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Welcome, NPR listeners, chowhounds and recipe hunters, and newcomers to my blog! Whether you’re here because you’ve just heard the NPR cookbooks segment on your local public radio affiliate or because you heard there’s a “Best Recipes of 2014″ countdown going on, you’ve come to the right place.

Just want the list?  OK!  NPR’s Top 11 Cookbooks of 2014 (in no particular order)

Of course, the cookbooks that made the roundup are just a small selection of the many wonderful titles published in 2014.  

What follows is my shortlist of titles equally notable in one way or another:

Best Actually Pretty Easy, Actually Thai Book Ever
Simple Thai Food, by Leela Punyaratabandhu

Generous Compendium From A Much-Missed Culinary Ambassador for Spain
1000 Spanish Recipes, by Penelope Casas

For Those Who Wonder What It’s Like Cooking in a Restaurant, Complete with No Handholding Whatsoever
Prune, by Gabrielle Hamilton

This Year’s “You Know You’re a New Yorker When…” Shibboleth
Eating Delancey, by Aaron Rezny and Jordan Schaps

This Year’s Convert-a-Carnivore Choice
Vegan Without Borders, by Robin Robertson

For Those Who Hate Wasting Food More Than Anything Else In the Whole World
The Kitchen Ecosystem, by Eugenia Bone

For Ambitious DIY-er’s Who Know No Fear
Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Practical Pantry, by Cathy Barrow

For DIY-ers Who Are Fine With Just the One Food Group, Thanks
Fermented Vegetables, by Kirsten K. Shockey & Christopher Shockey

For Very Ambitious Pasta Lovers
Flour & Water, by Thomas McNaughton

For Pasta Lovers Who Just Want Something New In Their Pasta In 45 Minutes Flat
The Best Pasta Sauces, by Micol Negrin

For Bakers Who Own a Scale, and Are Proud Of It
The Baking Bible, by Rose Levy Beranbaum

Forget about Black Friday – you know the gift-giving season is truly underway when the NPR Book Concierge comes out, guiding you to all the best books the year has had to offer.  It’s available both through your browser and as an app, and it is a Monumental Undertaking – over 250 titles picked by NPR staff and critics.  Once the list comes out each year, I use it as a starting point to find reading matter for an entire year – in waiting rooms, on summer vacation, for my bedside table – until the next one comes out.  And I’m sure I’m not the only one.

This year I picked, I think, 9 of the 17 food and cookbook selections.  And some of the other 8 – like Apples and Baking Chez Moi – were titles I would have picked too if my colleagues had not gotten to them first!  But all’s fair in love, war, and reading.

Check out the food and cookbook selections on the NPR Book Concierge.

Anyway, all this is just the tip of the iceberg for cookbook coverage this month.

  • Starting this week, I’ll be running the Best Recipes of 2014! series again (check out the Best Recipes of 2013 here)
  • I’ll be talking up the 2014 Concierge selections on (swoon!) Morning Edition next week; and
  • I will be releasing my own independent Best of 2014 cookbook roundup at NPR the week after that.

Stay tuned!

Are you getting your pie in gear for Thanksgiving?  I am!  Last week, I ordered 10 pounds of rendered leaf lard.  Next week comes the traditional trip to Clarkdale Fruit Farm in Deerfield for pie apples.   Following that, the traditional internet searches for better, nicer-looking crimps and troubleshooting pastry problems.

This week’s story looks at some recent cookbooks and some easyish, slightly non-traditional pies – an apple hand pie and a super-boozy whiskey crumble pie, and a couple of others- just in case you’re sick of your double-crust, or in case it’s giving you fits.

Click here to read today’s apple pie story in the Boston Globe.   Hit the paywall?  Click here for the PDF version (the links won’t work, but at least you can read the story!). 

Just in time for what I call Fatstember and Carbuary – my two favorite baking months – the unapologetic and seductive new baking book from Dorie Greenspan.  It’s French home baking, and a sight easier than the high-flying pastries you may think of when you consider French desserts.  While there is one suitably neurotic macaron recipe, nearly everything in here is doable with the confectionery skills of a mortal.

This also marks my first collaboration ever with the Washington Post‘s terrific food section.  I hope there will be more to come.

Click here to read today’s review of  ‘Baking Chez Moi’ in the Washington Post. 

The wind was so strong last night I dreamed a tree fell in our driveway, and the woodstove’s been going for a week.  October has us in its teeth, and it’s strange to think back to the green, tropical flavors – coconut, banana, heaps of herbs and ginger – I tested this past summer.

The week we ate from Caribbean Potluck was a satisfying one.  The thing that most surprised me was the authors’ liberal way with thyme, which I’d never thought of as particularly island-y.

Yet I came away from the book feeling like I’d missed a learning opportunity.  When it comes to ethnically or regionally organized cookbooks, I’m always looking for something that will teach me something fundamental I can apply elsewhere in my food (the way Simple Thai Food, from last week, did).  If not, I’ll take a book with two or three swooners for recipes.  This, though, is nothing more nor less than a collection of pretty good work – fun in July, forgotten by October.

