I adore collecting books, and I’ve had a steadily growing and diverse library for as long as I can remember. In high school, it was graphic novels; in college and grad school, I began building a rather respectable collection of texts on Buddhism and Tibetan religions for my research; and in recent years I’ve become utterly obsessed with cookbooks. In hopes of keeping down costs and clutter, I spend a lot of time reading reviews of new publications and curating a very selective Amazon wish list. With the holiday season upon us, I’m sharing this research with you in the form of this Cookbook Gift Guide! Below find my top cookbook picks for 2016 – Give as gifts to friends, family, or just yourself for making it through the season in one piece.
As a disclaimer, this list is not at all exhaustive – unlike major websites no one is sending me piles of cookbooks to review. Except for the last section, my list is limited to books I have researched and then actually purchased for myself. I’m certain there are many other wonderful cookbooks out there, but here is a selection that I really love and can personally vouch for!
New Cookbooks for 2016
I’d say a lot of incredible cookbooks came out this year, but I feel that way every year so I might just be excitable. Nevertheless, here are some great ones that would make perfect gifts:
Simple: Effortless Food, Big Flavors by Diana Henry – For the lover of beautiful food and the home cook with a busy schedule: Diana Henry is an award-winning food writer, and I’ve been debating which of her cookbooks to try first for a while. I could not be more pleased with her newest publication. I was enamored with her writing style and with the food from the moment I turned to the first recipe. My experience with cookbooks that claim to have “simple” recipes with limited ingredients is often not stellar – they usually seem a little boring or, worse yet, use pre-packaged short-cuts or underplay steps to make it seem like a recipe will take less time than it does in reality. Not this cookbook. The recipes are vastly creative, and full of options and ideas for how to customize them while still keeping short and manageable lists of ingredients. I am incredibly inspired by this cookbook, and put it at the top of my recommendations.
Colonial Spirits: A Toast to Our Drunken History by Steven Grasse – For the cocktail and history buffs: To put it simply, this is one of the most entertaining books I’ve read across genres in a long time. In addition to its fabulous illustrations and sense of humor, it contains a wealth of tested recipes and facts based on historic documents all in one small, well-appointed package. More an ode to our early American forefathers and their passion for a myriad of alcohols than just a manual of recipes, I highly recommend this for anyone that loves historical tidbits, cocktails, home-brewing, or just a great read. Steven Grasse is the founder of the Philadelphia-based Art in the Age, which creates complex and delicious spirits based on Early American recipes. Come to think of it, pairing this book with a bottle of their Sage or Root lines of spirits would a perfect present!
Eating in the Middle: A Mostly Wholesome Cookbook by Andie Mitchell – For the health and calorie-conscious cook: As someone that loves food and spends most of her time in the kitchen, I’m always on the search for healthier, lower-calorie and lower fat options that don’t sacrifice on quality and taste. After seeing one review after another give praise to Andie Mitchell’s new book, I had to give it a try. Her personal story is very relatable, and her philosophy towards eating – mostly wholesome with room to indulge – is exactly what I strive towards in my own life. The recipes are uncomplicated and complete with dietary details. This one is great for cooking for the whole family.
Cravings: Recipes for All the Food You Want to Eat by Chrissy Teigen – For the indulgent cook and the celebrity-watcher: This book falls on the complete opposite end of the spectrum from the last. It seems like every celebrity is coming out with a cookbook these days, and normally I don’t go for them. Chrissy Teigen, who has made a real presence on the social media scene, changed my mind with this book. It absolutely feels like an invitation into her life by means of her favorite foods, and the majority of the recipes are delicious-looking guilty pleasures. Get this book for anyone who loves following celebrity gossip, but also for the person who needs more excuses to indulge in the kitchen and have some fun with food.
How to Celebrate Everything by Jenny Rosenstrach – For the host, entertainer, and caretaker: Full disclosure, I haven’t cooked anything from this book yet. That being said, I’ve read through it and love the author’s point of view. I was sold the moment I saw her compare family traditions and annual celebrations to necessary – even craved – rituals in our lives. It felt like something I would write, and spoke to me on a fundamental level; not only because of my background in ritual studies, but because it accurately describes how I feel about successful events and commemorating big (or small) occasions. Rosenstrach’s words give accurate weight to what otherwise might seem like simple home traditions. These memories have impact, and we carry them with us throughout our lives. I love that she wrote a whole cookbook around this idea!
Modern Potluck: Beautiful Food to Share by Kristin Donnelly – For the host, entertainer, and frequent party-goer: I initially wavered on whether I should pick this up or not. At the time it hadn’t been reviewed much yet, and I wasn’t sure how useful I’d find the recipes. I took the plunge since I had two potlucks coming up and no idea what to make for them. It turned out to be a life-saver. Both recipes I made (Samosa-Filling Stuffed Poblanos and Cornmeal-Crusted Oven-Fried Chicken) were fun to make and received rave reviews. I’m always struggling to make potluck contributions that are hearty or protein-filled ahead of time, but this book offers some great ideas. Kristin Donnelly has pulled together some innovative recipes to add flare to your future event. Most of all, I love her tips on how to transport and serve the dishes in various conditions while still keeping food safety in mind.
Naturally Sweet Food in Jars: 100 Preserves Made with Coconut, Maple, Honey and More by Marisa McClellan – For the canners and preservers: I, like many others I’m sure, credit Marisa McClellan and her blog, Food in Jars, for teaching me how to can and preserve fresh jams and pickles. This book is the latest of three publications of exceptional small-batch recipes, this one specializing in alternative sweeteners to sugar that have been tested thoroughly for safety. My favorites are all of recipes that use honey, but if you have a canner in your life, this book – or even the whole trilogy of Marisa McClellan’s publications (the others being Food In Jars and Preserving by the Pint) – would make for a thoughtful and highly practical gift!
