Whisk and Quill Picks The Most Notable Cookbooks of 2012

Jordan Wright
December 13, 2012


This year’s cookbooks brought us a wealth of ways to be engaged in food in one way or another – grow it, cook it, eat it, share it, broadcast it.  While some cover the cuisines of far-off cultures, others focus on a specific region of America or share memories of meaningful meals.  Books on preparing a garden’s harvest and instructive manuals on chronicling your food adventures with blogs, photos or Pinterest.  Proust would be pleased.  Have a madeleine and read on.

Lifestyle Cooking

Each afternoon I am treated to lunch by the writers of the Canal House cooking series – virtually that is.  From their bespoke blog they email a beautiful photograph of their luncheon with a short description of how they prepared it and what they served with it.  It might come from their Lambertville, New Jersey garden; be foraged on a hike in a nearby woods; or left on their doorstep by a friend.  Sometimes a few simple ingredients combined with leftovers from their Sunday suppers or backyard cookouts become a gourmand’s delight.  Written by Christopher Hirsheimer, former executive editor and co-founder of Saveur magazine and food and design editor of Metropolitan Home; and Melissa Hamilton, food stylist and former Saveur food editor, Canal House Cooks Every Day (Andrews McMeel Publishing) is a gorgeous collection of over 250 recipes for the home cook.


Cynthia Nims’s Salty Snacks (Ten Speed Press) is a fun book with simple, but original recipes for making your own chips, crisps, crackers, pretzels and other savory bites and had me bookmarking a goodly number of pages.  I loved the Cumin Lentil Crackers, Salami Chips with Grainy Mustard, Blue Cheese Straws, Five-Spice Duck Skin, and other tasty treats.  Whether you make food for gifting, cater parties or host them, you will refer to this delightful book whenever you’re entertaining.  Heads up, family and friends, the Coconut Crisps with Basil and Chiles could be in your Christmas stocking.

How To Books

Helene Dujardin’s Plate to Pixel – Digital Food Photography & Styling (Wiley) shares secrets from her career as a professional food photographer teaching photo-by-photo how to achieve the fabulous results professional food stylists use in creating those mouth-watering photos used in ads, magazines, blogs and books.

Three food-centric books from the “For Dummies” series, give tips for DIYs on how to get your message out with Pinterest For Dummies by Kelby Carr, Food Blogging For Dummies by Kelly Senyei, and Food Styling & Photography by Alison Parks-Whitfield – all from WileyNow you can write your own cookbook, blog about your Aunt June’s recipes, or photo broadcast the last scrumptious thing you ate.

Healthful Cooking and Gardening

Health nuts delight! Mark Bittman has you in his culinary sights with Leafy Greens – An A-to-Z Guide to 30 Types of Greens (Wiley).  From the New York Times food writer and author of How to Cook Everything, Bittman puts together over 120 recipes to green up your diet.  And who isn’t going green these days?  Ramp up your anti-oxidant intake with dishes like Bitter Greens with Bacon, Grilled Radicchio and Risotto with Arugula and Shrimp.  Whether its mizuna, kale, watercress, broccoli rabe, mustard greens, dandelion or collards, this nifty book will tell you how to identify and prepare over 30 kinds of greens whether found at local farmers markets or an Asian grocery.

I had a lot of fun with Vegan Eats World (Da Capo) by Terry Hope Romero – named “Favorite Cookbook Author” by VegNews.  Though I am most assuredly not a candidate for a strict vegan diet, there are many wonderfully creative recipes from a wide variety of cultures that would suit an omnivore.  Romero doesn’t just share her recipes and experiences that she describes as “savoring the planet”, she dreams of a vegan revolution.  So imagine a tofu banh mi sandwich, a seitan Greek gyro, Jackfruit Tacos, and Korean bulgogi made with extra-firm tofu.

I’m all for growing your own berries and veggies.  So over the past ten years or so our family has tended a small plot at the Chinquapin Organic Gardens in Alexandria, Virginia.  Community gardening is a great way for urban gardeners to keep their hands in the soil, swap crop tips or recipes, and share summer’s bounty.  So I was particularly interested in Fruit Trees in Small Spaces – Abundant Harvests from Your Own Backyard by Colby Eierman (Timber Press) an inspiring and informative book filled with concrete advice on selecting, pruning, espalier training, and preparing the fruits of your labor.  Did you know you could make wine from fresh oranges or peach leaves?

Photos by Erin Kunkel who once served as Director of Sustainable Agriculture for the Benziger Family Winery and Director of Gardens at the recently shuttered COPIA: The American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts in Napa Valley, make it look easy and fun.  Expect to see his produce on your plate if you are dining at Chez Panisse in Berkeley or Girl and the Fig in Sonoma.  As an advocate for children’s gardening programs, he was the co-founder of the School Garden Project in Eugene, Oregon. 

