books for cooks {gift ideas}

After getting back from vacation last week, decided on Friday I best start my holiday shopping. So I hit the place on Earth I dislike the most {and absolutely hate during the holidays}…the mall! Bound and determined this would be my only venture to the building where most people during this time of year maneuver as if with blinders, lose their manners and generally just suck all the ho ho ho out of me, I got through most of my list! So people…Only five days until Christmas! And if you celebrate Hanukkah, you’re really in trouble if you’re still are on the hunt for presents. I love giving books. And I love receiving them, too. One year, Anna Quindlen’s A Short Guide to a Happy Life was what I gave to all my girlfriends. A few years ago, it was Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s Half the Sky. Both amazing books that will change the recipient’s outlook on life and the world. I guarantee it. If you are looking for ideas for the cook in your life, here are some of my favorite cookbooks. I have a little obsession with cookbooks that may, may, border on what some might consider hoarding. What I’ve listed below would make excellent gifts because they have the two qualities that, for me, are a prerequisite for a good cookbook: creative + delicious recipes AND amazing photographs.

cucumber variation w slow-cooked char + smoked creme fraiche

Eleven Madison Park: The Cookbook
Daniel Humm & Will Guidara
Opening this book will transport you into the beautiful NYC, 3 Star Michelin restaurant that is one of Manhattan’s most popular dining establishments. And the photography by Francesco Tonelli is purely stunning.  Every dish at Eleven Madison Park is not only delicious but precisely styled – they are so beautiful you almost hate to disturb the food with your utensils. Arranged by season, the cookbook offers recipes from the restaurant with alternative techniques for the home cook. But if you find that one calls for a piece of equipment you don’t own, don’t stress out. Feel free to adapt the recipe further to make it work for you. I won’t lie, each recipe has several components. A cook will find this a delicious challenge. A reluctant cook may be daunted but they will love the food photography and proudly display the book on their coffee table. Or just read the recipes and drool over the pictures. This is by far, visually, the most beautiful cookbook you can give. No wonder it was Esquire’sCookbook of the Year. Can’t wait until Spring so I can make Lamb with Herb-Roasted Lettuce, Morels and Mustard Seeds!


Yotam Ottolenghi

This is the cookbook I’ve used the most this year! I was so happy when the American edition was released in 2011 and my local bookstore, Queen Anne Books, promptly stocked it. Israeli-born chef Yotam Ottolenghi has been wowing Londonites for years with delicious food and now with his second cookbook, you can amaze your family and friends with his stunning recipes that are so wonderful they won’t miss the meat. But this book is not just for the vegetarian in your life. It’s great dishes make excellent sides, first courses and appetizers. So many of them pair well  with meat. Ottolenghi has a true gift for taking simple things and knowing what ingredients and techniques to marry with them to bring out amazing flavor and texture. My favorite recipe? Multi-Vegetable Paella. Coming from this seafood and meat lover, that’s saying something!


David Chang & Peter Meehan
Although published in 2009, I only bought this book last year. If you have never been to one of David Chang’s NYC restaurants {Momofuku Noodle Bar, Ko, Ssäm, Má Pêche} or one of the four Milk Bar bakeries, hitting one should be on your to-do list.  Okay…one restaurant and the bakery!  This cookbook features recipes from the Noodle Bar, Ssäm and Ko. Let’s face it. I bought this cookbook purely for two reasons: to get the recipe for the dish I love the most, the Momofuku Ramen and for Chang’s celebrated Fried Chicken, for which the simple preparation leaves the bird the star and the Octo Vinaigrette the perfect accompaniment. Along with the recipes, I love Chang’s narrative…his culinary story which paints an interesting picture of what it takes to open not one but several successful restaurants. How ideas are born. Successes and failures and lessons learned. But be warned. The book is laced with expletives. Chang’s true voice. Which I find endearing and funny but some may find a little crazy for a cookbook. Some of the dishes, like the ramen, require multiple recipes but don’t be scared off by that. Deliciousness sometimes takes time…and a trip to a specialty store like Uwajimaya. But it is sooo worth it. And Chang’s great step-by-step instructions on techniques will help alleviate the anxiety. Next on my list to tackle from this cookbook? Kimchi Stew!


Martha Stewart’s Hor D’Oeuvres Handbook
Martha Stewart with Susan Spungen

Bought this book when it came out in 1999 and have been using it ever since. I’m not sure what to say about this book except for the this: It is the go-to-hors d’oeuvres cookbook! I mean come on, it is Martha Stewart after all. How can it not be? Seriously though, it truly is a book for everyone, both the consummate and reluctant party thrower. With over 150 recipes, you will find everything you need for your next get together, whether it is for 6 people or 100. Here’s what I love about this book and why I constantly refer to it:
1] The first 225 pages are all pictures. Yup! There is a photo of everything and for someone like me who is visually driven it’s great. It is also helpful to see what the finished product should look like as well as provides unique and creative ways to display the food. For anyone who’s thrown a party where heavy appetizers constitute the meal you know table space is at a premium so the pictures provide ideas for vessels and how to combine the ingredients in a recipe to make the perfect ‘one bite.’ 2.] The recipes are easy to follow and provide tips on how to make things ahead, which you are having guests is key to not going stark-raving mad before the first doorbell chimes. 3.] The guide at the back is helpful for someone who doesn’t cook on a regular basis. It offers menu planning tips and ideas, explanations of must-have equipment and what to keep in a well-stocked pantry. 
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