Cookbooks aren’t dead.
The Great Recession didn’t kill them off. Plus, the competition of a zillion (mostly unremarkable) food blogs and websites may have helped raise the bar for publishers and authors to offer more bang for the buck. I’m astounded by the quality of many recently released titles, and this year’s yielded a bumper crop of exceptional books sure to please the home chef on your holiday shopping list.
I’ve just reviewed my weekly cookbook columns from the year thus far. It was a difficult task, but I’ve arrived at a top-five list of national releases. I can’t say one book is better than the others — each is different and delicious in its own way.
No. 1: “100 Recipes: The Absolute Best Ways to Make the True Essentials” by the editors at America’s Test Kitchen; 368 pages, $40. Published by America’s Test Kitchen, 2015.
What’s to love: Get ready to expand your culinary repertoire with this collection of recipes. Each includes a timeline, list of essential tools, and substitutions and variations. Dishes include Scrambled Eggs, Grilled Cheese, Turkey, Beef Burgundy, Fish Tacos, Focaccia and Chocolate Chip Cookies. Culinary desideratum — I don’t know how I lived without it!
“Whether you’re a novice cook looking to improve skills and confidence or a seasoned cook looking for new challenges, mastering a short list of new recipes will help you achieve your goal.” — the editors at America’s Test Kitchen
No. 2: “The Vegetarian Flavor Bible” by Karen Page; 554 pages, $40. Published by Little, Brown and Company, 2014.
What’s to love: This isn’t a cookbook, but rather a culinary religious text. Open the book to almost any page and get inspiration for mastering your kitchen. A confidence builder!
“Armed with this book, you’ll be on the front line of creating new dishes and a whole new way of eating that’s as healthful for others and for the planet as it is for you.” — Karen Page
No. 3: “Better on Toast: Happiness on a Slice of Bread 70 Irresistible Recipes” by Jill Donenfeld; 198 pages, $27.50. Published by William Morrow, 2015.
What’s to love: Easy-to-follow recipes cover savory and sweet, hot and cold — and for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. This is indeed a fabulous cookbook that will teach you new techniques and introduce you to new flavor combinations. Who knew toast could be so wonderful!
“Toasts can be made by anyone, no matter the level of expertise or the type of kitchen. And they can be eaten anytime, anywhere.” — Jill Donenfeld
No. 4: “Sweet Paleo: Gluten-Free, Grain-Free Delights” by Lea Hendry Valle; 229 pages, $16.95. Published by Countryman Press, 2015.
What’s to love: Adherents of the paleo diet (which avoids all grains, dairy, refined sugar and other processed foods) can still indulge in all sorts of treats — cookies, cakes, donuts, pies, pastries, custards, puddings and candies. The recipes use natural unrefined sweeteners such as raw honey, coconut nectar, dates and maple syrup. Even if you don’t follow the paleo lifestyle, this book will open your mind to new products and new twists on old favorites. Creative and delightful!
“I believe our daily lives are enhanced in many ways by taking the time to enjoy the beauty of creation … I love when food is not only healthful and delicious, but aesthetically pleasing as well.” — Lea Hendry Valle
No 5: “Eat! The Quick-Look Cookbook” by Gabriela Scolik +Team/Infographics: No.Parking (256 pages, $25. Published by Weldon Owen, 2015.
What’s to love: More than 400 fully illustrated recipes, which are arranged by category: cook without heat, cook, roast, stew, fry and deep-fry, grill, bake, preserve and drink. This is a great approach for people who are strong visual learners, Millennials and anyone else who prefers to communicate via thumb-texting emoticons rather than words. Innovative!
“In EAT! The Quick-look Cookbook, a team of food mavens and graphic artists have come together to create hundreds of fully illustrated step-by-step recipes as your guide to creating a world of flavor.” — Gabriela Scolik +Team/Infographics: No.Parking
GURU GREEN EGGS
“Better on Toast: Happiness on a Slice of Bread 70 Irresistible Recipes” by Jill Donenfeld
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
½ ripe avocado, pitted and peeled
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives, plus a few more for garnish
8 to 12 Little Gem lettuce leaves
4½-inch-thick slices sourdough bread, pan-toasted in mayonnaise (see below)
Freshly ground black pepper
1. Hard-boil the eggs using the guru method (see below). Slice the eggs into rounds, about 5 per egg.
2. Using an immersion blender or a food processor, puree the lemon juice, oil, salt, avocado and chives until smooth. Add a little water if needed. You want a smooth, thin consistency.
3. Top the toasts with 2 to 3 lettuce leaves each and the egg slices. Drizzle with the green sauce. Garnish with chives and pepper and serve immediately.
Hard-boiled Eggs Guru Style
Fill a saucepan with 1 inch of water and bring it to a boil over medium-high heat. Carefully place the eggs in, cover the pot, and cook for 7 to 8 minutes, depending on the desired runniness. Drain the hot water and run the eggs under cold water for 30 seconds. Peel.
Mayonnaise or Butter Pan-Toasting Method
1. Spread mayonnaise or butter evenly on both sides of the slice of bread.
2. Heat a cast-iron skillet (ideally) over medium heat. When the oil is hot, place the bread in the pan and toast until golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes.
3. Flip the bread and repeat on the other side.
COCONUT MILK PANNA COTTA
“Sweet Paleo: Gluten-Free, Grain-Free Delights” by Lea Hendry Valle (229 pages, $16.95). Published by Countryman Press, 2015.
