If giving cookbooks to my friends for the holidays (in hopes that they’ll invite me to dinner) is wrong, I don’t want to be right. These five guides stand out from the pack for their innovative angles, spellbinding designs and accessible recipes for cooks of all levels of expertise.
★ The Forest Feast Mediterranean
It’s hard not to feel a little bit envious of Erin Gleeson. The bestselling cookbook author spent three months traveling with her family through France, Portugal, Spain and Italy to research The Forest Feast Mediterranean: Simple Vegetarian Recipes Inspired by My Travels. It’s as gorgeous as her previous books, awash in watercolor illustrations and bright vegetarian dishes that leap off the page into your sunniest kitchen dreams. Images of Gleeson and her family star alongside scenic shots from the region that inspired this book, but of course the real heroes are its 100 recipes, which include mouthwatering salads, decadent pastas and small shareables like caponata, a burrata bar, bruschetta, tartines, tartlets, tortilla espanola and pintxos, which are appetizers on long toothpicks, unique to the Barcelona bar scene. Best of all, there’s a travel guide in the back in case you’re hungry to follow in Gleeson’s picturesque footsteps—and you will be.
Is there anyone more creatively connected than Questlove? The musician-DJ-writer-ideas guy has friends in every corner of the arts and entertainment industry, and he assembles them in Mixtape Potluck as contributors to what might be the most fabulous party ever-. Questlove asked each of the roughly 60 notable figures—including Carla Hall, Padma Lakshmi, Q-Tip and Amy Poehler—for their “super-special secret recipe,” resulting in a staggering range of dishes, from Fred Armisen’s plantains two ways to Martha Stewart’s grape focaccia. But it’s not just a celebrity hodgepodge. Questlove gives each friend a song as inspiration, noting that “the songs and the dishes do not have a direct relationship.” All the songs are listed at the end, along with smart tips for hosting a potluck and cuing up your own party jams. Bold photography by Marcus Maddox makes its own noise, with a distinctly 1970s vibe. You and your coolest friends need this book; there’s really no question.
My husband, head chef in our house, uses a cast-iron skillet nearly daily, so I couldn’t wait to show him Skillet Love: From Steak to Cake. The result? “This one’s a keeper,” he proclaimed after we made picadillo-stuffed peppers, skillet salmon and pound cake. (Yes, pound cake. In fact, that’s the recipe that begot this book.) Or how about a massive chocolate chip cookie, gooey in the middle? If the humble workhorse that is the cast-iron skillet is new to you, Anne Byrn provides an overview on care, seasoning and the many tricks a skillet can pull off, from stir-frying and dry-roasting to searing, frying, baking and even pan-grilling. “There really isn’t anything on your dinner list that the skillet can’t accomplish,” Byrn writes, and this book is beautiful evidence of that.
The Little Women Cookbook
“What exactly would the March sisters have eaten?” That’s what librarian authors Jenne Bergstrom and Miko Osada asked themselves about their favorite novel, before making it their mission to explore Victorian-era cooking and share the best of it in The Little Women Cookbook. Each sister gets a chapter, with subheadings like “Amy’s Little Artistic Fête,” at which Proper Roast Chicken and Elegant Raspberry Ice Cream is served, or “Jo’s Standing Joke of a Dinner,” with Lobster Salad and Plenty of Potatoes. Along the way we learn historical tidbits about the era and read short excerpts from Little Women. What fun it would be to read the classic novel with family or friends over the course of several months, whipping up dishes from this book along the way.
The late, great writer and Southern-food expert John Egerton would probably look fondly upon what chef Sean Brock is doing for Southern and Appalachian cuisine these days, lovingly sharing the gospel of the region’s traditions with a new generation. Though the concept of seasonal, local eating may seem like a trend worn thin, it’s anything but that for Brock; it’s the correct (and most delicious) way to live and eat. In South: Essential Recipes and New Explorations, you’ll find everything from fried bologna and tomato-okra stew to spring lamb with rhubarb butter. There aren’t too many lengthy ingredient lists amid these simple but deeply considered preparations for vegetables, grains, meats and fish. Brock shares tips for cooking up a big pot of greens and selecting fireplace cookery and fills in the gaps with plentiful background on the region that gave birth to these dishes. And tucked within, too, are Egerton’s Beaten Biscuits.