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Give the gift of good eats: Books for cooks

Associated Press | 12/21/2010, 6:24 p.m.
Got an uncle who insists...

Your sweet-tooth baker will appreciate “Sweet Chic” (Ballantine, 2010), a collection of confections by the owner of New York bakery Tribeca Treats. From easy homemade thin mints to multi-stepped masterpieces like sweet-and-salty cake (think devil’s food with caramel and fleur de sel), the recipes in this book are great for a rainy day or a big celebration.

For do-it-yourself (DIY) types

 Arranged by season for the freshest results, “The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook” (Andrews McMeel, 2010) contains more than 100 recipes for jams, preserves and marmalades. Winter brings marmalades of bergamot, pink grapefruit and Meyer lemons. Spring is time for rhubarb, strawberries, apricots and other eagerly anticipated fruits inventively combined into rosemary-scented marmalades, orange-blossom jams and good old solid preserves. This book is ideal for anyone who dreams of “putting up” their favorite fruits.

Ever made your own butter? Smoked your own salmon? Foraged for your own salad? “Forgotten Skills of Cooking” (Kyle Books, 2010) by Darina Allen — sometimes called “the Julia Child of Ireland” — contains more than 700 recipes for just such tasks. After you’ve proven your chops on homemade ketchup and foraged elderflower fritters, traditional fare like roast chicken and pheasant braised in Cork gin provides a rest.

For celebrity hounds

Got a Food Network junkie in the family? Spark ‘em up with “Tyler Florence Family Meal” (Rodale, 2010), a guide to dinners that range from fast, kid-friendly pastas to feast-worthy roasts. Dishes such as angel hair with arugula take care of everyone on a Tuesday. But if you’re gunning for Saturday night praise, a crown roast stuffed with apple and pecan dressing or a fish fry with sausage hushpuppies ought to do the trick. A well-rounded ode to gather-worthy fare with celeb flair.

Some people (mostly women) are actually interested in how Nigella Lawson cooks, not how she looks. “Nigella Kitchen: Recipes from the Heart of the Home” (Hyperion, 2010) is a jumble of family food from barbecued beef (think sloppy Joes) to ginger-and-apricot spiced African drumsticks. While most will probably avoid the spaghetti with marmite (it’s a British thing), other recipes such as egg-and-bacon salad or Indian-spiced lamb chops should help keep your family’s menu interesting.

General good gift books

Harold McGee isn’t happy just eating food. The scientist/gourmet has to know how it all works. His new “Keys to Good Cooking: A Guide to Making the Best Foods and Recipes” (Penguin, 2010) outlines how brining keeps meat moist, why boiled items have less flavor than roasted, what makes potatoes mushy, and generally answers everything you ever wanted to know about food science but were afraid to ask. For that pesky relative who just can’t stay away from the meat thermometer.

Don’t force open a pressure cooker. And if you do, don’t put your face over it. Do not think that Boston baked beans are a good addition to curry. And never, ever use garlic if you are cooking for the British. These are but a few of the tips offered by the stunningly amusing “The How Not To Cookbook” (Rizzoli, 2010), an assemblage of advice from 1,000 cooks around the world. A good laugh — and perhaps a cautionary tale.

Associated Press