Health experts have found that ordering food from restaurants for pickup or delivery during the during the COVID-19 pandemic is, for the most part, safe, but cooking at home isn’t just about social distancing — the exercise can calm the nerves and create order in a chaotic universe. With these handy, helpful cookbooks, Chicagoans can help support the restaurants and purveyors they love, as well as local bookstores.
Got that baking itch that seems to have consumed the U.S.? Give Hot Chocolate owner Mindy Segal’s collection of cookie recipes a whirl, or try tips from the longtime experts at Eli’s Cheesecake. Curious about how one of Chicago’s most popular Southern restaurants perfects its famous fried chicken? Take a peek at Big Jones owner Paul Feribach’s thoughtful recipes and reflections. Hankering for some sweet nostalgia with a side of the “best biscuits ever”? Breakfast queen Ina Pinkney’s cookbook/memoir has both.
Explore some of Chicago’s best cookbooks below, listed in alphabetical order:
Cookie Love: More Than 60 Recipes and Techniques for Turning the Ordinary into the Extraordinary by Mindy Segal & Kate Leahy
The first cookbook from James Beard award-winner Mindy Segal, owner of Wicker Park destination Hot Chocolate and former pastry chef at Charlie Trotter’s, MK, and Marche, Cookie Love features nearly 300 pages filled with 60 recipes. Segal weaves her whimsical style throughout, highlighting twists on mass-produced cookies like Oreos and Manillas. The book isn’t a primer for first-time bakers, though it’s designed for home cooks rather than professionals, so be prepared for a fun challenge.
Buy: Women & Children First | Bookshop
Cooking for Good Times: Super Delicious, Super Simple by Paul Kahan, Rachel Holtzman, & Perry Hendrix
The tagline from One Off Hospitality co-founder Paul Kahan’s newish cookbook is “super delicious, super simple.” That’s the whole ethos — a direct approach for home chefs to feed and impress without becoming overwhelmed by hard-to-source ingredients or complicated cooking techniques. It’s a notable change from his first cookbook, Cheers to the Publican, which is both gorgeous and rather challenging. Instead, Kahan decided to focus on laying out a roadmap for home cooks that isn’t stressful and brings about striking results. After all, it seems everyone could really use some good times right now.
Ina’s Kitchen: Memories and Recipes from the Breakfast Queen by Ina Pinkney
Ina Pinkney, the “Breakfast Queen” of Chicago and one of the city’s most beloved restaurateurs, is known throughout the industry for her generosity and vivacious spirit. Though she closed her eponymous restaurant in 2013, her memoir and accompanying recipes brings her unique brand of energy into home kitchens, where many are in need of comfort. Hearty and crowd-pleasing recipes from the book include “Ina’s award-winning fried chicken,” “the best biscuits ever,” and “the perfect cheesecake.”
Buy: Agate Publishing
Korean BBQ: Master Your Grill in Seven Sauces by Bill Kim & Chandra Ram
Known for bending and defying culinary genres throughout his storied career in Chicago, chef Bill Kim (Urbanbelly) unabashedly engages with the complicated layers of immigrant-American identity both intellectually and culinarily in Korean BBQ, written with Plate magazine editor Chandra Ram. Those seeking an introduction to traditional Korean barbecue won’t find what they’re looking for here, but home cooks who crave insight as to how Kim layers flavors from Seoul to Puerto Rico are in for a treat.
Buy: Penguin Random House | Bookshop
The Adventures of Fat Rice: Recipes from the Chicago Restaurant Inspired by Macau by Abe Conlon, Adrienne Lo, & Hugh Amano
Part comic book, part cookbook, the Adventures of Fat Rice helped break new ground when it comes to what a collection of stories and recipes can look like when it was first released in 2016. Packed with tales from the tiny Southeast Asian country of Macau, accompanying recipes, and lovely, helpful illustrations from artist Sarah Becan, the book works hard to educate readers on both Fat Rice’s cultural influences as well as the techniques and ingredients that made the Logan Square restaurant a mega-hit.
