll find updated versions of international classics such as profiteroles, clafoutis and tarte tatin, Scandinavian bakes like saffron currant braids and cardamom-laced shortbread, Thai banana fritters, Indonesian kue lapis, Puerto Rican-inspired cazuela cookie bars that are perfect for fall, and other fragrant, delightful baked goods that spiced up my rather predictable baking repertoire.
Baking with the Brass Sisters (Marilynn and Sheila Brass, September 2015). The third volume from the delightful Brass Sisters, whose passion is preserving and sharing heirloom recipes, finds “Les Girls” returning in fine form to heirloom baking (the topic of their first book, one which I’ve cooked through nearly cover to cover and it remains one of my favorites). Their newest book has much more of an international focus – baked goods from Russia, The Ukraine, Germany, Austria, France, Greece, India, Costa Rica, Armenia, Italy, England, Ireland, Norway, Canada , as well as many created here the US. Delightful stories behind the original recipes and their owners make this a fun read as well.
Made in Italy (Silvia Colloca, March 2015). Australia. Silvia’s second book and the tie-in to her SBS show of the same name, “Made in Italy” finds Silvia exploring the cuisine of Abruzzo, Marche and Molise. The layout and photography both reminded me of last year’s excellent “Simply Italian” by the Chiappa Sisters; simple approaches and hearty homestyle dishes like homemade ricotta, roast potatoes with bay leaves and cured pork cheek, handmade noodles with monkfish ragu, wine-drenched peaches with mascarpone cream.
The Food of Taiwan (Cathy Erway, March 2015). This one is near and dear to my heart; I spent six months this year working in Central Taiwan, during which I took five cooking classes and visited numerous night markets around the country from Taipei to Kaohsiung. Erway, herself Taiwanese-American and the author of The Art of Eating In, has created one of the first US cookbooks in English dedicated exclusively to Taiwanese cuisine. Beginning with pantry staples and moving on to profile various manufacturers, techniques (such as how stinky tofu is made/ fermented), cultural and culinary history, and the recipes themselves, including iconic staples such as three cup chicken, beef noodle soup, oyster omelettes, and numerous simple preparations of vegetables, including my favorite, dragon beard fern. Another selling point is that Erway uses relatively few hard-to-find (outside Taiwan or larger Chinese/ Oriental supermarkets) ingredients; most recipes call for a handful of common staples. I even gifted a copy to one of my Taiwanese students as a housewarming gift, and recommended it to several of my cooking instructors in Taiwan.
Rose Water and Orange Blossoms (Maureen Abood, April 2015). Lebanese-American blogger Maureen Abood’s first cookbook (based on her blog of the same name) collects dozens of fantastic Lebanese homestyle recipes like kibbeh, maza (mezze) (baba gannouj, labneh dip, stuffed grape leaves, muhammara, whipped hummus with minced lamb and sumac), lamb (kofta, skewers, sfeha), pickled vegetables, and an ample variety of Middle Eastern sweets (knafeh, graybeh, ma’moul, baklawa, salted pistachio bark with dried apricots, spiced sweet bread with rose water milk glaze). Interestingly, both the author and I have spent time in Harbor Springs, MI (where my family used to vacation nearly every summer and/or fall) and East Lansing (where I went to grad school). While in Harbor Springs this fall, I had the chance to purchase some of her imported Lebanese pantry staples like olive oil, rosewater and za’atar that she sells at local shops (I purchased mine at Spice Harbor in Harbor Springs) or through her online market at http://maureenaboodmarket.com/. Beautiful photography and lovely stories of her Lebanese family and holiday celebrations round out this gorgeous cookbook. Rose Water and Orange Blossoms has been featured in several high-profile cookbook lists and definitely deserves a place on your shelf.
Anatolia (David Dale and Somer Sivrioglu, April 2015) (UK) This gorgeous, lavishly illustrated exploration of classic Turkish cuisine and culture ranges from street snacks to fancier cuisine originally served in Ottoman banquet halls. More than 150 recipes with photographs feature updates on familiar Turkish classics like Cretan eggs with wild weeds and thin-crust pide with spicy lamb topping alongside more rustic family-style dishes like offal (including ram testicles).
Monet’s Palate: The Artist & His Kitchen Garden At Giverny (Aileen Bordman, May 2015). Another cookbook with a personal connection of sorts; in October 2012, I visited Monet’s house and gardens at Giverny, including his kitchen. I have a large collection of Impressionist-inspired cookbooks including Monet’s Table and Renoir’s Table as well as the Monet’s Palate DVD, so I was super-excited to receive Monet’s Palate in the mail. Monet was a gourmand; on his travels, he would bring home notebooks filled with recipes for his cook, and seeds for his gardener to plant. The recipes in Monet’s Palate incorporate regional products from Normandy (Calvados, Camembert) and garden produce to recreate such gems as Camembert fritters with apple and raisin chutney, beef Bourguignon with rosemary puff pastry crust, chilled asparagus salad with olives, capers and orange, and a Normandy French apple tart. Ingredients are given in US and metric measurements, and beautiful photographs and reproductions of paintings by Monet illustrate the dishes. Many of these recipes are inspired by Monet’s travels, such as “Moussaka for Monet,” or the pasta with broccoli, brown butter and sage inspired by Monet’s time painting in the Italian Riviera. A gorgeous companion to the DVD “Monet’s Palate” and one that all fans of French cuisine (and Impressionist artwork) should own!