All-Time Favorites from My Library
Most gift guides restrict themselves to products that came out this year, but some of the best cookbooks are timeless. If you are shopping for a collector, going with a newer book might be a safer bet to avoid duplicates, but not always – worst case, you can always include a gift receipt. Trust me, a book lover will always appreciate the thought you put into a well-curated gift choice, even if they already have the book in question.
The Homemade Kitchen: Recipes for Cooking with Pleasure by Alana Chernila – For the host and aspiring homesteader: This book is at the top of this cookbook gift guide for a number of reasons. I think it was the first cookbook I read as much for the notes and essays as I did for the recipes. There is something very calming about Alana Chernila’s writing style, and maybe it was because I was reading it around the same time I was contemplating taking the leap to focus on food as a career, but I found it to be incredibly comforting at a time when I needed it. Food is a huge part of our lives, and it matters how we deal with it. That all sounds really deep, but essentially it’s a great book full of recipes to help you make more things from scratch and to live a healthier lifestyle with less store-bought, pre-packaged goods. The best thing about Chernila’s point of view though is that it’s not at all judgmental – she understands our lives are busy and not everyone has the time, energy, or finances to make their own cheese or always buy organic. Instead, she offers ideas and motivation for better living – at your own pace and within your means. This book has a bit of everything, and is ideal for anyone that is a DIY’er, that loves to cook and make things, or who just needs some new creative ideas for family meals.
Seven Spoons: My Favorite Recipes for Any and Every Day by Tara O’Brady – For the lover of beautiful food and the adventurous home cook: There is something really special about this cookbook. Tara O’Brady, food writer and author of the award-winning blog Seven Spoons, has a unique perspective. Her writing style is encouraging as she shares her life, stunning photography, and creative recipes with the reader. As a Canadian writer, some of the ingredients may seem adventurous for the American home cook, but nothing is insurmountable with her clear and personable instructions. This is another one of those cookbooks you can enjoy reading cover to cover.
The Dead Rabbit Drinks Manual: Secret Recipes and Barroom Tales from Two Belfast Boys Who Conquered the Cocktail World by Sean Muldoon, Jack McGarry, and Ben Schaffer – For the cocktail and history buffs: Full of cocktail culture, inventive takes on classic cocktails, fantastic photos, and notes on historic techniques, this little drinks manual is full of new ideas for the amateur or professional mixologist in your life. After a year of drooling over the recipes in this book, I was finally able to visit The Dead Rabbit Grocery & Grog in Lower Manhattan last month and I can confirm that the pub is everything this beautiful little book led me to believe. I only hope that they eventually come out with a companion volume of some of the incredible small plates they serve at the pub as well!
Joy the Baker Cookbook by Joy Wilson – For your favorite baker: If you haven’t already heard of her, Joy the Baker is a critically-acclaimed food blogger with two cookbooks under the belt. The Joy the Baker Cookbook came out in 2012, but it contains some of my favorite recipes – I turn to it more often than any other source when I need a cake recipe. Her Chocolate Bourbon-Spiked Banana Bread is a staple in my repertoire, and ultimately inspired me to try liquor in other baked goods, like my Salted Chocolate Chunk Bourbon Cookies! You can’t go wrong with gifting this, or Joy’s more recent cookbook, Homemade Decadence.
Saving the Season: A Cook’s Guide to Home Canning, Pickling, and Preserving by Kevin West – For the canners and preservers: This book is packed with recipes for all sorts of preserving throughout the year, but what I really enjoy most is the history and information Kevin West provides on different ingredients and various canning techniques. I’ve had a lot of success preserving with this book and would argue it’s an essential volume for the preserver’s library.
BONUS READ: Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly and Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook (P.S.) by Anthony Bourdain – For the fan of biographies and memoirs: I came late to the growing cult of followers that surrounds Anthony Bourdain, the so-called “bad boy” of the restaurant industry. Until this year, I only knew him from his occasional appearances as a judge on Top Chef, and from his many culinary travel shows across various networks. How, as a former restaurant server, I’d never taken the time to read Kitchen Confidential before this year is beyond me. I greatly enjoyed listening to both of Bourdain’s self-narrated audio books, which were some of the first I listened to via my Audible membership. I definitely recommend the audio over the print version as he has an excellent and entertaining reading voice. If you or someone you know loves food and restaurant culture (or even celebrity cooking shows), these are a must!
Highlights From My Wish List
As I mentioned, I am constantly curating a wish list of cookbooks on Amazon. It’s an easy way for me to keep tabs on new releases as I read reviews or see them mentioned online. I’ve read excellent reviews and flipped through these newly published books below, and while I cannot fully attest to their recipe accuracy, I’m sure any one of them would be a wonderful gift to the right person.
If you can personally vouch for any of the below – or have some new suggestions for my wish list – let me know in the comments!
Molly on the Range: Recipes and Stories from An Unlikely Life on a Farm by Molly Yeh
Appetites: A Cookbook by Anthony Bourdain
Smuggler’s Cove: Exotic Cocktails, Rum, and the Cult of the Tiki by Martin Cate
Ten Restaurants That Changed America by Paul Freedman
And for something completely different, you could still get the cocktail lover in your life this amazing advent calendar. It might be a few days late, but I doubt they’d mind the process of catching up (I know I wouldn’t)!
Are there any other recommendations or gift guides you’d like to see? Feel free to make suggestions and I’ll see what I can do. I love gift hunting but don’t always have the funds to do it well, so maybe I can live vicariously through helping you.