It's the gift-giving season, and by now you've realized that book gifts are the best gifts. I'm here to tell you that cookbooks might just be the only thing better. They lead to food being prepared, which is always a good thing; you can plan a holiday follow-up when you get to check out the host or hostess' culinary know-how. They feel — in size, in weight, in quantity of glossy photos — more substantial than other books you might wrap up (sorry, poets). And, while there's no shortage of fantastic writing about food that you can gift your favorite gourmand, sometimes a paperback just doesn't seem festive enough.
Sure, a good cookbook might be an investment, but it stands to become the recipient's right hand in the kitchen. While it's not too difficult to part ways with a novel once you've read it (especially if you're doing some tidying), cookbooks remind you of their usefulness every time you open them. They're full of recipes you have made, recipes you're hoping to make, and recipes you wish someone would make for you.
The only way to improve on a cookbook filled with knockout recipes (I'm looking at you, The Silver Spoon ) is to add dazzling prose into the equation. These seven books contain treasure troves of recipes — and writing that'll keep you reading while your veggies roast. Now that's a recipe for a perfect gift.
1. Hartwood: Bright, Wild Flavors from the Edge of the Yucatan by Eric Werner and Mya Henry
Kick any winter doldrums to the curb with this beauty. Couple Werner and Henry left the grind of the NYC food biz to build the restaurant of their dreams in Tulum, Mexico. The recipes involve some planning (get ready to make lots of seasoned oils), but nothing too complicated, and the couple's story will totally inspire you.
2. My Paris Kitchen: Recipes and Stories by David Lebovitz
If you're not a regular reader of Lebovitz's blog, it's time to add a new stop to your mid-morning procrastination junket. A pastry chef who decamped to Paris, Lebovitz writes with wit and acuity about things gustatory and beyond. Don't worry if your francophile friend doesn't have a sweet tooth; some of Lebovitz's best recipes are his updates of traditional French fare like coq au vin, a dish that's sure to score some dinner party points.
3. NOPI: The Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Ramael Scully
You know that friend who threw the epic Jerusalem dinner party? OK, that person probably already has NOPI, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't give this beauty to another favorite cook. I love the recipe prefaces in this book, which give home-chefs all kinds of leeway to depart from restaurant standards. Bonus points for this book's gorgeous gilt edges, which make it a perfect edition to any kitchen counter.
4. Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child
Two words: Must. Have.
5. Finding Yourself in the Kitchen: Kitchen Meditations and Inspiring Recipes for a Mindful Cook by Dana Velden
All right, so the glossy pictures are lacking, but hopefully spiritual enlightenment makes up for them! Velden, who tells the story of a life upheaval that led her to live in a Buddhist monastery in Northern California, promotes a thoughtful practice of cooking. As she writes, "a deep contentment is cultivated when I focus my attention on the task at hand." For your foodie friend who's always trying to get you to practice pranayama, this is the perfect present.
6. Bouchon by Thomas Keller
All right, it's clear: I'm a Francophile. But Bouchon is my favorite of Thomas Keller's cookbooks, largely for the Michelin-starred chef's recollections of training. Is there anything more inspiring than origin stories? Maybe his recipe for roast chicken, which is perfection.
7. The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook by Alice B. Toklas
Gertrude Stein's partner wrote this book in 1954. It's a memoir as much as a cookbook, a perfect window into the mid-century avant-garde. Find a well-loved used copy with some character to charm your literati friends — or your favorite 420 celebrators: Toklas' most renowned recipe is her hashish fudge.