The Best Books to Give Cooks
The Chili Cookbook
Each year, the multitude of new cookbooks continues to amaze us. This year’s selections were no exception. Our editors and Test Kitchen sorted through hundreds of books to pick the best of the best to gift to home cooks. These are presented in no particular order—we couldn’t rank them if we tried. They’re all so good.
Start at page one and work your way through all 60 of Robb Walsh’s mouth-watering recipes. You’ll never get tired; you’ll never be uninspired.
Robb Walsh, Ten Speed Press, $19, 200 pages; amazon.com
My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life
After the abrupt end of her 20-year career at Gourmet, Ruth Reichl retreated to the kitchen. Each recipe she made tells the story of a funny, sad, or poignant moment when that dish, and only that dish, would do. A seasonal approach and warm, helpful instruction will make you want to cook every single recipe.
Ruth Reichl, Random House, $35, 352 pages; amazon.com
The delicious lessons and recipes of a lifetime, told side by side in the way only Emeril can.
Emeril Lagasse, Oxmoor House, $30, 304 pages; amazon.com
Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking
Israeli food has finally emerged from the Middle Eastern and Mediterranean category and come into its own. Chef Michael Solomonov helped pioneer the cuisine here with his flagship restaurant, Zahav. His first cookbook explores the foods he loves: bright salads, deeply char-grilled vegetables and meats, and of course, the best hummus you will ever taste.
Michael Solomonov, Houghton Mifflin, $35, 368 pages; amazon.com
Peru: The Cookbook
Gastón Acurio’s love letter to his home country reveals the beauty of Peruvian cuisine via 500 spectacular recipes.
Gastón Acurio, Phaidon Press, $50, 400 pages; amazon.com
Near & Far: Recipes Inspired by Home and Travel
In Near & Far: Recipes Inspired by Home and Travel, Heidi Swanson starts us out with recipes and stories close to home, then allows us to travel with her to Morocco, Japan, Italy, France, and India—all the while sharing rich details of these places and their food cultures through her characteristically earnest, evocative voice. Recipes beautifully blend the exotic and the familiar: Granola takes a Japanese turn with the addition of crumbled nori and shichimi togarashi, nutty caraway seeds offer an anise lift to a juicy strawberry salad, and Red Lentil Hummus takes the popular snack to immensely creamier territory.
Heidi Swanson, 10 Speed Press, $30, 330 pages; amazon.com
NOPI: The Cookbook
NOPI is not like the others in his gorgeous cookbook collection. While still bright, beautiful, and undeniably beckoning, this is a restaurant cookbook, featuring restaurant food. “It is the complete opposite of the way we cook at home,” says Ottolenghi, who offers a challenge for the home cook. Ingredient lists are long and somewhat esoteric—many recipes take several hours from start to finish. (I spent about 10 hours in the kitchen cooking three recipes.) The results, however, are worth every bit of effort—and there’s an even balance of dishes both “epic” (chicken pastilla) and delightfully simple, such as the tomatoes with wasabi mascarpone and pine nuts. If you are indeed up for the challenge, follow Ottolenghi’s bolded suggestions to read the whole recipe before you start and do your mis en place. The reward is well worth the effort. – Nutrition Editor Sidney Fry
Yotam Ottolenghi, Ten Speed Press, $40, 352 pages; amazon.com
V is for Vegetables
This is the year of the vegetable cookbook, and chef Michael Anthony’s entry is a gift to cooks of all skill levels. A generous, unpretentious teacher, he delivers minor epiphanies like Mushroom Broth and Walnut Mashed Potatoes and sneaks in simple lessons for techniques like cooking with water, sweating onions, and washing greens.
Michael Anthony, Little, Brown and Co., $40, 374 pages; amazon.com
If you want an arsenal of recipes for scratch-made tortillas and salsas from chef Alex Stupak and writer Jordana Rothman with a side of smart commentary about the knotty cultural exchange between the U.S. and Mexico, this is your book.
Alex Stupak and Jordana Rothman, Clarkson Potter, $32.50, 240 pages; amazon.com
Southern Living 50 Years
Many longtime subscribers to Cooking Light have been with us since 1987, the year we sprang from the pages of Southern Living. On the eve of its Golden Anniversary, celebrate Southern Living’s extensive legacy with this gorgeous and hefty memento, a scrapbook tour that captures the beauty and sweep of the South and the people, places, music, and food that makes this region’s culture so dynamic. Recipes for iconic dishes like gumbo and biscuits make it more than a coffee table keepsake.
