Cookbook gifts for uncertain times

"Modern Comfort Food" by Ina Garten (from left), "The Good Book of Southern Baking" by Kelly Fields and "The Rise" by Marcus Samuelsson
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"Modern Comfort Food" by Ina Garten (from left), "The Good Book of Southern Baking" by Kelly Fields and "The Rise" by Marcus Samuelsson

Cookbooks have always made great gifts, but even more so during lockdowns where the kitchen often serves as a primary source for solace and sanity. As I wade through the deluge of the most recent crop, I’m struck by those that feel particularly suited for the needs and desires of these unusual times.

I can think of appreciative recipients for all of these. For more ideas, check out my weekly reviews.

“Modern Comfort Food” by Ina Garten (Potter, $35).
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“Modern Comfort Food” by Ina Garten (Potter, $35).

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Cozy gatherings in times of stress and joy

As one who has built a life around feeding others, Ina Garten, The Food Network’s Barefoot Contessa, has developed her own tactics for coping with isolation during lockdown. She reveals them in her 12th book, Modern Comfort Food (Potter, $35), reminding us of the emotional satisfaction a pot of Chicken Pot Pie Soup, or a warm-from-the-oven Giant Crinkled Chocolate Chip Cookie, can bring whether company’s coming or not.

ExploreReview: Ina Garten's 'Cooking for Jeffrey'

Two exceptional sources of comfort with an international flair I’m refusing to part with: Atlanta chef Asha Gomez’s “I Cook in Color: Bright Flavors From My Kitchen and Around the World” (Running Press, $32.50), co-written with Martha Hall Foose; and Meera Sodha’s East: 120 Vegan and Vegetarian Recipes From Bangalore to Beijing (Flatiron Books, $35), which I reviewed for the Dec. 3 AJC Food section.

ExploreMore cookbooks for everyone on your list
"The Flavor Equation: The Science of Great Cooking Explained Plus 100 Essential Recipes" by Nik Sharma (Chronicle, $35)
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"The Flavor Equation: The Science of Great Cooking Explained Plus 100 Essential Recipes" by Nik Sharma (Chronicle, $35)

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Deep dives into deliciousness

Nik Sharma was a molecular biologist before he became an award-winning food blogger. His engaging way of explaining food chemistry through personal storytelling and exciting, approachable recipes made his debut cookbook, “Season,” a bestseller. His second cookbook, The Flavor Equation: The Science of Great Cooking Explained (Chronicle, $35), takes those lessons deeper, teaching us how elements of flavor such as fieriness and sweetness play on our emotions and senses.

The renowned London chef and bestselling author Yotam Ottolenghi also weaves science lessons into the dazzling plant-based recipes that promise to take vegetarian cooking to the next level in Ottolenghi Flavor (Ten Speed, $35) written with Ixta Belfrage and Tara Wigley. Charring, infusing, and pairing produce with fat or acidity are among ways he explores to find a dish’s full flavor potential.

ExploreReview: 'Sweet: Desserts from London’s Ottolenghi' by Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh
“How to Cook: Building Blocks and 100 Simple Recipes for a Lifetime of Meals” by Hugh Acheson (Potter, $19.99).
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“How to Cook: Building Blocks and 100 Simple Recipes for a Lifetime of Meals” by Hugh Acheson (Potter, $19.99).

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Practical strategies for everyday meals

Pantry to Plate: Kitchen Staples for Simple and Easy Cooking by Emily Stephenson (Chronicle, $19.95) is a modest little softcover with recipes for 70 healthful budget-friendly meals (Pasta with Broccoli and Sausage, Leftovers Frittata) all made from a list of 50 staples for the cupboard, refrigerator and freezer. Storage guidelines, essential tools, and tips for freshening the basic formulas with what you’ve got make this a valuable resource for anyone wanting to streamline meal prep and reduce trips to the supermarket.

“How to Cook: Building Blocks and 100 Simple Recipes for a Lifetime of Meals” by Hugh Acheson (Potter, $19.99) pitches itself as a handbook for beginners, but even experienced cooks can find lots to learn and love in the Georgia chef’s beautifully designed templates that teach everything from building a better hamburger to using a perfectly roasted salmon steak for a multitude of quick, creative entrees.

ExploreChef Hugh Acheson takes on the slow cooker

In “Jacques Pépin Quick & Simple: Simply Wonderful Meals With Surprisingly Little Effort” (Houghton Mifflin, $35), the master chef shares invaluable tricks for mixing quality convenience foods with fresh ingredients to produce satisfying low-maintenance meals with little waste or cleanup.

“Cookish: Throw it Together” by Christopher Kimball (Voracious, $35), the latest offering from the Milk Street multimedia empire, ramps up mealtime excitement by stripping recipes down to six ingredients and simple techniques, relying on international staples such as gochujang and za’atar seasoning for instant flavor boosts.

