Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver is still as enthusiastic about food as when he first arrived on the scene. His intense curiosity about America, from the “dream” to the egg cream, led him on a journey across the U.S., resulting in Jamie’s America. He focused on six idiosyncratically chosen places: New York and L.A.—with forays into their “gritty underbellies”—plus Arizona, Louisiana, Georgia and, for a taste of cowboy cuisine, Wyoming. Though he went looking for “quintessential American food,” he decided there was no such thing and ended up with a “wealth of seriously exciting dishes,” ranging from Quick & Punchy Kimchi and Venison & Juniper Stew to Chile Cheese Cornbread, Awesome Apple Pancakes and Bread Pudding with Chocolate-Beer Sauce. Committed but coolly casual, Jamie’s trademark chatty introductions, instructions and measurements (“4 good handfuls of interesting salad leaves”) are reassuring and fun, and the full-color photographs of the people he met, the places he went and the dishes he devoured are fabulous.

If you’re making this a D.I.Y. year, whether to save money, to be more self-reliant or just to get away from mass-produced foods, D.I.Y. Delicious by Vanessa Barrington is a good place to start. I’m old enough to remember a time when cooking was almost wholly a D.I.Y. endeavor, but times have changed, and most of us need a little guidance when it comes to making our own crème fraîche, granola, sauerkraut or salsa. Vanessa includes a wonderful range of basics, explaining the necessary skills and anticipating your questions. As she goes from Aioli to Root Beer with stops for sourdough starter, Italian Table Pickles and Persimmon-Spice Butter, she provides flavor-packed recipes that incorporate each of them. After you’ve prepared a jar of Honey Mustard, you can use it in warming, winter-perfect Maple and Mustard-Glazed Root Vegetables or Mustard and Bourbon-Glazed Pork Roast. Asian-accented Soy-Ginger Dressing with veggies will entice even the most salad-averse, and homemade Mascarpone will jazz up your next Tiramisu and cut down on the cost. Real food—simple staples made with your own hands—is the real deal for body and soul.

The antidote for cold weather and darker days is cozy comfort food. And what could be cozier than a big, beguiling brunch? DeDe Lahman and Neil Kleinberg know from brunch, as New Yorkers would say, and in Clinton St. Baking Company Cookbook, they share the secrets of the treasured treats that even the most jaded, been-there-eaten-that city-dwellers queue up for at their tiny establishment on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Neil is a Brooklyn boy, but his buttermilk biscuits are truly to die for, and spread with Tomato Jam, topped with fluffy scrambled eggs, they anchor one of the best breakfast sandwiches this side of paradise (though I love them for dinner). Then come the muffins, scones, rhapsodically light pancakes, seasonal soups, sandwiches and sides like Grilled Goat Cheese on sourdough and Baked Truffled Grits, divine desserts and delicious drinks. Step-by-step directions, seasoned with tips and “restaurant tricks,” helpful notes and gorgeous photos make the making of these delights as pleasurable as their consumption. 

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