Give the gift of a cookbook this holiday season — here are some suggestions

Cookbooks are a popular item around the holidays to give as gifts. Ileana Valentine offers some suggestions in her column on the best gifts for the foodies in your life.
Cookbooks are a popular item around the holidays to give as gifts. Ileana Valentine offers some suggestions in her column on the best gifts for the foodies in your life.
Published Nov. 7, 2016

Fall is many things. It is baked pasta season. Back-to-school season. Football season.

It is also, thankfully, cookbook season. It has been a strong year for cookbooks — with dozens of beautiful, useful and interesting new ones. This all seems to peak in October as suddenly as a Florida thunderstorm with the release of a bunch of exciting and anticipated titles. Now is a great time to peruse the slew of new cookbooks to pick up new favorites to treat yourself or find holiday gifts for friends and family.

Cookbooks make especially good gifts because they are inspirational as well as pragmatic. With an increasingly number of niche topics covered by authors, it's also easy to select one that thoughtfully suits the likes of the person on your list. Home cooks in particular have plenty to choose from this season.

I've read and cooked through towering stacks of new cookbooks to highlight some gems bound to lead to good times in the kitchen and at the dinner table. And remember: If you give someone a cookbook this holiday season, chances are they'll say thank you with something you can eat.

For the home cook

Small Victories

By Julia Turshen

Chronicle Books, 304 pages, $35

Julia Turshen is rooting for you in her super cozy cookbook. She has written cookbooks with many authors, including Mario Batali, Dana Cowin and Gwyneth Paltrow, but this is the first one containing her own personal recipes and stories. From the homey and beautiful bowl of chicken soup on the cover to recipes like Happy Wife, Happy Life Chocolate Cake, this is a sweet, fun read. Turshen's recipes are totally accessible — turkey and ricotta meatballs, peach and bourbon milkshakes, raspberry jam buns — all with spin-offs, and small victories, for each recipe. Small victories are the useful tips, or a broader idea about cooking, learned from making a recipe. From your kitchen counter, Turshen is a cheerleader for the home cook, insisting that if you can tie your shoes, you can tie a roast.

Taste & Technique: Recipes to Elevate Your Home Cooking

By Naomi Pomeroy with Jamie Feldmar

Ten Speed Press, 400 pages, $40

As a girl, Naomi Pomeroy and her mother made souffles three times a week using ingredients purchased with food stamps. The James Beard Award-winning chef now runs Beast in Portland. But this is not a restaurant cookbook. In the way she learned to cook from cookbooks, Pomeroy hopes to teach readers the essential techniques for great home cooking, including how to balance flavor. The lessons build off of each other as each chapter progresses. You'll learn how to braise, sear, poach and more. Her headnotes are both personal and packed with confident, helpful guidance. She'll let you know when mise en place is especially important or when it's crucial to chop by hand instead of reaching for the food processor. She goes an extra step by offering seasonal variations for recipes, and there is a stunning photo accompanying nearly each one. Any cookbook-loving home cook hoping to master basic techniques to turn out elegant meals should add this one to the shelf.

Kid Chef: The Foodie Kids Cookbook

By Melina Hammer

Sonoma Press, 202 pages, $15.99

Whether your kid is a Chopped Junior contestant in training or simply needs an introduction to the important life skill that is cooking for oneself and others, Kid Chef is an excellent cookbook to teach everything from making breakfast to dessert. The book begins with "cooking school," billed for kids ages 8 to 13, and includes a tutorial for reading recipes before diving into other lessons, like knife skills and measuring. Each lesson ends with a simple recipe to put theory into practice. The rest of the book gets right to the recipes, with dishes like a roast chicken, panzanella salad, and strawberry-rhubarb tarts. Though written for accessibility to kids, this cookbook would help make a better cook out of any beginner in the kitchen.

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For those who love a good dinner party

Mozza At Home: More than 150 Crowd-Pleasing Recipes for Relaxed, Family-Style Entertaining

By Nancy Silverton with Carolynn Carreño

Knopf, 432 pages, $35

Ever daydream about cooking an al fresco dinner under the Tuscan sun for your closest friends and family? Nancy Silverton, who owns several restaurants in Los Angeles and Singapore, can get you pretty close with her new book. Though the James Beard-awarded chef is known for her restaurants Mozza and La Brea Bakery, she also really loves to entertain at home, whether it's on the border of Tuscany and Umbria or in Los Angeles. Mozza at Home is organized into menus with mains and complementary sides constructed with dinner parties in mind; nothing needs to be served immediately or is too complicated. There are 19 menus to carry parties throughout the seasons and a whole chapter on desserts; I'm excited to keep my beautiful platters on heavy rotation for all the family-style dinner parties to come. The menus for Southern-Style Korean Cut Short Ribs with Vinegar Onions or Saturday Night Chicken Thighs with Italian Sausage and Spicy Pickled Peppers are good places to start.

