Top 10 Best Food Books of the Year

With gift-giving season in full swing, here is my top ten list of favorite books from this past year. Any of these books would make a great gift for the cookbook collector, foodie, or gastronomer that you know. But if you rather buy one of these books as a gift for yourself, why not bake something special to give away? What is your favorite cookbook this year?

The Tenth Muse
The Tenth Muse
This book from Judith Jones, the godmother of American cookery, has to be one of my most favorite books of the year. I first reviewed The Tenth Muse (Knopf, $14.95) when it was released in hardcover last year. You can read it here. I also had the opportunity to meet Jones at her book reading at the James Beard House; what a pleasure it was to meet her. This memoir of sorts truly gives the reader a look inside Jones's journey in the world of food from a novice cook living in Paris to the cookbook editor who discovered Julia Child. The Tenth Muse is filled with beautiful anecdotes from a woman brimming with colorful stories. For Jones, cooking is not just for eating, because as the French say, cooking is an art. Jones's passion leaps from the page, showing us her pleasure and dedication in editing cookbooks. With recipes in the back that complement Jones's adventures, the book is the perfect gift for someone interested in making a life in any facet of the food industry.

In Defense of Food
In Defense of Food
"Eat food. Not too much. Mostly Plants." That's the motto that Michael Pollan goes by in his book In Defense of Food (Penguin, $21.95). It's really a motto that everyone should follow. Since the 1950s processed convenience food—the kind you open, heat, and eat—has led us down a dark path of lethargy, bad eating habits, and a multitude of health problems. Unfortunately, as Pollan shows us, we continue to dig our own graves by continuing to eat food-like substances even today without paying attention to the consequences. The health of America is suffering and it's about time to change that—Michael Pollan shows us how to change it in our personal lives as well as how it can be changed in a much larger way. If you haven't read Pollan's article to the "farmer in chief" in the New York Times, it is an amazing call to our new leader for the bettering of America's food and health policy, it is available here.

Wine Politics
Wine Politics
The politics of wine is a subject that I now can wield after reading Wine Politics (University of California Press, $27.50). Tyler Colman, a.k.a. Dr. Vino of the award-winning blog DrVino.com, answers the questions many wine drinkers have asked and continue to ask about French and American wine: Why is French wine so expensive? Why are French wine labels so hard to understand? Why are so many American wines from California? I reviewed this book this past summer after hearing Dr. Colman speak at the James Beard House. You can read it here. I also recently had the pleasure of taking his "How to Become a Wine Expert" wine-tasting course at New York University and sponsored by the James Beard Foundation. The course covers the themes of this book as well as offering a hedonistic amount of wines for tasting. I highly recommend taking his course, but reading the book is not a bad second option either. If you or someone you know is stumped by wine and wants to learn more about the subject, this book is the one to get. I have learned so much wine knowledge from the book that I now feel I can meet minds with wine sellers and sommeliers. By the way, Colman has another book just out, A Year of Wine.

How to Cook Everything
How to Cook Everything
How to Cook Everything (Wiley, $35), the newly expanded and anniversary edition of Mark Bittman's book published ten years earlier, really is the cookbook for everyone. It features a slew of new recipes, better section-to-section organization, more technique descriptions, new illustrations, and a helpful index for essential recipes, among many other improvements. Bittman brings the best of all worlds into this tome, from his many years of expertise from writing The Minimalist column for the New York Times to his extensive travels as shown in his PBS programs. This book is not only a valuable addition to anyone with an established cookbook collection but also it is the perfect gift for anyone who is just beginning to learn cooking basics and craves to gain a foundational culinary knowledge from one of the best teachers.

Baked
Baked
Baked (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $29.95), probably one of the most anticipated books of the year, comes from Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito of Baked bakery in Red Hook, Brooklyn. After working so hard to set up a bakery, Matt and Renato quickly reaped their benefits by shooting to fame when they were featured by Oprah in her magazine and Martha Stewart on her morning show. I too heard about them through all the buzz. On my first visit to the bakery, I was taken by their modern yet throwback baked goods. I was also lucky enough to have lived right down the street from the bakery last year just for a short time. I have them to thank for my go-to brownie recipe, available here. Everybody loves Baked brownies—and now we can all make brownies and cakes, cupcakes, squares, pies, and many more goods from home, thanks to these guys for sharing their recipes in this must-buy baking book.