Turkish Fire (Sevtap Yuce, July 2015, UK/Australia), the third book from Sevtap, is devoted to the vibrant food, culture and people of Turkey, focusing on street food in particular. The book is divided into four sections: morning, noon, night and after dark. From eggy breakfasts to spiced sweet breads, barbecue to pistachio and rose petal cake, you’ll find a snack that is sure to please.
Preserving the Japanese Way: Traditions of Salting, Fermenting, and Pickling for the Modern Kitchen (Nancy Singleton Hachisu, August 2015). This sophomore cookbook from Nancy (see my review for “Japanese Farm Food”) focuses on Japan’s wealth of pickled and preserved dishes that date back thousands of years. One of my favorite culinary pleasures in Japan is browsing the huge assortment of various pickles at the various markets (including Nishiki Market in Kyoto and the morning markets at Takayama), but I had never before attempted to make them myself. “Preserving the Japanese Way” includes 125 recipes, but also chronicles the producers and ancient methods behind various preserving methods. You’ll find traditional favorites like umeboshi (salted plums) and takuan (salted dried daikon radish) to infused vinegars, and more modern interpretations as well. A very helpful photo guide to vegetables (including some less-familiar Japanese ones) and ingredients will get you started on your own pickling adventures.
Le French Oven (Hillary Davis, September 2015). If there’s one thing that yours truly loves to collect more than Bundt pans, it is Staub. I have a large assortment of round and oval cocottes, mini-cocottes, decorative cocottes (including the rare 5-qt. pumpkin and the new 3-qt. tomato), grill pans and more. I had the pleasure of reviewing Hillary’s “Cuisine Nicoise” for Mediterranean Living (for whom I occasionally write cookbook reviews) last year and am a recipe tester for her forthcoming book on French desserts. This year, I had a grand time reviewing her latest book “Le French Oven,” which is devoted to dishes that can be cooked in various sizes of French (i.e. Dutch) ovens. She focuses on using the venerable French oven to create a range of appetizers, soups, baked goods, and braised, roasted, stewed and fried dishes. Desserts, jams, and drinks are also covered.
Favorite International book of 2015: Falafel for Breakfast (Michael Rantissi and Kristy Frawley, October 2015). Australia. From Mid”- tahini, baharat, halva, chickpeas, labneh, eggplant, honey, pomegranate, amba, dates, broad beans, pistachios, wild greens, ancient grains. The recipes go from basics like hummus, aioli and falafel, to Persian eggplant risotto, Cauliflower, cranberry and pearl barley salad, Harissa-braised lamb with okra. To finish, are the pastries, breads and syrup-laden cakes that turn a meal into a feast – Chocolate and pistachio baklava, Date and dukkah brownies, Persian pavlova.” A fantastic book for those who, like myself, appreciate Middle Eastern cuisine and would happily dine on mezze for days, there are plenty of lovely recipes for all times of the day.
Mamushka (Olia Hercules, October 2015) (US Edition) I grew up in a Polish household – my babcia was a great cook that could churn out pierogi, nalesniki, golabki, and Polish baked goods galore with the best of them. Over the years, I’ve taught students from Ukraine and Georgia and always loved discussing food with them, so I was thrilled to see that a US edition of “Mamushka” was due out this year. Beautifully photographed, “Mamushka” contains familiar dishes like beet soup and piroshky, various filled pies, and cold salads alongside dishes from Armenia, Georgia, Moldova and other corners of Eastern Europe.
Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking (Michael Solmonov, October 2015). A longtime fan of Israeli cuisine, I was instantly attracted to the colorful, vibrant cover of Zahav, and the inside certainly didn’t disappoint. As a tahini-loving fiend (I will put it on anything and everything and will admit to eating it straight out of the jar), I nearly wept for joy at the wealth of recipes utilizing tahini, fresh veggie preparations, and Sephardic-influenced baked goods and filled pastries.
Tokyo Cult Recipes (Maori Murota, October 2015 (UK). The third in the “Cult Recipes” series after New York and Venice, “Tokyo Cult Recipes” compiles 100 straightforward recipes for miso, sushi, soba noodles, bentos, sushi, fried rice, Japanese tapas, desserts, cakes and sweets; plus key basic cooking techniques and key ingredients, with step-by-step shots for making rice, dashi, miso and sushi. The dessert section in particular is excellent.
