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The Best Cookbooks Of 2019 From Chef Kathy Gunst05:50
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Here & Now resident chef Kathy Gunst joins hosts Robin Young and Tonya Mosley with her list of favorite  cookbooks of 2019. (Photo by Gunst)
Here & Now resident chef Kathy Gunst joins hosts Robin Young and Tonya Mosley with her list of favorite cookbooks of 2019. (Photo by Gunst)

I know I say this every year, but so many good cookbooks were published this year. There, I said it.

This year, as in the past, there were dozens and dozens of books about using Instant Pots, what to eat on special diets and how to cook dinner in less than 20 minutes.

But what I look for in a cookbook is motivation to try new ideas — a book that makes me hungry, makes me want to drop everything, get into the kitchen and start cooking.

This year I also focused on learning new skills and getting acquainted with cuisines I know far too little about. Learning about a new cuisine, and cooking the flavors and traditions from that country, is a wonderful way to make the world feel a little smaller, more unified and a bit less divisive. So here’s to 2020 and bringing new, delicious flavors into your kitchen.

Here are a few must-try recipes from Gunst's favorite cookbooks of the year.

The New American Classic

"Jubilee: Recipes From Two Centuries Of African American Cooking," by Toni Tipton-Martin

This book is a long time in the making. Tipton-Martin, a gifted writer and recipe developer, writes in her introduction, “As I knelt on the cool hardwood floor in my home office, surrounded by books that span nearly 200 years of black cooking, I realized my ancestors had left us a very special gift: a gift of freedom, culinary freedom…I had spent a near fortune in musty secondhand and antique bookstores, tracing the elusive history of talented, professional black cooks whose legacies have been overshadowed throughout history by the famous caricatures. You know their names — Aunt Jemima, Mammy, Uncle So-and-So — while the names of the women and men who have created so much of American cuisine have been obscured or lost.”

Tipton-Martin set out to bring some light to those voices in "Jubilee," published by Clarkson Potter. Working from historical recipes, she introduces (and reintroduces) us to some classics of the African American culinary repertoire. The storytelling is every bit as good as the recipes. I spent hours reading this important book. The sweet potato biscuits with ham, the mashed turnips and carrots with rum, creole fried chicken, ginger punch, cornbread and lemon tea cake are all sure to become instant favorites. Historical recipes sit side by side with their modern counterparts. For instance, the original recipe for macaroni croquettes, cheese sauce from Mrs. W.T. Hayes' 1912 "The Kentucky Cookbook" sits next to a luscious modern version that uses condensed milk, cheddar and jack cheese and plenty of eggs. I didn’t think there was such a thing as a new way to make mac and cheese, but this one is so creamy and cheesy, it may become my new go-to.

In a recent interview, Tipton-Martin said: “We know about soul food and middle-class cooking. But we’re still learning about what African American foodways mean in a broader context. We weren’t a group of voluntary immigrants that could proudly demonstrate our foodways to other people on our own terms.”

Click here for a recipe from "Jubilee." 

An Updated American Classic

"Joy of Cooking: 2019 Edition," by Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker, Ethan Becker, John Becker, and Megan Scott

Many of us grew up with "Joy of Cooking," first published in 1931. So do we really need a new, revised, updated version of the original? I wasn’t sure until I took a close look at the new volume, published by Scribner.

With 600 new recipes and more than 4000 revised favorites, this is a thick book that belongs in every kitchen. You know it’s almost 2020 when you see recipes for kale salad and kimchi mac and cheese alongside classics like fish chowder, chocolate cake and ice cream pie. It’s a thick 1,156 pages filled with answers to many kitchen questions. And it's a great gift for someone starting out in a new kitchen or wanting to dive into the world of food.

What Should I Cook For Dinner Tonight?

"Canal House: Cook Something: Recipes to Rely On," by Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton

Warning: Do not read this book when you’re really hungry. Published by Voracious, "Canal House" is a feast of ideas, recipes, tutorials, advice and gorgeous photography that will make you run to the store and start cooking everything in sight. As the authors write in the introduction “This is a book all about home cooking…Everyone needs a small cache of classic recipes: everyday recipes, weekend meals…some special dishes for those big deal dinners…”

And Hamilton and Hirsheimer take you by the hand, lead you into the kitchen and say “Look, what about this dish? It’s simple. You can do this!” There are so many recipes I want to try: chicken and prosciutto with anchovy butter, meatballs with mint and parsley and their amazing looking pecan pie. In addition to recipes, you’ll also find charts and tips — everything from a guide to salad greens, 13 ways to cook with chicken and how to make a tender, flaky pastry dough. It's part recipe book, part cooking class, part inspiration. The photography by Hirsheimer is stunning.

Click here for two recipes from "Cook Something: Recipes to Rely On."

"From The Oven to the Table," by Diana Henry

This book is a gem. This prized British food writer and columnist takes the most basic ingredients and spins them into something magical in "From The Oven to the Table," published by Mitchell Beazley. Chicken with feta cheese, dill, lemon and harissa yogurt sounds like a mouth full, but — like so many recipes in this book — it’s actually straightforward and not time-consuming. Big flavors. Not a lot of work.

