Because kitchen skills are exactly that -- skills that take time to master -- we offer the best three general cookbooks this year for three very different cooks. Even we never would have thought we would put Ferran Adrià's latest cookbook in the "general" cooking category. And for beginners. But hey, 2011 was that kind of year.
For The Beginner: The Family Meal: Home Cooking With Ferran Adrià
When Ferran Adrià lays out a cookbook in the same style as those recipe step-by-steps (complete with photos) on every other food blog these days, it's pretty hilarious -- especially the "pantry" pages with photos of hot dog wieners (rather than, say, prosciutto or crispy bacon) awaiting the chopping block for a classic potato salad (Hey, maybe he has a thing for hot dogs).
But it's also a logical presentation. When you're working with three or four ingredients, precise instructions are what you're after. Perfect for the beginning home cook.
Sample Recipes: Black rice with squid, baked sweet potatoes with honey and cream, beans with clams, fresh strawberries in vinegar syrup.
For The Home Cook In A Mashed Potato Rut: The Silver Spoon Cookbook (Updated)
Anyone who owns a weathered pasta maker probably already has the first English edition (2005) of this book, which has been published in Italian since 1950. Everyone else needs it. Like The Joy of Cooking, the book is filled with simple, classic recipes.The new edition contains some revised recipes, but the re-release seems more about updated photos than major content changes (previously, the photos looked like they were shot through a Xerox copier).
No need to hand over the new edition to anyone who already has one of the earlier copies. But for anyone else, this is a great (and huge, in terms of recipes) resource -- Italophile or not. After all, so much of what we call American comfort food was originally handed down from Italy.
Sample Recipes: Green beans au gratin, eggplant with anchovies, monkfish in red wine, cuttlefish with spinach, rabbit with bay leaves, fig tart, date and walnut bonbons.
For The Experienced Cook: Essential Pépin
Because the subtitle, "More than 700 all-time favorites from my life in food," says it all. And Pépin is not one to take such French country cooking statements lightly, as this great reflection on the cookbook writing process (written by his editor, Rux Martin) attests. The book also serves as a promotion for his new PBS show by the same name, but these are solid, no fuss recipes -- exactly the sort of tonic that anyone who bought a copy of Modernist Cuisine this year could really use right about now.
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Sample Recipes: Pea pod soup (yes, using the leftover fresh pods), fried fish with compound butter, beef boulettes with fianancière sauce (meatballs made with leftover beef in fresh tomato-mushroom-olive sauce), bread galettes on salad greens, port-glazed onions, warm chocolate fondue soufflé, plum and cherry cordials.
[More from Jenn Garbee @eathistory + eathistory.com