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Nerdette’s Greta Johnsen invited Alex Beggs – freelance food writer, former staffer at Bon Appetit and all-around friend of the pod – to talk about her favorite new releases of 2023.

Photo illustration by Mendy Kong

The best cookbooks of 2023

We all agree: You really can’t have too many “best cookbook” recommendations, especially at this food-filled time of year.

Nerdette’s Greta Johnsen invited Alex Beggs — freelance food writer, former staffer at Bon Appetit and all-around pal of the pod — to talk about her favorite new releases of 2023. Her picks include books for every kind of home cook: the maximalist, those among us needing weekday inspiration, people obsessed with fruit, vegetable lovers and bakers of all skill levels.

For easy reference (hint: great gift ideas), here are Alex’s best cookbooks of 2023.

🎧 Click the red “listen” button for Greta’s delightful chat with Alex.

COOKING

FOR THE MAXIMALIST CHEF

More Is More by Molly Baz (Clarkson Potter)

 Molly Baz is like that vivacious, ponytail-swinging friend who loves to entertain and has a habit of calling favorite dishes “total bangers.” In her second cookbook, the former Bon Appetit staff editor and recipe developer (and, full disclosure, friend of Alex, who worked on the book) presents of-the-moment riffs on crowd-pleasers that are intended to help you become a bigger, bolder version of yourself in the kitchen. 

In Baz’s world, olive oil is measured in glugs, salt is to be showered and the stove better be rippin’ hot. “This isn't your I-have-30-minutes-on-a-weeknight type of book,” Alex says. “It's really big and impressive dishes that are so flavorful.” Standout recipes include Crispy Orecchiette with Spicy Sausage & Collard Ragu and Yummy Juice, a mezcal-based cocktail with apple and lemon juice. Even the typography and page layout are causing a stir. “The design of the book is really wild,” Alex says. “She really pushed the boundaries of what a cookbook should look like.”

* * *

FOR WEEKNIGHT INSPIRATION

Make It Japanese by Rie McClenny (Clarkson Potter)

 “I do not think this book got enough press and love for how great it is,” Alex says about the first cookbook from Rie McClenny, the Japan-born host of a BuzzFeed Tasty video series called “Make It Fancy.” Positioned as an entry-level introduction to the home cooking of McClenny’s childhood, Make It Japanese has recipes that, Alex says, are approachable, clean and delicious. 

“They're not hitting you over the head with extra toppings and flavors and craziness,” Alex says. “It really is just simple, comforting.” Some recipes Alex loves are the chicken and tofu meatballs with an easy soy sauce glaze, cabbage salad with lemon-miso dressing and a vibrant edamame-pistachio dip. Alex says this is the book you’ll reach for during the week when you want something quick but out of the ordinary.

* * *

FOR THE FRUIT NERD

Pulp by Abra Berens (Chronicle Books)

Pulp is the third in a series of encyclopedia-esque cookbooks from Abra Berens, the chef at Granor Farm in Three Oaks, Mich., and a former farmer herself. This one focuses on fruit and is a companion to earlier volumes about cooking with grains (Grist) and vegetables (Ruffage). Each intertwines recipes with profiles of farmers, diagrams illustrating the anatomy of the ingredients, and abundant substitution and composition options. 

“You're gonna learn so much about food from this book — and people,” Alex says. “I think the way she has put a spotlight on agriculture makes her books feel, like, for all time. They feel just like a part of Americana food culture.” The book includes many savory recipes that use fruit — for example, a cornbread with peaches and jalapeno. “I think a cook becomes a better cook from [Berens’s] books,” Alex says. Greta is also a fan of Pulp: “An absolute must-have.”

* * *

FOR FRESH TAKES ON VEGGIES

Tenderheart by Hetty Lui McKinnon (Knopf)

 Hetty Lui McKinnon, the Chinese-Australian cook, longtime vegetarian and food writer, has carved a niche for her family-friendly, approachable, vegetable-forward cookbooks. Tenderheart adds another winner to the shelf. The 528-page whopper tackles vegetables in categories from A to Z with chapters that hint at McKinnon’s upbringing as the daughter of a produce wholesaler in Sydney — “Asian Greens,” “Taro” and “Turnip & Daikon.” 

Alex loves McKinnon for her inventiveness that rarely strays into fussy chef territory. “There's a cheesy kale and rice cake baked dish that … satisfies your baked pasta craving but in a totally different way,” Alex says. “She's so good with noodles.” Roasted cabbage with garlicky sesame sauce is another fave from the book, Alex says. “It’s just full of ways to make vegetables more thrilling in your life, which is something I needed.”


BAKING

FOR NEWBIES AND SLACKERS

Snacking Bakes by Yossy Arefi (Clarkson Potter)

 “For your I-just-want-to-make-an-awesome-batch-of-brownies or somebody who doesn't bake a ton but loves a baked good, Snacking Bakes by Yossy Arefi is amazing,” Alex says. The follow-up to Arefi’s 2020 hit Snacking Cakes, this compendium of easy staples explores cookies, bars, brownies, blondies, barks and a fair number of, yes, cakes. 

“These are one bowl, the most flexible, the most substitutions, like seriously, the easiest baking recipes out there,” Alex says. Greta, who interviewed Arefi for her first book, also appreciates how accessible these recipes are. “Baking can feel really daunting for folks,” Greta says. Pair Arefi’s two smaller-format volumes for an adorable stocking stuffer.

* * *

FOR THE WELL-EQUIPPED

Sweet Enough by Alison Roman (Clarkson Potter)

 Devotees of Alison Roman’s exuberant, writerly approach to cooking are accustomed to her breezy titles for recipes that sound like commentary from a good friend: “Smooth, Creamy, Mashed Potatoes Because I Guess We Must” is a classic of the genre. Her latest entry does not disappoint with chapters that include "i've got all this fruit, now what?” and “things called puddings.” 

Alex loves this book, which she describes as suited to the baker with a strong equipment setup (there are 19 recipes in “pies, tarts, galettes”) and for those who enjoy pudding-like textures. But there’s something for every kind of sweets person. “I've cooked the Cold Carrot Cake from that maybe three times,” Alex says. “I'm about to make the lemon shortbread again today.”

* * *

FOR AMBITIOUS BAKERS

More Than Cake by Natasha Pickowicz (Artisan)

 You’re in for serious baking when an author describes a digital scale as “indispensable,” a French-style tapered rolling pin as a “game changer,” and, you know, really recommends you get a candy thermometer. The debut cookbook from Natasha Pickowicz, a New York-based pastry chef, delivers inspiration for those who want to impress with the unexpected. 

“The flavors she puts together! There’s, like, a rutabaga loaf. There’s a peanut butter cookie with soy sauce,” Alex says. “I mean, she has a brilliant, unique mind.” But one of Alex’s favorite recipes from the book is the relatively unsexy cheddar oatcake. “It's like a homemade graham cracker type of thing, and you press oats and shredded cheese onto the top,” she says. “It's so good with cheese. It's the best homemade cracker I've ever made.”

Greta Johnsen hosts and produces Nerdette podcast. Anna Bauman also produces Nerdette. Jennifer Tanaka is WBEZ’s digital managing editor.

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