2011 holiday gift guide – cookbooks (and an app!!)

365 - 2-20-10

I wanted to include cookbooks before, but I got distracted and forgot. Still, many lovely books have come out this year and I wanted to include a handful of my favorites. Cookbooks make excellent gifts, but the trouble is with so many cookbooks out there, how do you know what is a good cookbook? You have to leaf through enough of the book and read the recipes, visualize them, understand the mechanics behind it, to really, truly judge a book. I know that some folks prefer books without photographs or illustrations (they seem like books geared towards serious cooks), others won’t even touch a book unless each recipe comes with a glossy picture. Both, I think, are misleading. Each book merits its own analysis. What is the goal of the book? Does the book meet the goal? Do you want to cook from it, and if not, is this something you want for inspiration, for ideas, for a future project? Or does the recipient in question want any of those things…

A few of these books are books I have put on my Wish List and Wedding Registry. This is by no means a subtle request that people gift them to me. I have, simply, not gotten around to getting each book, because, as you might suspect, being a freelancer, I have limited funds. Andrew will also remind me that being in a New York apartment, we have limited shelf space, but while he does that, I’ll put my palms over my ears and hum “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” to myself and miss the whole thing. What? Space? Who?

So without further ado, here is my list.

Lisa Fain’s The Homesick Texan Cookbook
I’ve known Lisa for a number of years now and have been an avid reader of her blog. I love her turn of phrase, love her unfussy language, love the fact that every time I read something of hers it immediately makes me hungry for the very thing she talks about. I’ve had the book on my hands for a number of months and have made the pulled pork tacos as well as her incredible chili. Both I failed to photograph, hence there’s yet to be a blog post on it. But my ambitious plan next week is to make her kolaches! They remind me of something similar my grandmother used to make – I suppose it all makes sense, since kolaches stem from Eastern Europe, and so do I! Lisa also is a masterful photographer with an eye for not just the small, minute, beautiful details, but also for the sweeping splendor of the Texan open space. It’s a gorgeous, mouthwatering book, beautifully written, photographed, and bound to make a homesick Texan (even if you hail from somewhere else) out of you.

Michael Ruhlman’s Twenty
This is one of my Wish List mains (hint, hint!) but a book that I’ve leafed through enough to (almost) memorize by heart. Here, Michael Ruhlman gives you the building blocks of thinking like a cook, which is something we all could use, no matter the skill level.

Melissa Clark’s Cook This Now

I know, blah blah blah, I know Melissa Clark, blah blah, I can’t possibly be unbiased in my review of her book. And yet. I can be. I cook from it on an almost weekly basis. Not because I know her, but because the recipes are attainable for a weeknight dinner, are delicious, and huge on flavor. I’ve gifted this book to many a friend now, and I hear the same feedback every time, “This book is amazing! Thank you thank you thank you!” It is. And in the day and age when you are promised “30 minute meals”, and you and I both know it’s bollocks, these might not be 30 minutes, but you can make these dishes tonight, or any weeknight of your choosing. Melissa is a busy writer with a toddler – she’s not making this up. And the stories are sweet and heartwarming too!

Jacob Kenedy’s Bocca
This is another wish list favorite. But man, oh man, this book is A-MAZING! Admittedly, I’m going through a bit of an Italian food phase where I really can eat pasta and contorni pretty much all day long. There’s an ocassional Thai or sushi craving. And as of this morning, I’m nursing a fierce dim sum yen, but that’s neither here nor there. This book is so beautifully written and photographed that I kind of just want to tell everyone that I’ll talk to them in a week, turn my phone off, go into the kitchen and just cook everything out of that book. Also, I want to be in those pictures – they are, in a word, evocative.

Nigel Slater’s Tender
I plan on gifting this myself this holiday season. I know that some ladies dream of massages and sparklies, but I humbly dream of Nigel Slater’s Tender. Again, the photography, the writing, the simple, loving approach to vegetables from his garden, are all beautiful. I don’t remember last time I’ve been so smitten with a book like this. Again, I’ve leafed through it so much in our neighborhood book store, that the store clerks are giving me strange looks, “Go and just BUY it already!” I think I shall.

Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty
My favorite place to eat in London last fall when we went, was Ottolenghi, and we ate some amazing meals on that trip (minus the grouse – that we didn’t like!). Upon returning to the States, I immediately ordered “Plenty”. Even though Ottolenghi himself isn’t a vegetarian, his vegetarian recipes are so delicious, one wouldn’t miss meat in the slightest eating his food, which is boldly spiced with Middle Eastern / Israeli spices that he grew up with. I’ve cooked so many things from the book (every one stellar!), and one of my favorites: Salt and Pepper Tofu is not to be missed.

Heidi Swanson’s Super Natural Every Day
Heidi doesn’t tell you to eat health food. Heidi wants you to eat good, clean, delicious food that happens to also be healthy – and to be good to your soul, body, and spirit. Her vegetarian recipes are a marking of a truly resourceful, inventive, flavor-driven cook. One of my favorite things that I’ve been making with leftover quinoa, the quinoa patties, are delicious and healthy. Reading Heidi’s book makes you want to be in the kitchen with her, see the world through her lens, and be nourished.

Food52 Holiday App
I just spent two hours leafing through (leafing, as in an iPad, get it?) the holiday recipes on Food52 Holiday App and can I say something? This is truly wonderful stuff! Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, the site’s creators, have really outdone themselves here! There are cocktails for drinking, cookies for indulging, snacks for your guests, gifts you can make, and main courses that make the season even more festive. I’m going to be using it so much, Andrew might not get access to his (did I mention the iPad isn’t even mine? Ha!) iPad until after the New Year!


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