In this season of giving - and receiving - cookbooks are always a popular choice. This year, there are food books for every taste, most for the kitchen, some for collectors or coffee tables, books for cooks at every level, plus food tales to engage even non-cooks.
Themes of fresh ingredients and simpler home-cooking styles are conveyed in many current offerings, including the reissued classics and books of international cuisines.
Most notably, there are more good vegetarian and vegan cookbooks. In contrast, more books focusing on chocolate have arrived - perhaps because our favorite ingredient has been sanctioned, to some extent, as a new health food.
Here are some suggestions for enhancing the cookbook libraries of those on your gift list - and your own:
Alice Waters, credited with bringing "fresh and local" to the fore in American cooking, has her say in
The Art of Simple Food: Notes, Lessons, and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution
(Clarkson Potter). She starts with how to stock and equip your kitchen and proceeds to her favorite recipes, from a simple vinaigrette to a six-part Provençal-Style Fish Soup with Rouille.
A reissue of the 1974 classic
, Beard on Food: The Best Recipes and Kitchen Wisdom from the Dean of American Cooking
(Bloomsbury), brings James Beard's essays and recipes to a new generation.
Meanwhile, home diva Martha Stewart offers a dual perspective in
The Martha Stewart Living Cookbook: The Original Classics
(revised and updated) and
The Martha Stewart Living Cookbook: The New Classics
For basics, consider the revised
Good Housekeeping Cookbook
(Hearst), a primer for new homemakers since 1903. And
Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone
by Deborah Madison (Broadway Books), the 10th anniversary edition, which brings us to one of the year's significant food subjects - vegetarian cooking.
Vegetarian/vegan fare has entered the American mainstream thanks to Mark Bittman's
How to Cook Everything Vegetarian: Simple Meatless Recipes for Great Food
(John Wiley & Sons). The author, who says he's cut his consumption of meat 60 percent to 70 percent, provides basic cooking techniques, charts, tips, illustrated how-to guides, and 2,000-plus recipes to satisfy strict vegans and flexitarians (i.e. occasional omnivores).
For purists, there's Dreena Burton's
Eat, Drink & Be Vegan
Veganomicon: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook
by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero (Marlowe).
Not strictly vegetarian? A good transition book is
Vegetable Harvest: Vegetables at the Center of the Plate
by Patricia Wells (William Morrow).
At the opposite pole are grilling and game cookery, subjects well represented by
Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill Cookbook: Explosive Flavors from the Southwestern Kitchen
(Clarkson Potter) and
After the Hunt
Louisiana's Authoritative Collection of Wild Game & Game Fish Cookery
by chef John D. Folse (Folse Publishing), a 101/2-pound history of hunting with game sources, recipes, wine pairings and more that's a sure shot at pleasing hunters and he-men.
Used to be that cooks relied on bread-baking - all that kneading - and cast iron skillets to stay in shape. Now the cookbooks build muscles.
Other mega-volumes this year include teacher James Peterson's step-by-step guide to
Cooking: 600 recipes, 1500 Photographs, One Kitchen Education
(Ten Speed Press).
Crossing borders, fans of Spanish food may be tempted by
by Simone and Ines Ortega (Phaidon), the first English edition of Spain's classic cookbook and longtime best-seller. Straightforward Spanish classics are the fare - six versions of paella alone.
Made in Italy: Food & Stories
(Ecco), is the London-based chef's highly readable, visually pleasing treatise on his native cuisine.
And for Francophiles, Anne Willan's latest,
The Country Cooking of France
(Chronicle), is a tasty tour of traditional regional French fare.
Pierre Gagnaire Reinventing French Cuisine
(Stewart, Tabori & Chang) recalls Gagnaire's rise from apprentice to top-tier chef (three Michelin stars and eateries in Paris, London, Hong Kong, Tokyo). Recipes follow his growth, reflecting his influence on today's culinary scene.
Such combinations of memoir and cookbook give us the best of both worlds. Cecilia Chiang's food memories are woven through epic tales of war, the Red Guard, emigration, changing cultures and fortunes in
The Seventh Daughter: My Culinary Journey from Beijing to San Francisco
(Ten Speed Press), a book that is hard to put down. The Chinese regional home recipes are a bonus from the woman often credited with bringing authentic Chinese cuisine to America.
Restaurant partners Pino Luongo and Mark Strausman set a lighter tone, letting their two unique culinary voices play off each other, tag-team-style, in
Two Meatballs in the Italian Kitchen
(Artisan). The result is a feast of traditional Italian and innovative American-Italian recipes.
A philosophic (or phobic) friend might enjoy
My Last Supper: 50 Great Chefs and Their Final Meals / Portraits, Interviews, and Recipes
by Melanie Dunea (Bloomsbury), which gives a rare glimpse of the insider game chefs play, with their favored recipes.
The global food market and increasingly universal tastes and ingredients have brought more books to make those foods accessible and easier for home cooks to prepare.
Take easy steps toward an international kitchen with
Tangy Tart Hot & Sweet: A World of Recipes for Every Day
by Padma Lakshmi, host of Bravo's
, who brings the flavors and memories of India and her world travels to dishes as basic as southern fried chicken.
Where Flavor Was Born
by Andreas Viestad (Chronicle), in which the Norwegian host/chef of PBS-TV's
New Scandinavian Cooking
traces foods along the Indian Ocean spice route.
Modern Indian Cooking
by Hari Nayak and Vikas Khanna (Silverback) re-creates classic dishes using the flavors of India with fresh ingredients and simpler techniques.
Harumi's Japanese Home Cooking: Simple, Elegant Recipes for Contemporary Tastes
by Harumi Kurihara (Home Books) expands our limited sushi-tempura-teriyaki view of Japanese foods. With book sales topping 15 million, TV spots, and her own brands, the author is, dare we say, Japan's Rachael Ray.
