LIANE HANSEN, host:
With Thanksgiving leftovers nearly gone, now would be a good time to try out some new recipes for this holiday season. So get out your strainers, spoons and saucepans, food writer Susan Chang is back with her list of the best cookbooks of 2009.
Susan Chang reviews cookbooks for the Boston Globe and NPR's Kitchen Window, and she joins us from NPR member station WFCR in Amherst, Massachusetts.
Welcome back, Susan.
Ms. SUSAN CHANG (Food Writer): Good to be back, Liane.
HANSEN: A lot of cookbooks this year and a lot of them just - from the front covers at least - look fabulous. Let's talk about "Gourmet Today." It's edited by Ruth Reichl, the editor of "Gourmet" magazine, which published its last issue in November. But this book has a thousand recipes. Which ones did you try?
CHANG: So what I tried was the Japanese sesame spinach, which was fantastic, just wonderful with, you know, just a little bit of sweetness and mirin and soy. And I tried the lemon rice with peanuts. My husband tried the chicken with shallots, garlic and vinegar.
HANSEN: And the fact that each recipe is actually edited and selected by the editor-in-chief, Ruth Reichl, and she wrote introductions to each chapter, I mean, you feel like someone you know has come into your kitchen.
CHANG: That's right. With the gourmet books you can feel very confident that everything's going to work.
HANSEN: I actually love "Pleasures of Cooking for One" by Judith Jones. I like it for the name...
CHANG: Isn't it wonderful?
HANSEN: It's fantastic. I mean, you know, it's really hard to break down recipes that serve six people into one that might, you know, I can eat tonight and then maybe save it for a day or two over. People probably saying freeze the leftovers. Yeah, yeah, yeah. But still, she's an interesting woman and what she has to say and write and eat in this book is great.
CHANG: I think that it's a particularly appealing book because we tend to think of cooking as not really being worth it if it's just for yourself, and this completely turns that notion on its head. Because I think what Judith Jones really manages to get across is that cooking for yourself isn't something you do despite working so hard all day, but because you work so hard. You deserve something wonderful to at the end of your day. You deserve not to have to eat out of a takeout container.
HANSEN: And we have to mention her connection with Julia Child. They worked together...
CHANG: That's right.
HANSEN: ...on "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," if I'm not mistaken.
CHANG: The very one.
HANSEN: Staff of life bread - I love reading bread books and I'm starting to, you know, master my yeast, but this one is by Peter Reinhart and it's called "Artisan Breads Every Day." What does this book tell me about dough that I don't already know?
CHANG: What Peter Reinhart does better than anybody else is he goes into this head space where he works and works and works on bread. He works day and night, he lives and breathes bread and then he comes out with something that you and I can understand. We can take it into our home kitchen, we can, you know, make a quick dough, we can throw it in the fridge from anywhere, four hours to, oh, four days and, you know, and still come out with something that tastes fantastic.
HANSEN: Well, from artisan bread to "Mastering the Art of Chinese Cooking," and this is by a woman, Eileen Yin-Fei Lo.
CHANG: Yeah. I think that what's happened with Chinese cookbooks in recent years is really wonderful. It used to be that we would get cookbooks that essentially would give you the ingredients, but they would be a little bit laconic about the technique. But nowadays I've seen some really wonderful cookbooks that spell it all out. They've got pictures, they've got, you know, what to watch for.
And I have to tell you, I made the big pork buns with the barbecued pork. Oh my God. I actually had to hide them in my fridge so no one else would find them first. And I sent one to school with my son and it practically caused a riot.
HANSEN: I am not surprised. There are several Chinese restaurants around NPR headquarters in Washington and, you know, I go searching out, like, pork buns. But the prospect of being able to actually make them is making my mouth water.
CHANG: Yeah, you can actually do it. It's not that hard.
HANSEN: So, you had to pick ten cookbooks for 2009. Which one would you give as a gift for the aspiring chef in your life?
CHANG: You know, one of the ten that I chose that I haven't talked about is the Asian dumplings book. And I think I might give that to people just so that I don't have to be the person who makes the dumplings all the time.
(Soundbite of laughter)
HANSEN: Susan Chang reviews cookbooks for the Boston Globe and NPR's KITCHEN WINDOW. She joined us from member station WFCR in Amherst, Massachusetts. And for Susan's picks of the top ten cookbooks of 2009, visit our Web site, NPR.org. Susan, thanks a lot.
CHANG: Thanks so much for having me.
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