Best Cookbooks for October 2015

Best Cookbooks For October 2015

Tell us, did autumn feel like it took its own sweet time to arrive this year or was it just us? Because it was sorta like waiting for molasses to run as far as we’re concerned. See, each year, we wait for autumn. We long for autumn. We need autumn. October in particular. September can’t help but be harried as we resume reality after a lazy summer. November can’t help but be crowded with obligatory chopping and stuffing and roasting and and basting and baking. But the pace in the kitchen come October is nice. It’s slow. So slow, actually, that we stray from our usual best cookbooks and let our attention stray to some titles that aren’t just about recipes. Here are those books we’ve been lingering over, gushing about, and turning to time and again this past month.—Renee Schettler Rossi


Best Food Writing 2015I don’t know about you, but these days I don’t have nearly as much time as I’d like to peruse cookbooks, magazines, websites, and blogs for the finest food writing and the newest writers worth reading. That’s why I rely upon writer and editrix Holly Hughes to do it for me. Her Best Food Writing 2015 is kind of like a personal editorial concierge. (Full disclosure: A piece of mine is featured in this issue, but it has nothing to do with why I’ve picked it as my choice this month. I’ve devoured each annual anthology since its debut in 2000. They’re that good.) This issue, like its predecessors, is filled with articles, essays, profiles, rants, and paeans—44 in all—from print publications, websites, and blogs as varied as The New York Times, the Washington Post, Food & Wine, Debbie Koenig’s Parents Need to Eat TooSerious Eats, and Food52. No matter what you’re looking for—information, relief, succor, identification, and, yes, even recipes—you’ll find it here.—David Leite, Publisher


The Spirit of GinCocktail books these days have become bossy enterprises. Each brand of liquor specified. Esoteric ingredients. Even more esoteric equipment. (You know you’re in trouble when a book lists a centrifuge as a bar essential.) Treatises on how to freeze and cut ice that specify the exact size cube for each drink. Happily, there’s none of that in The Spirit of Gin: A Stirring Miscellany of the New Gin Revival by Matt Teacher. This is a book you can take home and not only use but read. More than just a compendium of gin cocktails, the book delves into the the history, production methods, and ingredients as pertains to gin. It also features profiles of bartenders and distillers and allows each to say in his or her own voice what makes a particular gin—and a resulting drink—special. The cocktail recipes are delightfully unfussy, and the author never takes that didactic tone that makes you feel if you can’t get the precise label specified, you shouldn’t even bother. It’s a very approachable book and compels you to open your liquor cabinet and start experimenting. Historic cocktails, classic standbys, and creative formulations from contemporary bartenders are all included and are all excellent. Best yet, no liquid nitrogen in sight.Melissa Maedgen, LC Recipe Tester


Front of The HouseLet me preface this by saying this is not a cookbook. Front of the House is a collection of stories spanning the career thus far of restaurateur Jeff Benjamin of the Vetri family of restaurants in Philadelphia. In keeping with the book’s subtitle, topics covered include restaurant manners, misbehaviors, and secrets. In short vignettes with straightforward titles like “Guests These Days” and “Eight Ways to be a Desirable Customer,” we’re privy to how restaurants deal with patrons stealing items, be it a simple glass or a framed painting, as well as ways to earn the respect of the staff, such as calling if you’ll be late to a reservation and, to state the obvious, not stealing. We find out what goes into designing a menu as well as crafting a table layout, the whys of wine prices, and how waitstaff remember the entire order from your table without writing it down. Overall, it’s an intriguing look into the inner workings of restaurant life, even if the writing comes across as rather self-congratulatory. Also, you’ll relearn the things you learned in kindergarten—communication, common courtesy, and manners, it seems, are always appropriate in life, especially when dining out.—Kim Medalis, Editorial Intern


