The holidays are upon us. We’ve already started spotting Friendsgiving photos on Instagram and Facebook and Thanksgiving is next week. Whether you’re looking for a dish to wow your family with, planning a dinner party, or just storing away recipes for the January hibernation, you’ll find something wonderful in one of these new cookbooks.
Dinner at the Long Table, by Andrew Tarlow and Anna Dunn
No restaurateur has shaped the Brooklyn dining scene quite like Andrew Tarlow. When he opened Diner on New Year’s Eve 1998, on a stretch of Broadway in the shadow of the Williamsburg Bridge, it was one of the only places to eat in the area. The restaurant quickly became a neighborhood anchor, and the restaurants he’s opened since then have all served a similar purpose: to bring people together over food.
Dinner at the Long Table is (unsurprisingly) concerned with that same idea. The recipes in the cookbook, co-written with Anna Dunn, are collected into meals for different occasions. This is not a book organized by season or course. Instead, the celebration (with food as the star!) takes center stage–lunch for eight, a birthday dinner for 15, a Harvest Moon supper.
The recipes are wild: not in that they are untameable, but rather they feature the seasonal ingredients you’ve come to associate with the new Brooklyn cuisine: beets, tomatoes, fennel and herbs appear frequently. There is a Mediterranean streak running through it, too, with plenty of tapenade and green gazpacho.
The hefty tome is a delight to read because it inspires desire, not only to cook and be with friends but also to consider the beauty in simplicity. Before the many recipes, before the full-page photos of food, yes, but also groups gathering in yards and gardens, before the introduction by Tarlow’s wife and partner Kate Huling, there is a poem called “Eat Sunshine.”
To quote a few lines, taken out of order:
“spend your life thinking about dinner”
“clean your plate, share your plate, everyone eats out of the same bowl”
“don’t buy food from strangers”
“carry the spices home in your pockets”
“write a menu for every meal, even the small ones”
“invite kids in”
This generous spirit is perhaps the best apertif of all.
The Good Fork Cookbook, by Sohui Kim and Rachel Wharton
The Good Fork is celebrating its 10-year-anniversary this year, and how fitting that their cookbook would come out at the same time? Written very much like a love letter to the people who have played a role in the Red Hook restaurant’s trajectory, the cookbook feels like the restaurant itself: warm, homey, familiar, comfortable.
It is divided into five chapters, each with an introductory story and recipes. The chapters follow chronologically: House Parties starts and includes recipes cooked before the Good Fork opened, mostly for friends and family attending barbecues in Kim and her husband Ben Schneider’s backyard in Red Hook (they live around the corner from the restaurant); the second features early GF recipes and the last includes many recipes from Kim and Sherman’s year-old Korean restaurant and karaoke bar Insa, in Gowanus, including the banchan (side dishes) that accompany each barbecue order.
The Good Fork is a seasonal restaurant that was opened by a classically-trained chef of Korean heritage, and her many culinary influences make the restaurant the unique eatery it is. The same is true of the cookbook. There are recipes for shrimp and grits and chilaquiles alongside a guide for making kimchi. It works because the book’s narrative carries it across the world of flavors. Kim’s essays punctuate each chapter, like a guide. It’s a nice touch.
Red Hook plays prominently, too. When Hurricane Sandy wreacked havoc on the entire neighborhood and the GF too, the community rallied. The tale is told briefly here, but the recipes that came after the storm are loud and powerful. Creme fraiche biscuits with gochujang-honey butter? Pasta with oxtail in miso cream? Anyone? Everyone? –GK
How to Celebrate Everything by Jenny Rosenstrach
Of all the cookbooks you bring to bed—admit it, you read them in bed, too—this follow up from the woman behind Dinner: a Love Story is the one you’ll enjoy most as you prepare for all your holiday dinners. There are some timely suggestions on how to avoid “Empty Celebration Syndrome,” particularly on Thanksgiving when you get “trapped in some kind of kitchen version of Mario Kart” trying to time everything just right. Between her husband’s custom Mad Libs and her father-in-law’s poetic toasts, the basic point is simple: sure the food may be great, but if you don’t take the time to say something real, you’ll leave feeling hungry.
As you think about your Christmas and Hanukkah list, there’s also an entire section on edible gifts like biscotti. “Food is never—repeat never—the wrong answer to any gift-related question,” writes Rosenstrach, whether you order it ready made, make it yourself, or just buy the key ingredients. In one heartstring pulling example, she relays how, on Valentine’s Day, her friend brought home a grocery bag with a red bow, filled with all the ingredients for the meal she shared with her husband on their first date: Pad Thai. Instead of splurging on fancy foods, they “minced lemongrass, whisked tamarind paste, boiled rice noodles and cracked eggs together, then sat down to toast their history.” This vignette—and many others in the book—made my eyes well with tears. It’s true I do cry easily, but this is the first cookbook that made me tear up repeatedly, and made me think about all the ways to use food to bring people together and express your love. The recipes are pretty delicious, too. ˆ–Nicole Davis
Small Victories, Julia Turshen
Before opening the review copy of this book, I had no idea that Julia Turshen was a bit of an it-girl in the cookbook world, or that she was married to Grace Bonney of Design*Sponge, or even that this was a cookbook geared toward beginners. I just wanted an idea for something to cook on Wednesday night—like right before I headed to the store—and landed on Dad’s Chicken and Leeks, a super simple braise that was a total hit and that I’ve already made again, with a few adaptations (thighs only, and mince the leeks). I also roast the mushrooms in the style of her Roasted Mushrooms on Toast and add them to buttered, Parmesean-ed orzo. Holy comfort meal!
Turshen’s recipes encourage this kind of experimentation. She includes numerous variations on each recipe, what she calls Spin-Offs, so you think about them as templates you can improve upon and personalize to your liking. They don’t all come out winners at first. (The Turkey and Ricotta Meatballs needs more tinkering for my taste, starting with substituting beef or pork for the turkey, or the mix of sweet and spicy sausage she suggests in her Spin-Off.) But they encourage you to get cooking in the first place, which is half the battle. Most of us read through the ingredients of a recipe, and think, maybe one day. Turshen has a very accessible, persuasive style that makes you want to add her recipes to your rotation immediately. –ND
Food52 A New Way to Dinner, by Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs
A New Way to Dinner starts with a problem. “You’ve finished work, you’re heading home and you suddenly realize you haven’t given a lick of thought to dinner.There are a few wilting greens and piece of leftover chicken in the fridge and no time to shop…We’ve been there too,” write Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, founders of Food52.
This state of semi-constant panic over dinner, and the chicken nuggets for kids, takeout for adults solution that often arises, is one that every busy household–and who, in this day and age is part of a household that isn’t taxed for time?–grapples with. It’s nice to hear Hesser and Stubbs admit to the same problem, as they’ve made cooking their business. It’s even nicer that they’ve offereed a solution in this fantastic book.
Their “new way to dinner” proposes that we give up the notion of intensive cooking during the week, and instead spend about three hours of work in the kitchen each weekend, with simple reheating and salad-dressing tasks on weeknights. Yes, this solution requires committment, and, I will say, a real love for cooking, but it works.
The book is divided up into 16 weeks worth of meal plans–two weeks from each author for each season. There are extensive head notes at the beginning of each week with shopping lists, menu plans and even a prep list that suggests how to most efficiently cook five to six dishes at once in your kitchen. They also offer additional ways to repurpose leftovers, and shortcuts to take if you’re time crunched. And there’s dessert.
I tried an autumn week from each of the authors, and while there were tweaks I would make here and there to individual recipes, the system itself really works. As someone who is self-employed and works at home much of the time, I have more flexibility than most families, but it was a real relief to know that the fridge was stocked with meal building blocks every morning, as my husband and I discussed the dinner plan for the evening and what we needed to do to make that happen.
There are also stand-out recpies that you’ll come back to time and time again embedded in each week. There’s a barley salad with onion confit that is sure to become a staple for anyone who makes it in one of Merrill’s fall chapters and Amanda’s ricotta gnocchi recipe is in heavy rotation in my house–and stocking my freezer–these days.
My one critique is that the photography seems like it belongs to a different book. The white, wood and wainscott aesthetic belies the homey, practical nature of the recipes. These don’t look like easy family meals, they look like Edison-bulb lit restaurant food.
As I said before, you need to like to cook, since you’ll be spending a solid portion of your Sunday in the kitchen for this system to work. And, you’ll need to get some big storage containers to fit everything in your fridge. If you can embrace both of those things, Food52 may have just solved your dinner problems. –Annaliese Griffin
The Short Stack Cookbook, by Nick Fauchald and Katilyn Goal
Short Stack Editions are a series of small, beautiful cookbooks that offer a variety of recipes for a single ingredient. They’re wonderful gifts and reflect a farmer’s market, CSA ethos–what do you do when you have a pile of eggplant and you only know one eggplant recipe? How do you make more delicious things with good eggs? How do you really use a whole chicken?
The Short Stack Cookbook is organized by 18 different ingredients, including apples, bacon, butter, chicken, winter squash and brussels sprouts. I cooked nearly a dozen different recipes and found that this is a great cookbook to flip through for inspiration, less great for the consistency of the recipe writing. A winter squash and farro salad recipe suggested adding vinegar to the liquid you cook the farro in, and I will definitely do that again, but the amount, 4 cups, equal to the amount of stock, was flat out wrong. That’s a whole bottle, or more, of vinegar, and even though I halved that amount on a hunch, the salad was on the edge of too vinegary that night, and inedible the next day. Two separate apple recipes, Skillet Apple Oat-Cake and Bruised Apple Quick Bread, were just okay. A pan-roasted chicken breast with lemon pan sauce was a solid recipe that was overcomplicated by a few unnecessary steps. Many of the recipes I tried felt like they were good starts that hadn’t quite been polished into great dishes.
That said, there are a lot of good ideas in here. A pimento cheese update made with cheddar and kimchi (Kimcheese) is worth the price of admission. Same for the no-peel recipe for delicata squash and za’atar, though do yourself a favor and take out the seeds–the conceit here is that you leave them in and they get crispy. The dish would be so much better with toasted pepitas sprinkled on top. –AG