So many recipes are literally just a couple of clicks away. Want to make an Amaretto Cake? All it takes is a phone or any other mobile device to find variations with chocolate or vanilla, iced or drenched in syrup, layered or Bundt. With so many options at our fingertips, why use a cookbook at all? Answer: For a keepsake compilation resulting from an author’s ardent affection for the kitchen that is filled with anecdotes, wonderful inspiration and mouth-watering photography! Here are LN’s 2012 Cookbooks of the Year:
The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook by Emily Ansara Baines (Adams Media, $22)
Yes, it’s unauthorized and is not endorsed by the creators of the popular PBS series, but who cares? Want to serve Mrs. Isobel Crawley’s Smoked Salmon Tea Sandwiches and Anna Bates’ Chocolate Crumpets at your next tea? For dinner, consider Mrs. Patmore’s London Particular Creamy Russet Leek Soup, her Perfect Pork Roast and Easy Roasted Parsnips, ending on the sweet note of Madeira Pound Cake. Now, if only the evening’s menu could be served by Mr. Carson…
Celebrate: A Year of Festivities for Families and Friends by Pippa Middleton (Penguin Group, $50)
And while we’re across the pond, Pippa Middleton, the younger sister of the Duchess of Cambridge, has penned her first directive on throwing the perfect party. Perhaps best for the royal-watcher’s kitchen, some suggested planning tips are what many may consider common sense. However, the collection of recipes certainly atones in this initial effort. Case in point, her Mulled Wine inspired copious compliments at two of this writer’s recent gatherings. And the Spicy Red Chicken Curry, Shepherd’s Pie Baked Potatoes and Cranachan (a Scottish dessert) are among many of the additional temptations.
The Eckert Family Fall Cookbook compiled by Jill Eckert-Tantillo and Angie Eckert (Reedy Press, $12)
What is autumn in St. Louis without a visit to Eckert’s Orchards? Now you can take home those apples, pumpkins and other locally produced foods and prepare recipes that have been made by seven generations of the Eckert family. Along with the history of the farm, find recipes that hint of the family’s German heritage, like Pork Sausage and Baked Apples, Bratwurst Stew and Apple Strudel.
European Tarts: Divinely Doable Desserts with Little or No Baking by Helen Fletcher (self-published, $25)
Former owner of Truffles Inc. and current pastry chef at Tony’s Restaurant, Helen Fletcher has released the first title in her Pastries Like a Pro series: European Tarts. The compilation coexists with a sister blog (europeantarts.com), which features how-to images and tips so anyone can master the art of tart-making. Not to be missed: the Chocolate Caramel Truffle Tart, the Peach Frangipane Tart with Rosemary and the Mocha Glazed Macadamia Caramel Tart.
bluestem, the cookbook by Colby and Megan Garrelts (Andrew McMeel Publishing, $45)
Just across the state, chefs Colby and Megan Garrelts opened bluestem restaurant in Kansas City in 2004, and they are now sharing some of the recipes that have earned their eatery national praise. Divided by the four seasons, bluestem, the cookbook, is filled with delectable entries, and special attention is paid to farmers and food producers local to the Kansas City area, who have become very important to bluestem. Since we are well into winter, turn to p. 226 for Braised Lamb Shank, Mustard Greens, Preserved Lemon, Vermouth and Saffron.
Flavors of Belize, the Cookbook compiled by a variety of contributors (McNab Publishing, $40)
No need to hop on that plane to experience the tastes of Belize at dinner tonight—with the Flavors of Belize, learn about the cultural and culinary differences of the small Central American country. Some highlights include Red Snapper Wraps, Belizean Barbecue Sauce, Meat Pies, Tamales and Sun-Kissed Mango Salsa.
Gran Cocina Latina: The Food of Latin America by Maricel Presilla (W. W. Norton & Company, $45)
For a more comprehensive guide to Latin cuisine, Gran Cocina Latina doesn’t miss a chili as Maricel Presilla breaks down and explores The Layers of Latin Flavor in Chapter 3 in this fascinating cookbook that is perhaps the size of what we used to know as a phone book. This all-encompassing compilation teaches, inspires and teases the taste buds. Have you ever wondered what Latin Americans crave in a drink, or searched for the perfect formula for plain white rice? Then this book will entertain for hours—and then some!
Frontera: Margaritas, Guacamoles and Snacks by Rick Bayless (W. W. Norton & Company, $25)
More from our friends south of the border, via Chicago—there’s really no question that Rick Bayless knows his stuff. His Frontera Grill and four-star Topolobampo have been mainstays on the Chicago restaurant scene; and his TV series, Mexico, One Plate at a Time, highlights his deep knowledge and love for the country and its cuisine. So in his eighth cookbook, Bayless stays on topic and, for the first time, takes a closer look at the margarita. In Chapter 1, his Master Class in Margaritas, find Today’s Perfect Margarita, Tangerine Spice Margarita and the Cilantro-Jalapeno Margarita, just to name a few. Don’t forget to take the Master Class in Guacamoles, too!
The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook by Patricia Tanumihardja (Sasquatch Books, $26)
Moving to the eastern hemisphere, Seattle food writer Patricia Tanumihardja explores the cultural and culinary backgrounds of 10 women of Asian descent. Verbally handed down from generation to generation, many of the entries are, for the first time, appearing in written form. With nine chapters in all, a true standout is Chapter 8, Comfort Food and One-Wok Meals, which features Filipino Meatloaf, Vietnamese Crab Noodle Soup, and Japanese Beef and Vegetable Hot Pot.
True Food: Seasonal, Sustainable, Simple, Pure by Dr. Andrew Weil and Sam Fox (Little, Brown and Company, $30)
In 2008, nutrition guru Dr. Andrew Weil and restaurateur Sam Fox opened True Food Kitchen in Phoenix, which features a creative menu centered around Weil’s anti-inflammatory diet and food pyramid. Now 125 recipes straight from the restaurant are available to the home chef, along with essays focusing on farmers markets, serving proportions and the benefits of an anti-inflammatory diet.
Thoroughly Modern Milkshakes by Adam Ried (W. W. Norton & Company, $18)
Growing up, it was vanilla, chocolate or strawberry. But now Adam Ried, equipment specialist on PBS’s America’s Test Kitchen, looks well beyond those traditional flavors with 100 ingenious new options like Vanilla, Rum and Salted Cashew Shake; Chocolate-Guinness Shake; and Mexican Chocolate Shake with Chipotle and Almond.
CakeLove in the Morning by Warren Brown (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $25)
Rise and shine with some yummy, well-imagined recipes for muffins, scones, pancakes, waffles, biscuits and frittatas, courtesy of Warren Brown, former host of Sugar Love on The Food Network and owner of CakeLove and Love Café in Washington, D.C. And beyond the sweets, Roasted Tomato Quiche with Bacon and Andouille Sausage also sounds like a wonderful idea. And look what’s on p. 162: Amaretto Butter Cakes—and we didn’t even have to click a mouse!