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Books for Cooks
By Mary Ann Smyth

Many years ago, I gave my daughter a cookbook for Christmas. At the time, she was a student at the Culinary Institute of America. I remember the look on her face as she slowly opened the book and ran her fingers lovingly over its pages. It was as though she could touch the ingredients listed. She gazed in rapture at the glossy color photos that accompanied the text. For Joanna, opening a new cookbook is still an adventure, while I never forgot the pleasure of giving that present, and seeing her obvious delight, and reverence. As the holidays creep up on us yet again, many will have a chef or wannabe chef on their gift lists.

Here are a few suggestions that might help in matching the book with the person. Doris Duke was once quoted as saying, 'You can never be too rich or too thin.' Add to that, 'you can never have too many cookbooks'. So go for it. Add to someone's collection or start one of your own. You can't go wrong. Even those who pride themselves on not cooking linger over the temptations between the leaves of a good cookbook. Some listed below are hot off the press while others are old favorites (for years my most used cookbook was one my mother-in-law was given as a wedding present, which she passed on to me). Price ranges indicated are as listed at

US $15 and under

We are all familiar with Starbucks. Even non-coffee drinkers recognize the name. Starbucks Passion for Coffee, compiled by Dave Olsen, Senior Vice President of Starbucks, is almost a misnomer. While the book does give steps for brewing the perfect cup of coffee, a good part of it is concerned with recipes for lovely muffins and desserts to nibble while sipping. They even lay claim to having the recipe for the World's Best Chocolate Pudding. Now that I would try.

The Charms of Tea: Reminiscences and Recipes is compiled by the Editors of Victorian Magazine. This book takes one back to the drawing room and the elegant teas once served there. Recipes and menus for Afternoon Tea accompany lovely photos that make one want to search mother's old trunk for picture hats and long white gloves. Proper settings show silver, china and linen. Quotes on the subject of tea by famous personages, like W. H. Auden, Henry James and Oscar Wilde, are sprinkled through the book. 'Teas - where small talk dies in agonies' is attributed to Percy Shelley, and an essay by Marcel Proust is worth reading. Use this delightful book to introduce your granddaughters to the niceties of an earlier age.

The recipes in Vegetarian Times Complete Thanksgiving Cookbook make you forget that there's no meat on the table. The Vegetarian Tourtiere (or Quebec Meat Pie) sounds like a winner to me and the Harvest Vegetable Pie would make a hearty main dish. Seitan is used as a meat substitute in many of the recipes. Once you get past not seeing a turkey on the groaning board, a vegetarian holiday dinner could be a handsome and filling meal.

US $15 to $20

At Grandmother's Table, edited by Ellen Perry Berkeley, is a quick trip back to Grandmom's kitchen, full of essays by granddaughters writing touching remembrances of their grandmothers. The pieces are accompanied by old time photos that are nostalgic and trigger fond memories. Bonuses are the favored recipes from those not forgotten women.

Outgoing TV host Emeril LaGasse's Every Day's A Party: Louisiana Recipes For Celebrating With Family And Friends is a recipe for celebration. The author seems to find a holiday for any day. His book is chock full of glossy photographs as well as menus that are bound to pull you to the kitchen.

Mario Batali Holiday Food opens to a spread of strawberries that appear edible from the page. Looking at it in the middle of a bleak winter would give one the will to survive to strawberry season. Chef Batali gives recipes and concise how-to for glorious Italian treats, from stuffed artichokes to cauliflower and anchovy fritters; from homemade sausage to linguini with walnut sauce.

If you've been lucky enough to visit Philadelphia and to eat at the City Tavern, you will love the City Tavern Cookbook by Walter Staib. It includes a wonder of colonial foods such as: Martha Washington's Chocolate Mousse Cake, Smashed Red Potatoes, Tavern Turkey Stew with Fried Oysters, and, one of my favorites, their fruit shrub. Divine! From First Plates, (appetizers), to Desserts, or from Breads to Stocks and Sauces, this book is not only crammed with recipes but with a written tour of the Tavern and a timeline from 1772 on - a must for the historian on your list.

Anyone who listens to Public Radio will recognize the name of the PBS Host of The Chef's Table, who wrote Jim Coleman's Flavors. He is the Chef at Philadelphia's renowned Rittenhouse Hotel, a man who likes to try new foods and find innovative ways to serve them. He uses the freshest ingredients and marries unusual foods with glorious results. There are a few photos in this book and lots of new recipes to entice even the most novice of chefs.

US $20 to $25

The Naked Chef Takes Off by Jamie Oliver is the second book published by this whirlwind chef. Between writing and television appearances, it's a wonder he has time to cook. Looking like an English choirboy with just a touch of a gleam of mischief in his eye, he displays some wonderful food. His book abounds with photography of luscious looking dishes. My favorite is salmon fillet wrapped in prosciutto with herby lentils, spinach and yogurt. The picture alone is enough to make one salivate. The Naked Chef himself appears in many of the photos, making you feel that the boy next door has moved into your home.

The Nantucket Holiday Table by Susan Simon contains recipes with great names: Thom Koon's Hot Crab Dip; Kedgeree with Nantucket Smoked Bluefish; Jimmy Gross's Christmas Day Crepes; Leila Coffin Ray's Potato Fudge; Christmas Stocking Carrot Soup; Turkey Sandwiches with Avocado and Bacon Mayonnaise on Portuguese Bread. Who could resist that last one? Recipes from soups to desserts and on, to leftovers and food as gifts, are tucked in amongst photos of holiday doings on Nantucket.

Van Gogh's Table at the Auberge Ravoux by Alexandra Leaf and Fred Leeman is a fascinating book, chock full of Van Gogh's work - letters written to him and by him; background stories; recipes from the artist's last home and paintings of cafi life. This is a great coffee table book which you will take to the kitchen to use again and again.

US $25 and up

Simple to Spectacular: How to Take One Basic Recipe to Four Levels of Sophistication by Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Mark Bittman is a treasure trove of recipes from the simplest of dishes to a splendid sit-down candlelit dinner party. It's full of wonderful pictures, explicit instructions and unusual ingredients paired successfully.

Julia & Jacques: Cooking at Home is a collaboration by world-renowned chefs Julia Child and Jacques Pepin. What more could one ask? This wonderful cookbook has everything from soup to nuts, with lots of how-to pictures as well as images of finished dishes. I've always admired Julia Child, and was taken by her matter of fact manner and her obvious love of food and its preparation when once I heard her speak.

Ducasse: Flavors of France by Alain Ducasse is an elegant book full of lovely pictures of France. I would like to try his Broccoli Soup with Crhme Fraiche Froth! This is another coffee table book that will spend a lot of time in your kitchen.

I hope that this selection will give you ideas for gift giving, for every chef on your list. Decide soon, so you'll have time before you give these treasures away, to glean from their pages recipes that may become your own favorites.
Note: Opinions expressed in reviews and articles on this site are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of BookLoons.