If you love to cook, or just like to read about food, a new cookbook is a welcome gift. The huge array of available choices may confound the giver, thus we offer guidance with our Top 10 Picks for Christmas. Quality is our No. 1 consideration when selecting these cookbooks. After that, we looked for variety. While we can't cover every topic, we're hoping that we helped you with your list.
"The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes From an Accidental Country Girl." The result of an award-winning blog, "Confessions of a Pioneer Woman," that receives approximately a million unique site visitors a month, Ree Drummond's cookbook will warm the hearts of old-fashioned home cooks. With text, pictures and food, she relays the romance of her transition from city life to ranch wife. Her recipes range from Meatloaf to Rib-Eye Steak With Whiskey Cream Sauce and Buttermilk Biscuits to Red Velvet Cake, spiced by a hefty serving of Texas ranch favorites like Breakfast Burritos and Chili. Drummond serves up compelling reading and comfort food. Hardcover. William Morrow. $27.50.
"Ad Hoc at Home: Family-Style Recipes." This cookbook, as the gastronati will know, takes its name from author Thomas Keller's Yountville, Calif., restaurant that serves one four-course family-style menu five nights a week. There, as opposed to his famous, formal French Laundry restaurant, Keller wanted "a place to dine for our community and ourselves."
About the book, he writes: "It delights me to offer here a big collection of family meals and everyday staples, delicious approachable foods, recipes that are doable at home. …"
"Ad Hoc at Home" achieves this goal, with recipes as easy as Chocolate Chip Cookies and Buttermilk Fried Chicken, the latter so popular that the restaurant has to offer it every week. Additionally, there is a lot of practical knowledge to be had. Be advised that Keller is Keller, and the recipient of this book must love good food enough to cook a multipart, multiple-hour recipe to get it. Nevertheless, if there's a real foodie on your list, here's your pick. Hardcover. Artisan. $50.
Carolina on my mind
"Hot and Hot Fish Club Cookbook: A Celebration of Food, Family, & Traditions." When Chris and Idie Hastings named their Birmingham restaurant The Hot and Hot Fish Club, its namesake was the Pawleys Island legend, of which Chris' great-great-great-great grandfather was a founder, so it is little wonder that this cookbook is chock-full of Lowcountry lore. Anyone who, like Chris, spent childhood summers in Pawleys' salt marshes will love stepping back in time with him to its places and dishes, such as Shrimp and Corn Fritters, Deviled Crab, and Bacon-Wrapped Shad Roe With Anson Mills Grits and Caper Brown Butter Sauce. The book's "memory cuisine" also includes favorites from Idie's childhood summer with her Italian grandmother and moves forward to the Hastings' own traditions -- both of family and farmers, fishermen and friends of the restaurant. Great to cook from; great to read. Hardcover. Running Press. $35.
"French Feasts: 299 Traditional Recipes for Family Meals and Gatherings." If they loved the film "Julie & Julia," no doubt they already have Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking." Here then, the perfect gift: author of "Pork & Sons," Stephane Reynaud takes us on an intimate journey through France, introducing home cooking from snails to sausages, pot au feu to pastries. A charming volume with vignettes of personalities, photos of people and places as well as dishes, and New Yorker-style hand drawings, "French Feasts" has a bistro air, and recipes in the same vein. Hardcover. Stewart, Tabori & Chang. $40.
"Golden Door Cooks at Home: Favorite Recipes From the Celebrated Spa." From the famous Golden Door comes a proven how-to manual for capturing the spa experience at home for those who already practice a healthy lifestyle and those who will wish to after holiday excesses. Ranging from simple to sophisticated, the recipes give reassurance that the change can be both possible and pleasant -- something the spa has had almost three-quarters of a century to master. From Lemongrass-Ginger Broth With Shrimp and Snow Peas to Pan-Roasted Halibut With Crab Mashed Potatoes, Spinach and Gazpacho Vinaigrette and Chocolate Chip Cookies to Warm Flourless Chocolate Cake with Orange Sauce, spa chef Dean Rucker leads the way. Hardcover. Clarkson Potter/Publishing. $40.
