Photo by James Dickinson
Spring is in the air, and it's time to clear a space on your shelf for another cookbook or two. I've cleared space for seven, because I have a problem with hoarding cookbooks. That's good for you, however, because now they're vetted, and you just need to see which one inspires you the most. (My choice would be, ahem, all of them.)
I also have too many old, stained recipes clipped from newspapers jammed into my hoarded cookbooks instead of a nice binder or file, which means 95 percent of those recipes are, for all practical purposes, lost. (I'm not the model of organization.) Bonnie S. Benwick, deputy food editor of The Washington Post, has combed through the archives of that paper to extract the best and most well-loved recipes for The Washington Post Cookbook: Readers' Favorite Recipes (Time Capsule Press, $30). Lovely photos, minimalist graphic design, a thorough index and recipes for things like bánh mì scrambled eggs from 2011 and butterflied leg of lamb (with cumin and tarragon) from 1972 make for a book that you'll always keep within reach.
I was particularly excited to get my hands on Matt and Ted Lee's new cookbook, The Lee Bros. Charleston Kitchen (Clarkson Potter, $35), after an inspiring trip to that city. Got mulberry trees dropping berries all over your patio? They do that in South Carolina, too, and the Lees have a solution for it: mulberry-glazed venison loin. They also include Southern favorites such as long-cooked green beans and she-crab soup, but I'm more interested in things like whole flounder with sunchoke and shrimp stuffing, and butter lettuce with pecans and pickled figs.
When presented with my only opportunity to meet Edward Lee, Top Chef finalist, James Beard-award finalist and owner of 610 Magnolia in Louisville, Ky., I became a tongue-tied fangirl and couldn't speak to him. (I also couldn't get near him, so I guess that lets me off the hook.) I'd been cooking for a couple of months from the galley of his new book, Smoke & Pickles: Recipes of a Southern Kitchen (Artisan, $30, available in May). Bourbon-pickled jalapeños, steak tartare with a six-minute egg and strawberry ketchup (savory, not sweet), and revolving rice bowls (my favorite is one with spicy pork, jicama, cilantro and kimchi remoulade) are mash-ups of Lee's Korean upbringing and his tenure in the South. I think I love every single recipe in this book.
Think micro local. Think your own backyard. The Four Season Farm Gardener's Cookbook (Workman Publishing, $23) by Barbara Damrosch and Eliot Coleman is a twofer — you get gardening information along with more than 100 recipes. I need all the help I can get, as anyone who witnessed the tragedy that my tomatoes became last summer. Team Damrosch and Coleman are a little light in the zucchini recipe department (c'mon!), but I will give them props for a savory bread pudding that can use anything from zucchini to broccoli as its main ingredient. Add plant charts and plenty of photos, and I might be able to swing a few homegrown meals this year.
Richard Blais was the winner of Top Chef All-Stars , and his new cookbook, Try This at Home (Clarkson Potter, $30), showcases his endless inventiveness when it comes to technique and flavor, not to mention his affection for foam and liquid nitrogen. However, many of his recipes demand no special equipment at all. Case in point: Blais makes a braised squid "cannelloni" by stuffing chorizo, greens and saffron into squid bodies and baking them in the oven until tender. It's a book to make you think and get excited about your kitchen's possibilities.
Pati Jinich grew up in Mexico City. She's acquired an impressive résumé since she decided to give up her career at a D.C. think tank. She's hosted her own PBS series and has appeared on The Today Show , The Chew , NPR and The Splendid Table . As you try the recipes in her new cookbook, Pati's Mexican Table: The Secrets of Real Mexican Home Cooking (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $30), which contains things like watermelon and tomatillo salad with feta; sweet and salty salmon; and my favorite, chicken tinga (made with rotisserie chicken you can pick up on the way home), you'll be impressed by the simplicity and vibrant flavors of Jinich's accessible Mexican fare.
French food can be a little intimidating, and frankly, as far as the standard dishes go, a little boring. In The Little Paris Kitchen: 120 Simple but Classic Recipes (Chronicle Books, $35), Rachel Khoo throws a collection of those classic recipes out of her Paris-apartment window and reassembles them in fresh and sometimes unexpected ways. Some classics she streamlines and keeps, but what makes this book worth cooking from is her re-jiggering of the familiar to create things like croque madame muffins, salade niçoise lettuce wraps and coq au vin on skewers.