Give A Cookbook This Holiday Season
A cookbook is always a good gift for a home cook. Even if someone has more enthusiasm than skill (or maybe especially if someone has more enthusiasm than skill), a cookbook can be both inspiring and useful.
With more than 20,000 new cookbooks published every year, there is much to choose from. But before selecting one, think about its recipient in terms of not only what he or she likes to cook but also what they like to eat. Add to this how busy they are, if they come to cooking as recreation versus a daily activity, and also their sense of adventure. Are they someone who likes to explore the science or technology of cooking? Or are they more sentimental and are always in search of the flavors from their youth or new ones from their travels.
But relax. Because there is a new cookbook for everyone.
Here are six published over the last year or so that are special enough to be holiday gifts. All are beautiful and unique in their own ways. Two are not conventional hardcovers but that doesn't take away from their graphic impressiveness. Each has an authentic voice from its author. And each of them will make anyone want to cook.
Be forewarned: you may want to buy them all for yourself.
Mastering Sauces by Susan Volland
Mastering Sauces: The Home Cook's Guide to New Techniques for Fresh Flavors (W.W. Norton & Company, © 2015, hardcover with dust jacket, 496 pages, color photographs, $39.95) is an ideal choice for the serious home cook as well as the new enthusiast who wants to bring the great tradition of sauces into a 21st century kitchen. Susan Volland, who was the lead recipe tester for Nathan Myhrvold's Modernist Cuisine, takes the intimidation and mystery out of sauces without dumbing down the flavors or textures.
Volland teaches technique as well as spices and seasonings, and with 150 recipes, she spans the full range from classic French mother sauces to fruit purées to pizza sauces to vegan hollandaise. It's written in a welcoming and accessible style with recipes that fit the way we cook and eat today. It would make a great addition to a home cook's cookbook library.
Patisserie Made Simple by Edd Kimber
Author Edd Kimber bested 4,000 other contestants to become the first winner of the BBC's The Great British Bake Off. This book shows you why. Patisserie Made Simple (Kyle Books, © 2015, hardcover, 192 pages, color photographs, $24.95) is the perfect choice for the home pastry chef as well as those home cooks who say "I cook, I don't bake." With this book, they just might do both.
What Edd Kimber has done -- and what makes his book a stand-out from the hundreds of baking books published every year -- is to make classic French patisserie accessible and successful. If someone thinks they can't make soufflés, brioche, gateau opera, lemon madeleines, or clafoutis, with this book they'll stand corrected. I plan on making his recipes for pate de fruit and orangettes (chocolate-dipped candied orange rinds) for my holiday table and I'm counting on my guests asking me if I brought them home from Paris.
I think this is one of the best baking books in a long time. Choose it for your favorite home baker, especially if it's someone who bakes treats for you.
The New American Herbal by Stephen Orr
The New American Herbal (Clarkson Potter, © 2014, soft cover, 384 pages, color photographs, $27.50) is the ideal gift for the home cook who is also a gardener. Although it is more a gardening book than a cookbook, it is equally a good choice for the home cook who is curious and meticulous about ingredients and how we flavor our foods. Author Stephen Orr has written books about both cooking and landscape design and previously was the gardening editor for House & Garden, Domino, and Martha Stewart Living so he has some chops. There are also 45 herb-centric recipes, such as Lamb Kofte With Aniseed, Roasted Cauliflower With Garlic Scapes and Fennel Leaves, and Baked Stuffed Tomatoes With Oregano.
From the familiar (Dill and Ginseng) to the unfamiliar (Burdock and Gotu Kola) to the dangerous (Hemlock and Belladonna), the scope of Orr's work is as much a rigorous gardening guide as an accessible and eminently readable reference for home cooks. There is a color photograph for every one of the 125 herbs cataloged in this lush and masterful volume to accompany each herb's history, tips for drying herbs and extracting their best flavors, personal anecdotes from the author, tips for growing and harvesting, herbal science and botany, and overall, a rich enthusiasm for how inspiring nature can be.
Rose Water & Orange Blossoms by Maureen Abood
I have briefly written before about this lovely volume about Lebanese cuisine and how the foods of family and heritage can be such powerful pulls on our appetites. Author Maureen Abood, who also writes a blog by the same name as her cookbook, Rose Water & Orange Blossoms (Running Press, © 2015, hardcover, 256 pages, color photographs, $30.00), has created a welcoming volume that would be a perfect choice for the home cook who is interested in learning and mastering a new cuisine.
Lebanese food shares many flavors and techniques with other Middle Eastern cuisines, but it is also distinctive in certain ingredients, dishes, and traditions. Add to this Abood's warm voice, and the book becomes an easy entry into what otherwise might be a foreign kitchen.
There are over 100 recipes, including Vegan Tomato Kibbeh, Tomato and Sweet Onion Salad, Fried Cauliflower With Tahini Sauce, and Mandarin Orange Frozen Yogurt, plus breads, teas, a primer on flavors and seasonings that Abood calls "special ingredients," plus ideas for Lebanese menus. You'll want to eat the entire volume so give this cookbook to someone and then ask for a dinner invitation.
The Food Lab by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt
The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science (W.W. Norton, © 2015, hardcover, 958 pages, color photographs, $49.95) is the perfect choice for the home cook who is detail-obsessive, hyper-curious about the chemistry of cooking, and probably a devoted fan of Alton Brown. It's also a terrific cookbook with hundreds of recipes and over 1,000 color photographs.
Author Lopez-Alt, an MIT graduate and managing culinary director of SeriousEats.com, calls himself a mad scientist, which may be fair. Because only someone extremely obsessive could have produced such a volume that is a cross between a modern Joy of Cooking and a science fair. The pages include recipes both basic and elaborate, tips for freezing, guides to improve your knife skills, ways to best cook individual ingredients (chicken, mushrooms, potatoes, etc. etc.), and ways to de-code a recipe so that in your hands it will succeed. His recipe for Cheese Hasselback Potato Gratin has already become a legend but that's not the reason to choose this book. Instead it's for its hard information, the author's enthusiasm for the process of cooking, and advice for satisfying any appetite. Not everyone wants to be guided by culinary science, but for those who do, this is the book to give to them.
Bien Cuit by Zachary Golper and Peter Kaminsky
Bien Cuit: The Art of Bread (Regan Arts, © 2015, hardcover, 320 pages, color photographs, $50.00) is a good choice for anyone who is obsessive about making bread. It's written by Zachary Golper who owns the destination bakery Bien Cuit in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, and Peter Kaminsky, a well-regarded food writer who lets Golper's lifelong fascination with bread come through the text loud and clear.
Making bread at home has come back into vogue as people want the carbs they eat to be flavorful and healthy. Plus there's been a backlash against industrialized bread, as more of us are avoiding chemicals, choosing organic ingredients, and also welcoming the craft and community of making bread together. Bien Cuit is part of this movement, enabling us to make at home the new types of bread -- especially ones made from sourdough starter, and roasted until the crust is dark, i.e., bien cuit (French for well done). Recipes include ethnic favorites, holiday breads and rolls, bagels, scones and other sweet and savory breads.
The book's format makes it a bit foreboding, with an exposed binding, black pages, white type (no room for margin notes), and rather dark photography. But having visited Bien Cuit in Brooklyn, I can tell you the book design resonates with the bakery's raw and fiery aesthetic, its dark crusted breads, and the kind of flavor that fearlessness can bring to bread baking. If your gift list includes a bread-making enthusiast, or someone who wants to get started, Bien Cuit would be a welcomed addition to their bread book library.