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The Year's Seven Best Cookbooks

Katherine Guzman | November 26, 2013 | Food & Drink Story Eat and Drink

Cowgirl Creamery Cooks by Sue Conley and Peggy Smith; Chronicle Books, $35
Brought to you by the first ladies of cheese, this book takes you from the pasture to the plate, with everything from recipes for indulgences such as Sweet Smoky Blue and Bacon Soufflé to tips on making your own fromage blanc. Don’t stop at one cheese: To build a great grilled cheese, says Conley, “mix different combinations of cheeses. Try a melting cheese like our Wagon Wheel, combined with fromage blanc and something like parmesan—you know, salty and tangy. It’ll have a perfect, soft, melty texture.”

Manresa, an Edible Reflection by David Kinch; Ten Speed Press, $50
The photography alone in the new book from Manresa’s chef-owner is worthy of two Michelin stars and will certainly make your coffee table sparkle. For your friend the culinarian, wrap it up with a sous-vide machine for an appropriate pairing. Don't wimp out: Lots of these recipes have different components, but the components themselves are not that difficult, promises Kinch. "We encourage some of the [less experienced] cooks to try the more ambitious recipes." For this, set aside a day and turn to the Black Sesame Bavois, Strawberry, Fennel dessert--which has six recipes within the recipe.

One Good Dish by David Tanis; Artisan books, $25.95
This newest opus from the New York Times columnist and former Chez Panisse chef is packed with recipes so simple and delicious (hello, Save-Your- Life Garlic Soup) that you’ll want to cook the whole book. Make this if nothing else: “Garlic toast is one of the simplest recipes in the book,” says Tanis. “It’s toasted bread rubbed with garlic and a little sprinkling of good olive oil, and it’s the best thing in the world.”

The Art of Simple Food II by Alice Waters; Potter, $35
In the sequel to her 2007 Art of Simple Food, the earth mother of California cuisine offers up dishes like Spicy Korean Pork Stew with Kimchee—recipes that don’t exactly scream Chez Panisse—infused with her signature garden-centric style. Find your inner hippie: “I always hated whole grain anything, especially pasta,” says Waters. “It always felt too much like health food. But I’ve changed my view. Everyone is experimenting with whole grains at the moment, myself included.”

In The Charcuterie by Taylor Boetticher and Toponia Miller; Ten Speed Press, $40
Cure a salami, butcher a pig, or whip up some duck liver mousse with this guide to making meaty goods, from the duo that brought the Bay Area its beloved Fatted Calf. Be grateful for your cold Victorian: “With the right amount of curing salt, you can cure anything at home—so long as it’s not too hot,” says Boetticher. “Find somewhere without direct sunlight or huge temperature fluctuations, like a dark closet or pantry. In the city, we don’t have to worry about that too much.”

The New California Wine by Jon Bonné; Ten Speed Press, $35
The San Francisco Chronicle’s wine editor will give any novice the confidence to chat about the California wine renaissance and its leanings toward a lighter-bodied, more global point of view. Bring this to the party: “Absolutely everyone should try Matthiasson Napa Valley white wine,” says Bonné. “It’ll change people’s perception of Napa almost instantly.”

Tartine Book no. 3 by Chad Robertson; Chronicle Books, $40
The Tartine Bakery bread guru dives into the entire spectrum of whole grains with recipes like Double-Fermented Pumpernickel Bread. Don’t worry, though—there’s also sweet stuff, including Maple Sugar-Glazed Brioche. Use your maternal instincts: “Just take care of [your dough starter] like it’s a pet,” says Robertson. “Treat it like it’s a living thing. Be aware of the environment that you’re keeping it in, and stay on top of maintenance feedings.”

Salted Chocolate-Rye Cookies: As found in Tartine Book no. 3

Rye has proven a fine substitute for wheat in cookie applications, adding a tender texture and a flavor that naturally complements chocolate. Delicate rye doughs require particular finesse; this fudgy cookie seasoned with salt is an easy place to start. YIELD: 4 Dozen Small Cookies
2 2/3 cups chopped bittersweet chocolate (70%), preferably Valrhona
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter
3⁄4 cup whole-grain dark rye flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1⁄2 tsp. salt
4 large eggs, at room temperature 11⁄2 cups muscovado sugar
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
Good-quality sea salt, such as Maldon or flaky fleur de sel, for topping
Place a saucepan filled with 1 inch of water over medium heat. bring to a simmer. Set a heatproof bowl over simmering water, taking care that the bottom of the bowl is not touching water. melt chocolate and butter together, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.
In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt, and set aside.
Place eggs in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Whip on medium-high, adding sugar a little bit at a time, until all is incorporated. Turn the mixer to high and whip until eggs have nearly tripled in volume, about 6 minutes.
Reduce the mixer speed to low and add melted chocolate-butter mixture and vanilla extract. mix to combine, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed, then mix in flour mixture just until combined. Dough will be very soft and loose.
Refrigerate dough in the mixing bowl until it is just firm to the touch, about 30 minutes (the longer it’s chilled, the harder it is to scoop; if it chills for over an hour, remove it from the fridge to warm to room temperature before scooping).
Preheat the oven to 350°. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. remove dough from the fridge. Scoop rounded tablespoons onto sheets, spacing the balls of dough 2 inches apart. Top each mound of dough with a few flakes of salt, pressing gently so it adheres. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until cookies have completely puffed up and have a smooth bottom and rounded top. Remove the sheets from the oven and let cool slightly (cookies may flatten a bit when cooling), then transfer cookies to a wire rack and cool completely.

Originally published in the December issue of San Francisco

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