Ethnic Cuisine

Phaidon Press, who last year charmed us with the Noma cookbook whose recipes used Scandinavian foraged ingredients, now brings us The Lebanese Kitchen by Salma Hage.  Hage has compiled over 500 recipes from every region of her native Lebanon to bring us an astonishing collection of dishes for every course from mezzes to fattoush and aromatic desserts.  Within its pinked-edged pages is also a special section devoted to recipes from noted chefs who have already come under the spell of the Lebanese cuisine.  Roasted Sea Bass in Tahini Sauce, a Middle Eastern favorite of mine, is here demystified.

Morocco (Chronicle Books) by Jeff Koehler has a subtitle – A Culinary Journey with Recipes from the Spice-Scented Markets of Marrakech to the Date-Filled Oasis of Zagora which pretty much tells you what you can expect from its matte finish pages.  If I could eat this book I would.  You can almost smell the rosewater and spices.  This is why everyone dreams of visiting the ancient North African nation and why those that have come away with stars in their eyes.  The food is lavish, sensual and colorful.  From tagines to cous cous with a section on the Moroccan pantry that defines the country’s exotic ingredients.  It is easy to follow and sublime to eat.  You can follow Jeff’s culinary adventures on his website www.jeff-koehler.com.

Also worth noting is Rice & Curry – Sri Lankan Home Cooking (Hippocrene), a re-issue written by former Rolling Stone contributor S. H. (Skiz) Fernando Jr.  The photo-laden cookbook slash travelogue, has book jacket blurbs from Andrew Zimmern, host of Bizarre Foods and Anthony Bourdain who used Skiz as a guide through Sri Lanka on Travel Channel’s No Reservations.  Visit this link to read about Skiz’s DC pop up dinner this summer and more 2012 cookbook reviews.  

American Regional

Get the jump on your Charleston friends this year with Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking (Gibbs Smith).  Veteran cookbook authors Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubart explore the history of Southern regional cuisine with recipes that reflect the Old South along with some modern day twists.  This summer I watched Ms. Dupree making an unholy mess at a biscuit demonstration at Maryland’s National Harbor.  She was as funny on that hot steamy day as she is in this book.  And she gave practical tips in the same generous way she shares them on these pages.

Jordan with Nathalie Dupree

Jordan with Nathalie Dupree

“I always use flexible plastic cutting boards.  They make life easy when you transfer dry ingredients to the bowl and cut out your biscuits,” she trilled.  She went on to show how the biscuits must touch, and how she uses a 9” cake pan to nestle eight biscuits together.  “That’s enough for four for the first serving.  You can put in another pan after that to keep bringing out hot biscuits.”  She is very clear in her instructions and it certainly emboldened me to learn to make the perfect biscuit.  In this terrific compendium of all things edibly Southern you’ll find classics like Fried Chicken, Pimento Cheese and Sweet Potato Biscuits along with Peaches and Figs Wrapped in Country Ham.  It’s a keeper – all 600 recipes!


Margrit Mondavi’s Sketchbook – Reflections on Wine, Food, Art, Family, Romance, and Life is a personal favorite.  Margrit, widow of Napa wine pioneer Robert Mondavi and worldly octogenarian, has written this book with her heart and soul.  It is a refreshingly candid pentimento by a lively spirit who has found both pleasure and passion in both work and life.  Enjoy a memoir that reads like a private conversation with a close friend, and is beautifully composed with personal photographs, recipes and tributes from friends and family, and illustrated with her whimsical watercolor studies chronicling the couple’s private dinner menus, tablescapes and plein air landscapes.  Visit this link to read my recent interview with Margrit Mondavi.  .

Marcus Samuelsson’s latest book, “Yes, Chef”, is an emotion-filled autobiographical journey beginning with his adoption as a child from his native Ethiopia to his new family in Sweden.  The James Beard Foundation Award winner and winner of Top Chef Masters has written a thoroughly fascinating and poignant memoir that takes the reader from his culinary education in Europe to his success at New York’s Aquavit restaurant, later culminating in the 2010 opening of his smash hit Red Rooster restaurant in Harlem.  Visit this link to read my August interview with Samuelsson at the Howard Theatre

A Table at Le Cirque: Stories and Recipes from New York’s Most Legendary Restaurant (Rizzoli, NYC) written by its creator the Tuscan-born Sirio Maccioni and Pamela Fiori, a former editor at Town & Country and Travel & Leisure, puts you squarely at the best table in Manhattan.  For close to four decades, this exclusive institution has been a glamorous watering hole for celebrities and the country’s social and business elite.  Many of the world’s leading chefs have made their mark in its kitchens and the book contains recipes of some of their legendary dishes including Daniel Boulud’s Black Bass with Barolo Sauce, Alain Sailhac’s Fettuccine with White Truffles, Pierre Schaedelin’s deconstructed Caesar Salad, and noted chocolatier Jacques Torres’s Bombolini.

