a collage of the seven book covers featured in the story

Years ago, at the height of the craze, I bought an Instant Pot. Of course I had to have the largest size possible—the eight-quart. If I’d read any reviews, I might have learned that this hissing countertop monster had a few technical liabilities that the smaller ones didn’t. I was particularly annoyed that I couldn’t find a single IP yogurt recipe that worked in my machine. It just never coagulated. Turns out, I wasn’t following any method that accounted for its echoing empty interior. That was until a new Indian Instant Pot cookbook hit the doorstop last spring—one whose yogurt recipe was spot on for the eight-quart. I now have four quarts of super fresh and creamy yogurt, and two quarts of drained whey to figure out what to do with.

That isn’t even the most exciting observation I made while reading this collection of recent and soon-to-be-published local food books. The reasons for my repeated failures at making a Thanksgiving persimmon pie were revealed in a new midwestern cookbook by a local chef and scholar. You’ll be just as angered and touched by the epitaph David Foster Wallace himself put on the writing career of a student who would go on to become one of Chicago’s most beloved chefs. And I’m thrilled to know that COVID-19 couldn’t kill the classic Wisconsin Supper Club.

Instant Pot Indian: 70 Full-Flavor, Authentic Recipes for Any Sized Instant Pot, Anupy Singla (Agate Surrey)

Former CLTV reporter Singla’s fourth book is a natural successor to her 2010 debut, The Indian Slow Cooker, given how endemic pressure cookers are to Indian home cooking—your IP can act as both. That being said, it joins a very crowded field of previously published books on the same subject. Singla differentiates hers with recipes designed and tested for three-, six-, and eight-quart Instant Pots. (It matters. See above.) They’re mostly plant-based, classic recipes, with a few meaty ones tossed in the pot.

The Sacred Life of Bread: Uncovering the Mystery of an Ordinary Loaf, Meghan Murphy-Gill (Broadleaf Books)

Small enough to fit in an apron pocket, this collection of essays and  meditations—sermons, even—from a former journalist and practicing Episcopal priest is a map toward developing a “spirituality of bread.” Released in early June, each chapter examines some aspect of bread or baking as a metaphor for inner truth, and ends with an appropriate recipe. “If you have no spiritual practices in your life or are looking for a new spiritually edifying habit to maintain,” one chapter begins, “may I suggest a sourdough starter?”

Bon Vivant 4: Texas BBQ, Hugh Amano, editor (A Sterling Bay Production) 

The fourth issue of Amano’s “biannual” travel journal dropped in June, just around the time when folks started to notice something special was happening in the Chicago barbecue scene.

That was just over one year since the journal’s debut, and the seasoned cookbook author and Sterling Bay corporate chef has really hit his stride. This one features a pilgrimage to some of the barbecue greats in Houston and central Texas, visiting both traditional and “New School pitmasters.” Then the team jumps back to Chicago to embed with our flourishing underground barbecue pop-up scene, whose main players—like Charles Wong of Umamicue and Joe Yim of Knox Ave Barbecue—have followed in the footsteps of Austin’s New School LeRoy and Lewis, ushering in a new age of barbecue that breaks free from the Texas Trinity (brisket, ribs, and sausage). There’s quite a lot of practical content to help get you started smoking your own, and there’s a new photographer on the masthead: Jonathan Zaragoza, whose fetching shots show he’s got an eye for more than just a good-looking caprid. Issue 5: Pizza will be out by Thanksgiving, according to Amano.

Midwestern Food: A Chef’s Guide to the Surprising History of a Great American Cuisine, With More Than 100 Tasty Recipes, Paul Fehribach (University of Chicago Press, September 20)

Heartland-focused cookbooks are a dime a dozen, but I’ve never seen one like this from Big Jones chef Paul Fehribach, who established himself long ago as a serious culinary historian. Born and raised in Indiana, he’s mostly known for southern food (and somewhat less so for a very specific set of knife skills). Here he looks upward and inward and serves up an expansive survey and love letter to the often overlooked and sometimes derided cuisine of flyover country.

Fehribach introduces most of the 100-some recipes with a personal and passionate headnote that’s nonetheless deeply researched, often citing the earliest published mentions of a broad selection of dishes both iconic (the jibarito, Italian beef, Chicago-style tips and link) and sometimes forgotten (persimmon pudding, duck and manoomin hotdish, cannibal sandwiches). This is a deep resource, and one of the best validations of the breadth and diversity of our regional cuisine that I’ve seen.

The Lula Cafe Cookbook: Collected Recipes and Stories, Jason Hammel (Phaidon, October 4)

Speaking of midwestern food . . . Jason Hammel was a fiction writer with no kitchen experience when he and future spouse Amalea Tshilds founded their little Logan Square cafe. That was 24 years ago, long before Chicago understood what “seasonal” and “farm-to-table” was supposed to mean; before neighborhood restaurants sprung up like a carpet of April ramps; and way before a worldwide pandemic changed everything. Hammel has stories—and there’s probably no working chef better equipped to tell them. Told between the covers of a thick, beautifully photographed Phaidon art book, it’s the testament this venerated Chicago institution deserves. Hammel spins his tales at the head of some 90 recipes, from beloved dishes that never came off the first menu (Pasta Yiayia, chickpea and fennel tagine), to a broad spectrum of the more ephemeral, ever-changing seasonal dishes that came off the pass over the decades (potatoes with smoked trout and tahini, miso corn cake with shiso ice cream). Each one is stamped with the date of its inception, and Hammel tells the story of its inspiration. The desserts chapter alone is a short history of some of the city’s best pastry chefs. This one is going to occupy a lot of coffee tables.

How to Taste Coffee: Develop Your Sensory Skills and Get the Most out of Every Cup, Jessica Easto (Agate Surrey, October 24)

“Peach, apricot, lemon.” Those aren’t Italian ice varieties, but rather the flavor notes on the bag of pricey craft coffee beans I usually buy. If I ever detected those flavors in the first place, I rarely think about them now. I just like the way these particular beans perform with my preferred coffee gadget.

Maybe I’d be more mindful if the standardized tools and vocabulary used to talk about how coffee tastes hadn’t been bottlenecked at the upper industry levels. Most coffee drinkers—and few baristas—have the ability to understand the flavor notes often expressed on bean bags and shop menus—let alone independently describe what they taste like. Easto’s follow up to Craft Coffee: A Manual seeks to break down the language barriers that divide professionals and consumers. She gets into the weeds on the science of flavor, taste, and olfaction, while illuminating some of the more detailed and esoteric tools professionals use to produce, buy, and market coffee, all interspersed with 19 palate exercises to flex what you’ve learned.

Wisconsin Supper Clubs: An Old-Fashioned Experience, Ron Faiola (Agate, November)

This is a ten-year anniversary update on the seminal guide to the Badger State’s greatest legacy to the Good Times. I never would have guessed that so many of the state’s classic supper clubs—or their owners—would have survived COVID. Indeed, 11 of the originals he featured in 2013 have since shuttered. But many of those passed on before the pandemic, and since 2022, Faiola found 15 more to profile—that’s 15 more brandy Old Fashioneds to drink on prime rib nights.


Singla, Meet Ebert

Our intrepid home cook attempts a local author’s Indian crock-pot recipes in Roger Ebert’s beloved rice cooker.

Chicken of the trees

The rural eastern gray squirrel has long been a valued food source, but what about its urban cousin?