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Inquirer Holiday Cookbook Gift Guide: For cooking or just looking

Even if you never put pot to flame, this year's batch of cookbooks are so beautiful, you'll want to give or receive them just for the photos and the imagined flavors they produce.

Even if you never put pot to flame, this year's batch of cookbooks are so beautiful, you'll want to give or receive them just for the photos and the imagined flavors they produce.

From Thomas Keller's baking primer Bouchon Bakery, with recipes for the boules and baguettes and croissants of your dreams, to Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton's invitation to their rustic table and their ragu Bolognese in Canal House Cooks Every Day, these books transport you to kitchens filled with the dishes and desserts you would love to make for your family and friends - if you were so inclined.

The Mile End Cookbook by Noah and Rae Bernamoff (Clarkson Potter, $27.50)

The demanding recipe for smoked meat - the coveted Montreal deli beef that still can't be imported to the U.S. - may be the primary reason many will buy this book from the owners of Mile End, the inventive Brooklyn deli. But even if you don't have two weeks to cure, smoke, and then steam your own side of peppery brisket, this book is still a trove of updated Jewish comfort foods, reimagined with hands-on Brooklyn hipster style, from gribenes (chicken cracklins) to sugary rugelach. The easy paprika-marinated Romanian skirt steak with scallion sauce is an exclamation point of garlicky beef. The chicken kreplach will inspire new respect for the multiple uses of both wonton and chicken skins.

- Craig LaBan

Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi (Ten Speed Press, $35)

In a city where "everybody wants to own everything," arguments about the provenance and ownership of foods "are futile. ... It is a shame to spoil it."

So say the Jerusalem-born Jewish and Muslim partners behind the Ottolenghi restaurants in London. And their latest book is a gorgeous love poem to their hometown. Lavishly illustrated with scenes of za'atar mountains in the market, street scenes, and luscious plates of lamb-stuffed quince, vivid salads and ancient grains, this evocative book travels through photos and solid recipes that bring them to life. Try the shawarma-seasoned leg of lamb, a soulful pan of mejadra rice-lentil pilaf with a mop of fried onions, the brilliant beet-and-yogurt puree, or the honey-soaked phyllo cigars.

- C.L.

The World Atlas of Beer by Tim Webb and Stephen Beaumont (Sterling Epicure, $30)

Enough with the academic primers on how to like and live beer. This handsomely illustrated atlas on the subject from two well-regarded beer writers offers an old-school coffee-table view, global in reach, informative in all the right places, and easy to take with a cold pint, whether Belgian Taras Boulba, Norwegian bock, California IPA, or Japanese ruby ale is your drink of choice. All are featured, and then some, in this regionally driven tome, which also documents the latest trends in this changing world, from the emergence of Italy's eccentric craft brewers (with 300 marked on a map) to international collaborations, rising New Zealand, and the British-led return to "real ale."  

CookFight by Kim Severson and Julia Moskin (HarperCollins, $29.99)

It all started with a challenge: Which of these two New York Times food writers could produce the best dinner party menu for six for 50 bucks?

The competitiveness between Kim Severson and Julia Moskin produced not only great recipes, but also great copy. And the reprise of the contest at Thanksgiving ultimately got the pair thinking, "this could be a book. ..."

CookFight is the result, a collection of recipes from two proficient cooks with very different sensibilities, but recipes that you'll want to make over and over again, from pecan cheese crisps to chicken thighs with currants and pine nuts to sublime chocolate pots de creme.

- Maureen Fitzgerald

Canal House Cooks Every Day
by Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton (Andrews McMeel, $45)

If you don't already want to move to a cottage in Lambertville, you will once you page through Canal House Cooks Every Day. From the canal-front studio of the authors in New Jersey, the pair, veterans of food glossies like Saveur, create and publish some of the most appealing recipes and food photographs anywhere. Arranged by the month with a keen sense of seasonality, the book will compel you to spend more time in the kitchen and your garden. The December chapter, with a focus on handmade pasta and festive holiday dishes, is particularly appetite-stoking.

- Joy Manning

Roots by Diane Morgan (Chronicle Books, $40)

There's something humble, homely even, about root vegetables. Delicious though they may taste, those gnarly vegetables that grow underground have long been awaiting an image makeover. Enter Diane Morgan and this cookbook. Not only are the vegetables (from the familiar to the strange) shown in beautiful color photographs, there's also a wealth of information here about how to shop for and expertly cook roots and tubers. It's especially handy for farmer's-market shoppers who are often confronted with lesser known vegetables. Especially recommended? The soul-warming and savory Parsnip and Potato Soup With Crisp Diced Bacon.

  - J.M.

