Can you hear it? The cadence of our steps, faithfully attuned to the deafening drumbeat of holiday consumerism, marching us ever forward, onward toward the turning of the year, toward the yawning gates of Mammon.
Seriously. It can feel that way, can’t it?
But then, all things considered, there’s nothing to be done. Gifts for the holidays, whatever the holiday, are a requirement, I’m told. And though there are some folks in our lives for whom we can make things — cookies, cakes, hand-dipped truffles — there are others for whom it is the cost, not the thought, that counts.
Yesterday, intent on alleviating some of your annual gift-buying angst, I posted part one of the Twice Cooked Holiday Gift Guide, wherein I proffered an abbreviated explanation of how, by clicking through this site to Amazon.com, one may satisfy one’s end-of-the-year obligations, while simultaneously supporting this site. And wherein I offered a list of (moderately-priced and eminently-useful) foodie-friendly gadgets that are well-suited for friends, for family, for significant others.
Today I offer part two. Because though your (boy|girl)friend may have no room in the house for even one more cast iron skillet, a quality cookbook is never unwelcome.
Part II: Books for Cooks
- How to Cook Everything, Completely Revised 10th Anniversary Edition, by Mark Bittman: If what you want is a detailed primer on bread baking, or Vietnamese food, this isn’t the book for you. But as an all-purpose reference guide to recipes from soup to nuts, there is no better book. Period. If the gift-recipients in your life don’t already have a Bittman, remedying that is a no-brainer. Highly recommended.
- The Bread Baker’s Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread, by Peter Reinhart: This is the other essential book in my house. Half a discussion of technique, and half a book of recipes from across Europe and the United States, this should be stop number one for anyone who wants to learn to bake bread, or for anyone who wants to improve their bread-baking skills exponentially. There is no better beginner / intermediate book on bread.
- The Flavor Bible: The Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity, by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg: Not a cookbook, this excellent reference manual answers questions like: what do I do with cubebs? And do chocolate and rosemary go together well? This book is as simple as a set of lists of flavors that do, and do not, mesh. And in that, it is eminently useful to have around.
- Eggs, by Michel Roux: I don’t usually care for cookbooks that seem to have too large a proportion of pretty pictures. Michel Roux’s books are the exception. Eggs is filled with ideas, serious and whimsical, for what to do with… well… eggs. It is a joy to cook from. And even more, it is an inspirational launching pad for your own eggy ideas.
- Pastry: Savory and Sweet, by Michel Roux: Everything I said about Eggs goes for this book, too. It is an excellent skills-builder for making pastry; it is filled with ideas on what do do with said pastry; and it is an inspirational starting point for your own pastry experiments. Highly recommended!
- Radical Brewing: Recipes, Tales and World-Altering Meditations in a Glass, by Randy Mosher: This book is filled with typographical errors, and stories about the history of beer that … may be true. But despite that, or perhaps because of that, it is thoroughly charming. It has an extensive discussion of technique, ingredients, and considerations for building your own brew. And it has a tasty collection of recipes in dozens of different styles. For a beginning or intermediate brewer, it will make a perfect holiday gift.
- Designing Great Beers: The Ultimate Guide to Brewing Classic Beer Styles, by Ray Daniels: If Randy Mosher’s book is the survey course, Ray Daniels’s is the master class. Designing Great Beers goes style by style through the most popular home brews, offers a detailed analysis of how they are made commercially and how they are made by award-winning amateurs, and offers suggestions for how you might improve on their formulas. It’s not a great book if you’re just starting out. But for intermediate and advanced brewers, it is absolutely essential.
- The Art of Fermentation: An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from Around the World, by Sandor Ellix Katz: This is the book for lacto-fermentation. It isn’t a recipe book, but rather an in-depth discussion of the technique, logic, and politics of this style of food preservation. If what you want is to make pickles or sauerkraut or kimchi, this is the book to get. If you want to make something more obscure, something like Sichuan pickled mustard greens, this is still the book to get. Highly recommended!
- Food in Jars: Preserving in Small Batches Year-Round, by Marisa McClellan: I don’t personally do a lot of canning. But if I were to buy one book for the canning enthusiast in my life, it would be this one. McClellan is a local Philadelphia blogger, who concentrates on canning in batches small enough to be reasonable in an urban kitchen. All her recipes are delicious. And her blog is pretty good, too.
- The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, by Deb Perelman: Another book by a favorite blogger. I don’t own this book, yet. But I have cooked extensively from the Smitten Kitchen website, and have always been more than impressed. Perelman is a creative culinary mind, and a fabulous food photographer, and I know that this is one of the books I’ll be giving out this holiday season.
- The Perfect Scoop: Ice Creams, Sorbets, Granitas, and Sweet Accompaniments, by David Lebovitz: What can you say about David Lebovitz? He is a former Chez Panisse pastry chef, a current superstar Internet personality, an engaging culinary wit. The Perfect Scoop is an entertaining read that produces delicious results whether what you want is a basic ice-cream flavor like chocolate, or an obscure one like goat cheese or basil. It’s easy to follow, broad in its scope, and like the Bittman or the Reinhart, it is a book that I simply couldn’t do without. Highly recommended!
Like before, if none of these items catch your fancy, consider clicking through to Amazon, anyway. Because as I said: the shopping you do here today will help keep Twice Cooked going in the year to come.