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I can't think of many retail experiences more social than the cookbook section of a good bookstore in December. While over in Fiction or True Crime, or around the slippers and Slankets display at your local big box store, the pre-holiday browsing is so often a solitary pursuit, cookbook lovers can't help themselves from talking with each other. From the buying to the reading to that unique other thing that cookbooks allow – the feeding of friends and loved ones – cookbooks are a shared experience.

These are my picks for the 20 best cookbooks of 2013 – the books so good that I can't stop thinking about them and cooking from them. (Or telling people about them.) Consider this my excited shout from across the aisle.



Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking

Fuchsia Dunlop, a Brit who trained as a chef in Chengdu, China, is the go-to Western authority on regional Chinese cooking. Her latest, loaded with easy, extraordinarily tasty recipes (gingery beef brisket soup with goji berries), is also peppered with easy-to-follow instructions on Chinese cooking basics, from using a wok to proper knife cuts. Indispensable.

Japanese Soul Cooking

There are no high-end sushi creations here this accessible, beautifully written book by Tadashi Ono and Harris Salat is a guide to the dumplings, curries, rice, ramen, noodle bowls and deep-fried delicacies – the soul cooking – that most Japanese people eat every day.

Pimentos & Piri Piri: Portuguese Comfort Cooking

Portuguese might be one of the planet’s most underrated cuisines; it is also a vital (if perpetually overlooked) part of Canada’s culinary heritage. With ridiculously tasty takes on both straight-up Portuguese and Portuguese-Canadian classics, Carla Azevedo’s terrific collection might change that. My favourite Canadian cookbook of 2013.

Mast Brothers Chocolate



Valerie Gordon, a Los Angeles-based pastry chef, combines smart advice with uncommonly sophisticated flavours: sweet-and-savoury pumpkin seed toffees, and buttery galettes filled with apricots and basil cream. The cake section lays out seven basic cake recipes (orange; hazelnut; matcha; golden butter) and nine fillings (passion fruit buttercream; gianduja ganache), which readers can mix and match.

Mast Brothers Chocolate
Written by Rick and Michael Mast, a pair of bean-to-bar chocolate makers, the recipes in this love letter of a cookbook are designed for the extra-good stuff, instead of the usual waxy commodity chocolate. From its pies (chocolate and beet) and cakes (dark and stormy chocolate) to its exquisite savouries (chocolate ricotta pancakes), drinks and confections, the results taste out of this world.

Ryan Szulc


How to Feed a Family 
Torontonians Laura Keogh and Ceri Marsh have managed what many parents might think impossible: They’ve built a book of simple, sensible, kid-friendly recipes that the entire family will want to eat. There are ridiculously healthy pina colada muffins, 20-minute pasta dishes, a concoction called “OMG chicken parm,” a salad on a stick. Sure, a few of the dishes border on aspirational (I dream of the day my five-year-old eats shakshuka), but far better to push than pander.

At Home with Lynn Crawford 
Lynn Crawford specializes in easy, big-flavoured comfort foods; as recipes for fuss-averse home cooks they’re solid gold. There’s cherry cola-marinated char-grilled leg of lamb, plus Bloody Mary shrimp salad and stuffed baked apples with caramel sauce – scores of simple dishes bound for dinner-party glory.

The Flavour Principle
The Globe and Mail’s long-time cooking and drink columnists Lucy Waverman and Beppi Crosariol take much of the work out of dinner-party planning. Organized under 11 key flavours (herbal, creamy, bitter, smoky, etc.), The Flavour Principle lays out inspired but trouble-free menus, with terrific wine, beer and cocktail pairings.

Eat: The Little Book of Fast Food
Leave it to Nigel Slater, England’s greatest “cookery writer,” to bring sex appeal to the six-o’clock solution. Eat’s 600-odd four and five-sentence recipes (pork chops roast with radishes and blood orange; “figs, bulgar and blackberries”) are smart and gloriously tasty – like a telephone hotline to a chef friend who’s never short of brilliant last-minute advice.


The A.O.C. Cookbook

There is something fresh and vital about the best West Coast cooking that the rest of North America will never quite capture. L.A. chef and restaurateur Suzanne Goin’s French-rooted, Pacific-coast-inspired recipes have got it to burn: her sweet pea pancakes with Dungeness crab and red onion crème fraîche, say, or peach and arugula with burrata, cumin and toasted almonds.

Maximum Flavor
Aki Kamozawa and H. Alexander Talbot’s M.O. is simple: let’s play with food and see what happens. Maximum Flavor finds a midpoint between the hyper-scientific Modernist Cuisine and the hyper-didactic Cook’s Illustrated, without either brand’s wiener factor. For cooks who need to know the hows and whys behind great cooking – not to mention a stack of killer recipes – this one’s an absolute must-buy.

