Whether you are seeking gifts for dear ones who are trying to find their inner Dorie Greenspan or Mario Batali, or you simply want to gift yourself, there’s no such thing as too many cookbooks. Especially this year, when celeb chefs and authors and knowledgeable first-time writers have come out with keepers that are packed with must-try recipes and the ultimate food porn. Here are some of the outstanding ones:
Dorie’s Cookies by Dorie Greenspan (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; $35): The reigning cookie queen says, “Cookies and I have been pals forever.” Of course they have, considering that over the years she has created more than 300 recipes, including blueberry-buttermilk pie bars, pecan-butterscotch shortbreads and mulled wine jammers. But she has never written about them until now. We get insights into how Triscuity bites came to be, why the sandy french vanilla sables are no ordinary cookies and how to make almond crackle cookies with just three ingredients. There also are recipes for do-almost-anything vanilla and chocolate cookie doughs, candied orange peel and icings. The book is a godsend for cookie monsters of all types.
Big American Cookbook by Mario Batali (Grand Central Publishing; $40): Crisscross the country in this book’s eight chapters, which are divided by regions that share geography and cooking styles, and sample a diverse culinary scene: Baked stuffed clams, aka stuffies in New England; bourbon-peach jam and chipped beef pecan dip from the deep South; Concord grape pie from the Finger Lakes; Swedish meatballs from the upper Midwest; Kentucky’s gooey Woodford pudding packed with blackberries; New Orleans’ oysters Rockefeller; Ozark pudding; Navajo Frybread tacos; Alaskan grilled halibut; Hawaii ahi poke; Cajun white sausage; and barbecues from across the country. Mr. Batali says the recipes are not trendy or even current in some cases, but speak of the places they are served. And that’s OK because they whet your appetite to cook, eat and travel.
The Vegetable Butcher by Cara Mangini (Workman; $29.95): Gift this book to a vegetarian, and you’ll become the person’s BFF. Mangini, who comes from a long line of butchers and is the chef and owner of Little Eater in Columbus, Ohio, artfully uses her butchery skills to slice and dice vegetables. She not only gives tips on how to select and care for knives but also shows how to cut vegetables into coins, oblong slices and matchsticks in step-by-step photos. She demystifies vegetables by showing how to select, prep and cook them. Brussels sprouts are shredded by cutting them crosswise into very thin slices for a slawlike salad and topped with pomegranate seeds, walnuts and manchego cheese. Kabocha squash is peeled, diced and cooked in a ginger-coconut curry along with adzuki beans. Even vegetable devotees who profess to know it all will learn something from this butcher.
Soup Nights: Satisfying Soups and Sides for Delicious Meals All Year by Betty Rosbottom (Rizzoli; $35): Rosbottom makes no apology for coming out with the umpteenth soup book in the cookbook world because, she writes, “soups never go out of style.” She also offers us a good reason why we could have soups 24/7. Chapters are divided into vegetable-driven, beans and grains, fish-centric, hearty and chilled categories, and familiar flavors get fashionable accessories. Red pepper veloute is garnished with fresh crab salad; roasted butternut squash soup gets a boost from a swirl of sage creme fraiche; and watermelon is pureed with mint and lemon juice and served with a scoop of whipped feta. There also are recipes for soup’s natural partners — salads, sandwiches and simple desserts. Frisee salad with walnuts, pears and goat cheese dressing; lobster BLT; and three-layer chocolate caramel bars anyone?
Smashed, Mashed, Boiled and Baked — And Fried, Too! by Raghavan Iyer (Workman Publishing; $16.95): The book’s a treat for any spud nut. Recipes include potato cakes spiked with mustard seeds and curry leaves; Indonesian-style chicken soup with fingerling potatoes and galangal; skillet potato salad with basil; Moroccan potato stew with saffron biscuits; potato gratin with vanilla caramelized onions or rosemary; hasselback potatoes with cardamom butter; and chocolate sweet potato pound cake. Iyer accompanies each recipe with a tater tip, which range from gadgets used, to substitutions, to origins of ingredients.
Far Afield: Rare Food Encounters From Around the World by Shane Mitchell (Ten Speed Press; $40): From the Rabari cattle herders in northwestern India, to the fishermen on the Swahili coast in Kenya, to the taro farmers in Hawaii, Mitchell captures the souls of the people with her prose and shares recipes that keep their traditions alive. We learn that Rabari women season raw mango chutney with mustard, fenugreek and fennel seeds and perfume it with cardamom and saffron; Swahilis amp up the heat in a red snapper curry by adding the piri piri chile; and there’s nothing more aloha for breakfast than a fried rice omelet made with linguica sausage and hamakua mushrooms. James Fisher’s stunning photographs make this book a wondrous addition to any coffee table.
Simple: Effortless Food, Big Flavors by Diana Henry (Mitchell Beazley; $32.99): No-muss, no-fuss is Henry’s motto in her 10th cookbook. She shares easy-to-make dishes that explode with big flavors by using ingredients that are in one’s kitchen cabinet or refrigerator. She readily admits that she stole the idea from a New York chef for her roasted carrot salad with cumin and coriander seeds, drizzled with a pomegranate molasses and Dijon mustard dressing. And she’s candid about using canned chickpeas in a lamb and bulgur pilaf that is studded with halved figs, walnuts and preserved lemons. For a no-hassle dessert, she whips up a raspberry-chocolate sundae by layering vanilla ice cream, brownies, raspberries and raspberry sauce.
Scratch by Maria Rodale (Rodale; $35): If you want the rookie cook in your life to start cooking the right way, from scratch, Scratch is the answer. Rodale says her book is “not about counting calories or reducing your sugar or fat intake or fads” but it is about real food and using products that don’t have a list of fake ingredients. Her father was a leader in the organic farming movement and her mother’s side of the family is Pennsylvania Dutch, and her recipes give a nod to her late parents with chicken-fried steak made with organic steak, spaghetti sauce with a dash of maple syrup, Pennsylvania Dutch-style creamed chipped beef and dandelion salad with hot bacon dressing.
How to Bake Everything by Mark Bittman (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; $35): This book will be treasured by wannabes and seasoned bakers as it is chock-full of information. It explains the various flours, sugars, salts and fats; how to prepare fruits and vegetables; vegan substitutions; recipe variations; and baking equipment. The book doesn’t have colorful photographs of lemon thins, fruitcake bars, pistachio macarons or chocolate-coconut tart but instead is sprinkled with clear black-and-white illustrations and infographics.
Cooking With Mary Berry by Mary Berry (DK; $25; hardcover): The Brit grande dame judge of reality TV cooking shows says her cooking is about tasting good, looking good and being practical to make. And the cookbook reflects her no-fuss and practical personality with chicken crepes Florentine, Hungarian goulash, mushroom stroganoff and tiramisu; offers variations (use broken spaghetti instead of arborio); features step-by-step illustrations for cooking eggs, roasting meats and shaping croissants; and provides “cook’s know-how” tips such as explaining where tapenade comes from (Provence, France).