Cookbook Lover's Holiday Gift Guide 2017

11/08/2017 05:04 am ET Updated Nov 09, 2017
BETSIE VAN DER MEER VIA GETTY IMAGES

Food is our common ground, a universal experience. - James Beard

With the chill of winter settled in and shops decked out in their finest sparkles, we find ourselves looking towards Christmas and Hanukkah, drawing up our menus and our gift lists.

A cookbook is a truly a gift that lasts - a cookbook inspires and informs; a cookbook takes us on a never-ending journey of discovery, opening up new worlds; and a cookbook allows us to share the gift of love on a plate with family and friends. A wonderful cookbook filled with well tested, accessible, and tasty recipes will become an essential and long-lasting kitchen companion.

And what better holiday gift for a food lover than a cookbook?

Passionate (fanatical) home cook, food writer, and cookbook author (see below), I have, once again, done my research and gathered together a gift guide of cookbooks that are uncomplicated, accessible to all levels of cooks and bakers, and are as much a joy to sit over and read as they are a delight and an adventure to cook or bake from time and time again. This year, I have focused on single subject cookbooks, the perfect gift for someone who wants to delve into and discover one ingredient, one dish, or one culinary topic.

Can't choose? Why not order and offer 2 or 3? Or one for everyone on your list.

1) Cranberry Cookbook by Sally Pasley Vargas

For the cranberry lover in your life. And doesn't everyone love cranberries?

Cranberries are still one of those rare treats that have remained truly seasonal, making them particularly special and festive. So when the holiday season approaches and bags of these beautiful tart berries appear in the supermarket I stock up (after jumping up and down and screeching with joy in the fruit and veg aisle), always throwing several bags in the freezer for later in the year. I adore cranberries, their vibrant, assertive personality, adding their distinct fruity tartness - or tart fruitiness - and a gorgeous garnet color to salads, sauces and relishes, side dishes and mains, snacks and desserts. And my pantry is always stocked with dried cranberries for when fresh aren't available or for making granola and cookies, or just for eating.

So thank heavens Sally Pasley Vargas devoted her latest cookbook to the cranberry, from bog to table! While most of us keep making the same 3 or 4 cranberry recipes again and again, Vargas has created a delectable collection of more than 50 recipes featuring the cranberry, fresh or dried!

Now with The Cranberry Cookbook any cranberry lover can enjoy this favorite all-American fruit every morning (Cranberry-Chocolate Babka or Cornmeal-Cranberry-Pecan Pancakes with Cranberry-Maple Syrup), in side dishes (Roasted Carrots and Cranberries; Shaved Brussels Sprouts with Apples, Walnuts, and Cranberries), as an intriguing savory entree for lunch or dinner (Squash, Blue Cheese, and Cranberry Tart; Grilled Beef Kabobs with Cranberry Barbecue Sauce; bacon-wrapped, cranberry-stuffed Pork Tenderloin with crispy Roasted Potatoes), amazing condiments (Cranberry Peach Salsa ; Cranberry-Citrus Relish; Fig, Grape, and Cranberry Conserve) to sweet treats and desserts (Dark, Dark Chocolate Gelato with Bourbon-Infused Cranberries; Chocolate Fruit and Nut Bars; Cranberry Almond Skillet Cake; Plum, Pear, and Cranberry Crumble). And don't forget the drinks like Ye Olde Drugstore Cranberry Lime Rickey or Nantucket Sunrise!

2) Orange Appeal: Savory & Sweet by Jamie Schler

For the citrus lover. Isn't that just about everyone?

This Florida girl has put together a collection of more than 70 savory and sweet recipes featuring that most versatile of winter citrus fruits, the orange. No one who cooks or bakes from Orange Appeal will ever look at the orange in quite the same way again because you will quickly discover that adding orange transforms the flavor of any dish - savory or sweet - in an astonishing and unexpected way.

Orange Appeal will inspire home cooks of every level to use oranges - whichever varieties they find close to home - in their cooking every single day (sunshine in every dish!) Each recipe in the cookbook uses the orange in one of its many forms: the fruit, juice and zest or peel, as well as orange blossom or flower water, orange marmalade, liqueur or flavoring (when oranges are out of season, but not only), in sauces, condiments, and dressings; soups and salads; main dishes of meat, chicken, fish or seafood; in cakes, snacks, and desserts.

