Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Best Cookbooks of 2015

For four years running I have shared my list of the top five cookbooks of the year. As in the past, I struggled to winnow this year’s class down to a list of the five best, IMHO. So without further ado, I present, in alphabetical order, my choice for the best cookbooks of 2015.

Five Quarters: Recipes and Notes from a Kitchen in Rome by Rachel Roddy. Saltyard Books.

Gjelina: Cooking from Venice, California by Travis Lett. Chronicle Books.

Mamushka: Recipes from Ukraine & Beyond by Olia Hercules. Mitchell Beazley.

Pasta By Hand: A Collection of Italy’s Regional Hand-shaped Pasta by Jenn Louis. Chronicle Books.

This is Camino by Russell Moore and Allison Hopelain with Chris Colin. Ten Speed Press.

So why these books?

Rachael Roddy’s Five Quarters (here) serves up an outstanding collection of mostly Italian recipes curated by Roddy. She lives in Rome and writes both a food blog, Rachael Eats, and articles for London’s Guardian newspaper. Look for the North American release of her cookbook, entitled My Kitchen in Rome, in early 2016.

I happened upon Travis Lett’s Gjelina while perusing the fall cookbook offerings at my local bookstore. What a happy discovery! As I thumbed through this book with dishes from Lett’s Venice, California restaurant, I found myself wanting to try every recipe. Gjelina features bold, simple dishes like Braised Spiced Romano Beans with Yogurt & Mint; Roasted Cauliflower with Garlic, Parsley & Vinegar; Orecchiette with Chicken Hearts, Turnip Greens, Pecorino & Black Pepper; and Squid with Lentils & Salsa Verde. A first class cookbook!

The more time I spend with Olia Hercules’s Mamushka, the more I love its collection of simple, delicious dishes. The book contains mostly Ukrainian recipes, but she also includes a good number of Armenian recipes that remind me of dishes that I ate growing up. Hercules is a London chef, food stylist and one of The Observer newspaper’s Rising Stars in Food. Read Mamushka and it’s easy to see why Hercules’s star is rising.

If you spend any time bunburying around my food blog, you know that I make a lot of pasta and own a lot of books on pasta. So, in my opinion, Jenn Louis has penned one of the essential pasta cookbooks. Her Pasta by Hand (here) explores the fascinating world of regional Italian handmade pasta, including some seriously obscure shapes. If you love Oretta Zanini De Vita’s Encyclopedia of Pasta, you will absolutely want to add Pasta by Hand to your cookbook collection.

Last, but by no means least, comes This is Camino (here). If forced to choose, This is Camino gets my vote for the best cookbook of the year. Moore and Hopelain share Camino’s approach to cooking and hospitality. Buy their book and you will get an excellent collection of recipes to make direct, flavorful food. I really like the book’s prose; it’s as if Moore is standing in the kitchen with you sharing the how and why behind every recipe. If you find yourself in Oakland, California, do yourself a favor and eat at Moore & Hopelain’s Camino restaurant.

I want to end this year’s survey by sharing some of the other books that I bought and considered for 2015’s list of the best cookbooks. As I mentioned, I had a really hard time this year picking only five books. Here are the contenders in alphabetical order:

The Beetlebung Farm Cookbook by Chris Fischer with Catherine Young.

Donabe by Naoko Takei Moore and Kyle Connaughton.

Fika by Anna Brones & Johanna Kindvall.

The Mission Chinese Food Cookbook by Danny Bowien and Chris Ying.

Preserving The Japanese Way by Nancy Singleton Hachisu.

Tacos by Alex Stupak and Jordana Rothman.

I enjoyed all of these books, especially The Beetlebung Farm Cookbook. Check it out.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Vin d'Orange

When family and friends gather—especially at the holidays—I like to offer my guests an age-appropriate libation. I just finished making a bottle of vin d’orange with a recipe from Pierre Koffmann’s Memories of Gascony (2012 revised edition published by Mitchell Beazley). Right or wrong, I consider year-end the best time to buy quality oranges and other citrus (at least here on the US West Coast). So now is the perfect time to get ready to make this quick aperitif.

1 liter white wine
zests of 2 large oranges
250g sugar
100ml Armagnac

Mix everything together in a large pot, cover and leave to infuse 12 days before drinking.

That’s it! This fortified wine smells and tastes of…surprise: oranges, but in a soft, graceful way. It is a lovely drink and couldn’t be easier to make. As is my practice when infusing lemons and grapefruit, I take care that the zest contains no pith. Other than this, success depends upon the quality of one’s ingredients.

For my latest batch I used a white Anjou wine made from Chenin Blanc grapes from France’s Loire Valley (because I couldn’t find a white from the Côtes de Gascogne at my local market…can you imagine that! What is this world coming to?!). And I used some nice apple brandy from Oregon as I did not have a bottle of Armagnac lolling about in the back of my liquor cabinet. What is Armagnac, you ask? It is a single distilled French brandy from, yes, Gascony, made from local white wine grapes. If you want to experience the vin d’orange of Pierre Koffmann’s childhood, by all means go with white wine and brandy from Gascony. But I advise that you not put off your infusion for fear of a lack of authenticity—your thirsty guests will never forgive you.