Local and Notable

Jersey born and bred Mike Isabella has a passion for food – earthy, soul-stretching, heart-stirring Italian food – and he’s decided to share it with the home cook.  In Crazy Good Italian (Da Capo Press Lifelong Books) he takes you into the kitchen with his nonna to teach you the family’s favorite dishes.  Included in the over 150 recipes that speak to his Italian roots is his famous Pepperoni Sauce, the one that wowed the judges on Bravo’s “Top Chef”.  Isabella has gotten to be a familiar fixture not only on television, where he made a cameo appearance on “Life After Top Chef”, but also around the DC area with his casual resto Graffiato and Georgetown venture Bandelero.  His almond and jam flavored Rainbow cookies are perfect for Christmas with their red, gold and green layers topped with chocolate.  Visit this link to read my piece on Isabella’s opening of Bandelero earlier this year.

My first assignment as a DC-based food writer was to interview Carla Hall at DC’s CulinAerie, a catering company where she once taught cooking classes.  I found her presiding over a TV watch party with her friends and co-workers, held the night the Top Chef finalists were announced.  Though she came in second that night, the show forever changed the life of the former French fashion model in ways she could not have imagined.

Currently the co-host of ABC’s The Chew, Hall has written her first book Cooking With Love – Comfort Food That Hugs You (Simon and Schuster Digital Sales).  In it she offers up her versions of simple, home-style dishes like Chicken Pot Pie and Deviled Eggs with Smoky Bacon.  The amorous title best describes Hall’s easygoing approach to cooking.  She continues her presence in DC as executive chef of Alchemy, an artisanal cookie company.  Visit this link to read my interview with Hall on that auspicious night.

A Few More Treasures from This Year

Bouchon Bakery (Artisan) by Thomas Keller; Jerusalem: A Cookbook (Ten Speed Press) by Yottam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi; My Key West Kitchen: Recipes and Stories (Kyle Books, London) by Norman Van Aken and Justin Van Aken; The Complete Recipes (Flammarion, Paris) by Paul Bocuse.

Best Cookbooks of 2011

Jordan Wright
December 14, 2011

In no specific order, we read, cooked, gobbled down and swooned over this year’s prolific crop of cookbooks.  There were experiential books, back-to-the-farm books, compendiums, (Escoffier was reissued!) and books on baking that hitched their star to the cupcake craze.  I chose ones that are unusual and memorable, with an important voice that rose above the din and others that might change the culinary paradigm forever.

Through decades of preparing recipes from the teetering piles of cookbooks in my personal collection, as a former restaurateur and private chef, added to countless hours spent reviewing restaurants, I try to imagine the flavor profile of the combinations of ingredients and techniques in recipes, often without so much as lifting a ladle.  I use my culinary imagination, which is forever wired to my palate, reading a recipe for both flaw and flavor – a handy skill for evaluating the complex concoctions presented to a cookbook reviewer.

Winnowed down from the year’s abundant selection of enthusiastic chef/authors (save for a selection written by a scientist who has invented a new field of study called “neurogastronomy” and another marrying technology with kitchen wizardry), I selected nine from a veritable blizzard of tomes chock-a-block with photos luscious enough to make you want to gobble the pages.  Four local writers are also featured for their contributions.

Months of bedtime reading were clocked, winnowing out and chucking the ones that are repetitive or recklessly composed.  You won’t find those books listed here.  On a positive note several books broke new ground and belong on every collector’s shelf.

Below is a list of my favorite cookbooks of the year.  None are French.  Sacre bleu! One is a re-issue, but deserves revisiting all the same.

Goat: Meat, Milk, Cheese by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough

Goat: Meat, Milk, Cheese by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough

Goat: Meat, Milk, Cheese by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough (Stewart, Tabori & Chang)

The authors of this book have penned over 20 cookbooks, including The Ultimate Ice Cream Cookbook so chances are you have at least one in your collection. Weinstein and Scarbrough remind us that not only are goats a sustainable commodity but that they are “the most widely eaten meat across the globe”, though decidedly less in US kitchens.

Riding on the crest of the artisanal goat cheese fad they are positioned perfectly to take us to the next level – how to prepare and serve goat meat.  In this latest of their ventures they provide a myriad of recipes (and humorous tales) celebrating goat cheeses and the now readily available goat’s milk.  But it is the introduction to the many cuts and uses of goat meat and the rich, deep flavors it brings to roasting, stewing and grilling that are exciting and new.

