Small-Scale Cookbooks with Big Heart

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The holiday season brings us blockbusters in the world of cookbooks--the big glossy show stealers. It's easy to get caught up in the Ad Hoc's and Noma's (for good reason). But recently I'm being drawn to the quieter cookbooks, the smaller-scale cookbooks without all the gloss or the high-profile chefs but with a whole lot of soul. Here are three of my current favorites.

Alice's Cook Book by Alice Hart
Quadrille Publishing has begun a very cool series called "New Voices in Food." Alice's Cookbook is one of them, and while it's written by a young woman in her 20's and is geared towards the 20-30 something crowd, I find it quite universal, imaginative, and substantial. Alice Hart ran the hit pop-up restaurant, The Hart and Fuggle, in London. Now she has a 1972 VW camper van with an actual kitchen where she finds much inspiration and quiet time to prepare meals. The book features chapters that are organized around occasions like Sunday Lunches or Camper Car Picnics and the photographs by Emma Lee successfully tell a story of a rustic, homemade life and capture Alice's spirit perfectly. In addition to recipes, Alice includes little segments such as "Quick Breakfast Ideas" (Scotch pancakes, Bloody Mary's) and practical tips on meal timing and scaling quantities. In terms of purchasing online, it's currently only available on Amazon's UK site, although Globe Pequot is slated to start distributing it in the U.S. come April. Want it sooner? Good news: Omnivore Books has ordered it and it has arrived! Give them a call or stop in to say hi to the lovely proprietor, Celia.

My Kitchen: Real Food from Near and Far by Stevie Parle
My Kitchen is another addition to the "New Voices in Food" series, this time by a young man and avid traveler who is interested in ingredient-driven cooking. Stevie Parle is a young chef who has worked at the River Cafe and now runs and cooks at the Dock Kitchen in Portobello Docks. His book is part storytelling from his vast travels, part anecdote, part culinary lesson, and large part simple recipes that celebrate the seasons and don't try to reinvent the wheel. Within each chapter, there's a "Master Class" where Stevie aims to teach his readers skills like "How to Slow Cook" or "What to do With Porcini Mushrooms." A very likeable, very unique book. Again, it will also be appearing on the shelves of Omnivore Books very soon.

Communal Table: Curated and Illustrated by Caroline Hwang
As curator Caroline Hwang puts it, Communal Table is about "sharing the love of eating and gathering together." First, in an effort towards full disclosure, I met Caroline through our blogs (hers is a mutual effort with Lisa Butterworth called the Num Num Chronicles. It's great fun. Check it out) and I'm actually included in the first issue of Communal Table, entitled "A Casual Setting." But I wouldn't recommend the project, obviously, if I didn't believe in its spirit wholeheartedly. And I do. Caroline is a Brooklyn-based illustrator/artist with a love for cooking and eating. She has illustrated for The New York Times, Real Simple and has shown in galleries internationally. The first issue of Communal Table includes contributions from folks like Cathy Erway, Tom Mylan and The Jewels of New York. With great contributors, Caroline's brilliant illustrations, and all the proceeds going to a food-related organization, there's not much to dislike. The proceeds from "A Casual Setting" will go to The Food Trust, a Philadelphia-based non-profit providing nutrition education classes for inner-city children, families and the public. I'm particularly excited to check out the "Dinner-Appropriate Frittata with Kale, Olives, and Taleggio." And even more excited to see more and more small-scale cookbooks like the ones featured above appearing on the shelves of my favorite local bookstores.