Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Top Ten Cookbooks for Seasonal Chefs

Cones on Fir Tree
Holiday Season in the Woods

Ideas by Robin and Friends


'Tis the gift-giving season, and cookbooks make fun and practical prezzies for seasoned chefs as well as folks just starting out on their own. I still have the rather bedraggled copy of Joy of Cooking given to me by an employer circa 1982. I had wrapped up a copy for my then-boyfriend (who liked cooking) with a sigh, “it’s the best cookbook ever!” My employer overheard me and made me a happy camper by surprising me with the same gift. Of course, it’s a bit more risky to pick out a book for someone with an established cookbook collection. If you can’t check their bookshelves personally, and haven’t heard a hint about a book they’d like, try giving a bookstore gift certificate tied to an apron, silicone spatula set, metal BBQ spatula, or other kitchen gadget.

Top Ten Seasonal Cookbooks


Here are 10 cookbooks that I like to use, several of which are also recommended by my Facebook friends and fans.

Well worn copy of Joy of Cooking
Joy's Often Needed at My House
1. Joy of Cooking by Irma Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker. Not only was this my first serious cookbook, “Joy” was top vote-getter among the suggestions on Facebook. Steve calls it the bible…and I agree. It contains basic instructions for cooking just about anything. I prefer the 1975 edition though I understand the All-new Update is almost as popular. Readers might also enjoy Stand Facing the Stove, the fascinating story of how this cookbook got published in the first place—against all odds!

Joy of Cooking Recipes:
Easy Stir & Roll Piecrust (with Blackberry Pie)

Amen Farms Apple Cake with Whipped Cream
Potluck Favorite: Apple Cake
2. Cooking by the Seasons: Simple Vegetarian Feasts, by Karri Ann Allrich. I turn to this book time and again because every recipe is exceptionally delicious and many can be prepared in under an hour. Each season has its selection of beverages, appetizers, soups, main dishes, sides, and desserts, along with a bit of reference for Celtic seasonal celebrations. There’s also a section on stocking a “Goddess’ pantry.”

Cooking by the Seasons Recipes:

Bowl of Stew with Dollop of Sour Cream
Southwest Three Sisters Stew: Beans, Squash, and Corn
3. Cooking by Moonlight: A Witch’s Guide to Culinary Magic, also by Karri Ann Allrich. My favorite of favorite cookbooks, full of exceptional recipes just like Ms. Allrich’s “Cooking by the Seasons.” Besides recipes there are sections on Developing Seasonal Food Intuition, Love Foods and Practical Magic, and Stocking a Moonlit Pantry. Each moon (month) of the year has its own set of menus and recipes, and all are delicious.

Cooking by Moonlight Recipes:

Photo of the Cookbook Feasts for All seasons
4. Feasts for All Seasons by Roy Andries de Groot. A lesser-known old-school classic, this 1966 volume focuses on cooking like an everyday gourmet. Organized by season, and with both “during the week” and celebratory recipes, this book also contains information on choosing ingredients and planning party menus. Seasonal fish and meats as well as produce are covered. Though many of the recipes are time-consuming, a creative cook can make alterations to trim the time. The menus and recipes celebrate holidays of many ethnic and religious groups.

Feasts for All Seasons Recipes:
Cream of Pumpkin Soup coming soon!

Bowl of Salad with Pesto Dressing
Simple Recipe adds Zing to Salad
5. Recipes from a Kitchen Garden and More Recipes from a Kitchen Garden by Renee Shepherd & Fran Raboff. I pledge to blog more of these recipes by local Santa Cruzans Fran and Renee during the next year. Organized alphabetically by veggies typically grown in family gardens, the recipes are super-delicious, but often require significant prep time and a number of ingredients. Both cookbooks have sections on edible flowers as well as vegetables, and “More Recipes” has a separate salad and dressing section. Tuscan Pizza, Island Sin Salad, Butternut Gnocchi with Sage Butter, Creamy Calendula SoufflĂ©, and Pumpkin Cobbler could well make their way into future posts.

Recipes & More Recipes from a Kitchen Garden recipes:
Parsley Pesto with Baked Potatoes coming soon!

Jar of Chutney in a Hand
Midwest Preserve Recipes for Gift Giving
6.  A Midwest Gardener’s Cookbook by Marian K. Towne.  Good, simple food made with garden produce, seasonal fruits, harvested nuts, and ingredients commonly found in the kitchen. Organized by season, cultivation and general use tips for each veggie are included with the recipes. More of these recipes will make their way into future posts. Carrot Potato Burgers, Four Bean Salad, Spanakopita, and Cornish Pasties are intriguing possibilities. And where else could one find recipes for Elderflower Cocktail, Dolmades with Homegrown Grape Leaves, and Violet Flavored Yellow Cake?

Midwest Gardener’s Cookbook recipes:
Pennsylvania Dutch Hot Potato Salad coming soon!

Tangerine and Greens Salad with Sesame Seeds
Tangerines in Winter Salad
7. Greens Cookbook: Extraordinary Vegetarian Cuisine from the Restaurant and Field of Greens: New Vegetarian Recipes from Greens Restaurant by Annie Sommerville. “Greens” is the original book, and “Field of Greens” the update with lighter recipes. Both feature recipes from Greens Restaurant, arguably the first West Coast restaurant to elevate vegetarian cuisine from tasting healthy to tasting sensational (1979). Both books have a pleasing combination of easy and more complicated recipes, unlike many restaurant cookbooks.