So strike up a friendship with your nearest halal butcher and try the Braised Goat Meatballs with Artichokes and Fennel, Goat Shanks with Cabbage, Port and Vanilla or the sweet dessert-like Goat Cheese Tamales, a Southwestern treat.

Noma: Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine by René Redzepi

Noma: Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine by René Redzepi

Noma: Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine by René Redzepi (Phaidon)

The most exquisitely elegant cocktail table-sized book this year harkens from René Redzepi, whose Copenhagen restaurant, Noma, is now considered the most innovative cuisine in the world, relegating the now-shuttered elBulli, his former employer, to the back burner.  Written in diarist style, Redzepi takes us on a “North Atlantic study tour” beginning three months before the opening of Noma in 2003 to the present.  We tromp along with the intrepid gastronome through Sweden for lingonberries and Blue Ducks; Denmark for birch sap, rowan shoots and bark; and Greenland for rosenrod, and campanula, a sweet tasting blue flower that grows along the moors and is used for vinegars, marmalades and parfaits.  Lavish photos by Ditte Isager .

Whether you will actually cook from this book is not the point, but you will be inspired, as I predict will all chefs worth their sea salt once they crack the spine – tripping over each other to source the exotica – Icelandic moss, spruce shoots and reindeer.  This is a love story – a romance of the Nordic land, sky and sea – and an inspiration to the forager inherent in us all.

Neurogastronomy – How the Brain Creates Flavor and Why It Matters by Gordon M. Shepherd

Neurogastronomy – How the Brain Creates Flavor and Why It Matters by Gordon M. Shepherd

Neurogastronomy – How the Brain Creates Flavor and Why It Matters by Gordon M. Shepherd (Columbia University Press)

Far be it from me to claim any knowledge of chemistry past the years-ago high school version I took, barely passing the class to the threat, “Here’s a C, now don’t come back!” But in a book on a subject he seems to have invented, neuroscientist, Gordon Shepherd, carves up a well-researched explanation for why Proust so craved the madeleine.  Apparently it’s all about “smell and flavor and their relationship to the neural basis of consciousness, ” the Yale professor convincingly claims – all without recipes.  If you can follow this weighty topic filled with references to the olfactory cortex, and if combinatorial interactions are in your vocabulary, you are going to have a lot of fun figuring out how to get the kids to eat their veggies and to look back in wonder at what an evocative experience it was.  This explanation of the science of flavor and memory might just fire up your receptors and synapses for a swell tour through the laboratory of your sensors!

Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi

Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi

Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi (Chronicle Books)

At last this searingly-hot UK chef, whose has four traiteur-style delis and a single sit-down eponymously-named restaurant, has brought his latest book across the pond – thankfully translated from the metric system – to better serve the American cook.  Using a casually conceptual approach (chapters are organized by ingredients) he has blessed the reader with his stylishly imaginative approach to cooking.  He focuses on one central ingredient, which he then enhances, and as he says “elaborates” on, only to keep the ingredient at the center of the final dish.  The sleek line drawn cover belies its ramped-up vegetarian options and scrumptious desserts.

Ottolenghi, who was born in Israel to a German mother and Italian father and writes a column called “New Vegetarian” for Britain’s Guardian Weekend Section, provides many of his most intriguing recipes from his column (along with gorgeous photos from Jonathan Lovekin) like Turkey and Sweet Corn Meatballs with Red Pepper Sauce and Raspberry and Peach Tea Cakes or Sour Cherry Amaretti.  For a simple winter weekend dinner try the Caramelized Garlic Tart with Winter Cole Slaw made with apples and celeriac.

Ancient Grains for Modern Meals: Mediterranean Whole Grain Recipes for Barley, Farro, Kamut, Polenta, Wheat Berries & More by Maria Speck

Ancient Grains for Modern Meals: Mediterranean Whole Grain Recipes for Barley, Farro, Kamut, Polenta, Wheat Berries & More by Maria Speck

Ancient Grains for Modern Meals: Mediterranean Whole Grain Recipes for Barley, Farro, Kamut, Polenta, Wheat Berries & More by Maria Speck (Ten Speed Press)

As far as I’m concerned there are not enough chefs serving whole grains and pulses.  My sense is that they are not perceived to be posh enough ingredients for fine dining.  I hope that will change soon and proteins can take a lesser role in high-end restaurants.  Along comes Maria Speck who not only triumphs that notion but also offers plenty of recipes to guide you along – Barley Salad with Figs and Tarragon-Lemon Dressing, Leek Salad with Grilled Haloumi Cheese and Rye Berries, Lamb Stew with Wheat Berries in Red Wine Sauce, and Purple Rice Pudding with Rose Water.  This whole grain primer belongs on every nutritiously conscious cook’s shelf.