Modern Potluck: Beautiful Food to Share

By Kristin Donnelly

Clarkson Potter, 240 pages, $27.50

Kristin Donnelly grew up immersed in family potlucks, during which her mom could easily host a party of 50 or more. As an editor at Food & Wine, she honed her more formal dinner party skills. Both experiences have led to this book, which makes a convincing case for more potluck parties with updated, beautiful recipes and rules for hosting a successful group meal. Donnelly's Brussels sprouts salad uses both raw and roasted sprouts for added texture and flavor, and the Spice-Roasted Carrots with Lentils and a swoosh of creamy yogurt are a gorgeous vegetarian centerpiece to a meal. There are smart grain salads (they hold up very well for a long time) using the increasingly popular farro, kamut and quinoa. The Riesling Punch with gin, cucumber and lime is bound to become a summer staple. Recipes include practical notes for when items can be made ahead or tweaked slightly to suit dietary restrictions within the group. The book is organized into user-friendly chapters like snacks, dips and drinks; main courses that can be served at room temperature; casseroles and other things that bake in a 9- by 13-inch dish.

For those who travel to eat

Victuals: An Appalachian Journey, with Recipes

By Ronni Lundy

Clarkson Potter, 320 pages, $32.50

Victuals is a stunning portrait of the diverse food and traditions in the South. Guided by Southern food authority Ronni Lundy, whose other book was named by Gourmet as an essential book on Southern cooking and who received the Southern Foodways Alliance Craig Claiborne Lifetime Achievement Award, the cookbook is rich with evocative stories and photos from Appalachian life and its chefs, farmers and people. Listen to some of the chapter names: Roots and Seeds, Salt of the Earth, Apple-achia, Husbandry. In them are recipes like Morels and Ramps with Eggs on Toast, Smoked Oyster Stew, Buttermilk Brown Sugar Pie and Kentucky Kimchi.

For the celeb-chef obsessed

Cooking For Jeffrey: A Barefoot Contessa Cookbook

By Ina Garten

Clarkson Potter, 256 pages, $35

Food Network star Ina Garten's 10th cookbook and her most personal one yet focuses on the recipes she loves to make for her husband of nearly 50 years. This one is a must for any fan, especially one who loves to cook for his or her partner. I suggest heading straight to the Bread & Cheese chapter and preparing oat crackers and herbed goat cheese to snack on while reading the rest of the book. Between recipes for things like Maple-Roasted Carrot Salad and Fried Oysters with Lemon Saffron Aioli, there are snippets of their love story and adorable photos from their wedding, cooking in tents in France, and, of course, their garden in the Hamptons.


By Anthony Bourdain with Laurie Woolever

Ecco Books, 304 pages, $37.50

Everyone's favorite bad boy of the food world has written, of all things, a family cookbook. No joke. Anthony Bourdain of Parts Unknown has an 8-year-old daughter and is often on pancake duty for the sleepover crowd at his house. These are the recipes he makes at home for family and friends. Expect basic, everyday recipes like tuna salad and tomato soup, as well as others inspired by his years of traveling or trends: banh mi, a traditional pasta with wild boar ragout from his wife's Sardinian relatives, and, maybe most surprisingly, an acai bowl. And just in time for the holidays, there's a menu and step-by-step guide for a "violence-free Thanksgiving." If the very non-cookbook-like cover reminds you of Hunter S. Thompson, it's because it was illustrated by Ralph Steadman, known for his work with Thompson and the cover of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, a book that was important to Bourdain.

somethingtofoodabout: Exploring Creativity with Innovative Chefs

By Questlove

Clarkson Potter, 240 pages, $30

Questlove, co-founder of the Roots band and musical director for the Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, interviews 10 leading American chefs about what sparks their creativity and innovation in food. You may have also seen Quest as a guest judge on Top Chef. With black-edged pages and a cover portrait of Questlove in the style of Italian painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo, who used objects such as fruits and vegetables to create portraits, it's a gorgeous book for your coffee table, but one you'll want to read as well to learn more about chefs like Nathan Myhrvold of Modernist Cuisine Lab, Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park, Donald Link of Cochon, and Dominique Crenn of Atelier Crenn. Anyone who faithfully watches Netflix's Chef's Table or PBS's Mind of a Chef will enjoy this book.