Field of Greens recipes:

Shredded Root Veggies over Pasta
Root Veggies Never Looked Better
8. Recipes from the Root Cellar: 270 Fresh Ways to Enjoy Winter Vegetables by Andrea Chesman. All seasonal cooks know that winter is the toughest time to come up with creative recipes. I added this book to my collection last winter, have blogged at least 4 recipes already, and am ready to continue exploring. Spicy Turnip Stir-fry, Festive Fruity Coleslaw, Tortellini with Kale, Chicken Pot Pie with Sweet Potato Biscuits…I can open the book to just about any page and find an intriguing idea. Everything that I’ve tried has been delicious and surprisingly easy to prepare. Highly recommended!

Shrimp with Kale and Garlic over Rice
One More Root Cellar Recipe
Recipes from the Root Cellar recipes:

9. The Moosewood Cookbook: Recipes from Moosewood Restaurant by Mollie Katzen. I’d forgotten this classic till Lynn reminded me of it. I need to get it onto my cookbook shelf pronto. A former roommate owned it, and we made some fantastic vegetarian meals with wholesome ingredients back in the day. I’m particularly recalling a salad of lightly steamed green beans and carrots tossed with a lemony dressing.

Greek Salad on Plate with Fork
Classic (American) Greek Salad
10. The Art of Simple Foods: Notes, Lessons, and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution by Alice Waters. Long-time seasonal chef and local foods advocate’s latest cookbook shows us how to master basic cooking techniques for maximum flavor and freshness, then leads us into a more traditional index of recipes. She gives hints for how to vary/improvise each recipe. A good mixture of easy and more complex recipes. Of course, Ms. Waters and her restaurant Chez Panisse have long been celebrated in song and fable.

Art of Simple Foods recipes:

Bonus Books


These cookbooks were suggested by my Facebook friends and Seasonal Eating fans. I haven’t seen most of these, so will be checking them out in the New Year.

1. The Silver Palate Cookbook by Sheila Lukins. Recommended by my culinary superstar cousin Elizabeth. “Very 1970s but toothsome recipes,” according to Elizabeth, this book is rated 4.5 stars with 120 ratings on Amazon. One reviewer says it’s as relevant today as it was when published, uses fresh ingredients and basic cooking techniques, and that she has cooked just about every recipe in the book successfully. Sounds like a winner!

2. California Fresh: A Seasonal Journey through Northern California by Junior League of Oakland-East Bay. Obviously written mostly for Californians, my friend Irene says this is “so pretty that it almost could be a coffee table book but every recipe that I have made has turned out perfectly.” The book contains recipes, menus, in-depth descriptions and tips for handling various Northern California seasonal specialties. Irene’s favorite recipes: Asparagus with Sun-dried Tomatoes, Roasted Chicken with Ricotta & Herbs, Curry-Poached Prawns with Cucumber Noodles and Caper Lemon Brussels sprouts.” Go ahead and add this one to my Christmas list!

3. The Thrill of the Grill: Techniques, Recipes, and Down-Home Barbecue by Christopher Schlesinger and John Willoughby. Friend and frequent dinner host James recommends this because he likes to grill and the authors emphasize using fresh and seasonal ingredients. The book has been reviewed as a unique blend of exotic spices, American favorites, humor, and infectious enthusiasm.  Favorite recipes include Caribbean Style Grilled Seafood Soup, Grilled Zucchini with Thyme, Red Onions with Rosemary and Balsamic Vinegar, and East Coast Lemonade. I think my husband (the family griller) would like this book.

4. In Season: Cooking with Vegetables and Fruit by Sarah Raven. Suggested by Mel, this book is divided into two-month sections of seasonal produce, with each section highlighting 5 – 15 foods with both vegetarian and meat recipes. The author is a gardener and locavore. The list of recipes on Amazon looks appealing: Cranberry Bean Hummus, Squid, Pea, and Chorizo Stew, Spaghetti with Green Beans and Tomatoes, Pears Poached in Saffron Syrup, and Basil Custard. Definitely going to check this one out.

5. The Cake Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum. We began with one bible, so it’s fitting to end with another. Monique suggested this cookbook, and while it’s not entirely seasonal, every day is someone’s birthday, graduation, or retirement, and an occasion for cake. Every cake imaginable is carefully detailed, including wedding cake. Be prepared to weigh your ingredients and use plenty of butter and eggs for outstanding results. I’ve borrowed this book from the library, and the Perfect All American Chocolate Butter Cake can’t be beat, if you’re into that sort of thing. I had no idea that so many different kinds of cakes can be made.

Thanks all who made suggestions, and sorry that I’m unable to research and report on all titles. Please leave a comment if we’ve left out your favorite, and be sure to tell us why you like it. Enjoy the season, and consider giving someone a cookbook—or asking for one for yourself!

Cake with ALOHA written on it in Crystallized Ginger
Potluck Success: Pineapple Ginger Cake from Cooking by Moonlight

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