Over the past couple of years we’ve seen a slight shift in the cookbook publishing world — where books were released not only as a guide to preparing meals at home, but also as a way to document the culture surrounding the food being prepared in a specific place. Over the course of this year, books have been published about the food of Vietnam, the American South, Portugal and desserts from the mind of a mad-genius pastry chef. With so much great writing surrounding the glossy photos and recipes, reading cookbooks is not as weird as you would think. It’s hard for us to create a list of the BEST cookbooks of 2014. There were just so many high-quality volumes to pick from. With that, here are 15 we think did a pretty nice job and would recommend.

1. Ample Hills Creamery: Secrets and Stories from Brooklyn’s Favorite Ice Cream Shop By Brian Smith and Jackie Cuscuna
Ample Hills Creamery is a popular Brooklyn ice cream shop run by a former screenwriter and audiobook producer, and most-popular dad in Brooklyn candidate Brian Smith (read our interview). He wanted to write a book that not only told his unique story (aren’t they all?), but index his encyclopedic list of recipes into chapters with intriguing names like Nutty, Tipsy, Blissful and Inspired. Many of the variations are based on a sweet cream “base” recipe, which is a smart way to write an ice cream book. There are all sorts of riffs with stoner mix-ins — bacon shows up too — as well as the recipe for the shop’s most popular flavor: Salted Crack Caramel. In a crowded field, this was the good one.

2. Bar Tartine: Techniques and Recipes by Cortney Burns and Nicolaus Balla
Strap on some mad-scientist googles and watch out for exploding jars of fruit pastes! The experimental duo behind one of San Francisco’s most celebrated restaurants dishes up creative ideas for fermenting, curing and pickling all sorts of good stuff. This modernist’s manual is big on layering flavors and especially heavy on food porn, boasting some 150 photographs. You can read our interview with Cortney Burns.

3. Brooks Headley's Fancy Desserts by Brooks Headley
If you need proof that Del Posto pastry chef Brooks Headley has written a different kind of desserts book, all you have to do is turn to page six. There you will find a foreword written by famed music producer Steve Albini. And if you have to look up that name, this might not be the desserts book for you. “They say that all arts aspire to music, but that’s a con,” writes Albini. “Music wishes it was food. Music cries itself to sleep over not having been born a ripe fig or shank of lamb.” Of course, this book by the award-winning pastry chef at New York City’s Del Posto has a bunch of recipes for nice gelato and carrot cake. There’s something called “donuts the hard way,” which is interesting (and hard). But this collection of recipes, along with essays and photos, thoroughly references the chef’s punk rock past. You can read our interview with Brooks Headley.

4. Death & Co: Modern Classic Cocktails With More Than 500 Recipes by David Kaplan, Nick Fauchald, Alex Day
Cocktail books count as cookbooks. Well, this one does at least. Like PDT, Death & Company is one of those landmark East Village bars that has existed on both hype (lines have pretty much always been long) and incredible cocktail making. Here’s the book that tells the bar’s long history, along with a mind-bending 500 cocktail recipes. It’s a big book for every cocktail fanboy out there.

5. Heritage by Sean Brock
Finally! A full-length explicit opus from heralded chef Sean Brock, the leading visionary of Southern cooking — “the only true cuisine in America,” as he puts it. In his first cookbook, Brock offers both sensual recipes (ranging from classic pickled shrimp to contemporary crispy pig ear lettuce wraps and of course his famous cheeseburger) plus cerebral riffs on the connection between the region’s culture and its crops. Pour yourself a few fingers of bourbon for this one. It’s going to get deep. You can read our interview with Sean Brock, which was part of Sean Brock Day on Food Republic.

6. Mallmann on Fire by Francis Mallmann and Peter Kaminsky
Not much beats grilling out, and what better way to do it than under the guidance of trailblazing Argentinian cook Francis Mallmann? The grillmaster’s second book — his first work, Seven Fires, was called “captivating” and “inspiring” by The New York Times — features 100 recipes for live-fire meals both intimate and outsized. Mallmann takes readers on a global journey from winter’s snow to mountaintops, with beaches, crowded streets of Manhattan and deserted islands in Patagonia in between.

7. The Meat Cookbook by Nichola Fletcher
The Meat Cookbook is our kind of read. Some serious, no-nonsense insight into a topic that we care about. Deeply care about. With more than 300 recipes covering pork, lamb, beef, poultry, game and offal, this meat lover’s bible is loaded with authentic international recipes, such as Feijoada (Brazilian stew), frango piri piri (Portuguese spicy chicken) and Andalucian tripe. There are also 50 step-by-step techniques on how to properly cook meat and some expert advice from butchers.