Donabe: Classic and Modern Japanese Clay Pot Cooking (Naoko Takei Moore and chef Kyle Connaughton, October 2015). Having lived in Japan, I’ve amassed quite a collection of Japanese cookbooks and housewares, the one exception being a donabe, a clay pot used to stew, simmer, steam, and smoke. Perhaps best known as the vessel in which oden is cooked, the donabe is an extremely versatile tool and durable as well. From the words “do” (土), “earth”, and nabe (鍋), “pot,” donabe are used to cook dishes known as nabemono, including shabu-shabu. Classic-style donabe includes various hot pots, while double-lid donabe rice cooker recipes include salted kombu and ginger rice, salmon and hijiki rice, English peas and yuba rice (I love cooking with yuba, dried tofu “skin” made from soymilk), green tea rice balls, azuki sticky rice, and crab dashi. Using the donabe as a smoker was new for me, and I loved the very Western smoked Camembert, nuts, and dried figs with rosemary and more traditional smoked miso-marinated tofu. Basic dashi and condiments such as kombu and shiitake dashi, yuzu ponzu, saikyo miso aioli, and sesame dipping sauce are also provided. There is an excellent, very thorough guide to care and storage of donabe as well.
MIldreds: The Vegetarian Cookbook (Daniel Acevedo and Sarah Wasserman (May 2015, UK) collects some of the London vegetarian restaurant’s internationally-inspired favorites, such as Thai-spiced sweet potato, ginger, and coconut milk soup, sun-dried tomato and mozzarella arancini with warm grilled eggplant and zucchini salad, halloumi, zucchini and mint fritsters alongside some fantastic puddings (desserts). The index also references all gluten-free dishes in one handy place, and individual recipes are labeled as gluten-free, vegan, etc. There are even sample menus complete with photos that would make this a fantastic book to host a dinner party from; simply assign each guest a different recipe based on the suggested menu.
One note of caution: I originally purchased the US version and noticed that the British version (which included both metric AND US measurements) has different measurements from the original cookbook for at least several of the soup recipes– sometimes these are off by as much as ¼ cup. I went and purchased the UK version just to be on the safe side!
Prashad at Home (Kaushy Patel, August 2015), UK. This lively sequel to Prashad’s first book continues their strong tradition of homestyle Gujarati vegetarian cuisine, this time adding some fun fusion dishes that incorporate Chinese, British and other cuisines. Helpful how tos and hints will help even novice chefs to create fun, delicious dinners that are a pleasant departure from everyday vegetarian cuisine.
The Vilna Vegetarian Cookbook (Fania Lewando, translated by Eve Jochnowitz, May 2015). I have been looking forward to “The Vilna Vegetarian Cookbook” for the last several years after reading about Fania Lewando’s book through YIVO. A visionary, Fania ran a vegetarian restaurant in Vilna, Lithuania in the 1930s and published this Yiddish vegetarian cookbook in 1938. Sold throughout Europe, the cookbook included vegetarian versions of traditional Jewish dishes and holiday staples and introduced homemakers to less-familiar vegetables through color illustrations taken from bilingual seed packets. Lewando and her husband both perished during WWII, and her book was long lost to time until a couple discovered a copy at an antique book fair in 1995. This lovingly translated version brings Fania’s vision and recipes to life once more; reading through the recipes transported me back in time (Fania’s guestbook included some very well-known names among the diners).
Simply Ancient Grains (Maria Speck, April 2015). If you equate whole grains = cardboard, think again The sequel to Maria’s fantastic “Ancient Grains” (which is a staple in my house!), “Simply Ancient Grains” includes fantastic, luxuriant dishes that show off whole grains to their best advantage. Dishes like farro salad with roasted eggplant, caramelized onion and pine nuts, and minted summer couscous with watermelon and feta, not to mention some superb breakfast dishes and desserts, will inspire you to incorporate more whole grains into your diet!
The New Kosher (Kim Kushner, August 2015). I have cooked from (and reviewed) numerous kosher cookbooks over the years, but I have to say that Kim Kushner’s “The New Kosher” is quickly becoming one of my favorite titles in my collection. True to its title “Simple Recipes to Savor and Share,” you’ll find contemporary gems such as giant ricotta ravioli with cinnamon, miso-tahini glazed cod, braised beef ribs with cider-rosemary sauce, and some fabulous ideas for brunch (the spinach and feta quiche with heirloom tomatoes, asparagus and goat cheese quiche, and caramelized red onion and dill frittata with smoked salmon are going to be in frequent rotation on the weekends in my house!). And although the dishes are easily doable by a home cook, you’ll also find elegant presentations such as braised beef short ribs with cider-herb reduction, veal roast with porcini, thyme, and garlic rub, lamb rib chops with red wine vinegar, mint and garlic, and seared tuna steaks with sun-dried tomato and jalapeno preserves that are perfect for more formal gatherings or special occasions.