We've reviewed a lot of books this year, and we've already given you a few "favorites" lists. But here are what we consider The Best Cookbooks of 2011 (and one cocktail book for kicks). Not the best general cookbooks, practical as they are. These are those engaging (yet useful) cookbooks that for some reason, you just can't seem to put down. A motley crew of cookbooks on very different subjects for polar opposite audiences. The L.A. demographic in cookbook form, essentially.
Several of our 2011 favorites we've already told you about, like Paula Wolfert's fantastic Food of Morocco, Nancy Silverton's Mozza Cookbook, for the offal-obsessed, Odd Bits, and Maria Speck's Ancient Grains For Modern Meals. And let's not forget Sugar Baby. Here are the rest.Bocca
You promised yourself no more cookbooks on the regional cuisine of Italy. Yeah, so did we. Who needs another? And Bocca is the work of a London chef, Jacob Kennedy, with that "generation or two ago" version of Italian roots. But this is one great book. Take The Silver Spoon Cookbook and add a chef's thoughtful touch (but nothing overdone), and you've got Bocca.
From Lazio, "burnt" ricotta pie sounds like the brown butter of the fresh cheese world, the saffron risotto (Lombardy) looks far better than any version of the simple dish that we've ever made (that whole veal marrow bone is our missing link, no doubt), as does that pandoro with zabaione from Piedmont (similar to panettone served with sabayon). There's also homemade fennel salami, stewed tripe with potatoes and cloves, taglioni pasta au gratin with shrimp and Treviso, squab stuffed with squash and chestnuts. Right. No need to go on.
This is the revised version of the 1960 classic by food reporter Clementine Paddleford, who traversed the United States in the 1950s on assignment to reveal "How American Eats," which turned into a book by the same name. Out of print for thirty years, this edition includes 500 of the original book's best recipes (updated): Lady Baltimore cake (Carolinas), tangerine marmalade (Florida) and plenty of vegetables from California (spinach-stuffed zucchini, creamy broccoli casserole, green goddess dressing). Yeah, it's the sort of cookbook a food history geek with a serious case of Americana will love.The PDT Cocktail Book
The recipes here could have been buried in coffee-table size photographs, as we might expect from long-anticipated book from New York City's PDT. Instead, we get fantastic comic book-style illustrations by Chris Gall that make you want to add a SPLASH! of vermouth and SHAKE! that martini. The compact, bar-sized book is bulging in the middle with 300 recipes from Jim Meehan and the PDT crew. And no, we're not going to list any cocktail recipe teasers here, as we've all read about them in every food publication imaginable over the past few years. And yeah, despite the press overload, those recipes are good.Very good.
There have been an awful lot of high-end chefs doing "at home" books as of late (Note to publishers: Time for a new trend), but only Blumenthal could make marmite consommé (p. 70) sound enticing even to the marmite averse (all that brown butter doesn't hurt). And for a large-format, coffee table-appropriate cookbook, there are none of those "storyboard" photos we've come to expect (of the author fishing, hanging out with friends, or doing whatever it is he does in his free time that has nothing to do with the recipes).
Instead, this is a "real" cookbook that happens to be large format, meaning we actually sat down and read that useful mini lesson plan on poaching fish. And yes, there are plenty of fussier cooking techniques here if you're a molecular gastronomy buff. That sea bass with vanilla butter, fennel smoked in duck fat and braised romaine lettuce, and lamb jelly with cucumber salad? We do hope you'll invite us over for a taste.