Publishers tend to drop their best and often heftiest cookbooks at this time of year. Here are a few of our favorites:
“Appetites: A Cookbook” by Anthony Bourdain (Ecco, $37.50): This is chef/writer/TV star Anthony Bourdain’s first since the 2004 “Les Halles Cookbook.” You’ll find recipes for tuna salad, chicken pot pie, and macaroni and cheese. And if all that sounds disturbingly, well, normal, rest assured that there are also recipes for things that sound more Bourdain-like — halibut poached in duck fat, budae jiggae, or Korean Army stew.
“How to Bake Everything” by Mark Bittman (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $35): Mark Bittman, the former New York Times food columnist, has written 20 books. His latest is in the vein of his popular cookbook, “How to Cook Everything.” Because cooking is different from baking, and because we can never have too many dessert-focused cookbooks, especially in time for the holiday season. It’s a predictably massive book, with the heft and presentation of Webster’s dictionary. With over 2,000 recipes, plenty of the variations that the author is known for, and many step-by-steps and instructive sidebars, the book is exhaustive. But it’s also driven by Bittman’s folksy voice, which leavens the didacticism and makes the book engaging and comfortable.
“Dorie’s Cookies” by Dorie Greenspan (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $35): Dorie Greenspan has written 11 cookbooks and many columns, run a baking club and a popular food blog, and done more than probably anyone to bring French macarons into our kitchens. But she has not, until now, written a book specifically about cookies. That sound you hear is holiday bakers clapping. Greenspan gives recipes for 170 cookies: classic cookies, bar cookies, savory cookies, refrigerator cookies and maybe best of all, cookies from her now-closed Beurre & Sel New York City cookie shop. This is a nice big purple book filled with cookie photography from Davide Luciano and lots of handy tips on techniques, gear, storing (see: holiday gifting) and what Greenspan calls “playing around.”
“Lucky Peach Presents Power Vegetables!” by Peter Meehan and the editors of Lucky Peach (Clarkson Potter, $35): The latest in the series of cookbooks from the Lucky Peach folks, “Power Vegetables!” comes on the heels of “The Wurst of Lucky Peach,” a cookbook devoted to sausages. Consider it a kind of corrective, or at least something to appease the vegetarians among us. This book, written with Lucky Peach editor Peter Meehan on point, divides said vegetable recipes into various camps: starters, salads, pies, soups, etc. That said, this isn’t really about telling us all to cook seasonally or specifically healthfully but rather how to “approach vegetable cookery from a Lucky Peach perspective.” Which is to say, a book that’s “98 percent fun and 2 percent stupid.” This is not a completely vegetarian cookbook — there’s fish here — and there are caveats — no pasta recipes, no grain bowls — that make it less predictable, more idiosyncratic. Because zucchini recipes can be hipsterized too.
“EveryDayCook: This Time It’s Personal” by Alton Brown (Ballantine Books, $35): Alton Brown, of course, is the former host of “Good Eats” — which ran for 14 seasons on the Food Network — and some other shows, as well as author of eight cookbooks. His latest, Brown’s first in five years, is composed of the 100 or so recipes he actually cooks for himself. What this means is less of the MacGyver-ing that he was known for and more everyday stuff, recipes for butterscotch pudding and one-pot chicken and little brown biscuits.
“The Red Rooster Cookbook” by Marcus Samuelsson, with Roy Finamore and April Reynolds (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $37.50):
When chef Marcus Samuelsson opened his restaurant Red Rooster in Harlem in 2010, it was as kind of a mission statement. Named for a neighborhood speak-easy where James Baldwin used to drink, staffed with people from the community, serving “cross-cultural soul food,” the restaurant was Samuelsson’s ode to Harlem and its culture. There were many nested ironies in the project, of course, coming from a chef who was born in Ethiopia and raised in Sweden. But the chef was embracing his adopted neighborhood, and the cookbook that comes out of that project is a way to further it. There are recipes for brown butter biscuits, jerk bacon and baked beans, whole fried fish with grits, and Red Rooster hot sauce.
