Like leaves falling from the sky, this season brings an usually strong lineup of cookbooks. With holiday gift-giving in mind, here’s a look at some of the most coveted titles of fall and winter.
AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL. The idea of drawing a culinary map from sea to shining sea is hardly a new one. Still, you have to be impressed by the reams of research that must have gone into Gabrielle Langholtz’s encyclopedic “America the Cookbook: A Culinary Road Trip Through the 50 States” (Phaidon, $49.95), which clocks in at 850 recipes spread across 768 pages. Everything from Alabama fruitcake to Wyoming bison jerky is represented in this brick-weight volume, which contains guest essayists and recipe contributors from every state. Washington Post food editor Joe Yonan takes a less populist approach with his “America the Great Cookbook: The Food We Make for the People We Love From 100 of Our Finest Chefs and Food Heroes” (Weldon Owen, $40). Look here for Leah Chase’s Creole Gumbo, Jose Andres’ Gazpacho, David Chang’s Clam Juk, Michael Solomonov’s Zahav Lamb Shoulder, plus dishes by Georgians Virginia Willis and Steven Satterfield.
COOKING AT HOME. If you think the food world could use less fussiness and a lot more realness (I do!), you’ll take heart in the current crop of chefs writing about what they love to eat at home. Already this year, we’ve seen Melissa Clark’s “Dinner: Changing the Game” (Clarkson Potter, $35); Matthew Jennings’ “Homegrown: Cooking From My New England Roots” (Artisan, $35); and Alison Roman’s “Dining In” (Clarkson Potter, $35) — all pretty wonderful. Now comes Alex Guarnaschelli’s “The Home Cook: Recipes to Know by Heart” (Clarkson Potter, $35), which includes Italian-American faves, a chapter of “New Chicken Classics,” dinner-size salads, one-pot meals, sweets and cocktails (including a sipper made with Hot Buttered Rum Life Savers). … So what does the wife of world-famous chef Rene Redzepi make when guests drop by? Nadine Levy Redzepi’s “Downtime: Deliciousness at Home” (Pam Krauss Books/Avery, $35) is the opposite of her hubby’s experimentalist mecca, Noma. Think tomato bruschetta, pan-seared pork chops and brownies. While not a book of tweezer food, Redzepi likes her truffles and fish eggs and includes plenty of eye-raisers (Beef-Glazed Celery Root with Buttermilk Sauce, Sugar-Cured Egg Yolk in a Meringue Cloud). Bringing us back down to earth is Atlanta’s own Cynthia Graubart, whose “Sunday Suppers: Simple Delicious Menus for Family Gatherings” (Oxmoor House, $27.99) is loaded with crazy-good-sounding recipes for Sunday Pot Roast, Double-Crust Chicken Pot Pie, Sweet Corn Pudding, Waldorf Spinach Salad, Fresh Apple Cake and tons of beautiful food that I’d be proud to make for my family.
SLOW AND FAST. Slow cookers are being pulled from the back of the pantry, with everyone from Hugh Acheson to Martha Stewart chiming in. Both Acheson’s “The Chef and the Slow Cooker” (Clarkson Potter, $29.99) and “Martha Stewart’s Slow Cooker” (Clarkson Potter, $26) transcend the old dump-and-dial formula that many of our moms used in the ’70s. These authors want to teach you new slow-cooker tricks: how to poach fish gently or make oatmeal while you sleep. In his smartly designed, highly personal riff, Acheson waxes philosophical about the slow cooker’s great gift — it affords us time — then makes us drunk with the possibility of Milk-Braised Pork Shoulder With Fennel, Pecans & Figs and Birria: Mexican Goat Stew, a restorative dish I think the world could use more of. The Stewart team (you don’t really think she develops all these recipes all by herself, do you?) puts forth many rib-sticking meat dishes, from cassoulet to ropa vieja, and also excels at desserts. New York Times columnist Melissa Clark wants to help you save time, but the audience for “Dinner in an Instant” (Clarkson Potter, $22) is not lounge lizards. It’s people moving at warp speed. Behold the electric pressure cooker, which has come into vogue with the advent of the Instant Pot. Duck confit in two hours? Tender beets in 30 minutes? Sign me up. For the record, electric pressure cookers can also be used for low-and-slow cooking, and in many cases, Clark provides instructions for that style as well.
EAT (AND DRINK) LIKE YOU’RE IN BANGKOK. Thai food lovers, maybe the kind of people who stand in line at Atlanta chef Parnass Savang’s Talat Market every weekend, are double blessed this season. Two West Coast chefs, Portland’s Andy Ricker (Pok Pok) and L.A.’s Kris Yenbamroong (Night + Market), have tapped into Thailand’s “aahaan kap klaem,” or culture of drinking food. Ricker’s “The Drinking Food of Thailand” showcases many dishes I crave and remember from my adventures in Thailand (dancing shrimp, Isaan fermented pork-and-rice sausages, glass noodle salad), plus many late-night snacks I dream of some day scarfing with beer or rice wine (northern Thai frog soup, fried papaya salad). Yenbamroong’s “Night + Market” is a bang-up tribute to his grandma, who moved all the way from Thailand so his dad could open a Thai restaurant on Sunset Strip, and his own “heavily spicy, funky, and powerfully seasoned dishes,” as Ricker describes them in the introduction. This dazzling book is a sensual overload, like riding a motorscooter through Chiang Mai at midnight.
