Best Cookbooks September 2016

Best Cookbooks September 2016

The year’s best cookbooks are beginning to stack up in a big way on bookstore shelves, just waiting for you to linger over the tales and techniques and tantalizing results contained within their pages. We understand that you’ve got other obligations—work and school and soccer practice and laundry and yoga and in-laws and all manner of things—tugging at you for your attention, so we went ahead and assessed the best of the best to spare you from having to do it all yourself. Without further dallying, here are those cookbooks published in recent weeks that we consider to be the best.—Renee Schettler Rossi


All Under Heaven CookbookDo you read cookbooks cover-to-cover? I don’t just mean do you flip through and look at pictures. Do you really read every word, every personal anecdote, every piece of advice, every bit of culinary history? If so, you know that a cookbook that offers that level of detail and personality while covering the cuisines of a place as vast as China is the book equivalent of a unicorn. All Under Heaven: Recipes from the 35 Cuisines of China does not purport to be a comprehensive or encyclopedic overview of Chinese cuisine. Rather,  according to author Carolyn Phillips, it’s a personal collection of favorite recipes from all reaches of China, a collection that happens to fill more than 500 pages and really does deliver all that background—personal, historical, and technical—on each recipe. While there are some familiar classics, such as mapo doufu and kung pao scallops, the real delight in this book is the unexpected. Potatoes roasted with cumin and Sichuan peppercorns. Buddhist dishes such as the braised vegetarian “finches.” And the inclusion of sweets and pastries in this book is the most comprehensive I’ve seen yet in a Chinese cookbook. The recipe for battered and fried apple slices, covered in a caramel sauce, sprinkled with sesame, and dipped in ice water, was novel, memorable, and delicious. The book contains not a single photo. Rather, it’s beautifully illustrated with line drawings by the author herself. This book is a work of great passion that rewards on so many levels. Every recipe I tried was excellent, there is a wealth of information that will keep your mind occupied for years, and the personality of the author shines through. The book has soul. It’s a unicorn.Melissa Maedgen, LC Senior Recipe Tester


The Rye Baker CookbookMy world has ALWAYS included rye bread. But it has not always included great rye bread or even good rye bread. My earliest memories of my beloved German-influenced Cincinnati, where I spent my first 53 years, include a family bakery on nearly every street corner. Each had its own family recipe for rye bread. The era of family bakeries disappeared in my early teens, leaving me on an endless search to fill the void. A decade ago, I became an avid bread baker with an obsessive affinity for rye, although my search for recipes always seemed to lead me to a dead end. So I was thrilled when I came upon Stanley Ginsberg’s blog, The Rye Baker, with its fine recipes. And now Ginsberg’s stellar book, The Rye Baker: Classic Breads From Europe and America, continues to address this gaping emptiness in my bread education, which my wife coined “breaducation.” The Rye Baker divides its recipes by region—Europe, Russia, Slavic countries, the far north, and America’s regional favorites. Not only are we presented with great recipes, of which I have prepared several with great success, we are also supplied with a bit of history, some legend, and insightful technical information including the types of rye, how to scald rye, and an invaluable diagram for scoring and folding parchment for your Pullman pan. Here science meets patience with a little magic tossed in for good measure. The book has recipes for everything from a rye sourdough culture to simple salty rye dinner rolls. It even teaches you how to create the elusive perfect  Westphalian Pumpernickel—a nearly black, sweet, brick-like slice of rye bread heaven. Ginsberg nails it! Needless to say, I’m impressed by the obvious love and reverence finally afforded the breads of my ancestors.Larry Noak, LC Senior Recipe Tester


Buck, Buck, Moose CookbookHank Shaw’s latest book, Buck, Buck, Moose: Recipes and Techniques for Cooking Deer, Elk, Moose, Antelope and Other Antlered Things,  does for game what his earlier books did for game birds and foraging. In it we find a pretty definitive, comprehensive, and colorful guide to all forms of “antlered things,” from forest to table. That doesn’t mean you have to hunt and butcher your own game to be able to enjoy the recipes, although Hank does provide you with ample information should you prefer that option. (To that end, there is an entire section of the book devoted to getting your venison home, safely and correctly, from your hunting trip.) Shaw’s often simple preparations deliver tantalizing results that are beyond what you’d expect. His Venison Bolognese is a wonderful riff on the classic Italian preparation and was heralded by fabulous aromas emanating from my kitchen. The Icelandic Venison with Blueberry Sauce was simply sauced yet elegant. Based on what I’ve had so far, I’m eagerly anticipating trying my hand at charcuterie from the Curing Venison and Making Sausage chapter. Mr. Shaw has also given us a special chapter, The Wobbly Bits, in which he shares many things, from tongue to shank, to try. This book is an initial foray into self-publishing and you’ll find it as superbly crafted as the recipes contained within.Dan Kraan, LC Senior Recipe Tester


