Serious foodies and home gourmands can be tough to shop for. Is a gift basket of quick-bread mixes insulting? Do they already have a Himalayan salt block, or four? If your default for these folks is a gift card to the gourmet grocer, that’s fine. But at least tuck it inside one of the finest cookbooks you can find. We’ve pored over stacks of instructional tomes and have read critical reviews to present a short list of the absolute best cookbooks released in recent months. They’re all written by culinary pros who are garnering worldwide acclaim for innovative, artful creations coming out of their restaurant kitchens. Bonus that many are pretty enough to keep on the coffee table.
Hartwood: Bright, Wild Flavors From the Edge of the Yucatán, by Eric Werner and Mya Henry (Artisan, $40)
One of the best sustainable restaurants in the world is on the shores of paradise. Tucked away down a jungle road along the Caribbean Sea in Tulum, Mexico, Hartwood is a 90-minute drive off the beaten path from the tourist traps of Cancun. Its menu changes daily according to what’s plentiful on the land and in the sea, and its outdoor kitchen is open to the sky, so when it rains hard, the restaurant closes. Chef-owners Eric Werner and Mya Henry left New York City to build their restaurant in the jungle five years ago, and their first cookbook takes readers off the grid with them. Hartwood shares the techniques essential to layering and balancing flavors; it introduces readers to new tropical produce and fish found only in Mexican coastal waters (inquire about ordering it at better grocers), teaches uses for 18 different chiles and a range of herbs, and shares ways to cook on blazing hot grills. “Our cooking isn’t complicated,” they write, “because our kitchen — humid, smoky, crowded, exposed to the elements — can’t pull off anything that calls for extreme precision or control, but the food we produce is complex because we use what’s around us to build flavor.”
Sample recipes: Jicama Salad with Mint Crema; Avocado-Leaf Short Ribs with Serrano-Chile Creamed Corn; Pulpo Asado with Roasted Potatoes and Coriander Dressing; Grapefruit, Mezcal and Burnt Honey Cake.
Make this: Find the recipe for Ceviche with Aguja with Ginger and Mezcal at IndulgeDFW.com.
Crossroads, by Tal Ronnen with Scot Jones and Serafina Magnussen (Artisan, $35)
Give this one to all the vegans, vegetarians and mindful eaters on your list. Chef Tal Ronnen’s sophisticated, stylish Crossroads restaurant in Los Angeles turns out some of the most refined, plant-based Mediterranean food in the world. Ronnen got a few minutes of fame when, several years ago, Oprah Winfrey employed him to cook meals for her 21-day vegan cleanse. He has also earned a rave from former President Bill Clinton, and a fellow chef called him “a plant-based food whisperer.” The vegan cookbook features 100 Mediterranean-inspired recipes for snacks, flatbreads, soups, pastas, desserts and more. None contains a single meat or dairy ingredient; there are no soybeans or seitan or weird meat substitutes in the cookbook. “As a lover of food,” he writes in the introduction, “what I really crave is the smoky paprika and fat in chorizo, not the pork itself; the richness of fresh pasta laced with a velvety, creamy sauce, not the eggs and butter; the smoky char of grilled steak, not the actual beef. ... By refocusing on what makes food rich and pleasurable to begin with, I realized I could create plant-based dishes that appeal to everyone, not just vegans.”
Sample recipes: Hearts of Palm Calamari with Cocktail Sauce and Lemon-Caper Aioli; Artichoke Oysters with Tomato Bearnaise and Kelp Caviar; Charred Okra Flatbread with Sweet Corn Puree and Cherry Tomatoes; Cannoli with Candied Kalamata Olives.
Make this: Find the recipe for Chive Fettuccine with Asparagus, Morels and Prosecco Sauce at IndulgeDFW.com.
The Dead Rabbit Drinks Manual, by Sean Muldoon and Jack McGarry with Ben Schaffer (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $27)
Since they opened the doors to their Lower Manhattan pub The Dead Rabbit Grocery and Grog in 2013, Sean Muldoon and Jack McGarry have been serving throngs of patrons pre-Prohibition cocktails and racking up prestigious awards. Dead Rabbit has been named Best American Cocktail Bar, World’s Best Cocktail Menu and World’s Best Drink Selection at Tales of the Cocktail’s coveted Spirit Awards. Now comes their first drinks manual by the same name. The book reveals the secret to crafting the perfect communal punches for crowds, as well as old-school fizzes, flips, juleps, slings, and there’s even a chapter on absinthe cocktails. Each recipe is preceded with the history of its origin, name or claim to fame. Muldoon and McGarry, who came to New York from Belfast, Northern Ireland, have their own how-I-got-where-I-am tales that they share in their book. And, as an added treat at the end, they offer their own recipe for Irish Coffee. “One secret: Buy ridiculously expensive heavy cream from your favorite local dairy,” they write. “Another tip: When preparing this classic, be careful not to slip on the Irish floor.”
Sample recipes: Pineapple and Rosemary Smash; Green Swizzle; Hot Buttered Blackstrap; Suissesse
Make this: Find the recipe for Mulled Egg-Wine at IndulgeDFW.com.