Henry begins with this lovely image that explains the philosophy behind the book: “Closing the oven door and swinging a tea towel over my shoulder is one of the most satisfying movements I make in the kitchen. I love the alchemy that takes place behind that door. It’s astonishing how heat, on its own — without you directing it or supervising it very much — can turn simple ingredients into a meal.”

"All About Dinner: Simple Meals, Expert Advice," by Molly Stevens

Molly Stevens is a gifted cooking teacher. Trust me, I’ve seen her in action. Her newest book, from publisher W.W. Norton & Co., is another great book to turn to if you’re looking to light a culinary fire in your kitchen. Stevens says that this book is her answer to the question so many students ask: “Why do you cook at home?” I plan on trying the roast pork loin with maple miso glaze, Brussels sprouts hash with shallots and mustard seeds and the triple ginger apple crisp this winter.

Teach Me Something New

"Lavash: The Bread That Launched 1,000 Meals, Plus Salads, Stews and Other Recipes," from Armenia by Kate Leahy, John Lee and Ara Zada

You’ve tasted Turkish food. You’ve eaten your share of Mediterranean flavors. But Armenian food? I dug into "Lavash," published by Chronicle Books, with a deep curiosity about this traditional bread and cuisine. I wasn’t disappointed.

Part cookbook, part travel book, you’ll learn about the breads of Armenia — fabulous flatbreads stuffed with green herbs and pomegranate molasses, griddled breads like lavash, and Lahmajo, an Armenian pizza topped with tomatoes, garlic and ground lamb. I'm looking forward to trying tatar boraki, a dish of tender egg noodles with yogurt and the many fabulous looking recipes for stuffed vegetables. Gata (coffee cake with walnuts) is also on my list of must-tries. The photography makes you want to visit Armenia and learn and taste even more.

Click here for a recipe from "Lavash."

"Vietnamese Food Any Day: Simple Recipes for True, Fresh Flavors," by Andrea Nguyen

Andrea Nguyen writes cookbooks that translate the traditions, flavors, and techniques of Vietnam. She has become a kind of culinary ambassador, bridging the culinary gap between Vietnam and your kitchen with "Vietnamese Food Any Day," published by Ten Speed Press. She makes this bright, endlessly-interesting cuisine approachable for American cooks.

This latest volume focuses on simpler Vietnamese stews, stir-fries, snacks, eggs, tofu and noodle dishes. I’m anxious to try the gingery green and shrimp soup, banh mi sandwich and Vietnamese empanadas with ground pork and shrimp. If you’re intimidated by cooking Vietnamese food at home, or simply want to explore a new cuisine this year, this book is for you.

"Sababa: Fresh, Sunny Flavors From My Israeli Kitchen," by Adeena Sussman

Israeli food has so much more to offer than hummus and falafel. Dig through this delicious collection of recipes, published by Avery, and your winter kitchen will feel brighter with oven-roasted artichokes and garlic, za’atar roasted chicken over sumac potatoes and fig and yogurt pops with tahini magic shell.

Other Favorites:

I Want To Eat More Vegetables

There are many great vegetarian and vegetable-forward cookbooks out this year. Here are two favorites:

What’s for Dessert?

"Pastry Love: A Baker’s Journal of Favorite Recipes," by Joanne Chang

This Houghton Mifflin Harcourt book offers a spectacular collection of breakfast treats, bread, cookies, pies, cakes and more. Master baker Joanne Chang, owner of the Flour bakeries in Boston, writes recipes that work in your kitchen, even if you’re a not-overly-confident baker. In "Pastry Love," her most personal volume to date, Chang’s voice is calm and clear. Look for dulce de leche brioche buns and Ginger-Peach Crumb Cake. Great cookie chapter (especially the double chocolate cookies) as well.

"When Pies Fly: Handmade Pastries from Strudels to Stromboli, Empanadas to Knishes," by Cathy Barrow

This is a baking book devoted to both sweet and savory treats. Last year, the prolific  Barrow wrote about slab pies, but in this year’s Grand Central Publishing volume, she focuses on smaller hand-held treats — from bacon, egg and Swiss hand pie ( a great new take on an egg sandwich), Thanksgiving-in-a-bite pie poppers (ground turkey, bacon and pumpkin seeds in a butter pie dough) to figgy cheesy spirals or spiced apple strudel. Barrow has proven herself, time and time again, to be a very reliable recipe writer. Preheat that oven and get ready to bake.

"Tartine: A Classic Revisited: 68 All-New Recipes + 55 Updated Favorites," by Elisabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson

The beloved San Francisco-based bakery reissued this favorite with publisher Chronicle Books featuring all new and revised recipes. Generally, this is not the book for a beginner baker. Lemon meringue cake, Mexican wedding cookies and brioche bread pudding may take some time (and care), but it will be worth it. Or you could visit their fabulous bakery in San Francisco or Los Angeles!

Also suggested:

"Midwest Made: Big, Bold Baking from the Heartland," by Shauna Sever

This segment aired on December 11, 2019.

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Kathy Gunst Twitter Here & Now Resident Chef
Kathy Gunst is a James Beard Award-winning journalist and the author of 15 cookbooks.

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