Modernist Cuisine – The Art and Science of Cooking by Nathan Myhrvold, Chris Young, and Maxime Bilet (The Cooking Lab)

Three modern day Escoffiers set out to write the ultimate guide to cooking, replete with the nouvelle vague of high-flying molecular gastronomy acrobatics.  It will be eons before there will be anything more comprehensive than this six-volume compendium.  Dazzling, iconic and courageous!

Spirit of the Harvest – North American Indian Cooking by Beverly Cox and Martin Jacobs

Spirit of the Harvest – North American Indian Cooking by Beverly Cox and Martin Jacobs

Spirit of the Harvest – North American Indian Cooking by Beverly Cox and Martin Jacobs (Stewart, Tabori and Chang)

This reissue was a James Beard and IACP award-winner for good reason.  It is a well-researched book filled with over 150 traditional recipes from native cultures – Cherokee, Navaho, Comanche, Chippewa, Hopi and many others.

Recipes are accompanied by tribal lore and legends and include uses for indigenous ingredients like cholla cactus, chokecherries and Jerusalem artichokes.  Stunning photography by Jacobs incorporates artifacts and objects.  Divided into five major US regions, you’ll enjoy preparing Cherokee Pecan Soup and Oneida Sauteed Morels from the Northeast to Olympia Oyster-Potato Cakes from the Northwest.  Zuni Corn Soup, a specialty from the Southwest and Pueblo Roast Turkey with Pinon-Raisin Stuffing would be standouts on any holiday table.

FYI: The closest restaurant for sampling regional native cuisine is Mitsitam Café, at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian (my all-time favorite lunch spot on the National Mall), serving up regional native cuisine.  Their popular Mitsitam Café Cookbook is filled with recipes from the café.

Food Trucks – Dispatches and Recipes from the Best Kitchens on Wheels by Heather Shouse (Ten Speed Press) 

A world away from the bastions of fine dining and haute cuisine comes the food truck – now establishing itself as the counterculture’s kitchen-on-wheels for foodies that eschew formal restaurants but love great food.  Shouse has been on a countrywide mission to find the “best of” and has done a bang up job uncovering this burgeoning underground food scene.  Follow her map and you could be chowing down on some the nation’s most creative gourmet-leaning fast food bites.

Filled with snapshots from the road, the book gives recipes for Winter Squash Soup from Oregon resident and Thai native, Nong Poonsukwattana’s sidewalk cart; Butter Chicken from DC chef Farhad Assari’s Sâuçá truck; and Laurent Katgely’s recipe for Braised Beef Cheeks Sandwich from his gleaming silver truck in San Francisco’s South of Market District.  This stuff is big on flavor light on formalities.  Use twitter to keep up with these chefs on the move.

The Sweets of Araby by Leila Salloum Elias and Muny Salloum (Countryman Press)

The Sweets of Araby by Leila Salloum Elias and Muny Salloum (Countryman Press)

The Sweets of Araby by Leila Salloum Elias and Muny Salloum (Countryman Press)

Channeling the “Tales of the 1001 Arabian Nights” and other medieval texts for inspiration, these Syrian sisters draw back the veil on some of the most delicious and elusively recorded recipes for Arabic sweets.  Culled from 10th century Arab culinary manuscripts the authors (who are also professional scholars and historians) tested and tweaked countless recipes to arrive at this exotic and authentic collection, the likes of which have never before been published.  With charming brightly colored art by Linda Dalal Sawaya, this beautiful, evocative book of recipes and ancient stories is a treasure as rich and mysterious as the alluring tales from Scheherazade’s lips to her husband King Shahryar’s ears.

Local and Notable

The Glorious Pasta of Italy by Domenica Marchetti

The Glorious Pasta of Italy by Domenica Marchetti

 The Glorious Pasta of Italy by Domenica Marchetti (Chronicle Books)

Spoiler alert.  This writer is partial to the author/chef whose cuisine she has sampled from Marchetti’s own hand.

Rustic and approachable these dishes are bold, elemental and divinely delicious.  Not just another Italian cookbook, this is food to impress your guests as well as shine at a potluck supper.  Of course, if you bring one of these dishes, be prepared for an onslaught of impending invites.  Slow-cooked Pot Roast Papardelle; Maccheroni Alla Chitarra with Ragu All’Abruzzese and Palottine (mini ground veal meatballs); and dishes made for the holidays with sweet pasta dough – La Cicerchiata are tiny fried dough balls held together with honey and decorated with almonds.  These recipes highlight the many different styles of cooking in Italy and reveal the author’s passion for her roots.

Serve Yourself by Joe Yonan (Ten Speed Press)

Dinner for one (known in waiter-speak as DFO) has never seemed so appealing as when Yonan presents one of his ratcheted down recipes.  This James Beard Award-winning food editor of the Washington Post has found an underserved niche and filled the void with ethnically eclectic recipes that anyone can cook.

