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Cookbook review: The Food52 Cookbook, Volume 2

The James Beard Award winning website Food52.com has crowd-sourced another cookbook with its signature charming style.

By Kendra Nordin / December 1, 2012

Variegated Spiced Latkes, by Food52 contest winner Sagegreen, are a mix of sweet potato, unpeeled Russets, and parsnip. The Food52 Cookbook editors report that, in this recipe, "fennel and fresh ginger tickle your tongue in the most pleasant of ways."

Food52/HarperCollins

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This may be one case where too many cooks in the kitchen is a good thing.

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Kendra Nordin

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The award-winning community of online home cooks is back with another crowd-sourced tome, The Food52 Cookbook, Volume 2. Created by food writers Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, Food52.com is a recipe and cooking website that invites online users to contribute and critique recipes, and share solutions for kitchen challenges. So immediate has been its success since its launch in late 2009, Food52 has attracted more than 85,000 members and was named the 2012 Publication of the Year by the James Beard Foundation

This second cookbook edited by Hesser and Stubbs includes 104 recipes culled from the themed recipe contests hosted each week over the course of a year on Food52 (as in 52 weeks). Full of interesting, unique dishes and candid comments from Food52.com groupies, "The Food52 Cookbook, Volume 2" inspires as easily as it charms.

Volume 2 is organized by season in order to best showcase its emphasis on seasonal, fresh cooking. Its recipes demonstrate a certain artisanal flair, with such titles as "Almond Cake with Orange Flower Water Syrup," "Variegated Spiced Latkes," "Coconut Cajeta & Chocolate Fondue," and "Late Night Coffee Brined Chicken," to name a few.

Why buy a cookbook when you can find thousands of recipes online? Consider this volume a carefully edited selection of the crème de la crème efforts by home cooks. Hesser and Stubbs, with an assist from a team of recipe testers and photographers, chose the finalists of each contest but it was the online readers themselves who voted for the winning recipes. The cookbook also includes 23 "wildcard winners," hand selected by Hesser and Stubbs.

On the last pages are tiny mug shots of each winning contributor, which helps to give the cookbook its community feel and reveals the identity of some of the more prominent Food52 users (Mrs. Wheelbarrow has a real name!). Three of the winners are also contributing bloggers to CSMonitor.com's Stir It Up!: Hong and Kim Pham of TheRavenousCouple.com (Korean Fried Chicken Wings) and Perre Coleman Magness of TheRunawaySpoon.com (Fig and Blue Cheese Savories).

Enthusiastic comments from the online members also include their own confident adaptations. "This is soooo delicious and easy! Great for entertaining," writes user VBeale of a recipe for Sweet Potato and Pancetta Gratin. "I substituted shallots for the pancetta to make it vegetarian. Thanks for sharing!"

This is exactly the kind of spirit that makes Food52 endearing – it reassures home cooks that we're all in this together and that everyone has something to offer. What makes the Food52 experience so unlike anything you'll find on the chef-focused Food Network is that this is a community by home cooks for home cooks. Even the photos and videos are shot right in Hesser's Brooklyn Heights apartment kitchen.

But beyond the feel-good community ties, which have far surpassed expectations of its founders, followers of Hesser's work will find that the Food52 cookbooks are yet another chapter in her ever-interesting career. As a food editor of The New York Times and an award-winning author ("The Essential New York Times Cookbook," "Cooking for Mr. Latte," "The Cook and the Gardner") Hesser has something of a golden touch, right down to picking a partner in Stubbs. 

Everyone needs a break from being logged on, and when you are ready to power down and head into the kitchen create something of your own, just tuck a copy of "The Food52 Cookbook" under your arm and bring a whole new army of foodie friends to cheer you on.

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