Best Cookbooks of 2008
In a year when so many of us are cooking at home more often, plenty of new cookbooks are ready to fill us in on the basics.
Books from Martha Stewart, Rachael Ray, "Barefoot Contessa" Ina Garten and Mark Bittman stand ready to assist.
For cooks who are ready to re-create the dishes of Chicago's Alinea or Spain's elBulli, challenging books from Grant Achatz and Ferran Adria await.
For sheer cuteness, it's tough to beat "Hello Cupcake," Karen Tack and Alan Richardson's imaginative guide to cupcakes tricked out in dozens of ways, from holiday snowmen to a vegetable garden. When my daughter took this one to school in the spring, her teachers passed it around for days, copying the recipes.
I'm looking forward to reading Birmingham chef Frank Stitt's new book, "Bottega Favorita," after years of turning to his "Southern Table" for French-influenced takes on Southern classics, like the Roast Pork Rack With Corn Pudding that I prepared earlier this week. (I found the pork rack at Costco, which is stocking all sorts of extras for the holidays, including duck confit and La Brea breads. At $2.99 a pound, it makes an affordable and impressive centerpiece for a holiday meal.)
Southern cookbooks boomed in 2008, with enticing selections from Damon Lee Fowler ("The Savannah Cookbook"), Martha Hall Foose ("Screen Doors and Sweet Tea") and Viginia Willis (Bon Appetit, Y'all"). The Savannah book, rich with a sense of place and people, offers recipes like Vidalia Onions Stuffed With Sausage and Pecans, and Lowcountry Smothered Pork Chops. Foose draws from the Mississippi Delta for her collection, and Willis combines French techniques with Georgia and Louisiana favorites.
To read what other food writers think about this year's cookbooks, check out these links:
NPR's 10 Best Cookbooks of 2008 include "The Splendid Table's How to Eat Supper" by Lynne Rossetto Kasper and Sally Swift — fun to read and cook from, with fast, easily prepared recipes — and "Two Dudes, One Pan" by Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo, another stripped-down approach to preparing memorable meals.
Amazon's Al Dente Blog puts David Tanis' "A Platter of Figs and Other Recipes" at the top. Tanis lives the foodie fantasy: Cooking at Chez Panisse half the year, spending the rest of the year in Paris, cooking dinner for friends. The book presents menus arranged seasonally.
Epicurious picks "Fish Without a Doubt" by Rick Moonen and Roy Finamore, a comprehensive cooking guide from a chef and a meticulous food writer that's shown up on a number of lists, as its best overall.
About.com: Gourmet Food selects Achatz's "Alinea" as its favorite, calling it "pure genius." Whether you ever actually cook from the book is beside the point, it says.
The Wall Street Journal's Raymond Sokolov explores the future of inventive cuisine as seen in cookbooks by Alain Ducasse, Pierre Gagnaire, Adria, Achatz, Thomas Keller, Joel Robuchon and a few other top chefs.
Fine Cooking magazine's picks include "Bakewise," food scientist Shirley Corriher's thorough take on what makes recipes work — and what makes pound cakes get saggy crusts. Other picks include "Fat" by Jennifer McLagan, a celebration of the flavor of butter, bacon, foie gras and the like. Recipes include French fries crisped in duck fat, Slow-Roasted Pork Belly With Fennel and Rosemary, and Butter Chicken.
For the most comprehensive and eclectic list, check out the fall preview from Kitchen Arts and Letters, the famed New York cookbook store.
The New York Times selected its nine favorites, including "Olives and Oranges: Recipes and Flavor Secrets from Italy, Spain, Cyprus and Beyond," by New York chef Sara Jenkins and Mindy Fox. (Jenkins is the daughter of Mediterranean food expert and cookbook author Nancy Harmon Jenkins.)
Also on its list: A favorite of many of this year's cookbook roundups, "Urban Italian: Simple Recipes and True Stories From a Life in Food" by Andrew Carmellini and Gwen Hyman.
Want more from The New York Times? A Web extra offers 25 more.