If your holiday plate situation sounds like a feast worthy of the You Name It Challenge, then kudos, you’re doing it right. But while we all have our favorite traditional dishes that we look forward to each holiday, sometimes, you also want something different on the table.
We’re recapping our favorite new and newish cookbooks and food books to help spark inspiration for your forthcoming holiday culinary adventures.
The Red Rooster Cookbook: The Story of Food and Hustle in Harlem, Marcus Samuelsson
Marcus Samuelsson is equal parts chef and writer. Similarly to Anthony Bourdain, Samuelsson has taken on writing about his life, and sharing all of the gritty details with us in a series of memoirs. Samuelsson is a storyteller and The Red Rooster Cookbook: The Story of Food and Hustle in Harlem is a love story that Samuelsson has been wanting to tell. In this book, the central characters are his restaurant, Red Rooster, and Harlem, home of Samuelsson and Red Rooster. Essentially, Samuelsson has become Mr. Rogers, and The Red Rooster Cookbook is the trolley that takes us on a tour to meet the folks in his vibrant neighborhood. When you open this book, be prepared for stunning photography of not just food, but of a community. The recipes give you a wide range of options to spice up your table with dishes like Jerk Bacon and Baked Beans, Ham Hocks with Mustard Greens and Kraut and Cauliflower Frites with Green Mayonnaise. Oh, and be sure to check out Samuelsson’s playlists in the book to help you get your groove on in the kitchen with jams by Run-D.M.C., Nas, LL Cool J and more. This is a book to keep, not on your shelf, but on your coffee table for your holiday guests to savor.
My Life on a Plate: Recipes From Around the World, Kelis
Upon opening My Life on a Plate: Recipes From Around the World, imagery of rustic artifacts and textured layers take you on a journey. This is a cookbook manifested by a creative. As Kelis notifies us early on in the introduction, “I was born in NY: a native New Yorker and the daughter of a musician and a chef. Get it now?” Yes, we do, Ms. Kelis, and we love it. I initially thought it would be difficult to write a food piece about Kelis without including that infamous m-word that brings all the boys to the yard, but nope. This cookbook really does legitimize Kelis as a chef (as if her culinary degree, a line of sauces, cooking show and series of pop-ups weren’t enough!). Kelis has found a way to translate her world travels into tangible recipes for home cooks to recreate. Uniquely different than other cookbooks, Kelis shares a slew of sauce and glaze recipes and we thank her for that because learning how to make sauces from scratch can be intimidating. Just think about that lumpy gravy that you eat at Thanksgiving dinner every year. Now, whet your palate on this: Whiskey Pear Glaze, Five Spice Plum Sauce and Root Beer Espresso BBQ Sauce — just a small taste of what you expect from My Life on a Plate.
Grandbaby Cakes: Modern Recipes, Vintage Charm, Soulful Memories, Jocelyn Delk Adams
Every single cookbook includes a dessert section, but oftentimes, that section is an afterthought. You get the feeling that the author isn’t passionate about sweets, but included it to appease the publisher. Jocelyn Delk Adams, aka Grandbaby Cakes, has made up for the shortcoming of others with her dessert-focused cookbook: Grandbaby Cakes: Modern Recipes, Vintage Charm, Soulful Memories. If you’ve tried to recreate any of those classic recipes that Big Ma n’ them took to the grave, here comes Grandbaby Cakes to the rescue faster than the Butterball hotline. The recipes in this cookbook are a compilation of old-school family recipes mixed with new school favorites. In addition to the tasty recipes (our favorite is the Caramel Cake), Adams shares snippets of family stories along with charming photos that Adams photographed herself. Hello — she wrote the cookbook AND shot the photography. You better go ahead and sprinkle some of that #blackgirlmagic on your sweet treats this holiday! Be sure to keep an eye on this one, we guarantee you that Adams will have a bright future in the culinary world. And *we hope* a cooking show in the near future.
