Top 10 Best Cookbooks of 2009

This year the world of cookbook publishing has expectedly turned toward the subjects of homecooking and world cuisine. These books exemplify the trend and represent the best of this past year. Ratio, my top choice, is not really a cookbook at all. It's more of a roadmap for cooking the way chefs do, memorizing rote ratios. Conversely, Marco Canora's book focuses on the importance of instinct over ratios. Chefs use a bit of both in the restaurant kitchen. Thomas Keller, unarguably the most renowned chef in America comes out with a book focused on homecooking from his restaurant Ad Hoc. It's a departure from his previous and mostly unaccessible cookbooks like his Sous Vide. There are books on Portuguese, Italian, Indian, and Greek cuisines. All show the traditional foods of each country while also bringing to light each's culinary modernizations. The most noticeable trend in latest years has been a return to artisanal baking. The books Baking and Jim Lahey's My Bread offer up recipes for all the classics as well as Lahey's application of his noteworthy no-knead method. And lastly, Judith Jones, the publishing world's famous cookbook editor, shows us how to cook economically for ourselves. Since many of us are dining out less, this book is perfect for those who seek recipes designed for one. Any of these books make a great gift for the cookbook collector or kitchen renegade.


The very succinctly written Ratio (Scribner, $27), the newest book by food writer Michael Ruhlman, does as the subtitle suggests: it provides the codes behind the craft of cooking. Ratio is really the anti-cookbook, it does not provide recipes for bread, or biscuits, but explains the ratios that make recipes for such items work. Any cook or baker with the proper technique can utilize this book. It’s especially for the type of culinary rebel who likes to wing it in the kitchen. Many or most restaurant chefs rely on these rote ratios for their daily recipes. The book truly allows the reader to learn how to be self-sufficient in the kitchen instead of bending over backwards to follow word-by-word directions in a cookbook. If the proper ratio is met, the recipe will work. Ruhlman shows us it’s as simple as that.

Salt to TasteSalt to Taste

In his first book, Salt to Taste (Rodale, $35), restaurateur Marco Canora encourages home cooks to cook by instinct, as he says "to salt to taste." According to Canora, taste more so than ratios will determine a dish. Canora’s many years of experience, cooking in Florence and for Tom Colicchio, as well as his Italian upbringing has led to this very informative cookbook. Included are recipes in the vein of Tuscany, an ingredient guide, and thorough tips and hints for preparations and shortcuts that dot the margins. This book brims with intelligence and confidence, aspects that Canora wants to pass on to the reader and home cook. Everyone has his/her own sense of taste and each restaurant is a reflection of the chef’s personal taste. So is homecooking a reflection of the home cook. Canora wants us to cook better by relying on our senses: to see, hear, and taste when food is done to perfection. For example, a seared duck breast will puff like a balloon when it is medium-rare. This book teaches those techniques while encouraging improvisation by means of his philosophy of taste.

Pasta SfogliaPasta Sfoglia

There is nothing more indicative of Italian food than pasta. Making pasta from scratch isn’t as daunting as it may seem to the novice cook, especially if the detailed directions in this pasta-specific cookbook, Pasta Sfoglia (Wiley, $29.95), are followed. The first book by restaurateur couple, Ron and Colleen Suhanosky covers the gamut of fresh and dry pastas, filled pastas, gnocchi, and grains. The photographs are mouth-watering and inspirational. I’ve already made sweet potato gnocchi from this book and look forward to trying the many types of pasta such as Ron’s special duck-egg pasta, farro pasta, buckwheat pasta, as well as recipes for risotto, polenta, and more. This book is an essential guide for making homestyle pasta to do the most expert Italian nonna proud.

The Pleasures of Cooking for OneThe Pleasures of Cooking for One

Judith Jones graces us with yet another truly wonderful book, The Pleasures of Cooking for One (Knopf, $27.95), a cookbook designed for single diners. A few years ago I had the pleasure of hearing Jones speak about her then book, The Tenth Muse, at the James Beard House. There she lamented the difficulty of finding cookbooks designed with recipes for one. I am glad to see that she has remedied that niche by writing her own cookbook, one that is filled with delightful recipes. Elegant recipes for such dishes as boeuf bourguignon find a home in this book alongside simple soups and egg dishes. Jones cites cooking as an ongoing process in which one dish is not the end all but a first in a succession of reincarnations of second or even third dishes. This is important advice for the single cook who wants to make use of every purchase and leftover. Jones truly shows us it’s not a hassle to cook for oneself as many may come to think, but a pleasure.