"The Good Book of Southern Baking: A Revival of Biscuits, Cakes, and Cornbread" by Kelly Fields with Kate Heddings (Lorena Jones/Ten Speed, $35)
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"The Good Book of Southern Baking: A Revival of Biscuits, Cakes, and Cornbread" by Kelly Fields with Kate Heddings (Lorena Jones/Ten Speed, $35)

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

The joys of baking

Shelter-in-place orders prompted people everywhere to haul out rolling pins and mixing bowls and start baking. When yeast supplies ran short, sourdough recipes went viral and sales of bread books went through the roof.

Hannah Dela Cruz, a home baker whose sourdough obsession had already become an award-winning blog, has now turned it into a user-friendly book filled with imaginative uses for her homemade starter, and even the leftover crumbs: Sourdough Every Day: Your Guide to Using Active and Discard Starter for Artisan Bread, Rolls, Pasta, Sweets and More (Page Street Publishing, $21.99).

For those aspiring to produce artisanal bakery-quality loaves at home, Philadelphia chef and prolific cookbook author Marc Vetri, along with his former baker Claire Kopp McWilliams and writing collaborator David Joachim, have provided a gorgeous resource: Mastering Bread: The Art and Practice of Handmade Sourdough, Yeast Bread, and Pastry (Ten Speed, $32.50). Along with detailed techniques are in-depth explanations of flour types, profiles of producers of best-tasting heirloom grains, and how to source them.

ExploreUse Marc Vetri's recipe to transform leftover bread into next-day gnocchi

For those more interested in indulging sweet cravings, Claire Saffitz’s Dessert Person: Recipes and Guidance for Baking With Confidence (Potter, $35) may be the answer. The Bon Appetit video host combines classic French pastry techniques with sophisticated New York sensibility for innovations such as Blood Orange and Olive Oil Upside Down Cake and Brioche Twists with Coriander Sugar.

Another wonderful, well-rounded possibility closer to home: New Orleans chef Kelly Fields’ “The Good Book of Southern Baking: A Revival of Biscuits, Cakes, and Cornbread” (Lorena Jones Books/Ten Speed Press, $35) written with Kate Heddings. The James Beard Award winner dips into childhood memories to refine favorites such as Praline Monkey Bread and Ooey Gooey Bars.

“The New Craft of the Cocktail: Everything You Need to Know to Think Like a Master Mixologist” by Dale DeGroff (Potter, $35).
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“The New Craft of the Cocktail: Everything You Need to Know to Think Like a Master Mixologist” by Dale DeGroff (Potter, $35).

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Cocktail hour inspiration

For those who have been polishing bartending skills while quarantining, Dale DeGroff’s “The New Craft of the Cocktail: Everything You Need to Know to Think Like a Master Mixologist (Potter, $35) deserves a spot alongside the shaking and muddling tools. The author, a veteran of New York’s Rainbow Room and co-founder of New Orleans’ Museum of the American Cocktail, released the first edition in 2002 and has served as mentor to professional mixologists around the world.

But you don’t need booze to toast in style. Former Atlanta magazine food editor Julia Bainbridge shows that a zero-proof cocktail can be every bit as sophisticated and satisfying as one with spirits in Good Drinks: Alcohol-Free Recipes for When You’re Not Drinking for Whatever Reason (Ten Speed, $22.99).

A fun companion to either of these books would be cheesemonger Anne Saxelby’s The New Rules of Cheese: A Freewheeling and Informative Guide (Ten Speed Press, $14.95), a compact little book with tips for selecting, serving and pairing cheeses, and fascinating historical trivia.

ExploreA harvest of fresh drink books

Tastes of other lands and cultures

It may be a while before most of us start booking reservations for our next overseas or cross-country excursion. But certain cookbooks can help us broaden our worldview in the meantime.

The Rise: Black Cooks and the Soul of American Food(Voracious/Little Brown, $38) introduces readers to dozens of chefs, writers, scholars and food purveyors bringing the role of Black cooking to the forefront of the American food story. New York chef and television personality Marcus Samuelsson and award-winning essayist Osayi Endolyn lead the way. Stunning photographs by Atlantan Angie Mosier, with recipes infused with flavors of the African diaspora fine-tuned by Tamie Cook (also from Atlanta) and Yewande Komolafe, enrich the enlightening text.

ExploreMarcus Samuelsson talks race in the restaurant industry

World Food: Mexico City: Heritage Recipes for Classic Home Cookingby James Oseland (Ten Speed, $26) is the first in a series of slender, richly photographed books by Saveur magazine’s well-traveled former editor-in-chief that delve deep into the foodways of some of the world’s most exciting food destinations. Evocative writing and clear instruction for authentic dishes help us re-create those scenes at home.

Meanwhile, Nashville chef Maneet Chauhan and food and travel writer Jody Eddy stoke our wanderlust with Chaat: Recipes From the Kitchens, Markets, and Railways of India (Potter, $32.50), a hunger-inducing exploration of the snacks and small meals that have inspired popular restaurant menus such as the one at Atlanta’s Chai Pani.

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