En español | There's a new crop of cookbooks out just in time for holiday gift-giving. If you need help choosing one for someone on your list (or maybe even for yourself), don't worry — we've done the reading and recipe-testing for you. (Check out the five recipes we include below.)
The following six books are our favorites because they do two things we love: inspire us to cook and ensure that what we're cooking keeps us healthy.
For empty nesters, newlyweds or anyone who needs some dinnertime inspiration: One Pan, Two Plates: More Than 70 Complete Weeknight Meals for Two by Carla Snyder (Chronicle Books, $25)
I had a hard time deciding which of the terrific recipes in this book I wanted to try. And all of the ones I finally did try were winners. Author Carla Snyder's experience as a caterer, cooking school teacher and food writer really shines through. Her recipes are clear, concise, creative — and delicious. Plus, they only use one pan, so cleanup is quick. The recipes serve two, but they easily could be doubled to serve four. The book is conveniently divided into pasta, grains and hot sandwich meals; meat dinners; poultry dinners; and fish dinners. My husband loved the One-Pan Roast Deviled Chicken, a mustardy chicken and vegetable dish.
For the frugal but health-conscious cook: Root to Stalk Cooking: The Art of Using the Whole Vegetable by Tara Duggan (Ten Speed Press, $22)
Leafy carrot tops, chard and kale stems, broccoli stalks — we normally toss these parts of the vegetable, but that's not only a waste of money, it's a waste of perfectly good nutrients. San Francisco writer Tara Duggan, who also has a small vegetable farm, has come up with a wealth of inventive ways to use nearly every part of the vegetable. Those bright green carrot tops, for example, can be a stand-in for parsley in sauces and tabbouleh salad. And the usually discarded chard and kale stems? In Duggan's Garlic-Braised Greens, the tougher stems are softened by sizzling them first with a little red pepper, garlic and olive oil, before adding in the quicker-cooking, tender chopped leaves. As a bonus, the result can be a side dish or tossed with pasta.
For those who love books big and beautiful: Bountiful: Recipes Inspired by Our Garden by Todd Porter and Diane Cu (Stewart Tabori & Chang, $35)
This book is gorgeous, which is not surprising given that Cu is a professional photographer, Porter has worked for many years in restaurants, and together the couple produce a beautiful food and travel blog (whiteonricecouple.com). Their first book is dedicated to their grandmothers, and the recipes reflect an unfussy, backyard garden approach to cooking. A good example is their bacon-studded Hearty Celery Root and Red Lentil Soup, perfect for these chilly winter months.
For the no-nonsense cook: Lidia's Commonsense Italian Cooking: 150 Delicious and Simple Recipes Anyone Can Master by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich (Knopf, $35)
A PBS cooking show star, restaurateur, prolific cookbook author, not to mention having some 40 years of experience cooking for family and friends, Lidia Bastianich has a down-to-earth style that gives cooks confidence and guarantees success. This book, written with her daughter Tanya, is geared for cooks who want to keep it quick, economical and easy, but without sacrificing any of the comforting goodness and big flavor we associate with home-style Italian cooking. Think pleasing pasta dishes like Penne with Ricotta and Mushrooms.
For those who like to pay it forward: Hedgebrook Cookbook: Celebrating Radical Hospitality by Denise Barr and Julie Rosten (She Writes Press, $24.95, available at cookbook.hedgebrook.org)
If you like your money to help a good cause, consider this worthy book. Hedgebrook, founded in 1988, is located on Whidbey Island, north of Seattle, and provides two- to six-week residencies for female writers from around the world. The women are given the solitude to focus on their work during the day, but in the evening they gather in the farmhouse kitchen to share a home-cooked meal. This book is a compilation of some of the best-loved recipes for gatherings from Sunday brunch to dessert, including a lovely Banana Cardamom Bread spiced with rum-soaked currants and walnuts.
For cooks who love Old World-style traditional cooking: The Old World Kitchen: The Rich Tradition of European Peasant Cooking by Elisabeth Luard (Melville House, $35)
New York Times writer and cookbook author Mark Bittman calls this "the best cookbook no one's heard of" — but not for long. First published in 1987 and reissued this year, this definitive collection of more than 500 traditional recipes from 25 European countries is gaining new admirers for award-winning British writer Elisabeth Luard. Luard, whose interest in peasant food began during a childhood spent abroad with her diplomat parents, calls this collection "the mother-recipes from which all European cookery springs." Recipes run the gamut from Spanish grilled prawns to English cottage pie to Romanian chicken pot roast. The snippets of history included with each recipe are a bonus.
