The cookbook is dead.
At least that's what plenty of folks have been saying in recent years about the long-loved and well-worn collection of recipes between two covers. The Internet in general and the explosion of food blogs specifically are fueling that demise.
Seems to me the death of the cookbook is going to be a prolonged extinction. Judging from the many cookbooks, most of them hardback, that cross my desk each week, the genre is alive and kicking. And actually, cookbooks are getting more luxurious, with photos good enough to eat (and inspire) and price tags that jump to more than $30.
They have become "objects of desire," Ten Speed Press editor Aaron Wehner told entrepreneur.com last month. Ten Speed, along with Chronicle Books and Clarkson Potter, publish some of the most intriguing cookbooks each year, often taking home a James Beard award or two for their efforts. (Look for Hank Shaw's Duck, Duck, Goose or chef Andy Ricker's Pok Pok to pick up some honors next year.)
For home cooks and food lovers, cookbooks are primo on holiday gift lists. But which ones to buy? Sure, you can go for one by a television celebrity chef — those are always the year's big sellers — but what about something more interesting, maybe even a little obscure?
For gift recommendations, I asked cookbook authors across the country for suggestions. Their favorite cookbooks of 2013 are surprising and refreshing. Though I told them they can't suggest their own, I'll tell you that their books would make good gifts, too.
One of my favorite new cookbooks is Tammy Donroe Inman's Wintersweet: Seasonal Desserts to Warm the Home (Running Press; $30). Not sure if I'll ever make anything out of it, but I can't stop looking at the chocolate pavlova with whipped cream and jewel-like pomegranate seeds on the cover.
Turn to Page 4E to see what other cookbook authors are reading this year and what they have to say about their favorite new cookbooks. Prices listed are full retail but it's likely you'll find them cheaper online and even in big-box discount stores.
Janet K. Keeler, Times food and travel editor
Ray "Dr. BBQ" Lampe of St. Petersburg
Pork Chop (Chronicle Books, 2013; $22.95); and Slow Fire: The Beginner's Guide to Barbecue (Chronicle Books, 2012; $22.95)
As for new books, I like Famous Dave's Barbecue Party Cookbook: Secrets of a BBQ Legend (Dave Anderson, 2013; $20.40). I think this is a good book for folks who do the same old recipes when they have a barbecue and want some new fun ideas.
Ted and Matt Lee
The Lee Bros. Charleston Kitchen (Clarkson Potter, 2013; $35); and The Lee Bros. Simple Fresh Southern: Knockout Dishes With Down-Home Flavor (Clarkson Potter, 2009; $35)
There were so many superb cookbooks published in the United States this year — especially from writers in our stomping grounds of the South — that it's really hard to choose a favorite. But one American book that stands out is Amy Thielen's The New Midwestern Table: 200 Heartland Recipes (Clarkson Potter, 2013; $35), for its rigorous, deep exploration of the cooking and food traditions of the Midwest. Thielen grew up in rural Minnesota harvesting wild rice and working in her family's meat locker and as an adult moved to New York City, where she was a chef in some of the finest kitchens in town. The book is beautifully written, and her stories of leaving the big city behind, moving back to Minnesota with her husband and young son and reconnecting with the cooking of her childhood are compelling and soulful. And the book is important because its recipes and stories help inform the nation about a previously underexplored American food culture.
San Francisco Chef's Table (Lyons Press, 2013; $24.99)
My fave book this year? Hard to choose, but I'd go for Flour, Too: Indispensable Recipes for the Cafe's Most Loved Sweets & Savories by Joanne Chang (Chronicle Books, 2013; $30). It's her second cookbook. I love to bake and her recipes always work. They are home-spun treats that never disappoint. Plus, her new book has savory recipes in it, too, including Asian ones such as her mom's version of hot and sour soup that I can't wait to try.
Jessica B. Harris
High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey From Africa to America (Bloomsbury, 2012; $17)
Pickles, Pigs & Whiskey: Recipes From My Three Favorite Food Groups (And Then Some) by James Beard-winning chef John Currence (Andrew McMeel Publishing, 2013; $40).
Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time by Adrian Miller (University of North Carolina Press, 2013; $30). It's a thoughtful look at an all too often disparaged cuisine.