Starting with an overview of orange varieties and equipment, Orange Appeal turns right to the sunny and sophisticated recipes! Be amazed with Blood Orange Hummus Vinaigrette and Sweet-and-Spicy Caramelized Onion, Raisin, and Orange Compote; discover orange-kissed starters and sides like Orange-Braised Belgian Endives with Caramelized Onions and Bacon or Pea and Shiitake Orange Risotto; enjoy homey and impressive mains like Sweet and Sour Marmalade Glazed Oven-Baked Chicken, Curried Cod Poached in Coconut Milk, Lime, and Orange or Bourbon Beef Stew; be comforted with cosy snacks and sweets like Orange Cardamom Scones with Honey-Orange Spiced Butter, Chocolate Orange Marmalade Brownies, and Orange Riz au Lait, or more impressive Orange Curd Tartlets in Coconut Pastry, soulful Oranges in Spiced Wine Syrup, or an exotic and refreshing Moroccan-Spiced Orange Slices in Orange Blossom Water.

Beautifully photographed by Ilva Beretta, the recipes are well-tested and simple to follow and will truly delight any orange lover! A zesty book that will bring sunshine into your kitchen!

3) Chicken by Cynthia Graubart

For every home cook everywhere.

I love the cover. That's what first grabbed me in this wonderful cookbook in the Savor the South series (see my review of Nancie McDermott's Fruit) from The University of North Carolina Press. A cocky (no pun intended) bright-eyed chicken staring out from the white book jacket, all fluffy copper feathers and red crest, just daring me...inviting me to open the pages and discover a scrumptious new repertoire of chicken dishes.

"Chicken," as Graubart explains in the book's introduction (after regaling us with the story of her southern upbringing and connection to our favorite fowl), "is among the most iconic foods in the South." Think Southern fried chicken, but also chicken bog (a chicken, rice and sausage dish) and chicken biscuits. But chicken has become one of the most universal foods, something almost all of us cook in one form or another over and over again, for family and friends, picnics and barbecues, holidays and special events. So no wonder Graubart's wonderful little cookbook Chicken excited me, and it will you, too! For while we all cook chicken, don't we just keep making the same few dishes again and again? For lack of ideas.

Well, this cookbook will change all of that with Port Wine-Glazed Chicken and Figs, Virginia Coq au Vin, Summertime Anytime Bourbon Peach Chicken Thighs, Fried Chicken and Waffles, Sautéed Chicken Tenders with Mississippi Comeback Sauce, and, of course Chicken Sausage and Apples. Just for a start.

Cynthia Graubart is a well-known food writer, acclaimed cookbook author, cooking teacher, and former cooking show television producer and truly knows her southern cooking. This book is a must for the home cook on your list that wants authentic, exciting new recipes for everyday.

4) Cake, I Love You by Jill O'Connor

For the cake lover and the home baker!

I love eating cake and I love baking cakes from scratch; whenever I am in the mood to do something in the kitchen I almost invariably bake a cake. Simple loaf or sponge cakes for breakfast and snacking, layer cakes for celebrations, or something fruit-based for dessert. How many times have made cake for dinner?

I own so many baking cookbooks but my favorite so far is Jill O'Connor's wonderful Cake, I Love You: 60 Decadent, Delectable, and Do-able Recipes. Cake: I Love You is ingeniously divided into flavors - what are you craving today? Chocolate? Caramel? Banana? Something with citrus or fruit? Or something boozy? - and this is just how I decide what to bake! Master baker Jill O’Connor offers recipes for everyone for each flavor profile, simple cakes for the novice, the busy baker, or for teatime or breakfast... to the showstopper when something spectacular is on the menu. Just the coolest idea for a cake cookbook this passionate home baker has ever come across.

Cake, I Love You is filled with recipes for easy weeknight sheet cakes and loaf cakes to dazzling cakes layered with frosting, caramel, marshmallows, and ganache, cakes for the less experienced home baker to the more confident, experienced baker. Recipes include Pecan Praline Cream Cheese Pound Cake, Summer Nectarine Buckle, Tennessee Whiskey Pecan Cake, Lemon Bomb, Vintage Coconut Cake and Triple-Coconut Poke Cake, The Black Cow, Chocolate Peanut Butter Blackout Cake, Tipsy Fig Cake with Brandied Hard Sauce Icing, and Banana-Butterscotch Loaf. And a Blood Orange-Ricotta Pound Cake with Blood Orange Compote! And loads more. Cake: I Love You is a love letter to the cake for the cake lover in your life.