The New Portuguese TableThe New Portuguese Table

The New Portuguese Table (Clarkson Potter, $32.50), the long-awaited first book from David Leite, award-winning writer and publisher of, opens the doors onto the overlooked and underutilized cuisine of Portugal. Leite offers traditional recipes for sausages and salt cod fritters as well as modern-day fusion recipes that highlight the new culinary direction of the Portugal of today with its rising chefs. Anecdotes of Leite’s travels and childhood memories as well as a Portuguese-ingredient encyclopedia round out the book. A well-packaged primer to the earthy flavors of Portuguese cuisine, this book offers accessible recipes that until now have only been available at a Portuguese table.

Modern SpiceModern Spice

Who doesn’t love Indian food? It’s the type of cuisine that we all think we know until it comes time to actually attempting it at home. Indian cooking is daunting to most: the elaborate steps, the grinding of exotic spices, and the long cooking times can all make a novice cook’s head spin. Food writer Monica Bhide comes along with her third cookbook, Modern Spice (Simon & Schuster, $25), a new treatise per se on Indian cooking. She reinterprets, reinvigorates, and reinvents the cuisine by providing recipes that are easy to follow and use lesser yet still key ingredients that highlight the primary features of Indian cooking, which are flavor and spice. Bhide shows us through her recipes and life’s stories that a cuisine of any country is ever evolving, and this book brings the ancientness of Indian cooking into the next century.

How to Roast a LambHow to Roast a Lamb

With How to Roast the Lamb (Little, Brown, $35), Michael Psilakis takes his love for the cuisine of his heritage and childhood and adds his years of restaurant experience to pull together a cookbook that seems to reinvigorate Greek cuisine as a whole. As the chef of the only Greek restaurant in the United States to hold a Michelin star, Psilakis has quickly made a name for himself in Mediterranean cooking and the New York restaurant scene. In this book Psilakis shares traditional Greek recipes influenced by his mother's palate as well as recipes from his two Greek restaurants. Anecdotes preceding each section invite the reader into the stories of his family, showing us the side of his life that shaped his future and most importantly his tastes. The book also includes a helpful section on Greek ingredients and shortcut alternatives. This book not only presents Greek cuisine but Greek culture as well.

My BreadMy Bread

Jim Lahey, the founder of New York’s famous Sullivan Street Bakery and the person who almost single-handedly revolutionized baking by inventing the no-knead method offers up his unique recipes in his first book, My Bread (Norton, $29.95). In 2006, Mark Bittman of the New York Times released a recipe for Lahey’s no-knead bread, sparking Internet frenzy. Since then Lahey has created even more no-knead bread recipes based on that one mother recipe. As more and more homebakers find a renewed interest in the art of bread baking, they will be drawn to Lahey's recipes. For those who have tried Lahey’s bread or are simply curious to know, this book is just the source for making simple and very satisfying breads. What could be more enjoyable than baking fresh bread at home? This book represents Lahey’s passion for baking and his willingness to teach novice bakers or more experienced bakers the methods that have made him and his bakery famous.


Baking (Ten Speed Press, $40), the follow-up to last year’s Cooking, is another thorough culinary compendium by food-writer extraordinaire James Peterson. it covers the all-encompassing subject of baking with 300 recipes and 2000 photographs all by the author himself. Peterson focuses on recipes and techniques in the classical French style, with chapters on cakes, tarts, pastries, breads, soufflĂ©s, and mousses, among many more. Step-by-step illustrations break down more complicated recipes into smaller more understandable modules making some of the more complicated recipes more accessible. It’s the perfect book for those who want to learn everything about baking in all its precise incarnations. It’s a book not only useful for the student, but the teacher as well. I find there is always something to learn in a James Peterson book.

Ad Hoc at HomeAd Hoc at Home

Ad Hoc at Home (Artisan, $50) introduces us to another side of America’s top chef, Thomas Keller, one that shows him as a homecook making classic American dishes. Keller, of French Laundry and Per Se fame creates possibly his first truly accessible cookbook for the home cook. All of his books up to this point have been more or less treatises on his revolutionary work in the haute cuisine world of the restaurant kitchen. This new book, based on his homestyle restaurant, Ad Hoc in Yountville, CA, shows us that homecooking is also dear to his heart. Simple, straightforward recipes for chicken, pies, and biscuits hearken back to simpler times in American country cuisine. This is what cooking is all about and Keller, with his personal flair and technical expertise, shows cooks how to perfectly recreate these tried and true favorites easily at home. Though many recipe may seem fussy at first, it's simply Keller showing his close attention to detail, which makes his food unparalleled to others.

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