Milk Bar Life CookbookThere’s something simple and nostalgic about Milk Bar Life: Recipes & Stories, the second book by Christina Tosi, chef and co-owner of the wildly whimsical and trendy Momofuku Milk Bar. The cookbook, the second in the franchise, focuses on laid-back dishes that anyone can make with whatever is in the pantry, whether kimcheez-its with blue cheese dip, SpaghettiOs sammy, or Ritz cracker icebox cake. Unlike the first cookbook, Milk Bar Life offers a mix of savory and sweet recipes as well as stories of Tosi’s childhood, friends, and the daily happenings at Milk Bar. Many of the recipes are guilty-pleasure creations that sound perfect for “weaknights,” sleepovers, and late-night snacking. These chimerical creations may not appeal to everyone. But as far as I’m concerned, it’s not hard to fall for Tosi’s playful personality both in and out of the kitchen.—Verena Hui, Editorial Intern


The Jemima CodeIt began as a blog, turned into a traveling exhibition, and finally was compiled into a book. The Jemima Code: Two Centuries of African American Cookbooks is a levelheaded look at the history of African-American cooks and their cookbooks and the complicit invisibility surrounding it all. I think the epigram of the book, a quote from historian Gaillard Hunt in 1914, frames its mission perfectly: “The professional cooks of the country were Negros, and the national cookery came from them.” The Jemima Code divides its chapters into decades as it traces the history of African-American cooks from the beginnings of stereotypes in the 19th century to “the servant problem” all the way through modern challenges to the ascendancy of African-Americans in restaurant kitchens. It’s a fascinating read for anyone with an interest in food history and the invisible talent who’ve made American cuisine what it is.—David Leite, Publisher


Cooking With Pumpkin CookbookIn our current state of constant bombardment by status updates, selfies, texts, posts, pins, and tweets, it can be tempting to hurriedly judge a cookbook by its cover. Don’t. At least not with Cooking with Pumpkin: Recipes That Go Beyond the Pie. At first glance, it’s a relatively nondescript paperback of lovely yet modest means. Just wait’ll you understand—truly understand—what lies within. What author Averie Sunshine has amassed is quite possibly the planet’s most enticing, approachable, straightforward, and accolade-inducing collection of pumpkin spice recipes ever. It starts with her perfect DIY Pumpkin Pie Spice and from there takes you to some inspired Pumpkin Seven Layer Bars or soft, puffy, snickerdoodle-like Pumpkin Spice Cookies or homemade Pumpkin Spice Syrup so you can fix yourself a pumpkin latte at home or any of dozens of other recipes that solicit equally enthusiastic reactions from pumpkin fanatics.—Renee Schettler Rossi, Editor in Chief


Maple CookbookThe rest of the world can have their pumpkin spice. For me, the flavor of fall is maple and the cookbook Maple: 100 Sweet and Savory Recipes Featuring Pure Maple Syrup by Katie Webster is a challenge to use this ingredient in every meal of the day. The book has the warm, gentle glow of an autumn day in New England thanks to photos filled with golds, oranges, and yellows with the occasional pop of reds, darker browns, and blacks that hint of approaching winter. I have no plans to tap into my backyard maple trees, as Webster can do on her Vermont farm, but I was still able to enjoy the deep, sweet flavor of her maple chia pudding cups. I also appreciated her clear explanation on the different grades of syrup since the designations have recently changed, and I’m no longer able to find my go-to grade B dark syrup. And if you’re the type who just can’t choose between maple and pumpkin, there’s always the maple bourbon pumpkin pie recipe, a mash-up of fall flavors delivered in one sweet bite.—Tracey Gertler, Marketing Manager


The Homemade Kitchen CookbookThe Homemade Kitchen: Recipes for Cooking with Pleasure is built around a collection of phrases that author Alana Chernila has taped to her fridge. Phrases that the cynic in me might find less-than-inspirational if the writing that accompanied them wasn’t so darn charming. Take the first chapter, “Be a Beginner.” In it Chernila describes the satisfaction that comes from trying something new in the kitchen and shares the recipes that are her building blocks: eggs, vegetables, jam, pickles, salad, roast chicken, dairy products, grains, herbs, pie crust, and pasta. Her warm writing and straightforward instructions had me thinking, yes, today is the day I’m going to make homemade ricotta or bake a pie from scratch. The chapters that follow are no different in that they combine doses of infectious optimism with unfussy, ridiculously comforting recipes. As I read, I found myself nodding a lot—yes, I want to preserve my own lemons and flaunt them in preserved lemon hummus and fettuccine with roasted garlic. Yes, I believe that finding ways to use kitchen scraps constitutes a quiet revolution. And if you don’t always have the time or disposition to go the DIY route, Chernila gets that, too. As she acknowledges in a Pollan-esque quip, “Organicish. Locenough. Homemade when I can.” Amen to that.—Frances Kim, Associate Editor


