The role of the December Books for cooks column always has been to suggest outstanding cookbooks for giving. We hope that this year’s list will help you streamline your holiday shopping.
Keep it simple but inventive: “One Good Dish.” The author of The New York Times column City Kitchen and two highly praised cookbooks, David Tanis has cooked in Santa Fe and Paris, but his style reflects the 25 years he spent in the kitchen of Alice Water’s renowned California restaurant Chez Panisse.
His food is fresh, with a focus on flavor. He offers potato salad braced with vinaigrette and charred red peppers, quick-pickled cucumber spears enlivened by lime juice and fresh dill, shell beans spiked with rosemary gremolata. Bread pudding is breakfast-worthy, made savory with Gruyere and ham. Shrimp in the shell sizzle from a spicy batter and a quick fry. Brittle benefits from multiple nuts and a finish of sea salt. “If it sounds like all these recipes are easy to prepare,” writes Tanis, “they are.” Hardcover. Artisan. $25.95.
Take your cuisine to the next level: “The A.O.C. Cookbook.” In searching for a name for her latest endeavor, L.A. restaurateur Suzanne Goin selected A.O.C. (Appellation d’Origine Controlee, the French government’s system for regulating and designating artisanal products) because “it summed up the celebration of unique products and the joy of tasting and drinking them that we were trying to evoke.” Her book follows suite, with an array of sophisticated small plates, wine pairings by Goin’s partner Caroline Styne, and a 57-page chapter on A.O.C. cheeses.
If you are ready to dial your cooking up a notch, Goin delivers the dishes. Examples include winter’s Grilled Quail With Couscous, Walnuts and Pomegranate Salsa; spring’s Sweet Pea Pancakes With Dungeness Crab and Red Onion Creme Fraiche; and summer’s Grilled Fig Leaf Panna Cotta With Figs and Melon Sorbet. You will be inspired just by flipping through the book’s lush color pictures. Hardcover. Alfred A. Knopf. $35.
DIY nose to tail: “In the Charcuterie — The Fatted Calf’s Guide to Making Sausage, Salumi, Pates, Roasts, Confits, and other Meaty Goods.” Using an animal from the snoot to the toot is no longer the purview of professional chefs; families purchasing a lamb or pig, or splitting one with others, have learned to use more than the prime cuts. There are numerous books on the art of charcuterie, but having devoured some of the products produced by San Francisco’s Fatted Calf, I know that they practice what they preach. They write, without exaggeration, “When you first walk through the doors of the charcuterie, it feels as if you’ve entered an enchanted world of meaty wonders.”
In addition to the how-to for all of the processes given in the title, the book brings photo-accompanied instructions for butchery and a chapter on Brining, Curing, and Smoking. For someone interested in whole animal utilization, “In the Charcuterie” is the place to be. Hardcover. Ten Speed Press. $40.
Travel abroad: “The French Kitchen Cookbook.” Long an award-winning cookbook author and restaurant reviewer for the International Herald Tribune, Patricia Wells also holds culinary classes in her Paris and Provence residences. Join her there via delightful stories, enticing photography and distinctive dishes. There are her French favorites, such as Seared Duck Breasts With Figs and Black Current Sauce and Braised Cabbage With Sausage and Mustard.
But Wells’ years of world travel also brings Italian and Asian dishes to her table. For Lowcountry cooks, Steamed Shrimp With Sesame Oil, Black Rice, Peas, and Scallions can salute the opening of the Lowcountry shrimping season. Tomato Tatins resemble the popular summer rendition found at FIG. And Pear, Fennel, Endive and Curried Walnut Salad is sure to become a winter stand-by. Hardcover. William Morrow. $35.95.
Steal the show With pie: “The Southern Living Pie Book.” This is the year that pie bounced back as the American favorite, knocking cupcakes out of the spotlight. There’s no need to romanticize it. The fact is that everybody saves room for pie. Here’s a primer for making sure it’s a good one. Beginning, of course, with the crust, the book lays out 17 possibilities. It moves through Southern pies (think buttermilk and chess), fruit pies, cream pies, ice cream pies, and meringue pies to tarts and galettes, cobblers and crisps, hand pies and fried pies, slab pies (extra-large pies baked in rectangular pans), and pie toppings.
The author is Birmingham’s Dreamcake Bakery owner Jan Moon, the design is pie-safe charming, and the pictures of each pie will have you drooling and dying to head into the kitchen to bake a pie. Semi-hard cover. Oxmoor House. $22.95.
Reach Marion Sullivan at email@example.com.