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Best cookbooks of 2013: This roundup won’t look like the others

It’s not often that a year of cookbooks can be summed up in a single word. But in 2013, “uneven” fits.

With a few exceptions, small books outshone the big ones. Lots of niches were explored, some catering to a pretty specific audience – along the lines of gluten-free Indian vegan slow-cooker meals on a budget. Vegetarians were treated to a rich buffet. Celebrities published recipes for simple baked beans and cashew glop and still camped out on the bestseller lists for months.

I don’t remember coming across so many mistakes during random recipe testing, which adds a little unwanted color to a review. While some restaurant chefs kept home cooks in mind, others seemed more interested in chronicling their impossibly perfect plates. One of the most striking books offered recipes, of a sort: not for creating dishes but for showing how the dishes were photographed.

All of which is to say that our best-of list might not look like the others published at the end of the year. We chose the ones we think you’ll learn from and pepper with sticky notes. We haven’t gone so far as to include The Washington Post Cookbook: Readers’ Favorite Recipes and Post food editor Joe Yonan’s Eat Your Vegetables, but we’re hoping they are already on your shelf.

Here are our favorites of the year, in alphabetical order within categories:

Top 10

∎ The Animal Farm Buttermilk Cookbook: Recipes and Reflections From a Small Vermont Dairy, by Diane St. Clair – There are so many good ways to use this ingredient that you might find yourself stocking it regularly.

∎ The A.O.C. Cookbook, by Suzanne Goin – Advanced-level home cooks will welcome the challenge of three- and four-part recipes; the rest of us will benefit from the simple gems, such as the chef’s sauces and her Torta Gorgonzola With Walnuts in Honey.

∎ Cooking Slow: Recipes for Slowing Down and Cooking More, by Andrew Schloss.

∎ Cooking With Flowers: Sweet and Savory Recipes With Rose Petals, Lilacs, Lavender, and Other Edible Flowers, by Miche Bacher – It takes only a quick flip-through to realize how much you have to learn about this underused foodstuff.

∎ The Food of Vietnam, by Luke Nguyen – This book is big and beautiful. Its recipes deliver Vietnamese dishes without a lot of specialty-store shopping.

∎ One Good Dish: The Pleasures of a Simple Meal,” by David Tanis.

∎ Ottolenghi: the Cookbook, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi – The dishes made popular in the London restaurant are inventive, creative, fresh-tasting and uncomplicated.

∎ Pickles, Pigs & Whiskey: Recipes From My Three Favorite Food Groups, by John Currence – This has so much voice; perhaps that’s why it spoke to me the loudest. Oxford, Miss., chef Currence covers cocktails, frog’s legs, chicken skin corn bread and pork fat beignets. And he recommends the music to cook each recipe by.

∎ Root to Stalk Cooking: The Art of Using the Whole Vegetable.

∎ The Soupmaker’s Kitchen: How to Save Your Scraps, Prepare a Stock, and Craft the Perfect Pot of Soup,” by Aliza Green – Everyone can make some kind of soup. This veteran chef-cookbook author will up any game you’ve got.

Baking

∎ The Cook’s Illustrated Baking Book: Baking Demystified With 450 Foolproof Recipes From America’s Most Trusted Food Magazine, from the editors at America’s Test Kitchen.

∎ Bake It Like You Mean It: Gorgeous Cakes From Inside Out, by Gesine Bullock-Prado.

∎ The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book: Uncommon Recipes From the Celebrated Brooklyn Pie Shop, by Emily Elsen and Melissa Elsen.

∎ Flour, Too: Indispensable Recipes for the Cafe’s Most Loved Sweets & Savories,” by Joanne Chang.

Vegetarian

∎ Isa Does It: Amazingly Easy, Wildly Delicious Vegan Recipes for Every Day of the Week,” by Isa Chandra Moskowitz.

∎ Moosewood Restaurant Favorites: The 250 Most-Requested Naturally Delicious Recipes From One of America’s Best-Loved Restaurants, by the Moosewood Collective.

∎ Vedge: 100 Plates Large and Small That Redefine Vegetable Cooking, by Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby.

∎ Vegetable Literacy, by Deborah Madison.

Without recipes

∎ The Photography of Modernist Cuisine, by Nathan Myhrvold.

∎ Gaining Ground: A Story of Farmers’ Markets, Local Food, and Saving the Family Farm, by Forrest Pritchard.

∎ Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat, by Bee Wilson.

Also recommended

∎ The American Craft Beer Cookbook: 155 Recipes From Your Favorite Brewpubs and Breweries, by John Holl.

∎ Bakeless Sweets: Pudding, Panna Cotta, Fluff, Icebox Cake & More No-Bake Desserts, by Faith Durand.

∎ Balaboosta: Bold Mediterranean Recipes to Feed the People You Love, by Einat Admony.

∎ Breakfast for Dinner: Recipes for Frittata Florentine, Huevos Rancheros, Sunny-Side-Up Burgers and More!, by Lindsay Landis and Taylor Hackbarth.

∎ The Four Season Farm Gardener’s Cookbook: From the Garden to the Table in 120 Recipes, by Barbara Damrosch and Eliot Coleman.

∎ The Fresh Honey Cookbook: 84 Recipes From a Beekeeper’s Kitchen,” by Laurey Masterton.

∎ The Good Cook, by Simon Hopkinson.

∎ Home Made Summer, by Yvette van Boven.

∎ The Kinfolk Table: Recipes for Small Gatherings, by Nathan Williams with Rebecca Parker Payne.

∎ Notes From the Larder: A Kitchen Diary With Recipes, by Nigel Slater.

∎ The Scarpetta Cookbook, by Scott Conant.

∎ Slow Cooker Revolution: Volume 2, the Easy-Prep Edition, from the editors at America’s Test Kitchen.

∎ Smoke & Pickles: Recipes and Stories From a New Southern Kitchen, by Edward Lee.

∎ When Bakers Cook: Over 175 Recipes From Breakfast to Dessert, by Marcy Goldman.

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