Okay, it’s impossible to name the best cookbooks. This year, after all, featured a top-to-bottom run-through of The Joy of Cooking, at least one edition of which every household must own. Picture books? History? Chef extravaganzas? You’ll find all of these below, as well as one very welcome dessert-book reissue. I try to read dozens of new guides a year; I want to cook from a much smaller subset. Here are five that check both boxes.
All About Dinner: Simple Meals, Expert Advice, Molly Stevens
Certain earnest cooks lament that though they have good palates and, yes, refined taste, they just don’t have the instincts that would lead to casually saying, “One of my favorite ways to serve an herb salad is piled on top of rounds of broiled or grilled eggplant seasoned with toasted cumin seeds and ground sumac, the lemony, sweet-tart, deep crimson spice.” It’s the kind of thing Sam Sifton calls a no-recipe recipe, and it’s not the kind of thing I casually come up with. The eggplant suggestion comes from Molly Stevens, an infallible teacher and writer. All About Dinner is a simple, homey book whose forgiving recipes are undergirded by years of thought and learning by doing.
A fail-safe chicken-tortilla soup with chili-marinated thighs and home-toasted corn-tortilla strips; “skillet pasta,” Stevens’s term for the weeknight dinners Italians make by sautéing onions and vegetables, adding cooked pasta, tossing over heat to blend the flavors, and serving the dish straight from the pan; easy fried-egg sandwiches with cheddar, harissa, and bacon—these and many more are examples of an accessible book anchored in common sense. A busy friend recently took up cooking both as a way to unwind and to feed his modestly adventurous 15-year-old son, who more than excitement or novelty needs dinner on the table. My friend’s birthday is coming up; I know what to send with the card.