Curl Up with a Good (Cook)Book
One of my favorite ways to end a stressful night–or start a lazy Sunday–is to prop myself up in bed with a pile of cookbooks and a situationally appropriate beverage. Reading in bed is, in itself, a luxury that all book-lovers enjoy, but there’s something about the cookbook reading experience that is fundamentally different. Maybe it’s the beautiful, glossy photos, or the inevitable dinner party daydreams they inspire; I can’t say for sure. What I can is that the following titles are my current favorites to take to bed.
- In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite by Melissa Clark
- Flour by Joanne Chang
- Baked Explorations by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito
- Platter of Figs by David Tanis
- Super Natural Every Day by Heidi Swanson
Melissa Clark is the of a number of cookbooks and a popular columnist for the New York Times. In In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite, chapters with titles like “Waffling Towards Dinner” and “Things with Cheese” evoke the comforting feeling of family dinners, and create a system of organization based more on mood than time of day or type of ingredient. Each chapter is prefaced with a personal story from Clark about her experiences with food. From family vacations in the South of France to birthday celebrations, these stories create a sense of intimacy that many cookbooks lack, which makes for excellent in-bed reading.
Joanne Chang is the pastry chef/owner of Flour Bakery in Boston. In her cookbook, she makes the croissants, brioche, and brownies Flour is famous for accessible to home chef. The detailed, yet easy-to-follow recipes are peppered with stories from her childhood. These charming vignettes recall her discovery of baking and growth from an amateur baker to student and eventually to pastry chef. I can say from experience that the brownies and the coconut cake are delicious, and I can’t wait for an excuse to make the brioche pop-tarts.
I love the look of Baked Explorations, even more than I loved the authors’ first book, Baked. This is another cookbook that grew out of a popular bakery, known for modern twists on classic American desserts. Baked’s hunting lodge style permeates the cookbook, which is surprisingly manly for a collection of scones of layer cakes. While there have been some complaints around the web about some poor editing in the book, I’ve been too distracted by the delicious recipes to notice. Chocolate cake with coffee butter cream and chocolate ganache, salt-n-pepper sandwich cookies, carrot coconut scones–the dishes are classic but unexpected, nostalgic, and decadent. And of course, beautiful.
For me, one of the hardest parts about cooking, especially entertaining, is making a meal. That is, creating a cohesive menu. In Platter of Figs, Tanis has created a series of seasonal menus, beautifully illustrated with photographs and artfully introduced. Reading Tanis’ introduction is like reading a manifesto–his ideas about food and eating are clear, as are his influence as a chef. Tanis values simple food, prepared well, and served among friends. An example of one of his six summer menus is called “Yellow Hunger,” and comprises: shaved summer squash with squash blossoms, grilled halibut with Indian spices and yellow tomatoes, and peaches in wine. In the introduction to the recipe for the shaved squash he explains his motivation: “One summer day at the market, everything that appealed to me seemed to be in intense shades of yellow and gold…I began to feel a yellow hunger.” I’d happily take Platter of Figs to bed, especially if I had an event on the horizon.
Okay. I haven’t actually read Super Natural Every Day yet. But it is the newly published book by the author of 101 Cookbooks, one of my favorite cooking blogs. Swanson’s blog and book focus on minimally processed, healthy, natural foods. On her blog, her writing is clear and accessible, and the photography is beautiful. Her cookbook has been getting fantastic reviews, and I can’t wait to get my hands on the library’s copy.
Honorable mention goes to Ad Hoc At Home by Thomas Keller, which has great tips on becoming a better cook, recipes for delicious pantry staples like jams and dressings, and drool-inducing photos on just about every page. The only thing keeping Keller out of my top five is that the book is too large and too heavy to comfortable take to bed.
Have you ever snuggled up with Rick Bayless or Alice Waters? Tell us about your bedtime reading in the comments.