When I consider this list, I think about who would want to receive these books as holiday gifts, and why. Charleston was just selected as the No. 1 city in the world to visit. Part of the reason is Charleston’s vibrant food scene, which is supported by wonderful resources. My choice of cookbooks reflects the strength of that culinary community.
I need the latest for a sister who’s committed to eating local: “Roots: The Definitive Compendium With More Than 225 Recipes.”
The hard winter is around the corner. Even in coastal South Carolina, eating local in winter will mean lots of roots and greens. Taking each alphabetically, Diane Morgan’s guide to roots covers all the familiar, from beet, carrot, potato and parsnip to turnip, yam and yucca. Perhaps more interesting are the sections on what we consider the flavoring roots, such as horseradish, galangal, ginger and wasabi, which we often buy in a processed state. Purchased in their fresh state, they can really shake things up. “Roots” will change winter’s bleak culinary landscape. Hardcover. Chronicle Books. $40.
I need more than a cookbook for a foodie friend: “Cook Fight: 2 Cooks, 12 Challenges, 125 Recipes.”
The cover goes on to describe the book as “an epic battle for kitchen dominance by New York Times writers Kim Severson and Julia Moskin,” but it’s actually a very jovial series of culinary competitions that began with two Times articles. What makes the book great is not just the recipes; the writing skills of both women are top-notch, so the text accompanying each chapter is a tasty, humorous and sometimes snarky narrative. It starts with the Budget Challenge, their original Times duel over cooking a dinner party for six with a $50 budget. Subsequent chapters move through the Comfort Challenge, Vegetarian Challenge, Thanksgiving Challenge, to a total of 12. As at home on the bedside table as in the kitchen, “Cook Fight” is foodie fun. Hardcover. Ecco. $29.95.
I need something tres chic for a sophisticated culinary traveler: “The Foothills Cuisine of Blackberry Farm.”
Named the top resort in America last year by Travel and Leisure, Blackberry Farm is made up of 9,200 posh acres in the Tennessee Smokies near Knoxville. Much has been written, including in its first cookbook, about its divine food. In this second volume, however, Blackberry owner Sam Beall shares the behind-the-scenes story with “recipes and wisdom from our artisans, and Smoky Mountain ancestors.”
He presents the chapters in a year’s calendar driven by the Earth’s natural rhythms. Come Grass Time/cheesemaking. Planting Time/gardening. Lay-By Time. And so on. It’s a beautiful visit to this luxury resort that can’t be had in a just weekend or a week. Hardcover. Clarkson Potter/Publishers. $60.
I need a Vietnamese cookbook for a bachelor brother who loves banh mi: “Vietnamese Home Cooking.”
With serious chops as James Beard Best Chef California and member of the Beard Foundation’s Who’s Who of Food and Beverage in America, author Charles Phan is chef/proprietor of San Francisco’s hugely popular Slanted Door restaurant. However, his is not an unapproachable “chef’s cookbook.” Phan offers his country’s fundamental cooking techniques and flavors, teaches about its clay pots and woks, and shares how to build a traditional multicourse meal. Whether you want the simplest of dishes, like the banh mi, or the more complicated Fragrant Crispy Duck With Watercress, you will find it here. And your discovery will come with a fine education in the fabulously nuanced true tastes of the cuisine of Vietnam. Hardcover. Ten Speed Press. $35
I need a sure thing for a BFF whose job keeps her on the run: “Barefoot Contessa Foolproof: Recipes You Can Trust.”
Ina Garten’s seven cookbooks with some 800,000 copies sold, and her nine years on the Food Network have sealed her reputation as a smart cook who makes a short recipe into a delicious dish with distinctive flair. It seems superfluous to discuss trusting her recipes. Suffice it to say that this is another super Garten effort, one that she says has recipes you will make with no stress.
So from cocktails through desserts, one simply has to decide what to try first, be it Crab Strudels, Fennel and Garlic Shrimp, or Salted Caramel Brownies. And that’s just for starters. Foolproof indeed. Hardcover. Clarkson Potter/Publishers. $35.
I need the hottest book for a chef on my list: “Salumi: The Craft of Italian Dry Curing.”
Michael Ruhlman keeps very busy, as evidenced by this book and “Bouchon Bakery.” Co-written with Brian Polcyn, “Salumi” presents an ancient craft that is having a renaissance and delivers an explana-tion, tools, techniques and formulas. Working from a whole hog breakdown Italian-style perspective, they present the Big Eight: guanciale (jowl), coppa (neck/shoulder/loin), spalla (shoulder), lardo (back fat), lonza (loin), tenderloin, pancetta (belly), prosciutto (ham, back leg), and salami (products made from ground or cut pieces of pork). Like their earlier collaboration, “Charcuterie,” “Salumi” will become a permanent part of any serious culinary library. Hardcover. W.W. Norton & Company Inc. $39.95.
I need the ultimate baking book: “Bouchon Bakery.”
If you have ever had the pleasure of going to one of Thomas Keller’s Bouchon bakeries, you understand the excitement surrounding the publication of this cookbook.
The book begins with pastries the home cook can see as possible, cookies and shortbread, before laying down French macarons. Then moves to scones and lots of muffins, before covering pumpkin muffins in fondant to make pumpkins. And so it goes, slowly through cakes and tarts to pate a choux, brioche dough to puff pastry. By the time the nine pages on croissants come along, croissants actually seem accessible. Then it’s on to breadmaking.
There are abundant mouth-watering color pictures.
Written by Thomas Keller, Thomas Keller Restaurant Group executive pastry chef Sebastien Rouxel, and head bread baker Matthew McDon-ald, with Michael Ruhlman, “Bouchon Bakery” is deliciously educational. Hardcover. Artisan. $50.
I need the right book for the curious cook: “The Best of America’s Test Kitchen 2013.”
I almost always have one of Chris Kimball’s cookbooks on my top list. Maybe it’s because I’ve been a fan of his magazine, Cook’s Illustrated, since its inception. Or maybe, because I like reading the analysis of how a recipe made it to Best Recipe Category from the some 1,000 new ones tested each year by his book, television and magazine test kitchens. Best equipment ratings, ingredient tastings and “interesting discoveries” are included. It simply begs you to dig in. Hardcover. America’s Test Kitchen. $35.
Reach Marion Sullivan at email@example.com.