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Best Cookbooks of 2007: Part One

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Welcome to a two-part review of the year’s best cookbooks. In part one, I’ll list five new books that inspired me in the kitchen in 2007…part 2 will include five rediscoveries that you might want to add to your shelf.

Chocolate & Zucchini: Daily Adventures in a Parisian Kitchenby Clotilde Dusoulier
A cookbook by a blogger! (with anotherbook in press!) Inspired by a two-year stay in San Francisco, Dusoulier developed the blog Chocolate & Zucchini(two of her favorite ingredients) to document her fresh take on French cuisine bourgeoise. Her recipes are simple and the results delicious. Her Roasted Ratatouille has forever changed my view of this sometimes-watery dish and I have made it many times. Her Very Chocolate Cookies, especially in the variation with piment d’Espelette (Basque moderately hot pepper – get it at Surfas or Whole Foods), pleased the fussy LAist crew and everyone else I’ve made them for. Every recipe in this book is well-thought-out, and the intros to the recipes will make you want to move to Paris.

Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook: Recipes from Hunan Provinceby Fuchsia Dunlop
Chairman Mao, Hunan’s best-known son, said that you can’t be a revolutionary if you don’t eat chilies. Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook offers plenty of opportunities to follow Mao’s maxim, with hot and fiery dishes ranging from two equally authentic versions of General Tso’s Chicken (there really was a General Tso) to dumplings, noodles, and Mao’s favorite Home-Style Bean Curd. Dunlop’s second book is as meticulously researched as her first, Land of Plenty: A Treasury of Authentic Sichuan Cooking. Even if you haven’t cooked Chinese food before, Dunlop’s recipes are easy to follow (just leave time for chopping), and her comments provide lots of fascinating info about this landlocked province. (FYI, there are very few real Hunan restaurants in the U.S., even in the San Gabriel Valley; Hunanese cooking, dependent on fresh chilies, is often lumped together with Szechuan, in which the chilies are often accompanied by the numbing heat of Szechuan peppercorns.)

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How to Cook Everything: Vegetarianby Mark Bittman
Mark Bittman is the Clint Eastwood of cookbook writers; in his books, and his column in the Wednesday New York Times, his no-nonsense approach brooks no fussiness. He rides into town, gets the job done, and moves on to the next meal. His How to Cook Everything is my constant reference; his recipes are easy to follow, sensible, and lend themselves well to variation, both his and my own. In HCE: Vegetarian, Bittman takes on meatless meals straightforwardly and with imagination. Vegan recipes and variations are featured, although this book mostly seems geared toward those who eat dairy and eggs, and especially for meat-eaters who want to ease away from the cow, the chicken, and the pig. In the year to come, I plan to make many meals from this book.

Two more great cookbooks after the jump.

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Roast Chicken and Other Stories, by Simon Hopkinson
A British favorite by an especially creative and unpretentious chef, originally published in the U.K. in 1994 and published this year in the U.S., Roast Chicken is part memoir, part cookbook, and a terrific read. As in Jane Grigson’s wonderful Good Things, Hopkinson’s book is arranged by predominant ingredient – anchovy, chicken, garlic, kidneys, scallops, tripe – with his practical and sometimes whimsical recipes following. I read this book more often than I cook from it, although many of the recipes are very appealing.

1080 Recipes by Simone and Inés Ortega
In recent years, publishers have scrambled to bring several countries’ equivalents of The Joy of Cooking to an English-speaking audience, massive doorstop-sized volumes like Silver Spoon from Italy and La Bonne Cuisine de Madame E. Saint-Ange from France. 1080 Recipes is Spain’s well-loved source on how to cook everything. Recipes range from traditional faves like several versions of paella to foreign dishes like “American baked potatoes” and spaghetti carbonara. In the back is a small selection of more trendy recipes from modern Spanish chefs (and the preface is by Ferran Adria, the Spanish superchef). So far, I’ve used 1080 Recipes mostly as a reference book for technique and ingredients, but I know I will cook from this book. If you want to learn about and cook Spanish food by region, I would recommend that you take a look at ¡Delicioso! The Regional Cooking of Spain, by Penelope Casas, which is much more helpful about regional distinctions.

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Photo of chocolate cookies (slightly different from the cookbook version) from Chocolate & Zucchini. Paella from mj*laflaca on Flickr.