Cookbooks make lovely gifts for cooks, sure. But it can be hard to sift through the scores of quality books that are published each year. Simplify things by considering two options that shuffle the deck a bit: the Short Stack Editions and the Canal House Cooking series.
Launched just this year, Short Stack Editions has already released two trios of artisanal cooking pamphlets. Small enough to slip into a back pocket, these miniature cookbooks focus on only a single ingredient at a time — eggs, tomatoes, and strawberries in the first trio, followed by buttermilk, sweet potatoes, and grits in the second.
They’re very different, in format and style, from the Canal House series, which features lush photos. But both series have developed a loyal following with their out-of-the-box publishing model, signature voices, and focus on home cooking and ingredients.
The 47-page Short Stack Editions are hand-bound with baker’s twine and printed on colorful paper with original illustrations and cover art. The back cover notes that the up-to-25 recipes in each volume are “one author’s love letter to a favorite ingredient in the form of thoroughly tested recipes with the home cook in mind.”
The 4½-by-7½-inch booklets are the brainchild of publisher Nick Fauchald, a former editor at Food & Wine magazine. He launched Short Stack with a Kickstarter campaign this past spring. The mini-cookbooks are available individually or by subscription on the Short Stack website and from selected retailers.
The editions, Fauchald told me, are a modern take on one of his favorite collectibles: the mid-20th-century pamphlets typically distributed by food companies.
“We’re trying to really make it personal and encourage the author to make it really personal,” said Fauchald, who hand-picks Short Stack authors from among the country’s culinary pros. (That roster includes Virginia Willis, Susan Spungen, and Angie Mosier.) The ingredient focus stems from the author’s expertise or liking.
Recipes can range from the classic to the unorthodox, such as the grits congee in Willis’ publication on grits. Meanwhile, home cooks will find holiday inspirations in Mosier’s booklet on buttermilk, with such crowd-pleasers as Brussels Sprouts Casserole; Buttermilk Pie, Biscuits, and Dressing; and Cornbread and Stuffing. In Scott Hocker’s pamphlet on sweet potatoes, cooks can try the Thanksgiving Casserole with Maple Ginger Meringue or Sweet Potato Agrodolce.
Festive-yet-straightforward home cooking is also the focus of the two seasoned cooks who created the Canal House Cooking series: Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton. “It can be so simple,” said Hirsheimer. “Our mission is to try to get people to sit down and cook and eat with people and their family.”
Hirsheimer and Hamilton work out of a kitchen studio in an old brick warehouse along a New Jersey canal. They share their daily cooking adventures on the Canal House Cooks Lunch blog; the blog, in turn, is the basis for their beautiful tome Canal House Cooks Every Day, which won a James Beard award this spring. (The Canal House books are available through their website, Amazon, and retail outlets.)
Calling on their vast culinary experience — among many other credits, Hirsheimer was a founding editor of Saveur magazine, and Hamilton was the test-kitchen director there — the two women work together to create meals and recipes for the home cook based on the season, ingredient availability, and whatever inspires them.
The resulting and ever-evolving Canal House Cooking series offers three self-published volumes a year: Summer; Fall and Holiday; and Winter and Spring. The current trilogy is devoted to Italian cooking, following the authors’ month-long stay at a Tuscan farmhouse. The third in that series is due out February 2014 and will be their ninth volume.
The roughly 9-by-7-inch books, with their soft covers, remind me of a cherished journal in size and feel. And, as with a journal, the voice in these books is personal and familiar, recounting the authors’ favorite recipes and their shared love of food. That voice, coupled with the attractively rustic photos and illustrations, is very seductive, pulling me straight into the kitchen.
Both the Short Stack Editions and the Canal House books have become required reading for me — and I hope will inspire friends and family, too.
Joan Cirillo is a freelance journalist and cookbook author who loves to cook with her family and friends in Portland, Oregon.
Related book: Canal House Cooks Every Day
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