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These 10 Summer Cookbooks Will Make The Good Life Even Better

liz west
via Flickr

Toss out the china and pick up the picnic basket! Summer cookbooks are fanciful creatures — high on whimsy and shamelessly devoted to making a good life better. For some, that means lingering in the farmers markets or gardening with the kids. For others it's indulging in some usually forbidden pleasures — the fried, the icy sweet, the charred and meaty. And for some, it means crossing oceans to sample less familiar fare — without ever leaving the porch. There's something for everyone, but all go just fine with bare toes and a sun hat.

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Summer Cookbooks


by Lucy Vaserfirer

Ah, the glow of the charcoal! The ring of the tongs! The romance of grilling may center around a Weber kettle, but some of its most powerful secrets lie in a zip-top bag. Marinades offers page after page of simple, devastatingly effective baths, and — just in case you're not so sure what to do with your Madeira-Thyme Marinade once you've got it — afterward points you in the direction of some nice veal rib chops or other appropriate cuts. Lucy Vaserfirer knows that for all the fire and flair at the end, the success of a grilling adventure often starts hours before, with the silent, humble art of wet baths and dry rubs. Chops and medallions, steaks and kebabs — there's hardly a cut of protein that doesn't benefit from a good, long soak in an emphatically seasoned liquid. Five minutes of forethought while you're cleaning up from lunch is all it takes. After that, deliciousness is in the bag. Meanwhile, you can go for a bit of a soak yourself.

The Soda Fountain

by Gia Giasullo and Peter Freeman

No summer cookbook list is complete without a cool beverage book. While this season offered many alcoholic contenders, it's impossible not to be won over by this package of all-American, retro charm. The Soda Fountain — as in the kind you used to find in a drugstore — is the work of Brooklyn Farmacy owners Giasullo and Freeman. Along with some pure Brooklyn farming-hipster style, the book offers fascinating historical tidbits, postwar snapshots and a treasure chest of easy syrups and blends to get you started. Where else are you going to learn about the great carbonic acid explosions of the Jazz Age? Or why they call them "soda jerks"? There's something for everyone: classic egg creams for the nostalgic, sundaes for the sweet-toothed, and, yes, syrup-based cocktails for those who just have to have them.

Fried & True

by Lee Brian Schrager and Adeena Sussman

You know you want it! And you don't have to go begging at the Colonel's. We're talking about fried chicken. 61 recipes for fried chicken, volunteered by — or extracted from — as many chefs (big names like Yotam Ottolenghi and Tyler Florence and Marcus Samuelsson as well as ones you've never heard of). Yes, 61 recipes is probably overkill, but then, everything about fried chicken is overkill. Double-dipped? Hard-fried? Fricasseed? Hawaiian? Keralan? Korean? They're all here. Thank goodness there is also an army of sides — mashed potatoes, cucumber salad, biscuits, dirty rice — because there's only so many fried chickens you can cook (or eat) in a single summer. But don't let that stop you from trying to eat them all.

The Family Cooks

by Laurie David and Kirstin Uhrenholdt

It maybe isn't the easiest thing in the world to get your kids to eat right. Maybe you gave up a little during the hair-raising chaos of the school year. But summer — featuring a lot of beautiful ingredients and a little extra time — gives you a second chance. The Family Cooks keeps a close eye on the kid-friendly spectrum: Its recipes are either a little familiar (peanut butter and grape wraps), tasty but not outright challenging (chicken strips with a Parmesan crust), or, if all else fails, cute (seedy crackers shaped like goldfish). The photography is clean, rustic and saturated, the voice is reassuring, and there are little tips on each page steering you toward what your kids can do to help. They may not eat an entire rainbow salad (cherry tomatoes, carrot coins, yellow pepper, broccoli florets, purple cabbage) in one go — but when it comes to vegetables, every small handful is a victory.


by Brian Nicholson and Sarah Huck

From its first sugared strawberries to the dark and dewy plums of August, summer is fruit season. It can be tempting to simply stuff your face full of apricots while you can, or trot out your standard cobbler night after night. But here an orchardist and his co-author make a case for more refined fruity pleasures: cocktails and sorbets, compotes and salads, tarts and pops and savory sandwiches. And summer's only the beginning. Nicholson and Huck will have you spooning up rhubarb-cardamom creme brulee in March and comforting yourself with lamb and quinces in October. Because no seasonal table is complete without the sweetest offerings of vine and tree and bush — ripe and full of promise, and passing all too fast.

