Best Cookbooks 2023: A List from the United States

In Boston, we were hoping for a white Christmas. We had a Christmas Eve blizzard for my first Christmas here 14 years ago.

            My furniture had not yet arrived from South Africa – it arrived four days later, and two large and cheerful Ukrainians tramped through the snow and up the stairs to my apartment as if it were Springtime.

            All the furniture I had that Christmas was a new bed, two new maple stools, an antique Eames chair and a glass Art Deco coffee table bought at a second-hand store up the road. Waking that morning, I couldn’t believe how beautiful everything was. Thick snow lay like clouds over all, and the light seemed pinkish. Men were in the streets before their houses using what I told my daughter sounded like lawnmowers that shot streams of snow into the air as they carved pathways. I now know they are snowblowers. A teenager knocked on the door and asked if he could shovel my stairs and sidewalk, for which I gratefully gave him $20.

Snowy Winter: Hit the Cookbook

Even if I’m on my own, I make an elaborate Christmas meal. I  pulled up my sole table and chair to the window to eat lunch and watched in fascination as city ploughs created avenues through the snow that further buried the cars parked on the streets. They’d leave, and some homeowners would emerge and dig out their cars, carefully tossing spadefuls of snow across sidewalks and into their gardens (you get fined if you don’t clear the sidewalk in front of your home).

            As I write, it is five degrees Celsius, and I’ve just closed the patio door, which I opened for a time to get in some welcome fresh air. My blood has thickened, and while I’m not yet a Bostonian who will walk around in 0 degrees C in shorts, I’d certainly scoff at a South African winter. This is prime book reading weather and I have yet more cookbooks. I swear books have babies in my apartment, they persistently accumulate despite my regular donations to the local library. These are the cookbooks I liked best and used most in 2023.  

Donna Hay Christmas (2023)

            Donna Hay Christmas (2023) from the beloved Australian cook and author. She was the cook I’d turn to for inspiration when hosting my legendary large lunches or Christmas Eve dinners in Jozi. This year, I’ll cook her crispy leaf potatoes with oregano salt, the herb and garlic sourdough crouton salad, and the burnt cheesecake.

Open Kitchen (2023)

            But then again, I might select the Basque cheesecake with cherries in amontillado (if I can’t find amontillado sherry, I’ll use the Pedro Ximenez sherry lurking at the back of a cupboard). The recipe is Ben Tish’s in the excellent Open Kitchen (2023), a collection of cooking from the best chefs in Britain today.  In the same cookbook is South African-born Nokx Majozi’s delicious Cape Malay chicken curry pie. I made it yesterday – minus the pie crust – it is by far the most delicious, and the easiest Cape Malay curry I’ve ever made.

Cooking (2022)

The cookbook I turned to most often in 2023 was Jeremy Lee’s marvelous Cooking (2022). His recipes are easy and delectable. For Christmas 2023 I made his St. Emilion au Chocolat, the easiest, most spectacular dessert I’ve ever made. It had us racing around on Christmas Eve looking for Italian amaretti biscuits (which form the base), but it was well worth it. Make this for large crowds; it is rich and the best diet buster around. You won’t want just one serving.

I also made his potato, Jerusalem artichoke and celeriac gratin for last year’s Christmas. His walnut cake is quick, easy and stays delicious for days if you can keep the vultures at bay. But who wants to do that? Cooking is an act of love. Satisfaction comes from creating pleasure for those we care about. Lee’s apple tart takes precisely 15 minutes to create and bake and leaves guests cross-eyed with pleasure. Even the worst cook can make this.

Sweet (2017)

I love Yotam Ottolenghi and have at least five or six of his books. His cookbook, Sweet, has the best lemon and raspberry muffin recipe ever. I make batches and freeze some for breakfast or coffee with friends.

While you’re about it, please remember this: 828 million – or 10% of the human population – go to sleep hungry every night. In Palestine, 2.2 million people are starving. I donate a small amount to the World Food Programme each month. You may prefer chef Jose Andres’s World Food Kitchen, which operates in war zones or places experiencing disaster. He and Imtiaz Sooliman, founder of Gift of the Givers, are worthy of global awards for their humanitarian work. I wish you peace in your life and your community and the wealth that loving relationships bring.

Charlene Smith is a multi-award-winning journalist, author, book editor, and writing coach. She is also an authorized biographer of Nobel Peace Prize winner Nelson Mandela.

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