There are books for every category of food and every food culture, and lots of books from famous chefs or regional books or books for people who want to spend hours cooking or those who expect dinner preparation to take no more than 30 minutes – so where you do start.
Well – as with all gifts, it helps to know a little bit about the recipient. If they are just getting started in cooking a good comprehensive all categories in one book isn’t a bad choice. Surprisingly, layout is really important. If you have to keep switching pages back and forth to make a single recipe, you’ll be irritated even if you don’t miss an ingredient. I like The Gourmet Cookbook (from the magazine) edited by Ruth Reichl but the first edition – which I have – has the recipe titles in a totally unreadable yellow print. I think that was corrected but I wouldn’t buy it if not. My go to when all else fails is The Fanny Farmer Cookbook which I think is now in its 13th edition and celebrating its 100th anniversary.
Unfortunately my preferred New England Regional Cookbook is out of print – The New England Cookbook by Brooke Dojny. You might find it in a used book store and it’s worth picking up. The Dark and Sticky Gingerbread is the perfect winter dessert.
My favorite vegetarian cookbook is Vegetarian Planet by Didi Emmons. You can feed anyone food from this book and they’ll have no idea they are eating healthy because it’s just delicious. The roasted fennel and white bean pizza is highly recommended. (page 449)
If you (or your recipient) like warm bread but don’t have a lot of time to make it, Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day solves your problem. You mix up 4 batches at once (no kneading), store it in the refrigerator and then bake when you want it. I have the first edition by Jeff Hertzberg but they have a newer version out – not sure what changed or was added.
If you are looking for a book that will teach techniques, you can’t go wrong with Cookwise by Shirley Corriher. Best deviled eggs ever – the recipe starts by telling you to lay the egg carton on its side the day before you want to make the eggs. Her Touch of Grace Biscuits got a standing ovation at an international food conference in Sicily.
Clara Silverstein’s newest book The Boston Chef’s Table contains recipes from a wide range of Boston area restaurants and food establishments along with information about the restaurant and the chef. This is a good choice for people whose favorite thing to make for dinner is reservations but the recipes are very doable and cover the complete range of appetizers to desserts. We are hoping to have Clara Silverstein at the library for an event after the holidays.
For people good at following directions who want reliable results and don’t mind getting every pan in their kitchen dirty, you won’t be disappointed by any of the books from Christopher Kimball and his America’s Test Kitchen crew.
For those who – whether they cook or not – love to read about food there are lots of great chef biographies and essays on eating. The Art of Eating by M. F. K. Fisher is a classic. She wrote more than 27 books on food and cooking that are an amalgam of food literature, travel and memoir. The principle underlying all of her books is that eating is an art form – and she tells you how it’s done. In this particular book she gives culinary advice to World War II housewives plagued by food shortages, writes portraits of family members and friends and so exudes her passion for food and cooking that it is a book every cook (home or otherwise) needs on their shelf. The Art of Eating won the James Beard Cookbook award.
Two highly recommended memoirs are Tender at the Bone: Growing up at the Table by Ruth Reichl and Delights and Prejudices by James Beard.
And for those plugged in people on your gift list, many cookbooks are available as e-books so you can do quick lookups, move back and forth rapidly between recipes and even switch to the internet to look for ingredient sources.
What are your favorites – do you have a cookbook that you use so much that the pages automatically fall open to the beloved recipes? Tell us about it