The Year in Reviews: 16 Cookbooks from 2015

By Jennifer Grange with comments from Lucy Waverman

What better way to look back on a year than through food? Over the past year we've been looking at cookbooks of all kinds, testing recipes and keeping an eye on food trends. In no particular order, here are 16 of our favourites from 2015.

Fire & Ice
Darra Goldstein
Ten Speed Press, 2015. 304 pp. $51.00.

When you spot a book by Darra Goldstein, do not stop to consider whether the subject is one in which you are interested. Just buy it. A founding editor of Gastronomica, Goldstein has the sort of infectious curiosity which makes her readers want to learn what she has on offer even if they have never before had any interest in the topic. Best known for The Georgian Feast, this time she has turned her attention to classic Nordic cooking. Alongside the mouth-watering and simple recipes, she provides the descriptions and photographs of the context in which they arose: icy seas, isolation, wilderness and the frequent absence of light. Her dishes feature neither the Swedish meatball and open face sandwich stereotype of the 1960s nor the extreme experimentation of avant-garde Scandinavian cuisine. Be warned, though: the photographs of food and landscapes are likely to induce a call to your travel agent.

My Kitchen Year
Ruth Reichl
Appetite by Random House, 2015. 352 pp. $39.95.

For many people, the loss of a long-term job is as traumatic as the loss of a family member. After a decade as the highly-regarded editor of Gourmet, Ruth Reichl found herself jobless when the magazine suddenly folded. Ironically, while editor of the venerable food magazine, she had very little time to cook. With an empty calendar, her kitchen became her refuge. Here she shares both the thoughts and the foods which helped her recover over four seasons. Not surprisingly, the pages are filled with lusciously high-fat comfort food such as a traditional sour cream-topped New York cheesecake and a dark, gooey chocolate cake. Alongside the healing properties of food, Reichl reminds us that friends, family and the kindness of strangers, facilitated in the modern day through social media, are equally important ingredients in the recovery from loss.

A Year of Good Eating: The Kitchen Diaries III
Nigel Slater
Fourth Estate, 2015. 576 pp. $44.99. 

Working in his familiar format, the popular British food writer shares the seasonally inspired meals he throws together along with the thinking that transforms ingredients to finished dishes. He reaches for a fistful of chickpeas, some freekeh, a little rosewater (fortunately not all at once). But it is his interpretations of traditional British fare that truly shine. The best example is a steak, Stilton and thyme pie, which has a cheesy crust that can be baked on its own for a wonderful accompaniment to drinks.

Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking
Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015. 368 pp. $46.00. 

You could be forgiven for not considering Philadelphia, PA as the place to look for Israeli food. However, it is home to the Israeli restaurant Zahav. In this book, the Israeli-born but American-raised chef Michael Solomonov serves up the dishes which have made him famous. There is silken hummus, great rice – particularly the poppy seed pilaf – lamb Zahav, a shoulder of lamb bathed in spices and pomegranate, and even rugelach with peanut butter and marshmallow fluff. This is a book to reach for over and over again.

Soup for Syria
Collected and Photographed by Barbara Abdeni Massaad
Interlink Books, 2015. 208 pp. $37.50.

The proceeds from this collection of soup recipes goes to support Syrian refugees through the United Nations High Commission on Refugees. The contributors include many well-known names from the food world (Claudia Roden, Troth Wells, Anthony Bourdain, Mark Bittman, Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi) along with others whose names may be new to North Americans. The recipes are based on inexpensive and mostly easy-to-find ingredients. Many are vegetarian and vegan friendly. Two standouts are a spicy sweet potato soup, featuring tomato and a dollop of peanut butter creating a flavour that invokes African peanut soups, and a tomato, bread and basil soup that has all the flavours of bruschetta. Beautiful photographs throughout the book show not only the featured soups but also some of the people the book intends to support.

Sam & Sam Clarke
Ebury Press, 2015. 288 pp. $45.00.


By their own account, Sam and Sam Clark’s Morito restaurant in London is the rebellious younger sister of their highly regarded Moro. That restaurant was showcasing Middle Eastern dishes before Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi gave these flavours “it” status. This collection features colourful and highly seasoned tapas and mezze. For the cocktail crowd, there is a small section of drinks which fall on the trendy bitter and sour end of the spectrum rather than the sweet.

The Nomad Cookbook
Daniel Humm & Will Guidara
Ten Speed Press, 2015. 552 pp. $129.00.

This is a book for chefs and serious wannabes. It is first of all a lovely cloth-bound object in the best tradition of Ten Speed Press. There is a charming map in a front-cover pocket and a digest of drinks is the back cover add on. Like all such books, this one offers up the obligatory day-in-the-life of the restaurant. Nomad is the sister restaurant to Eleven Madison Park, the highest ranked American restaurant and fifth in the world. Unsurprisingly, the plated dishes are exquisite and require as many as four separate preparations to complete. One of the recipes calls for parsnip bark in which the whole parsnip is roasted, the flesh is removed while keeping the skin intact before cutting it into squares and frying. Some of the more basic preparations are less challenging such as a scrumptious bacon marmalade but will likely not justify the purchase of the book for most home cooks.

The Violet Bakery Cookbook
Claire Ptak
Ten Speed Press, 2015. 272 pp. $38.99. 

