This is a great time to be a cook.
There are cable channels and blogs devoted to cooking, and recipes aplenty on the Internet. Nothing replaces a good cookbook, though, and publishers know it. Today's cookbooks are better illustrated, better priced, more thorough in explaining techniques and downright more interesting because they also provide a narrative of the recipes.
One of the most gorgeous cookbooks out so far is "Malouf: New Middle Eastern Food," by Greg and Lucy Malouf (Hardie Grant, $49.95). The Maloufs put the heady aromas, exotics spices, complex flavors and delightful textures of Middle Eastern cuisine within anyone's reach. Recipes for spice mixes, dressings, relishes and jams are included.
In "A Month in Marrakesh," Andy Harris shares his food journey to Morocco. The 250 recipes cover breakfast, soups and snacks, tagines, roasts and desserts. "Marrakesh" is $34.95 from Hardie Grant.
The Southern tradition of gathering around the table for good food is served up in three new cookbooks.
Restaurateur Alex Hitz gives 175 of his favorite Southern dishes a French twist in "My Beverly Hills Kitchen" (Alfred A. Knopf, $35). There's nothing pretentious here. Hitz's aim is comfort food with a focus on sauces, pot pies, grits, hot and cold soups, and stories and recipes from celebrities like Bill Blass and Betsy Bloomingdale.
In "Southern Living Around the Southern Table" (Oxmoor House, $29.95), Georgia native Rebecca Lang makes gratins, soufflés and pot pies. And then she offers bakes: blue crab casserole, five cheese mac, salad and dressing one-dish supper, chicken and wild rice with pecans, Swiss bread pudding and more.
Also from Oxmoor house is "Southern Living Home Cooking Basics: A Complete Illustrated Guide to Southern Cooking" ($29.95). The book is packed with recipes and photos, and emphasizes techniques. If you've never picked up a Southern cookbook, do yourself a favor and check out one of these. The recipes are approachable and the results always please.
A similar kind of hospitality with recipes from south of the border comes from "Muy Bueno" (Hippocrene, $22.50), culled from the Muy Bueno Cookbook blog. The recipes are uncomplicated and the pictures make the dishes look so good that you'll want to try them in the comfort of your own home. Plus, there are all the salsa and alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks that take up nearly half the book.
Baking is in full swing, and publishers share recipes from bakeries.
"The Brown Betty Cookbook" (Wiley, $22.99) is a compilation of recipes from Philadelphia's bakery and personal favorites of authors Linda Hinton Brown and Norrinda Brown Hayat. It's easy to get lost in the recipes for cakes, pies and cookies, but that would mean missing out on the stories of the women who've inspired these "modern vintage desserts."
From the other side of the coast comes "The Dahlia Bakery Cookbook" (William Morrow, $35). Seattle chef Tom Douglas, winner of the 2012 James Beard Award for outstanding restaurateur, shares 125 recipes, including his triple coconut cream pie. The book includes bakery favorites, jams and jellies, breakfast and brunch, soups and ice cream.
Nancy Baggett, author of 14 cookbooks, focuses on "Simply Sensational Cookies," a collection of 200 recipes with streamlined techniques. The book is $29.99 from Wiley.
In "Fix-It and Forget-It Pink Cookbook," (Good Books, $24.95), Phyllis Pellman Good interviews breast cancer survivors to discuss how important food is in the survivor's recovery. Good has teamed with Avon Foundation for Women Breast Cancer Crusade, and for each copy of the cookbook sold, $1 will be donated to the foundation.
Other books of note:
"The Epicurious Cookbook: More than 250 of Our Best-Loved Four-Fork Recipes for Weeknights, Weekends & Special Occasions" (Clarkson Potter, $27.99).
The creator of the Smittenkitchen.com blog offers "The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook" (Alfred A. Knopf, $35). A few favorite recipes from the site are interspersed with more than 100 new offerings.
"The Modern Vegetarian: Food Adventures for the Contemporary Palate," by Maria Elia, is out in paperback. It was chosen as one of National Public Radio's Top 10 cookbooks of summer 2009. It's $19.95 from Kyle Books.
Also out in paperback from Kyle Books is "Crust: From Sourdough, Spelt, and Rye Bread to Ciabatta, Bagels, and Brioche." Richard Bertinet's book was the winner of the World Gourmand Cookbook Award for baking and a nominee for the James Beard Award for food photography.
"A Table at Le Cirque: Stories and Recipes From New York's Most Legendary Restaurant" (Rizzoli New York, $39.95) chronicles the glitz and glamour and iconic recipes of the famed eatery.
Makes 10 pieces
This Southern take on cornbread is a crisp, lacy brown wafer best enjoyed a few seconds after it leaves the skillet.
½ cup stone-ground white cornmeal
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons water
¼ cup bacon drippings, divided
Combine cornmeal, salt and water in a small bowl.
Heat 1 heaping tablespoon bacon drippings in a cast-iron skillet over medium-low heat. When drippings are shimmering (the sign that they're hot), very carefully add 2 tablespoons batter to hot pan. Gently spread batter from center outward. (The batter will immediately look lacy and bubbly.) Cook 3 minutes or until edges are brown. Turn and cook 3 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack. Repeat procedure with remaining batter, adding more drippings to pan as needed.
This recipe is from "Around the Southern Table," by Rebecca Lang (Oxmoor House).