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Give the gift of good eats: Books for cooks

Michele Kayal
Give the gift of good eats: Books for cooks

Got an uncle who insists on hunting wild mushrooms or butchering his own steak? There’s a cookbook for that. What about a working mom hoping to please picky palates during the daily dinner deadline? We’ve got her covered, too. From DIY fanatics to busy families, even science geeks, this year’s crop of cookbooks offers something for everyone.

Here are a few standouts to jump-start your gift-giving:

For the kids

For a book heavier on story than on cooking, check out “Soup Day”  (Henry Holt, 2010). On a blustery day, a little girl helps her mom select and chop vegetables for a warming winter soup. Idyllic and cozy with colorful, textured illustrations, the book also offers a perfect recipe for tiny hands.

For kids who like to make themselves a little something, “The Winnie-the-Pooh Cookbook” (Dutton, 2010) offers easy-to-follow recipes for smackerels like Poohandpiglet pancakes and honey toffee apples. Original drawings by Ernest Shepard and memorable Pooh quotes make this reissue of Virginia Ellison’s 1969 classic a must-have for fans of the bear.

For devoted foodies who have it all

Amanda Hesser insists her “The Essential New York Times Cookbook” (Norton, 2010) is not an update of the Craig Claiborne classic, but rather a new chronicle of the best New York Times recipes dating back to 1850. Dense, serious and heavy enough to double as a weapon, the book covers everything from Claiborne’s cheese fondue and vichyssoise a la Ritz to watermelon gazpacho and the pork belly tea sandwiches at a hip New York restaurant.

 As a practical follow to his best-selling appeal to eat for the health of ourselves and the planet, New York Times columnist Mark Bittman offers “The Food Matters Cookbook: 500 Revolutionary Recipes for Better Living” (Simon and Schuster, 2010).

The plant-heavy recipes focus on fast, easy dishes such as vegetable-rich green gumbo and chickpea salad with cashew chutney, as well as more involved undertakings such as Mexican-style fruit salad with grilled fish and chili-rubbed pork with warm pickled vegetables. Organized and accessible with recipe lists and pantry advice, the book will appeal to folks who love to cook and want to feel healthy (and virtuous) while doing it.

Rounding out the New York Times trifecta is Molly O’Neill’s “One Big Table” (Simon and Schuster, 2010), a collection of 600 recipes that chronicle the diversity of American food. It features recipes taken from pit masters, farmers, home cooks and chefs around the nation.

The former Times food columnist includes recipes such as Farideh Khoury’s muhammara, a Detroit mom’s formula for the Syrian red pepper and walnut paste, and Mike DiMuccio’s Rhode Island fried calamari, a plumber’s pepper-spiked take on squid. With homey photos of some of her contributors, “One Big Table” is an album of America’s rich culinary history.

For the baker

Cookies, cakes, pies and breads. If you can make it with flour it’s in “The King Arthur Flour 200th Anniversary Cookbook” (Countryman, 2010). This indispensable volume from the famous flour miller also covers the science of baking, from primers on leavening, to notes on flaky pastry and hints for homemade pasta. A go-to reference for all baking needs.

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