5) All-Time Favorite Sheet Cakes & Slab Pies: Easy to Make, Easy to Serve by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough

Mmmmm for the dessert lover in your life. Or for the person who loves to bake for crowds (family, church socials, school bake sales or all the kids on the block).

Good, old-fashioned sheet cakes and slab pies, those favorite desserts of holiday buffets, family reunions, church socials, and school bake sales! Who can resist the simplicity one-pan baking, making it a snap to bake for the family or for a group? And who can resist those time-honored desserts and treats... or fun and fabulous new interpretations?

I loved Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough's last cookbook À la Mode, their ingenious dessert book pairing Pies, Tarts, Cakes, Crisps, and more with their perfect Ice Cream, Gelato, Frozen Custard counterpart, that when I heard they were writing a cookbook devoted to sheet cakes and slab pies I knew that it would be another must-have baking book in my kitchen!

And in All-Time Favorite Sheet Cakes & Slab Pies they cover it all: Classic sheet cakes (mostly chocolate, thank heavens); fruit & nut sheet cakes; coffee cakes & cheesecakes; classic slab pies; chocolate slab pies; sheet strudel, Danish, shortbread & more. So basically, Weinstein and Scarbrough have a sheet cake or slab pie, simple to make, simple to serve, outrageously delicious, for everyone and every occasion! From the traditional and classic, to the festive and the spectacular!

Chocolate Cake with Caramel Buttercream and Pretzels; Bacon-Peanut Butter Cake with Maple Buttercream; Lemonade Cake with Lemon Curd Whipped Cream; Almond-Cornmeal Cake with Orange Glaze; No-Bake Cherry-Chocolate Cheesecake or Raspberry-Glazed Cheesecake with Oreo Crust; Sweet Cherry Pie with Pecan Crunch or The Giant Jam Slab! Jake and Coke Fudge Pie or Pumpkin Crunch Pie; Rice Pudding Pie or Almond-Hazlenut Dacquoise with Chocolate French Buttercream. Can you resist? I can't! And any home baker will jump for joy receiving this baking cookbook and such a collection of mouthwatering recipes!

6) Smörgåsbord: Art of Swedish Breads and Savory Treats by Johanna Kindvall

An entertaining and enticing gift for the cook who likes cozy stay-at-home meals or adventurous entertaining!

Smörgåsbord is Swedish illustrator Johanna Kindvall's first solo cookbook - following the wonderful Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffeebreak with co-author Anna Brones, and it is as delightful as it is informative and delicious! Kindvall's whimsical illustrations will carry you through the pages of this fascinating cookbook, from her introduction the meaning and history of Smörgåsbord and it's vocabulary, pantry, tools and methods, and the art of savory treats, the basis of the Swedish Smörgåsbord to her collection of traditional Swedish recipes.

As Kindvall explains on her blog (to discover!!) kokblog: "As the word Smörgåsbord is composed of two words; smörgås (open-faced-sandwich) and bord (table), the dishes are always served with several different types of bread, butter, and cheese. A smörgåsbord is most often set up in a separate room and the table can sometimes be several meters long and consist of over 100 dishes.... The book is a celebration of the Swedish tradition smörgåsbord which is a festive buffet with dishes like cured herring, gravlax, cold cuts, pickles, salads, and meatballs."

Whether preparing a proper Smörgåsbord or just a treat for 2, Kindvall's cookbook will have you - or the lucky one to receive this cookbook as a gift - cooking up traditional Rustic Rye Bread, flatbreads and Crispbread, real Swedish meatballs and fresh cheese, Hot Smoked Salmon and Butter-Fried Chanterelles with Walnuts or Scandinavian Deviled Eggs. She also offers a generous chapter on condiments with such delicacies as Prune Jam, Danish Curry Remoulade, Crispy Onions, and Pickled Beets.

7) Mountain Berries and Desert Spice: Sweet Inspiration From the Hunza Valley to the Arabian Sea by Sumayya Usmani

For the cook who loves a passionate and adventurous culinary journey.

After Usmani's award-winning first cookbook, Summers Under the Tamarind Tree, a food journey through her native Pakistan, comes Mountain Berries and Desert Spice, an exploration of Pakistani desserts and sweets. Usmani offers 70 authentic and family recipes from snacks shared over coffee to sumptuous desserts, and this passionate cooking teacher knows how well to do, makes them simple and accessible to all home cooks.

