It has been a dangerous year for cookbook lovers, so much so that the following disaster scene played out in my recent dream:
It's quiet. I am watching Fletch and petting Pappy Van Winkle's little Maltese dog head. A fly lands on the shelf, upsetting stacks of cookbooks. In minutes, smoking wreckage is all that's left of the house. A rescue worker lifts Dan "BBQ Snob" Vaughn's The Prophets of Smoked Meat (Bourdain/Ecco, 2013) and uncovers my corpse. Van Winkle escapes with minor google-y eye.
The dog and the cookbook towers actually exist, and the latter's structural integrity really does suffers from recent barbecue sauce stains due to excessive use. In addition to Vaughn's Prophets, here are four books from 2013 that currently have top billing in my stacks:
Franny's: Simple. Seasonal. Italian. (By Andrew Feinberg & Francine Stephens with Melissa Clark; Artisan, 2013)
If you've ever been to Franny's on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn, you'll recognize that the restaurant's simplicity, vibrancy and careful craft translate well in this book. The story of the authors' elopement to the Amalfi Coast, and the rustic food they fell for just as hard, is the heart of the book, but Franny's wood oven-fired pizza is its soul. Recipes for the house dough and 17 rustic pies are the highlights, alongside pastas (bucatini fra diavolo), salads (peas and pea shoots with pecorino and mint) and seafood dishes (seared shrimp with white beans, olives and herbs). I recently tried my hand at a recipe that has helped put Franny's on the map: the clam, chili and parsley pizza. I used a 500-degree oven and cast iron pan in place of the restaurant's custom dome ovens, which chef John Adler keeps humming 24-7, and the pizza was the best I've ever made at home.
Smoke and Pickles (By Edward Lee; Artisan, 2013)
Chef Lee, of 610 Magnolia in Louisville, was introduced to the world as a chip-on-the-shoulder provocateur on Bravo's Top Chef: Texas, but he doesn't fit the part in person. Referring to Top Chef, he has said, "Cooking is not sport. It is something you do very individually." Smoke and Pickles is a testament to that sentiment. Stories about Lee's Korean family and the food they shared, and his ruminations on Southern traditions, are insightful and rich. The recipes, which marry traditional Korean-Asian elements with the classics of the Brooklyn-born chef's adopted Southern home, include kimchi collard greens; four different takes on rice bowls with remoulades; and chicken and country ham pho. Largely because of this book, brown rice bowls with kimchi and whatever else is within reach now dominate my weekly routine. Final book notes: pork, pork, pork, Rappahanock River Oysters, Border Springs Farm and American whiskey.
The Grilling Book (By The Editors of Bon Appetit; Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2013)
For some reason, I expected to be underwhelmed by this monster, although I'm a fan of Bon Appetit under Adam Rapoport's relatively new editorship. Things didn't turn out that way, because the book is so approachable and laden with classic recipes. The most exciting and interesting contributions are international grilling recipes, including Chinese-style grilled lobster with ginger, garlic and soy sauce; and turkey shawarma with tomato relish and tahini. In addition, there's a trove of sauces, rubs and other great grilling accouterments. This is a book that can have staying power as an anchor for your collection.
It's All Good (by Gwyneth Paltrow; Grand Central Life and Style, 2013)
Bring on the trolls. Mark Bittman published a famous blog hit piece on this book in which Jennifer Mascia accused Paltrow of pushing "quack science" with her elimination diet approach and questioned her use of high-end ingredients too expensive for the average family. Seemed like a waste of blog space to me, particularly because you can use average grocery store ingredients as alternatives in any of Paltrow's recipes. Personally, I find a lot to like and feel good about eating here, from dressings to chopped salads and entrees and everything in between. The lemon anchovy vinaigrette is sour and pungent and perfect on hearty greens. The turkey meatballs are full of flavorful herbs, and the Thai chicken burgers are salty and good on the grill. Finally, the fully gluten-free book makes it accessible to people who have allergies.
In addition to the books above, I'm also loving Domenica Marchetti's The Glorious Vegetables of Italy (Chronicle Books, 2013) and In The Charcuterie (Ten Speed Press, 2013) by Fatted Calf's Taylor Boetticher.
And the immediate horizon is full of drool-worthy releases: John Currence's Pickles, Pigs & Whiskey (Andrews McMeel Publishing); Ivan Orkin's Ivan Ramen (Ten Speed Press); Andy Ricker's Pok Pok (Ten Speed Press); Hank Shaw's Duck, Duck, Goose (Ten Speed Press); and the Roberta's Cookbook (Clarkson Potter).