What is foremost in my mind this fall, though, is the annual CiderDays festival here in western Massachusetts.  More varieties of apples and hard cider than you’ve ever tasted, as the orchard fling wide their gates for an end-of-season celebration.  All the deets here in my Globe post and here at their website.

Click here to read today’s review of  ‘Caribbean Potluck’ in the Boston Globe.   Hit the paywall?  Click here for the PDF version of this week’s ‘Caribbean Potluck’ review

I always thought the problem was me.

I love Thai food.  I have ever since my college roommate Christina (who had lived in Thailand as a teen) and I used to splurge on lunches at the Thai restaurant across the street from our dorm.  But every time I got a Thai cookbook – and all of them were colorful, inspiring productions you could almost taste – I just couldn’t get through them.

I could get the lemongrass and galangal and the kaffir lime leaf.  But there was always something: gaeng hang lae powder, green tamarind pods, dried salted radishes, one particular kind of fish.  I wanted to do it right! and so the best became the enemy of the good, and I never made those recipes.

Every so often I would get an “easy” Thai book.  But it would turn out to be all soy sauce, oyster sauce, ginger and garlic – pretty much like an “easy” Chinese book.  Where was the easy Thai book that actually tasted Thai?

So here at last it is.  It’s not *totally* easy.  But it’s not dump-a-Maesri-curry-paste-in-some-coconut-milk either.   The writing’s entertaining, the recipes work, and the flavors will knock your socks off.  What more could you ask? (other than slightly larger print, as usual.)

Click here to read today’s review of  ‘Simple Thai Food’ in the Boston Globe.   Hit the paywall?  Click here for the PDF version of this week’s ‘Simple Thai Food’ review

Spice books – I almost never review them, because they tend not to teach me what I really want to learn.  I’m interested in Grand Unified Theories of spice – in botanical relationships and historically documented foodways.  More often, the message of spice books is more “This is how I use spices” or “Everyone should use more spices!”

But this book, which hails from Seattle’s World Spice Merchants at Pike Place, is smartly organized and thoroughly informative.  And I finally got the full benefit of the magnetic spice organization system I put in last year!  It took 22 tins to make ras el hanout, and it was worth it just to find out how (relatively) easy it was compared to the furtive, frantic searches in dark cabinets of years past.

spice tins

Click here to read today’s review of  ‘World Spice at Home’ in the Boston Globe.   Hit the paywall?  Click here for the PDF version of this week’s ‘World Spice at Home’ review

At the beginning of the gardening season, when everything was green and hopeful, I wondered: which of you will fail me this year?  Because no matter how good things look in May, there’s always something that disappoints you by September.  This year it was peas (netting crash), tomatoes (blight) and potatoes (blight again).

Everything else did OK – especially, for once, the cucumbers.  The vine borers laid off this year, taking just one squash plant as their token tax.  My cukes are still bearing after a couple months, and maybe they’ll continue right up till frost.  I’m not much for hardcore canning, so thank God for fridge pickles.

Fridge pickles are easy, thankfully, and even a harvest-time slob like me can pack a few away without much thought.

Click here to read today’s fridge pickle story in the Boston Globe.   Hit the paywall?  Click here for the PDF version

A Susie Middleton cookbook is always an occasion for celebration.  As she demonstrated in Fast, Fresh & Green and The Fresh & Green Table, the former cooking magazine editor turned small farm owner has a feel for finely tuned, robustly flavored food using the freshest ingredients.

I tested this book at the beginning of the growing season, when few crops besides arugula and radishes were ready.  Now, at the end of the season, there have been the usual garden heartaches (fingerlings and tomatoes lost to blight, poor output from the new strawberries) but a few proud stands of greens and beans remain.  No matter how hard-won and scant your own end-of summer kitchen garden may look, you’ll find a fitting way to enjoy the last of it in these pages.

Click here to read today’s review of  ‘Fresh from the Farm’ in the Boston Globe.   Hit the paywall?  Click here for the PDF version of this week’s ‘Fresh from the Farm’ review

Summer’s usually a quiet time for me, work-wise, but I kept writing stories throughout most of this one.  In terms of testing, I think my two favorites were DIY soda and this one – because who can complain about having to eat fresh homemade ice cream in July, for work?

There’s a gazillion ice cream books out there, and the fact is that I don’t use many new ice cream recipes myself – I’ve got some tried-and-true favorites I tend to stick to. But I usually learn something from each new book, whether it’s a better technique for cooling the custard or using cream cheese for texture or whatever.

Today’s the first day of school, which is probably the last day of ice cream season.  All my homemade ice cream is long eaten, but I noticed a leftover store pint of something in the freezer.  And nobody here knows about it but me.

Click here to read today’s DIY ice cream story in the Boston Globe.   Hit the paywall?  Click here for the PDF version

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