The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Vegetable Cookbook

by Brent Ridge, Josh Kilmer-Purcell and Sandy Gluck

The "lifestyle company" Beekman 1802 celebrates the better bits of farm life (fresh eggs and rustic antiques, not manure spreaders and drought). This third Beekman cookbook outing is suffused with nostalgic, agrarian spirit, from its seed-packet endpapers to its fluted-china still lifes. Even if you can't be bothered to jot down "Fall Recipes from Your Family" into the quaintly lined journal pages provided, the recipes here go a step beyond your average vegetable ode and are worth exploring: green beans with frizzled scallions and ginger, butternut squash crostini with raisins and brown butter. It's not vegetarian, and heirloom vegetables are not actually required — for Beekman 1802 is all about the joys of the harvest, minus the backache from weeding and the gritty fingernails. To be used in a spirit of indolence.

Vegetarian for a New Generation

by Liana Krissoff

This third offering in Krissoff's "New Generation" series may look just like any other vegetable book, but don't be fooled! Once you get past the bland title and tiny print, there are some surprising, wickedly effective flavor combinations just waiting to be discovered. Brussels sprouts waltz through a tamarind-ginger dressing; a tamari-butter glaze clings to potato wedges. Even the kale chip, which everyone agrees has overstayed its welcome, gets an alluring makeover in coconut. Not every recipe shines with newness — there are fine old friends like miso eggplant and butternut squash soup — but Kassoff never lets comfort devolve into boredom.

The Better Bean Cookbook

by Jenny Chandler

Protein-filled, healthy beans — everybody wants to love them, but why do they make it so difficult? Even perfectly cooked beans can exhaust your appetite long before you get to the bottom of the bowl, for the blandness of a bean calls for aggressive seasoning to blast open its beige palette. Here at last is a bean book that's more tempting than earnest, brimming with cosmopolitan flavors and vivid photography. Forget about your hippie-era three-bean dip and boiled lentils — in these pages, dosas and tagines, falafels and burritos rub shoulders. Some are generously herbed, some are richly spiced, but all deliver novelistic detail on the plate compared with the leguminous one-liners of years past. The right-minded should be warned that this is no vegan — or even vegetarian — compendium. Decadent beanery is afoot in these pages; proceed accordingly.

A Mouthful of Stars

by Kim Sunee

Here we have this year's Armchair Travel book, for those stuck on staycation. It may not always be fun to tag along on someone else's adventures, but in this case the journey is gorgeously illustrated and designed, and Sunée's globetrotting food is to die for. There are more traditional favorites than surprises here, sweet-talking charmers like roast pork belly or Key Lime pie or cardamom buns. Sunée romps through Korea, North Africa, India, Mexico, France, Scandinavia, the South, making friends and cooking up a storm. There's no point in looking for an overarching narrative or a moral in all this revelry — it's not that kind of book — but it's fun to go along for the ride while simultaneously staying happily put in your kitchen.

Simple Thai Food

by Leela Punyaratabandhu

I have generally found "Quick," "Easy," and "Simple" to be disingenuous labels when it comes to Thai cookbooks. They might be actually easy, but then they're likely more Chinese than Thai. Or they're not actually easy at all — just easy compared to the hours you'd spend pounding spice pastes in the old country, with no electricity or running water. But Punyaratabandhu seems to pull it off, coming up with recipes that are weeknight-doable yet electric with ingredients you can just about find if you try hard (dried shrimp, kaffir lime leaf, palm sugar). Shortcuts or not, they're desperately delicious. And as to those curry pastes? Store-bought is fine, according to the author. But diehard readers will still find complete recipes for each in the back of the book. In other words, you can have it both ways.

T. Susan Chang regularly writes about food and reviews cookbooks for The Boston Globe, and the Washington Post. She's the author of A Spoonful of Promises: Recipes and Stories From a Well-Tempered Table (2011). She lives in western Massachusetts, where she also teaches food writing at Bay Path College and Smith College. She blogs at Cookbooks for Dinner.