The Mom 100 Cookbook (Workman, 2012; $16.95) and creator of themom100.com blog
I have a lot of favorite new cookbooks but I'll single out Franny's: Simple Seasonal Italian by Andrew Feinberg, Francine Stephens and Melissa Clark (Artisan, 2013; $24.77). It hits home the notion that a handful of well-chosen ingredients are all you need to make a wonderful, memorable meal. Everything is sophisticated but never overwrought. The pizzas in the book made me want to cry.
Bon Appétit, Y'all (Ten Speed Press, 2008; $35); Basic to Brilliant, Y'all (Ten Speed Press, 2011; $35); and the new hand-stitched Grits, available at shortstack.com for $12.
Some of my new favorite books include:
Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single Cook by Joe Yonan (Ten Speed Press, 2013; $24.99)
The Glorious Vegetables of Italy by Domenica Marchetti (Chronicle Books, 2013; $30)
One Souffle at a Time: A Memoir of Food and France by Anne Willan (St. Martin's Press, 2013; $27.99)
And, the most beautiful book I have seen in a while is Summerland: Recipes for Celebrating With Southern Hospitality by Anne Quatrano (Rizzo, 2013; $39.95)
Jaden Hair (of Lakewood Ranch)
Steamy Kitchen's Healthy Asian Favorites (Ten Speed Press, 2013; $24); and Steamy Kitchen Cookbook: 101 Asian Recipes Simple Enough for Tonight's Dinner (Tuttle, paperback, 2013; $27.95)
My fave cookbook of the year is The Medicinal Chef: Eat Your Way to Better Health by Dale Pinnock (Sterling, 2013; $24.95). Not only are the recipes incredibly delicious and healthy, but each recipe includes a pictorial guide on the health benefit of the given recipe. Gorgeous photography, too. Love using food to heal.
Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking (Gibbs, 2012; $45); and Southern Biscuits (Gibbs, 2011; $24.99)
I find my favorites are Southern. I love Carrie Morey's book Callie's Biscuits & Southern Traditions: Heirloom Recipes From Our Family Kitchen (Atria, 2013; $30) and the whole series of University of North Carolina single-subject Savor the South series, including Bourbon ($18) by Kathleen Purvis. I also like Grits by Virginia Willis (Shortstackeditions.com, 2013; $12).
Modern Spice: Inspired Indian Flavors for the Contemporary Kitchen (Simon & Schuster, 2009; $25)
I would have to say that hands-down, my favorite book of this year is Melt: The Art of Macaroni and Cheese by Stephanie Stiavetti and Garrett McCord (Little, Brown, 2013; $30). This book proves that a good idea will always sell — a stunningly beautiful book with terrific recipes that innovate a classic dish . . . and how! I spent several days cooking from this book. You would think that making mac and cheese several days in a row would get old but the recipes in this book are so very different that it did not. My kids loved the Cauliflower and Gruyere Macaroni Gratin recipe. Not all the dishes in the book are "heavy." For instance, we loved the Paneer, Pineapple and Cucumber Pasta Salad and the Yodeling Goat With Golden Beets.
I would recommend this book for any home cook who wants to learn about cheeses and how to pair them with different pastas.
Martha Hall Foose
Screen Doors and Sweet Tea: Recipes and Tales From a Southern Cook (Clarkson Potter, 2008; $32.50); and A Southerly Course: Recipes and Stories From Close to Home (Clarkson Potter, 2011; $32.50)
My favorite book to give as a gift is Gui Alinat's The Chef's Repertoire (American Technical Publishers, 2010; $30). It is so handy and great for a person really into cooking. It came out a couple of years ago and is still my favorite. (Alinat is a Pinellas County personal chef and instructor at the Jacobson Culinary Arts Academy at Tarpon Springs High School.)
As far as this year's crop, I love The Treme Cookbook: Stories and Recipes From the Heart of New Orleans by Lolis Eric Elie (Chronicle Books, 2013; $29.95) and I love The Casserole Queens Make-a-Meal Cookbook by Crystal Cook and Sandy Pollock (Clarkson Potter, 2013; $27.95). Treme is great for New Orleans lovers and the Queens' book is great for families.
