Making recipes from Stephanie Izard's "Girl in the Kitchen" is like cooking with a good friend -- a friend who can seriously throw down in the kitchen.
Izard is a professional chef with rock star credentials -- in the span of three years, she won season four of "Top Chef" (the first and only woman to do so), was named a Food & Wine Best New Chef, and opened the acclaimed "Girl & The Goat" restaurant, which Saveur dubbed "America's best new restaurant" in early 2011.
Despite these accolades, Izard's first cookbook exudes a down-to-earth vibe. Packed with creative recipes constructed from fresh seasonal produce, "Girl in the Kitchen" manages to be both accessible and inspiring at the same time -- a surprisingly elusive combination in the cookbook world.
Each and every recipe is preceded by a first-person anecdote from Izard's life. (Her arugula salad with watermelon and feta, for example, was inspired by her childhood memories of a Fourth of July watermelon relay race.) While some of her personal stories are more compelling than others, it's fun to get insight into what makes a crazy-accomplished chef tick.
Ingredient spotlights: from sriracha to Wondra flower, Izard showcases her favorite ingredients and explains what makes them special and how you can hunt them down to use yourself.
Technique 101: If a recipe involves any cooking method more complicated than boiling or roasting, Izard will talk you through it, step-by-step.
The photos: "Girl In the Kitchen's" cover, for instance, just screams "fresh and delicious."
Room for improvement:
Izard's book features recipes for every course --starters, soups, salads, pastas, mains, sides and extras like salad dressings -- except for dessert. Izard claims to prefer savory-sweet desserts to traditional sugary ones, which we understand. But why not feature some of them? Especially because we know Izard has worked in pastry.
Technique 101 is great, but photos or diagrams for processes like rolling pasta or peeling chestnuts would make them extra helpful.
Recipes We Most Want to Make:
Olive Oil-Poached Shrimp with Soba Noodles
Asparagus Linguine with Almond Butter Crisp
Apple-Pork Ragu with Pappardelle
Crispy Braised Chicken Thighs with Black Bean Tapenade
Chestnut Confit with Roasted Potatoes, Bacon and Kumquats
Overall rating, on a scale of 1 - 5: 4.5. "Girl in the Kitchen" features elegant recipes with a creative edge, plus top-notch food photography.