One of my favorite gifts to give and receive is a cookbook. Great cookbooks are so much more than the sum of their parts. In addition to being essential resources, they can act as photography books, sources of inspiration, ingredient and gadget wish lists, and an education, all bound into one sturdy hardcover.
My test for any good cookbook is how much it actually gets used in my kitchen. With so many beautiful, eye-catching choices out there, how do you choose one you’ll jibe with and trust?
The four must-have cookbooks to give and receive, all focused on real food for real people, are told from four perspectives. Each book has an intense appreciation for flavor and high quality ingredients, all utilize approachable techniques to create amazing dishes at home. While all these cookbooks hail from reliable resources and give readers plenty of food for thought, each one will appeal to a different type of eater and cook on your gift list.
Smitten Kitchen Everyday, Deb Perelman
Home-cook and blogger turned cookbook writer Deb Perelman has come out with a follow-up to her first book, The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. Beautifully photographed and brilliantly narrated, Perelman’s first Smitten is one of my most used and dog-eared books, for recipes, advice and all-around kitchen wisdom.
Perelman’s follow up book, Smitten Kitchen Every Day: Triumphant and Unfussy New Favorites, presents more than 100 impossible-to-resist recipes — almost all of them new, plus a few favorites from her website — that make you want to stop what you’re doing and cook. This book serves as a beautiful gift for beginning and advanced cooks, or bakers looking for approachable recipes that are creative and unique, with easy-to-follow instructions. As Perelman says, “there are no bad cooks, just bad recipes.”
The New Nourishing, Leah Vanderveldt
Although not a vegetarian, I love meatless meals, vegetable-based cooking and using plants as a base for a nourishing meal. This fantastic new book from recipe developer and wellness writer Leah Vanderveldt features unabashed plant-based comfort food, with recipes for hearty bowlfuls of deliciousness, full of goodness and rich in flavor. With her philosophy to maximize the enjoyment of eating, she features more than 100 simple recipes that offer both indulgence and balance. Expect lots of colors, textures and flavors, with combinations of spice and freshness, creamy and crunchy, umami, sweet and sour.
Vanderveldt includes a section on entertaining, with gorgeous party spreads and dishes that will impress the most devoted carnivores. As Vanderveldt shares in the book: “At the end of the day, cooking and eating should be about making you feel your best.”
BraveTart, Stella Parks
I love desserts and I love making them. Baking forces me to disconnect from the outside world and focus on the task at hand. I’m always on the lookout for the “must have” recipe for the perfect yellow cake, flakiest piecrust and any potential heirloom recipe. BraveTart is it. An award-winning pastry chef and James Beard Award-nominated writer for Serious Eats, chef Stella Parks presents this opus of foolproof recipes, plus a fresh take on the history of American desserts, from chocolate chip cookies to toaster pastries.
These meticulously tested recipes bring a renowned pastry chef’s expertise into your kitchen, along with advice on how to “mix it up” with over 200 customizable variations. As Paula Forbes of Food52 writes in Why BraveTart Should Be Your New Go-To Baking Book, “this book goes way beyond the homemade Oreos on the cover (which are delicious, by the way). Because Parks is not only teaching her readers the American baking canon, she is interpreting it, evolving it.”
David Tanis Market Cooking, David Tanis
Since Saratoga Springs and surrounding areas have amazing farmer’s markets, I’m drawn to books that call for seasonal produce and make the most of regional, seasonal, farm-fresh food.
Tanis doesn’t disappoint, providing pointers on what to look for and what not to be afraid of. This new book may supersede all the seasonal cookbooks I’ve encountered. Market Cooking, by James Beard-nominated food writer and chef David Tanis, is an impressive volume that teaches shoppers and cooks how to seek the best ingredients, with methods and recipes showcasing what makes them special. Bonus: he pulls from all the world’s great cuisines.
A masterwork of recipes, approach, technique and philosophy, David Tanis Market Cooking is inspiring as it educates cooks with a baseline of knowledge to build their culinary explorations. Most of all, it is an ode to how to transform the freshest ingredients into delicious dishes, guided by the belief that food doesn’t have to be fussy to be satisfying.
A resident of Saratoga Springs, Michele DeRossi Vidarte writes about food for Saratoga Living.