Cookbooks That'll Win Raves From the Relatives

Stumped by your holiday gift list? This year offers a smorgasbord of fine choices for all cooks - from the gourmet to the dabbler

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Your cousin Enid has eloped with a motorcycle mechanic and is living in Duluth; your nephew Billy-Bob has left Nashville to become a hermit in Vermont; your spinster aunt LaWanda is raising goats outside Santa Fe; and your grandmother Eunice is sitting comfortably on her fortune on Park Avenue.

Probably the only thing your relatives have in common is that they have to eat. And what better gift for them than a cookbook. Like it or not, everyone's got to cook at one time or another. And the best part of giving a book is that one size fits all.

For newlyweds, college students, and singles, nothing beats the all-inclusive "Fanny Farmer," "Joy of Cooking," and "Doubleday." These (and others in the genre) are the classics, the ones with real staying power. Soiled with use, yellowed, and dogeared, they will move from apartment to apartment, home to home, state to state.

Recommended: 28 cookbooks from 2013

Then there are the lavishly photographed, oversized, expensive editions that seldom leave the living room coffee table. Lovely to look at, but don't dare get a drop of bearnaise sauce near them. Also popular are those smaller books that deal with specific foods, areas of the United States, and different countries.

The crop of cookbooks this year isn't quite as exciting or visually dramatic as in previous years, but there are several worth adding to your gift list, including a few from those trusted, perennial authors that deserve noting:

Leave it to award-winning author Lee Bailey to come up with another fine, attractive, and eminently doable book. Lee Bailey's Dinners at Home, (Clarkson Potter, 127 pp., $25) is his latest entry. Smaller than his previous cookbooks, it is nonetheless beautifully styled and attractively photographed by Tom Eckerle. This time Bailey offers nine well-planned menus, including vegetarian, complete with margin notes on time-saving techniques and tips on table setting. Helpful step-by-step photos are included where necessary.

If you've never heard of Martha Stewart, I'd like to welcome you to Planet Earth. Well known for her television programs, magazine, and lavishly styled and photographed books on everything from weddings to gardening, and especially cooking, Stewart took the easy way out this year. Easy for Martha Stewart anyway. The Martha Stewart Cookbook: Collected Recipes for Every Day (Clarkson Potter, $27.50) is a compilation of more than 1,600 recipes from Stewart's past cookbooks. With no photographs, only a few how-to illustrations, and not even a picture of Martha herself (well, there is one on the dust cover), this book is a departure from her previous format. But not to worry, any serious groupie has the complete Stewart cookbook collection to refer to if you're not sure how the result should look.

Mark Miller's Coyote Cafe in Santa Fe, N.M., is nothing less than a Southwestern icon. His Indian Market Cookbook (Ten Speed Press, 217 pp., $27.95) brings together a number of dishes served at this acclaimed restaurant. Miller's imagination and flair is not lost in this book.

How does an entree of Pecan-Grilled Maple Duck With Velarde Apricot Chutney followed by Mexican Chocolate Silk Pie for desert sound? Not bad from a guy who grew up in New England. A glossary of ingredients and a list of sources help the novice find some of the more esoteric ingredients.

Roasting is probably the simplest method of cooking: Set the oven, throw in the bird, set the timer. Done. In Barbara Kafka's latest book, Roasting: A Simple Art (William Morrow & Co., 452 pp., $25), Ms. Kafka shelves the microwave and turns us on to high-temperature roasting in the conventional-style oven. "I believe in hot ovens, short roasting times, and rare meat," she says. She does this by jacking up the heat to 500 degrees F. This way meats and vegetables are sealed and caramelized, not steamed, she believes. Along with tips on roasting are recipes for salsas, salads, and stuffings.

Nuevo Latino (Ten Speed Press, 168 pp., $27.95), by Douglas Rodriguez, is as hot, spicy, and colorful as charro. Rodriquez first made a name for himself at Yuca, his restaurant in Miami, and more recently at Patria in Manhattan. He brings his contemporary touch to bear on the increasingly popular Latin American and Spanish classic dishes in his first cookbook. Grilled Loin of Lamb with Quinoa Salad and Papaya, Rosemary, and Garlic Mojo, is one example. Again, a glossary and source list are helpful additions in case your butcher has run out of tasajo.

It's no secret that Americans are mad about Mediterranean food. But cookbook author Paula Wolfert isn't just cashing in on the craze with Mediterranean Cooking (Harper Perennial, 320 pp., $17.50 ). For 35 years she has roamed this area of the world, researching its sun-drenched ingredients - and it shows. Recipes for simple authentic dishes from Tunisian-style couscous to Provencal Fish Soup are interwoven with helpful notes on olive oil, tomatoes, garlic, and other lesser-known Mediterranean staples. Country cooking wins out in this heavily revised new edition in which Wolfert dropped many labor-intensive chef's recipes for those of families. Even a recipe for double-marinated quail is almost made to look easy.

At the other end of the spectrum are Oysters, by Shirly Line, and Caviar, by Susie Boeckmann and Natalie Rebeiz-Nielsen (Macmillan, 64 pp., $12.95), two self-indulgent little black books dedicated to that pair of luscious, sought-after, expensive watery treasures. Richly photographed and beautifully styled, both books offer interesting information as well as tantalizing recipes you'd love to try if only you could afford to do so.

Camellia Panjabi brings to light the appeal of Indian cuisine in The Great Curries of India (Simon & Schuster, 192 pp., $30). Fifty curries are explored in this comprehensive, exquisitely photographed volume. Panjabi devotes more than 40 pages to explaining the development of Indian food and how a perfect curry is made. She also includes those accompanying side dishes, desserts, and breads that make an Indian meal dance on your taste buds.

If you're never quite sure how to buy, store, dress, freeze, or serve fish without getting a mouthful of bones, you'll find The Modern Seafood Cook, by Edward Brown and Arthur Boehm (Clarkson Potter, 340 pp., $30) most helpful. The authors give special attention to the proper handling of this delicate product as well as how to cook it.

A lot of chemistry takes place in the baking process, therefore, instructions on the subject must be especially clear and precise. How to Bake, by Nick Malgieri (Harper Collins, 457 pp., $35), is such a book. In this, his third book, the author, teacher, and lecturer walks us through a wonder of both sweet (Lemon Macaroon Cake) and savory (Sicilian Swordfish Pie) pleasures with clarity and conciseness. A helpful paragraph on variations as well as storage follows most recipes.

Sweet treats come alive in Desserts To Die For, by Marcel Desaulniers (Simon & Schuster, 144 pp., $30). Well known for his other killer tome, "Death by Chocolate," Desaulniers is at it again. Armed with sugar, flour, fruits, whipped cream, and yes, more chocolate, he has come up with some drop-dead recipes that include Strawberry Rhubarb Vanilla Custard Tart and Fallen Angel Cake with Golden Halos and Sinful Cream. Some dessert recipes are quite involved, but clear, detailed directions will ensure a successful ending (to the meal, that is).

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