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Thought for food

A dozen books on cooking and eating that made 2012 delicious

Photo: , License: N/A

Photo: , License: N/A

Saltie: A Cookbook, by Caroline Fidanza (Chronicle Books, 224 pages) My favorite cookbook of the year is a synecdoche of the Williamsburg restaurant from which it emerges: It looks tiny and insignificant (just sandwiches?), but it's a powerhouse. To make each component of a sandwich perfectly from scratch takes years of practice-built skill; to conceive of a sandwich as perfect as the Scuttlebutt, as the four women of Saltie did, evinces a slyly veiled level of genius.

The Hungry Ear: Poems of Food and Drink, edited by Kevin Young (Bloomsbury USA, 336 pages) What we talk about when we talk about food: This anthology surveys the poetry of appetite, which of course can cover a lot of ground – emotional, political, self-abnegating – but here the metaphors are all gastronomic. Editor Kevin Young has himself written many beautiful poems with culinary conceits; four of the 158 collected in this volume are his.

Edible Selby, by Todd Selby (Abrams, 296 pages) Interiors and fashion photographer Todd Selby (The Selby Is in Your Place) focuses in on foodies – cooks, restaurateurs, fishermen, gifted throwers of dinner parties – in the latest groovy comp of his trademark photo-shoot/interviews. Selby has a knack for placing the reader right in the subject's world; each interview feels and looks naturally beautiful and utterly unstaged. More lifestyle than cookbook, but irresistible to anyone who loves to eat.

The Mile End Cookbook, by Noah and Rae Bernamoff (Clarkson Potter, 224 pages) The Bernamoffs, Montreal-expat chef-owners of New York's Mile End Deli, have truly redefined Jewish comfort food, fine-tuning Eastern European favorites like pastrami, lox, blintzes and brisket into luxurious classics – the recipes for challah-dough cinnamon rolls and crispy sour pickles are homey knockouts. The heavy emphasis on DIY smoking and curing is educational; the page design and photography are as useful as they are beautiful.

Skirt Steak: Women Chefs on Standing the Heat and Staying in the Kitchen, by Charlotte Druckman (Chronicle Books, 320 pages) Women are supposed to stay in the kitchen, unless it's the kind of kitchen where you get paid; then they're supposed to stay the hell out. Druckman's deeply sourced book tends toward the polemic but never loses its sense of humor, giving equal time to chefs who've made it work within the boys-club system and those who've gone their own way.

The Art of the Restaurateur, by Nicholas Lander (Phaidon, 352 pages) Financial Times restaurant critic Lander's prose is sparkling, fluid and self-assured, but the true strength of this book is Nigel Peake's witty line drawings. Like most Phaidon publications (see Fäviken, top right), its pure physical presence makes it covetable: The pages lie perfectly flat, the cover is silky perfection, and each detail is so well-thought-out that the erudite writing is almost – almost – subordinate.

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