Every year, I look at my ridiculously large cookbook collection – spread out between two rooms, numerous bookshelves, and, of course, the floor – and think, “Surely, I don’t need another cookbook. How many can one person have?” Ha!
But the answer, dear reader, is apparently “an infinite amount,” because I just cannot quit them. Cookbooks are my lifeblood, my mother’s milk, my fix. Wandering into any bookstore, a gravitational pull seems to reach out from the culinary section, and I am drawn like a moth to flame. The colorful covers, the alluring food styling, the chefs proudly displaying their wares – each element conspires to lure me in.
And after a long, dark winter of greens and beans, I’m ready for a change. I want to cook with asparagus and ramps, with radishes and new potatoes. Bring on the farmers’ market, and a slew of new recipes from all the great spring cookbooks to inspire me. Here is the baker’s dozen I’m recommending, so start reading or cooking, your choice!
I recommend that you head to one of Evanston’s great independent bookstores to purchase your cookbooks. If they don’t have it, they’ll be more than happy to order it for you.
100 Morning Treats by Sarah Kieffer
I absolutely adored Sarah Kieffer’s first book, 100 Cookies, which taught me everything I wanted to know about banging the pan against the oven rack to create multilayered cookies with great flavor. Now, she turns her eye to morning bakes, updating old favorites with recipes for Rhubarb Cream Cheese-Swirl Muffins, Tiramisu Bundt Cake, Toasted Sesame Sweet Buns and Sesame-Chocolate-Rye Breakfast Cookies. Sign me up!
The Everlasting Meal Cookbook: Leftovers A-Z by Tamar Adler
If you, like me, are obsessed with using up leftovers in interesting ways rather than simply reheating them (or, ahem, eating them straight out of the Tupperware), then this is the book for you. It’s organized alphabetically by ingredient within the categories (fruit and nuts, bread, dairy and eggs, seafood, etc.) and you are often given multiple ideas for each. For example, your leftover cooked greens can become a frittata, pesto, gratin, risotto or lemony vegetable soup. Used only half of the jar of tapenade? Turn it into olive mayo, butter, vinaigrette or the stuffing for summer veggies. The possibilities are nearly endless.
Ever-Green Vietnamese by Andrea Nguyen
Award-winning food writer Andrea Nguyen’s latest book of Vietnamese cuisine brings a healthier, plant-centric approach to eating and meal planning. You’ll still find all kinds of deliciousness, but the recipes rely more on flavor and texture than fat to tell the story. Oven-Fried Crispy Shiitake Imperial Rolls, Grilled Shrimp and Mango Rice-Paper Rolls, Steamed Banh Mi Lettuce Wraps and Grilled Romaine with Spicy Fermented-Tofu Sauce – Nguyen’s clever take on a Caesar salad – are just a sampling of recipes that are worthy of your time and attention.
Everyday Grand by Jocelyn Delk Adams
This book is Jocelyn Delk Adams’ love letter to the Southern food that she grew up cooking and eating with her beloved mother and grandmother. It’s filled with abundant evidence of Delk Adams’ joyful and exuberant approach to food … and life. Originally focused on baked goods (her blog and website can be found at grandbabycakes.com), she’s now branched out to savory as well as sweet. Try not to smile while eating her Georgia Peach Salad with Candied Pecans and Cornbread Croutons, Citrus Cuban Mojo Brick Chicken or Bananas Foster Tarte Tatin. And what she refers to as “THE Carrot Cake” is the stuff of legend.
Made in Chicago: Stories Behind 30 Great Hometown Bites by Monica Eng and David Hammond
Chicago food writers Monica Eng and David Hammond have combined forces to create this homage to every made-in-Chicago favorite from the Chicago Mix popcorn to flaming saganaki, Chicken Vesuvio to Malört. Did you know that Shrimp DeJonghe was invented in Chicago? And both tavern-style and deep-dish pizza? Eng and Hammond do all the research to find the true stories behind each of these beloved foodstuffs, traipsing from one end of the city to the other and tracking down friends and relatives of the original inventors to corroborate the evidence. Fascinating … and there are recipes too!
Instant Pot Indian by Anupy Singla
Working again with Evanston’s own Agate Publishing, bestselling Chicago cookbook author Anupy Singla’s newest takes all the guesswork out of preparing Indian food in your Instant Pot, no matter what size appliance you’ve got (each recipe provides ingredient lists and timing for 3-, 6- and 8-quart machines). She keeps it healthy, minimizing fat and maximizing flavor with a masterful knowledge of spices and ingredients. Recipes you’ll prepare again and again include Yellow Split-Pea Soup with Burnt Onions and Yogurt, Paitha (spicy butternut squash) and Sarson ka Saag (Punjabi mustard greens). The book isn’t totally vegan, but there are enough appealing recipes here to make any vegetarian happy – although don’t skip over the chapter on “Meats,” because the butter chicken is to die for!