For those favoring speed-cooking, short prep times are the fogus of Nigella Lawson's
Nigella Express: 130 Recipes for Good Food, Fast
(Hyperion), although some dishes call for unattended baking.
Anyone with a sweet tooth will appreciate
Pure Dessert: True Flavors, Inspiring Ingredients and Simple Recipes
(Artisan) in which Alice Medrich limits her signature chocolate creations in favor of sweets such as sesame brittle ice cream,
fleur de sel
caramels, and lemon tuiles.
Still, one cannot have too much chocolate
by Camilla V. Saulsbury (Cumberland House) shows both the sweet and savory sides of dark chocolate and cocoa powder, going beyond mole to recipes like cocoa-laced chai tea and cocoa vinaigrette.
Vodka-marinated chilies dipped in chocolate, anyone?
If eating, not cooking, is your passion,
In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto
by Michael Pollan (Penguin Press) is a must-read and potential stocking-stuffer that challenges us to focus on real foods and avoid the products of food science and nutrition policy that he claims have only made Americans sicker and fatter over the last 30 years.
To give a sampling of tastes from the books on our gift list, we've selected some easy yet representative dishes in a range of styles.
Among Pierre Gagnaire's food memories in
Reinventing French Cuisine
is the potato cooking tip he gleaned in 1971 from a former Maxim's staffer with whom he shared military service:
Peel firm-fleshed potatoes, cut them into 11/4- to 11/2-inch diameter cylinders, and dry with a clean kitchen towel.
Do not wash them in water, which will leach away some of their starch. Slice the cylinders in fine rounds 1/16-inch thick using a mandoline.
Mix the rounds with warm clarified butter, lay them on a nonstick baking sheet, sprinkle with salt, and bake in a preheated 400-degree oven until golden and crisp.
And another potato dish, one of the first recipes Gagnaire had to master as an apprentice in 1965, was this easy yet elegant dish from Chez Paul Bocuse:
Rub the inside of a gratin dish with a peeled garlic clove and coat with fresh butter. Layer potatoes, cut in thin slices, in the dish, adding salt and pepper to taste. Cover with heavy cream and bake in a heated 350-degree oven until the potatoes are golden and all the cream has been absorbed.
(The art of the gratin, says Gagnaire, lies in gauging the dimensions of the dish and the thickness of the potato layer, which should never be more than 11/4 inches deep.)
From the other side of the world, we found unexpectedly familiar, flavorful and simply prepared dishes filling the pages of
Harumi's Japanese Home Cooking
. The chicken recipe that follows is a nonthreatening introduction to Japanese fare.
With pork belly the trendy addition to restaurant menus in 2007, the recipe for Red-Cooked Pork in
The Seventh Daughter
by Cecilia Chiang drew our attention.
A specialty of the Shanghai region, this recipe from Chiang's mother is also a New Year's Eve favorite made with pork shoulder.
- Marilynn Marter
Makes 4 servings
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon balsamic
1 clove garlic, sliced thin
Coarsely ground black pepper
1 pound boneless chicken thighs with skin on
Sunflower or vegetable oil
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 to 3/4 cup coarsely chopped cabbage, to taste
Salt and pepper
Basil leaves for garnish, optional
In a bowl, combine the soy, vinegar, garlic and pepper.
Cut the chicken diagonally into bite-size pieces and marinate in the sauce mixture for about 30 minutes.
In a frying pan, heat oil (1 to 2 tablespoons). Fry the chicken, turning to brown both sides evenly. Keep warm.
In a wok or frying pan, heat a tablespoon of oil with the butter and saute the cabbage until limp or cooked as desired. Season lightly with salt and pepper.
Transfer the cabbage to a serving dish and arrange the chicken on top. Pour any remaining sauce from the chicken cooking pan over top. Garnish as desired.
Per serving: 365 calories, 20 grams protein, 2 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram sugar, 30 grams fat, 103 milligrams cholesterol, 449 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber.
Makes 6-8 Chinese servings; 4-6 as a Western entree
5 pounds skin-on pork belly, as lean as possible (pork shoulder butt, not smoked, may be substituted)
1 bottle Shaoxing wine (24.5 ounces or 3 cups)
A 2-inch piece fresh ginger, unpeeled, cut in 6 rounds
11/2 cups regular soy sauce
2 chunks rock sugar or 3 tablespoons regular sugar
2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
Cut pork into 11/2-inch cubes, place in a large saucepan or enameled cast-iron casserole, add water to cover by 1 inch, and bring to a boil on high. Reduce heat to medium-low for a lively simmer; cook 5 minutes or until foaming diminishes. Transfer pork to a sieve or colander; rinse well with cold water. Discard the cooking liquid.
Rinse the pan, add the pork, wine, ginger and enough cold water to cover the meat by 2 inches. Bring to a boil on high, reduce heat to maintain a low simmer, and cook until the pork is slightly tender when pierced with a fork, about 45 minutes. Add 1 cup of the regular soy sauce. If it doesn't cover the meat, add the remaining 1/2 cup. Continue cooking until the meat is fork-tender, about 30 minutes.
Gently stir in the rock sugar and dark soy until sugar dissolves. Simmer until sauce is slightly thickened and shiny, about 5 minutes more. Serve in a decorative bowl or family style from the pot.
Pork belly (unsmoked bacon) is rich, so small portions are in order. Five pounds sounds like a lot, but it shrinks at least by half. It is even better made a day or two ahead. Any leftovers are wonderful diced and tossed into a stir-fry with green beans or fried rice.
Per serving (based on 6): 483 calories, 48 grams protein, 8 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams sugar, 20 grams fat, 166 milligrams cholesterol, 1,184 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber.