Home cooks of across the country will take to the kitchen tomorrow to make a Thanksgiving feast for their loved ones. If you’re still looking for recipes we’ve got a roundup of the best cookbooks of the year. And if you prefer to be a dinner guest instead of the chef, these books make great thank you and holiday gifts.


  • Tanya Steel Editor-in-chief, Epicurious.com


  • 13:06:42

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, all the possible book choices you could possibly use for your winter reading. But first, for many home cooks, tomorrow is the Super Bowl, the Oscars and the finale of Top Chef, all rolled into one. They've sharpened their knives, honed their technique, tracked down obscure ingredients and are ready to put their skills to the test.

  • 13:07:21

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIMost of their feasts, however simple or complex, will start with a single recipe. And with the holiday shopping season following close on Thanksgiving's heels, we've got the inside scoop on cookbooks, sure to inspire you or the chef in your life in the kitchen year-round. Joining us by telephone from New York is Tanya Steel, editor and chief of Epicurious.com, home to nearly 200,000 recipes and a vibrant of community of food lovers. Tanya Steel, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:07:51

    MS. TANYA STEELKojo, thank you for having me. It's wonderful to be with you.

  • 13:07:53

    NNAMDIA couple of the books you recommend have an emphasis on technique. Is mastering different methods of cooking the new frontier for home cooks?

  • 13:08:04

    STEELI think so, you know. You really, you can't you know run before you can walk. And so you really do need to understand the hows and the whys of cooking. You know, that's something that Julia Childs really drove home. One of the cookbooks that we mention that really does that is "Ruhlman's Twenty." Michael Ruhlman is a renowned cookbook author and writer. And he really focuses his cookbook on the 20 most important techniques you need to know when you're cooking. So that way you can really kind of understand the basics and then get some more technical complicated dishes. (unintelligible) ...

  • 13:08:48

    NNAMDIMichael Ruhlman, Michael Ruhlman...

  • 13:08:50


  • 13:08:50

    NNAMDIWhy does that name sound familiar? Oh, he was on our show on November 2nd, when we had a broadcast on food apps, that's what it is. But please go ahead, Tanya.

  • 13:09:01

    STEELOh, hopefully, he mentioned Epicurious as an app. He breaks his book down into very basic things like eggs and butter and dough and soup and really explains how to work with those ingredients and those techniques. So that you understand that the basics behind, say, a vinaigrette or a braising and then you can take it to the next level and improvise on your own.

  • 13:09:26

    NNAMDIWell, suffice it to say that if Michael didn't mention Epicurious as app on that broadcast, not only is it being mentioned now, but I will review that broadcast, second by second and if he didn't mention you, I'll never speak with him again. How about "Cook This Now" by Melissa Clark?

  • 13:09:43

    STEELThat is such a great book. We are huge fans of Melissa's at Epicurious. And she really kind of takes the home cook at hand and explains, you know, this is what you should make this month. It's all very seasonal. She's got a 120 recipes and it's divided by month. And each month there's a lot of tips about what's in the market at that point.

  • 13:10:08

    STEELAnd how to tweak a recipe and make it a different variation so that you never feel like your repertoire is old or stale. And we just love her kind of intimate, friendly, accessible tone. She really kind of takes the home cook by the hand and says, look, you can do this. It's very easy, it's delicious. You know, you should make this for your family now.

  • 13:10:30

    NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, you should know that all of the books mentioned this hour you'll be able to find on our website, kojoshow.org. Right now, we're talking with Tanya Steel, editor and chief of Epicurious.com, about the best cookbooks of the year, Epicurious.com being home to nearly 200,000 recipes and a vibrant community of food lovers.

  • 13:10:48

    NNAMDIIf you've recently picked up a cookbook that you love, tell us about it. Call us at 800-433-8850 or go to our website kojoshow.org and tell us there or you can send us a tweet @kojoshow. Tanya, modernists cuisine may be out of reach for most home cooks, both in price and scope. But you recommend a more user friendly book that covers a lot of the same methods.

  • 13:11:13

    STEELThat's true. Heston Blumenthal is a renowned chef in England. He's got -- he's most famous for his restaurant called "Fat Duck" in Bray. But he is of that modernist cuisine movement. And his book is a little bit more accessible to the home cook, although there are some weird recipes that do call for something like a refractometer or nitrous oxide. I mean, I don't even know where you go to get these things. But then he's got other ones that are much more kind of down home and that you definitely would recognize in your kitchen and want to make.

  • 13:11:48

    STEELFor instance, he makes some really delicious British classics. I'm actually from England so I really appreciate them. Like Shepard's pie and, you know, steak and kidney pie and we have a recipe from his book on Epicurious called Triple-cooked Chips, which I have to say, I really want to make this week. It sounds delicious.

  • 13:12:07

    NNAMDIIf you're interested in knowing more about modernist cuisine, you can go into our archives for our show that we did on August 10th where we talked with Nathan Myhrvold about that. Tanya, meatless Monday's are taking off across the country and you offer up a vegetarian cookbook from an unusual source, a chef who is an avowed meat eater.

  • 13:12:27

    STEELWell, you know, I figure that who better to tell you how to eat a delicious vegetarian cuisine then someone who really loves meat because he's really searching for the flavor in every dish that he makes. So Yotam Ottolenghi, and that's such a fantastic name...

  • 13:12:43

    NNAMDIYotam Ottolenghi.

  • 13:12:44

    STEEL...yes. Isn't that great?

  • 13:12:46


  • 13:12:47

    STEELHe owns a restaurant in London that's actually a very famous vegetarian restaurant and he's had it for a long time and he's written for the Guardian, a vegetarian column for a long time. And he really makes vegetables and grains -- he takes them to a whole new level and makes it so it flavorful and you won't miss the meat at all. And I love the way he's divided his book. He has chapters like Funny Onions and Zucchini and other squashes and peppers. And he really tries to bring a strong flavor to every dish that he tells you how to make.

  • 13:13:21

    NNAMDIAnother of your favorite things, it is my understanding, is ice cream. Still I was surprised to see a book about making it on your list but I think I've heard rave reviews of "Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams." I know I've heard them because we have an intern here by the name of Katelin Langford (sp?) who is from Ohio and who raves about Jeni's ice creams all the time. So I guess it's good to know that I don’t have to go to Ohio to check it out, Tanya.

  • 13:13:49

    STEELThat's right. And in fact, I think Jeni's will mail order ice cream if you don't want to make it at home. But luckily for many of us, she did come out with a book called "Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home." And her ice cream is very -- it uses familiar ingredients, but it's actually very esoteric flavors and they come together beautifully. She makes things like a chocomole sundae which has cayenne ice cream and praline sauce and a little bit of cinnamon sugar-spiked coating that you put on the top of the ice cream. She's also known for flavors like wild berry lavender and something called beat cake with black walnuts. We look...

  • 13:14:30

    NNAMDIStop. You're making me light headed. I got to go to the telephone. Go ahead, go ahead, Tanya.

  • 13:14:35

    STEELWe decided to include this book because we're -- A, we're huge ice cream fans. I personally eat a bowl of ice cream every night of my life. I don't see the point of living, if you can't do that.

  • 13:14:45

    NNAMDIEvery night, Tanya?

  • 13:14:46

    STEEL(word?) every night. Yep. So I have to exercise a lot every day.

  • 13:14:50


  • 13:14:51

    STEELBut she makes...

  • 13:14:52

    NNAMDIWe exercise so that we can eat ice cream, I understand that.

  • 13:14:55

    STEELExactly. Exactly, there's trade off's in life. But Jeni makes it kind of easy. All you need is an ice cream maker and you can buy a really cheap one, you know, at all the stores like Target for $20. It's essentially just kind of -- heating up a cream or a sauce and then you're freezing it and adding in different ingredients. We got a recipe from her for goat cheese ice cream with roasted red cherries, which I haven't made yet, but it sounds amazing.

  • 13:15:22

    STEELAnd I don't know if you've ever had goat cheese ice cream. Have you had?

  • 13:15:24

    NNAMDINo, I have not.

  • 13:15:26

    STEELOh, my God, it's so delicious because it's got this kind of savory sweetness to it. It's a very interesting kind of delicate flavor that a lot of chefs are using. And so Jeni took it upon herself to make a goat cheese ice cream with roasted red cherries. Which sounds incredible, I can't wait to try it.

  • 13:15:44

    NNAMDIWe have a number of recommendations from listeners. Let's start with Mary in Washington, D.C. Mary, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:15:52

    MARYOh, great. I was thinking about the Barefoot Contessa series which is absolutely fantastic. And I don't think it's been mentioned yet. She brings such a joy to cooking and her photography in the book is amazing. It just makes you want to be a starting chef and then also a better chef. So I wanted to mention the Barefoot Contessa series by Ina Garten. I don't think it's been mentioned yet.