Jamie at Home
Jamie at Home
Jamie Oliver’s books are always a hit. With his many popular television series, books, and American morning show appearances, the cheeky British chef has become a mainstay in America—I’m surprised he doesn’t yet live here. His cookery books—to use the British term—feature easy, simple, and delicious recipes that are perfect for family gatherings where simple home cooking is appreciated above fancy food. Jamie at Home (Hyperion, $37.50) is just that book and more. It is all about cooking at home, using what you have on hand and what you can grow at home. Every summer my family plants a large garden full of our favorite vegetables. Because of this, we can enjoy our homegrown treasures throughout the summer and even the entire year (with canning). Jamie shows us how we can utilize our gardens to make wonderful meals at home with new recipes, colorful photographs, and how-to gardening information. This book is perfect for the home-cook and gardener (or soon-to-be gardener).

The Food You Crave
The Food You Crave
Ellie Krieger, registered dietitian and host of her Food Network show Healthy Appetite, gives us The Food You Crave (Taunton, $28), a book of more than just recipes for food cravings: it is a book about food that is healthy too. Food that gives pleasure doesn't always have to be heavy comfort food high in calories. Featuring nutrition panels for each recipe along with information-laden pages that debunk myths and set straight the facts, this book is the perfect manual for maintaining a healthy lifestyle while not forgoing good, flavorful food. Not only for the health-conscious cook, this book is perfect for when you're ready to shed those extra holiday pounds, and you've made the most common New Year's resolution to do so—then you'll want to buy this book for yourself.

Made in Spain
Made in Spain
If you haven't seen the PBS series Made in Spain, you should start watching. In the series José Andrés, one of America's most celebrated chefs and restaurateurs, and protégé of Ferran Adrià, travels throughout Spain, showing his country's glorious beauty and mouth-watering cuisine. His radiating excitement makes it such a pleasure to watch his show. With the series, Andrés brings culinary Spain into the American living room and with this companion book (Clarkson Potter, $35), he offers accessible recipes that highlight the many flavors of Spain. The book is divided into sections by specialties from the different regions of Spain and there are photos to accompany each and every recipe. A perfect complement to the series, this book opens a window into Andrés' world of simple and elegant Spanish cuisine.


A Day at elBulli

A Day at elBulli
Any serious foodie would kill to spend a day at elBulli, but because it's almost impossible to gain a reservation to this restaurant, which is only open six months out of the year, this book will allow you to spend an entire workday at the restaurant. From before opening to after closing, this is the behind-the-scenes look at one of the most famous restaurants in the world. I've put this restaurant on my list of places to visit before I die. With extensive color photographs, a full tasting menu of thirty recipes, and an almost hour-by-hour account of one day in the inner sanctum of this restaurant cum laboratory, A Day at elBulli (Phaidon, $49.95) is the definitive book for fans and restaurant aficionados.

The Big Fat Duck Cookbook
The Big Fat Duck Cookbook
Soon after this book was released, I ordered it, prompted by Michael Ruhlman's review, available here. At first I was hesitant on buying The Big Fat Duck Cookbook (Bloomsbury, $250), thinking it would turn out to be a lame duck, but once it was in my hands, I was entranced. Heston Blumenthal, the famed chef and owner of the three-star Michelin restaurant The Fat Duck in England, is a scientist in the kitchen, who continually invents new concoctions that blow the mind. I first saw him on Martha Stewart’s morning show, where he did an experiment on taste versus flavor and made ice cream with dry ice. I was thoroughly impressed from seeing his creativeness and down-to-earth demeanor—unusual for a chef of his caliber. This book is gargantuan and beautiful—it is filled with the most unusual illustrations, not to be found in any other cookbook. Split between his history and fifty recipes, each with thorough explication, The Big Fat Duck Cookbook renders a trip like no other. Reading and simply leafing through this tome is like exploring with Alice in Wonderland. If you are willing to make the splurge, this book would make any experimental cook more than happy this holiday.