edited by Ruth Reichl

Launched in 1941, Gourmet magazine quickly became an institution among America's ambitious cooks, who filed their dog-eared issues next to copies of Irma Rombauer's The Joy of Cooking. Now culinary strivers can go straight to The Gourmet Cookbook, a 1,040-page volume destined to become a classic. Selected from more than 60,000 recipes, the 1,200 in this collection—from aioli to fried zucchini blossoms—are updates that won the exhaustive cook-offs in the magazine's test kitchens. (Just sifting through the chocolate cake recipes took weeks, according to editor-in-chief Ruth Reichl.) As always, Gourmet's directions are precise and give a clear sense of how time-consuming each dish is. The book's most appealing aspect, however, is its sensual tone—one that reflects Reichl's own approach to dining. Formerly the restaurant critic at The New York Times, she's a more intellectual version of Nigella Lawson. Pavlovas "feel like a miracle in the mouth" and Sweet Potato Chips are "a beautiful tangle of orange shards sprinkled with tart lime salt." Encyclopedic but not pedantic, this compendium includes authentic versions of ethnic foods (Moroccan preserved lemons, Vietnamese-style beef-noodle soup) as well as American regional favorites (Hoppin' John, a.k.a. black-eyed peas and rice). Perfect for armchair chefs as well as pros, it's a one-size-fits-all find.

REGIONAL

Frank Stitt's Southern Table

Alabama native Frank Stitt prides himself on his connection to the land. At his Highlands Bar and Grill in Birmingham, he cooks with organic produce from local farmers and delights in Gulf Coast delicacies such as Apalachicola flounder. His first cookbook is a paean to southern culinary culture: Accompanied by evocative photos of fishing excursions and field peas, it underscores the authenticity of dishes including Pork Chops with Creamy Grits, Lattice-Topped Blackberry Cobbler and Miss Verba's Pimiento Cheese. But Stitt's real strength is his creativity; he puts a modern spin on standbys like fried green tomatoes (pairing them with arugula salad) and he's not afraid of culinary heresy: The cornbread on page 26 gets turned into crostini on page 126. Like all true Southerners, Stitt is an original—and his cookbook is a gem.

Pure Chocolate: Divine Desserts and Sweets from the Creator of Fran's Chocolates
by Fran Bigelow with Helene Siegel

Could any reader resist this book's blowsy charms? Not likely. Created by the chocolatier who blazed a trail in Seattle in 1982 by opening her European-style Fran's Chocolates boutique, these wickedly rich recipes are accompanied by food-porn style shots of pots de crème, Triple Chocolate Pyramids and White-Chocolate Crème Citron Tarts. The level of difficulty ranges from kid-simple (peasant bread with bittersweet chocolate) to challenging (a Chocolate Cabernet Torte), but there's something here for every cook. Since working with chocolate can be tricky—get ready to master the double boiler—Bigelow includes lots of guidance on technique (don't try to fold cold butter into a ganache; whip the cream loosely for a Marquis au Chocolate). Whether it's Gold Bar Brownies—littered with chocolate chunks and infused with caramel sauce—her lascivious Chocolate-Stuffed Figs or her intense White-Chocolate Espresso Semifreddo, these confections will haunt your dreams.

from the Editors of Cook's Illustrated

This 990-pager isn't for readers who crave lively commentary and gorgeous photos. Instead, the new edition of the best recipes from Cook's Illustrated—the ad-free bimonthly that spawned America's Test Kitchen on PBS—will please those who groove to the cooking-geek sensibility of CI editor Christopher Kimball. Want to know the science behind brining? Looking for a foolproof recipe for chicken pot pie? It's all here—along with shortcuts and inspired techniques: To crush peppercorns, for example, dump into a Ziploc and pound with a rolling pin.

QUICK CUISINE

Culinary Institute of America

The Culinary Institute of America has trained generations of notable chefs (Sara Moulton, among them). In this easy-to-parse volume, its experts serve up fast versions of French classics including Salmon en Papillote, as well as high-end comfort food (Risotto with Scallops). With simple ingredients and inspiring photos, this is perfect for weeknight cooks craving something fast and fab.

NEW AMERICAN

Patrick O'Connell's Refined American Cuisine

Co-creator of the Inn at Little Washington in Virginia, O'Connell is a self-taught chef who specializes in luxe but accessible versions of old favorites. In his second cookbook, he elevates comfort favorites to a new level: Deviled eggs are made with quail's eggs; fish sticks become Sole Fingers with Green Herb Mayonnaise. Enlivened by splendid photos, O'Connell's book is a joy.

SWEETS & BAKED GOODS

by Rebecca Rather with Alison Oresman

"Most mornings I smell like an Apple-Smoked Bacon and Cheddar Scone as I drive my daughter Frances to school," confides author Rebecca Rather. A native Texan, she believes in cooking large, as in meringue-topped tarts so high and swirly that they're called Texas Big Hairs. No pretension here—at her Fredericksburg bakery, one of her bestsellers, Jailhouse Potato-Cinnamon Rolls, was inspired by a recipe for the dinner rolls served at a county jail.

Yield: 20 to 22 pieces

2 cups whole pecans 1 cup buttermilk 1 teaspoon baking soda 3 cups sugar 2 tablespoons light corn syrup ¼ cup unsalted butter 2 tablespoons vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350°F. Arrange pecans on a baking sheet in a single layer and toast for 7 to 9 minutes, until golden brown.

Combine buttermilk, baking soda, sugar, corn syrup and butter in a heavy-bottomed 4-quart pot; cook slowly over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until it reaches the soft-ball stage, between 234° and 240° on a candy thermometer, about 30 minutes. Remove pot from heat. Add vanilla and pecans and beat with a wooden spoon until it begins to lose its shine, becomes more opaque and starts getting creamy, about 10 minutes. The candy should be thick enough to drop by tablespoonfuls onto waxed paper. Cool candies thoroughly, then wrap individually in plastic wrap. They will keep at room temperature for about 5 days.

RICK & LANIE'S EXCELLENT KITCHEN ADVENTURES by Rick Bayless and Lanie Bayless

The chef who helped to introduce authentic Mexican cooking to the U.S., Rick Bayless (of the Frontera Grill and Topolobampo in Chicago) has traveled widely with his daughter Lanie, 13, and wife Deann. Based on their journeys, this cookbook and culinary travel journal focuses on food and family around the world. Written by Lanie and her dad, it offers recipes for ethnic favorites including Street Vendor Pad Thai, along with sidebars like "Five Cool CDs to Play While Cooking Asian." (No. 3: First Contact by Japanese rockers Orange Range.)

FEAST: FOOD TO CELEBRATE LIFE by Nigella Lawson

This volume from the saucy British food writer brims with recipes for holidays and rituals. The inventive lineup includes a curry banquet for the Muslim feast of Eid (marking Ramadan's end) and a Georgian spread featuring cheese bread and chicken from the Russian republic. Bonus: her "Chocolate Cake Hall of Fame" chapter.

RAICHLEN'S INDOOR! GRILLING by Steven Raichlen

Grilling expert Raichlen includes entire menus that can be cooked on grill pans, grilling machines, even in the fireplace. Aside from meats and fish, he includes starters (grilled Camembert with tomato sauce) as well as desserts (grilled peaches drizzled with caramel). Get it while it's hot.

  • Contributors:
  • Michelle Green.