The Art of Simple Food II
Alice Waters, a patron saint of the fresh/local movement, has taken fire in recent years for a certain Portlandia-worthy preciousness. Whatever. Her latest is the greatest guide I’ve found to better produce aisles and farmer’s markets, with detailed entries on common (and soon to be common) herbs, fruits, legumes and vegetables – plus simple, knockout recipes. There are can’t-wait-to-make-it instructions for everything from persimmons to spigarello broccoli; Waters’s creamy dandelion salad is one of the best things I’ve made all year.

Franny’s: Simple Seasonal Italian
If you can imagine the rustic Italian of the River Café cookbooks with a touch of New York swagger you’ve nailed the cooking at Franny’s, a popular Brooklyn spot. Andrew Feinberg’s cookbook traffics in “wonderfully basic Italian food,” as Alice Waters puts it in her introduction: squid, tomato and caper salads; Parm-spiked chicken soup with parsley and lemon; fried green tomatoes with anchovy mayonnaise. With all respect to Waters, while it’s basic to make, the results are anything but.

Le Pigeon: Cooking at the Dirty Bird
I love a cookbook with an entire section devoted to tongue recipes. And a section titled “little birds.” Plus a rabbit chapter, a foie gras chapter, a “horns and antlers” chapter – and a chapter full of highly inventive veg recipes (leek carbonara; radish vichyssoise) to keep things from getting out of hand. Gabriel Rucker, chef at the the singular Portland, Oregon bistro, celebrates Pacific Northwest cooking of the highest order. Where else can you find a recipe for lamb’s tongue fries?
Thomas Schauer


Manresa: An Edible Reflection

It took a few years after Manresa opened in Los Gatos, Calif., for chef David Kinch’s exquisite, terroir-obsessed cooking to gain a following. Ten years on, it’s clear the Northern California restaurant, now considered one of the best anywhere, was far ahead of its time. With its complex, deeply naturalistic recipes (the one called “A Winter Tidal Pool,” is a standout), this isn’t the sort of book that mere mortals will cook from. But I can think of no better window right now on where many believe fine cooking is headed. Manresa is a look into the future; the view will take your breath away.

Coi: Stories and Recipes
Daniel Patterson is famously cagey about what sort of cooking his San Francisco restaurant serves. “The best thing I can come up with is, ‘Um, hopefully delicious,’” he writes. I ate there a few years ago; it was delicious and then some – restrained and exuberant (passion fruit baba with honeycomb and shiso); hippie-friendly (goat with wheatgrass-raw almond purée), and wildly creative (asparagus with seaweed powder and Meyer lemon sabayon). Patterson’s cooking is no mere craft – it’s comestible art, and this is his creative journal.

Daniel: My French Cuisine
Daniel Boulud’s latest is an intimate, engrossing look into the kitchen of a giant among French chefs. It’s divided into three sections: the best recipes from his flagship New York restaurant; “The Iconic Sessions,” in which Boulud and the writer Bill Buford recreate wacky historic French dishes (a triple-tiered root vegetable construction topped with roasted snipes’ heads); and “Daniel at Home” – which, let’s be clear, is significantly different from, say, how you or I cook at home.
Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail


The Bar Chef: A Modern Approach to Cocktails

Frankie Solarik, best known in Canada as “that crazy Toronto bartender with the $45 Manhattan,” is often cited elsewhere as one of the world’s top mixologists. His “Eucalyptus” cocktail combines two types of jelly, dry ice, coconut foam and cacao-infused mescal, among many other ingredients, into a smoking, meticulously plated (yes, there is a plate) masterpiece. If you’re humming that Hey Mr. Mixologist parody right now, fine, be that way. But for drink-lovers who aren’t afraid of new ideas, this superb book might just become a Magna Carta.

The Canadian Craft Beer Cookbook

David Ort, a Toronto cook and beer writer, gives craft brew some long-overdue respect as a component of excellent cooking. Though there are a few tailgate-worthy recipes here, Ort’s creations are often light and complexly flavoured; this is cooking made better by beer, instead of cooking as an excuse for guzzling.

In the Charcuterie

Taylor Boetticher and Toponia Miller are charcutiers at San Francisco’s the Fatted Calf. Their outstanding book, though squarely aimed at home cooks, dives deep into the how-tos of whole-beast butchery (there’s a 14-page, step-by-step photo guide to breaking down pigs), and sausage making, as well as home curing and smoking, confits and terrines – not to mention the terrific recipes for what to do with it all. This one’s a food-loving DIY’ers fever dream – one of the finest meat books I’ve seen.

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