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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

Consider the Fork, by Bee Wilson (Basic Books, 352 pages) Consider the Fork is a chunky little contender of a nonfiction book, doggedly researched by Wilson, but it's saved from being a grind by the hybridity of its topic. Tracing the origin of the common utensils humans have evolved for eating and cooking, after all, touches not just on food and design, but on sociology, prehistory, even biology, and Wilson has the gift of making dull detail spring vividly to life.

CookFight: 2 Cooks, 12 Challenges, 125 Recipes, an Epic Battle for Kitchen Dominance, by Julia Moskin and Kim Severson (Ecco, 320 pages) Don't let the generic cookbook cover fool you. These women have an anarchic sense of humor, not to mention the most bloodthirstily competitive friendship I've ever seen. (That pun on "cockfight" isn't accidental.) The conceit, which grew out of a New York Times series, is genius: Severson and Moskin separately tackle a dozen common kitchen problems – dinner party, holiday buffet, picky eater – and set down their individual recipe solutions; readers are the true winners.

Fäviken, by Magnus Nilsson (Phaidon, 272 pages) On the other end of the spectrum from Cookfight's practicalities lies this Swedish chef's chronicle of his fiercely idiosyncratic restaurant, full of recipes for dishes like "Grouse, paste of innards, gypsy mushrooms and rowan berries." In other words, you could follow these recipes qua recipes, but they're perhaps most useful as inspiration. (For those who loved last year's rugged-Swedish-forager cookbook, Fäviken is this year's NOMA.)

Jerusalem: A Cookbook, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi (Ten Speed Press, 320 pages) Super-committed carnivores may have felt left out by the furore over Ottolenghi's last cookbook, Plenty, with its vegetarian focus. Fret no more, meat-eaters; Jerusalem encompasses the entirety of the edible kingdom, with an emphasis on the more esoteric corners of Mediterranean cuisine. These recipes are simple but in no way simplistic.

The Best Illustrated Cocktail Recipes, Created by Artists From Around the World, edited by Nate Padavick and Salli Swindell (Studio SSS, 46 pages) The brother-and-sister team behind the website-turned-cookbook They Draw and Cook is back with this short, sweet cocktail recipe compilation. Charming illustrated recipes, each by a different artist, limn boozy concoctions from 007's Vesper Martini to the Tall Blonde, a Scandinavian stunner.

Oranges, by John McPhee (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 168 pages) Every year I write this roundup of the year's best cookbooks; every year I include this book, first published in 1975. Why? Because McPhee's classic of narrative nonfiction is a miniature universe. Like one of those tiny glasses of OJ served in diners, its narrow covers enclose the geological, historical and meteorological roots of Florida citrus farmers' struggle to exist. So no big deal: just a self-contained cosmology of the Sunshine State, that's all.

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