Let’s start with dessert, no one does but we all would like to.  I am all over the Cardamom-Brown Sugar Snickerdoodles, ditto for the Spicy Coconut Sorbet that uses a dash of tequila. Imagine that in your next margarita! But just try keeping a fellow diner at bay when you tell them you are home alone eating Duck Breast Tacos with Plum Salsa or Fig, Taleggio and Radicchio Pizza that can be made on the flipside of a cast iron pan.  There are lots more neat solo tricks and super healthful recipes to glean from this seasoned chef and writer of the delightful “Cooking for One” column.

For Cod and Country: Simple. Delicious. Sustainable. by Barton Seaver

For Cod and Country: Simple. Delicious. Sustainable. by Barton Seaver

For Cod and Country: Simple. Delicious. Sustainable. by Barton Seaver (Sterling Epicure)

Barton Seaver is a human lighthouse for the sustainable fishing industry.  A former DC area chef, he has taken his mission around the globe earning him recognition and kudos.  The National Geographic Society awarded him a fellowship, and he is a sought-after lecturer on topics ranging from sustainability to protecting the environment.

Seaver is well known in Washington for his career as a local chef, working with Jose Andres at Jaleo, Executive Chef of Café Saint-Ex, and later at Bar Pilar.  His sustainable seafood restaurant Hook in Georgetown, was named Bon Appétit’s Top 10 Eco-Friendly Restaurants.  In one year alone the restaurant had over 75 different species of seafood on its menu.  He was named Esquire magazine’s 2009 “Chef of the Year,” and in 2008, was honored as a “Seafood Champion” by the Seafood Choices Alliance and as “Rising Culinary Star of the Year” by the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington.

His first book, organized by seasons (Yes! Most fish have seasons too!), is a collection of recipes based on seafood that hasn’t been overfished or harvested using destructive methods.  Seaver shows it can be done with simply prepared and flavorful dishes for the average cook.  Grilled Clams with Lemon-Chive Butter, Crab and Corn Toast and Smoked Bluefish Spread are a few of the seafood recipes that beckon.  But there are lots of side dish, grains and veggie recipes, perfect for pairing with the seafood.

Beyond the Red Sauce – Classic Italian Cooking Without Tomatoes by Matt Finarelli

Beyond the Red Sauce – Classic Italian Cooking Without Tomatoes by Matt Finarelli

Beyond the Red Sauce – Classic Italian Cooking Without Tomatoes by Matt Finarelli  (Self published by www.finarelli.com)

Using a novel approach to Italian cooking, by eliminating the use of one of its most familiar ingredients, this highly personable DC cooking instructor thinks out the proverbial box.  Emphatic about his love for the red fruit, he nonetheless challenges the reader with over 100 recipes that skirt around it.  That the tomato is primarily a Southern Italian ingredient, still leaves him with a plethora of Northern climes from which to source his recipes.  Star dishes include Farfalle with Mascarpone, Asparagus, Hazelnuts and Smoked Salt; Roasted Branzini with Arugula, Prosciutto and Lemon; and a lovely Orange Vanilla Panna Cotta.

Finarelli is a local chef with a huge fan base from the classes he conducts at Sur La Table in Pentagon Row, CulinAerie in DC, Open Table in Falls Church and the Adult Ed programs in Fairfax County.  Few cookbook authors spend real time answering basic cooking questions.  Even fewer have faced their readers in a kitchen setting.  In his young career he estimates he has taught over a thousand budding cooks who he continues to empower and encourage.  You won’t find glossy pages filled with alluring photos, but you will be guided by a gentle teacher with a terrific sense of humor whose driving force is sharing his knowledge and experience.

Whisk and Quill Chooses The Best Cookbooks of 2010

Jordan Wright
December 2010
Special to the Washington Examiner and San Francisco Examiner

This year brought the usual Food Network celeb cookbooks, “The Barefoot Contessa How Easy Is That?” (Random House) by Ina Garten, Rachel Ray’s “Look and Cook” (Clarkson Potter), Giada De Laurentiis’ “Giada at Home: Family Recipes From Italy and California” (Crown), and “Tyler Florence Family Meal” (Rodale Books). PBS gave us Eric Ripert with “Avec Eric” (Wiley). The book follows Ripert’s journeys through France, Italy, California and the Grand Caymans and is based on the show of the same name. Also from PBS and based on the TV series “Cooks Illustrated”, we read over 350 pages of “The America’s Test Kitchen Cookbook” (Boston Common Press). Well not read…but gleaned for future reference. From The New York Times we hoisted a weighty compendium of 1400 recipes culled from their voluminous archives. Amanda Hesser’s “The Essential New York Times Cookbook” (Norton) reflects 150 years of the classics with a few new spins. It’s a keeper culled from the country’s most distinguished food writers.

