Artful Table: Cookbooks 2021
By Bobbie Leigh
If we’re going to be sequestered again this coming year as a precaution against whatever new virus is raging, one way to make the best of it is to cook, bake, and eat well.
Here are some cookbooks that will encourage you to be adventurous in the kitchen… and at the same time, enjoy experimenting with new flavors and foods.
BITTMAN BREAD: NO-KNEAD WHOLE GRAIN BAKING FOR EVERY DAY by Mark Bittman and Kerri Conan
Making the best bread mostly means two things: mastering natural starter –usually called “sourdough,” though it’s not necessarily sour – and using real whole grains, according to the co-authors. Their book unfolds in six progressive chapters beginning with how to make starter, mastering timing and technique, and ending with wildly varied pizzas, flatbreads, and drop-dead delicious cinnamon rolls.
EVERYDAY DINNERS: REAL-LIFE RECIPES TO SET YOUR FAMILY UP FOR A WEEK OF SUCCESS by Jessica Merchant
Little prep and simple ingredients that can come together quickly are essential for a working mom with little kids like Merchant. Her advice to time-crushed moms is to set aside a ten- minute meal prep daily. For example, her prep for seared scallops with tomato cream sauce involves making the sauce a day before and simply reheating it. The scallops cook in minutes and with her brown butter sauce, they have a caramel-inspired flavor.
MAGNOLIA TABLE: A COLLECTION OF RECIPES FOR GATHERING by Joanna Gaines
In her first cookbook, Gaines presented family favorites that she cooked for her husband and four kids. Here she concentrates on what she calls “the art of gathering,” making her home and table a place where guests want to settle in and stay awhile. Her recipes are easy to follow, not too adventurous, and complicated. Aside from her can’t fail honey garlic chicken with pineapple, another standout is strawberry pie with a graham cracker crust and fresh strawberries. (Like your mother, she uses sweetened condensed milk.)
Why the sheet pan and not the trendy air fryer or hot pot? Erway says a sheet pan is the “no-nonsense industrial workhorse for the home kitchen, conveniently built to maximize your sauced and seasoned ingredients, expose them to hot air, and create bronzed surfaces and crisp bottoms. The James Beard award winning Erway is at her best suggesting different combinations of veggies, grains, and spices to accompany you plan to roast on a sheet pan. Be aware, she emphasizes, that a sheet pan should not be confused with a flat, rimless baking sheet. One of Erway’s best recipes is for chicken with apricots, fennel, and honey with whole grain mustard creating the perfect balance between savory and sweet.
Understanding what fermentation is and does will improve your shopping and eating. Quinn has in-depth knowledge about cheese culture and wine growing. Part cookbook and part travelogue, she is a good story-teller and instructor. If you want to make the best mac and cheese ever, follow her unconventional suggesting by adding a hefty swig of ale.
As you make your way through chapters starting with baking cakes in early America 1650-1799 up to the present, you will be surprised by what has been forgotten and what has endured. In the latter category the knockout is Silver Palate’s carrot cake from the 1970s. Byrn’s penultimate chapter is Cakes Born in the USA. “The cakes of the ‘80s were surprising and bold —flourless almond cakes, plum tortes, and chocolate cakes so dense and creamy you ate them with a spoon.” Those cakes have a sweetness spectrum—not too sweet in the beginning, then very sweet. As for cakes from 2000 to the present: “…fresher and local have replaced gourmet and grandiose.”
COOKING ONCE: DINNER FIX by Cassy Joy Garcia
Here’s a rare cookbook that shows you how to use leftovers from one dish and use them to cook a completely different meal the next day. Garcia has also crammed her book with impressive time-saving kitchen tips. One of the best is how to shave off significant time baking potatoes. Another is all the various foods to make ahead. As she writes: “ Just about every sauce under the sun is totally fine to make ahead.”
From appetizers to desserts, world-renowned food writer Roden’s recipes from across the Mediterranean bring joy and pleasure. This is a book to treasure, not just the terrific recipes, updated versions of classics but also unfamiliar traditional Mediterranean specialties. “The aim of this book is to highlight what to me is the best of the Mediterranean and adapt it for the way we like to eat today,” writes Roden.
Her recipe for vegetable couscous is incredibly inviting. It looks complex but it is really easy and ready for a crowd, garnished with her fragrant Moroccan tomato relish, sweetened with honey and rose water.
BAKING WITH DORIE: SWEET, SALTY, & SIMPLE by Dorie Greenspan
With this new book, Greenspan now has published 14 cookbooks, each a people-pleasing endeavor. Dubbed the “Queen of Cookies,” Greenspan loves surprises and writes that she builds them into lots of recipes. She wants her readers to “play around.” Give this a gift for anyone who wants to pepper the classics with new ideas. She suggests, by way of example, that you try snippets of pitted Niçoise olives in her olive -oil brownies. Greenspan’s no-fail seven recipes for pie doughs are a tribute to her ingenuity and expertise. Follow her suggestions and the end result will be more confidence at the stove and happiness at the dining table.
Bobbie Leigh has written for many national publications including The Wall Street Journal, Travel & Leisure, and Departures. Currently, she is a New York correspondent for Art & Antiques.