"Baking: 300 Recipes, 2000 Photographs, One Baking Education." Author and cooking instructor James Peterson writes highly praised comprehensive single-subject cookbooks, such as "Sauces" and "Cooking," both recipients of James Beard Awards. His latest, "Baking," is a wonderful book for the beginning home baker who desires to advance. There is great representation of every aspect of baking from cookies to cream puffs, pies to pitiviers, with sequenced how-to instructions. What really puts the proverbial icing on the cake, however, is the photography. The pictures illustrating the steps of the recipes can definitely make the difference in the learning process, and subsequently the success of the project. Hardcover. Ten Speed Press. $40.
Vegan and vegetarian
"Moosewood Restaurant Cooking for Health: More Than 200 New Vegetarian and Vegan Recipes for Delicious and Nutrient-Rich Dishes." In 35 years, the Moosewood Collective has grown from one natural foods restaurant to a business with prepared foods and 12 cookbooks, six of which had James Beard nominations. Time-tested, it has established a level of trust and goodwill. Moosewood explains the basic principles of nutrition and endorses current thinking in culinary circles, including eating locally. Many of the recipes also reflect contemporary trends, such as Roasted Beet Salad, Tempeh-Quinoa Burgers, Savory Asparagus and Mushroom Bread Pudding, and Figs Baked with Chevre and Pistachios. Hardcover and paperback. Simon & Schuster. $35 & $24.99, respectively.
"Lidia Cooks From the Heart of Italy: A Feast of 175 Regional Recipes." Taking us back to the country where the Slow Food movement was born, author, restaurateur, chef and teacher Lidia Bastianich explores 12 regions of her native country. The recipes, she writes, "reflect a respect for food -- growing it, shepherding the animals, foraging… in the wild, and hunting respectfully … Nothing is wasted." Fresh Cavatelli With Eggs & Bacon in Molise, Chicken With Olives and Pine Nuts in Le Marche, and Almond Cake in Lombardy are examples. Hardcover. Knopf. $35.
Chefs and students
"Momofuku." Possibly the biggest star in the 2009 culinary galaxy, Korean-American chef David Chang (with co-author Peter Meehan) uses the cookbook to chronicle the stories of his NYC restaurants Momofuku Noodle Bar, Ko, and Ssam Bar. If you know anything about Chang's reputation, you know you're in for a ride -- the darling of the culinary cognoscenti is no goody-goody -- but the read is as intriguing as the food. The recipes come straight from the restaurants, so some ingredients may present problems; the intrepid should scour the shelves of H&L Asian Supermarket on Rivers Avenue and make inquiries at Kim's Korean & Japanese Steak House on S.C. Highway 171. If there is a chef or culinary student on your list, Chang is the man of the hour and "Momofuku" is smoking.' Hardcover. Clarkson Potter/Publishing. $40.
"The Blackberry Farm Cookbook: Four Seasons of Great Food and the Good Life." At a whopping 11-by-11 inches and 280 color-loaded pages, this epic cookbook would seem more likely to end up on coffee tables than kitchen counters. But that would only be at first glance. This armchair-traveler's dream book for the farm-to-plate luxury property in Walland, Tenn., will be drooled over by gourmands snuggled in bed or curled up by the fire. And its mouth-watering collection of foothills cuisine recipes will be impossible for them to resist. Think Bourbon-Braised Pork Belly on Grits With Caramelized Onions or Wine-Roasted Ducks. Pecan Brussels Sprouts and Lacy Corn Bread. Think the garden-fresh goodness of Blackberry Farm. Hardcover. Clarkson Potter/Publishing. $60.
Marion Sullivan is culinary programs specialist at the Culinary Institute of Charleston. Send your cookbook questions to Booksforcooks@bellsouth.net.