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2011 Cookbook Holiday Gift Guide

Frost the Snowman on top of a stack of cookbooks

Throughout the early part of December 2011 I’m going to publish posts with my suggestions for cookbooks to give as gifts this year. I’ll summarise the suggestions here and organise them into categories.

If you buy the books through these links to Amazon I get a small commission but the percentage is the same across the board and Amazon pretty much covers the universe of possibilities for me to recommend. In other words, I don’t think that induces any bias but you can be the judge. Also, if you’re looking for anything on Amazon and type it into that search box in the right sidebar I get the same commission.

Cookbooks That Will be Spattered in Oil and Fish Sauce by Next Year

Almost all of the books I’ll be recommending for the foodster set have recipes in them and this is not to say that the recipes from the books in the other categories are less deserving of culinary attention. It’s just that if we’re being honest with ourselves we should admit that some cookbooks are published and bought for purposes other than cooking.

Anyway, these are my picks to replace the Momofuku book as the standard manual for dinner parties hosted by anyone under forty.
The Art of Living According to Joe Beef
Author: David McMillan, Frederic Morin, Elizabeth Ericson
Summary: The essence of the Montreal restaurants they run demonstrated through delicious, comforting recipes.
In One Line (on boys and ricers): “Up there with fire trucks, guns, and large breasts”.
Recipes: Hangover Kale, Smelt Mayonnaise

Mission Street Food: Recipes and Ideas from an Improbable Restaurant
Author: Karen Leibowitz and Anthony Myint
Summary: A How-We-Did-It How-To to starting a food truck and then a series of restaurants in very uncommon ways.
In One Line (on bone marrow stuffed squid): “I prefer by marrow big, sloppy, and redolent, like a depth charge of beef, wrapped in a squid torpedo, fired at your gullet.”
Recipes: Rare Beef Tostada, Pork Belly, Buttery Flatbreads, Bone Marrow Stuffed Squid.

The Standard Reference Category

A large segment of cookbooks that are given as gifts come with the unwritten, but also unsubtle message: “Please don’t starve.” (These are usually given to sons moving into first apartments by their mothers but also, let’s be honest, to some of the women these sons have lately married.) Grocery aisles are packed with microwave dinners so no one is going hungry but every kitchen could use at least one solid general reference cookbook.

Joy and Better Homes are okay; The New York Times Cookbook and Bitman’s How to Cook Everything are better but I think these two stand out from the crowd. An added bonus is that both are leading the move toward providing useful weight measurements (metric in Ruhlman’s case) for ingredients.

Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook
Author: The Editors of America’s Test Kitchen
Summary: Two thousand recipes (that’s twice as many as my previous favourite from them, NBR) selected from the canon that have been published in the magazine going back twenty years. If you see this hefty volume in a book store it’s worth checking out the claims made on the overleaf because–shockingly–they’re all true: No ads, celeb chef profiles, or unchallenged accepted-wisdom. After nearly a decade of regularly reading CI I am happy to attest that these characteristics have helped make it my most frequent first reference.
In One Line (from that overleaf): “We throw out the rulebook on conventional cooking wisdom–even if it was something our own grandmothers taught us!”
Recipes:Perfect Prime Rib, Best French Onion Soup, Tarte Tatin.
Ruhlman’s Twenty
Author: Michael Ruhlman
Summary: With his previous book Ratio Ruhlman did away with the conventional format for recipes. Here he returns to it while considering twenty concepts that set the basis for better cooking. The photographs are one of Twenty‘s strongest attributes (no surprise since Ruhlman’s wife, Donna Turner Ruhlman, shot them) both because they don’t look like they were taken in a studio lit by a supernova just getting started and because they clearly demonstrate each step in the recipes.
In One Line (on home-made mayo): “If you use the hand blender method, you can make mayonnaise faster than it takes to walk the length of the condiments aisle at the grocery store.” And then on the product: “Homemade mayo, on the other hand, is so voluptuous that it’s almost sexual.”
Recipes: Butter Poached Shrimp with Grits, Charlotte’s Apple Jack, Rip’s Own Marinade for London Broil or Flank Steak.

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