Of this you can be sure. Anyone who collects cookbooks can never have too many. So if your shopping list includes someone who loves to cook; or wants to learn; or like me, likes the pretty pictures and the stories, here are some suggestions.
TV chefs rule. Cooking shows have become so popular over the last few years, their stars have become household names. Nobody’s show is hotter Bobby Flay’s Throwndown!, the program that pits the redheaded New Yorker against great cooks from all over the country. There are over 100 recipes from the Food Network’s excursions around America, and even though Flay hates to lose, winners are given a banner headline.
Find a less peripatetic approach with Tyler Florence Family Meal. Florence dedicates the book to his in-laws, which shows you just how nice a guy he really is. The photos are absolutely gorgeous, and chicken livers, deviled eggs, and bread-and-butter pickles never looked so sumptuous.
Why not just go—you should excuse the expression—whole hog and get the Masterchef Cookbook? Any real foodie is probably hooked on this Fox show, and why not take from the best? Amateurs from wildly varied backgrounds come together to vie for the Master Chef title, and their finest recipes are presented in easy to understand detail and mouth-watering photos.
It used to be so difficult to find cookbooks for those with special needs and preferences. Not anymore! One of my dearest friends found she can’t eat gluten. Because none of us want to be deprived of her terrific baked good, I found for her The Ultimate Gluten-Free Cookie Book by Roben Ryberg. I especially like the fact that it includes wheat-free flour, and that other allergies are also addressed.
Even more allergy specific is Jules E. Dowler Shepard’s Free For All. Substitutes are provided for recipes made without dairy, nuts, eggs, soy, and other common problem foods. There is also the enticing promise that delicious meals can be whipped up by less than expert cooks.
Likewise, The Meat Lover’s Meatless Cookbook by Kim O’Donnel gives hope to those of us who’d like to eat healthier, but who fear to embrace a diet without animal protein. I love the easy, non-preachy tone of this paperback, and the humorous recipe titles like “Go With The Flow Potpie.”
Of course, there are times we just want to throw caution to the wind, and indulge in Coffee and Cake and Tea and Cookies. These are lovely little books, and discuss why Vanilla is cherished, the art ofcooling and storing baked goods, and the way to boil perfect tea. They are sold separately, but make a nice set.
Another cookbook set to die for is the combo from DK’s classic Look & Cook series. The Illustrated Step-By-Step Cook covers everything from sushi to cassoulet. The pictures aren’t just decorative; they’re very helpful in visualizing the necessary steps to create each dish.
The other must have food book from DK is The Illustrated Cook’s Book of Ingredients. This answers all the questions we’re afraid to ask about what they’re serving us when we go out to eat. What the heck is daikon? Is tapenade a good thing or a bad thing? If you can’t tell your cumin from your coriander, look no further.
Another great book of knowledge is Keys to Good Cooking: A Guide to Making the Best of Food and Recipes by Harold McGee, a man who doesn’t fool around when it comes to eating. I’m recommending this for the more advanced cook, who is dying to learn about sous-vide, the various methods of preparing vinaigrettes, and how different starches thicken. No pictures, no kidding.
For my money (and yours), you just can’t do any better than The Essential New York Times Cookbook by Amanda Hesser. While this promises “Classic recipes for a new century,” fear not. Along with the Pad Thai Rice and the Crème Senegalese, you can still find Corn Chowder with Bacon, and Breaded Chicken Breasts. Just keep the Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup out of sight in the back of the cabinet; I’ll never tell.
A new take on Gram’s old recipe box are Eating Well Diet in a Box and The New Jewish Family Kitchen. The laminated cards they contain present full color photos and easyinstructions. I’m thinking stocking stuffer and first night of Hanukah, respectively.
For the more exotic escape, check out My Calabria, by Rosetta Costantino. Most of us are familiar with Sicilian culture (or we think we are), but this equally interesting region of Southern Italy has rarely been touted. Simple but delicious recipes entice us to experience this neglected but ingenious local cuisine.
Closer to home, the American Terrior awareness of author Rowan Jacobsen delves into the growing movement of connecting the food we eat with sustainability. Meaning the “taste of place,” those in the know understand that eating locally produced food and promoting conservation leads to tastier, healthier, more environmentally sound cooking.
Good food and good drink just naturally go together. Mark Oldman invites us to join him in expanding our horizons in his Oldman’s Brave New World of Wine. Who else but this revered oenophile could get away with recommending boxed wines, and name his favorite adventurous wine “Bravehearts,” including Jodie Foster, Kevin Bacon, and Antonio Banderas?
To add the pleasure of reading about food to the pleasure of eating food, there’s Best Food Writing 2010 by Holly Hughes, and Eat, Memory by Amada Hesser. These books are a window into the minds of those who are so obsessed with eating, they even need to share their observations and opinions with those of us who are less preoccupied with what we put in our stomachs. I guess in a sense it is a noble profession, but really, who on in their right mind would want to do that?
Michall Jeffers is an accomplished Cultural Journalist, and an unrepentant Foodie. She writes extensively, both in print and online. Her eponymous cable TV show is syndicated throughout the tri-state area, and features celebrity interviews, reviews, and commentary.