Not only has the inordinate amount of time you're likely spending online these days got you clamoring for an actual cookbook, making your own meals has been both a necessity and a tactile pleasure in a year otherwise devoid. That makes 2020 another banner year for cookbooks, which can take you anywhere you want to go (culinarily speaking), bring you comfort, or insight or a laugh, and help you manage mealtime with renewed interest.

Bob Ross painted his way into our hearts and minds for just over a decade, beginning in 1983 when his Joy of Painting first aired on PBS stations. His melodic voice encouraged all ages to paint "happy little trees" until 1994, when his show ended. By then, however, his perfectly round, permed white guy 'fro and easy smile had hit home. Author Robb Pearlman's new cookbook capitalizes on Ross' iconic and widespread appeal, with Bob Ross paintings plus comfort-food recipes that emulate his laid-back style. Try Nothing-to-it Pot Roast, Van Dyke Browned Meatballs and — wait for it — Happy Little Roasted Chicken.

You might not be able to visit a Disney theme park anytime soon, but this cookbook brings the magic of Mickey's world home to our kitchen. Joy Howard's Disney Eats will appeal to kids and adults alike with mostly healthy meals that look and sound like a trip to the movies or theme park. The photos alone will have you smiling. Lots of colorful, whimsical images like chocolate-dipped strawberries ala Mickey Mouse with blueberries for "ears" and Ariel's Deep Blueberry Sea Bowl with starfruit for starfish. Fun, right? And that's something we could all use a little more of in the kitchen and beyond.

Your cookbook collection is not complete without at least one volume from Ina Garten, aka the Barefoot Contessa. Well-educated and well-heeled, Garten left her White House job in the '70s to develop what would become a foodie empire, starting with a specialty store, then progressing to cookbooks, guest columns for Oprah and Martha Stewart, and her own Food Network television show. Twelve cookbooks later, Garten shares her down-to-earth yet elegant style with a cookbook focusing on comfort foods, many of them from her childhood, like cheesy chicken enchiladas and decadent Boston cream pie.

The pandemic did a number on the hospitality industry, yet for British chef John Burton-Race, it was an opportunity to not only rethink his relationship to food but also to strengthen his relationship with his son. The Michelin-starred celebrity chef returned to England from his former job in Vietnam to build a garden with his son, Pip, which he documented and turned into part how-to and part cookbook. The recipes and revelations that follow are unpretentious, vegetable-forward and heart-filled.

Alexander Smalls is an extraordinary chef. In addition to being recognized by the James Beard Foundation, the Harlem, New York-based restaurateur and author has won a Grammy and a Tony for his opera singing. He blends both his passions in his third cookbook (Meals, Music, and Muses: Recipes from My African American Kitchen), which offers insight into life in the Low Country and the vast range of African American cuisine. Each chapter pairs a genre of music originating in the South with food. So sauteed green beans and gospel. Hoppin' John Cakes, jazz, Carolina Bourbon Barbecue, the blues... it's all in there.

London-based and Israeli-born Yotam Ottolenghi knocked us out with Plenty, a tome to make anyone reconsider eating vegetarian, followed by Plenty More and (my fave) Jerusalem, which doubles as a cultural guide to the ancient city. His newest, Flavour, offers a follow-up of sorts to Plenty, with vegetarian dishes, yet with the same deconstructed approach to understanding why flavors work that made Samrin Nosrat's Salt Fat Acid Heat such a hit.

Whether it's because you're down to the dregs in your kitchen cabinet and avoiding going to the store or cutting corners with canned over fresh, the cured meat phenomena known as SPAM presents a culinary conundrum. Namely, how do you cook it so it doesn't taste like the dense, gelatinous pseudo-meat product it is? A new cookbook offers to "Elevate Ramen, Pizza, Sliders, Breakfast, & More with Hormel's Little Blue Can." As stomach-churning as it may seem, SPAM has fans, including a few B-team celebrity chefs who have contributed recipes.

Instead of the extra pounds known as the "freshman 15" that college kids typically put on their first year, a friend calls pandemic weight gain the "COVID 19." Indeed, increased time in the kitchen (not to mention stress) could be a factor. If so, don't try the new cookbook from the creators of The Great British Bake Off television series and their beloved judges, Paul and Prue. Pies, cakes, bread, cookies, even savory treats are all mah-velously illustrated and all a very nice bake.

It's Mary Jane meets Manhattans in this high-flying primer, one of many such tutorials for "taking the edge off." Author Sailene Ossman has been a cannabis advocate since the '90s, producing a web series Smoke in the Kitchen with Mama Sailene, and creating pop-up events for the hoi polloi of Los Angeles' celebrity scene. Dovetailing neatly with the rise in craft cocktails, this how-to offers seasonal, classic, and even alcohol-free mocktails featuring cannabidiol (CBD), the non-psychoactive ingredient in marijuana often touted as an alternative pain reliever. ♦

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About The Author

Carrie Scozzaro

Carrie Scozzaro spent nearly half of her career serving public education in various roles, and the other half in creative work: visual art, marketing communications, graphic design, and freelance writing, including for publications throughout Idaho, Washington, and Montana.