WRITTEN BY Alejandra Saragoza
Alejandra is the managing editor of California.com. She's a California native based in the Bay Area and enjoys writing about all things food and travel related. Her work can also be seen in Diablo, T…See full bio
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Making pasta from scratch or crafting specialty boba tea typically seemed too time consuming prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, but today’s markedly slower pace means there’s no better time than now to step up your cooking game—and California chefs have you covered.
From revered baker Nancy Silverton to actor Danny Trejo, these restaurateurs have new cookbooks chock-full of recipes for novice and expert bakers alike, providing guidance and inspiration for home cooks looking to hone their skills or get outside their comfort zones. You can recreate the comforting favorites you’ve been craving, practice for your next dinner party, or cook an Easter feast for your family.
Though the titles here represent only a portion of the new California cookbooks on offer, they embody all of the qualities that make cookbooks worthy vehicles for imagination. Here’s a short stack of the California cookbooks that are bound to capture your heart (and stomach).
Title: Chi Spacca: A New Approach to American Cooking
Authors: Nancy Silverton, with Ryan DeNicola and Carolynn Carreno
What to make: Coffee-rubbed tri-tip, fried whole branzino, Moroccan braised lamb shanks, and butterscotch budino
James Beard Award–winning chef and Chef’s Table star Nancy Silverton has written seven (yes, seven) other cookbooks based on her bakery and Italian restaurant empires, but her latest work takes on a different focus: meat. Named for her new steakhouse, Chi Spacca—which means “he or she who cleaves”—divulges the secrets of cooking like an Italian butcher through meat-centric recipes that capture the spirit of Italy but highlight California ingredients.
The recipes can be ambitious, so be prepared to stretch (or flex) your culinary acumen. You can learn how to create homemade ’nduja; hearty beef pie, complete with a hunk of bone marrow bone sticking out of the center; and focaccia di Recco, a flaky, cheese-filled bread. Mixed in with the recipes are tons of practical advice and context. Silverton explains the inspiration and authorship of each dish, revealing the extent to which her Chi Spacca restaurant, for all its Tuscan butchery pedigree, is a truly Californian eatery.
And don’t worry, there are plenty of veggie recipes to help you ward off the meat sweats. From fire-kissed cauliflower with green garlic crème fraîche to little gems salad with herb breadcrumbs and grated egg, there’s a vegetable dish that can pair perfectly with your meaty entrée.
Title: The Boba Book: Bubble Tea and Beyond
Authors: Andrew Chau and Bin Chen
What to make: Hong Kong milk tea, strawberry matcha latte, and dirty horchata
A Taiwanese tea-based drink dotted with chewy tapioca balls, boba (also known as bubble tea) first burst onto the California dining scene in the mid-2000s and quickly became a cultural phenomenon, with countless boba tea shops opening across the state and country—and it’s all thanks to the Boba Guys.
Andrew Chau and Bin Chen opened their first Boba Guys storefront in San Francisco in 2013 and have since opened 14 other locations. Along the way, the chic brand has redefined what it means to drink boba by leveraging innovative, high-quality ingredients and drawing inspiration from international cultures. The artisanal, signature concoctions—such as the espresso-spiked dirty horchata and the strawberry-laced “Cali-Pico”—have transformed the Boba Guys into a famed destination that attracts droves of locals and tourists alike.
Now, with The Boba Book, the founders show boba newbies as well as longtime fans how they can make their (new) favorite drink at home. The cookbook includes step-by-step instructions for the specialty beverages along with recommended toppings for each tea base. There’s also chapters on how to make toppings and add-ons from scratch—including grass jelly, mango pudding, and, of course, boba—how to get the most enjoyment out of boba, and how to achieve that perfect bubble tea Instagram shot.
Title: Trejo’s Tacos: Recipes and Stories From L.A.
Author: Danny Trejo
What to make: Vegan cauliflower tacos, sweet and spicy brisket, mushroom asada burritos, and nacho donuts
Even if you don’t necessarily recognize his name, you’ve definitely seen Danny Trejo. Muscular and tattooed, with a mustache dropping down below the corners of his mouth and dark hair slicked back into a ponytail, he’s made an impression in every role he’s played in his prolific acting career, whether it was a Juárez Cartel drug runner in Breaking Bad, a machete-wielding vigilante for hire in Machete, or a gadget-loving uncle in Spy Kids. But since 2016, Trejo has taken on a role outside of Hollywood: co-founder of a flourishing fleet of taquerias.
Long before he was on the silver screen, Trejo imagined opening a restaurant, and—after a few arrests, boxing championships, and hundreds of movies—he finally turned his vision into a reality and debuted Trejo’s Tacos in La Brea. He now owns multiple Trejo’s Tacos locations, plus Trejo’s Coffee and Donuts.
In his first cookbook, Trejo’s Tacos, the 75-year-old actor pays homage to his restaurant legacy and his lifelong home of Los Angeles by sharing his favorite recipes for bold, fun, and versatile Mexican food by way of L.A. He divulges the skills needed for cooking slow-braised pork shoulder with bacon and chiles for incredibly flavorful carnitas, turning spiced fried chicken or Mexican-inspired falafel into tacos and burritos, and making cotija and chile mashed potatoes that will knock everyone’s socks off. The recipes are relatively simple and malleable, too, making them ideal for home cooks of all skill levels.
Along with stunning photography, the pages are also filled with captivating stories. You’ll learn about Trejo’s lifelong love of food—from the authentic meals his mom cooked when he was growing up in the San Fernando Valley to the post-wrap celebratory tacos he made for his Hollywood friends—how his time in prison helped launch his acting career, and his unexpected journey to becoming a Narcotics Anonymous/Alcoholics Anonymous counselor and a successful restaurateur.
Title: Eat Something: A Wise Sons Cookbook for Jews Who Like Food and Food Lovers Who Like Jews
Authors: Evan Bloom and Rachel Levin
What to make: Braided challah, Wise Sons’ brisket, carrot tzimmes, and “Morning After Matzoquiles”
Be warned: This isn’t your typical cookbook. Eat Something is part Jewish humor book and part Jewish cookbook, providing 60-plus homey recipes for salads, soups, baked goods, holiday dishes, and more (with plenty of laughs on the side).
The highly anticipated work by chef Evan Bloom of San Francisco’s acclaimed Wise Sons Deli and food journalist Rachel Levin is as much a lighthearted, nostalgic cookbook as it is a vibrant celebration of Jewish culture. Each chapter is dedicated to a different celebratory event—from bris to shiva and Passover to Shabbat—chronicling a Jewish life in food while highlighting California-style recipes from beloved Bay Area restaurants. Instructional illustrations and short essays also abound, including “Confessions of a First-Time Seder Host;” “So, You Didn’t Marry a Jew;” and “Iconic Chinese Restaurants, As Chosen by the Chosen People.”
Which California cookbook are you most excited to buy? No matter which one you choose, see if your local bookstore offers delivery during this time so you can support a California business while social distancing.