The cookbooks that make the best gifts offer more than recipes, prose and pretty photos. They also offer a sense of accomplishment. Here are some suggestions to help cooks achieve broader goals in the kitchen.
For more ideas, check out my weekly cookbook reviews and my roundup of 18 of the best baking books focused on the sweet stuff, published in September. They can be found at ajc.com/things-to-do/food-and-recipes.
DIVE DEEPER IN DOUGH
The big-ticket item for a pizza aficionado is “Modernist Pizza” (The Cooking Lab, $425), from the renowned chef, photographer and scientist Nathan Myhrvold and his lab’s head chef, Francisco Migoya. This work of art, weighing 35½ pounds, consists of three volumes, plus a separate recipe manual, in a tomato-red stainless-steel slipcase. Packed within are thousands of museum-quality photographs, recipes developed for professional or home ovens, and deep dives into every aspect of one of the world’s most beloved foods: history, culture, techniques, equipment — even travel tips for pizza destinations.
Bread-baking took off in a big way during 2020′s lockdown. Aiding in this endeavor is “Upper Crust: Homemade Bread the French Way” (Flammarion, $40), by Marie-Laure Frechet. This beauty begins with step-by-step, illustrated techniques, followed by traditional and contemporary recipes, both sweet and savory, from 18 baking pros, covering every level of difficulty. International classics, such as banh mi and Norwegian polar bread, are reinterpreted in the French style.
COOK BETTER, STRESS LESS
Producing satisfying home-cooked meals regularly, without getting frazzled, can challenge even accomplished cooks. “Ready, Set, Cook: How to Make Good Food With What’s on Hand” (Simon & Schuster, $30), by food writer Dawn Perry, a veteran of top magazine test kitchens, lays out the practical and cleverly packaged strategies she follows in feeding her own family.
Celebrity chef David Chang — with an assist from food writer Priya Krishna — takes a more free-form approach, sharing tricks for making fast, delicious meals in “Cooking at Home: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying About Recipes (and Love My Microwave)” (Potter, $35).
TAKE STOCK ... AND RESTOCK
“Ottolenghi Test Kitchen: Shelf Love” (Potter, $32), by Noor Murad and Yotam Ottolenghi, tackles decluttering cupboards, fridges and freezers — providing an opportunity to make room for some exciting new flavors. This handy little volume offers a wealth of chef-worthy ways to breathe new life into that long-dormant bag of frozen peas or jar of star anise hiding in the corner.
In “The Modern Larder: From Anchovies to Yuzu, a Guide to Artful and Attainable Cooking” (Rizzoli, $40), Michelle McKenzie profiles 58 ingredients that can elevate a dish “from flat to transcendent,” with sophisticated, yet accessible, recipes for using them.
Meanwhile, in “Flavors of the Sun: The Sadahi’s Guide to Understanding, Buying, and Using Middle Eastern Ingredients” (Chronicle, $35), Brooklyn specialty grocer and James Beard award winner Christine Sahadi Whelan presents appealing and practical ideas for using Mediterranean spices and condiments, such as sumac and pomegranate molasses.
EAT LESS (OR NO) MEAT
The vegan cookbook genre continues to explode, with ever more creative ways to enjoy life without meat. In “Provecho: 100 Vegan Mexican Recipes to Celebrate Culture and Community” (Ten Speed, $32.50), San Francisco chef and food photographer Edgar Castrejon, a first-generation Mexican-American, shows how he adapted beloved meat-centric dishes from his upbringing to the healthy, plant-based lifestyle he has adopted.
For those moving toward a meatless diet, but not quite there yet, popular blogger and author Jenny Rosenstrach aims to ease the transition (eggs and dairy permitted) with “The Weekday Vegetarians: 100 Recipes and a Real-Life Plan for Eating Less Meat” (Potter, $32.50).
EXPLORE OTHER FOOD CULTURES
French food critic and TV host Francois-Regis Gaudry takes armchair travelers and gastronomes on a tour of one of the world’s best-loved cuisines in “Let’s Eat Italy: Everything You Want to Know About Your Favorite Cuisine” (Artisan, $60). Along with well-curated recipes, this gorgeous coffee table book features stunning infographics, maps and tributes to all things Italian — from pasta to gelati to wine.
“Black Food: Stories, Art and Recipes From Across the African Diaspora” (4 Color Books, $40), curated and edited by renowned chef, educator and food activist Bryant Terry, tells the global story of Black foodways via thought-provoking essays, poetry and an eclectic selection of recipes.
HAVE FRIENDS OVER MORE OFTEN
How we choose to gather is a matter of personal style. In her eighth cookbook, “Y’all Come Over: Charming Your Guests With True Hospitality” (Rizzoli, $45), Athens food writer Rebecca Lang gives us a refresher course in Southern etiquette, along with recipes focused on hosting company.
And, California artist and photographer Julie Sherman takes readers inside the home gatherings of cutting-edge artists in “Arty Parties: An Entertaining Cookbook From the Creator of Salad for President” (Abrams, $40).
One easy way to elevate any gathering is by arranging cheese and other nibbles attractively on a board. “The Cheese Board Deck: 50 Cards for Styling Spreads, Savory and Sweet” (Potter, $20), by Meg Quinn and Shana Smith, provides artful instruction for assembling cheese boards for gift-giving in an unconventional format.
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