Intriguing books, curiously unnecessary books, and books with practical yet grisly techniques continued to pour in throughout the year. We were instructed in how to butcher our own pig in “Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat and Obsession” (Little, Brown) by Julie Powers; how to drink wine like a pro in “Secrets of the Sommeliers” (Ten Speed Press) by Rajat Parr a terrific read and on Kindle too; and the complex chemistry of baking in “How Baking Works” (Wiley) by Paula Figoni, a comprehensive textbook for professional bakers that includes in-depth reviews, discussion topics for the hard-core, and experiments that unfortunately add up to a book drier than a cup of corn starch.

This year there’s even an app for your iPhone or iPad from Mark Bittman. With 2,000 recipes, meal-planning ideas and 400 photos, his “How To Cook Everything” (Wiley) is at your fingertips for $1.99. Now that’s a bargain I can’t refuse.

But along with some culinary chaff came the heart of the grain, the bone’s marrow, the pan’s drippings. In revelations, anthologies, and flat-out edgy innovations by chefs and traveling food writers that bring wisdom and light to the process, there is true inspiration for us all…the inspiration to approach our kitchens with a commanding and steady posture and cook like a whirligig with a whisk.

Here’s a list of 2010 cookbooks that should be on your gift list or if you subscribe to the one-for-me-one-for-you approach to holiday shopping and I do, on the shelf in your personal library.


Good to the Grain  - Kim Boyce

Good to the Grain - Kim Boyce

Kim Boyce’s “Good to the Grain” (Stewart, Tabori & Chang) – A lushly beautiful book by a former pastry chef at Spago and Campanile in LA and contributor to Bon Appetit, Boyce incorporates whole-grain flours in all her baking. Working with barley, kamut, amaranth, quinoa, buckwheat and other hearty grains to create recipes like Pear and Buckwheat Pancakes, Apricot Boysenberry Tarts made with rye flour, and Ginger Peach Muffins made with oat flour. She’s even figured out a way to get wheat flour not to toughen up in the baking process.

Dam Good Sweet - David Guas

Dam Good Sweet - David Guas

I love a book by a chef who knows their ingredients, lore and territory. In David Guas’ “Dam, Good Sweet” (Taunton) written with Raquel Pelzel, he corrals them all with his memories of his growing up in Louisiana. Memories of “Nanny”, his great-aunt on Aunt Boo’s side of the family, and her mayhaw preserves; pickin’ pecans off the ground in New Orleans’ Elysian Fields with Granny, and reminiscing about McKenzie’s Pastry Shoppe and their familiar chocolate-covered turtles, inform his stories. But it’s his old school N’awlins recipes like Buttermilk Beignets and Bananas Foster along with newer creations like Lemon-Herbsaint Poppers made with the New Orleans anise-flavored liqueur and Ponchatoula Strawberry & Brown Butter Shortcake that’ll have you breaking out your rolling pin in no time. Guas has recently opened Bayou Bakery Coffee Bar and Eatery in Arlington so you can taste the goods before you buy the book.

Local lawyer-turned-baker-turned-entrepreneur, Warren Brown owns seven CakeLove bakeries in our area. In his second cookbook, “United Cakes of America” (Stewart, Tabori & Chang), Brown takes us on a cake baker’s journey to all 50 states plus Puerto Rico (Rum Cake) and DC (Cherry Trifle). From Mississippi he gives us Mud Cake; from Maine, Whoopie Pies; from Virginia, a Pineapple Upside-Down Cake in a skillet; from Georgia, Coca Cola Cake; and for all you cupcake fans, Avocado Cupcakes from California. Your Cousin Mary’s state cake will be in here too and there are plenty of useful tips from this experienced baker even for those who have just discovered their ovens.

“Baked Explorations” (Stewart, Tabori & Chang) by former admen and partners in the Brooklyn, NY bakery they call Baked, Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito have upped the ante with their latest collection of classic American desserts reinvented. In this book they tease you with Caramel Apple Cake, torment you with Almond Joy Tart, and lure you with Aunt Sassy Cake made with pistachios and iced with Honey Vanilla Buttercream. The wildly popular duo, the darlings of Oprah and Martha Stewart, reveal their highly sought-after recipe for their famous Sweet & Salty Brownies. As for me, I’ll make the Caramel Popcorn with Peanuts and Chocolate for this year’s at-home Oscar night party.

