Every year, the major publishers put out new cookbooks in advance of the Christmas season, hoping to persuade people like me to give them as gifts. Lucky for them, I am a willing audience. I have given - and received - a good number of cookbooks over the years. Here are my top five cookbook buying tips to consider.
One of my favorite kinds of cookbooks to give is a book from a region or favorite restaurant. So many chefs are putting out cookbooks, and if I know that a friend has a particularly adored and frequented restaurant, I look for cookbooks related to that restaurant first, then cookbooks related to the type of cuisine served there second. While the White Chocolate Challah Pudding (from The Figs Table, by Todd English) may not be quite the same as when served in the restaurant, it's awfully fun to try.
Before you buy, think about who you are buying for and what is that person's cooking style. If my giftee is into very simple meals and letting quality ingredients speak for themselves, I'm not going to choose a book about elaborate French cooking or cake decorating.
Though the book may not be for your cookbook collection, do you start to salivate when you read the recipes? Go beyond the pretty pictures and really scrutinize the recipes - if they are appealing to you, chances are your favorite foodie will like them, too. Be sure to also consider the techniques used in the recipes and availability of ingredients. Are they realistic?
Unless your giftee is a fan of plain Jane traditional cookbooks or cuisine, go for cookbooks that have a uniqueness to them. As you page through the recipes, ask yourself if they are just traditional American - or other style of - cooking rehashed or is there something novel. New and different will make your cookbook all the more appreciated.
As you narrow down your cookbook choices, look at how a book is laid out and what kind of colors are used. There was a notorious cookbook failure a few years ago when the publishers of a major cookbook chose to print all the headings and titles of recipes in yellow, making them difficult to read (even for young eyes). Just because the text of the recipes was in black didn't make up for the distracting yellow letters. (A subsequent reprinting addressed the issue.) Keep in mind that if a book is unappealing to you, it is likely going to be unpalatable for the gourmets on your Christmas gift list.
This year there are several books that have made it into my gift pile for wrapping:
Want to know why the cake didn't rise, or the texture of the cookies is different from last time? Then Shirley Corriher is your cookbook author. She gives you the science behind ingredients, and you come away with real understanding.
And if you can, catch her on episodes of Food Network's Good Eats. She has a wonderfully reassuring manner.
Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics, by Ina Garten.
You probably know Ina Garten from her Food Networkshows. Some people like Ina Garten, and some people don't. I like her. I think her methods are very approachable and straightforward, and I've never had a recipe from one of her books fail. I have several go-to recipes in my repertoire that originated with Ina Garten. Her latest book claims to go back to basics - but always with Ina's delicious twists - focusing on simple ingredients and complete flavors.
A Platter of Figs and Other Recipes, by David Tanis
This is one of those cookbooks that drew me in with it's cover, and kept me rapt with some real creativity. If it's not under the tree for me, I'll get it for myself the next day.
The Art of Simple Food, by Alice Waters
This book was released over a year ago, but it will be a classic, I think. Given with Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracleit can be life changing. It can completely change how you think about your food, from origins to health benefits to cooking methods for clearest, richest flavor.
Eat Me: The Food and Philosophy of Kenny Shopsin, by Kenny Shopshin.
When I first heard about this book, I though it sounded a little weird. OK, a lot weird. But then I perused it, and it's really rather fun, not to mention thoroughly intriguing. Part memoir, part cookbook, this is a book for the serious foodie.
The Way to Cook, by Julia Child.
Yes, I know this book was published over a decade ago, but it's a great foundation book and remains a great Christmas gift. It's glossy and substantial - and it's what I look to when I am trying to understand roasts and "classic" techniques.
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