My Favorite Food Books of 2011

Life has been a whirlwind the past few weeks since Thanksgiving, filled with traveling spouses, busy weeks at schools, and wonky injured lower backs. I would love to share with all of you details of my experiences learning how to make delicious challah from scratch, and how my kids reacted to roasted pumpkin Thai curry I decided to try out in the midst of the madness. But that wonky lower back is still with me, and time in front of the computer is scarce this week. So instead, in the spirit of the holidays when we all tend to cook/bake more, as well as wrack our brains for those perfect gifts, I though I’d share my favorite food book acquisitions from this year.* I hope this provides inspiration on various fronts.

Happy days to all of you!


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Before I dig too deep into the specifics of recipes, it seems worth commenting on where I find the inspiration for our family’s meals. In the early days of family life, definitely before I was a mom of two, I spent decent amount of time watching cooking shows. Shows that focused on technique –  most on PBS – were a favorite initially, but as my confidence grew, I turned to shows that highlighted in simple terms how to make good food at home. Ina Garten and Giada deLaurentis were a couple Food Network favorites. I could never really tolerate Rachael Ray though Ava was obsessed around age 3-4 so I was forced to watch 30 Minute Meals for months on end.

Magazines like Sunset are visually appealing and inspiring, as are cookbooks of course, though the limited shelf space in our flat means reigning in the book purchases. And lately more than anything and like many of us who spend more time tethered to electronic devices than we would like, food blogs have become a must (do read the comments before embarking on a recipe – it helps so much with troubleshooting!).

But as the trajectory of my culinary inspiration ran its course, I settled on an approach that I have yet to waver from: let the ingredients in my fridge serve as core inspiration. This started in earnest when my husband and I decided to buy our produce primarily from a CSA (community-supported agriculture) program many years ago. For those not familiar with CSAs, they are a great way to broaden your dietary horizons, access local, organic food at an affordable price and support small family farms in one fell swoop. To find a CSA in your area, check out the Local Harvest site. Give it a go! Many farms allow month-long trial subscriptions for new participants. But I digress…

We signed up for our CSA box through Eatwell Farm, and with the exception of a couple of years when we lived a neighborhood with a weekly farmers’ market, we’ve been members for over a decade. Because the CSA box comes chock full of gorgeous, freshly-harvested fruits and vegetables, along with recipe ideas on how to use said produce, it makes cooking a breeze. All you need to have on hand is a stocked pantry (as basic or elaborate as you like), some fresh protein to pick 1-2 times per week (poultry, tofu/tempeh, grassfed beef, fish, dairy, often you can use these interchangeably) and an hour to cook. The rest is up to you! Let the produce be your guide – and it never hurts to have a great vegetarian cookbook on hand for those moments when you can’t think of another interesting chard recipe or have no idea what to do with that lovely kohlrabi that just showed up (as happened to us yesterday). Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone has served as my cooking bible since my early grad school days, and I do turn to Chez Panisse Vegetables occasionally for more sophisticated fare. Nowaways, off course, you can rely on myriad Internet sources to serve this purposes. But I do love the look of a well-loved and well-used cookbook.