Buy: Fat Rice | Bookshop
The Aviary Cocktail Book by Grant Achatz, Nick Kokonas, & Allen Hemberger
It will likely come as no surprise that Chicago’s famed Alinea Group went all in on the first recipe collection from its landmark Fulton Market cocktail bar the Aviary. At more than 440 pages, it’s a glossy tome packed with stunning full-bleed photographs, detailed illustrations, and 115 recipes, all designed to provide “the definitive word on 21st century cocktails.” It’s available in “standard” and “reserve” editions, and can be bundled with the Aviary’s second book, Holiday Cocktails, for a little Christmas in July.
Buy: The Aviary | Amazon
The Big Jones Cookbook: Recipes for Savoring the Heritage of Regional Southern Cooking by Paul Fehribach
During average times, many Chicagoans beat a path to Andersonville for rich, deep gumbo ya-ya and Edna Lewis-inspired fried chicken at Lowcountry restaurant Big Jones. Owner and chef Paul Fehribach is offering an abbreviated carryout and delivery menu, dubbed “Little Jones,” while his dining room is closed, but he also penned a 2015 cookbook that gives fans a chance to whip up his dishes at home. Inside, readers will get much more than recipes —Fehribach marries lists of ingredients and instructions with a complex understanding of history and geography to paint an engrossing, nuanced portrait of the regional cuisine upon which he’s built his livelihood. This is one to curl up with on the couch for a deep dive.
Buy: University of Chicago Press | Bookshop
The Eli’s Cheesecake Cookbook: Remarkable Recipes from a Chicago Legend by Maureen Schulman, Tara Lane, Jolene Worthington, & Diana Moles
Sweet-toothed home cooks looking for a foundational set of dessert recipes steeped in Chicago tradition may find the answer in this collection of 40 different cheesecake recipes, from “Original Plain” to Belgian chocolate, honey almond pistachio ricotta, and more. There are also a few savory specials that Chicagoans will recognize, including Shrimp de Jonghe.
Buy: Eli’s Cheesecake | Bookshop
Venerable Chicago farmer’s market organization Green City Market, a foundational component of the Midwestern local food revolution, has an unusual cookbook that brings together recipes some of the city’s most well-known chefs and market regulars. Contributors include Top Chef champion Stephanie Izard (Girl & the Goat), James Beard-award winner Sarah Segner (Prairie Grass Cafe), Paul Virant (Gaijin), and Carrie Nahabedian (Kostali), and the book includes a forward from one of the city’s most famous chefs and restaurateurs, Rick Bayless (Frontera Grill). Organized by season, the recipes range from sweet to savory and provide excellent inspiration for those who source ingredients from farmers and CSAs.
Buy: Green City Market | Bookshop
The Hoosier Mama Book of Pie: Recipes, Techniques, and Wisdom from the Hoosier Mama Pie Company by Paula Haney and Allison Scott
Celebrated Ukrainian Village pie shop Hoosier Mama, boasting some of the most surprising and exciting pies in the city, began as a joke between owner Paula Haney and her husband. More than a decade later, that flight of fancy has become a Chicago institution. Baking is highly technical and Haney and Scott’s book follows suit, with plenty of photographs and procedural guidance for the aspiring home pie maker.
The New Chicago Diner Cookbook: Meat-Free Recipes from America’s Veggie Diner by Jo A. Kaucher, Kat Barry, & the Chicago Diner Crew
Iconic local spot Chicago Diner, “meat-free since ‘83,” has long reigned as one of the city’s premiere vegetarian restaurants. This book is a mostly vegan follow-up to the diner’s original 2002 cookbook and offers recipes for a range of skill levels, plus tips and tricks for creating replicas of its plant-based meat substitutes — don’t miss the recipe for its signature “Radical Reuben,” which features corned beef seitan.
Buy: The Chicago Diner | Bookshop