As 2011 hurtles to a close, newspapers, magazines, websites and bloggers start compiling their “best of the year” lists.
Everything from music and movies to cars and quarterback drafts is evaluated and ranked to give us someone’s idea of the best of the best.
The food (or eating) industry is no different, and just about everybody weighed in on this year’s greatest new cookbook titles.
The most useful part of all these lists comes from comparing them to see what titles occur most frequently, though they’re also helpful for spotting overall trends.
I compared 10 or 11 guides to the best cookbooks of 2011, from publications or websites such as The New York Times, Bon Appetit, Epicurious, Esquire and NPR, just to name a few, and came up with 76 titles altogether — only two of which received five recommendations.
The first of these was “American Flavor,” by New York chef and James Beard Award-winner Andrew Carmellini.
I picked up a copy at my local bookstore for a quick look-through. It should be billed as part cookbook, part road trip travelogue, because it seemed like half the text was devoted to Carmellini’s culinary adventures around the U.S.
His recipe directions were conversational yet straightforward, which I appreciate. I may have to revisit this cookbook — though I think I’ll skip the recipe for something called “Hawaiian Spam musubi.”
The second cookbook, “Plenty,” by London chef Yotam Ottolenghi, had my mouth watering as soon as I saw the pomegranate aril-topped charred eggplant dish on the cover.
And I’m not even an eggplant fan.
Of “Plenty,” The New York Times' Pete Wells said it makes “a compelling case that vegetables hold far more interest than meat for cooks and eaters alike.”
With 2011’s half-a-plate-of-produce meal guidelines, that’s something we should all be glad to hear.
Too many people seem to think that eating more fruits and vegetables means giving up or going without something.
It doesn’t have to.
It just means swapping one delicious menu item for something equally delicious — and it’s easy, if you know how to prepare fruits and vegetables to their advantage.
Another recipe collection on display at my bookshop, “Raw: The Uncook Book,” by Juliano Brotman, gushed about the versatility of fruits and vegetables. However, it was more of an alternative lifestyle guide than a practical source of inspiration for busy weeknight meals (it was published in 1999).
Eating more produce also doesn’t mean you have to become a modern-day forager who culls exotic herbs from urban meadows or plans the week’s menus around what’s ripe in the woods or on the neighborhood fruit trees.
Let’s hope “Plenty” gives American cooks and eaters plenty of reasons to get excited about their half-a-plate of produce.
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