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Fall 2015's Best Cookbooks: Cooking Pros Bring It Home

Weeknight cooking gets its moment in the spotlight

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The restaurant- and travel-oriented books might bring all the dazzle, but home cooking is the heart and soul of cookbook season. This season’s lineup is dominated by a passel of professionals who invite readers into their homes: chefs like John Besh, Bobby Flay, or Amanda Freitag; test-kitchen royalty like the scientifically rigorous J. Kenji López-Alt or Dora Charles, the creator of many of Paula Deen’s recipes; or simply royalty royalty: get ready for Ruth Reichl’s first standalone cookbook.

Check out our whole Fall 2015 cookbook preview: the best baking books, the season's top crop of books on regional and local cuisines, and essential restaurant-inspired cookbooks. Or see the entire thing on the main page.

The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science

J. Kenji López-Alt
W. W. Norton & Company, September 2015
When I need to make sure I'm using the best possible technique, my usual m.o. is to google the thing I'm trying to figure out, plus the word "Kenji." I know for a fact I'm not the only one: the managing culinary director of Serious Eats has an online monopoly on rigorously tested, easy-to-follow, sure-to-work recipes. In this book — massive in both scope and size — he's making a move to get out of our browsers and onto our bookcases.

When the power goes out or the wi-fi goes down, the people who own this book will be the ones you want inviting you over for dinner.

For devotées of Alton Brown, Harold McGee, Modernist Cuisine, or America's Test Kitchen (López-Alt's alma mater), the science-minded methodology on which this book is based will feel familiar. There's little new under the sun these days in this arena of the culinary world. What is new here is the voice itself, something The Food Lab's forebears haven't quite yet managed to nail: authoritative without condescension, explanatory but not pedantic. The book itself has only about a hundred recipes over its nearly 1000 pages, but exhaustive headnotes, sidebars, backstories, chemical and biological asides, and step-by-step photography — not to mention, you know, actual cooking tips — fill the space easily.

Many of the techniques and recipes in The Food Lab will be familiar to regular readers of López-Alt's columns on Serious Eats (or, like me, regular googlers of his name appended to random food words): his takes on staples like French fries, eggs, and steak are canon, at this point, and immortalizing them in ink on paper feels almost like a symbolic act, a formal gesture acknowledging their impact and quality. You don't need this book, if you've got a fast internet connection. But when the power goes out or the wi-fi goes down, the people who own this book will be the ones you want inviting you over for dinner. —Helen Rosner

Order: Amazon / Powell's

My Kitchen Year

Ruth Reichl
Random House, September 2015
Ruth Reichl's first standalone cookbook will please newcomers to her work and longtime readers alike. Obsessives will love it for the threads that pick back up from her previous books (in what feels like a little Easter egg, Richard and Maggie, characters that play prominently in Reichl's most recent book, the novel Delicious, turn out to be actual names of real Gourmet ex-colleagues). The recipes are written out in the author's classic flowing prose rather than succinct instructions and are often conversational — add a "hefty dollop" of bourbon, cut the rhubarb into "casual pieces" — and the ingredients are broken out into things to shop for and kitchen staples. Six-ingredient lemon pudding cake sounds easy until you get to the part where it has to be baked in a water bath, but Reichl walks you right through it and the cake will turn out just fine. My Kitchen Year has enough space for Asian-inspired noodle dishes and fresh fruit-forward baked goods, plus homemade pastas and grilled cheese sandwiches and fresh hummus. There's no theme to the recipes other than they're the ones that she turned to following the closing of Gourmet — the ones she said "saved her life."

The voice is pure Reichl in a way that makes the reader yearn for a house in the country with a pantry full of staples.

The voice is pure Reichl: achingly sentimental in a way that makes the reader yearn for a house in the country, a pantry full of staples like canned anchovies, cream sherries, and a "few sorts" of salt. Who doesn't wish she had a collection of salts to call on at any moment; who doesn't wish he had a home upstate to retreat to in times of trouble? Reichl walks through the hard year that followed the end of her ten-year run as editor in chief and brings her readers with her, and as she finds solace through cooking, we find comfort too. — Sonia Chopra

Order: Amazon / Powell's

The Chili Cookbook

Robb Walsh
Ten Speed, September 2015
Chili is a food of feuds, or, at least, hyper-specific regional preferences. Beans or no beans? Chili or chile, red, green, or Christmas? And what are these "ways" you speak of, Cincinnati? But regional chili purism obscures just how essential the dish is in the North American lexicon. Robb Walsh’s new book embraces, examines, and celebrates all variety of chili pepper stew. Lucky us.