A Jewish Baker’s Pastry Secrets: Recipes from a New York Baking Legend for Strudel, Stollen, Danishes, Puff Pastry, and MoreNew York baking legend George Greenstein was a third-generation professional baker, owner of The Cheesecake King bakery on Long Island where the lines literally wound around the block, and author of the James Beard Best Baking and Dessert Cookbook award for 1994, Secrets of a Jewish Baker. Three years after his death, his children found the unpublished manuscript for A Jewish Baker’s Pastry Secrets: Recipes from a New York Baking Legend for Strudel, Stollen, Danishes, Puff Pastry, and More. Don’t expect glossy photos, fancy French pastries, or five-minute wonders. You can, however, expect to find extremely well-written pastry recipes that can be used in multiple ways by changing the filling, topping, and shaping to create different desserts. And you don’t have to be Jewish to appreciate the enticing desserts and insider techniques that could easily make you want to start at the first recipe and bake your way through the last. The only negative is the 10 pounds you’re going to gain as a result of owning this book.Sue Epstein, LC Recipe Tester


Sachie’s Kitchen CookbookHere in the U.S., Japanese cuisine is often synonymous with sushi or ramen, both of which aren’t very home cook-friendly. Unless you count the latter when it’s the kind that comes in a Styrofoam cup. Enter New Zealand-based Japanese cooking instructor Sachie Nomura and her lovely primer on Japanese cuisine, Sachie’s Kitchen. Not only does the popular TV show host simplify the process of making sushi and ramen at home with how-to photos and store-bought shortcuts, she also walks you through any unfamiliar ingredients and explains how certain dishes fit into Japanese food culture. With Nomura as your guide, there’s no reason you can’t cook Japanese food any night of the week. You can start small and simple, like I did, with the sesame seed dressing that I put on everything from coleslaw to cold noodles or the nori and shiitake paste that transforms soggy seaweed into a sublime topping for rice. When you’re feeling more ambitious, Nomura’s got you covered with recipes traditional (think oyako-don aka chicken and egg stew on rice) as well as contemporary (honey soy spare ribs, anyone?).—Frances Kim, Associate Editor


  1. I advised my 27-year-old daughter, who finally graduated from college, to use your blog to learn to cook. Could you please send an article or page on what you need to start a new kitchen: tools pans spices, et . Thank you.

    Staten Island, NY

    1. Thank you, Elener, for entrusting your daughter’s culinary education to us! I have to say, most of the articles I’ve read about setting up a kitchen are rather excessive in what they suggest purchasing. Can you tell me a little about her preferences in terms of what she wants or needs to be cooking or baking and I can put together a list for you? I’ve cooked in small kitchens for the past two decades and so have a sense of what’s worth the expense and space and what’s not.

  2. I’m a cookbook copyeditor, and one of my favorite books I worked on last winter just came out: “Dinner Pies” by Ken Haedrich. The subtitle says it all: “From Shepherd’s Pies and Pot Pies to Tarts, Turnovers, Quiches, Hand Pies, and More.” YUM.

  3. Great list! I just bought “Front of the House!” I remember my two “dining room” classes in cooking school were SO stressful. My professor managed a very elegant five-star restaurant. He was extremely demanding and exacting in every aspect of service. It almost did me in (!), but I learned so much, I wouldn’t change it for the world. I’ll stay in the back of the house, but can’t wait to read this! Next up: “The Jemima Code!”

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