This is the year Canadian cookbooks came of age. Our books are confident, original and authentic. I would nominate Canadian cookbooks as among the best on the cookbook shelves.
The Art of Living According to Joe Beef
A Cookbook of Sorts, by Frédéric Morin, David McMillan and Meredith Erickson, Ten Speed Press, $40
One of my favourite books this year is a joyous book that celebrates life and food with a tongue-in-cheek sense of humour. More than a cookbook, it is a memoir, a history of Montreal, and tales of people, places and things with a little philosophy thrown in. It is completely irreverent. Having eaten at Joe Beef, I know the food is superbly flavoured and simple. The book is less simple, a bit meat-heavy, and the food (except for the desserts) strikes me as more man food. The Nifty Kale for a Hangover was a definitive rendering of kale. And you could get a hangover with some of the drink recipes. My favourite was the takeoff of the Master Cleanse. Drink and lose weight? A perfect partnership. Some recipes were uneven in execution, the éclairs made twice as much as noted but they did taste good. Over all, it makes me want to run back to the restaurant to experience its superb tastes and simple pleasures.
How to Cook the Rest of the Animal, by Jennifer McLagan, HarperCollins, $39.99
A third volume of Jennifer McLagan's fine books tackling topics most cookery writers avoid. Both Fat and Bones won prizes, and Odd Bits is on the same track. McLagan believes, vociferously, that you should eat the whole animal. You have to be interested in learning more about that philosophy to enjoy a large part of the book – and you will be rewarded. Although there are excellent recipes for the more familiar offal – sweetbreads, liver, bone marrow and some unusual stewing cuts – it does go the whole hog, with pig snout, testicles and more. Chefs will love this significant book, as will anyone who subscribes to or wants to understand the nose-to-tail trend.
A Resource Cookbook for Canning and Freezing, by Pat Crocker, HarperCollins, $29.99
The trend of eating locally and sustainably has led to a renewed interest in canning and preserving . Pat Crocker has created imaginative recipes, divided by season and ingredients, for both preserving produce and using these preserves. She reveals the best varieties for preserving, gives information on storing and what the foods best accompany, and even includes some freezing tips. Many people are afraid of canning and preserving because of a lack of understanding of bacteria and spoilage. Crocker's grasp of these concepts, and the ability to both explain and photograph the process as you would experience it in a home kitchen, make Preserving a must for the modern canner.
Dinner Chez Moi
The Fine Art of Feeding Friends, by Laura Calder, HarperCollins, $39.99
Laura Calder's third book is a departure for the Food Network star known for her expertise in French food. This is a collection of the dishes she shares with friends, whether a baked potato or an elaborate meal. The menus have a simplicity of style, with breezy whimsicality created by Calder's accompanying essays and drawings. The food is interesting and enjoyable. A great read.
Mark McEwan's Fabbrica
Great Italian Recipes Made Easy For Home, by Mark McEwan with Jacob Richler, Viking Canada, $39
Known equally for his business acumen and culinary sensibilities, Mark McEwan recently opened Fabbrica, in Toronto. It celebrates his love of Italian food and is the basis for this book. Though there are truffles evident here, there is much less luxury on display than in last year's Great Food at Home. Instead, when you prepare his recipes, look for the freshest tomatoes, the best olive oil, the finest rice and locally sourced meats to use as underpinnings for his recipes for panini, pizza, pastas and meaty mains. I don't get much of a sense of McEwan himself, but the recipes are fun and fairly easy, although some are time-consuming. The photographs are mouth-watering. You want to eat them.
Back to Baking
200 Timeless Recipes to Bake, Share and Enjoy, by Anna Olson, Whitecap, $40
Anna Olson's greatest strength is in baking, and she has produced one of those indispensable books bakers reach for time after time. Its range is broad enough to tempt both beginning and more experienced home bakers. There is enough information to provide a firm foundation without overwhelming the user or inhibiting experimentation. Olson's own willingness to experiment translates into new interpretations of old standbys, such as her peanut butter Nanaimo bars and tofu-based non-butter tarts, but the old favourites are still there. There are also some high-fibre and gluten-free selections. The one drawback is the small print.
Recipes for Vegetarians and Meat Lovers Alike, by Nettie Cronish and Pat Crocker, Whitecap, $29.99
The word "flexitarian" – alternating carnivore and vegetarian meals or providing some family members with vegetarian dishes while the rest eat meat – does capture the eating habits of a vast number of Canadians. Stalwarts of the Canadian culinary community, vegetarian Nettie Cronish and carnivore Pat Crocker, have combined to create recipes in which meat, when used, is more garnish than main event. Loaded with colourful and trendy ingredients, these dishes are equally satisfying for both those who do and those who don't.
Chef Michael Smith's Kitchen
100 of My Favourite Easy Recipes, by Michael Smith, Penguin Canada, $32
Michael Smith's relaxed approach to cooking has made him a Food Network favourite, and now he stars in a Web series. In his fifth book, Smith shares 100 favourite recipes. He uses international flavours – Southwestern, Moroccan, Mediterranean – to make the simple, sustainable ingredients take flight.
Made in Italy
By David Rocco, HarperCollins, $39.99
I suspect that the many photos of Food Network star David Rocco, with his matinee-idol good looks, are as important to his legion of fans as the 140 recipes that appear among them. The recipes, drawn from every region of Italy, offer a complete culinary map enhanced by photographs of both dishes and landscapes. Rocco's folksy, idiosyncratic instructions make the recipes seem completely doable for even the most inexperienced cook.
Heston Blumenthal at Home
By Heston Blumenthal, Bloomsbury U.S., $69
This is the real foodie cookbook. Mouthwatering recipes, superb pictures and a little bit of Heston Blumenthal. The recipes are well chosen and not as daunting as they sound. But the flavours are right in your face. He has a section on sous vide cooking, but most of the recipes can be accomplished without any unusual equipment. The book is in metric and weight, not volume, so you need a scale. Some of the recipes are challenging, but you get superb results. The roast chicken took four hours (unattended), but the texture was brilliant.
More Than 700 All-Time Favorites from My Life in Food, by Jacques Pepin, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $40
Jacques Pepin has produced a major book with his favourite recipes. It has much to offer cooks of every level. Over his long career, Pepin has refined his techniques and accumulated all the important information you will ever need. The recipes are chosen carefully, simple enough for first-timers but sophisticated enough for those with more acumen. No pictures, but there's a searchable CD with techniques clearly explained.
The Food of Morocco
By Paula Wolfert, Ecco, $50
Paula Wolfert is a superb cook and consummate researcher who has immersed herself in the culture and food of Morocco. Culture is an important part of understanding the food of any society, and Wolfert lived in Morocco for seven years and has returned year after year. Her Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco is the iconic book for understanding how people, live, eat and cook there. This book, much more than an update, is glossy, with lots of enticing pictures of food, people and places. Wolfert has never pandered to cooks. She has always been completely authentic, and remains so. There are few shortcuts other than a nod to instant couscous. The recipes are mouth-watering. We particularly liked the tagines. They take time, but are worth the effort.
The Mozza Cookbook
Recipes from Los Angeles's Favorite Italian Restaurant and Pizzeria, by Nancy Silverton et al, Doubleday, $40
Nancy Silverton invites you into the lively atmosphere of the hugely successful restaurant Mozza, which she runs in L.A. with Mario Batali. The pizza dough (not the same as her dough in the restaurant, but superb) is a little complicated, but you end up with the perfect pizza and her toppings are original and interesting. Lots of intriguing mains, although some recipes, such as the crisp Duck al Mattone, are very time-consuming. The desserts are exciting and include her signature Butterscotch Budino with Caramel Sauce and Maldon Sea Salt. With beautiful photographs.
The Intolerant Gourmet
Glorious Food without Gluten and Lactose, by Barbara Kafka, Artisan Press, $34.95
Is gluten-free the new vegan? There are dozens of books this year devoted to gluten-free living. Barbara Kafka is always on the cutting edge of new trends. She has discovered that she has a sensitivity to both gluten and lactose, which has completely changed her cooking style. Looking for that rich creamy finish and the satisfying taste of carbs, she put her excellent cooking skills to work to replace them or find other ways of achieving the taste. This book is all about good food and not filled with gluten substitutions. Mainly, she uses coconut milk in recipes and oil instead of butter. The few gluten-free flour mixes she does use work well. Her bread was best toasted (as she suggests).
The Splendid Table's How to Eat Weekends
New Recipes, Stories, and Opinions from Public Radio's Award-Winning Food Show, by Lynne Rossetto Kasper and Sally Swift, Crown, $40
I am a devoted listener to The Splendid Table, and the hosts' new cookbook is as much of a joy as the show. The book has personality. You know what the authors like and don't like. They have a sense of humour and, most of all, they enjoy taste. The recipes range over the global map, from Claypot Catfish to Pomegranate Cinnamon Tabbouleh. There are cook-to-cook explanations, musings and laugh-out-loud quips. It is an entertaining, entertaining book.
Lucy Waverman is The Globe and Mail 's Weekend Menu columnist.