At holiday time, what cook doesn’t love peeling back the gift wrap to discover a new cookbook?
Newcomers to cooking can’t wait to try everything, but even seasoned cooks — who don’t really need more recipes — welcome the inspiration of a new cookbook.
We polled a few Culinate contributors and friends to learn which, out of all the cookbook gifts they’ve been given as gifts, they appreciate the most, and here’s what we learned. Maybe there’s an idea in here for you.
Deborah Madison, cookbook-author extraordinaire and our Local Flavors columnist, writes:
“I often give cookbooks as gifts, but very few people have given me cookbooks. I wish that weren’t the case, because it’s always a delight to be surprised by what someone chooses for you. I love it when an author who is a (possibly new) friend gives me a copy of a book she has written. One of my favorites is called Quick Cuisine by Ann Clark, from a cook whose food I love. I was so surprised that she gave me her book, and I treasure it. Lindsey Shere gave me a copy of her Chez Panisse Desserts, a book I both use and treasure. And my husband surprised — and moved — me most when he gave me The Oxford Companion to Food for Christmas one year, because food and cookbooks aren’t his realm, yet he took a chance with a book that, as it turned out, I was delighted to have!”
Like many people, longtime Culinate writer Twilight Greenaway has an old favorite: “I’m not sure if this counts, because it’s not a recent book, but a friend gave me a copy of The Night Before Cookbook and I’ve used a few of the recipes, but mainly I just love the cover. It encapsulates something really great about cooking for me, and suggests we can be glamorous and domestic all at once. This blogger agrees, and nicely scanned the cover too.”
David Leite, whose new book The New Portuguese Table was recently excerpted on Culinate, said that he’s given his own book to many friends, but another book he likes to give is Michael Ruhlman’s Ratio — a gift he gave to himself. “It’s so utterly essential in the kitchen and can be used everyday,” says Leite, “no matter what you’re making or book you’re cooking from.”
Hm. Sounds a little like our columnist, Hank Sawtelle — although he’s referencing a different book — or two. “Lately I’ve been reaching for How to Cook Everything (Completely Revised 10th Anniversary Edition) by Mark Bittman and The Flavor Bible by Dornenburg and Page (not a cookbook per se but an “inspiration book”) several times a week. With these two books together there is very little you can’t do. Certainly any ingredient you have lying around or that you bring home from the market can be worked into a coherent dish. So if I can change the question to ‘If I could only have (or give) two cookbooks, what would they be?’ these are the ones.”
Kim O’Donnel, our steadfast chat leader every week on Table Talk (and soon-to-be-author herself) goes to The Mindful Cook every time she wants help out of a kitchen funk. “It’s a gem of a book about the mindset of cooking,” she says.
Kelly Myers, who writes the Front Burner column, received The Zuni Cafe Cookbook from her mom: “It’s a uniquely in-depth teaching cookbook. Not many cooks pay such close attention as Judy Rogers, and she carefully articulates her observations.” Adds Kelly: “Really, though, I am the only one who gives myself cookbooks (hint, hint). The most memorable have been those that expand my world view, not just my cooking. I’m thinking of anything by the husband-and-wife traveling-and-cookbook-writing team Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid.”
“The great majority of books I use I bought for myself,” says contributor Giovanna Zivny, echoing a theme. “But one jumps out. Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without volume 2 of The Gourmet Cookbook. My father gave it to me for Christmas the first year I was married. Each Christmas season gets started, and helped generously along, with a batch of Gourmet’s eggnog. Though we have adjusted the recipe over the years — the ratio of 2/3 cup liquor per egg was a little much for us. We make it with a restrained 1/5 cup per egg, which seems to do just fine in keeping the party rolling. And by the time Christmas Day arrives, we are all ready for a true feast of prime rib and especially the glorious Yorkshire Pudding (also in the book) that must accompany it.”
Matthew Amster-Burton, who writes the Unexplained Bacon column on Culinate and penned the recent memoir Hungry Monkey, cut to the chase: “Cucina Simpatica, Killeen and Germon.” (That’s Johanne Killeen and George Germon, restaurateurs in Providence, Rhode Island.) Adds Matthew, “From my mom.”
Friend o’ Culinate and member Katherine Deumling also has an Italian food favorite: Cooking From an Italian Garden, by Paola Scaravelli and Jon Cohen. “I was given this by my distant cousin and her Italian husband at the end of a year in Italy in 1992. The book’s authors are friends of theirs and Francesco (my cousin’s husband) is referenced in several of the recipes. It’s a vegetarian book and has some absolutely wonderful recipes and menus.”
Marissa Lippert, our Health + Food columnist, loves a book of Greek recipes that she only recently received: “Vefa’s Kitchen is an incredible anthology of Greek cuisine with a very chicly designed cover.” Opa!
“I have several favorites when it comes to cookbooks — favorite dessert, most likely to read in bed, best reference, etc.” writes our founding food editor Carrie Floyd, a cookbook collector par excellence. “But the book that stands out as the dearest gift is Hallelujah! The Welcome Table, by Maya Angelou. This book was given to me by my mother on the last Christmas we shared, the year before she died. Though I have yet to cook from its pages, I pull this book from the shelf when I am missing her, and as I leaf through it reading Angelou’s stories, I am filled with my own fond memories: the evening we went to hear Maya Angelou speak, scores of books exchanged between my mother and myself, and the many meals and stories we shared over the years.”
Similarly, contributor Miriam Wolf is fond of one book in particular: “Before she passed away, my mother gave me her 1962 edition of the Joy of Cooking. It sits on the shelf next to my own 1995 edition and copies of the 1943 and 1951 printings.”
Contributor Joan Menefee also received a food book from her mother that’s become a favorite reference: On Food and Cooking. “Nine times out of 10, this book answers my random questions about food. McGee has enlightened me about the origins of rhubarb, the differences between ales and porters, and the biochemistry of freezing.”
Culinate member Trista Cornelius treasures a vegan cookbook: “My true favorite that I use all the time is Dreena Burton’s Vive le Vegan: I love the artsy-craftsy cover of her and her daughter making cookies wearing what look like handmade hats. I love the sincerity for health and wellness of Dreena’s writings and recipes. I absolutely love that every single recipe I’ve made from that book has been, without fail, delicious. Seriously. Not one has flopped, not one has been bland, not one has disappointed. Finally, even though I don’t have kids, I like the back section about raising children on a vegan diet and the careful research she offers.”
“Am I too late?” asked Terry Walters, author of Clean Food. (She was not.) “I don’t use many cookbooks, but I do like Peter Berley’s The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen and Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone and bought both of them as gifts to myself! Of course, my own book feels like the book that I had always wished someone had given to me years ago when I first started bringing greater consciousness to my food choices, my cooking and the way I nourished myself, and now my family.”
Lastly, longtime contributor, friend, supporter, and energetic local-food enthusiast (whew!) Sarah Gilbert had two favorites, which she reveals over on her Culinate blog. Check it out; you may find yourself needing her gifting strategy one of these holidays.
Culinate’s features address the practical challenges and joys of food.
Want more? Comb the archives.
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Beyond a supporting role
The great Sicilian-Neapolitan kitchen rivalry
Five ideas each month for eating better