Baking Out Loud
by Hedy Goldsmith (Potter, $27.50)

The modernized riffs on childhood classics like the Pop T's, Fig Newts, and chocolate caramel peanut bars give just enough nod to the past. But you'll also make frozen concoctions firmly rooted in the present: peanut butter curry ice cream, buttered popcorn gelato, and in homage to her Philadelphia childhood, South Philly lemon ice. Brownies are filled with peanut butter, or marshmallows and graham crackers. And oh, the cookies and pies are swoon-worthy.

Goldsmith's recipes have an air of whimsy, but deliver with thoughtful, clear instruction.

- Robin Currie

Bouchon Bakery by Thomas Keller and Sebastien Rouxel (Artison, $50)

Cookbooks don't come bigger or more beautiful than this. Even nonbakers will appreciate the gorgeous photography and personal tales. Flipping through the 400 pages of this weighty tome made me realize I could never rely solely on a tablet or Kindle. Just like baking, Bouchon Bakery is a tactile experience.

The 150 recipes are a collection of all-American treats and classic French pastries. Chapters range from Cookies, Scones and Muffins to Pate a Choux, with something for everyone to try, from the novice to experienced baker. I can't wait to have a go at the Crepe Cake, stacked crepes filled with pastry cream lightened with whipped cream.

- R.C.

The Dahlia Bakery Cookbook by Tom Douglas and Shelley Lance (William Morrow, $35)

Seattle superstar chef Tom Douglas offers up 125 recipes from breakfast treats to decadent pies, including the Dahlia doughnut with cinnamon sugar, mascarpone cheese, and jam, featured on the Food Network's The Best Thing I Ever Ate, and the peanut butter cream-filled peanut butter cookie that Nora Ephron claimed as her favorite.

Among the many gems that caught my eye was the recipe for the humble banana chocolate chunk walnut loaf. My family proclaimed it the best ever. And Jackie's Holiday Fruitcake Bars with dried cherries and brandy will make the most hardened fruitcake-phobe a true believer.   - R.C.

Romanian Steak With Spring Onions

Makes 4 servings


For the marinade: 

3 tablespoons Spanish paprika

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

3 sprigs of rosemary

4 garlic cloves, peeled and cut in half

1 two-pound skirt steak, cut into 4 equal-size pieces

For cooking and serving:

4 tablespoons canola oil

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 bunch of spring onions or scallions

1 recipe Scallion Sauce (see recipe)

Coarse salt, for serving

Extra-virgin olive oil, for serving


1. Marinate the steaks: Mix all the marinade ingredients together in a bowl; toss the steaks in the marinade so they're coated all over. Transfer the steaks and their marinade to a baking dish. Cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours or overnight.

2. Cook the steaks: Working in two batches, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large skillet over high heat. Season two of the steaks with salt and pepper; cook the steaks, turning once, until well seared on both sides and cooked to the desired doneness. Transfer the steaks to a cutting board and let them rest for at least 5 minutes. Repeat with 2 more tablespoons of the oil and the remaining two steaks.

3. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of fat and return the pan to high heat. Add the spring onions and cook, turning once, until lightly charred, 3 to 4 minutes.

4. To serve, slice the steak against the grain on a deep bias. Then dollop about 11/2 tablespoons of the scallion sauce onto a serving plate, spreading it out to cover the center of the plate. Place a couple of the charred spring onions over the sauce, then place the sliced steak on top of the spring onions. Sprinkle with a little coarse salt and drizzle a little olive oil on top.

Per serving: 562 calories, 60 grams protein, 2 grams carbohydrates, 33 grams fat, 134 milligrams cholesterol, 173 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber.

Lamb Shawarma

Makes 8 servings


2 teaspoons black peppercorns

5 whole cloves

1/2 teaspoon cardamom pods

1/4 teaspoon fenugreek seeds

1 teaspoon fennel seeds

1 tablespoon cumin seeds

1 star anise

1/2 cinnamon stick

1/2 whole nutmeg, grated

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1 tablespoon sweet paprika

1 tablespoon sumac

2 1/2 teaspoons Maldon sea salt

Scant 1 ounce fresh ginger, grated

3 garlic cloves, crushed

2/3 cup chopped coriander, stems and  leaves

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

1/2 cup peanut oil

1 leg of lamb, with the bone, about 5 1/2-6 1/2 pounds

1 cup boiling water


1. Put the first 8 ingredients in a cast-iron pan and dry-roast on medium-high heat for a minute or two, until the spices begin to pop and release their aromas. Take care not to burn them. Add the nutmeg, ginger, and paprika, toss for a few more seconds, just to heat them, then transfer to a spice grinder. Process the spices to a uniform powder. Transfer to a medium bowl and stir in all the remaining ingredients, apart from the lamb.

