The past year has been a good one for cookbook lovers, with dozens of new titles covering every topic from opulent cocktails to special desserts. Here are 10 choices in no particular order that would make great gifts to various people on your holiday shopping list:
1. “La Cucina: The Regional Cooking of Italy” (Rizzoli, $45) – Fifty years ago, a group of Italians known as the Accademia Italiana Della Cucina decided to collect recipes from throughout their home country. The recipes were gathered region by region, and the project was only completed in 2001. It took eight years, but this encyclopedic approach to the country’s culinary riches is finally available in English. The end result can be richly rewarding for those who are not slaves to a recipe, as some need finessing (too little water here, too much spice there). Yet the compilation is exhaustive, exhilarating and an exciting new way to view Italian cuisine.
2. “I Know How to Cook” by Ginette Mathiot (Phaidon, $45) – The success of “Julie & Julia” has turned the spotlight on Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” But don’t overlook this French volume, first printed in 1932 and now available in English for the first time. More than 6 million copies have sold in its home country, and it’s easy to see why. It’s clear and concise. Yes, editors have updated the work, making the 1,400 recipes more direct without losing their Gallic charm. Soon, you’ll be saying “Je suis cuisiner” (“I know how to cook”), too.
3. “Pastry Queen Parties: Entertaining Friends and Family, Texas Style” by Rebecca Rather and Alison Oresman (Random House, $32.50) – Who can resist a cookbook with a recipe for something called Peach Daiquiri Likkercicles? Fredericksburg pastry chef Rebecca Rather offers recipes for six Texas-style parties ranging from San Antonio Fiesta (of course) to Gulf Coast Beach Bash. Nothing pretentious here, and many of the recipes use home-grown recipes, such as Honey-Lavender Rack of Lamb.
4. “The Craft of Baking: Cakes, Cookies and Other Sweets With Ideas for Inventing Your Own” by Karen DeMasco and Mindy Fox (Clarkson Potter, $35) – DeMasco, Tom Colicchio’s former pastry chef, uses seasonal ingredients to create an array of spectacular desserts. She also tells you how to adapt your recipe to what’s in season, so a Rhubarb Rose Cobbler becomes a Mixed Berry Cobbler as the seasons change. The list of must-bake recipes just keeps growing as you leaf past the likes of Pine Nut Tart With Rosemary Cream, Pumpkin Seed Brittle and Raspberry Granola Bars.
5. “America’s Most Wanted Recipes” by Ron Douglas (Simon and Schuster, $15) – Ever wanted to make Olive Garden’s salad dressing in your own home? Or Johnny Carino’s Five Cheese Chicken Fettuccine? Copycat versions of all your favorites are here, including Red Lobster’s Cheddar Biscuits and Luby’s Spaghetti Salad. There are no pictures in this affordable paperback. But who needs pictures? You’ve had the dishes enough at each of these chain restaurants to know what it looks like. The recipes are no presented in a no-nonsense way that makes each easy to replicate in your own home.
6. “The Conscious Cook” by Tal Ronnen (William Morrow, $29.99) – This vegan chef has taken a familial approach to his cookbook, inviting fellow vegan chefs to join him in creating a surprisingly varied array of dishes. He starts with the basics, including a section on cashew cream, which he swears “makes it easy to live without dairy.” He then moves on to small plates, salads, soups, sandwiches, entrées and desserts. Even meat-eaters could like Paella With “Sausage,” Nori-dusted Oyster Mushrooms and Wine-braised Artichoke Hearts or Cajun Portobello Sandwich with Avocado and Rémoulade.
7. “Ad Hoc at Home” by Thomas Keller (Artisan, $50) – The chef/owner of the French Laundry goes for more accessible fare at his home-style restaurant, Ad Hoc. By accessible, we mean Buttermilk Fried Chicken and chicken pot pie. Those who were put off by the tortured, laborious recipes Keller presented in his overwrought “French Laundry Cookbook” will be surprised by the warmth and down-home style here. “Ad Hoc at Home” is still a large, coffee table-sized book that won’t fit into many small kitchens easily, but the recipes will leave you hungry for more.
8. “My Bread: The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method” by Jim Leahy (W.W. Norton & Company, $29.95) – If you’ve always wanted to make bread but haven’t trusted yourself around yeast or the controversy about kneading (too much vs. too little), then this book is for you. Leahy mixes flour, yeast, salt and water together quickly, then leaves the mixture alone for 12 hours before baking it in a Dutch oven. That’s it. And people swear by the results. Once he finishes the basics, Leahy takes cooks on through a series of breads as well as pizza dough.
9. “Foods and Flavors of San Antonio” by Gloria Chadwick (Pelican Publishing, $19.95) – Want to send a taste of home to some friends who live far away? Check out this cookbook, which is a savory mix of traditional Alamo City classics presented alongside some colorful variations, such as Chipotle Salmon to Apple Enchiladas. Chadwick also offers some good information on the city’s cultural traditions and attractions, making it a keepsake for locals and tourists alike.
10. “The Pioneer Woman Cooks” by Ree Drummond (William Morrow, $27.50) – Pioneer Woman Ree Drummond (thepioneerwoman.com) welcomes you to her culinary frontier, where home cooking is prized by all. Recipes for Cowboy Calzone, Tomato-Basil Pizza and Edna Mae’s Sour Cream Pancakes are all accompanied by step-by-step photographs, so you can cook to your heart’s content with assurance. From Spicy Pulled Pork to Patsy’s Blackberry Cobbler, this is an Oklahoma answer to Thomas Keller’s “Ad Hoc at Home.”