Building Your Cookbook Library

Photo: Camille Llosa

It is October again, and along with celebrating autumn and the impending Halloween frightful festivities, it is once again National Cookbook Month!

Last year we shared with you four essentials to building your cookbook library, and this year we highlight four more beautiful books sure to educate, entertain, and transport.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of cooking is its ability to act as a passport. With the increasing availability of specialty produce procurable at nearly any grocer, the ability to be transported by a dish or flavour profile is just a sauté away.

Good cooks and cookbooks can bring diverse and globally inspired ingredients and infuse them with tried-and-true recipes. These four offerings, while a little more adventurous than typical cookbook library staples, help bring a world of flavours to your kitchen and to your plates.

Eric Werner and Mya Henry

Co-owners of the Tulum, Mexico restaurant Hartwood, Werner and Henry are truly living the dream. Inspired by the bright and tropical flavours of the jungle, they left their bustling lives in the New York City restaurant scene to open Hartwood, a rustic, fire-forged restaurant in the midst of the Yucatan jungle. The restaurant is powered by solar panels and a sparsely used gas generator. The ice is shipped in three times a day, there is one wall, and nightly they must re-varnish the wooden tables and benches to protect them from the ravages of the sky and sea. But here they have forged a following, where the likes of Rene Redzeppi of Noma fame and David Chang of Momofuku will traverse the globe for their flame-meets-food cuisine.

Essentially, the fare is Yucatan cuisine parsed by an outsider’s take, and each recipe is as ingenious as it is simple. Many options are given for ingredient substitutions; for those of us not so lucky as to be situated in the jungle, we may have difficulty locating certain items. Each dish is notable for its interplay of sweet and spicy, fresh and dried, and oil and acid.

Must try recipes:
Rib eye with pepita lime butter
Chamomile flan with candied pecans

Small Victories
Julia Turshen

From the jungles of Mexico, we travel now to upstate New York, where food veteran Julia Turshen finally pens her own humble and very approachable ode to food. You may think you don’t know of Turshen, but she has been in the food media for years, helping to develop cookbooks and television specials with the likes of Mario Batali and Gwyneth Paltrow, while also being a private chef to many an A-lister. In this, the first book solely authored by the curly-haired dynamo, she shares her love of cooking by keeping it simple – but with impressive results.

The theme throughout is ‘small victories’, celebrating the essential, simple, and must-be-mastered techniques that help make the execution of the recipes complete. These small victories can be transferred to many other recipes, giving any burgeoning or seasoned cook confidence and pride. A great addition to each recipe is the number of spin-offs she offers, which substitute ingredients or tweak the flavour profile to provide diversity and options for the home cook. Approachable and warm, this is food you want to cook.

Must try recipes:
Korean clambake
Peach and bourbon milkshake

Everything I Want to Eat: Sqirl and the New California Cooking
Jessica Koslow

Heading south again to the heart of hipster California, we get a glimpse inside one of the most raved-about breakfast and lunch spots on the west coast: Sqirl. In its inception, the small boutique eatery began as a preserves company. It showcased the rich diversity of California produce through expertly crafted jams made by communications professional turned chef, Koslow. It quickly grew a loyal following and the small workspace was expanded to an eat-in café for L.A.’s ultra cool (and yes, there is a recipe for avocado toast — it is Cali, after all). It’s not uncommon to find celebs here, hiding behind sunglasses while noshing on her thick cut, ricotta and jam laden toast, sipping a turmeric tonic.

Despite the restraints of a strictly focused breakfast and lunch service, the menu is diverse and ranges from savoury to sweet. Worthy of mention is this book’s uber-cool feel; Koslow’s communications background is apparent. The book is laid out like an indie mag, with candid, flash-heavy shots of regulars (some of whom just happen to be celebrities) interspersed with photos of her trendy food and accentuated by pull quotes from local farmers, which help to give this cookbook attitude and personality.

Must try recipes:
The grown-up kid: part 1
Squid toast

Molly On The Range
Molly Yeh

Scooting back up north to a sugar beet farm on the North Dakota/Minnesota border, we find Molly Yeh, one of the best-loved food bloggers in America and newly minted cookbook author. Yeh’s recipes are a reflection of her Chinese and Jewish heritage, years spent in New York City studying percussion at Julliard, and her eventual move to her husband’s sugar beet farm in Middle America.

Many of the creations you will find in both book and blog are true fusions that surprise and delight. This is one of those cookbooks that you actually want to read as well as cook your way through. Among her expert food photography are blog-like blocks of text that draw you in with her candor and charm: you’ll want to be her BFF. Playful and not taking itself too seriously, Molly On The Range offers you mac and cheese flow charts, intro to the ‘hot dish’ (essentially a Midwestern casserole on steroids), and a mix of middle eastern and Asian flavours that will teach you about new ingredients while remaining simple enough to execute.

Must try recipes:
Pimento cheese babka
Tahini blondie ice cream sandwiches

Photo: Camille Llosa

Photo: Camille Llosa

Camille Llosa
Camille Llosa is a freelance writer and editor who is food-obsessed. She holds a degree in Print Journalism from Sheridan College and her work focuses on finding the connections between our everyday common experiences and how they can impact our life, wellbeing, perception, and purpose.