Best Cookbooks May 2016

Lucky Peach Pho Issue

There’s a heck of a lot of potential contained in any new cookbook. The potential of putting a weeknight dinner on the table with ease. The potential of falling head over heels for an unfamiliar cuisine. Coaxing the kids into trying something new without tears—for anyone—at the table.  Mastering a tricky technique. Replicating a recipe that defined your childhood. Whatever the potential payoff, it’s the same belief—that life will be easier, happier, lovelier, or otherwise better—which keeps us continually seeking the latest and greatest in cookbooks. Here are those books we’ve been obsessed with in recent weeks that make good on that potential.—Renee Schettler Rossi, Editor in Chief


Perfect Plates In Five IngredientsA premise and a promise. That’s what British food writer John Whaite offers in his third cookbook, Perfect Plates In 5 Ingredients, and he delivers on both counts. The premise is that with only five ingredients (minus pantry essentials such as oil, butter, salt, pepper, and water) you can create food that is––and here’s the promise––perfect. Each recipe is accompanied by a sigh-worthy photo of the finished plate and provides proof that just because a recipe contains few ingredients does not mean it is destined to be bland, boring, and uninspired. There are plates for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert; plates for when you have ample time to spend in the kitchen and plates for a weeknight dinner after a trying day at work. The first recipe in the book (and the first I tried) is Banana and Blueberry Toad in the Hole (think baked pancake) and works as dessert as well as brunch. The Sausage, Kale, and Potato Bake was terrific (and leftovers held up nicely for lunch the next day). Taleggio and Salsiccia (Sausage) Mac ‘n’ Cheese might be the easiest mac ‘n’ cheese you (and I) ever make. Since this is a UK-published cookbook, all amounts are metric, so get out your digital scale or be prepared to do some conversions. But don’t let that scare you off. Trust me, you’ll thank yourself later––and probably impress a few people along the way. (And if you can wait, a U.S. version is due out spring 2017.) As John says, these plates aren’t fancy, elaborate, or technical, but they are perfect. I totally agree.—Kim Medalis, Marketing Intern


The Basque Book CookbookThe Basque Book: A Love Letter in Recipes from the Kitchen of Txikito is more of a love story than a love letter. Interspersed among 114 recipes is the accounting of how an Argentine Minnesotan “went Basque,” from her initial attraction to her future husband to courtship to marriage to family to the kitchen space they currently share as chefs at Txikito in Manhattan. The details of author Alexandra Raij’s story are bound by her affinity for the cuisine, culture, and country of her beloved’s heritage. From Basque basics and “grandma dishes” to muy moderna influences and borrowings, Raij successfully illustrates how the food of Txikito is “drawn from tradition but assembled in a different way and given back to Basque cuisine.” Robust classics such as bacalao, squid in its ink, paprika pork roast, and choricero pepper paste are joined by tempura-fried soft-shell crabs in escabeche, unexpected umami notes of soy sauce and sesame oil, even gin and tonics. Her lively voice, anecdotes, tips, and caveats affectionately and efficiently convey the traditions of both the Basque culture and kitchen. And straightforward, easy-to-follow recipes reinforce the author’s declarations that quality requires no camouflage and that her adopted cuisine is all about the quality of the prima materia.—Judith Peres, Recipe Tester 


Eat Complete CookbookFood as love. Food as caring. Food as entertainment. Food as status. Food as a means of showing up your snooty friend who thinks he’s better than you. Food has been all these things to me. But one thing food has never been in all my years is medicine. Eating fresh, healthy, organic, wholesome food as a way of taking good care of our bodies isn’t a new notion. But one thing I never, ever considered was that food could be good for our brains. That eating the right food can actually regulate our gray matter and help our moods. And I learned this from Eat Complete: The 21 Nutrients That Fuel Brainpower, Boost Weight Loss, and Transform Your Health by Dr. Drew Ramsey. I met Dr. Ramsey when I interviewed him about nutritional psychiatry for a segment on The Splendid Table, and I’ve become a fan of his work. I’ve cooked from this book a lot, and several dishes are now in rotation at our home, including Chocolate-Cashew Smoothie, Mussels Three Ways, Whole Roasted Chicken with Anchovies, and Spiced Chocolate Truffles, to name a few. Just imagine—filling your belly and giving an ass-kicking to your brain all in one bite.—David Leite, Publisher