Food As Art
Atelier Crenn: Metamorphosis of Taste, by Dominique Crenn (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $50)
Dominique Crenn is being hailed as the greatest female chef in the United States right now. At her Michelin two-star San Francisco restaurant, Atelier Crenn, food is showcased as art and poetry (a $220 tasting menu called “Spring” is presented as an 18-line poem about the season’s bounty). Her first cookbook shares dishes — many inspired by her upbringing in northwestern France — as works of art with evocative names. Their complexity is also their beauty. For example, a recipe called “The Sea” is a seafood sample platter that includes Squid Ink Meringue, Pickled Mussels, Fennel Puree and a powder made of anchovy, lemon and sesame oils. She reveals that the name of her restaurant, “Atelier,” refers to an artist’s studio or an artisan’s workshop. “When I first started cooking,” she writes, “it might have been laughable for a chef to claim to make art, but these days, I have noticed a dawning awareness that food can be a medium for artistic expression. ... But it’s deeper than a simple matter of making the food look pretty. ... it’s about creating and communicating an intention, a feeling, a memory or an idea.” This tome pulls no shortcuts or quick fixes; it is for anyone who enjoys a meandering journey in the kitchen as much as the delicious destination.
Sample recipes: Carrot Jerky with Orange Peel; Sea Urchin with Licorice; Broccoli and Beef Tartare; Mango-Douglas Fir Pâtes de Fruits
Make this: Fois Gras with Winter Nuances. Find the recipe on the next page.
of the Best
Olympia Provisions: Cured Meats and Tales From an American Charcuterie, by Elias Cairo and Meredith Erickson (Ten Speed Press, $40). Step-by-step instructions for dry-cured and fermented salumi, fresh sausages, confits, pâtés and more from the owner of Portland’s bustling Olympia Provisions empire.
Tacos: Recipes and Provocations, by Alex Stupak and Jordana Rothman (Clarkson Potter, $32.50). From the chef-owner of New York City’s buzzy Empellón Taqueria come riffs on traditional tacos using elevated ingredients like saffron, gooseberry and sea urchin.
This Is Camino, by Russell Moore and Allison Hopelain with Chris Colin (Ten Speed Press, $35). Open-flame, wood-fired cooking from the Oakland, Calif., restaurant that elevates cooking with fire to high art. Recipes include Sheep’s Milk Ricotta Grilled in a Fig Leaf and Grilled Squid with Tomatoes and Korean Perilla.
Sea and Smoke: Flavors From the Untamed Pacific Northwest, by Blaine Wetzel and Joe Ray (Running Press, $40). Part restaurant chronicle and part cookbook, Sea and Smoke goes into the kitchen of Wetzel’s acclaimed Willows Inn on Lummi Island, in Washington, and brings the sights, sounds and flavors to readers.
The New Sugar & Spice: A Recipe for Bolder Baking, by Samantha Seneviratne (Ten Speed Press, $27.50). A collection of desserts that extol the virtues of spice rather than sugar; each chapter focuses on a different flavor profile, from cinnamon to peppercorns.
Fire + Ice: Classic Nordic Cooking, by Darra Goldstein (Ten Speed Press, $40). A travelogue, love letter and recipes for inspired cuisine — think Smoked Arctic Char and Swedish Almond Wreaths — from the region that’s home to Copenhagen’s Noma, one of the world’s best restaurants.
Makes 4 servings
Inspiration: William Terrington, Cooling Cups and Dainty Drinks, 1869
And now, a posset. Never before attempted on stage or bar! Or certainly not for a very, very long time. Posset history goes back to the 15th century, when the English made them from hot milk curdled by wine or ale. By the 16th century, cream, sugar and eggs were used instead, and citrus did the curdling. In our Mulled Egg-Wine, a kind of universal posset appropriate to any occasion, elements of both periods are shown. Once, possets were so central to epicurean life that “posset sets” for serving them were common gifts. One assembled from crystal, gold and precious gems and gifted to Queen Mary I of England by King Philip II of Spain on their betrothal is still on display in Hatfield House. Check your attics. Our version, however, is not curdled, and the lemon component has been reigned in to just the peels. But whether or not you have a posset set to serve it in, it’s a proud beverage in your repertoire from centuries past.
- 3 lemons
- 3/8 cup superfine sugar
- 1 cup Spice Mixture (recipe follows)
- 3 dashes Dead Rabbit Orinoco Bitters or Angostura Aromatic Bitters
- 2 large eggs
- 8 1/2 ounces Barbadillo “Obispo Gascon” Palo Cortado Sherry
- Fresh nutmeg, grated, for garnish
1. Prepare an oleo-saccharum with the lemon peels and sugar (see instructions, below).
2. Combine all the ingredients, except the garnish, in a large mixing bowl and mix with a handheld blender. Pour into sherry glasses (or posset cups) and garnish with freshly grated nutmeg.
Oleo-saccharum (or sugared oil) is the secret of great punch. Much of the flavor of citrus is locked up in the oil contained in its skin, not its juice. This simple process gets it out .
1. Peel each lemon, being sure to remove only the peel, with none of the white pith. A Microplane grater or vegetable peeler is best.
2. Add the peels to a bowl, along with the sugar. Using a muddler or heavy wooden spoon, press the peels into the sugar. You will see oil from the peels collect in the bowl. Let the combination sit for at least 30 minutes at room temperature. Mix to collect all separated oil into the sugar before using. You may use the peeled lemons for juicing as needed in the recipe.
Makes about 1 cup
1 1/3 cups water
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1 1/2 teaspoons ground star anise
1/4 teaspoon ground mace
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Boil the water and add the spices. Allow to simmer until the liquid has been reduced to 1 cup. Strain through a chinois before using.
— The Dead Rabbit Drinks Manual, by Sean Muldoon and Jack McGarry with Ben Schaffer (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $27)