It need not be said that the Joy of Cooking or Mastering the Art of French Cooking are indispensible books to have around, but once a home cook or simple food enthusiast has these standbys, what books make great gifts? This guide to cookbooks as gifts focuses on the best books of the past few years as well as some modern classics and pinpoints the perfect present for the baker, the trend-watcher, and the first-time cook.
Basic Cookbooks for Beginners
For a young chef or someone just getting into cooking, simple and comprehensive are key. Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything (Wiley, ISBN 0764524836) is reliable and comforting to the first-time chef – and weighing in at over 900 pages, it’s certainly comprehensive. The vegetarian equivalent is Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone (Broadway, ISBN 0767927478), a good pick even for omnivores as the recipes are simple and always so flavorful that no one misses the meat. Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics (Clarkson Potter, ISBN 1400054354) is a new release that any cook starting out can benefit from.
Those with a scientific mind will appreciate I’m Just Here for the Food by Alton Brown (Harry N. Abrams, ISBN 1584790830). His approach is something like that of a high-school teacher, and it’s colorful. For the organically inclined, The Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen (Ten Speed Press, 1977, ASIN B000MBNI5Q) has been a favorite for years. The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters (Clarkson Potter, , ISBN 0307336794) is another classic for local food enthusiasts. And for those who are looking for the simplest of the simple, Happy Days with the Naked Chef (Hyperion, ISBN 078686852X) is perfect – though this is not a good gift for a vegetarian.
One book that practically every foodblogger is reading these days is Baked: New Frontiers in Baking by Matt Lewis (Stewart, Tabori, and Chang, ISBN 1584797215). The recipes are creative and more than a little kitsch – not a comprehensive baking guide but fun for a trend watcher. A Platter of Figs and Other Recipes (Artisan, ISBN 1579653464) is a good choice for the aesthetically driven – the recipes are good, but selective, focusing on seasonal ingredients and not necessarily geared at the beginner.
Southern cooking enthusiasts will enjoy Screen Doors & Sweet Tea (Clarkson Potter, ISBN 0307351408), a book full of authentic recipes but also the storytelling that permeates Southern culture. For the most organized chef, the recently released Flavor Bible (Little, Brown, & Co., ISBN 0316118400) is a must-have item, making ingredient pairing all the more simple.
Food enthusiasts who aren’t quite ready to jump into the kitchen themselves might enjoy In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan (Penguin, ISBN 1594201455), author of the popular The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Or there’s always one of the bevy of new books released by restaurateurs recently – Alinea (Ten Speed Press, 1580089283) and A Day at elBulli (Phaidon Press, ISBN 0714848832) are particularly popular. Finally, for the trend-watching traveler, Clotilde Dusoulier’s recently released Edible Adventures in Paris (Broadway, ISBN 0767926137) is a book small enough to stash in a bag with some great restaurant suggestions.
Baking and Dessert Books
Finally, for the baker or dessert enthusiast, the number one pick would have to be Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan (Houghton Mifflin, ISBN 0618443363). Fabulously comprehensive, very popular, and most of all simple to make, it produces reliable results every time. Nigella Lawsons’s How to Be a Domestic Goddess (Hyperion, ISBN 0786886811) falls into the same category, while Alice Medrich’s Pure Dessert (Artisan, ISBN 1579652115) is a good choice for the gourmet. For recently released favorites, two picks are The Sweet Melissa Baking Book (Studio, ISBN 0670018740) and Field Guide to Cookies by Anita Chu (Quirk Books, ISBN 1594742839), charmingly arranged like those familiar guides of birds or plants.
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