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Mrs. Santa's Book Bag

By Kate Thornberry, Fri., Dec. 7, 2012

Mrs. Santa's Book Bag

The Epicurious Cookbook

by Tanya Steel & the editors of Epicurious (Clarkson Potter Publishers, 400 pp., $27.99, )

Although crowdsourcing makes me a little uneasy, one thing I have to admit is that it seems to produce really great cookbooks. Epicurious.com is the most award-winning food site on the Web, and probably the one I trust most when I'm googling for a recipe; the site is heavily curated by actual editors, and the recipes must meet certain standards to be posted there. Further enhancing their value, Epicurious recipes get tested (and rated) by thousands of home cooks before they even start the journey toward becoming printed words on a dead-tree page.

Unsurprisingly, this winnowing process results in a masterful and reliable cookbook, with 250 "greatest hits" in a row. The book is divided into four seasons to facilitate seasonal and organic sourcing and has hundreds of amazing photos. Some of the recipes are simple (Irish soda bread), and some are complex (coconut fried shrimp with chile oil), but all were rated "4 Forks" (or near perfect) by users of the site. Although most of the recipes were authored by regular folks, a good many were contributed by famous chefs and food writers. Contributors include Tom Colicchio, David Chang, Edna Lewis, Jonathan Waxman, and Molly Wizen­berg (of Orangette).

Another interesting result of the crowdsourcing process is that by virtue of being the recipes most consulted and tried on the Epicurious site, the book gives an accurate reflection of what is changing culinarily in American homes right now. Fish tacos and Mexican street corn are spreading out from the Southwest; lettuce wraps and sesame noodles are penetrating suburban menus; kale, beets, pears, and brussels sprouts are having a comeback. These are the recipes people want to try. Taken altogether, the book creates a fascinating mirror of the foodways of the United States in 2012.

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