Cafe Society

My favorite cookbooks of 2012: the first installment

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, the second and third of which will run later this week. The Preservation Kitchen: The Craft of Making and Cooking with Pickles, Preserves, and Aigre-doux, by Paul Virant and Kate Leahy. $29.99; hardcover; 304 pages. Some of the recipes are time-consuming, and the majority aren't written for a novice cook, but if you're one of those ambitious people who's obsessed with the seasonal process of canning, pickling and preserving, then there's no better cookbook on the shelves. The recipes are clearly written, the photography is nothing short of stunning, and there's enough inspiration in here to keep you in the kitchen year-round. Tacos, Tortas, and Tamales: Flavors from the griddles, pots, and street-side kitchens of Mexico, by Roberto Santibañez. $19.99; hardcover; 224 pages. The salsa recipes alone are worth the (inexpensive) splurge, but Santibañez, who was born in Mexico City and is now the chef/owner of Fonda restaurant in New York, wonderfully explores the heart and soul of Mexico, delving into street foods -- cactus tacos, hot dog tortas and carnitas -- and dispensing the best recipe for tamales that I've seen in years. The dishes are relatively easy to prepare, with detailed instructions, and the snapshots, which range from tortillerias to chicarron carts, are kaleidoscopic eye candy. There's also a helpful glossary of Mexican food terms. SPQR: Modern Italian Food and Wine, by Shelley Lindgren, Matthew Accarrino and Kate Leahy. $35; hardcover; 304 pages. Author Kate Leahy, Shelley Lindgren, co-owner and wine prowess of San Francisco restaurants A16 and SPQR, and executive chef of SPQR, Matthew Accarrino, have written an elegant, meaningful cookbook that reads, in parts, like an Italian travelogue through the smaller food and wine regions of Northern and Central Italy. The narrative, interspersed with sophisticated, well-written recipes, tips and techniques and lovely photographs, makes you wistful for a plane ticket. The recipes aren't for the faint of heart, and the ingredients might take some time to procure, but if you're a proponent of authentic Italian -- and have the patience to spend a Sunday afternoon cooking -- then it's worth adding to your collection.

Michael Symon's Carnivore: 120 Recipes for Meat Lovers, by Michael Symon. $25; hardcover; 256 pages. Star chef Michael Symon, whose unpretentious, entertaining approach to cooking makes an amateur feel relaxed and inspired, shares more than 100 recipes in this cookbook aimed at carnivores who want to cook beyond the ubiquitous cuts -- and get up close and personal with their butchers. His testosterone-charged homage to meat celebrates rabbit and ribs, lamb and venison, goat and pig, and the recipes are incredibly easy to follow, not to mention flavor-bombed. Buy one for yourself and a second for a bona fide flesh eater. Haute Potato: From Pommes Rissolees to Timbale with Roquefort, 75 Gourmet Potato Recipes, by Jacqueline Pham. $18.95; hardcover; 192 pages. If you're not a potato head, stop reading. But if you're as obsessive about the humble spud as I am, then this cookbook featuring 75 recipes, all of which involve the underappreciated tuber, is a must-have. The simple recipes zigzag from sweet mashed potatoes with roasted bananas and maple syrup to a peppy shrimp and potato salad. What I like most about Pham's cookbook is the fact that she traverses through a multitude of countries, dispensing potato recipes from all over the globe, including India, Vietnam, Peru and Africa. And if you simply want a great recipe for scalloped potatoes to pair with a spiral ham, she offers that, too. Roots: The Definitive Compendium with more than 225 Recipes, by Diane Morgan, Antonis Achilleos and Deborah Madison. $40; hardcover; 432 pages. "Definitive" is an understatement. Everything about this dedicated cookbook, resource guide and reference book that spotlights the attributes of well-known (and unfamiliar) root vegetables is extraordinary. It's the kind of complete cookbook that not only offers creative, seasonal recipes that will appeal to both timid home cooks and chefs wanting to branch out beyond beets, parsnips, potatoes and carrots, but each chapter also contains pertinent storage and prep information, along with the history of each vegetable; the photos are truly gorgeous, too. Plus, who knew that carrot tops make an excellent pesto? Secrets of the Best Chefs: Recipes, Techniques, and Tricks from America's Greatest Cooks, by Adam Roberts. $27.95; hardcover; 386 pages. Adam Roberts, author of the popular blog, spent a year traveling across America, cooking knuckle-to-knuckle alongside professional chefs and home cooks. His adventurous escapades in the kitchens of José Andrés, Susan Feniger, Michel Richard and Alice Waters (that's the very short list) resulted in a killer cookbook that's chock-block with clear, concise, international recipes that won't intimidate, "Kitchen Know-Hows" from in-the-know chefs who share their techniques, tips and tricks, illuminating chef backstories and plenty of lovely food photography to make you moan.

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Lori Midson
Contact: Lori Midson