I love, LOVE, to both give and receive cookbooks. If cookbook is well made, then it manages to squeeze between two beautiful covers just the right combination of nourishment, photography, teaching, history and personal story. A good cook book is just as much to read for recipes, as it is to absorb and display proudly and go back to time and time again to learn something new.
The list below is a combination of new books I have discovered this year, along with some tried and true favorites of the past couple of years that I find myself giving multiple copies of. And since they’re all available from an unnamed vendor that seems to deliver everything overnight, they’re perfect for a last minute gift or for sending over after a particularly inspiring holiday dinner party as a way of saying thank you. As a bonus, cookbooks are almost always perfectly easy to wrap – a little bit of paper and a lot of ribbon and voila!
- America: The Great Cookbook – as we’re often out and about in the world in the role of US Diplomats, I’m always looking for cultural gifts that can be appropriate in a number of situations. I was elated to find this book come out this year that features just a single recipe or two from many chefs and culinary figures across the entirety of the US. The book really pulls together not just recipes, but a comprehensive showcase of just how diverse food in America can be, which is the perfect antidote to those around the world that think we only eat hot dogs and potato chips here.
- Jerusalem – I love Yossam Ottolenghi + Sami Tamimi’s restaurants, introduced to me by a good friend in London, and I love their cookbooks. Jerusalem is a book I have gifted on probably more occasions than I can count because it really does take you deep into the city, across many of the cultures and neighborhoods. The fact that it was co-written by authors born on both sides of the divide really helps paint the picture that there is both so much in common and so much more to want for the future. The recipes of many favorites are approachable, but it’s a wonderful read even if you don’t make a single thing. Many people have limited exposure to this beautiful city, so this book very much opens a whole new world.
- Taste of Persia – If Jerusalem is my most gifted book, this is a close second. Since I’ve been married, I’ve had the privilege of having wonderful Persian food on a regular basis, but I was delighted to find that many ingredients like pomegranates, walnuts and various spice combinations were also present in my own mother’s Georgian cooking. This book helps explain why, covering what used to be the full area of Persia Empire and the dishes that it inspired. Between both of our family histories, and our own travels, this book really pulls together a unique look at countries and landscapes that we have an affinity for, and the generous people that most will not otherwise come across.
- Kaukasis – This is one that I sent over to my mother this year, as her she perfects and grows her repertoire of dishes from the Caucasus. It’s probably clear that I have a soft spot for Georgia, even though I have yet to travel there to see it. Often times these books are my own transport there, and I know they are a bit of nostalgia for my mother. There is truly no table in the world like my mother’s generous, loving, “always room for one more” dinner table, and every time I read a book like Kaukasis, I understand a little more about why.
- Claridge’s: The Cookbook – At my very first job, for one of my first trips, I got to stay at Claridge’s for something ridiculous like two weeks. I think it cost the company more than my monthly salary. It was a beautiful experience and one that made me learn to appreciate the ins and outs of a truly grand hotel, and exactly why they are so special. This book is less for cooking, although it is very much a cookbook, and more for a behind the scenes look at all the tiny details that go into the preparation of a table fit for kings and queens.
- Scandinavian Comfort Food – I don’t cook very much Scandinavian food, and in fact, it took me a long time to get used to it when living in Denmark. But now, having departed, I often miss the simplicity of everyday fare (and the ingenuity of the fancy fare). I also have Trine Hahneman’s book on Scandinavian Baking, and there is something about her style and the stories that she weaves in, that makes me feel like she embodies about ten people I know from Copenhagen. Like the title indicates, it’s comforting, and it’s a window of what the table of an every day Dane tends to be like.
- Kachka – This is another new discovery this year, chronicling Bonnie Morales’ return to Russian cooking after avoiding it for so long in her younger years. There is something about her style that reminds me of my own first generation self – the stories of wanting to fit in your new home, while eventually learning to appreciate the roots of your old one, and learning that your identity really does depend on making peace with both. There seems to be a whole lot of the book devoted to making your own infused vodkas and various pickles, and well, what’s not to like about that? For the record, those two things go together just fine.
- Cook Beautiful – I can’t quite figure out Athena Calderone yet, but in the meantime, her first foray into publishing does seem like an all around pleasing combo of seasonal goodies and captivating photography (both of which you can find on her blog, Eye Swoon). Simple enough to actually put on the table, and fun enough to dress up and call a few friends over when you whip something up. Don’t skimp on the pretty dishes when you make it, they’re very much part of the story here.
- French Country Coooking – For the francophile in your life, Mimi Thorisson delivers again. I gifted her first book, A Kitchen in France, a few times and this is a sequel of sorts. Personally, most of the recipes veer into the heavier french complexity for me (mostly because I do not live on a farm, and do not actually care for small squab and other feathered creatures lovingly and then eat them on Sundays), but I just love, love, love her stories of how she moved to Medoc and then the farmhouse, taking on the french country life. I got to live a similar life for a year when I studied abroad in Normandy (complete with feathered creatures) in France. So the tales of an individual farmer or butcher or any other character very much ring true for me because they are characters I recognize. Also, as Mimi has an Icelandic husband for a photographer, it means that every single image leaps off the page with this dramatic contrast of romance and ruin, all in one shot. And that’s pretty French to me.
- Salad for President – This is a fun book that was given to me last year. It focuses on salad but brings in recipes and anecdotes from a variety of artists and other personages. The salads are ones you’d actually make and the stories are ones you want to read.
- Downtime – I mentioned this book was on my own birthday list, but I’ve already made plans to give a few out as well. You can’t help but be curious about what the one of the world’s best chefs eats at home, courtesy of his wife. It seems like the polar opposite to the Noma Book Set (which I also gifted a lot when coming back from Copenhagen – it’s not a practical cookbook but it is a beautiful one), but yet, still so emblematically contemporary Scandinavian.