Melissa Clark’s effervescent, inexhaustible enthusiasm for all things edible is wonderfully infectious. She really makes you want to drop everything, head for the kitchen and whip up an Upside-Down Polenta Plum Cake or Carroty Mac and Cheese. In her second cookbook, Cook This Now, this fabulous food writer and columnist for the New York Times Dining Section has arranged a year’s worth of all-new recipes by month so you can take advantage of what’s fresh and seasonal. Each recipe comes with a chatty, warm, uniquely Melissa-esque introduction, a sort of kitchen bio, that will help you understand why a particular technique or ingredient is used. Why, for instance, Melissa roasts rather than stews Ratatouille, or why it’s worth looking for real new potatoes, using three different meats in chili or peeling away the craggy exterior of celery root. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a recipe you won’t want to make among the 120 gathered here. Gotta go, my beautiful Butternut Squash Risotto with Pistachios and Lemon is just about ready.

THE SPLENDOR OF SLOW
Nifty, thrifty and oh, so practical, slow cooking—in a traditional oven or in a slow cooker (remember when we called them crockpots?)—is a super way to save time and save money as you serve up consistently impressive and delicious dishes. The Slow Cook Book by Heather Whinney, a winning collection of more than 200 recipes, will put you on the fast track to slow in no time. Whinney begins at the beginning with a primer on the techniques necessary for successful slow cooking and advice on stocking your pantry, choosing ingredients, then prepping them. But the proof, as always, is in the pudding, or, more to the slow-cooking point, in the casserole, curry, pilaf or paella. These recipes allow you to stay with the classics or go global: Chicken Fricassée or Chicken and Orange Tagine; Beef Broth with Parmesan Dumplings or curried Beef Mulligatawny Soup; hearty Brazilian Feijoada or caraway-scented Pork Goulash; Artichoke Risotto or Vegetable Biryani. Each recipe has clear, detailed instructions for both slow cookers and traditional ovens—take your pick. Either way, slow is now quick.

TOP PICK IN COOKBOOKS
In addition to making stock, the ever-fabulous Jacques Pepin is taking stock. Essential Pepin: More Than 700 All-Time Favorites from My Life in Food is the culmination of Jacques’ reflections on his 60-plus years in the kitchen—a culinary diary of his culinary identity. The recipes are Jacques’ pick of the best of the best from among the thousands he’s created and, though their intrinsic quality remains unchanged, each one has been rethought and updated. From golden oldies to the here-and-now, from the classic French to the all-American, everything in Jacques’ repertoire carries his unique stamp and approach—unpretentious yet elegant, pragmatic yet sophisticated. I wish I had the gastronomic gumption to pull a Julie-and-Julia, cover-to-cover cook-through (a Jacques-around-the-clock?) of these 700 recipes. This is exactly the kind of rare cookbook that deserves that sort of passionate attention. Just imagine starting with Cold Cream of Pea Soup with Mint and ending (a few happy years later) with Espresso Ice Cream in Chocolate Goblets. Jacques’ life in food is truly worth reliving.

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