The Editors of Southern Living Magazine, Oxmoor House, $40, 320 pages; amazon.com
Expats Eric Werner and Mya Henry conjured their dream open-air restaurant on the Yucatán Peninsula. Travel there vicariously with a Piña-Habanero Margarita and lush photos by Gentl & Hyers.
Eric Werner and Mya Henry, Artisan, $40, 304 pages; amazon.com
The Beer Bible
Jeff Alworth traveled the world and brewed his reportage into this passionate primer on the best ales, lagers, and wheat beers. He offers eloquent lessons on rituals and the renaissance of craft beer, while reminding us that beer culture is ancient and ever-evolving. Give this and a sixer of Anchor Christmas Ale to the beer geek in your family.
Jeff Alworth, Workman, $21, 644 pages; amazon.com
Breakfast: Recipes to Wake Up For
Ten years ago, George Weld opened Egg, a happy, no-nonsense restaurant serving honest Southern breakfast to the groggy denizens of Brooklyn. Weld’s elegant new book shares his formula for sunny breakfast fare like biscuits, eggs, grains, and hash, including a standout smoked bluefish version.
George Weld and Evan Hanczor, Rizzoli, $35, 208 pages; amazon.com
The Broad Fork
For chef Hugh Acheson, “to slaw” is a verb, shopping smart locally is a civic duty, and recipes are solutions for what to do with a bounty of fruits and vegetables. His flavors are assertive, and his voice is original. This book will make you hungry.
Hugh Acheson, Clarkson Potter, $35, 336 pages; amazon.com
Root to Leaf: A Southern Chef Cooks Through the Seasons
Nose to tail, meet root to leaf. Grounded by simple, approachable recipes and elevated by lush photographs, this hefty book by chef Steven Satterfield provides a practical and gorgeous guide for shopping and cooking through the seasons.
Steven Satterfield, Harper Wave, $45, 488 pages; amazon.com
A Girl and Her Greens: Hearty Meals from the Garden
Known for her whole-animal approach, chef April Bloomfield compares her love for lamb shoulders and suckling pigs to action films: “You probably don’t want them all the time,” she writes. What we do want is more of her kale polenta.
April Bloomfield, Ecco, $35, 272 pages; amazon.com
Pasta by Hand: A Collection of Italy's Regional Hand-Shaped Pasta
We’re big Jenn Louis fans here, and we also love homemade pasta, so when the Portland chef put out her new cookbook, Pasta By Hand, earlier this year, we were ecstatic. Her book delivers more than 60 hand-shaped pasta dishes, authentic to their Italian regional origins, but perfectly accessible for the home cook. She has smartly narrowed the scope of her book to focus on what she calls the “dumplings” of Italian cuisine: gnocchi, gnudi, malfatti, and the like. The result is a tantalizing tour of some of Italy’s most delicious comfort food, indispensable dishes for any pasta lover.
Jenn Louis, Chronicle Books, $25, 200 pages; amazon.com
The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science
“I’m a nerd, and I’m proud of it,” J. Kenji López-Alt declares in his massive–and massively informative–new cookbook, The Food Lab. The MIT grad and professional cook—cum—Serious Eats chief creative officer spent years systematically testing ways to make food tastier. The 300 recipes here prove his experiments successful. From the secrets to perfect steak (hint: flip frequently) to no-fuss risotto, the book is a catalyst for great cooking.
J. Kenji López-Alt, W. W. Norton, $50, 938 pages; amazon.com
Incredibly Decadent Desserts: Over 100 Divine Treats with 300 Calories or Less
We have a secret weapon in the Cooking Light Test Kitchen: Deb Wise, a professional baker who has perfected the art of creating luscious, indulgent, and healthy desserts. In her first cookbook, Incredibly Decadent Desserts, Deb shares more than 100 of her most delicious recipes—each with 300 calories or less per serving—and the foolproof techniques that ensure success. Now that’s sweet!
Deb Wise, Oxmoor House, $25, 272 pages; amazon.com
Dinner Solved! 100 Ingenious Recipes That Make the Whole Family Happy, Including You!
In Dinner Solved!, Workman attacks the picky-eater problem with “Fork in the Road” recipes, meaning at some point in the preparation you can divide and modify a recipe for, say, slaw—go Asian-style for the adventurous or creamy-style for the picky—so everyone at the table is happy, including the cook. Recipes here boast just enough bold flavors to keep them current, including a standout Shortcut Chicken Udon Soup that might win over the toughest crowds.
