Happy holidays, and here’s to another delicious year. Last year, I had fun rounding up my favorite food books of 2009. I’m happy to share a new batch of books that have made cooking and eating a lot more interesting for me. I know, so many “best-of” lists to buzz about this time of year, so many not-so-new reasons to go buy something. In case you didn’t get what you wanted this year, here are some suggestions, from my kitchen to yours. With one exception: you won’t see the book in this photo above in my list (taken at a book signing at SXSW Interactive this year). I’m not sure I could call that one a favorite “read,” since I wrote it — ha!
If that title sounds a little disconcerting, get ready to squirm in your easy chair. Jonathan Bloom’s book is a fascinating exploration of, first, how food is produced in this country, and how this massive effort gets undermined by nearly half. The main reasons? Maybe not what most would expect — Bloom illustrates our changed attitude towards food, from not knowing how to preserve or use leftovers, to our disconnect with the farms and people who grow it. There are practical solutions, too, which are offered in the book as well as on the author’s blog, Wasted Food. I really wish this book had been written before mine, so I could quote from it in the chapter about dumpster diving.
The Essential New York Times Cookbook: Classic Recipes for a New Century edited by Amanda Hesser
It’s massive, it’s picture-less, and it’s packed. Instead of How to Cook Everything, this expansive collection of recipes from the last 150 years of the newspaper might be described as “Everything We Cooked.” Ever wonder when chocolate cake became flourless? Or who told us not to knead dough? This cookbook can read like a history in American home cooking and taste-making. And it’s compiled by a writer who knows a thing or two about that — Amanda Hesser, who shares her insights throughout. (Listen to Amanda and food52 co-founder Merrill’s interview with me on Let’s Eat In.)
Anna Lappe is one of our leading forward-thinkers when it comes to food, and here she makes a brilliant argument on how industrialized agriculture contributes to global warming. Anyone concerned with the future of our planet ought to be concerned with the way we feed ourselves now, and anyone interested in sustainable food practices has a new reason to be motivated for change. There’s hope yet: simple changes, starting with just an awareness, can be made by the average consumer to sway how food is made, she encourages. (Listen to Anna on Let’s Eat In.)
Here’s one way to a less wasteful kitchen: storing your food for the winter. The sustainable-minded Sherri Brooks-Vinton shares the traditional craft of canning for a new generation of home cooks with this delightful — and very comprehensive — book. Organized alphabetically, the book tackles recipes on how to pickle or otherwise put up, say, asparagus, and moves on, making it easy to find solutions for whatever you’ve got. Home gardeners will find this a must-have as well as anyone who loves homemade jam. (Listen to Sherri on Let’s Eat In.)
I don’t think anyone could be as thorough or thoughtful about stir-frying than Grace Young. Taking this one cooking technique as a focal point she fills out this beautiful book with history and lore, practical advice, and tasty recipes. Young’s exploration of stir-frying is also not limited to just Chinese cuisine; she includes recipes from the Chinese diaspora, such as Cuban fried rice. Consider it a bigger and better sequel to her award-winning Breath of a Wok.
Frankies Spuntino Kitchen Companion & Cooking Manual by Frank Falcinelli, Frank Castronovo & Peter Meehan
Yum. I’m not Italian, but I feel like an Italian grandmother with this book. I can see why it’s on a lot of best-of book lists, too: it’s sleek and stylish in a down-home kind of way (I love the “kitchen companion” term) without being overly kitschy. With the help of Peter Meehan, the Franks write conversationally about their favorite foods, and how to pull them off with no sweat. But whether a recipe’s easy or difficult, interesting or mundane, you just want to eat it all — it sounds that good. (Listen to the Franks on Let’s Eat In.)
The title says it all, but Leda Meredith also makes a succinct case for why eating local is important. As an expert “locavore,” Leda shares her tips on urban gardening, joining (or starting) a CSA, and even foraging for fiddleheads. There are enough ideas provided to fit any lifestyle, and contrary to nay-sayers of the food movement, she demonstrates how eating “green” is actually cost-saving, too. A great way to start off a New Year’s Resolution. (Listen to Leda on Let’s Eat In.)
The New Brooklyn Cookbook: Recipes and Stories From 31 Restaurants That Put Brooklyn on the Culinary Map by Melissa and Brendan Vaughan
I had to include this one. Whatever you may think of Brooklyn being a marketing label, or an overrated foodie destination, I think this book is telling of a positive movement happening with food, in many areas. It’s one where the producers are more intimately tied with their community, and where consumers are interested in the “story” and people behind their food as well as the finished product. It might seem like nothing new — of course we know our butcher, or fishmongerer, you might be saying. But big ag and big-box grocery stores are diminishing the human face of food. That a book like this is so well-loved — and that these chefs and artisanal food producers in Brooklyn are so passionate about what they do — is putting a new spin on all that.
Which books did I miss that were your favorites of the year?