Love is a Pink Cake by Claire Ptak
Claire Ptak baked her way through her childhood in Northern California, eventually becoming pastry chef at Chez Panisse under the mentorship of Alice Waters. She moved to London in 2005 and opened Violet Bakery a few years later, where she famously made Harry and Meghan’s magnificent wedding cake, and yes, that very same Lemon and Elderflower Wedding Cake is included in this book! You’ll also find recipes that remind her of California, like Grape Slab Pie and White Chocolate Matcha Blondies, as well as the English section, with Summer Pudding and Geranium Buns, an updated take on mince pies, and Brown Sugar Victoria Sponge. Bring on The Great British Baking Show!
More Than Cake: 100 Baking Recipes Built for Pleasure and Community by Natasha Pickowicz
Three-time James Beard Award Outstanding Pastry Chef semifinalist Natasha Pickowicz is based in New York, but draws inspiration from her Chinese and Californian background to create flavor combinations that intrigue and delight. Her “How to Build a Layer Cake” chapter is worth the price of admission alone (I’ll take the Black Sesame Chiffon Cake with Yuzu and Olive oil Curd and Black Sesame Cream Cheese Frosting, please), but don’t miss the simple but brilliant Shoyu-Peanut Cookies, the Nectarine and Miso Tarte Tatin or the Pecan and Black Cardamom Sticky Buns. This book is perhaps best for a more experienced baker, not a novice, but anyone can enjoy reading through it.
Pasta Masterclass by Mateo Zielonka
If you’re not already following him on Instagram, where he posts droolworthy photos of his latest pasta creations, you should do so immediately. His first book, The Pasta Man, was a best seller worldwide, and I predict his new cookbook will follow the same trajectory. Everything you want to know about handmade pasta is here, from ingredients and equipment to excellent and detailed – but not daunting – directions and recipes. And the photos and foodstyling! Mamma mia. This summer, I will most definitely try my hand at Orecchiette with Pistachio Pesto, Zucchini and Cherry Tomatoes, but springtime calls for Tagliarini with Creamy Ricotta, Lemon and Spinach.
Pulp: A Practical Guide to Cooking with Fruit by Abra Behrens
This is Abra Behrens’ third cookbook of a series – Ruffage and Grist preceded it – and they are all gamechangers in the kitchen. Listed alphabetically, each fruit is given a few different recipes and methods for savory and sweet, along with variations, fascinating fruit lore (I’m not kidding!) and much more. In the chapter on cherries, you’ll find Brined Cherries + Salty Snacks, Cherry Baked Brie with Seedy Crackers, Chocolate Pudding with Coffee-Soaked Black Cherries, Buttermilk Pork Tenderloin and Grilled Cherry Salad, Tart Cherry Syllabub, and an A+ cherry pie. Behrens is the chef at Granor Farm in Three Oaks, Michigan, where you can attend one of her popular farm dinners … if you can score a ticket.
Sweet Enough by Alison Roman
I’ve listed a few baking books above, all winners. But this one is a little out of the ordinary, as is its singular author, the infamous Alison Roman. She’s a polarizing figure in terms of her public persona, but the gal can flat-out cook. She’s got the range. This time, she takes on desserts (and a few savory bakes), and I appreciate the simplicity of her approach. Happily, as the title implies, she doesn’t oversweeten her bakes, as many pastry chefs are tempted to do. I immediately had to make the Seedy Breakfast Cake, which uses a mix of poppy, sesame, fennel and flax seeds and flirts on the boundary of sweet and savory. The Chocolate-Sour Cream Poundcake is another stunner, deeply redolent of cocoa and chocolate chunks, with a crackly crust of demerara sugar. Next up: her Very Tall Quiche with Zucchini and Greens. Can’t wait.
Tandoori Home Cooking by Maunika Gowardhan
I absolutely love Indian cuisine, but until the pandemic, wasn’t making much of it at home. I don’t know many home cooks with a traditional tandoori clay oven, but that’s the beauty of Maunika Gowardhan’s new book: she helps you recreate the tandoor with your home ovens, cast-iron skillets and grills. So, make those Spiced Lamb Skewers with Black Pepper, Cumin and Dried Mango! Fire up the Tandoori Chicken Wings with Tamarind and Chili with confidence! And pass a basket of warm, freshly made garlic and ghee naan. You deserve it.
Tenderheart by Hetty Lui McKinnon
How could you not love a cookbook that declares itself to be “about vegetables and unbreakable family bonds?” Hetty Lui McKinnon gives us a second book that more than lives up to the hype. Her first, To Asia, With Love, is a book I return to again and again, and if I see one of her recipes in The New York Times, I immediately buy the ingredients. She made me love tofu! I can’t wait to dig into her Choy Sum and Feta Galette, Zucchini Flower Pajeon (a savory Korean pancake) and the Sweet Potato and Black Sesame Marble Bundt. All the umami, all the time.