  • 13:16:15

    NNAMDIIt has not and so thank you very much for mentioning it, Mary.

  • 13:16:19

    MARYGreat, thanks, happy...

  • 13:16:19

    NNAMDICare to comment at all on that Tanya?

  • 13:16:22

    STEELYeah, we're huge fans of Ina Gartner's (sic) at Epicurious and we actually have a ton of recipes if you want to search for -- if you just add the -- put the word Ina Gartner in the search field, you'll find a whole bunch of them. And what's so great about her is her food is so kind of straight forward and accessible and delicious and beautiful. And it really is seasonal and it takes advantage of the local produce and you know really kind of celebrates all the great American ingredients that we have.

  • 13:16:51

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Mary. Here's Julia in Washington, D.C. Julie, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:16:57

    JULIEHi, Kojo. I just wanted to recommend Barton Seaver's cookbook "For Cod and Country." I met him at the farmers market one time and it's just great cookbook for like small fish, things that I never really thought to cook. And they're really easy and really tasty.

  • 13:17:10

    NNAMDII'm glad you brought that up. Barton was on June 22nd, if you want to go look in our archives. He came, in fact, to talk about "Cod and Country", probably wouldn't have invited him if we knew he was walking around to all these markets shilling his book. But he's one of our favorite guests. Familiar with that at all, Tanya?

  • 13:17:29

    STEELYou know, I haven't seen that book. I've actually heard of it, but I haven't seen it with my own eyes and so now I'm definitely going to go ahead and buy it now that I've got that great recommendation.

  • 13:17:39

    NNAMDIYeah, Julia, thank you very much for recommending Barton's book. Tanya, food inspires writers and other realms. You recommend a trio of memoirs with strong food ties. Tell us about "Blood, Bones & Butter."

  • 13:17:53

    STEELOh, my gosh, yes. Speaking of great chefs, Gabrielle Hamilton is a chef, a long time New York City chef. She has a place called Prune. And she is one of the triple threats in that she is a fantastic chef, it turns out she's a great writer and she's a wonderful person to boot. So she has written a memoir about how she became a chef and her childhood which was kind of a very interesting childhood.

  • 13:18:27

    STEELAnd her traveling to Europe, specifically Turkey and Greece and France where she really learned a lot that influenced her own cooking. But it -- I have to say it's a really fascinating book. If you want to learn about what it's like to educate yourself and to become, you know, a world class renowned chef and do it on your own terms, then "Blood, Bones & Butter" is a fantastic book.

  • 13:18:53

    NNAMDIHow about "Day of Honey" by Annia Ciezadlo?

  • 13:19:00

    STEELThat is a beautifully written book. She -- this is actually an American who -- I think she's of Greek origin rather and she meets and marries someone who's from Lebanon and goes around the Middle East and sees firsthand what it's like to kind of live in the middle of a war and how families adjust and people survive and what the connection of food is to them and how important it is. It's a really very evocative, beautiful, fascinating book that will kind of bring you to a whole nether world that you never knew existed.

  • 13:19:41

    NNAMDIAnd then finally "A Tiger in the Kitchen."

  • 13:19:46

    STEELYeah, that is such a great book by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan. It's another memoir and she's actually an old Wall Street Journal fashion reporter. And she wrote about her year of going back and forth between New York and Singapore , where her family's actually from.

  • 13:20:02

    NNAMDIWhere she was born.

  • 13:20:04

    STEELYeah, Singapore. And Singapore's actually one of those places that people don't know that much about and has more of a culinary history and iconography than we actually realize. And so she kind of explores her way through the Singapore cuisine and writes about it in kind of a hilarious and fascinating manner. And I can't recommend it more if you're interested in reading about kind of a growing up in that type of world. And what it's like to be in Singapore and the experience of cooking and eating there.

  • 13:20:42

    NNAMDITanya, thank you so much for joining us.

  • 13:20:45

    STEELMy pleasure. Thanks so much for having me.

  • 13:20:47

    NNAMDITanya Steel is the editor-in-chief of Epicurious.com, home to nearly 200,000 recipes in a vibrant community of food lovers. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, all of the reading choices you could wish for for your winter reading. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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