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The year's most exciting cookbooks, writes Julie Van Rosendaal, run the gamut from beginner basics to intricate ideas for festive nights. And there's plenty of Cancon, too

The year has brought plenty of new cookbooks – books that educate, inspire, have stories to tell and solve the daily dilemma of what's for dinner, and look good doing it. Whether you're a cook or a baker, are eager to source more sustainable ingredients, harvest an edible garden or eat with the seasons, here are a dozen beauties to add to your wish list.

Lure: Sustainable Seafood Recipes from the West Coast

by Ned Bell and Valerie Howes, $38.95

Chef Ned Bell is a sustainable seafood activist, founder of Chefs for Oceans and executive chef of Ocean Wise, the Vancouver Aquarium's conservation program. In his first book, he brings his cause to paper with a stunningly beautiful guide to all the fish (and squid, scallops, sea urchin and geoduck) in the sea. The recipes skew toward restaurant-fancy; there's skate with farro, sprouted beans and soy sesame vinaigrette and grilled octopus with romesco, Marcona almonds and romaine hearts. But there's also spaghetti with clams and sardines on toast.

Farm to Chef: Cooking Through the Seasons

By Lynn Crawford, $40

Chef Lynn, as she's known, harvests the best of each season, pickling, sautéing and mashing beets, asparagus and rutabaga, stuffing zucchini, roasting cherries to spoon over cheesecake and transforming back-alley rhubarb into boozy gin fizzes. Despite the title (and the recipe for a slab of foie gras on brioche with champagne grapes), her latest book speaks to the home cook, reminding us how much better things taste when they're in season. It's is full of recipes you actually want to make and sit down to eat with your family.


By Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh, $45

The much-anticipated follow to Ottolenghi: the Cookbook, Jerusalem, Plenty and Plenty More, Sweet brings dessert to the table – think doughnuts with saffron custard cream, tahini and halva-swirled brownies and pistachio semolina cake spiked with rosewater. Flavours draw from the Middle Eastern palette but are also inspired by the Australian heritage of Ottolenghi's long-time dessert collaborator, pastry chef Helen Goh. To complete the global tour, the London-dwellers give their sweets a British slant such as sticky fig pudding with salted caramel and coconut, cinnamon pavlova with fresh figs, pineapple tartlets with pandan and star anise, and even a straight-up Victoria sponge with strawberries and cream.

Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking

By Samin Nosrat, $47

Some cookbooks are full of recipes – others teach you how to cook. This is one of the latter, in which chef and educator Samin Nosrat helps home cooks get a handle on kitchen chemistry by mastering the four title elements – salt, fat, acid and heat – offering a deeper understanding of how they contribute to texture and balance. With 100 base recipes, it's also full of colourful hand-drawn infographics by illustrator Wendy McNaughton that help visualize the difference among salad greens as well as which herbs and spices are used in cuisines around the world. A friendly walkthrough of techniques from basic vinaigrette to flaky pastry, it's an inspirational new-generation culinary encyclopedia for cooks of all skill levels.

BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts

By Stella Parks, $47

Anyone in search of solidly tested formulas for bakery mainstays such as chocolate cake, Oreo-style sandwich cookies and cherry pie will find them compiled here, along with variations and suggestions of ways to make them your own. Pastry chef Stella Parks exhaustively tests (and retests) each recipe, then digs even deeper, telling the tales and explaining the (often political and always interesting) histories behind some of North America's most well-known sweets.

Six Seasons: A New Way with Vegetables

By Joshua McFadden with Martha Holmberg, $50

Veggies are no longer the supporting cast at the dinner table. Here, the often-described "vegetable whisperer" Joshua McFadden brings the reader through six seasons, breaking down the prolific summer months into pre-, mid- and late with their constantly evolving crops. Through recipes, tutorials and appealing visuals, he encourages the creative use of everyday and less familiar produce, applying the nose-to-tail (or root to top) mantra to each vegetable. A beautiful resource even for the most carnivorous.

All the Sweet Things: Baked Goods and Stories from the Kitchen of Sweetsugarbean

By Renée Kohlman, $39.95

Saskatoon baker-blogger Renée Kohlman has gathered the sweetest collection of things into her first cookbook, with relatable personal stories behind the soda breads and pies, and her own photos, all taken on her iPhone. It's a beautifully designed, nostalgic collection of unintimidating baked goods, with Prairie classics like Saskatoon berry and flapper pies, sugar-coated cake doughnuts and Aunt Helen's big-batch buttermilk bran muffins.

Dinner: Changing the Game

By Melissa Clark, $47

One of the biggest reasons people buy cookbooks is to help them get dinner on the table every night. New York Times food writer Melissa Clark, who has been a columnist in the paper's Dining section for a decade, helps us embrace this daily challenge with inspiring yet unfussy meal ideas organized by main ingredient into a very useable recipe box. The book includes useful extras, such as a list of pantry staples to keep on hand and the basics of roasting a chicken.

Basics to Brilliance

By Donna Hay, $50

For decades, prolific Australian cookbook author Donna Hay has led the charge when it comes to beautifully photographed books and magazines; though it has a darker, moodier palette, her latest is no exception. It's a hefty and thorough tome covering everything from slow-roasted lamb shoulder to chewy chocolate chip cookies (with measurements both by cup and by weight) and plenty of basics. Recipes, such as the one for sticky maple and bourbon pork ribs, are made brilliant thanks to suggested variations and transformations that demonstrate how small changes can make a dish subtly – or radically – different.

Eat Delicious: 125 Recipes for your Daily Dose of Awesome

By Dennis Prescott, $32

Six years ago Dennis Prescott, a musician from Moncton, decided to learn how to cook, throwing himself into the new hobby by doing extensive research and testing. Today, he's known for his stylish food photography and instantly recognizable Instagram feed. His first book is loaded with burgers, fried chicken, stacked sandwiches and cheesy pastas, along with Eastern Canadian classics such as poutine and cheesy garlic fingers with donair sauce. It's exactly what those who eat with their eyes want to get into their bellies.

5 Ingredients: Quick & Easy Food

By Jamie Oliver, $40

The latest from the Jamie O camp targets those who can be intimidated by lengthy recipes and so opt out of cooking in favour of those hip new meal kit delivery services. The approach is more dish assembly than traditional recipes, with each double page spread neatly laid out with photos of five ingredients (not including cooking oil and salt), simple steps and a picture showing off the sum of its parts. There are pastas, salads, noodles, proteins, and even a few desserts, simply assembled and straightforward for visual thinkers and eaters.

The Okanagan Table: The Art of Everyday Home Cooking

By Rod Butters, $37.95

Even restaurant chefs have to feed themselves at home: Rod Butters, the chef-owner of RauDZ Regional Table in Kelowna, B.C., draws on one of the most fertile culinary regions in Canada in order to do so. The book categorizes all there is to eat by time of day – sunrise, midday, sunset and twilight – and bridges fine dining and home cooking with recipes like the one for halibut pastrami, which is similar to salmon gravlax, calls for very familiar ingredients and is written in such a way as to make it seem totally doable.