8. The New Charcuterie Cookbook: Exceptional Cured Meats to Make and Serve at Home by Jamie Bissonnette
We’re pretty excited about our cured meats here at Food Republic. We’ve even devoted an ongoing series to charcuterie and butchery. In The New Charcuterie Cookbook, nose-to-tail icon Jamie Bissonnette — owner/chef of Toro in Boston and New York — shows readers how to master the art of charcuterie. Complete with a foreword from Andrew Zimmern, the paperback packs in recipes involving sausages, confits, salumi, pâtés in a variety of internationally inspired preparations — think Banana Leaf-Wrapped Porchetta, Lebanese Lamb Sausages and Mexican Chorizo.

9. My Portugal: Recipes and Stories by George Mendes and Genevieve Ko
In a way, George Mendes has put Portuguese cooking on the culinary map with his five-year old New York City restaurant, Aldea (he was named a Food & Wine Best New Chef in the process, one of cooking’s highest honors). In this book, his first, he discusses that journey, but also travels around the world detailing how former colonies have created their own food identity. There’s also a chapter titled "Learning To Love Salt Cod," which provides detailed recipes for executing the dish at home. Twist our arms! You can read our interview with George Mendes.

10. Ovenly: Sweet and Salty Recipes from New York's Most Creative Bakery by Agatha Kulaga and Erin Patinkin
Agatha Kulaga and Erin Patinkin are the bakers, self-described “frosting-lovers” and co-founders of popular Brooklyn baking empire, Ovenly. We’ve been following their moves for a couple years now — be it through their insanely addictive bar snacks like maple thyme pecans, or their even more insanely addictive baked goods like currant and rosemary scones, vegan salted chocolate chip cookies and salted apple bread. Remember when vegan baked goods were basically all terrible? Ovenly changed that real quick-like. Their debut book includes recipes for all sorts of greatness like crumbly shortbreads, beer-slicked caramel corn and buttery scones. And of course there is plenty of ink spilled to pay respect to the art of the chocolate chip cookie. 

11. Plenty More: Vibrant Vegetable Cooking from London’s Ottolenghi by Yotam Ottolenghi
We were delighted by the vegetarian section of Yotam Ottolenghi's last book, Ottolenghi: The Cookbook. But his follow-up to 2011's Plenty is the first iteration of a cooking tome dedicated to the fantastic produce-centric cuisine of California, Italy, North Africa and the Middle East. If your vegetable game could be a little more…vibrant, for instance, this is the book that will revolutionize those weekly farmers market trips. From sweet and sour leeks to creamy tagliatelle, you've never had vegetables, raw or cooked, this delicious.

12. Prune by Gabrielle Hamilton
The first thing you'll notice about Gabrielle Hamilton's first cookbook, named for her East Village restaurant, is that its cover is a prune-colored riff on a Moleskin notepad. The second through eleventh things will hopefully be the Bloody Mary variations that keep guests lining up at Prune just about every weekend morning. Peruse 250 recipes, including a whole chapter entitled "Garbage," featuring tantalizing recipes created from throw-away ingredients (mmmm, bread heels and pan drippings!). If you loved Hamilton's best-selling Blood, Bones and Butter, now you can cook along! Check out our interview with Gabrielle Hamilton.

13. Sherry: A Modern Guide to the Wine World's Best-Kept Secret, with Cocktails and Recipes by Talia Baiocchi
The comeback kid of the wine world undergoes a full examination, detailing its storied tradition, sullied reputation and ultimate redemption. There’s also useful information on making cool contemporary cocktails and bites of food to pair with the lightly fortified Spanish wine, and knowing all about it can add another level to your drinking sophistication.

14. Relæ: A Book of Ideas by Christian Puglisi
While many of the top restaurants in Copenhagen stick with a polished European sensibility — captain service, long tasting menus and so on — Relæ stands out for its casualness without compromising. It’s the ethic of the restaurant’s charismatic owner, a Noma and El Bulli veteran named Christian Puglisi. In his debut cook, he details the theory behind is award-winning plant-based cooking (for more, read our recent profile) and gives readers a few of his signature recipes like potato snow.

15. The Slanted Door: Modern Vietnamese Food by Charles Phan
Charles Phan, born in Da Lat, Vietnam, has become the loudest voice promoting Vietnamese cooking in America — with his award-winning San Francisco restaurant serving as a bit of a megaphone. For his first book, Vietnamese Home Cooking, he took readers on a colorful journey to the alley kitchens of Saigon and beachside grills of the Central Coast. In this follow-up, he pens a love letter packed with recipes (think seared scallops with Vietnamese beurre blanc), stories and lots of photos. 

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