2. Use a small sharp knife to score the leg of lamb in a few places, making 2/3-inch-deep slits through the fat and meat to allow the marinade to seep in. Place in a large roasting tin and rub the marinade all over the lamb; use your hands to massage the meat well. Cover the tin with foil and leave aside for at least a couple of hours or, preferably, chill overnight.

3. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Put the lamb in the oven with its fatty side facing up and roast for a total of about 41/2 hours, until the meat is completely tender. After 30 minutes of roasting add about a cup of boiling water to the pan and use this liquid to baste the meat every hour or so. Add more water, as needed, making sure there is always a little in the bottom of the pan. For the last 3 hours, cover the lamb with foil to prevent the spices from burning.

4. Once done, remove the lamb from the oven and let rest for 10 minutes before carving and serving.

Note: Best served in warm pita pockets with fresh cucumber and tomato salad, dressed with lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, and chopped parsley or cilantro.

Per serving (without pita and toppings): 567 calories, 65 grams protein, 5 grams carbohydrates, trace sugar, 31 grams fat, 204 milligrams cholesterol, 703 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.

Pecan Cheese Crisps

Makes 3 dozen to 4 dozen crispsEndTextStartText

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

8 ounces orange cheddar cheese, coarsely grated

1 large egg yolk

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

2/3 cup all-purpose flour

2/3 cup pecans, finely chopped


1. Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Butter two baking sheets.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, use the paddle attachment and beat together the butter and cheese until very smooth. Beat in the remaining ingredients.

3. Roll rounded teaspoons of the dough into balls and arrange 3 inches apart on the buttered baking sheets. (Or form the dough into 2 logs, 11/2 inches in diameter. Freeze until firm, or for up to 3 months. Slice 1/4 inch thick.)

4. Bake in batches until golden, 15 to 18 minutes. Let cool on a rack.

Per serving (based on 12 servings): 216 calories, 6 grams protein, 7 grams carbohydrates, no sugar, 19 grams fat, 58 milligrams cholesterol, 270 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.

Parsnip and Potato Soup With Crisp Diced Bacon

Makes 8 servings


3 fresh thyme springs

3 fresh flat-leaf parsley springs

2 bay leaves

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 large yellow onion, chopped

1 1/2 pounds parsnips, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks

1 pound russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks

1/4 cup dry sherry

6 cups homemade chicken stock or canned low-sodium chicken broth

1 cup heavy whipping  cream

Kosher or fine sea salt

Freshly ground white pepper

5 slices bacon, cut into 1/2-inch dice


1. Cut an 8-inch square of cheesecloth and place the thyme, parsley, and bay leaves in the center to make a bouquet garni. Bring up the edges to form a bag and tie securely with kitchen twine. Set aside.

2. In a stockpot or heavy soup pot, melt the butter over medium-low heat and swirl to coat the pot bottom. Add the onion, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft but not browned, about 8 minutes. Add the parsnips and potatoes and cook, stirring constantly, until well coated with butter, about 2 minutes. Add the sherry, raise the heat to medium-high, and saute the vegetables, stirring constantly, until most of the liquid has evaporated, about 1 minute. Add the stock and the bouquet garni to the pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer, cover partially, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender when pierced with a fork and soft enough to puree, about 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool for about 10 minutes.

3. Discard the bouquet garni. Working in batches, process the soup to a smooth puree in a blender or food processor. Return the pureed soup to the pot, place over low heat, and add the cream. Warm the soup until steaming hot. Do not allow to boil. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside and keep warm.

4. Line a plate with paper towels. In a frying pan, cook the bacon over medium heat until crisp, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to the towel-lined plate to drain.

5. Ladle the soup into a warmed tureen or individual bowls, garnish with the bacon, and serve immediately.

Per serving: 283 calories, 7 grams protein, 27 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams sugar, 17 grams fat, 48 milligrams cholesterol, 878 milligrams sodium, 6 grams dietary fiber.

Scallion Sauce (for Romanian Steak)

Makes 11/2 to 2 cups


1 bunch scallions, roots removed

2 garlic cloves, peeled

1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Zest of 1 lemon

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 cup canola oil

Diamond Crystal kosher salt

Fresh lemon juice


1. Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil. Add the scallions and blanch them for about 30 seconds, until crisp-tender. Drain and plunge them into a bowl of ice water, then drain again. Chop the scallions.

2. Combine the scallions, garlic, parsley, and lemon zest in the bowl of a food processor and pulse several times. Then, with the processor running, add each of the oils in a slow, steady stream through the hole in the top; continue processing until the oils have emulsified and the sauce has a loose, fairly consistent texture. Add salt and lemon juice to taste.

Per serving (1 tablespoon): 50 calories, trace protein, trace carbohydrates, 6 grams fat, 1 milligram sodium.