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 installment), the third of which will run Monday.
The Great Meat Cookbook: Everything You Need to Know to Buy and Cook Today's Meat, by Bruce Aidells. $40; hardcover; 640 pages. Its heft -- all 640 pages -- is meaty, and so, too, are the recipes in this comprehensive opus to everything you've ever wanted to know about pork, bison, beef, lamb, pork and veal. But this is a cookbook that goes way beyond instructions -- and flesh -- offering a collection of terrific rubs and sauces and an impressive repertoire of vegetarian side dishes, plus Aidells offers a slew of conversational "cook's notes" that cover everything from cooking methods to cuts. Modernist Cuisine at Home, by Nathan Myhrvold and Maxime Bilet. $140; hardcover; 456 pages. Even if you're a huge food geek, it's unlikely that this will ever become your go-to cookbook, but the home manual of Modernist Cuisine is a voluminous ode to molecular gastronomy that makes doing these kind of cooking...projects manageable for the home cook. The clear and explanatory recipes zigzag from basic to beyond advanced, and if you really want to delve into the scientific practices and techniques of modern cooking, you'll need to invest in some equipment (an immersion circulator, for example), but if you're one of those people who likes to push the culinary envelope and you're not afraid to leap out of your comfort zone, then it's a great buy. It's worth it, too, if you like to use pressure cookers or have any desire to learn how to sous vide, plus the illustrations are nothing short of frameable. Edible Selby, by Todd Selby. $35; hardcover; 296 pages. More of a scrapbook than a cookbook, Todd Selby's creatively intense, wonderfully eclectic photographic global odyssey through the lens of his own camera focuses on forty of the world's culinary subjects in their own kitchens, harvesting vegetables and milking cows on their farms, fishing for monkey-faced eels in California, crossing the road with cows and just about every other scenario you could conjure up. Selby's gallery of amazing photography is mixed with watercolor illustrations, handwritten interviews with chefs like Grant Achatz and signature recipes that Selby admits he's never tested, leaving it up to his readers to explore their inner curiosity. It's eccentric and riveting and easily one of the funnest cookbooks you've ever seen. True Food: Seasonal, Sustainable, Simple, Pure by Andrew Weil, Sam Fox and Michael Stebner. $29.99; hardcover; 264 pages. I tend to snub my nose at cookbooks written by so-called health experts, but Dr. Andrew Weil, likely one of the few people in this country who's never had a hamburger from McDonald's, isn't a preachy doctor, and he certainly has the right to be, because his cookbook is one of the few I've come across that extols a healthy food lifestyle that actually makes sense. It's not remotely intimidating, the tone is conversational and, more important, inspirational, and his thoughtful recipes, bolstered by lavish full-page photos, are written for those who become bored -- fast -- with a mundane diet. The recipes are vast and varied, and while some of the ingredients (sea buckthorn, for example) aren't all that easy to find, most of the recipes don't require detective work (there's also a "pantry" chapter that gives you an overview of some of the more unusual ingredients), and the results, while good for you, also taste good. Clearly Dr. Weil doesn't believe in sacrificing taste, and I love that the recipes pull from across the globe. Fifty Shades of Chicken: A Parody in a Cookbook by F. L. Fowler. $19.99; hardcover; 160 pages. I have not read Fifty Shades of Grey, and nor do I plan to, especially since I got my hands on this kinky cookbook that pokes fun at the racy novel via seductive chicken (young and organic) recipes paired with poultry porn that makes you blush. The refreshingly profane cookbook, written by a guy who goes by the pseudonymous last name of "Fowler," features sexually-charged recipes with names like "Dripping Thighs" and "Chicken with a Lardon," but lest you think that it's only attribute is its wildly entertaining verbiage (and lewd photos), think again: The titillating recipes are anything but foul.