Five cookbooks from 2015 that I liked a lot

Hey, here's a new twist on an old favourite: a best-of 2015 list when we're already almost in MARCH (get fucked) of 2016. I've been busy, but I love all these cookbooks so much that I couldn't not Do A Thing about them. And I'm glad I did, especially for vanity reasons, cause look how nice these photos came out! Sav is a gem and a genius and working with her is one of my fave parts of this whole goddamn thing - Thanks Sav!

Photo by Savannah van der Niet

Calling this a best-of is a bit wrong, cause so many terrific cookbooks came out this year that I didn't get to buy (even with a bookshop job those things are pricey as hell), like Nopi (from my guy Ottolenghi) and (also my guy) Adam Liaw's newy, AND Summer Berries and Autumn Fruits from Annie Rigg, which looked insanely beautiful and inspired. But from the (way too many) books I actually bought this year, these ones were my faves. 

Lucky Peach: 101 Easy Asian Recipes
Peter Meehan and the Editors of Lucky Peach

Photo by Savannah van der Niet

I love the Lucky Peach magazine so much it’s starting to seem fake. But it aint; they taught me that food writing didn’t need to be pretentious and over-serious, that it could be really fucking fun and cool. They’ve also produced some of the best longform food journalism around (you gotta read this piece about prison meals) and know how to tackle important topics as well as making a magazine that’s readable and exciting. Their first cookbook, 101 Easy Asian Recipes, brings all that irreverence and cool to ‘100% inauthentic Asian cooking’. They know how ridiculous the title is – invoking the special kitsch of those ‘Jimmies Asian Kitchen’ restaurants that were next to the internet café at every small seaside town you visited as a kid.

Photo by Savannah van der Niet

Meehan and the other Lucky Peach editors (including, of course, Best Dude Ever David Chang) tackle gloriously unhip recipes like Moo-Shu Vegetable Pancakes (which I made so glamorous here), Sweet and Sour Soup, ‘Mall Chicken’ (you know what it is – that incredibly sticky-sweet glazed gristle from every foodcourt) and Satay Skewers with a love and skill that you won’t find anywhere else. There’s also the wacky stuff like Pesto Ramen and ‘Asian’ ‘Ragus’ that push the boundaries of cusines and tastebuds. It’s also genuinely funny, which is so rare and special in a cookbook. I love everything about this book.

The New Nordic
Simon Bajada

Photo by Savannah van der Niet

Essentially, cookbooks are aspirational: we buy them because we wanna be the kind of people who cook and eat beautiful things every day. Whether this happens or not is kind of irrelevant – every new cookbook is like a tiny reset button where everything is possible. No cookbook this year has been as aspirational for me as The New Nordic. The recipes here are often challenging, in flavour and technique, but every recipe inspires excitement and curiosity. I’ve never been to any Nordic countries, but in within these  pages it’s a place of vibrancy and of extreme beauty. Now I want to go to there for more than just the blonde dudes (though them too. G’day.)

Photo by Savannah van der Niet

I cooked one of the simpler meals for this blog: a Sill (pickled herring), Dill and Omelette Sandwich – and it was perfectly balanced and full of flavour. When (if) it gets cold again I’m itching to try heartier stuff, like the Scallops, Porridge and Radish, or Beef Brisket, Spiced Wine and Cauliflower Steaks. With recipes for traditional open sandwiches, Waffles and Gravlax, and lovely light soups and salads, there’s something for any season and slightly adventurous palate. And oh my god the sweets: Almond Milk Ice, Redcurrents & Yoghurt Loaf, or Baked Apple, Baked Chocolate and Chestnut… I’m gonna stop listing recipes now, but you get the picture – a little bit weird, and a lot exciting.

Honey & Co: The Baking Book
Itamar Srulovich and Sarit Packer

Photo by Savannah van der Niet

As has been well documented on earlier blogs on this site: I can’t bake for shit. I refuse to weigh or measure things because I have the patience of a tiny sugar-crazed baby. Unfortunately, I also AM a BIG sugar-crazed baby and love cakes and baked sweets more than anything, and not being able to make them myself en-masse has haunted me daily. But Honey & Co. are giving me hope. Their beautiful fusion of Middle-Eastern and English baking techniques and flavours inspired me to give baking another go – and I’m actually cooking stuff that’s edible!

Photo by Savannah van der Niet

Sure, I might never pull off something as perfect as their plaited Tahini and White Chocolate Loaf, or as delicate as the Raspberry and Rose Kadaif Nests, but simple treats like Date and Pine Nut Maamol Cookies and the above Peach, Vanilla & Fennel Seed Mini Loaves (ok mine are obviously muffins – but do you own a mini-loaf tin? Of course not. No one should.) are within my shaky grasp. This is a lovely cookbook with straighforward recipes that I’ve never seen anywhere else, written in a sweet and conversational style. Buy it especially if you’re a good baker, and make me that goddamn Coffee, Cardamom & Walnut Cake.

Tokyo Cult Recipes
Maori Murota

Photo by Savannah van der Niet

Izakaya-style Japanese resturants are going TF OFF in Brisbane at the moment, which is awesome because I’d eat Japanese food every day of my life if I could. However, there’s more to love about it than just sushi, yakitori and fried chicken, and Maori Murota has given us a broad and loving take on the more popular and delicious recipes in Japanese Home Cooking. 

Photo by Savannah van der Niet

On the surface, it’s probably the best looking and best designed cookbook of this whole bunch, with intimate photography from the streets and homes of Japan and well as unpretentiously lovely food styling. Then there’s the recipes: ranging from traditional on-to-go lunches like Yaki Soba and Curry Udon to hearty homecooked hotpots for sharing, and Stuffed Cabbage and Sake Steamed Clams for impressive snacks. I cooked one of my favourite simple dinner recipes: Rice with Green Tea and Grilled Salmon for this blog, because I love how deceptively flavourful and delicate it is. Also: it looks really great. I scoffed it down about 5 seconds after these photos were taken.

Cornersmith: Recipes from the Café & Picklery
Alex Elliott-Howery & James Grant

Photo by Savannah van der Niet

Here’s something: I don’t really like pickles. I don’t mind a bit of pickled cucumber on a cracker with lot of cheese, or Japanese pickles when they’re mixed with rice, and I’ll eat kimchi (as long as it’s fried in a pancake) but otherwise fermented foods just don’t really do it for me. So it says a lot that this book, which, at least on the surface, is all about pickling, is one of my favourites of the year.

Photo by Savannah van der Niet

Mostly I like how cheerful and positive it is – two things I generally hate! It makes making your own pantry items, jams and sauces (which I DO love) look easy, achievable and miraculously unpretentious. There’s also plenty of recipes for whole meals using the fruits of your preserving labours – like Meatballs, Broadbeans and Yoghurt (with your homemade tomato sauce) and Escabeche of Whiting (hand-crafted aoli, of course) that are fresh, balanced and interesting while still being absolutely achievable for a weeknight meal.  I love the impressive little snacks too – like the Roasted Eggplant & Ricotta with Walnuts & Pomegranate that I made in these pics, and the Red Cabbage, Pickled Corn, Chilli & Corriander Slaw and Citrus Braised Fennel that I’m definitely gonna make next time I need to bring something to a party that gets me compliments. 

Photo by Savannah van der Niet
Photo by Savannah van der Niet