“Land of Fish and Rice: Recipes From the Culinary Heart of China” by Fuchsia Dunlop (Norton, $35): For Fuchsia Dunlop’s fifth book, we are in Jiangnan, in the Lower Yangtze region of China, home to the city of Shanghai and known as “the land of fish and rice” — hence the title of the cookbook. Dunlop, who is based in London, has written a number of lauded books on Chinese cooking, including cookbooks on Sichuan and Hunan cuisine. Threaded throughout the book are useful sections: on regional drinks and useful equipment, on how to make basic recipes and how to plan a Chinese menu. Dunlop’s prose is engaging and informative, and the recipes she chooses encompass the complex and the happily simple: stir-fried lettuce, for example, has four ingredients and two steps. You will learn much about regional Chinese food, and you will want to make these recipes (magical radishes, Monk Wensi’s tofu thread soup) as soon as reasonably possible.
About 4 hours, plus cooling time. Serves 12 to 16
6 tablespoons butter
6 tablespoons flour
1 quart milk
Salt and pepper
Pinch freshly ground nutmeg, optional
In a medium, heavy-bottom saucepan, heat the butter over medium heat until it foams and subsides. Whisk in the flour and stir it well using a wooden spoon, incorporating it into the butter until a dry paste forms (a roux). Reduce the heat and continue to stir, taking care not to let the mixture brown.
Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, bring the milk to a simmer, then gradually whisk it into the pan with the roux, continuing to whisk until the mixture is smooth. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and a pinch of pepper, or to taste, along with the nutmeg, if using. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring regularly, until the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon, about 10 minutes. This makes about 4 cups bechamel.
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 large white or yellow onion, finely chopped
2 large or 3 medium carrots, finely chopped
3 ribs celery, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 pound chicken livers, trimmed of connective tissue and fat and finely chopped
3/4 pound ground beef chuck
3/4 pound ground veal
3/4 pound ground pork
3/4 cup tomato paste (about 6 ounces)
1 cup Vermentino, Trebbiano or other Tuscan white wine
1 1/2 cups milk
2 bay leaves
About 1 pound dry, flat lasagne noodles
4 cups bechamel sauce
3/4 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
6 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced
To make the sauce, in a medium, heavy-bottom pot, heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion, carrots, celery, garlic and thyme and season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and several grinds of pepper, or to taste. Cook, stirring regularly using a wooden spoon, until the vegetables are tender and have released their juices, 7 to 9 minutes. Stir in the livers and cook over high heat for 2 minutes, then add the beef, veal and pork, stirring and breaking up over high heat. Season with 1 teaspoon salt and several grinds pepper, or to taste. Continue to cook over high heat until the meat is brown, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan as necessary to keep the meat and vegetables from scorching.
Once the meat is browned, stir in the tomato paste over medium heat. Cook for about 20 minutes, stirring regularly, to marry the flavors. Add the wine, bring to a boil and cook until the wine is reduced by half, then add the milk and bay leaves and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, stirring occasionally. You may need to add a bit of water (or chicken or veal stock, if you have it) to thin the sauce if it thickens too much.
Taste the sauce and season with 1 teaspoon salt and several grinds of pepper, or as needed. Remove from heat and stir to release the steam and allow it to cool slightly. Skim the fat off the top with a ladle and discard.
Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
Coat the inside of a 13-inch by 9-inch baking dish with the remaining tablespoon oil. Cover the bottom of the dish with a layer of bechamel. Sprinkle over some grated cheese, then top with a layer of noodles. top the noodles with a layer of Bolognese sauce, and repeat with the bechamel, grated cheese, noodles, and Bolognese until the pan is filled to the top. The top layer should be Bolognese, dotted with bechamel, with thin slices of mozzarella laid across the top.
Place the baking dish on a foil-lined sheet pan and bake in the oven until the lasagna is browned on top and beginning to bubble, about 50 minutes. Remove and set aside to cool. If you must serve it the day you’ve made it, set it aside to rest for 15 minutes before slicing. For best results, allow the lasagna to cool completely and refrigerate overnight. The next day, reheat at 350 degrees, covered loosely with foil, until bubbling. Remove from heat and rest 20 minutes before serving.