For those who complain there is simply no time to do it all, that these days you must choose between cooking and reading (in that precious weeknight window of time between your last Tweet and lights out), this has been your lucky cookbook year.
So many cookbooks — good ones — were published this year that could double as reading material and menu fodder that we're dubbing the Best Cookbooks of 2010 That Double As Cultural Studies a separate category in our continuing Best Cookbooks of 2010 series. Cook and learn. Now that sounds like a 2011 education reform slogan with sit-down dinner power. Turn the page for our favorite picks.
Cooking with Italian Grandmothers by Jessica Theroux
The first cookbook by writer Jessica Theroux chronicles the time she spent bouncing around various Italian nonnas' kitchens for girl talk, cooking lessons and hearty country meals. The book could well have been yet another travelogue, a blog-era personal essay dwelling more on the author than the subject. But Cooking with Italian Grandmothers is actually quite engaging, more of a memoir about 12 women than a cookbook — a day in their lives, a peek inside their kitchens and photographs by Theroux revealing the cultural differences that still remain (thankfully) in various regions of Italy. Have we seen several of the recipes and already heard many of these points made? Sure. But this isn't meant to be Diana Kennedy's magnum opus (see below). Have a double espresso and you probably won't even notice.
A World Of Cake by Krystina Castella
What constitutes a “world” cake view? The American vision of flour + eggs + butter + sugar baked in a Western oven? Right. In her impossible-to-put-down A World of Cake cookbook, Krystina Castella (a professor at Pasadena's Art Center), includes fried cakes (fritters), frozen cakes (Thai mango-lychee ice cream, p. 292, or Italian cassata gelato, p. 196), sweet dumplings (Indian gulab jamun, p. 252, South African souskluitjie, p. 219), quick breads (Greek vasilopita, p. 202, West Indian calabaza pudding cake, p. 64), and pastry-based tarts (Portuguese pastéis de nata, p. 201). And that's before you get to the two-page sections on the “World Tour of Christmas Cakes” (Armenian nutmeg cakes, Chilean pan de pascua, aebleskivers from Denmark) and “Cakes of the Dead” (pink ghost cakes from China, soul cakes from Belgium, Haitian coconut cakes). Everyone else may be at the Rose Bowl next weekend, but we'll be baking cakes to cheer on a local author.
Oaxaca al Gusto by Diana Kennedy
We've already said so much about this stunning — for both its cultural preservation efforts and its recipes — cookbook by Diana Kennedy that we can only reiterate: You'll want to read about those cabeze de res (barbecued beef head) and guiso de sesos de res (beef brains with jalapeños with garlic and tomatoes cooked in banana leaves) recipes even if you make a few recipe tweaks along the way. This is the sort of cookbook — no, the cookbook — that should be on everyone's shelf. Kitchen, library, bathroom or wherever it is you happen to do your quality reading, we can promise you Kennedy is not the type who cares.