A veteran of Chez Panisse, Claire Ptak decamped for London where she staged at Moro and St. John, before opening the Violet Bakery. With recipes for chocolate sunken soufflé cake, lemon drizzle cake, and yet another version of Alice Waters’ apple galette, it rather begs the question of whether we need this book. However, for newer bakers, that sunken chocolate cake will be a revelation and others will take the opportunity to try some of the recipes using kamut, chickpea or spelt flours. Best of all are the savoury options such as the comte and chutney “toastie.”

The Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook
Jessamyn Waldman Rodriguez and the bakers of the Hot Bread Kitchen
Clarkson Potter, 2015. 304 pp. $45.00.

New York’s Hot Bread Kitchen, founded by Toronto-born Jessamyn Waldman Rodriquez, hires ethnically diverse women with the goal of providing them with skills to succeed in the culinary field. The range of breads collected here reflects the ethnicity of the bakers, as do the non-bread recipes included. Some doughs such as the traditional challah did not quite work as written—it needed both more water than suggested and a longer kneading time—yet the baked product turned out fine.

Lidia’s Mastering the Art of Italian Cuisine
Lidia Matticchio Bastianich and Tanya Bastianich Manuali
Appetite from Random House, 2015. 480 pp. $45.00.

The title of Lidia Bastianich’s latest book manages to evoke both Julia Child, who brought French cooking to the American kitchen, and Marcella Hazan, who did the same for Italian cooking a little more than a decade later. The layout of the book, with more than one recipe per page and no photographs, also suggests an earlier time. Along with over 400 recipes, general information is an important part of the book with glossaries for ingredients, tools and terms. Lidia’s daughter is co-author with her mother and son Joe is also in the family business. Lidia comes across as a sort of huggable nonna with a strong, practical entrepreneurial streak – and a style of recipe writing that is refreshingly less prescriptive.

The Mission Chinese Food Cookbook
Danny Bowien and Chris Ying
Ecco Press, 2015. 336 pp. $43.50.

Even if you cook nothing else from this book, try the red braise inspired Smoked Cola BBQ Sauce. In the recipe it is used with pig’s tail but it works with beef, duck, chicken and pork belly. Sauce aside, what makes this book truly engaging is the narrative. Still only 33, Danny Bowien, who started Mission Chinese Food as a pop-up, was born in Korean then adopted into a white family in Oklahoma but suffered the loss of his adoptive mother when he was young. From being the lone Asian in his neighbourhood to working in fine dining restaurants, he relates his experiences with remarkable insight. His exchange with Rene Redzepi on the pitfalls of success should be required reading for anyone in the restaurant business.

Lucky Peach Presents 101 Easy Asian Recipes
Peter Meehan and the Editors of Lucky Peach
Clarkson Potter, 2015. 272 pp. $45.00.

With the funky retro illustrations and flavour- trumps-all attitude that make the magazine so popular, this collection of simple though not necessarily authentic Asian recipes is likely to win over the younger crowd. The scallion pancakes are easy to make (as long as the dough waiting to be rolled is kept covered) and cumin lamb is another simple yet satisfying dish.

True North
Derek Damman and Chris Johns
HarperCollins, 2015. 288 pp. $40.00.

The owner of Montreal’s DNA and Maison Publique (in partnership with Jamie Oliver) Derek Damman teamed up with food writer Chris Johns to present a blend of heritage and modern Canadian cooking, using European inspiration to bring out the best in our indigenous ingredients. One of the fine examples is the wild pheasant with immature juniper, speck and pine mushrooms which morphed out of a white truffle dish from Piedmont. Lardo with strawberries is a spectacular twist on the Italian combination of lardo and melon. The fish and seafood recipes should not be missed. 

Goodness: Recipes & Stories
Peter Neal and Chris Neal
Blakeman Books, 2015. 328 pp. $29.95.

The Neal brothers, small batch masters, have long been committed to whole and natural ingredients. In their new book their collection of simple, satisfying recipes meet inspirational stories. With contributions from chefs and others in the food industry – including Jamie Kennedy, Lora Kirk, Carl Heinrich, Vikram Vij and Nick Saul – along with stories about sustainability and education, this book is about making good food accessible. Easy-to-make dishes like braised beef shank with celery and spicy pork noodles are likely to become family staples. 50% of profits from the sale of the book go to Community Food Centres Canada, an organization that brings people together to grow, cook, share and advocate for good food.

Yotam Ottolenghi and Ramael Scully
Appetite by Random House, 2015. 352 pp. $45.00.

While everyone else is embracing the Middle Eastern moment, Yotam Ottolenghi, who as much as anyone was responsible for this trend, is moving on to Asia. Nopi chef Ramael Scully uses Asian ingredients to enhance tuna in dishes like his tuna skewers with coconut mocha cakes and carrot and yuzu salad. Urad dal puree with hot and sour eggplant is another example of the Eastern trend. Yet there is still a foot firmly planted in the Middle East and North Africa as the chicken pastille shows. Like so many other books emanating from haute cuisine establishments, a finished plate usually calls for multiple preparations. Whether this is what fans want from Yotam Ottolenghi remains to be seen.

Per la Famiglia: Memories and Recipes of Southern Italian Home Cooking
Emily Richards
Whitecap Books, 2015. 234 pp. $29.95.


Born out of a desire to preserve generations-old recipes, this book is a compilation of the traditional dishes Emily Richards grew up with in a family of Italian immigrants. Ingredients like mascarpone and pancetta, once specialty items in Canadian stores, are now widely available and these recipes are well suited for the home cook – as any good family recipe should be. Staples like chicken stock and tomato sauce are good starting points, while recipes for mortadella mousse and red pepper and prosciutto stuffed pork roast are sure crowd pleasers.