Five Cookbooks That Shouldn’t Stay on the Shelf

As the coauthor of a few cookbooks, the author of a book about good meat, and someone who instructed their kitchen contractor to make their kitchen island “big enough to butcher a whole goat,” I try to lay claim to the title Girl Friday Who Loves Food the Most. Well, it’s just not true. The company is replete with people who love to cook, eat, read about cooking and eating, and make books about cooking and eating. The first of a two-part series, here we offer some personal reviews of the most recent or treasured cookbooks to grace our kitchens and bedside tables. Yotam Ottolenghi gets plenty (couldn’t resist) of love, and a local Seattle chef gets a homey shout-out, but I also treasured the dueling interpretations of the American male in Emily’s and Paul’s additions as well. Enjoy! —LAM

 Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty is the complete package for vegetarians, omnivores, foodies, and cookbook connoisseurs alike. It features 120 seasonal recipes, breathes new life into vegetarian dishes, and looks gorgeous on the shelf. An Israeli-born British chef, Ottolenghi is the owner of several renowned London restaurants and is recognized for his flair for locally sourced vegetable dishes rooted in the Middle East. Each recipe in Plenty is paired with an artful photo (because, let’s be honest, we want to know what the end result should look like). And while some of the culinary techniques seem questionable—from cutting a whole head of garlic in half lengthwise to adding five (five!) tablespoons of coarse black pepper to a batch of tofu that serves four—the recipes are tried and true. Though sometimes time-consuming to prepare, each dish is as good as the last, making this the kind of cookbook that will get worn from year-round use, year after year. And for those who just can’t imagine a meatless meal, Jerusalem, Ottolenghi’s omnivorous follow-up, offers refuge. —Devon F.

I bought Yotam Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem with great enthusiasm when it first came out. I oohed and aahed over the pictures, and then . . . my inspiration languished. I have no idea why it took me so long to hit my stride with Jerusalem, but I’m now making up for lost time. I love it for all the same reasons everyone else does, of course—bright, fresh flavors; seasonality; mouthwatering photos; and so on. But ultimately, it comes down to this: although many of the recipes are relatively easy—manageable even on a busy weeknight—they inevitably contain some element of surprise that elevates them from the ordinary to the memorable. Whether it’s that sprinkling of sumac that gives those butter beans a little extra flair or those cardamom pods that add oomph to a cozy chicken-and-rice recipe on a cold winter’s night, a Jerusalem recipe never fails to brighten up dinnertime. And for that, I’m very, very grateful. —Christina

Heather Earnhardt’s autobiographical ode to southern fare—Big Food Big Love—blends sentimental comfort food with Pacific Northwest classics. Hailing from the South, Earnhardt settled in Seattle, where she opened the beloved Wandering Goose, a quaint southern-style café endearingly nicknamed “the Goose” by employees and regulars. Her voice, recipes, and passion for southern cooking make this not just a cookbook but also a culinary manifesto based on the philosophy that cooking is both personal and meant to be shared. Earnhardt’s recipes span the day from a robust Pimento Mac ‘n’ Cheese to decadent Bittersweet Chocolate Bread Pudding. Oh, and there’s an entire chapter dedicated to biscuits. With practical recipes, ingenious use of ingredients, and a heartwarming approach to cooking, Big Food Big Love takes hospitality to a whole new level. —Devon S.

You have only to glance at the cover: Esquire’s Eat Like a Man: The Only Cookbook a Man Will Ever Need. I know what you’re thinking, and you’re absolutely right: this cookbook has the worst title and an awful, “unapologetically male-centric” premise. But hear me out, because Eat Like a Man actually has some great basic tips and decent advice on the etiquette of cooking for guests and friends. Most important, it has some of the best and easiest comfort food recipes I’ve ever come across. In our early days of dating, my now-husband and I perfected that macaroni pie (our signature is a creamy pepper jack), and it really is something to behold. —Emily F.

Hail Francis Mallmann, the man every guy wants to be, the man every gal must thank the stars her children’s father isn’t. More than a cook, Mallmann has become, since his widespread introduction to America via David Gelb’s Netflix series Chef’s Table, a sort of mystical paragon for tricenarian males who fancy themselves outdoorsmen. For anyone who does aspire to this class, though, Seven Fires: Grilling the Argentine Way is pretty fantastic, especially if your cooking skills are less than blog-worthy. The recipes couldn’t be simpler—you get the idea that Mallmann, accustomed to using “handfuls” or “pinches” or “a bit ofs,” was forced to add specific measurements to make the cookbook useful to anyone who isn’t him. Some of the dishes—the burnt tomato halves, the salt-encrusted fish—are classics, but most valuable is Mallmann’s insistence on pulling cooks out of the kitchen and into the mountains, the snow, the 2:00 a.m. darkness. The title refers to seven fundamental methods of cooking over open flame (no briquettes here), and many of the book’s recipes work with a variety of these methods. (Most are also amenable, Mallmann concedes, to a gas range.) Mallman’s newer book, Mallmann on Fire, is a slicker affair that looks much nicer on a coffee table, but it treads much of the same ground, and the recipes are somewhat more complicated. Start with Seven Fires and see how long you can resist the comfort of stainless steel and marble. —Paul