THREE REASONS L.A. IS HOT: Wesley Avila was working as a forklift operator when he quit his job to go to culinary school in 2013. Afterward, he cooked with some celebrated chefs before finding his metier: tacos! Today Avila makes some of the best tacos in America, if not the world, dispensing them from a taco truck. With “Guerrilla Tacos” (Ten Speed, $30), he spills all his secrets for Pig Head Taco with Lentils and Fried Quail Egg; Roasted Pumpkin Taco; Lobster Tacos and many others, plus a few tostados, quesadillas, even bouillabaisse. L.A.’s Nguyen Tran has done for Asian fusion what Avila did for tacos. The health department threatened to shut down his underground supper club, but he persisted. Now he tells the tale with “Adventures in Starry Kitchen” (Harper One, $29.99), and we can try his Braised Coca-Cola Jackfruit, Spam Brussels Sprouts Fried Rice, and Pandan Churros. L.A.’s vibrant historic downtown market turns 100 this year, and Adele Yellin and Kevin West’s “The Grand Central Market Cookbook” (Clarkson Potter, $30) is a stunning tribute to the glorious tacos, carnitas, ramen, fried rice, oysters and waffles that make this time-honored spot such a beehive of diversity and deliciousness.
FOR THE SWEET TOOTH. Say what you will about London celebrity chef Yotam Ottolenghi’s “Sweet”(heck, I raved about it). But the dessert book of the year in my mind is Stella Parks’ “BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts” (Norton, $35). Parks is not only a chocolate-chip cookie ace and doughnut devotee, but also a bad-ass writer and culinary historian who doesn’t seem to give a flip about spun-sugar fantasies or liquid nitrogen ice cream. Most of her recipes date back more than 100 years. You’ll be hearing a lot more about this book. And the award for most gorgeous gastronomic coffee-table book of the year goes to … Cenk Sonmezsoy for “The Artful Baker” (Abrams, $50). The Istanbul-based, “Golden Girls”-obsessed creator of the Cafe Fernando blog, recipe developer, photographer and graphic designer extraordinaire (basically he created the book from start to finish) slathers it on pretty thick with this collection of recipes for the likes of Devil Wears Chocolate (a chocolate-ganache cake encircled by a spiky fence of chocolate shards) and Mango & Red Currant Pavlovas. Kill me now.
THE SPICE IS RIGHT. I once had a friend in Istanbul who prepared the most amazing breakfasts without cooking a thing. I once paid a driver to chauffeur me from Cappadocia to Konya just so I could weep at the tomb of Rumi. So when Robyn Eckhardt’s “Istanbul & Beyond” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $35) came my way, I was instantaneously smitten. Eckhart and her photographer husband, David Hagerman, don’t cover all of Turkey, but they seem to find all the good stuff: Lemony Okra & Tomato Soup, Buttery Lamb & Onion Stew, Purple Basil Cooler. Take me back! … Washington, D.C., chef Vikram Sunderam won a James Beard Award for Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic in 2014, and now the Bombay native and his partner Ashok Bajaj have written “Rasika: Flavors of India” (Ecco, $34.99). If Sunderam’s tandooris and biryanis are good enough for Michelle Obama, they’re good enough for me.
GREAT RESTAURANTS PAST AND PRESENT: Wylie Dufresne is one of the great New York chefs, so the arrival of his first cookbook, “wd~50: The Cookbook” (Ecco, $75), which memorializes his late great restaurant, is something of a BFD. Should you ever want to make Chicken, Carrot Confit, Egg Yolk, Mole Paper or Aerated Foie, it’s all right here. Chicago’s Publican has a simple mantra: oysters, pork and beer. The brainchild of Paul Kahan, the Chicago chef who made his name at Blackbird, Publican is a throwback to Colonial drinking halls of yon. As the authors of the quirky “Cheers to the Publican: Repast and Present: Recipes and Ramblings From an American Beer Hall” (Ten Speed, $40) claim in their “Anti-Tweezer Manifesto,” they don’t care that most of their fare is “essentially big piles of brown stuff.” They aren’t doing it to win awards. They are doing it because they believe in food that tastes good. End of sermon.
Wendell Brock is an Atlanta-based food and culture writer, frequent AJC contributor and winner of a 2016 James Beard Foundation Award for journalism. Follow him on Twitter (@MrBrock) and Instagram (@WendellDavidBrock).