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A few of my favorite cookbooks from 2011. Some are missing because I've loaned them out and people refuse to give them back.
It's been


The Best Cookbooks of 2011

2011 cookbooks.jpg
A few of my favorite cookbooks from 2011. Some are missing because I've loaned them out and people refuse to give them back.
It's been just over a year since we began the Cooking the Books column and it's been quite a year for cookbooks. Luminaries such as Jacques Pepin, Paula Wolfert and Michael Ruhlman all released new cookbooks in 2011. The popularity of craft cocktails has led to a number of great cocktail books on the market, and the DIY movement is alive and well in the kitchen--with cookbooks now available for making everything from bitters and charcuterie to soda and bottled sauces.

I received more cookbooks in the last 12 months than I can ever hope to review. Below are the ones I did review however which will have a permanent place on my bookshelf. And I've given honorable mention to a handful of books that I love, but for whatever reason didn't have a chance to fully review. They are good enough to mention here though, because I think you'll like them too.

Truly Mexican

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Roberto Santibañez believes sauces are building blocks for great meals. He has divided this book into chapters on salsas, guacamoles, adobos, moles and pipianes, and sides, rather than by courses. Each recipe has several serving suggestions, in addition to detailed recipes like pork braised in tomatillo sauce, enchiladas made with mole poblano and adobo-marinated fish or skirt steak. Rather than showcasing the regional variations of Mexico's cuisine, he shows just how much the seemingly disparate food has in common. There is valuable information about ingredients like chayote and epazote, and a chart on chiles with flavor notes, toasting tips, average size, and heat level.

Good to the Grain

Kim Boyce out to create recipes based around whole grain flours like quinoa, kamut, and teff. She tempers these flavors with sweeteners like dark brown sugar, molasses and honey, plus plenty of salt. Boyce doesn't get preachy about the health benefits of whole grains. Heck, with the amount of butter, eggs, sugar, and cream in her recipes, you can tell she values flavor above all else. I appreciated the level of specificity in the directions. Things like turning the sheet pans halfway through the baking time, or looking for a specific color or consistency. Chapters are organized by type of flour, a great layout for such an ingredient-focused cookbook. With Good to the Grain, you can buy a bag of rye flour and use it for Rustic Rye Dough for tarts and galettes, Crumble Bars, and Soft Rye Pretzels, among other recipes.

Ruhlman's Twenty

In Ruhlman's Twenty the "twenty" stands for twenty chapters which identify and describe fundamental techniques Michael Ruhlman feels every cook needs and should use. Alongside the techniques described, he provides recipes that showcase and provide practical application for each fundamental technique. The first chapters include "think," "salt" and "water." Chapters continue for things like sauces, vinaigrettes and poaching, but also ingredients like eggs, butter and onions. Recipes range from citrus cured salmon to butter poached shrimp, and coq au vin to a whiskey sour. Ruhlman has distilled down years of professional training, plus advice and technique from the world's top chefs and delivered them in a concise and practical format that teaches you the fundamentals while giving you practical applications for this knowledge.


In Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All, author--and former Seattleiite--Brad Thomas Parsons aims to stir up a bibulous tale using equal parts history, current cocktail trends and distinctive recipes. Making homemade bitters is becoming a trend for many adventurous home cooks and cocktail enthusiasts. With a book like Bitters, it's easy to get enthusiast about the prospect of getting your hands on some gentian root, high-proof spirits and horehound to cook up an aromatic and tongue tingling brew. With Parsons' extensive research on the subject and his intriguing recipes--including ingredients such as pear, key lime, coffee, pecans, and charred cedar--you are halfway to lining your home bar with little vials of homemade bitters. In addition to recipes for bitters, there are recipes for over 70 cocktails, ranging from the essential bitters cocktails like the Manhattan and Sazerac, to old guard cocktails such as the Seelbach and Martinez and several new cocktails like the Red Carpet Reviver and The Bitter Handshake.


If there is a cult of salt lovers, Mark Bitterman is its guru. Bitterman is a gifted writer who weaves the history of salt and salt production into biographies of salt varieties and their applications. He believes salt is a natural, whole food intimately tied to a place and a way of life. And his mission is to make you think differently about salt, and empower you to make food that is better in every way. Salted includes a guide to over 150 types of salt, with descriptions and suggested uses listed for each salt, along with tasting notes. These are often hilarious, since some descriptors include wild horse sweat, campfire, candied egg, buttermilk, and San Francisco mist.