Num Pang CookbookDanger! Num Pang: Bold Recipes From New York City’s Favorite Sandwich Shop is hazardous! So much exciting food! So many thrilling flavors! Such beautiful photos! There’s a lot to explore in this book from the founders of the Cambodian-style sandwich shop whose namesake is a banh mi-like collision of tastes and textures and colors that’s sorta like an edible version of a choose-your-own-ending story. And you’ll find all the components needed for your own personal mix-and-matches made in heaven in this book. My love affair started with the Spicy Glazed Tofu, which could make tofu lovers out of tofu skeptics everywhere. The Put A Pickle On It section alone will keep pickle eaters like me busy and happily munching. (Thus far the Pickled Green Apples were easy to make and a great hit.) The Salt-and-Pepper Yams with Swiss Chard concluded beautifully (despite the disappointing discovery that some details in some recipes—such as the baking time—aren’t perfect, though an experienced cook will easily overcome this small shortcoming). My experience with the book so far has consistently resulted in nothing leftover except for the photo-worthy memories and the desire to try the next recipe on my list as soon as humanly possible.—Elsa Jacobson, Recipe Tester


Lucky Peach the Pho EditionCould pho be the next ramen? Chef David Chang, in the most recent installation of Lucky Peach, that wickedly wonderful and irreverent journal of food and writing, thinks so. “You’re going to begin to see innovation. Some will be great. Some will be terrible,” writes Chang. I guess we’ll see. In the meantime, those of us who fancy pho have 144 pages of phenomonally pho-centric musings, including guides to understanding pho ingredients, insights as to the most satisfying restaurants where you can slurp the soup, reviews of packaged instant pho, odes and reminiscences galore, and an endearing look at pho’s role in Vietnamese history and culture by cookbook author Andrea Nguyen, which includes the telling quote, “Pho is so elemental to Vietnamese culture that people talk about it in terms of romantic relationships. Rice is the dutiful wife you can rely on, we say. Pho is the flirty mistress you slip away to visit.” Those of you new to pho’s charms will find out why you should care–deeply—about pho in these pages. The rest of us will continue to take comfort in the hauntingly spiced broth with its slippery noodles, regardless of whether it turns trendy or not, although thankfully we have one more way to appease our insatiable appetite for it.—Renee Schettler Rossi, Editor in Chief


Malibu Farm CookbookAs soon as Malibu Farm Cookbook: Recipes From the California Coast arrived on my doorstep, everything else stopped—including the dinner I was about to prepare. Written by Helene Henderson, founder of the Malibu Farm Café in (where else?) Malibu, California, the book was born out of a love of cooking and tremendous success with her casual style of catered backyard parties. Every single recipe is simple yet gourmet, straightforward yet elegant, and draws on fresh, natural, vibrant ingredients from Southern California, including fresh herbs, goat cheese, lime, honey, and other ingredients that are most probably already staples for someone who likes to cook (whether in Southern California or elsewhere). The Frittata with Ricotta and Peas, Vietnamese Chicken Salad, Greek Quinoa Salad, and Kale Caesar are all excellent. And Balsamic Skirt Steak with Chili Cherry Tomatoes and Broccoli Mashed Potatoes are just a couple of the recipes on my list to try next. The book also provides ingredient substitutions, make-ahead strategies, catering tricks, and cooking tips, including the brilliant suggestion to parboil kabocha squash to soften it prior to cutting it. This cookbook is a keeper.—Dawn English, Recipe Tester

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