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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!

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