2 (13.5-ounce) cans full-fat coconut milk, divided
1 tablespoon unflavored grass-fed gelatin or vegan equivalent
1/3 cup raw honey
2 teaspoons sure vanilla extract
1 cup fresh berries or fruit sauce
1. Pour 1 cup of the coconut milk into a medium-size saucepan and sprinkle evenly with the gelatin. Let the mixture sit for a few minutes to allow the gelatin to soften.
2. Heat the coconut milk mixture over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the gelatin is dissolved and the mixture begins to steam. Stir in the remaining coconut milk and honey and whisk.
3. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla. Let the mixture cool for 10 minutes.
4. Divide the panna cotta mixture evenly among six glasses or small bowls. Cover the dishes tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours, or until cold and set.
5. Top with seasonal berries to serve.
BRAISED TURKEY WITH GRAVY
“100 Recipes: The Absolute Best Ways to Make the True Essentials” by the editors at America’s Test Kitchen
Salt and pepper
1 cup sugar
1 (5- to 7-pound) whole bone-in turkey breast, trimmed
4 pounds turkey drumsticks and thighs, trimmed
3 onions, chopped
3 celery ribs, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
½ ounce dried porcini mushrooms, rinsed
6 garlic cloves, crushed and peeled
6 sprigs fresh thyme
6 sprigs fresh parsley
2 bay leaves
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
4 cups chicken broth
1 cup dry white wine
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1. Dissolve 1 cup salt and sugar in 2 gallons cold water in large container. Submerge turkey pieces in brine, cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours or up to 6 hours.
2. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Remove turkey from brine and pat dry with paper towels. Toss onions, celery, carrots, mushrooms, garlic, thyme sprigs, parsley sprigs, bay leaves and 2 tablespoons melted butter together in large roasting pan; arrange in even layer. Brush turkey pieces with remaining 2 tablespoons melted butter and season with pepper. Place turkey pieces, skin side up, on vegetables, leaving at least ¼ inch between pieces. Roast until skin is lightly browned, about 20 minutes.
3. Remove pan from oven and reduce temperature to 325 degrees. Pour broth and wine around turkey pieces (liquid should come about three-quarters up drumsticks and thighs). Place 16 by 12-inch piece of parchment paper over turkey pieces. Cover pan tightly with aluminum foil. Return covered pan to oven and cook until breast registers 160 degrees and thighs register 175 degrees, 1¾ to 2¼ hours. Transfer turkey to carving board, tent loosely with foil, and let rest for 20 minutes.
4. Strain vegetables and liquid from roasting pan through fine-mesh strainer set in large bowl; discard solids. Pour liquid into fat separator and let settle for 5 minutes. Reserve 3 tablespoons fat and 3 cups braising liquid (set aside any remaining braising liquid for another use).
5. Heat reserved fat in medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly, until flour is dark golden brown and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Whisk in reserved braising liquid and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until gravy is thick and reduced to 2 cups, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove gravy from heat and season with salt and pepper to taste.
6. Carve turkey and serve, passing gravy separately.
EGGPLANT STIR-FRY WITH SLIPPERY, PEANUTY NOODLES
Recipe by Connie Post, inspired by “The Vegetarian Flavor Bible” by Karen Page (554 pages, $40; Published by Little, Brown and Company, 2014.
1 eggplant, diced into ½ - to ¾-inch cubes
8 ounces straight cut rice noodles
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil (I’d also recommend coconut oil)
2/3 cup creamy peanut butter
1 tablespoon miso
1 tablespoon tamari
1 tablespoon sriracha
1 tablespoon white rice vinegar
½ teaspoon sesame oil
¼ cup water
1 tablespoon garlic, diced
¼ cup red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon sesame seeds
2 tablespoons cilantro, diced
1 green onion, diced
Place the eggplant cubes in a rimmed pan and lightly salt. Spread out evenly in a single layer. Allow the salt to draw out liquid from the eggplant for 20 minutes. Rinse well and pat dry.
To make noodles:
Place noodles in a bowl and cover with extremely hot water for at least 5 minutes.
To make peanut sauce:
In another bowl, mix peanut butter, miso, tamari, sriracha, vinegar and sesame oil. Mix well with a food scraper.
To put it all together:
Heat a wok or skillet on medium high. Add the oil and let it come up to temperature. Add garlic and stir for about 30 seconds. Add eggplant and cook for 2 minutes, stirring to keep from burning. Add bell pepper and sesame seeds. Continue cooking until the eggplant cubes are tender. Add peanut sauce and stir well. Add water, if necessary, to make peanut sauce thin enough to evenly coat veggies. Drain noodles and add them to the veggies and peanut sauce. Add water, if necessary, for a desired consistency. Remove from heat. Stir in cilantro. Serve with green onion sprinkled on top.
“Eat! The Quick-Look Cookbook” by Gabriela Scolik +Team/Infographics: No.Parking
2½ cups/1 pound tomatoes, skinned and diced
½ cucumber, diced
1 (each) green, yellow and red bell pepper, diced
½ cup/1 ounce bread crumbs
1 can pureed tomatoes
¾ cup/6 fluid ounces water
6 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small chile, minced
Mix and blend the ingredients. Chill for 2 hours. Season to taste with salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar.