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Top Ten: A batch of the year’s best cookbooks

A look at 10 of the year's best cookbooks. | Photo by Tom Witom

An avalanche of cookbooks covering a broad range of ethnicities and styles hit the shelves in 2013.

For subject matter, these new arrivals took a cue from domestic cuisines as well as from those of distant shores; France and Italy figured prominently. Menus were drawn from the Deep South, slow cooking, grill masters, the vegetarian pantry and the farm-to-table movement. And, of course, everything artisanal — from bread to cocktails — has continued to command attention.

While selecting a cookbook remains a matter of personal taste, home cooks have many noteworthy volumes to consider. Here are some favorites:

Cooking Slow: Recipes for Slowing Down and Cooking More (Chronicle Books)

Andrew Schloss, a Pennsylvania-based cooking teacher and writer, explores how preparing food at low temperatures over a length of time can yield maximum flavor with minimum effort. He explains how to use one’s slow cooker or sous vide machine to best advantage when slow simmering (aka braising), slow roasting, slow baking, slow grilling, slow frying and slow steaming. Cooks of varying skill levels will find something to challenge them from Brisket with Prunes and Oranges to Overnight Lemon Cheesecake.

Bountiful: Recipes Inspired by Our Garden (Stewart, Tabori & Chang)

Todd Porter and Diane Cu, professional food photographers, stylists and bloggers, drew inspiration from their fruit and vegetable garden in Southern California. The attractive pages of this book — filled with 100 flavorful, approachable and seasonal recipes — reflect the couple’s dedication to fresh produce and enthusiasm for cooking. Home cooks will enjoy recipes for Hearty Celery Root and Red Lentil Soup, Roasted Spaghetti Squash with Sausage, Blood Orange Bars and Gin Cocktail with Pomegranate and Grapefruit, among others.

Notes from the Larder: A Kitchen Diary with Recipes (Ten Speed Press)

Veteran British food writer Nigel Slater does more than share 250 favorite recipes. His latest book annotates the author’s offhand musings — from kitchen tools to a quiet contemplation over a bowl of cauliflower soup with toasted hazelnuts. Readers get a sense of the daily inspiration behind Slater’s cooking and the pleasures handmade dishes.

The Heart of the Plate: Vegetarian Recipes for a New Generation (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

In this update, Mollie Katzen, whose groundbreaking 1970s Moosewood Cookbook went a long way toward ushering vegetarian cuisine into the mainstream, tells how she cooks today. Her recipes, straightforward and packed with flavor, are livelier, spicier and lighter than ever and present contrasts in color, flavors and textures. Winter Lasagna, Zucchini-Ricotta Cloud Cakes and Cranapple Walnut Cake stand out.

The French Kitchen Cookbook: Recipes and Lessons from Paris and Provence (William Morrow)

Seasoned food journalist Patricia Wells is a fount of practical advice when it comes to cooking. Her latest book includes insights from her popular culinary classes, which she has conducted for more than 30 years. Traditional dishes like Winter Pistou and more sophisticated fare such as Tomato Tatins are intermingled with dazzling photos by Jeff Kauck.

Southern Fried (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

James Villas, a North Carolina-born food writer with 17 cookbooks to his credit, makes the case for the fried fare Southerners are so passionate about: fried chicken, crab cakes and hush puppies. Villas argues frying can be as sophisticated, refined and as healthy as any other cooking technique when it’s handled with a bit of know-how and respect. Keeping moderation, nutritional values and calorie counts in mind also are important.

Lidia’s Commonsense Italian Cooking:(Alfred A. Knopf)

Home cooks at all skill levels will find plenty to tempt them in Lidia Matticchio Bastianich’s latest cookbook which is based on her syndicated public television series and was co-written by her daughter, Tanya Bastianich Manuali. (Lidia’s son Joe Bastianich is one of the judges on TV’s “Master Chef.”) Bastianich’s 150 recipes, represent a mix of commonsense cooking wisdom and reflect her grandmother’s influence. Readers will find useful cooking tips and come to regard ingredients as geographic and cultural indicators.

My Vietnamese Kitchen (Ryland Peters & Small)

First-timers delving into Vietnamese cooking will find Uyen Luu’s book hard to put down. Saigon-born Luu, who now calls London home, shares family recipes and stories of the culture and heritage of Vietnam and its cuisine. The author says preparing and cooking the food of her native land involves fine-tuning one’s tasting skills to balance and master sweet, sour, salty, umami, bitter and hot flavors in order to achieve a harmony of taste, texture and lightness of being.

The Art of French Pastry (Alfred A. Knopf)

Novice bakers intimidated by croissants, pate brisee and puff pastry will appreciate pastry chef Jacquy Pfeiffer’s step-by-step guidance. Pfeiffer, who co-founded Chicago’s French Pastry School, covers the fundamentals and finer points of pastry, including technique, equipment and how ingredients react. He draws on experience gained from working in a family-owned

Alsatian bakery. Check out his recipe for Chocolate and Hazelnut Buche de Noel, among other delights.

A Century of Restaurants: Stories and Recipes from 100 of America’s Most Historic and Successful Restaurants (Andrews McMeel)

Rick Browne, author of “Barbecue America,” switches gears in his latest cookbook. Readers with a taste for history will encounter a wealth of recipes and vintage photos of restaurants they might want to add to their travel itinerary. The Berghoff, established in Chicago in 1898, is among those featured, along with its sauerbraten recipe.

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