Ethnic and Regional Cuisine

Quiches, Kugels and Couscous - Joan Nathan

Quiches, Kugels and Couscous - Joan Nathan

Doyenne of Jewish cookery and lover of all things French, acclaimed Washington DC author, Joan Nathan, combines the two in her eleventh cookbook, “Quiches, Kugels and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France” (Knopf). Nathan prepares the reader by providing centuries-old historical context for the creation, preservation and tradition of Jewish cookery in France. Thankfully the book offers far more than the catchy three-dish alliterative title suggests to the reader. Among the more than 200 recipes that have their origin in Spain, Morocco, Portugal, Germany and the Mediterranean, you’ll find such gems as Paul Bocuse’s Black Truffle Soup Elysée, tweaked by Nathan’s kosher re-interpretation; Baba au Rhum from the tiny 16-seat restaurant, Les Arômes outside of Marseilles; and a recipe for a hearty Alsatian Choucroute from a doctor in Strasbourg. This is the sort of treasured cookbook writing that will inspire home cooks to experience Jewish food and its culture.

Anjum's New Indian - Anjum Anand

Anjum's New Indian - Anjum Anand

“Anjum’s New India” (Wiley) by Anjum Anand, host of the Cooking Channel’s Indian Food Made Easy is an exotic yet accessible book for getting a handle on Indian regional cuisine. Anand is better known in the UK, though she has cooked at the Mondrian Hotel in LA and Café Spice in New York. Her simple modern recipes like the rich Mogul dish Red Lamb Shank Korma and Dried Pomegranate Chicken along with her vindaloos, biryanis and tikkas make this the perfect book for the novice experimentalist. There’s even a recipe for Anand’s version of French fries, called Gujarati Fries with Cashews that calls for cumin, turmeric, sesame seeds and mango powder.

Dorrie Greenspan’s “Around My French Table: More Than 300 Recipes from My Home to Yours” (Houghton Mifflin) is written in Greenspan’s charming conversational style, which is like cozying up with Dorrie in her Parisian kitchen. The award-winning food writer and chef whose familiar voice is frequently heard on NPR’s “All Things Considered” and “The Splendid Table” comes to us with a wealth of knowledge and secrets about the French culinary style she has perfected with the expertise and mentoring of France’s greatest chefs.


The stunningly beautiful “Vintage Cocktails” (Assouline) by three-star Michelin mixologist Brian Van Flandern makes you want to break out the silver cocktail shaker. Natty and knowledgeable Van Flandern shakes it up old school while he exhorts, “Bottoms up!” The cover features “The Bradshaw”, an artisanal cocktail he created for Sarah-Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick on their first date at the Café Carlyle’s Bemelman’s bar where Van Flandern mixes up classics with a twist like the Sidecar and Tuxedo Martini or the re-trended Pink Lady and Negroni.

Carnivores Only

Just in time for the season of stews, soups and slow-cooked meats comes Jean Anderson’s “Falling off the bone” (Wiley). A six-time best cookbook award winner, Anderson is a lifetime member of the James Beard Hall of Fame. Divided into beef, veal, pork and lamb sections it gives you such mouth-watering recipes as Austrian Goulash, Tuscan Veal Pot Roast in Lemon Sauce, Slow Cooker Blanquette de Veau, Russian Crumb-Crusted Veal and Beef Loaf with Sour Cream Gravy, and Jade Soup with Pork and Veal Dumpling Balls. I’m looking at the Deviled Short Ribs as my first foray into the winter’s menus. Let’s see…four more icy snow-dune months left to cook these stick-to-the-ribs recipes and enough variety to keep it interesting.

Grillin’ and Chillin’

The Good Stuff - Spike Mendelsohn with Micheline Mendelsohn

The Good Stuff - Spike Mendelsohn with Micheline Mendelsohn

In “The Good Stuff Cookbook: Burgers, fries, shakes, wedges and more” (Wiley) local chef and former Top Chef contestant Spike Mendelsohn reveals his restaurant’s recipes for his 12 signature mayonnaises, 23 burgers including the Michelle Burger and Prez Obama Burger (both big fans of his Good Stuff Eatery restaurant here in DC), along with his Root Beer Float and ever-popular Toasted Marshmallow Shake. Gorgeous close-ups by DC photographer Joel Shymanski, capture the intimacy of the moment between the arrival of the hot, smoking, gooey, oozing, herbed, slathered dish and the split second before you pop it in your expectant and salivating mouth. Fire up the grill, fryer and blender with this party-on-every-page burger bling cookbook!

Food Writing

Medium Raw - Anthony Bourdain

Medium Raw - Anthony Bourdain

Edgy bad boy and acerbic wit, Anthony Bourdain, host of the Travel Channel’s “No Reservations” loves to upend the food world and strip off the damask tablecloths. In his latest reveal, “Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and The People Who Cook” (Harper Collins), he keeps the food fight center stage with a collection of essays that takes you past the glitz and glamour of our epicurean crystal palaces and into the belly of the beast, as he lasers in on noted chefs like Alice Waters and David Chang. A bloody good read!