For those who love to bake

Classic German Baking

By Luisa Weiss

Ten Speed Press, 288 pages, $35

The Germans take their sweets very seriously. Luisa Weiss, an American-Italian food blogger born in Berlin and known as the Wednesday Chef, married a German and moved back to Berlin several years ago. Her father-in-law, a mechanic, takes a coffee-and-cake break daily. Every weekend, her mother-in-law bakes a couple of cakes for snacking. Cake is a crucial part of the culture, and German baking, Weiss says, forms much of the foundation of American baking traditions. Many German baked goods call for yeasted doughs, but Weiss promises to hold your hand the whole way. She's a wonderful food writer, and with this book she'll have you baking until it really warms up again. Time to stock up on poppy seeds and almond paste.

Golden: Sweet & Savory Baked Delights from the Ovens of London's Honey & Co.

By Itamar Srulovich and Sarit Packer

Little, Brown and Company, 304 pages, $30

Honey & Co. is a tiny restaurant in London run by a couple turning out Middle Eastern pastries and baked goods to great acclaim. Their second cookbook, Golden, is organized into charming chapters: Dead of Night, First Light, Mid-Morning, High Noon, Before Sunset, After Dark. Possibilities for pastries and treats at any hour of the day? I'm in. And there's no shortage of enticing recipes. Here's a sampling: Merguez Sausage Rolls, Pistachio, Rose & Strawberry Buns, Pistachio Nougat Parfait, and Orange Blossom & Marmalade Cakes. If there are cookbooks by Yotam Ottolenghi often in your kitchen, and you're anticipating his upcoming dessert cookbook, know that Itamar Srulovich was head chef under Ottolenghi before opening Honey & Co. with his wife, Sarit Packer. This should happily hold you over with a number of treats featuring tahini, pistachios and rosewater.

For someone with a frequently used cocktail shaker

Drink Like A Woman: Shake. Stir. Conquer. Repeat.

By Jeanette Hurt

Seal Press, 232 pages, $16

Jeanette Hurt says this book is "shaking up the patriarchy one cocktail at a time," with more than 70 cocktails inspired by strong women or female characters and the struggles many women have faced throughout history. Think Lean-In Limoncello, Mansplainer Antidote, Tubmantini and Buffy's Stake. It's a fun book with delightful illustrations and practical tips for stocking a home bar, and easy-to-follow recipes for shaking up cocktails at home.

Amaro: The Spirited World of Bittersweet, Herbal Liqueurs, with Cocktails, Recipes, and Formulas

By Brad Thomas Parsons

Ten Speed Press, 280 pages, $26

Perhaps it began with a growing appreciation for dark chocolate and its more complex, bitter notes. Then it was kale, the now omnipresent bitter green that proves Americans are adjusting their palates and learning to appreciate bitter food and drinks. In Amaro, Brad Thomas Parsons hopes to demystify amaro, which translates to "bitter" in Italian and refers to Italian-made aromatic, herbal, bittersweet liqueurs traditionally offered as a post-meal digestif. For centuries it has been consumed to for relief after a meal, but amari (plural for amaro) are now the key ingredients in many craft cocktails, maybe the most popular being the Negroni. I'm happy to read Parsons also prefers the Boulevardier, which is like a Negroni but swaps in bourbon for the gin. This book is a deep dive into the history and characteristics of amaro with excellent cocktail recipes. Any cocktail nerd will love reading this book. I'm also thrilled to have the recipe for Kyle's After Pork Digestif, which my husband and I tried after a sumptuous dinner at Publican in Chicago.

For the gardener or farmers market enthusiast

Ingredienti: Marcella's Guide to the Market

By Marcella Hazan and Victor Hazan

Scribner, 256 pages, $20

My dad was surprised by the simplicity of the tomato sauce I was making for dinner. It was just tomatoes, butter, salt and a halved onion left to simmer in a saucepan for the better part of an hour. I told him to trust me, and later when we sat down to meatballs and Marcella Hazan's tomato sauce, he too believed in the power of simplicity. Ingredients were paramount to Hazan, the beloved author of The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking who died a few years ago, leaving behind a handwritten manuscript for her final book. Ingredienti is a guide to shopping for and working with the best ingredients for great home cooking. Her husband and longtime collaborator, who lives in Longboat Key, translated and organized the handbook, which is an excellent companion to her other books.

Ileana Morales Valentine reviews cookbooks for the Times. She can be reached at