Mad Hungry Family CookbookMad Hungry Family: 120 Essential Recipes To Feed The Whole Crew is the latest book in Lucinda Scala Quinn’s Mad Hungry series. As with the previous two cookbooks, she’s hit a home run. It’s packed with helpful tips, delicious tried-and-true recipes that appeal to young and old alike, and endearing family anecdotes. Quinn takes care to explain how to do everything from make basic stocks to marshal holiday meals. I love the way she suggests substitutions for ingredients or streamlined processes to make each recipe your own according to your skill level, what you have on hand, or what your family likes. This is the type of cookbook that is not only useful as a reference for recipes but that you want to curl up with in the evening with a hot drink. My book has become increasingly littered with Post-Its, a sure sign that I like what’s inside. I agree with the author that passing the knowledge of how to cook to others is important and I think this book is a valuable tool to help accomplish that. Like her, I am comfortable in the knowledge that my son and daughters are comfortable in the kitchen. And now I can spend time in the kitchen passing that knowledge on to my granddaughter. I heartily recommend this book to both novices in the kitchen as well as seasoned cooks.Helen Doberstein, LC Recipe Tester


Land of Fish and Rice CookbookIn Land of Fish and Rice: Recipes From The Culinary Heart of China, Fuchsia Dunlop explores the cooking and history of the provinces surrounding the Lower Yangtze River in Southern China. While not as well known as Cantonese and Sichuan cuisines, the cooking from this area is light, balanced, fresh, and elegant, with an emphasis on quality indigenous ingredients and centuries-old techniques used by the region’s cooks to emphasize these delicate flavors. The recipes put grains and vegetables at the center of plate and use umami-rich meats and fish as flavorful accents. The dishes are insanely simple at times. A recipe for White Chopped Chicken with Soy Sauce lists four ingredients—and one of them is water. But it harnesses a unique poaching method that yields impossibly tender, silken chicken and a bonus pot of light chicken stock. Think sous vide chicken hundreds of years before the invention of the immersion circulator. Equally simple—and now an indispensable ingredient in my fridge—is Snow Vegetable, which is pickled mustard greens that are air-dried, salted, and left to ferment for a few days. It’s a condiment that’s salty and sour with some natural heat from the greens and its unique tang and crunch can take a bowl of simple broth or steamed rice to new levels. There are also recipes for “Kung Fu” (gong fu cai) dishes, so named because they supposedly demand culinary skills on the level of martial arts masters to execute, yet the instructions are so clear and precise that I managed to pull off even an impressive and delicious version of Eight Treasure Stuffed Calabash Duck on my first attempt, including deboning a duck from the inside out. Easy or challenging, each recipe contains clear instructions and the background of the dish and the area or chef from where it hails. The book also includes a comprehensive glossary of terms and ingredients, both in English and Chinese characters, to assist you when shopping. Dunlop’s writing is a charming mix of the poetic (“compose your salad like a symphony of colors”) and the practical (“cook just long enough to break the rawness”). I’d never heard that last term before, yet I know exactly what she meant. —Lisa Mitchell, LC Recipe Tester

Hungry for more? Chow down on these:

  1. Karen Stewart says:

    Your cookbook review section is always a joy to read. I am jumping with joy at Larry Noak’s review of The Rye Baker, and can’t wait to buy the book. I, too, am from Cincinnati and remember all those corner family bakeries and sorely miss them, especially the rye bread. Finding a good rye bread or a recipe for one is like looking for a needle in a haystack! The only good recipe thus far that I’ve found is a Bacher Rye that the owner, Tom Thie, of the old Virginia Bakery in Clifton (closed in 2005) was kind enough to share. With The Rye Baker, I am hoping to expand my rye baking repertoire. Many thanks for this review.

    • Renee Schettler Rossi says:

      Many kind thanks for the lovely compliments, Karen. Glad you now have a resource for a proper rye bread recipe!

    • Larry Noak says:

      Karen,you will LOVE this book! I make MY version of the Bacher’s rye every week, I use my rye sourdough starter. My two sisters and I actually teethed on Bacher’s rye from Clifton. Small world!

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