One-Pan Roast Deviled Chicken
Adapted from One Pan, Two Plates: More Than 70 Complete Weeknight Meals for Two by Carla Snyder (Chronicle Books, 2013)
The "simple is best" maxim resounds in this roasted chicken and vegetable dish. One of the reasons it tastes so good may be that many of us rarely eat chicken cooked with the bone in and skin on anymore and have forgotten how tasty chicken can be. A simple mustard coating seals in flavor and contributes tang to the sweet vegetables that lie below, bathing them in the chicken-y goodness.
- 2 bone-in, skin-on chicken breast halves
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more if needed
- 1 small yellow onion, cut into 8 wedges
- 2 new potatoes, scrubbed and each cut lengthwise into 8 wedges
- 2 carrots, cut in half lengthwise and then into 8 pieces about 2 inches long
- 2 parsnips, cut in half lengthwise and then into 8 pieces about 2 inches long
- 1 turnip, halved and cut into 8 pieces about 2 inches long
- 1 teaspoon fresh minced rosemary (or 1/2 teaspoon dried)
- 2 teaspoons Dijon or whole-grain mustard
- 1/3 cup beer, chicken broth, white wine or water
- 2 teaspoons minced fresh flat-leaf parsley, for garnish
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Pat the chicken dry and sprinkle all over with salt and pepper.
Heat a 12-inch ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat and add the olive oil. When the oil shimmers, add the chicken, skin side down, and brown it for about 4 minutes. Don't try to turn the chicken if it's stuck to the bottom of the pan; it will release once it is sufficiently browned. Turn the chicken with tongs and brown the other side for about 3 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a plate. (It won't be fully cooked at this point, but the skin should be nicely browned.)
If the pan seems dry, add a little more olive oil. Add the onion, potatoes, carrots, parsnips, turnip, rosemary, 1/2 teaspoon salt and a sprinkling of pepper to the hot pan and sauté, stirring every now and then, until the vegetables begin to soften, about 4 minutes. Spread the skin side of the chicken pieces with the mustard and lay them on top of the vegetables, mustard side up. Transfer to the oven and roast for 10 minutes. Pour the beer, wine, broth or water into the pan and roast everything until the chicken is cooked through and the vegetables are tender and browned, about 10 minutes longer. Pierce the chicken with a fork to check for tenderness and check the thick part of the breast with an instant-read thermometer. It should read 165 degrees F.
Divide the chicken and vegetables between two warmed plates, sprinkle with parsley and serve hot.
Adapted from Root to Stalk Cooking: The Art of Using the Whole Vegetable by Tara Duggan (Ten Speed Press)
Serves 2 to 4
This is a building block recipe for cooking chard or kale as a side dish for meats or fish, or as a base for a pasta sauce. You can choose to add the stems to the braise, or keep them for another recipe. Note: Turnip greens, beet greens, kohlrabi greens, collards, mustard greens and pea shoots all work using this recipe's method of first sizzling the greens with garlic, red chile flakes and oil, and then steaming them until fully tender.
- 2 bunches kale or chard, stemmed (cut away thick part of stem with knife, or hold stem and tear away leaves by hand)
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
- 3 whole cloves garlic, peeled and crushed with the side of a knife
- 1/8 teaspoon red chile flakes
- Kosher salt, to taste
- Juice of 1/2 lemon
Wash the greens and leave wet. Tear the leaves into bite-size pieces and slice the stems, if using, 1/4-inch thick; keep the leaves and stems separate. (If you'd like to use the greens with pasta, cut the leaves into 1-inch dice so that they will better coat the pasta.)
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and red chile flakes and swirl in the hot oil until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the stems and stir-fry for 1 minute, then cover and cook with a splash of water until mostly tender, 6 to 8 minutes.
Add a few handfuls of the leaves and stir, adding more as they wilt. After you've added about one-third, sprinkle with salt to help the greens shrink and be seasoned evenly. When all the leaves are wilted, add a splash of water (unless the greens are very wet). Cover, reduce the heat to low, and cook until tender, 3 to 5 minutes for chard and 8 to 10 minutes for kale.
