It’s been 10 years of cookbook competitions with Food52’s Piglet Tournament of Cookbooks. But for 2020, they’re calling it quits.
With a promise to reinvent itself as a community-driven competition of cookbook genres through the ages, The Piglet will be reborn as something new, and the rest of us will have to find another way to feed our cookbook competition obsession.
My friends and I have an annual tradition of competing alongside The Piglet, which would highlight 16 of the past year’s most interesting, obscure and promising cookbooks. These are then bracketed off March Madness-style and judged by the likes of Alice Waters, Rachel Ray, Susan Orlean, Ina Garten, Nigella Lawson, Micheal Cabon, Micheal Twitty — the list goes on.
With a heavy heart, I admit that my own reinvention of The Piglet will be sadly lacking in glamorous name-dropping. It’s fallen on me to compile 16 cookbooks from 2019 — which I now share with you — for my friends and I to face off in our own tournament of cookbooks. We will then judge for ourselves which should be crowned winner, not that it will be easy. Maybe Alice Waters is free?
In no particular order, here’s our selection from the many wonderful books released in 2019:
Portland-based Tyler Malek’s “Salt & Straw Ice Cream Book” is a delicious addition to the shelf. For his Thanksgiving flavors alone, this book is worth picking up. The only downside? You’ll need an ice cream maker. If you don’t own one, this book will certainly make you a convert.
“Simple Cake: All You Need to Keep Your Friends and Family in Cake” by Odette Williams is just that — simple cake. These are the recipes for home cooks who seldom bake and home bakers who don’t want to exhaust themselves trying to please their 9-year-old with a bespoke birthday cake.
Chef Hugh Acheson, whose name you may recognize from the television show “Top Chef,” released “Sous Vide: Better Home Cooking” to ensure gastronomical gadget proficiency in the modern home cook’s kitchen.
“Sour: The Magical Element That Will Transform Your Cooking” from award-winning cookbook author Mark Diacono is far from a gimmick cookbook offering something akin to “10 ways to spice up your avocado toast.” Diacono reminds us of acidic foods and their power to create depth and punch to everyday recipes we’ll actually cook.
U.K. cookery author, Nigel Slater released two “Greenfeast” cookbooks in 2019 — “Greenfeast: Spring, Summer” and “Greenfeast: Autumn, Winter.” We’re treating these as one cookbook — I said we could reinvent, right? Both seasonal plant-centric compilations are inspired by his garden and daily meals — impeccably photographed. Both books had a U.K. release in 2019 and “Greenfeast: Autumn, Winter” is set to release in September in the U.S. But we’re going to break another rule and use the U.K. release year as an excuse not to wait to dive into these beauties.
“From the Oven to the Table: Dishes that Look After Themselves” is the 2019 offering from British cookery author Diana Henry. I make no effort to hide that I’m a Diana Henry fangirl. She creates deceptively simple recipes that make me feel the true gourmand.
“Pate, Confit, Rillette: Recipes from the Craft of Charcuterie” from the authors of popular specialty cookbooks “Charcuterie” and “Salumi,” Brian Polcyn and Michael Ruhlman provide one book that fills a gap in my cooking repertoire. I imagine myself whipping together a divine fish aspic no one would dare call just a “savory Jello” — let alone spit out.
Chef Angie Mar, owner of historic New York mainstay The Beatrice Inn, shares her animal-centric dishes in “Butcher + Beast: Mastering the Art of Meat.” This opulent cookbook takes me to another time — not just the 1920s, but my own 20s when I could stay out as late as I wanted, drinking what I wanted, enjoying any food my purse could afford.
“Jubilee: Two Centuries from African-American Cooking” by Toni Tipton-Martin, author of James Beard Award-winning, “The Jemima Code” continues her chronicling of Afro-American cuisine. Something far more than what we refer to as “soul food.”
Maui native Alana Kysar’s first cookbook, “Aloha Kitchen: Recipes from Hawaii,” pulls from her Japanese-American heritage and life in her native state of Hawaii. Despite being from the West Coast, my knowledge of Hawaiian cuisine is fairly limited — this release had me at “Aloha.” (Yes, I know.)
“A Place at the Table: New American Recipes from the Nation’s Top Foreign-Born Chefs” speaks for itself. Edited by Rick Kinsel and Gabrielle Langholtz, and comprised of recipes from 40 immigrant chefs, “A Place at the Table” could not more plainly show how much our American cuisine is a tapestry of the many peoples who call our nation home. Inspiring, original and beautifully put together, this cookbook is one of my favorites of 2019.
Chef Ivan Orkin, owner of New York’s Ivan Ramen, with Chris Ying, co-founder of “Lucky Peach” have perhaps the best-named cookbook of the year — “The Gaijin Cookbook: Japanese Recipes from a Chef, Father, Eater, and Lifelong Outsider.” The Japanese term “gaijin” means outsider. Despite living in Tokyo for much of his life, opening accoladed Japanese-inspired restaurants, Orkin is still an outsider. He sees this as an aid to creativity rather than a crutch.
Food author Priya Krishna has put together one of the most fun and relatable cookbooks with “Indian-ish: Recipes and Antics from a Modern American Family.” Krishna pulls from her mother’s creative meld of Indian tradition and classic American family fare like PB&J’s or baked potatoes — think mash-up recipes where salt and pepper meet limeade with “Indian Gatorade.”
Another U.K. release, “Taverna: Recipes from a Cypriot Kitchen” by Georgina Hayden has received high praise across the pond. This, and the fact that I’m aching for some Greek flavors to wake up my winter palate, made “Taverna” a shoo-in to our reinvented Piglet.
New York Times food author Alison Roman released “Nothing Fancy: Unfussy Food for Having People Over” last year. Her title alone inspires me to set the 2020 resolution to host more friends, neighbors and strangers to a meal without freaking out over its perfection.
Lastly, on this no-particular-order list is Taiwanese-Canadian-American Mandy Lee’s “The Art of Escapism Cooking.” Taken from her blog “Lady and Pups: Home Cooking with Extreme Prejudice,” the title sounds negative — and yet, sometimes, life gives you lemons but no sugar to make lemonade. Chronicling the emotions of a sudden move from New York to Beijing, Lee uses time in her kitchen to process her anger, frustration and loneliness living within the oppressive government control, polluted air and unreliable Wi-Fi that is Beijing. An honest memoir of sorts with amazing photography, Lee’s diverse meld of flavors are one’s I look forward to trying most.
Mentaiko spaghetti is a great example of Western influence on Japanese food — referred to as “yoshoku.” “You take one look at it and you immediately know it’s Japanese, even though you’re staring at a bowl of Italian pasta,” writes Orkin. Mentaiko is roe that has been marinated in togarashi, and can be rather difficult to find if you don’t have a decent Asian market nearby. Save this recipe and grab some next time you’re near Uwajimaya or H Mart in Lynwood. Serves 2.
8 ounces dried spaghetti
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small cubes, at room temp
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 teaspoon soy sauce
4 sacs mentaiko (cod or pollock roe; 3 to 4 ounces total), split open and roe gently scraped out
½ cup shredded nori (or 1 sheet nori, toasted over a flame and cut into matchsticks)
8 shiso leaves, large leaves cut into ribbons
This will go pretty quickly, so make sure you have all your ingredients prepped and measured before you start cooking. Once you’re organized, bring a large pot of water to a boil and season liberally with salt — the water should taste like the ocean. Add the spaghetti and cook according to the package directions until al dente.
Drain the pasta in a colander and give it a good shake to shed as much water as possible. Add the pasta to a large glass or ceramic bowl, along with the butter, and stir with tongs or chopsticks until the butter is mostly melted. Add the cream, soy sauce and ½ teaspoon salt, and toss and stir, then gently mix in the mentaiko until evenly distributed throughout the pasta. Divide the pasta among two bowls, top with piles of the nori and shiso, and serve immediately.
— Recipe excerpted from 2019’s “The Gaijin Cookbook: Japanese Recipes from a Chef, Father, Eater, and Lifelong Outsider” by Ivan Orkin and Chris Ying. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.
Sussex Pond pudding
This is what Diacono refers to as an “old-school English pudding” aka dessert. Given it’s first referenced in 1672, that’s pretty old-school. “It is essentially, a whole lemon set adrift in a sea of butter and sugar kept in order by a suet case, that’s steamed until the lemon’s skin almost dissolves, creating a centre of sweet, sour, bitter, fruit fat that can kill me for all I care,” Diacono writes. To make your own cup of self-raising flour, combine 1 cup flour with 1½ teaspoons baking powder and ¼ teaspoon salt. Lard could be used if you aren’t able to track down suet — try requesting direct from your butcher — or in a pinch, shortening. Though the flavor would not be the same. Serves 4-6.
1 cup self-raising flour, plus more for rolling
½ cup shredded suet
1 cup milk
7 tablespoons diced cold butter, plus more for greasing
½ cup soft light brown sugar
1 unwaxed lemon, slashed a few times with a sharp knife (a thin-skinned variety is best)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 1 quart pudding basin with butter and line with baking parchment.
Stir the flour, suet and salt together in a large bowl. Mix in the milk and carefully bring together into a dough firm enough to roll out to line the pudding basin. Don’t overmix, and add a little flour if the dough seems too wet.
Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface until just large enough to line the basin. Cut out one quarter as a wedge and reserve as the lid. Line the basin with the largest piece of pastry, sealing the joins by slightly overlapping, wetting a little and pressing together.
Mix the butter and sugar together, leaving the butter cubes intact and put half inside the pastry. Place the slashed lemon on top and bury in the remaining sugar and butter.
Roll out the remaining pastry to make a lid, wet the edge of the pastry in the basin a little and press the lid on to seal. Cover the pudding with pleated foil or baking parchment and secure with string.
Bring a large ovenproof pan of water to the boil and lower the pudding basin into it; the water should come halfway up the side. Cover and place in the oven to steam for about 4 hours — the surface of the pudding should be golden brown. If the water level falls too low, add more boiling water.
Allow the pudding to rest for 5 minutes, then carefully lift out of the pan and remove the paper or foil. Turn the pudding out on to a large lipped plate or platter (the juices will spill out to form a “pond” of sauce). It’s highly likely that the pudding will partially collapse, but it’s part of this puddings rustic charm and lovely texture.
Serve with cold double cream or hot custard.
— Recipe excerpted with permission from “Sour” by Mark Diacono, published by Quadrille in 2019.
Helga’s meatballs with fravy
This recipe comes from Ethiopian-born chef Marcus Samuelsson, who was adopted into a Swedish family before eventually immigrating to the United States. This is a recipe from his Swedish grandmother, what he calls “a culinary heirloom and a reflection of Sweden.”
For the meatballs:
2tablespoons olive oil
1 medium red onion, finely chopped
½ cup dry breadcrumbs
¼ cup heavy cream
½ pound ground chuck or sirloin
½ pound ground veal
½ pound ground pork
2 tablespoons honey
1 large egg
Salt and freshly ground pepper
For the gravy:
1 cup chicken broth
½ cup heavy cream
¼ cup lingonberry preserves
2 tablespoons juice from pickled cucumbers
Salt and freshly ground pepper
For the meatballs: In a small skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add the red onion and cook for about 5 minutes or until softened. Remove from the heat and let cool.
In a large bowl, combine the breadcrumbs and heavy cream, stirring with a fork, until the crumbs are moistened. Add the sauteed onion, the beef, veal, pork, honey and egg, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Moisten your hands and mix until well combined. Form the mixture into 24 roughly golf ball-sized meatballs and transfer to a plate moistened with water.
Lightly oil a grill pan with canola oil and heat over medium-high heat. Working in batches, grill the meatballs, turning occasionally, for about 5 minutes or until browned all over and cooked through. Season to taste with salt and pepper and cook the remaining meatballs. Keep warm.
For the gravy: In a large saucepan, combine the chicken broth, heavy cream, lingonberry preserves, and pickle juice and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Add the meatballs, reduce the heat to medium, and simmer for about 5 minutes or until the gravy thickens slightly and the meatballs are heated through. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve.
— Recipe excerpted with permission from “A Place at the Table,” edited by Rick Kinsel and Gabrielle Langholtz, published by Prestel in 2019.