Usmani, after a key chapter on ingredients and techniques, will guide you through the desserts of Pakistan, from the foothills of the Hindu Kush mountains in the north (where berries and fruits grow in abundance), via the fertile Punjab (with its rice- and grain-based desserts) to the Arabian sea in the south (where saffron- and cardamom-laced sweet recipes are a favourite). Learn to make Stewed Hunza apricots with cream and apricot kernels; Spiced Fruit Chaat with guava, pomegranate and mango and gorgeous Bakar Khani sweet puff pastry biscuits. Or stunning puddings like Dahi Ki Kheer baked saffron yogurt and Bejewelled Parsi wedding custard.

From Spiced apple samosas to Afghani gosh-e-fil elephant ear-shaped fried pastry with ground pistachio and cardamon to Shahi Tukra brioche bread pudding with saffron, ricotta, cranberries and chopped nuts, Mountain Berries and Desert Spice will inspire the adventurous and passionate cook and carry them away on a veritable culinary voyage. Stunning photography by Joanna Yee will inspire.

8) The Joys of Jewish Preserving: Modern Recipes with Traditional Roots by Emily Paster

For everyone on your list passionate about preserving. And for that friend or family member interested in Jewish food traditions.

After Cathy Barrow's Practical Pantry, Domenica Marchetti's Preserving Italy, and Marisa McClellan's Food in Jars series, Emily Paster adds to the collection of cookbooks highlighting the craft of home preserving with her beautiful The Joys of Jewish Preserving. The Jewish people have been preserving foods for centuries, and Paster thoroughly researched this ages-old food tradition and has brought together a marvelous collection of 75 recipes for authentic and updated preserves.

Paster includes 35 recipes for fruit jams and preserves, syrups and butters, including Queen Esther's Apricot-Poppyseed Jam; Quince Paste; Pear Butter, and Dried Fig, Apple, and Raisin Jam; Apple, Honey, and Rosewater Jam; Russian-Style Sour Cherry Preserves. She offers 30 recipes for pickles and other savory preserves, including Shakshuka, Pickled Carrots Two Ways; Bene Israel Quick Pickled Eggplant; Deli-Style Kosher Dills; Small-Batch Sourkraut; Green Tomato Pickles; Pickled Damson Plums. She also shares a variety of recipes for the likes of Candied Citrus Peel; Roman-Style Pickled Baby Artichokes; Greengage Chutney; North African Preserved Lemons.

And The Joys of Jewish Preserving isn't complete without recipes that allow you to use your preserves in your cooking: including Sephardic Date Charoset; American Cream Cheese Rugelach, Jelly Doughnuts and Hamantaschen; Egyptian Semolina Cake; Chocolate Babka with Jam.

Paster, an expert in home food preservation who also teaches canning classes, includes information about Jewish preserving and Jewish food traditions, preserving for the holidays, and, of course, canning instructions

9) The Hamilton Cookbook by Laura Kumin

For the History of Food and Eating Buff. And the Hamilton fan.

Hamilton is all the rage but writer Laura Kumin has been fascinated with the man since she was a girl. The Hamilton Cookbook came about because of her interest in every aspect of Hamilton's life from political to personal and, especially - knowing that Kumin is a food writer - the way he ate. After a concise and intriguing overview of Hamilton's life and the world in which he lived, Kumin does get to the food.

Kumin devotes a chapter to The Kitchen, Cooking Equipment, and Furniture (I love seeing how folks lived and cooked!), another to Food Storage, an obvious challenge, and then Eating and Dining, both with one's family and entertaining (or being entertained), including sample menus. If you (or someone you are looking for a gift for) are crazy about the history of food and dining, Kumin's compelling and informative (while being straightforward and concise) overview of the period is worth the price of the cookbook!

The Hamilton Cookbook then presents a selection of Original & Adapted Recipes - a fascinating pairing of a recipes from a cookbook published in Hamilton's Day and Kumin's modern adaptation of each recipe. She shares only 22 recipes, but the collection is a look back in time to what a family would eat, including Johnny or Hoe Cakes, West Indian Pepper Pot Soup, Scalloped Oysters, Lamb Stew and Dutch-Style Red Cabbage, Salamagundy Salad, and several sweets and beverages including Chocolate Puffs, Gingerbread Cake, and Lemon Syllabub adapted to the modern kitchen.

10) Gourmet Girls Go Camping (Amazing Meals Straight from Your Campfire!) by Denise Woolery, Gail Kearns, Lindsey Moran

For the Happy Camper, your favorite outdoor cook, or someone who you would like to be!

