Gift Cookbooks

16 Volumes Worth Staining

(Photo By Renee Comet/styled By Lisa Cherkasky For The Washington Post; Soup Pot From Sur La Table)
By Bonnie S. Benwick
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Give a cookbook and you can't go wrong. It's literature that promises many happy returns, even if it never makes it off the bedside table. Normally at this time of year, the big volumes of recipe collections command attention, and some are worth their weight and price tags.

But when we looked back at 2007 titles, the smaller and midsize models were the ones we wanted to take for a test drive. Alice Waters delivered a clear and personal message; bakers and vegans got a dose of humor along with new recipes; local authors translated their passion for specific cuisines and ingredients.

In addition to the 16 cookbooks reviewed here in order of preference, check out the list of those featured in the Food section over the past 10 months, at http://www.washingtonpost.com/food.

Best Buys

THE ART OF SIMPLE FOOD

By Alice Waters Clarkson Potter, $35; 250-plus recipes

This is more than a cookbook; it's a commitment, at the opposite end of the spectrum from anything semi-homemade. Buy fresh and local produce in season, make pasta, soak beans, consider the effort involved in an omelet or vegetable soup before you get started. Author, restaurateur and food pioneer Waters provides first-person guidance, with menus, in the conversational, ingredients-interspersed-with-directions recipe style found in "Joy of Cooking."

A novice cook will not get lost in the details, and an experienced cook can experiment with variations at the end of most recipes or simply yield to Waters's methods of roasting vegetables and poaching fruit. The beef recipes are easily recognizable as hers: They call for "grass-fed" chuck or short ribs every time.

The recipes we tested were spot-on, graced with occasional black-and-white illustrations. (See Spicy Cauliflower Soup recipe, Page F8.)

A PASSION FOR BAKING

By Marcy Goldman Oxmoor House, $29.95; 220-plus recipes

One can't ask for much more in a baker's book, which is why this deserves near-top billing. It's almost impossible to flip through without reaching for a way to mark recipes of immediate interest.


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