Somethingtofoodabout: Exploring Creativity with Innovative Chefs, Questlove
I briefly met Questlove in Chicago after a dreamy, paneled conversation featuring Chef Dave Beran, Padma Lakshmi and Questlove, where he illustrated the parallels between food and music and food as art. It’s a conversation that he explores in depth in his book, Somethingtofoodabout. In the book, he leads with curiosity and appreciation to find out what makes the wheels turn inside the minds of chefs, who he accurately describes as artists; and how they go from ideation to execution. The creative process is the common language that all makers speak no matter the end product. Admirably, Questlove’s interviews journey through the tough questions about taboo topics like racial disparity in the food industry and the socioeconomic factors that lead to food access and food awareness issues. In fact, the book is full of food for thought, with stories shared both in words and visually. This is another coffee table book that your guests will enjoy thumbing through. But this is not a cookbook, so you shouldn’t expect to gather a bunch of great recipes for your holiday party from it because there aren’t any. Instead, however, let Somethingtofoodabout inspire you to take risks with your holiday cooking. Color outside the lines to see what masterpiece you'll create.
Commissary Kitchen: My Infamous Prison Cookbook, Prodigy
It may seem counterintuitive for a cookbook to remind you that the holidays are about so much more than food, but that’s exactly what this cookbook does. The sad truth is that many of us have loved ones who are locked up and unable to sit with us at our table during the holiday. Prodigy created Commissary Kitchen: My Infamous Prison Cookbook with recipes that are autobiographical and photography that is a stark contrast to the luxurious images you’d expect from a typical cookbook. The message: be thankful for what you have, no matter how limited your means. This book will make you thankful for the food (even those struggle plates), friends and family (no matter how they voted). And because of that, this could quite possibly be the best cookbook that any of us could read this holiday season.
Healthy Latin Eating: Our Favorite Family Recipes Remixed, Angie Martinez
Maintaining a healthy weight during the holiday season is a challenge. Research shows that most will gain a few pounds from Thanksgiving to New Year's Day. Indulgence and Thanksgiving go hand in hand, but legendary radio DJ, Angie Martinez, wants you to indulge a little healthier this holiday season with her cookbook Healthy Latin Eating: Our Favorite Family Recipes Remixed. Martinez was inspired to create this cookbook in response to the alarming rates of food-related diseases, such as obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure, that affect many our communities. Healthy Latin Eating is a compilation of family favorite recipes that have been revamped with a healthy twist. In the book, Angie Martinez along with Chef Angelo Sosa, show us alternative ways of cooking classics like Ropa Vieja, Beans and Rice and Empanadas. Even a few of Martinez’s celebrity friends make cameo appearances in this cookbook, including Fat Joe, who has dropped some serious weight over the years and makes us wonder when he’ll release a cookbook of his own.
The Seasoned Life: Food, Family, Faith, and the Joy of Eating Well, Ayesha Curry
If your eater strategy is to skip breakfast on the day of big holiday dinners, we want to save you from hangry outbursts. Eat breakfast, better yet, brunch! In The Seasoned Life: Food, Family, Faith, and the Joy of Eating Well by Ayesha Curry, you’ll find a substantial breakfast chapter where Mrs. Curry has laid out a full brunch menu for you and your crew, complete with cocktails. Prep your belly with Honey-Pepper Cast-Iron Biscuits and Jam and Prosciutto Egg Cups with Asparagus. Trust us, you’ll be a much better dinner guest for it. Fast forward to the end of the night, after the itis has settled, and head to the tub to take a Calgon moment with Curry’s homemade Brown Sugar-Vanilla Body Scrub recipe and be #blessed.
Appetites: A Cookbook, Anthony Bourdain
Bourdain is an OG of the food world. He’s reached one name-status, like Oprah. Bourdain is the man who will sit down and have a meal with anyone (except those with names that rhyme with dump), observe, and listen intently, and then tell you like it is in prose. As often as we’ve seen Bourdain on our screens, traveling and eating across the globe, it’s only been on rare occasions that we’ve spotted him actually cooking a meal himself. But maybe that’s because we’re just not that special. Someone who is pretty darn special to Bourdain, and rightfully so, is his 9-year-old daughter, Ariane. She’s the reason for Bourdain’s latest cookbook, Appetites: A Cookbook, his first in a decade. We all know that kids can be the toughest critics, so if you’re planning a holiday shin-dig with little ones in attendance, listen up. The recipes in Bourdain’s book are kid-tested and approved. But don’t expect the normal kid’s meal fare. No, you won’t find nary a chicken finger in Appetites; but you will find Chicken Satay with Fake-Ass Spicy Peanut Sauce. All of the dishes in the cookbook are approachable, even if they sound intimidating like Malloreddus with Wild Boar Sugo, which is really just a pasta dish. I mean, if you’ve never made wild boar before, the holidays are a fine time to start.