My Totally Subjective, Completely Biased, Not At All Comprehensive List of 2011 Cookbooks You May Want to Purchase For Friends, Loved Ones, and People Who Are Neither Friendly Nor Lovable But For Whom The Dictates of Good Manners, Longstanding Tradition, and Family Politics Require You To Buy Something Anyway
In no particular order, they include:
They Draw & Cook by Nate Padavick & Salli Swindell. A creative and whimsical collection of illustrated recipes that break the template of the traditional linear cookbook and give you a good giggle, while teaching you (sort of) how to make things like Beetrooty-Yogurty-Thingummyjig and Mormon Funeral Potatoes. Adorable, not terribly practical, but the most fun you'll have reading a cookbook, guaranteed. Ideal for anyone artsy on your list, especially if they need help with basic recipes.
Big Vegan by Robin Asbell. A book that could serve as a weapon of mass destruction if dropped from a tall building, this 500+ page collection will blow the minds of anyone who thinks vegan food is all about exclusion (meat, dairy, eggs, and their derivatives) rather than inclusion (produce, legumes, seeds, nuts, grains, and about 10 billion other things). The huge number of recipes and their unique flavor combinations more than compensate for the small number of photos. This book is ideal for vegans and those who love them, as well as for intrepid omnivores.
I Love Meatballs by Rick Rodgers. Unlike I Love Bacon (different author, same publisher, not my favorite book), I Love Meatballs is that rare single-subject cookbook you'll turn to again and again. While the Eskimos may have 45 words for snow, humans don't need 45 recipes for anything, except --it turns out -- meatballs. After trying the braised Vietnamese Meatballs in Caramel Sauce, I was hooked. Ideal for non-vegans and meatballitarians.
Cucina Povera by Pamela Sheldon Johns. With its small size and quiet palette, this collection of recipes focuses on the peasant cooking of Tuscany, and when you're done flipping through, you'll know quite a lot about this region, its foodways, and its people. I love everything about this unassuming and lovingly rendered book, which rejects high gloss in favor of straightforward, appealing recipes. Ideal for real cooks who appreciate substance over flash.
My Family Table by John Besh. This one is flashy, to an extent, because Besh is one of the South's most beloved chefs and the book is shiny and grand in size. That said, Besh tempers any celebrity navel-gazing by focusing on his family and what they all eat when they're together. I have mixed feelings about some of the idyllic, everyone-is-beautiful photos in the book (not his fault that his family is photogenic), and I wonder why the recipe for buttermilk blueberry pancakes doesn't call for buttermilk. However, other recipes and tips on creatively re-purposing leftovers are terrific. Ideal for those who seek accessible recipes for family meals from a well-respected culinary pro.
Plum Gorgeous by Romney Steele. In this follow-up to My Nepenthe, Steele once again showcases her artistic gifts and deep-seated appreciation for her native California. A dreamy love letter to orchards, berry patches, and vines, Plum Gorgeous has an olallieberry pie recipe worth the book's $25 price tag. Ideal for those who are passionate about fruit and adore pretty pages.
Top-Pot Hand-Forged Doughnuts by Mark and Michael Klebeck with Jess Thomson. Jess and I went to culinary school together, so I was inherently biased towards this book, one of several she's currently got in the pipeline. The brothers Klebeck co-founded and operate Seattle's Top-Pot Doughnuts, now in 8 locations around that city. I can't wait to roll up my sleeves to try the Triple Coconut Cake Doughnuts and Sour Cream Old-Fashioneds. My kids and I already baked the Top Poppa, a giant chocolate doughnut cake, and downed it in a single evening. Ideal for bakers, parents of small or medium-sized children, and those who like their sweets with a hole in the middle and shiny glaze on top.
The I ♥ Trader Joe's College Cookbook by Andrea Lynn. I'm including this one because I know some of you out there do all of your shopping at Trader Joe's (I'm not naming names). It's a slim paperback for beginning cooks or those with limited kitchen equipment, and the recipe combos (salmon burgers with tzatziki, beef udon soup, olive focaccia) are far more appealing than dumping a box of microwavable pesto tortellini into a bowl and calling it a night. Ideal for those who want to cook but are not sure where to start, college students, first-time apartment dwellers, or teens living at home.
And here's a reminder of the 2011 releases I've lauded in prior posts, all of which are definitely worth considering for holiday gifts: Good Food to Share, Plenty, Super Natural Every Day, The Glorious Pasta of Italy, Ancient Grains for Modern Meals, The Encyclopedia of Sandwiches, The New Southern-Latino Table, and Not Your Mother's Casseroles. If you want links to the original posts, let me know in the comments, and I'll happily oblige.
Enjoy your shopping. Remember to take frequent breaks, drink water, feed the cat, and bathe every now and again. Thanks for supporting the above cookbook authors, all of whom work very hard at their craft.