In a time of great uncertainty in the home kitchen, cookbooks have become a lifeline — a connection to comfort and encouragement when we need it most. And some of our favorite chefs, food stars and recipe developers have been busy rustling up cookbooks just before and during COVID times that embolden us to move forward with our pantries, pots and pans.
These 10 cookbooks, all recent publications, inspire us to create in ways that remind us of the joys of the kitchen, the importance of mealtime and the pleasures of feeding ourselves, no matter the obstacles.
“The Barbuto Cookbook” by Jonathan Waxman (Abrams; 320 pages)
It’s incredible to realize just how much flavor James Beard Award-winning chef Waxman achieves from so few ingredients. Sure, the best components are a factor, but there’s some other wonderful culinary wizardry at work in these recipes drawn from the Cal-Ital staples at his iconic (and sadly, closed) West Village restaurant. The life-changing roasted chicken, for example, is wonderful. A version is also on the menu at Houston’s Ostia, helmed by Travis McShane, who worked in the kitchen at Barbuto.
RECIPE: JW Chicken with salsa verde
Fans of flame
“Serial Griller: Grillmaster Secrets for Flame-Cooked Perfection” by Matt Moore (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 320 pages)
The author proudly asserts he grew up in a family of grillers. The science, tools and techniques of good grilling are covered, but it is his enthusiastic travels throughout the country to meet a diverse grilling community that is the highlight of a book that includes regional firestarters such as Houston’s Tacos a Go Go and its fajitas bonanza.
RECIPE: Grilled Shrimp for Fajitas
“Xi’an Famous Foods” by Jason Wang with Jessica K. Chou (Abrams; 304 pages)
A classic immigrant story told through noodles. Wang, a native of Xi’an, China, tells of his hardworking father, who created one of New York’s most popular Chinese restaurant brands based on the assertive flavors of northwest China. Wang takes the readers through chiles, sauces, broths and pantry staples to create Xi’an’s distinctive cuisine, then launches full throttle through street-food recipes and home-style-cooking favorites. With patience, readers can master liang pi (cold skin noodles) and biang-biang (hand-ripped noodles) that helped make the restaurant famous.
RECIPE: Dry Pot Chicken
Fast and flavorful
“Milk Street: Cookish” by Christopher Kimball (Voracious; 342 pages)
A good term, “cookish” (a simpler approach than full-on cooking) is probably what a lot of people are doing during the pandemic: creating meals in minutes with little time and few components. Kimball harnesses the vast resources of Milk Street to create recipes with limited ingredients that encourage home cooks to “throw it together.” Pantry powerhouse staples play key roles.
RECIPE: Seared Radicchio with Sherry Vinegar, Blue Cheese and Walnuts
“The Book on Pie” by Erin Jeanne McDowell (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 352 pages)
The baking columnist for Food52, McDowell proves to be a perfect instructor for pie enthusiasts of all ilks. Though the recipes skew to more ambitious, the author’s patience, encouragement and knowledge (she’s been baking pies since she was a girl) will have you reaching for the rolling pin.
“Chasing Flavor: Techniques and Recipes to Cook Fearlessly” by Dan Kluger with Nick Fauchald (Rux Martin; 368 pages)
Building and balancing flavors are at the heart of this book from a James Beard Award-winning chef whose knowledge of acids, sweets, salt and spice form the building blocks for modern dishes that make the most of seasonal produce and best ingredients. Vegetable dishes, in particular, are stars among recipes that eke out maximum flavor.
RECIPE: Celery Root, Fennel, Pear and Apple Salad with Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette
“The French Laundry, Per Se” by Thomas Keller (Artisan; 400 pages)
Keller, the only American chef to have two Michelin 3-star-rated restaurants, lavishes his exacting attention on this heavy tome of deep thinking on the evolution of fine dining. For some home cooks, the 70 recipes from two of his iconic restaurants will bring on a migraine; for others, they are a golden ticket to unlocking paths to the most rarefied, exquisite dining on the planet.
RECIPE: Salade Blanche
“Pinch-Dash-Done: A Gateway to Flavorful Recipes” by Vernita B. Harris and Beatrice Moore (Pinch-Dash-Done LLC; 161 pages)
The authors, both graduates of Prairie View A&M University, have put together a recipe collection that recognizes the way we eat with flavors drawn from Southern, Tex-Mex, Italian and Caribbean influences. A portion of cookbook sales will benefit the Houston Food Bank and Prairie View A&M.
RECIPE: Banana Nut Muffins
“Meat Illustrated” from America’s Test Kitchen (America’s Test Kitchen; 440 pages)
Those tireless testers from ATK (which includes Cook’s Illustrated and Cook’s Country) have brought their considerable knowledge to this definitive guide for knowing and cooking beef and veal, lamb, pork and ground meat. It’s an exhaustive immersion into meat cuts, cooking techniques and recipes for mastering meat.
RECIPE: Braised Steaks with Root Vegetables
“Martha Stewart’s Cake Perfection” by Editors of Martha Stewart Living (Clarkson Potter; 256 pages)
If you follow Martha Stewart on social media, you know that the pandemic has not slowed down the culinary whirling dervish. In fact, she got busier, including her work on this drool-worthy book frosted lavishly with her perfectionist eye. Layer cakes, sheet cakes, cupcakes and showstopping cakes are covered in 100 recipes from the simple to master-class stunning.
RECIPE: Pistachio-Cardamom Bundt