Season with salt and lemon juice. Place in a serving bowl and drizzle with olive oil. Serve hot or at room temperature.
Penne with Ricotta and Mushrooms
Adapted from Lidia's Commonsense Italian Cooking: 150 Delicious and Simple Recipes Anyone Can Master by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich and Tanya Bastianich Manuali (Knopf, 2013)
This is a simple recipe, packed with flavor and with a great mouth texture. It can also be made in any season of the year, since mushrooms now abound on our store shelves year-round. I love mushrooms; they deliver a lot of flavor and texture without the heavy calories. The creaminess of the ricotta adds to the complexity of the flavor, and the pasta carries it all deliciously.
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for the pot
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 6 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary needles
- 1 pound mixed fresh mushrooms
- 1 bunch scallions, trimmed and chopped
- 1 pound penne
- 1-1/2 cups fresh ricotta (abut 12 ounces)
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
- 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano cheese
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil for the pasta. In a large skillet, over medium heat, heat the olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the garlic, and cook until it is sizzling. Add the rosemary and cook a few seconds until fragrant. Raise the heat to medium-high, add the mushrooms, and season with the salt. Cook until the mushrooms are browned and wilted, about 3 minutes. Add the scallions and cook until wilted, about 2 minutes. Ladle in 1 cup pasta water, and simmer until mushrooms are tender, about 10 minutes.
While the sauce simmers, cook the pasta. When the sauce is ready and the pasta is al dente, remove the penne with a slotted spoon and add it directly to the sauce. Stir in the ricotta and parsley, and cook until warmed through. Remove the skillet from the heat, stir in the grated cheese, and serve.
Banana Cardamom Bread
Adapted from Hedgebrook Cookbook: Celebrating Radical Hospitality by Denise Barr and Julie Rosten (She Writes Press, 2013)
Makes one 9-inch loaf
- 3/4 cup currants
- 1/3 cup dark rum
- 1-3/4 cup flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon ground cardamom (can substitute 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg)
- 3 ripe bananas, mashed
- 1/3 cup canola oil
- 3/4 cup brown sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-inch loaf pan.
In a small saucepan, combine currants and rum. Bring to a simmer, turn off heat and let pan sit for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, soda, salt and cardamom. Mix well and set aside.
Mash bananas and put in large mixing bowl. Add oil and brown sugar and beat for a few minutes using electric mixer. Add eggs and beat another minute. Add flour mixture to wet ingredients and mix until just combined. By hand, stir in walnuts, soaked currants and their liquid.
Spoon into greased loaf pan. Bake approximately 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean or with just a few crumbs clinging to it.
Hearty Celery Root and Red Lentil Soup
Adapted from Bountiful: Recipes Inspired by Our Garden by Todd Porter and Diane Cu (Stewart Tabori & Chang, 2013)
Serves 4 to 6
A one-pot soup meal — studded with chunks of celery root, salted with bacon, fragranced with sage and laced with quick-cooking red lentils — is all we need to welcome the cold days. If you've never had celery root before, we encourage you to try it. It has the texture of a potato, with the bright flavor of fresh, green celery. Note: For a thicker soup, use 1/2 cup red lentils.
- 1 medium celery root, about 1 pound
- 4 slices thick-cut bacon, cut into small pieces
- 1 medium onion, minced
- 5 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 2-inch knob fresh ginger, peeled and crushed whole
- 2 to 3 small sage leaves
- 1/4 cup red lentils
Cut the celery root into bite-size pieces.
Heat a medium pot over medium heat, add the bacon, and cook until the fat is rendered. Add the onion, garlic, ginger and sage leaves. Cook for 5 minutes, or until the onions are translucent.
Add 4 cups water and the celery root, bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to low.
Cook for 15 minutes, or until the celery root is almost tender. Add the lentils and cook until they are soft, about 20 minutes, and the celery root is cooked through. (Some cooks prefer lentils whole and firm rather than soft and mushy, so adjust time accordingly.) Taste for seasoning and add salt if necessary. Serve hot.
Candy Sagon is an editor and health writer for AARP Media.
You May Also Like
- Healthy fall dessert recipes from AARP food expert Pam Anderson
- 7 things you should never say to customer service
- Learn how the Affordable Care Act can benefit you and your family
Go to the AARP home page for latest news on food and nutrition