Craft Beers of the Pacific Northwest

Lisa Morrison's Craft Beers of the Pacific Northwest is a beer lover's guide to Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. Morrison introduces you to off-the-beaten path breweries like Skookum Brewery in Arlington and Terminal Gravity Brewery in Enterprise, Oregon, in addition to the stalwarts of Pacific Northwest craft brewing such as Deschutes Brewery, Pike Brewing, and Pyramid Brewing. There's advice for "don't miss" beers, along with great background information about the breweries and pubs. In the "Beer 101" section, you get an overview of the brewing process. There is also information about the key factors in making great beer, beer styles, and a helpful glossary.

Cook's Illustrated


The Cook's Illustrated Cookbook--from the producers of the PBS show America's Test Kitchen, magazines Cook's Illustrated and Cook's Country, plus 70 or so cookbooks--is a behemoth of a cookbook containing over 2,000 recipes--for everything from pad thai to pot roast and spring rolls to croissants. Throughout the book are illustrations for how to break down a chicken, devein shrimp, or prepare artichoke hearts. There are also valuable recipe shortcuts throughout. The reason I love this book is that recipes from America's Test Kitchen always work. On average, their recipes take six weeks and 65 tests to develop. In headnotes they explain things like why they chose Yukon Gold potatoes over other varieties for Potatoes Lyonnaise, how to prepare eggplant so it doesn't make your vegetable lasagna mushy, and why using vodka in their foolproof pie crust recipe ensures the flakiest crust.

Kitchen Counter Cooking School


Seattle author Kathleen Flinn spent a year with volunteers of varying ages and social and economic backgrounds who all had one thing in common: None of them could cook. In The Kitchen Counter Cooking School, Flinn recounts the various cooking classes she led with the volunteers, and shares valuable tips, tricks, and recipes. While this isn't exactly a cookbook, each chapter includes "recipes" at the end. Some are detailed ingredient lists and instructions, while others are general techniques. For vegetables, Flinn gives instructions for five different ways to cook vegetables--sauté, stir-fry, roast, steam, and grill--and lists which vegetables work best for each technique. Throughout the book detailed information about nutrition--like how to read labels--and facts about food additives, food waste, and health problems that will make most readers want to break out the vegetable peeler and stockpot before they've even reached the last page.

Momofuku Milk Bar

Christina Tosi, of the David Chang empire of Momfuku restaurants, has just written her first cookbook, Momofuku Milk Bar, where she shares recipes for the baked goods New Yorkers line up for in droves. Things like cereal milk ice cream, candy bar pie and kimchi & blue cheese croissants. She gives you recipes for the "mother doughs" many recipes are built on, "crunches" and crumbs" that make Milk Bar desserts so irresistible, techniques for the chewiest cookies, and permission to experiment, since some of the worst mistakes are the most delicious.

Vij's At Home

Vij's restaurant in Vancouver, B.C., is well regarded as one of the region's best and most inventive Indian restaurants. Owners and husband/wife team Vikram Vij and Meeru Dhalwala released their second cookbook, Vij's at Home, to share recipes tailored for the home cook. Recipes in Vij's at Home are about half vegetarian and half carnivorous. There are half a dozen chutneys, staples like paneer and eggplant raita, vegetarian dishes such as eggplant and paneer pate, and over a dozen vegetable curries. The chapters on poultry and meat include lamb, beef, goat, pork, chicken, and duck. There is even a recipe for roasted crickets. It's in the seafood chapter, since they are in the same family as prawns. Sometimes the recipe headnotes are longer than the recipe, as they often include valuable tips and tricks, serving suggestions, and possible substitutions.

Homemade Soda

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In Homemade Soda, author Andrew Schloss has created over 200 recipes for homemade fizzes, cream sodas, herbal elixirs, and more, that range in complexity and difficulty, but deliver on flavor and fun. Homemade sodas can be as simple as pureeing or cooking some fruit and sugar, and adding some store-bought seltzer, or as complex as brewing ginger ale and adding yeast to the bottle to create carbonation. Schloss introduces readers to ingredients like burdock root, birch bark, and sassafras and sweeteners like agave syrup. Most recipes however, call for ingredients easily found on supermarket shelves. The introduction of Homemade Soda includes a history of sodas from the time that water was first carbonated to the rise of bottled sodas like Coca-Cola. Schloss explains the ins and outs of carbonating at home with various yeasts and offers troubleshooting tips.

