Food writers look forward to fall with a special sort of anticipation. From September through November, heavy manilla envelopes are are dropped on our desks on an almost daily basis. We tear them open, releasing the smell of new paper, binding glue and ink to find the publishing world’s cookbook and culinary offerings for the holidays — a bonanza of recipes, lush photos and food guidebooks that stack up with rather alarming speed.
Sifting through the ever-growing pile, we find a few that truly stand out. Here are some of the best of the 2012 season…
Japanese Farm Food, Nancy Singleton Hachisu, Andrews McMeel Publishing, $35
The most beautiful book released this fall is this love letter to the simple, pure foods of the Japanese countryside. American-born, Nancy is married to a Japanese egg farmer, over the years adopting the community, culture and cuisine of an ancient, rural Japan as her own. Written as both memoir and cookbook, Hachisu describes the book as, “…just our Hachisu family food. It is a compilation of traditional dishes that my husband grew up with and new ones that he or I created. I had never seen a cookbook that approached Japanese food in the way my husband did–main ingredient and field or fish market driven so I never felt compelled to cook the recipes I saw in other books.” And while many of the pickled, preserved flavors and ingredients may seem foreign to American palates, but Hachisu bridges the gap with simple, homey preparations.
Bouchon Bakery, Thomas Keller, Artisan, $50
It’s so cute that any of us think we could actually make croissants like the famed Yountville bakery run by culinary rockstar Thomas Keller. Oh, we can certainly try, and this new book written in a breezy, sweet style does actually lull you into thinking this recipe blueberry muffins with almond streusel might turn you into a morning hero. But it takes years to become as deft with butter and flour as Keller and co-author/executive pastry chef Sebastein Rouxel . So buy the book, set it in your kitchen and dunk your Oreos in milk while dreaming of buttercream and the perfect French macaron.
101 Classic Cookbooks: 501 Classic Recipes, edited by Fales Library, Rizzoli, $50
Like a mix-tape of just the good songs, this cookbook assembles the best of the best recipes as chosen by the likes of Jonathan Gold, Michael Pollan and Ruth Reichl from the 55,000 cookbooks of the Fales Library at New York University. That means tried-and-true classics such as Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon, Elizabeth David’s Bouillabaisse, Marcella Hazan’s Bolognese Ragu, Jacques Pepin’s Brioche, James Beard’s Pig Hamburgers, and Irma Rombauer’s Devil’s Food Cake Cockaigne. As if that wasn’t enough star power, Judith Jones, Florence Fabricant and Alice Waters are contributors and Marion Nestle has written the forward. Required reading.
“The Great Meat Cookbook”, Bruce Aidells, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $40
There aren’t many chefs who could get away with an entire chapter on veal. Even fewer who would devote nearly a hundred pages to lamb and goat. But Bruce Aidells is the undisputed heavy-weight champion of animal protein, and his new book is his ring. In exhaustive detail, he discusses everything from how to perfectly sear a cut of bison to the differences between grass-fed, grain-finished and organically-raised meats. A meaty-read for sure.
“Modernist Cuisine at Home”, by Nathan Myhrvold and Maxime Bilet, The Cooking Lab, $140
So you couldn’t justify the $625 for Modernist Cuisine, the five-volume Bible of modern cooking and drool-worthy photos. Using the same cross-sectioned photo techniques and detailed explanations, the home version does for pot roast what Modernist Cuisine did for restaurant menus.
“California Cuisine and Just Food”, by Sally K. Fairfax, Louise Nelson Dyble, Greig Tor Guthey, Laren Swin, Monica Moore and Jennifer Sokolove, The MIT Press, $25
Food is political, and nowhere more so than in the Bay Area. This collaboratively written book takes a deep dive into local social movements and culinary ideals that have arisen around food justice, farming and land use from the Diggers to Chez Panisse to Greens.
SPQR, by Shelley Lindgren and Matthew Accarino, Ten Speed Press, $35
Travelling the ancient Roman roads of central and Northern Italy both physically and figuratively, SPQR Chef Matthew Accarrino and wine director Shelley Lindgren paint a broad culinary mural of Umbria, Tuscany, Liguria, Veneto and beyond. This is a book that begs to be savored like a languid Italian pranzo.
Comfort Me with Offal, Ruth Bourdain, Andrews McMeel, $19.99
The mash-up Tweets of a fictional character that’s half Ruth Reichl and half Anthony Bourdain took the food world by storm in 2011 — poking fun at the dining diva and foul-mouthed chef with quips like, “It doesn’t surprise me that there’s a book called “50 Shades of Kale.” I can’t think of a more masochistic act than eating that vegetable.” Now he/she has written a book that promises to be the most comprehensive guide to the world of food and wine since Brillat-Savarin. Laugh out loud funny.
The Blue Bottle Craft of Coffee, James Freeman, Caitlin Freeman and Tara Duggan, Ten Speed Press, $24.99
Everything you never knew you needed to know about coffee. San Francisco’s Blue Bottle Coffee is at the forefront of an artisan coffee revolution, from where it sources beans to its specialized extraction techniques. Ever in search of the perfect pour, this book demystifies some of the hubbub around pour-overs, cupping, Japanese Nel drips and Italian espresso machines as well as sharing recipes for coffee-friendly pastries, cookies and desserts.
Tiny Food Party, Teri Lyn Fisher and Jenny Park, Quirk, $18.95
Even food can’t avoid the downsizing trend. Petite nibbles of meatloaf, bite-sized fried apple pies, Liliputian homemade Pop Tarts and tiny taquitos are the subject of this cocktail party idea book.
Fire in My Belly, Kevin Gillespie, Andrews McMeel, $40
Chef Kevin Gillespie (who you may remember from Top Chef, Season 6) is the portly, bearded Atlantan who you can’t help but want to hug. He’s honest and soulful, just like his Southern-inspired food. The would-be MIT student followed his passion into cooking, elevating the simple comfort food of his family into well, simple comfort food that tastes like love. Chapters are named, “Foods You Thought You Hated” or “Junk Food”, arranged by mood rather than subject. Cooking should make you happy, and Gillespie’s intimate anecdotes, Southern charm and simplified recipes get you to that spot quicker a chicken on a June bug.