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Best cookbooks for holiday giving

This year's crop of cookbooks available for the holidays offers a world of possibilities. For the baker seeking new ideas for Christmas, Dorie Greenspan offers endless inspiration for cookie perfection. Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto demystifies Japanese hom

This year's crop of cookbooks available for the holidays offers a world of possibilities. For the baker seeking new ideas for Christmas, Dorie Greenspan offers endless inspiration for cookie perfection. Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto demystifies Japanese home cooking for the American masses, and Ashley Christensen shows why she's one of the stars of New Southern cooking. Brad Thomas Parsons illuminates the amaro trend, the latest rage in cocktail culture. And for the cheese lover on your list, the Oxford Companion series turns its scholarly attention in that direction.

A delicious approach to eating healthier and feeling better comes from longtime food stylist and chef Anna Jones. A blueprint for fabulous yet informal parties comes from savvy California restaurateur Nancy Silverton. And local vegan chefs Rich Landau and wife Kate Jacoby provide the recipes for global street foods from their popular restaurant V Street.

- Craig LaBan and Maureen Fitzgerald

Mastering the Art of Japanese Home Cooking

By Masaharu Morimoto

Ecco, 275 pp. $45

Japanese food occupies a curious place in America. It has finally become mainstream, with sushi in supermarkets and ramen all the rage, but few Americans think of making it at home. Masaharu Morimoto, who has done much to glamorize the genre through TV and restaurants, argues that Japanese cooking has been unfairly mythologized as best left to experts. His new book makes a good case that Japanese home cooking is quite accessible. Provided one has a source for bonito flakes and kelp (try Maido! in Ardmore), one can easily make the elemental dashi broth that underpins so many recipes, from miso soup to braised greens and a sauce for his homemade udon noodles. The teriyaki is both surprisingly simple and so much better than store-bought. Morimoto himself is engagingly genuine, too, both in recounting his personal history and translating his culinary wisdom.

- C.L.

Poole's: Recipes and Stories from a Modern Diner

By Ashley Christensen, Ten Speed Press, 295 pp. $35

When I visited Poole's Diner in Raleigh, N.C., this converted luncheonette with '40s-era horseshoe counters was clearly a beacon of New Southern cooking - casually hip but updated in every way, from the serious cocktails to the memorable Royale cheeseburger, house-ground, cooked in duck fat, and served over brioche with sporks to make way for the peppercorn jus. Chef-owner Ashley Christensen shares many other "back-pocket recipe" gems here, from her battery of homemade mayos (cider mayo is a tangy key to pimento cheese) to the piecrust for tomato pie and the remarkably simple pork ribs with mustard-sorghum sauce. The expected Southern comforts are here, from fried chicken to hummingbird cake. But you'll also see from Christensen's seasonality, and her view that meat need not anchor every meal, that she represents a new era of Southern cooks.

- C.L.

The Oxford Companion to Cheese

Edited by Catherine Donnelly, Oxford University Press, 849 pp. $65

In its simplest form, cheese is four ingredients: milk, microorganisms, salt, and enzymes. But as Jasper Hill Farm's Mateo Kehler writes in his foreword to this new encyclopedia, cheese is also alchemy, capital, history, and time itself: "Sunshine, banked in the form of cheese, held in darkness until that light captured in summer is revealed in . . . a thousand aromas, textures, and flavors. . . . Cheese is alive!"

That poetic preface sets the stage for what he correctly describes as one of the most ambitious and complete reference works on cheese ever assembled, with 855 entries from 325 authors in 35 countries. From an explanation of the basic concept of appellation d'origine contrôlée to key producers, styles, ingredients, regions, and pioneers (Monsieur Pasteur!), this is the kind of weighty tome you'd expect from the Oxford Companion series. - C.L.


By Brad Thomas Parsons, Ten Speed Press, 269 pp. $26

If you're bewildered by the sudden array of bittersweet herbal Italian liqueurs known as amari that have populated the shelves of local restaurants like Abe Fisher, Brigantessa, and Wm. Mulherin's Sons, Brad Thomas Parsons' handsome new book is a handy guide. Parsons lucidly explains how the centuries-old European tradition of digestifs made from complex recipes of ingredients ranging from artichokes to myrrh and often secret combos of mountain herbs became the latest obsession in American cocktail culture. There are fascinating histories on famous bottles (Campari, Fernet-Branca) and notes on lesser-known gems (the cardamom-rhubarb-flavored Zucca). There are 100 recipes for cocktails to put all those mysterious amari to good use, including the Cynar-fueled punch "Kyle's After Pork Digestif" that sounds like a good excuse for a party.

- C.L.

A Modern Way to Eat

By Anna Jones, Ten Speed Press, 351 pp. $35

Of all the cookbooks that have come across my desk, this one appeals most. After an admirable career cooking with Yotam Ottolenghi and Jamie Oliver, Anna Jones has gathered her own recipes that reflect a practical approach to better eating - without too much dairy, heavy carbs, or gluten. Yet it is the complete opposite of a "healthy" cookbook, with offerings like lemon ricotta cloud pancakes; avocado and lemon zest spaghetti; and, unapologetically, salted caramel crack brownies. "We all have a vice," she writes. "These are mine."

- M.F.

Mozza at Home

By Nancy Silverton with Carolynn Carreno, Knopf, 411 pp. $35

If you can't be invited to one of Nancy Silverton's fabulous parties, this cookbook is the next best thing - her recipes for effortless entertaining, California style. Though her idea of effortless is a tad different from mine, there are plenty of dishes that could easily make their way onto anyone's entertaining menu, like oven-roasted chicken thighs with onion, lemon, and thyme, or he roasted pork shoulder served with quesadillas and corn on the cob with chili butter. And I'm already dreaming of the spiced caramel corn with salty peanuts.

- M.F.

Dorie's Cookies

By Dorie Greenspan, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 517 pp. $35

If you've been cooking and baking with Dorie in her previous books, you know you can trust her exquisitely detailed recipes and the results they produce. She leaves no question unanswered and adds tips for making ahead, storing, and tweaking. In this labor of great love, she includes her classic World Peace chocolate cookies and her to-die-for vanilla sables that launched her cookie business. But there are so many more: chocolate raspberry thumbprints, pecan caramel sugar pufflets, double ginger crumb cookies, and my personal favorite: cast-iron-pan chocolate chip cookie bars. Is it any wonder Dorie dreams up cookies in her sleep?

- M.F.

V Street: 100 Globe-Hopping Plates on the Cutting Edge of Vegetable Cooking

By Kate Jacoby and Rich Landau, William Morrow, 228 pp. $27.99

The pioneering chefs behind Vedge, V Street, and the fast-food concept Wiz Kid offer the recipes behind their popular street foods at V Street. Though not necessarily authentic, these vegan variations, packed with heat and spice, will make you believe you don't need meat to create deep and satisfying flavors. Try the dan dan noodles with shiitake mushrooms, the Hong Kong chopped salad, the grilled sweet potatoes with black vinegar, and the tandoor zucchini with paprika, cumin, and curry. The desserts may convince you there is no need for butter or dairy, especially the sweet corn ice cream, made with coconut milk, and the curry banana ice cream, made with soy milk.

- M.F.