Food & Drink

5 of the best cookbooks of the year

It’s the best time of the year: cookbook season. Oh, you thought we meant the holidays? Well, that’s a fun time of year, too. And it cozies up to cookbook season, which means we’ve got the shopping list for you. The food staff at the Chicago Tribune put together a list of 5 great 2015 cookbooks, perfect for gift-giving (even if it’s just a book you give yourself).

“Tacos: Recipes and Provocations”

By Alex Stupak and Jordana Rothman (Clarkson Potter, $32.50)

Stupak, the chef at sceney New York taqueria Empellon, starts with a nod to Old El Paso taco nights – but be clear, he’s come a long way since then and urges all taco lovers to follow. First step: Make your own shells. Recipes for corn, flour and what we’ll call “funky” (beet, pistachio) tortillas follow. Next: 23 salsas and moles, from simple to complex. Then, tacos familiar (chicken with salsa verde), fancy (Arctic char with gooseberry) and fun (cheeseburger tacos, yes). A comprehensive look at how diverse the taco can be.

“The Food Lab”

By J. Kenji Lopez-Alt (W.W. Norton & Co., $49.95)

Lopez-Alt, an MIT-trained architect with a cook’s soul, approaches recipes with a scientific eye, that is, hypothesis-test-analysis-repeat until a recipe cannot be improved upon. His popular column on the website Serious Eats is equal parts method and madness, documenting his trials and mistakes in exhaustive detail. Now, it’s been culled into a 958-page hardcover book. But you don’t need a scientific background to appreciate the research. Bottom line, it’s no pedantic textbook – Lopez-Alt’s goal is deliciousness.

“Lidia’s Mastering the Art of Italian Cuisine”

By Lidia Matticchio Bastianich and Tanya Bastianich Manuali (Knopf, $37.50)

This work sums up the 40-plus-year culinary career of Lidia Bastianich, restaurateur, star chef and cookbook author. It is, like her, informative, educational, and great fun. It opens with a detailed introduction to Italian ingredients and cooking techniques, and closes with a definitive glossary of Italian culinary terms and food culture. These sections alone justify the buy; you'll turn to them repeatedly. In between are some 400 recipes, clearly written.

“A Real Southern Cook in Her Savannah Kitchen”

By Dora Charles (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $25)

Charles cooked in Paula Deen’s restaurants for 22 years, until she left as part of the fallout after Deen was accused of racism. Charles touches on that, then quickly moves on to tell her own tale. And we’re blessed for it, because in her recipes and her stories, Charles delivers a well-seasoned look into Southern cooking. From down-home grits to pan-fried chicken to sweet potato pie, her voice comes through warmly as she guides you to coax maximum flavor from humble ingredients.

“Mark Bittman’s Kitchen Matrix”

By Mark Bittman (Pam Krauss Books, $35)

Find inspiration among the photos and chart treatments that echo the “Eat” column Bittman wrote for The New York Times until last month. Bittman’s recipe generator is designed to kick-start creativity. Consider the “Kebab + Recipe Generator”: It starts with sausage, vegetables and flavorings, then gives alternatives for each element. He does the same with grain salads, spring rolls, paella, etc. Inspiration, indeed.