It seems appropriate as we head
kicking and screaming enthusiastically into the holiday season that my Favorite Things feature deals with food. After all, most of us will be experiencing about six weeks of food-related panic ecstasy as we cook and bake and gift our way through Thanksgiving and Christmas. So here are the five cookbooks you should have on hand to survive the upcoming season of culinary madness.
The Food Lab, by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt
If you took Bill Nye the Science Guy and made him a thirty-something Asian culinary science geek, you’d get J. Kenji Lopez-Alt. This book is my number one recommended cookbook and the pretty much the only book I would ever need, were I forced to choose. You’re not going to find a lot of fancy sauces or molecular gastronomy or anything in these pages. Just a scientific and well-researched approach to the very best way to cook all your favorites, from scrambled eggs to fried chicken to mashed potatoes. It’s a bit like a culinary education for the bargain price of $35. And this thing is no lightweight… it tops out at 958 pages, plus appendices. Trust me, dedicate a couple weeks of evenings to reading this and you’re going to suddenly feel like Wolfgang Puck. Minus the accent. Probably.
Recipe to Try: Roasted Butterflied Turkey with Gravy, page 612.
Bravetart, by Stella Parks
I’m not gonna lie, I’ve got a serious foodie #girlcrush on Stella Parks. I’ve followed her column on Serious Eats for a while, and I love her moxie as much as her recipes. This cookbook was on my most anticipated list for the year, and it’s flat-out great. The concept of the book is reinventing iconic and heavily processed American desserts in new and fresh ways, from Oreo cookies to Cracker Jack to homemade Hershey’s syrup. It might be a bit of an overstatement to call this life-changing, but it’s my go-to book when I want something from my childhood that my food sensitivities prevent me from eating.
Recipe to Try: Chopped Chocolate Chip Cookies, page 34.
The Fearless Baker, by Erin Jeanne McDowell
This is my second most-anticipated cookbook of the year, and like Bravetart, it was worth the wait. I look at this one like The Food Lab for bakers: each recipe gives an explanation of why it works and how to change things up. While I haven’t made a ton of recipes from this one yet, I’ve applied the tricks and tips to my most problem recipes with stellar results. This is one of those books that gives you confidence to tackle things you’ve never had the courage to attempt.
Recipe to Try: Buttermilk Biscuits, page 25
*Note: The linked recipe uses twice as much baking powder as the book recipe, but is otherwise identical. Since I’m baking at altitude, I would go with 1T only to prevent the biscuits from over-rising. YMMV.
Damn Delicious, by Chungah Rhee
After the first three “serious” cookbooks, you might be asking what this slim volume from a blogger is doing in the mix. This is your ace in the hole, my friends. Every single recipe in this book is, ahem, darn delicious and guaranteed to please the picky eaters in your family. Are they things you couldn’t find on Pinterest? No, they’re pretty straightforward. But the recipes are well-tested, tasty, and best of all, fast. This is the book I reach for when I’m completely brain dead after a long day of writing and the last thing I want to do is meal-plan. Or search the internet. Or find my phone. Pick it up and thank me later.
Recipe to Try: Asian Garlic Noodles, page 71
The Flavor Bible, by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg
This one isn’t specifically a cookbook—you won’t find a single recipe inside. What it is is a master class on flavor paring, organized like a dictionary. For those of you who are ready for a bit more of a challenge, this can help you figure out what flavors go together when you’re cooking on the fly…or like me, forget to go grocery shopping and decide to make dinner into an impromptu Chopped: Home Edition episode. But even if you’re not a cook-by-the-seat-of-your-pants type, this book has one huge benefit. Substitutions. Out of an herb, spice, or vegetable? Flip to the sections that detail the main ingredients in your dish and see what else goes with those flavors. This is my get-out-of-jail free card, and I’ve turned many an uh-oh into a new favorite recipe. Most pages also include quotes from well-known chefs and examples of their signature dishes for inspiration.
Hope this helps you on your way to holiday sanity. If you try these and find any new favorites, let me know!