2010 Cookbooks for Holiday Giving

Every year at this time I take a hard look at all of the new cookbooks piled bounteously on the tables of your friendly neighborhood bookstore and make a judgment call.

It’s what you have to do when you already own 500 of them.

Which are worthy to be added to the collection? Which can I not live without? Which calls out to me the loudest? I try so hard not to be distracted by the flashy pictures. I’m looking for functional utility. And, of course, the perfect cookie.

So calories be damned—although, let it be noted that there are some sensible choices! Here are my Favorite Cookbooks for this year, a baker’s dozen, listed alphabetically:

As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child and Avis DeVoto
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $26, edited by Joan Reardon)

And right out of the box, I offer you a non-cookbook written about possibly the greatest cookbook of all. Julia lovers, you know who you are, and this book is for you. A fascinating and personal look at a culinary great.

Barefoot Contessa How Easy Is That?: Fabulous Recipes & Easy Tips
By Ina Garten (Potter, $35)

I’m an unabashed Contessa fan. I have all the cookbooks and I use them constantly, because the recipes are so reliable, so tasty and so full of, well, fat. Perhaps not the most health-conscious of cookbooks, but one you’ll turn to again and again because it’s food you want to eat.

Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies
by Alice Medrich
(Artisan, $25.95)

An award-winning cookbook author many times over, Medrich knows her sweets. Happily, this year she is focusing on the cookie, surely one of the world’s perfect foods. And from Breakfast Biscotti to Cocoa Tuiles, she delivers.

The Family Dinner: Great Ways to Connect with Your Kids, One Meal at a Time
by Laurie David
(Hachette/Grand Central L&S, $29.99)

This book provides some wonderful ways to connect with your family, “one meal at a time.” World-ranging recipes, strategies for successful family dinners, word games and conversation starters—all the tools you need.

5 Ingredient Fix: Easy, Elegant, and Irresistible Recipes
by Claire Robinson
(Hachette/Grand Central L&S, $29.99)

I was a bit wary at first, this being an “As Seen on Food Network” book and all, but was won over by the fresh ideas, straightforward recipes, and yes, the terrific photos. Maple Candied Bacon? I am so there.

The Food Matters Cookbook: 500 Revolutionary Recipes for Better Living
by Mark Bittman
(Simon & Schuster, $35)

Bittman’s weekly food column in The New York Times [nytimes.com] is a must-read for me. After a health scare, he’s still writing about food, but with a more holistic and sensible approach. Lots of fruit, greens and grains; dairy and meats play a supporting, not starring, role. But the recipes still grab me.

Food Porn Daily
by Amanda Simpson
(Sweetwater Books, $34.99)

Need I say much more? Okay, since you asked. The photos in this book (forget what I said earlier up there in the introduction … ) are toe curling. You heard me. I have never seen food look so damn luscious. Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls? Tarragon-Macadamia Crab Cakes? Fried Green Tomato Napoleons? Please don’t tell my husband.

In the Kitchen with A Good Appetite: 150 Recipes and Stories About the Food You Love
by Melissa Clark
(Hyperion, $27.50)

It’s hard not to love a cookbook with chapter titles like, “It Tastes Like Chicken,” “I Was Never a Vegetarian” and “Things with Cheese.” The recipes are fabulous, but even better are the stories behind each one, told charmingly by Clark, who writes the “A Good Appetite” column in The New York Times.

One Big Table: 600 recipes from the nation’s best home cooks, farmers, fishermen, pit-masters, and chefs
by Molly O’Neill
(Simon & Schuster, $50)

This massive book features “600 recipes from the nation’s best home cooks, farmers, fishermen, pit-masters, and chefs.” From sea to shining sea, O’Neill has traveled, tasted and taken notes, painting a picture of who we are, what we eat and why. Fascinating reading and good cooking.

Perfect One-Dish Dinners: All You Need for Easy Get-Togethers
by Pam Anderson
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $32)

I was a big fan of her earlier book, “The Perfect Recipe,” and this follow-up did not disappoint. She takes the mystery out of entertaining, providing a full menu, never complicated, always doable. You will want to make everything in this book.

Quiches, Kugels, and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France
by Joan Nathan
(Knopf, $39.95)

The doyenne of Jewish cooking strikes again. Could anyone possibly know more about this subject? This is an impressive compendium of mouth-watering kosher recipes from the Loire Valley to Paris, Alsace to Normandy. Bon appetit!

Sarabeth’s Bakery: From My Hands to Yours
by Sarabeth Levine
(Rizzoli, $39.95)

I’ve been a Sarabeth’s fan since 1984, when I moved to Manhattan and got into line for her amazing baked goods. I am beside myself to finally have the recipe for her Banana Streusel Muffins, Chocolate Babka and OMG Cheesecake with Orange Marmalade Sauce. Life is good.

Seasonal Fruit Desserts: From Orchard, Farm, and Market
by Deborah Madison
(Broadway Books, $32.50)

Both a guide to heirloom fruit varieties and the making of delectable fruit-based desserts, Madison (of Greens Cookbook fame) scores again. The Fig and Raspberry Tart with Crème Fraiche may induce weeping.

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