Many cookbooks are written to be read as much as cooked from, but rarely does one so deftly strike a balance between the two.

Walsh is one of the great chroniclers of Texas foodways, a thoughtful historian and a warm, charming writer to boot, and while many cookbooks are written to be read as much as cooked from, rarely does one so deftly strike a balance between both. The book opens with a green lobster chili inspired by a similar dish reportedly sold in Aztec markets, and the chapters guide the reader through the surprisingly German history of chili powder, the origins of the New Mexican green chile, and the legacy of San Antonio’s Chili Queens, with detours to Hungarian goulash, Route 66, and President Obama’s chili recipe. The modern chili sections have a welcome amount of respect for vegetarian chili and chili cheese fries alike.

Chili, both in and out of Texas, is an old-school dish, one made at home more often than seen on new restaurant menus. The Chili Cookbook definitely delivers on the classics: the recipe for El Real’s chili con carne (a Houston restaurant where Walsh is a partner) produces as satisfying and comforting bowl of Texas red as I’ve ever made or tasted. But what is truly exciting about this book is the way it makes the case for chili as an essential American creation, one that should not be allowed to fall by the wayside. Walsh’s book captures not just the history and breadth, but all of the exciting possibilities cooks can explore with a stew composed in part of hot, spicy peppers. In terms of seasonality, a chili cookbook might be the perfect fall and winter release. There’s plenty to keep you busy — and warm. — Meghan McCarron

Order: Amazon / Powell's

other notable Books

A Real Southern Cook

Dora Charles
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

The woman behind many of Paula Deen's recipes finally gets her chance to take center stage. Dora Charles's take on classic Southern recipes is approachable and creative, and her moment in the spotlight is long overdue.

Order: Amazon / Powell's

Besh Big Easy: 101 Home Cooked New Orleans Recipes

John Besh
Andrews McMeel

John Besh's previous books have been broad in scope, covering Louisiana as a whole or following his personal journey through America and Europe. This book drills down on the cuisine of the Crescent City, adapting classic restaurant preparations for home cooks.

Order: Amazon / Powell's

Jacques Pépin Heart and Soul in the Kitchen

Jacques Pépin
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

The king of French-inspired cookbooks steps farther afield in this book, bringing in flavors from Latin America and Asia, North American classics, and other decidedly un-francophone notes. It's how Pepin cooks at home, and it's pretty great.

Order: Amazon / Powell's

Near & Far

Heidi Swanson
Ten Speed

Vegetarian food takes on a global flair in this book from old-school blogger Heidi Swanson of 101 Cookbooks. The recipes here claim to be culled from her own travel journals, and to that end they're full of voice and personality.

Order: Amazon / Powell's

Kitchen Matrix

Mark Bittmann
Pam Krauss Books

Mark Bittman's hyper-popular improvisational guides get their own cookbook, breaking basic ingredients and techniques into infinite variations. The book re-creates his Eat column's visually striking style as well.

Order: Amazon / Powell's

Gluten Free Girl: American Classics Reinvented

Shauna James Ahern and Daniel Ahern
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

James Beard Award-winning blogger and author Shauna Ahern turns to comfort foods in her latest cookbook for the gluten intolerant and those who love them. Think cinnamon rolls, chicken-fried steak, and foundational recipes for pizza and pie dough.

Order: Amazon / Powell's

Also Coming This Fall

· My Pantry: Homemade Ingredients That Make Simple Meals Special by Alice Waters. Pam Krauss Books: September 15, 2015

· The Four Seasons of Pasta by Sara Jenkins & Nancy Jenkins. Viking Studio: October 6

· The Chef Next Door: A Pro Chef's Recipes for Fun, Fearless Home Cooking by Amanda Freitag. William Morrow: September 29

· Brunch @ Bobby's by Bobby Flay. Clarkson Potter: September 29

· V is for Vegetables by Michael Anthony. Little, Brown: October 27

· Simply Nigella: Feel Good Food by Nigella Lawson. Flatiron: October 27

· My Life on a Plate by Kelis. Kyle Books: September 28

· Martha Stewart's Appetizers by Martha Stewart. Clarkson Potter: September 8

· Food 52 Vegan by Gena Hamshaw. Ten Speed: September 22

· Slow Fires: Mastering New Ways to Braise, Roast, and Grill by Justin Smilie and Kitty Greenwald. Clarkson Potter: November 3

· 100 Recipes Everyone Should Know How to Make by America's Test Kitchen. America's Test Kitchen: October 13


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