When I was in high school, a family friend knew how much I loved cooking and gifted me with some cookbooks she was getting rid of. I hit the jack pot. Her gift included Julia Child's Mastering The Art of French Cooking, The Professional Chef, The NY Times Cookbook, and more.
That first gift was the start of an always growing and increasingly curated cookbook collection. I started to read cookbooks like novels, eagerly absorbing each recipe, image, personal anecdote, and cautionary tale. I love everything from old vintage cookbooks found at second hand stores and flea markets, to brand new books from chefs or authors I love and admire. My "cookbook bookshelf" is overflowing, and I have no problem with that. From Elizabeth David to Yotam Ottolenghi, from Dorie Greenspan to Suzanne Goin, from Nigella Lawson to Ina Garten, from James Beard to Julia Child - I love them all.
Below is a list of some of my current favorites. These books have all been published in 2015, and I think they are great gifts for fellow cooks and/or cookbook lovers. There are many other cookbooks that came out in 2015 that I would like to read and haven't yet. I hope to soon, and may have to update this list accordingly. I'd also love to hear any cookbook suggestions (old or new!)
Ruth Reichl - My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life
I LOVE this book. I already said I read cookbooks like novels, but this was never more true than when I read this book cover to cover over the course of a few days. I have always loved Reichl's prose, and I was a huge Gourmet fan, and this cookbook is the best of both worlds. The recipes are outstanding (I've already tried a few), and the writing that accompanies the recipes is equally compelling.
This book is an amazing gift for an avid home cook: someone that loves to be in the kitchen, discovering new techniques, flavors, and ideas.
Heidi Swanson - Near and Far
I've been a Heidi Swanson fan for years. She writes the beautiful blog, 101 Cookbooks, I covet every offering in her on-line store, her photography is outstanding, and her recipes inspire healthy cooking and seasonal eating. I love that her second cookbook is a travelogue - a glimpse into her worldly culinary discoveries, and the transformation of her pantry as a result. I was given this book by a dear friend, and am so grateful for the gift.
This book is great for the healthy eater, the vegetarian/vegan, the world traveler, the farmers' market shopper, the friend that might splurge on a good bottle of olive oil or a Spanish-made pairing knife. That is all to say: this isn't for everyone, but for the right person this book is such a treat.
Magnus Nilsson - The Nordic Cookbook
If you've ever watched Chef's Table on Netflix, or Mind of a Chef on PBS (also on Netflix), then you know about Magnus Nilsson and his incredible little restaurant in rural Sweden - Faviken. While I have never had the pleasure of eating his food, let alone traveling to Sweden, I became a big fan of Nilsson by hearing him talk about food, how he comes up with recipes, and his hyper-local and seasonal approach to cooking. It's clear that this is a person who is passionate about where he comes from, and the food that that place provides. He has a deep relationship to food as culture, and food as a means of connecting to land, family, and our own history. You may not think much about Nordic Cooking, you may not have a need for a nearly 800 page tome on the topic, but once you start delving into this book it's impossible not to become excited by the recipes. Mainly, this is a testament to Nilsson's writing. His voice comes through in every page. I have just begun reading the book, and I've already learned about how to cook an egg in a new way, the popularity of Tex Mex in Scandinavia, and the influence of Sephardic Jews on a particular kind of cookie, among other things. Nilsson is upfront: some recipes you will not be able to cook (they involve ingredients or techniques we might not have access to). Some recipes will not be bullet proof: cooking, even baking, is not an exact science - the same ingredients (eggs, milk, flour) differ wildly across countries and continents. This book is not trying to provide you with an easy cooking experience where every recipe is replicable. That's the not the point, and the book is better for it.
This book is excellent for the historian, the Nordic lover, the Chef's Table fan, the Magnus Nilsson fan, the cookbook collector, the hopeful adventurer, and the curious cook. This book is an investment at $50, but it's a generous stunning piece of research and writing.
Yotam Ottolenghi - Nopi: The Cookbook
If there's a such thing as a cookbook fan girl then I am one. Yotom Ottolenghi is at the very top of my list of greatest cookbook writers on the planet. I own all of the his books, including the ones he co-authored with the equally admirable Sami Tamimi. His newest venture is co-authored with Ramael Scully, the chef of the London restaurant that offers the dishes documented in the book. Ottolenghi makes it clear from the start that this book includes recipes that are more ambitious than those written in his previous cookbooks: Plenty, Plenty More, Jerusalem, and Ottolenghi. The home cook still has a lot to work from, but many recipes require the kind of labor that most folks don't want to do outside of a professional set-up. That said, even if you're not cooking the recipes they provide stunning inspiration. The photographs are incredible, the ideas are wholly original, and the writing is clear and accessible. I am already eagerly awaiting Ottolenghi's next cookbook.
This book is for the ambitious chef, Yotam fan, lover of Asian and Middle Eastern fusion food, and serious cookbook collector.
Amelia Saltsman - The Seasonal Jewish Kitchen - A Fresh Take on Tradition
Amelia Satlsman lives here in Southern California, and is a long standing supporter and friend of local farmers' markets. In fact, she even wrote the wonderful Santa Moncia Farmers' Market Cookbook. This book is near and dear to my heart as it's about two of my favorite culinary topics. The recipes are inventive, colorful, bright, modern, and delicious. There are new takes on old dishes, and interesting ways to incorporate some unexpected produce and other ingredients (i.e. Tunisian Lemon Rind Salad). There are an abundance of vegetarian and even vegan options, and the recipes all feel easy and homey - perfect for entertaining during the holidays or otherwise.
This book is wonderful for the modern Jewish cook, the farmers' market lover, the vegetarian, the Californian, the entertainer, the adventurous eater, and the welcoming home cook.
Other books that deserve mentioning are:
- NEW - Crossroads - co-written by legendary cookbook author JoAnn Cianciulli. This is the cookbook from the beloved Los Angeles vegan restaurant. Great for any and all plant-based eaters.
- NEW-ISH - Heritage - Sean Brock's masterpiece on Southern Cooking. This is a must-have for any cookbook lover.
- NEW CLASSIC - Plenty - If you only get one Yotam book, this should be it. I have given this book as a gift more times than I can count. All of the recipes are vegetarian, crowd-pleasers, well-written, and soooo good.
- CLASSIC REMASTERED - At Elizabeth David's Table - Elizabeth David was/is as important to cooking in England as Julia Child was/is in America. I love her sassy voice, and clear recipe writing. So many gems in this book, not to mention gorgeous photography.
- CLASSIC - Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking - Written by the incomparable Marcella Hazan. If you love cooking Italian food, this book IS essential.