Katie Workman, Workman Publishing Company, $40, 384 pages; amazon.com
Mastering Pasta: The Art and Practice of Handmade Pasta, Gnocchi, and Risotto
You may not make fresh pasta often, but you’re richly rewarded when you do. Newbies and pasta pros alike will benefit from chef Marc Vetri‘s in-depth tutorial on forming dough, rolling, saucing, and everything in between. Vetri’s praises aren’t sung nearly enough outside his home base of Philadelphia, though he was a nominee for Outstanding Chef in the 2015 James Beard Foundation Awards. He’s one of the country’s best Italian cooks, and recipes here, like a kicky pasta all’arrabbiata, demonstrate his own mastery of the artfully simple cuisine.
Marc Vetri, Ten Speed Press, $30, 272 pages; amazon.com
Virgin Territory: Exploring the World of Olive Oil
In search of the world’s best extra-virgin olive oils, Mediterranean kitchen master Nancy Harmon Jenkins journeys from her ancient olive grove in Tuscany to Spain, Lebanon, and beyond to deliver the green-gold story of one of our most important ingredients. Tape her buying guide to your pantry door, and cook her recipes to taste peasant food at its humble best. Glug glug.
Nancy Harmon Jenkins, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $30; 352 pages, amazon.com
The Great Cook: Essential Techniques and Inspired Flavors to Make Every Dish Better
Chef and culinary instructor James Briscione shows you through detailed instruction how to cook all-time favorite dishes every good cook should know, including roasted chicken, layer cakes, and seafood. Each lesson is highly instructive with step-by-step photos, so cooks of all skill levels can pick up at whatever level they feel comfortable. With more than 500 stunning photos, The Great Cook is as much an instruction manual as it is inspirational guide.
James Briscione, Oxmoor House, $30, 368 pages; amazon.com
Slow Fires: Mastering New Ways to Braise, Roast, and Grill
Justin Smillie, the chef-partner of Upland, a gorgeous California-centric restaurant in Manhattan, lays out in stunning detail the most basic skills of heat and time every cook should learn to master. Smillie’s techniques are as much as revelation as they are reassuring—much of what you know is right, but you still have so much to learn. Using simple, primal cooking techniques, you can turn out decadent dishes like Red-Wine Braised Beef or Roasted Winter Fruits.
Justin Smillie, Clarkson Potter/Publishers, $40, 320 pages; amazon.com
Gjelina: California Cooking from Venice Beach
Venice, California chef Travis Lett’s lauded restaurant has a devoted following of fans the world round—and for good reason. His food, while obviously laborious and meticulous, seems effortless once served. His recipes run the gamut of proteins and plants, but maybe his most beautiful and inspiring recipes are vegetable-centric in creative and stirring ways (looking at you, Grilled Kale with Shallot-Yogurt Dressing and Toasted Hazelnuts). And if you pick it up for no other reason, the Michael Graydon photographing, styled beautifully by Nikole Herriott, is worth every moment of ogling you can afford.
Travis Lett, Chronicle Books, $35, 288 pages; amazon.com
Baking with Less Sugar: Recipes for Desserts Using Natural Sweeteners and Little-to-No White Sugar
Long considered the necessary evil of baked goods, sugar is quickly slipping off ingredient lists for many bakers. Joanne Chang, author of the bestselling book Flour, offers 60 eye-opening recipes for bakers who want to make their cakes, pies, and breads just as flavorful with much less sweetener. Natural sweeteners, like honey and maple syrup, have a role, but Chang has also managed to make sweets just as sweet without all the heaps of sugar.
Joanne Chang, Chronicle Books, $25, 224 pages; amazon.com
Cooking Light The Good Pantry: Homemade Foods & Mixes Lower in Sugar, Salt & Fat
Clean eating isn’t just a buzzword, it’s an approach to eating and living that offers you much greater control over the foods you eat day in and day out. In this book, we recrafted many of our most loved recipes to create more than 140 healthy alternatives to the most popular store-bought convenience foods. If you’re looking to eliminate all prepackaged foods and mixes, this will be an indispensible tool, but this book is also great for readers who just want to get more fresh vegetables, fewer preservatives, and more whole grains in their diet.
The Editors of Cooking Light Magazine, Oxmoor House, $25, 272 pages; amazon.com