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It’s that time of year when food writers take a look at that shelf of books we’ve been sent review copies of, or purchased ourselves, and suggest people give some of them as gifts. In an effort to not be a list you’ve already read—yes, The Art of Living According to Joe Beef is amazing, Ruhlman’s Twenty is excellent, I completely covet Eleven Madison Park and I hope to soon own Mark Vetri’s Rustic Italian Food and Andrew Carmellini’s American Flavor—I’m going to offer up a few things that I’ve enjoyed using and cooking from this year, including two iPad-only items, one of which may be my favorite “book” of the year and is first up in the list. Next Restaurant – Paris: 1906 by Grant Achatz, Nick Kokonas, Dave Beran & Christian Seel This iBook blew my mind. Not simply for the content, which is gorgeous and fascinating, but for what it represents in publishing, selling and reading a cookbook. If you know who the authors are and what Next restaurant is then you’ve already correctly assumed Next Restaurant – Paris: 1906 is a supremely complex cookbook. For those who don’t know, briefly, Next is a restaurant in Chicago that becomes a completely new restaurant every three months. I would imagine that task would require meticulous planning and, thankfully for the many of us who couldn’t get tickets to the restaurant, the planning is captured by Christian Seel, essentially an on-staff documentarian. While it would certainly be possible to publish an entire cookbook of this visual quality every three months, the costs and production time may prove prohibitive. But as an iPad-only iBook there are no print costs (or shipping and storage for that matter) and there’s some video embedded in it as well. At $4.99 this was the easiest no-brainer purchase I’ve made in ages, and it’s also easily worth so much more. You can buy it for the iPhone or iPod, but I’m not sure I would enjoy it at that smaller size. The authors have said other ebook formats may follow. Next Restaurant – Paris: 1906 isn’t perfect, but the potential it shows is fantastic. Plus it’s a very cool book, no matter the format. Skip a couple of coffees or a beer and buy this iBook now. Fire It Up: More Than 400 Recipes for Grilling Everything by Andrew Schloss and David Joachim with photographs by Alison Miksch. First up is a book I wrote about earlier this year for Jacqueline Church’s BBQ Bonanza 2011. I got this book and I thought, “eh, it’s a grilling cookbook.” But my lack of enthusiasm quickly dissolved as I flipped through the book. First of all, there’s a lot of great grilling information in it. Sure, there’s a lot of great grilling information all over the place now, but that’s the point, this book has just about all of the information you could need in one place. Secondly, the flavor combinations in the recipes, while not hugely unique, are still very interesting and, as with the grilling info, the recipes are very well organized. There’s a seriously huge amount of recipes in one resource. The other thing I love about the book is it really is, as the title says, about grilling everything, and I mean everything. The chapters include: Beef, Veal, Pork, Lamb, Goat, Bison & Other Game Meat, Chicken & Turkey, Duck, Goose & Game Birds, Fish, Crustaceans & Mollusks, Vegetables, Fruit, Cheese, Other Dairy Foods & Eggs and Breads, Sandwiches, Cakes & Cookies. The Art of Beef Cutting: A Meat Professionals Guide to Butchering and Merchandising by Kari Underly I loved this book before I even got it, having seen Kari Underly’s videos online. This book covers everything to do with a side of beef. Having worked with Blackbird Farm for a few years now, I know a good amount about beef from raising the animal to cooking it, and when I say the book covers everything, I do mean everything. It’s beautiful, thoughtfully laid out and very educational. Sure it may be more manual-like and in-depth than some people may need, but if you really care about beef and want to study butchery, this is the book. I would imagine it’s already being used as a classroom textbook. Pat LaFrieda’s Big App for Meat by Zero Point Zero Want to learn more about meat, but perhaps through something more general and not as super in-depth as Underly’s book? If you have an iPad you’re in luck. The Big App for Meat just came out last week and I’ve already spent a ton of time reading it, watching some videos and showing it off to friends. It covers just about every cut of meat from beef, lamb, veal, pork and poultry. There’s 360 degree spinning images of cuts, technique videos and a Meat Quiz game. At $6.99, I truly believe it’s a steal. You can go buy it right now. Heartland The Cookbook by Judith FertigHeartland kind of snuck up on me over the course of 2011. As the year went by and the growing season turned into harvest season, I found myself grabbing recipe ideas and cooking more from the book. When I did, I couldn’t help but sit down and read more of it too. There’s a lot of great material in this book. It really feels like it covers the entire vast space that is the American Midwest. As much as I appreciate the farm-to-table movement, I’ve never much cared for the term because I’ve felt that’s always been the way real food should always work, not be a labeled movement. Heartland shows that, yes indeed, that is the way food has been thought of for almost a couple hundred years in the Midwest. The I Love Trader Joe’s Around the World Cookbook by Cherie Mercer Twohy Here’s something a little different, but again, a book that snuck up on me as I flipped through it. I am a Trader Joe’s regular. It’s not a perfect grocery store by any means, but to feed my family of four I can’t always count on getting everything at the farmers’ markets and I don’t like navigating the supermarket wasteland. Also, as The I Love Trader Joe’s Around the World Cookbook shows best, there’s a lot of interesting international ingredients at Trader Joe’s. Sure, it’s not a fully-stocked Asian or Middle Eastern grocery (we’re fortunate enough to have several of those in the Rhode Island area) but when I need a couple of gallons of milk for the kids and they want taco shells (organic even!), it’s nice that I can also get quinoa and dried apricots in one stop. Trader Joe’s makes cooking for your family more convenient, Cherie Mercer Twohy’s book adds to the convenience, and that’s a big help to working families. The publisher of The I Love Trader Joe’s Around the World Cookbook was kind enough to share an excerpt from the book. [amd-zlrecipe-recipe:1]