We can all agree — and many have and many will and this is to be expected — that René Redzepi's cookbook Noma: Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine is the cookbook of 2010. But it wasn't the only book about food published this year, though perusal of recent coverage may lead you to believe so. Come Christmas — or if you're fast, the vapor trails of Hanukkah — think how chagrined you'll be if in every stocking there is nothing but the blocky white Noma book. It's like the socks from Grandma for foodies. Here are five other great titles, some overlooked, some not but all worthwhile alternatives to Noma.
I Know How to Cook and La Cuisine: Everyday French Home Cooking: Both Phaidon and Rizzoli put out two thick and historic vade mecums of French cuisine. I Know How To Cook, originally Je Sais Cuisiner was published in 1932 by Ginette Mathiot. It contains 1,400 recipes which maintain Mathiot's stern and steady direction but update them for the modern kitchen. La Cuisine, by Françoise Bernard, was written in 1963, contains 1,000 recipes and a bit over 800 pages. Many of Mathiot's recipes are herein found though in somewhat simpler and economic form. [It's interesting to compare the two. Bernard came of age during the Occupation while Mathiot did much before so it is interesting to see how the austerity of those years later made its way into Bernard's recipes.]
The How Not to Cookbook: Lessons Learned the Hard Way: Aleksandra Mir's hardcover started as an art project in Scotland but Rizzoli recently published this salutary compendium of learning through negation. Mir assayed thousands of people about what they've done wrong in the kitchen to produce a book with tidbits as useful and useless as "Do not use the toaster to heat up milk" and "Do not fry a sausage when you have a boner."
Vendor Power!: From the same folks at Making Policy Public that brought us I Got Arrested: Now what?, comes a thin tome on street vendors. It's actually more of a pamphlet but it is sufficiently well designed to qualify as gift-worthy. If there's such a thing as a coffee table pamphlet, here it is. Plus it's filled with the useful arcana the NYPD uses to fine vendors (table can not be higher than 2' and vendor must be at least 18" from curb) as well as brief interviews with vendors.
Edible Stories: A Novel in Sixteen Parts: Oyster slurper and Cod lover Mark Kurlansky tries his hand at fiction, or rather, cloaks long descriptions of various edible products in a thin veil of fiction. Do you want a vignette of Italian revolutionaries in America in which the description of espresso occupies the lion's share of the page? If so, Edible Stories is for you. The book is for food porn lovers who wish to forgo the shame of reading a cookbook on the subway.
The Frankies Spuntino Kitchen Companion & Cooking Manual: Any book that comes with gilt pages and uses "Whatever" in its text 19 times, gets a grade A in our book of cookbooks (it's like a heart of hearts.) This one, though, includes not only the recipes, wrought in casual yet precise prose, that brought the Franks — that's Falcinelli and Castronovo — to fame but helpful guides like how to grow an avocado tree, an almost alchemical year-round calendar of produce and the best thank yous of any book ever.
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