It's incredibly difficult to do justice to the thousands of remarkable cookbooks published in 2012, but after spending days -- weeks -- roaming through the recipes and lush food porn of hundreds of them, I've picked out my favorites. These are the cookbooks that stock my selves at home, and the cookbooks that are on my holiday shopping list for my favorite foodniks. My syllabus of top picks represents just about every kind of cook, from the meat junkie to root vegetable fiends. I've split the list into three parts (click on the link below to read the first and second installments).
The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, by Deb Perelman. $35; hardcover; 336 pages. Food blogger Deb Perelman isn't a chef, and by her own admittance, she's never worked in a restaurant, but her cookbook, the recipes of which she tested multiple times in her own kitchen, are blissfully accessible to even the most novice home cook, which isn't to say that they're dumbed down -- but they are down to earth, organized and easy to follow (and more important, they work), and she sprinkles each recipe with stories, wit and humor, while simultaneously offering suggestions on ingredient substitutions and tips to keep things simple. The photography is gorgeous, too. In a word: smitten. Jerusalem: A Cookbook, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. $35; hardcover; 320 pages. Both authors of this exquisite cookbook were born in Jerusalem -- they now own several restaurants in London -- and their exotic tome, which encompasses a collection of fascinating recipes, is not only a carnivore's bliss, but also a vegetarian's paradise, thanks to a large number of recipes (none of which are ordinary, including the hummus) devoted to fruits, vegetables, legumes and grains. The explosive flavor combinations are unbelievably well-balanced, and each recipe is complemented by a short description of the origin of the dish or, in some cases, a personal flashback from Ottolenghi or Tamimi. Some of the ingredients require trips to a local Mid East market, but if you don't want to explore, they offer plenty of workable replacements. Gran Cocina Latina: The Food of Latin America, by Maricel E. Presilla. $45; hardcover; 912 pages. This cookbook is a beast -- an elaborate beast that extols the broad cuisine of Latin America via 1,000 pages of recipes, history, culture and photography. Within the pages, you'll find clear, authoritative methods for making empandas, tamales, cebiches, moles, soups and breads, along with an entire chapter devoted to chiles. Its size is a little overwhelming -- and it's 500 recipes strong -- but this is a cookbook that more than deserves to be read from beginning to end, and the author, who hails from Cuba, does an excellent job of explaining techniques and ingredients through both her prose and sketched illustrations. Come In, We're Closed: An Invitation to Staff Meals at the World's Best Restaurants, by Christine Carroll, Jody Eddy and Ferran Adria. $35; hardcover; 320 pages. Easily one of the best cookbooks of the year, this compilation of staff meals from 25 of the top restaurants in the world, including The Herbfarm, Ad Hoc and The Fat Duck in England, could have simply emerged as a cookbook with wonderful recipes (like the Elvis Presley milkshake), but it goes much further than that, offering a voyeuristic peek into the creative minds of the talented chefs who cook our food. There are several candid interviews, captivating photos from notable food photographers and even a foreward from Spanish chef Ferran Adria, who offers his own provocative view of the staff meal. The restaurants might be closed when staff meal is served, but this is a book that's definitely worth opening -- and savoring. Lucky Peach, by Peter Meehan, Chris Ying and David Chang. $12. If you haven't gotten your hands on a copy of Lucky Peach, the quarterly food magazine from Peter Meehan, Chris Ying and Momofuko's David Chang, you're missing what is surely one of the most informative and entertaining culinary publication that's ever hit the newsstands. The witty, cutting-edge interviews, caustic and amusing essays from Anthony Bourdain, irreverent but inspired discourse among chefs, playful travelogues, thematic food recipes and whimsy illustrations and photos all make this magazine an absolute peach. And guess what? There are no advertisements.