Food Lovers' Guide to Seattle

Local author Keren Brown has long had her finger on the pulse of the Seattle

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restaurant scene, thanks to her popular blog Frantic Foodie and her Foodportunity networking events. In her new book, The Food Lovers' Guide to Seattle, she has encapsulated the Seattle food scene with a compact yet informative book. She includes foodie favorites like Le Pichet and Harvest Vine, but also points readers to discoveries further afield, like Punjab Sweets in Kent and Frost Doughnuts in Mill Creek. The book is divided into five chapters according to the geographic regions of the city: North, Central, South, West Seattle, and Downtown. Each chapter begins with some background and history of some of the neighborhoods in that region. Chapters are further organized by sections for Specialty Stores and Markets, Food Lovers' Faves, and Landmark Eateries.

Good Fish


Local chef and author Becky Selengut's latest book Good Fish is equal parts sustainable seafood primer and cookbook. There are recipes for seafood favorites like crab mac-and-cheese, shrimp cocktail and fish tacos (with wine pairing suggestions for each recipe), tips on buying fresh versus frozen seafood, how to buy and store seafood, and the best way to prepare everything from oysters and salmon, to char, sardines and squid. With Good Fish, Selengut teaches readers how to shop for and prepare fish that has been sustainably raised or caught, and to eat more variety of fish and shellfish. Selengut's skill as a teacher shines through in sidebars on everything from thawing fish to searing scallops. There are even how-to videos at goodfishbook.com with great demonstrations on how to fillet a fish, shuck an oyster, cook and clean Dungeness crab, devein a shrimp, wok-smoke a fish, and more.

Book Larder

OK, so this isn't a cookbook recommendation, but IS worth mentioning in this "Best of" list. Book Larder, a new bookstore at 4252 Fremont Ave., is the city's first cookbook store. Inspired by similar stores in London, San Francisco, and Vancouver, the Book Larder hosts cooking demos, cooking classes, and authors visiting Seattle with new cookbooks. The store is the longtime dream of owner Lara Hamilton and the late Kim Ricketts. Hamilton started working for Kim Ricketts Book Events last year, and has since become the owner of the company. The bookstore is a new venture, but the popular "Cooks & Books" author series has been bringing chefs and cookbook authors to Seattle for years.

Ebooks and Cooking Apps

It probably goes without saying that I LOVE cookbooks. There are more cookbooks in my house than any other kind of book. My sweet husband gifted me with an iPad for my birthday last year though, and I am finding it to be a very useful tool in the kitchen. I just prop it up on the countertop, tap and scroll to access a nearly endless supply of recipes. With more and more great electronic versions of cookbooks available and many great cooking apps. You can read about a few of my favorites, like Epicurious, How to Cook Everything, Allrecipes, Martha Stewart, Ratio, and Gourmet. Since I wrote that piece however, a slew of new apps have been released. I have recently downloaded the Dorie Greenspan app and Mario Batali's app. And other than the $50 price tag, I hear The Professional Chef app from the Culinary Institute of America is amazing. What are some of your favorite apps?

Honorable Mention:

It was quite a year for cookbooks but I am but one woman with a weekly column. I wasn't able to write full reviews for every cookbook I fell in love with over the last year. I'd like to at least give a shout-out to the following books that I am currently working my way through, and may even be able to review in the coming months. They are definitely worth checking out:

Seasonal Cocktail Companion

Seattle author and cocktail maven Maggie Savarino has a written a cocktail recipe and DIY book with a seasonal approach.

Cook This Now

Melissa Clark's column, A Good Appetite, in The New York Times is a trusted resource for great recipes.


Nancy Silverton, of LA bakery and restaurant fame, has released a cookbook from her famed restaurant Mozza. I love me some Italian food.

Oxford Companion to Beer

This seminal beer book is the definitive resource for suds lovers.

Art of Living According to Joe Beef

Joe Beef is a popular restaurant in Montreal, often referred to as the Paris of North America. This book is packed with hearty, drool-worthy recipes.

Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home

These recipes will change the way you make ice cream at home. Forever. OK, maybe a little dramatic...

Modernist Cuisine

I can't write a column about cookbooks without at least mentioned Modernist Cuisine once. It's an important book for anyone interested in food and cooking, and its future. Thankfully, Seattle Weekly's own Seattle Food Geek reviewed the book here.

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