Toni Lydecker of St. Petersburg
Piatto Unico: When One Course Makes a Real Italian Meal (Lake Isle Press, 2011; $19.95)
Although my gardening is limited to a few fresh herbs in terrace pots, I'm having a very good time browsing the pages of Alice Waters' The Art of Simple Food II: Recipes, Flavor, and Inspiration From the New Kitchen Garden (Clarkson Potter, 2013; $35).
Ever since co-founding Chez Panisse Restaurant in Berkeley, Calif., in 1971, Waters has preached the importance of eating simply but well — enticing us to seek out the best ingredients, whether tender salad greens or olive oil. Forty-plus years later, she has turned her missionary zeal to the growing of food, gently cajoling readers to "treasure the farmer, nurture the soil, plant wherever you are."
The Art of Simple Food II is the perfect gift for cooks who aspire to grow part of what they eat — or at least to better understand how others do it. Consider pairing it with the first volume (published in 2007), written "for everyone who wants to learn to cook, or to become a better cook."
Simply Sensational Cookies (Houghton Mifflin, 2012; $29.99); and Kneadlessly Simple: Fabulous, Fuss-Free, No-Knead Breads (Houghton Mifflin, 2011; $19.99)
I really like Domenica Marchetti's The Glorious Vegetables of Italy (Chronicle Books, 2013; $30). Obviously those who like Italian and Mediterranean dishes and those who enjoy vegetables and lighter fare will find it appealing. It is also attractively designed, with a nice selection of photos and variety of dishes, including some desserts.
Kimberley Lovato Walnut Wine and Truffle Groves: Culinary Adventures in the Dordogne written with Laura Schmalhorst of Tampa (Running Press, 2010; $29.95)
I feel like I've purchased a ton of cookbooks this year, but two that stick out couldn't be more opposite. La Boulange Cafe Cooking at Home (Chronicle Books, 2013; $59.99) features favorite recipes from Pascal Rigo of San Francisco's La Boulange chain. It's an easy-to-use, visually appealing step-by-step book for the home cook. I'm not much of a baker, so I love to see how pastries and crusts are supposed to look on the way to being edible. It's a great gift for someone who wants to foray into the kitchen but is a little bit intimidated.
For my piece de resistance this year — Le Pigeon: Cooking at the Dirty Bird (Ten Speed Press, 2013; $40) is epic. It's gorgeous, and features recipes (and some stories) from James Beard Award-winning chef Gabriel Rucker of Portland, Ore. Some of the recipes are complicated and involve ingredients that might not be that easy to find. But for more adventurous types looking for a real showstopper meal (that will likely involve meat and offal, but some fish, too), then this book is for you. I ate at his restaurant when the book launched in September. The Beef Cheeks Bourguignon is officially my "last supper" pick.
The Model Bakery Cookbook: 75 Favorite Recipes From the Beloved Napa Valley Bakery (Chronicle Books, 2013; $35); and The Chelsea Market Cookbook: 100 Recipes From New York's Premier Indoor Food Hall (Stewart, Tabori and Chang, 2013; $29.95)
I like cookbooks that can teach this old dog new tricks. Japanese Soul Cooking: Ramen, Tonkatsu, Tempura, and More From the Streets and Kitchens of Tokyo and Beyond by Tadashi Ono and Harris Salat (Ten Speed Press, 2013; $27.50) shows how to re-create some of my favorite restaurant dishes, but the recipes are straightforward, un-chefy, and I don't have to put micro greens on the plate with tweezers. You may have to go to an Asian market for some of the ingredients, worthwhile for the results, and many of the groceries will keep in the pantry for months.
Eat Drink Delta: A Hungry Traveler's Journey through the Soul of the South (University of Georgia Press, 2012; $24.95)
My most prized cookbook purchase this year is Soul Food: The Surprising Story of An American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time by Adrian Miller (University of North Carolina Press, 2013; $30). Miller, a writer and attorney based in Denver, set out more than a decade ago to trace the history of this largely misunderstood cuisine, and has produced a masterpiece that now has a spot in my permanent reference collection alongside the works of Edna Lewis, John Egerton and other Southern food icons I turn to frequently for guidance in trying to make sense of my complicated culinary heritage.
Soul Food is a book I want to share with all my friends who, like me, can appreciate a book designed to feed the mind and soul, with engaging writing, deep, thoughtful research and carefully curated recipes that support the thesis. It would especially be a great choice for a book club, as there is much rich food for thought that could make for some riveting discussions.