Glamping is one of my favorite words and concepts: glamour camping! To be truthful, I am not a camper and never enjoyed it; my one single fond memory of Girl Scout camp was cooking over the campfire, sausages! toasted marshmallows! But glamping I could do. Or maybe I could just skip to the cooking over the open fire part of it? Especially with a copy of Gourmet Girls Go Camping!

Executive Chef Denise Woolery, editor Gail Kearns, and writer/illustrator Lindsey Moran (the Gourmet Girls) have put together a fabulous cookbook for anyone who loves to camp in style and enjoys delicious food prepared in the great outdoors with 1950's-inspired illustrations, a cool and practical spiral binding, and tips and tricks to get you campfire cooking like a chef! Chock full of delicious recipes that you never thought that you could easily make out in the wild (or a backyard barbecue), Gourmet Girls Go Camping will replace your usual canned beans and weenies with real meals made with fresh ingredients - and will make you want to camp more often just so you can make more from this book!

The Gourmet Girls have included a ton of great recipes to keep campers eating happily from sunrise to sunset: Super Easy Campfire Breakfast Burritos or Apricot-Pecan Pancakes with Maple Blackberry Syrup to start your day; Wild Mushroom Pizza with Caramelized Onions, Black Bean and Goat Cheese Quesadillas or Chicken Salad with Apple, Dill, and Capers, or a warming bowl of Genoa-Style Minestrone with Pesto after a morning of hiking or fishing; Campfire Salmon with Lemon Dill Cream Sauce, Paella on the Grill, or Shrimp and Sausage Skewers with Smoky Paprika Glaze; Dutch Oven Chicken Marabella or Lamb Shank and Quince Tagine, Butterflied Leg of Lamb à l'Orange eaten in front of the dying embers as you watch the sun set. Savory Sides, Vegetarian Vittles, Groovy Grains, Sauces and Veggies round out the mains along with Lovely Libations and Ample Appetizers... and, of course, Divine Desserts (Campfire Cobbler, Outdoor Chocolate Fondue, Lemon Ricotta Crepes) will have the happy recipient your gitft turning to this astonishing cookbook every day for recipes and inspiration whether he or she camps or not!

11) The Electric Pressure Cooker Cookbook: 200 Fast and Foolproof Recipes for Every Brand of Electric Pressure Cooker by Barbara Schieving

A great gift idea for the traditional homecook who adores the convenience of modern kitchen equipment.

The only kitchen equipment that my French mother-in-law owned was a pressure cooker. So, of course, my husband grew up a true believer and together we have been cooking with our own for 30 years. I have long known that a pressure cooker is such a simple, efficient, and no-bother way to make great soups and stews.

But what I didn't know was that a pressure cooker also makes fabulous oatmeal, cakes, and breakfasts, too!

Schieving starts The Electric Pressure Cooker Cookbook with a super informative primer on the electric pressure cooker and accompanying equipment and essentials, a walk-through of using an electric pressure cooker, and the technology and the advantages of pressure cooking. Then she dazzles with more recipes for the pressure cooker than I could ever have imagined!

From breakfast (Very Berry Steel Cut Oats to Crustless Ham and Cheese Quiche to Hash Brown Breakfast Casserole) to lunch (Chicken Quesadillas with Avocado Salsa to Shredded Barbecue Chicken Sandwiches and Cheesy Baked Chicken Taquitos); soups (White Chicken Chili, Pumpkin-Chorizo-Black Bean Soup, Garden Fresh Tomato-Basil-Parmesan Soup or Louisiana Gumbo); Shortcut Dinners and 30-Minute Meals (a tremendous selection including quick homemade marinara sauce, spicy orange or honey-sesame chicken, feel-good chicken pot pie and linguine and clam sauce!); to hearty Sunday Suppers such as Bone-In Beef Short Ribs, Shepherd's Pie, and Country-Style Sweet-and-Sour Pork Ribs and Eggplant Lasagna Rolls. Schieving includes a great selection of sides to go along with those mains, too.

And desserts! The pressure cooker will turn out luscious Fudgy Brownies, Just Right Pumpkin Pie, Triple Chocolate Cheesecake, and Dangerously Delicious Rice Pudding among many tempting treats!

Jamie Schler lives and writes in Chinon, France. You can read more of her work at Life’s a Feast and follow her on Twitter at @lifesafeast.

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