Holiday Cookbookery: Buyer's Guide to Gifting Cookbooks

We have a small cookbook collection going here
We have a small cookbook collection going here
Photo by Hannah Palmer Egan

Fork in the Road is publishing a series of local gift guides this year -- one from each regular contributor. This one comes from our Cookbook of the Week columnist, Hannah Palmer Egan.

So, it's the holidays. And if you're a busy New Yorker like the rest of us, thinking through the gifting gauntlet can be daunting: what to buy your coworker, boss, bff, best-frenemy, MOM. There's a different conundrum for everyone -- what to get that's not too personal, yet personal enough, that someone will actually want AND use...or perhaps something that can be easily re-gifted.

Whatever your gifting aspirations, here at Fork in the Road, we'll remind you that EVERYBODY EATS, and thus, most people cook, at least occasionally. So cookbooks make excellent holiday gifts -- your gift can appear thoughtful (but not TOO thoughtful), useful (but not in a banal way), re-giftable (for sure!), and generally all-around nice. And, most of them are reasonably priced (but not cheap!).

Herewith, our cookbook picks for the friends and freaks in your life, culled from this season's finest new releases. (If you're looking for classic/vintage, head to the last page for where to find rare and esoteric tomes.)

Holiday Cookbookery: Buyer's Guide to Gifting Cookbooks
Image courtesy Grand Central Publishing

For the baker or aspiring baker, or greenmarket fan: The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book by Emma and Melissa Elsen ($30) The Deets: Gowanus Pie mavens Emma and Melissa Elsen share their baking secrets in an easy-to-follow, practically foolproof bible of pie. Why it's great: Eleven crusts. Fun and funky pies and tried-and true classics. Vegetarian, vegan, sweet/salty/tart -- this book has everything but the bitterness (though some recipes do call for bitters!). It's my favorite book of the season -- and I generally don't bake. Where to buy: The Strand Bookstore,, Barnes & Noble

For the the urban dweller wanting to break their takeout habit: Best Cookbook Ever by Max and Eli Sussman ($25) The Deets: This book makes it easy for you. It's divided into real-life scenarios: What to make when hungover, what to prepare for an impromptu dinner party (what, five hungry friends just showed up? No problem!), or what to eat on the eve of the apocalypse. The Sussmans distill dinner into quick, snappy dishes anyone can prepare. Why it's great: You can buy MOST of the ingredients at your crappy corner grocery store, prep times are short and simple, and none of it requires too much space or forethought...great cooking for dummies, er, amateurs. Where to buy: Amazon, Barnes & Noble

For the capable and adventurous home cook: Pok Pok by Andy Ricker with JJ Goode ($35) The Deets: For mortar-and-pestle wielding Thai food aficionados, this is a must. Filled cover-to-cover with preparations for everything from som tam (papaya salads, four recipes), curries and soups (eight recipes), phat (stir fry, five recipes), to condiments and desserts, Ricker's book delivers. Why it's great: No fluff here, folks -- this is a cookbook, through and through -- Ricker keeps it focused on the food, not himself, and with salivating hordes lining up on two coasts to Pok Pok it up, you better believe that food is great. Where to buy: The Strand, Amazon, St. Mark's Bookshop

For the food-loving historian The Way We Ate by Noah Fecks and Paul Wagtouicz ($35) The Deets: In this time-traveling tome, Noah Fecks and Paul Wagtouicz break down a century of culinary history by year, offering 100 dishes from 100 well-known chefs and fooderati. 1909 brings Travis Post's Baked Alaska, 1953 serves Jesse Shenker's Beef Wellington, and 1971 gives you Gael Greene's "Almost like Mom's" Mac & Cheese. Why it's great: Steeped in history (as informed by Fecks and Wagtouicz's ridiculously awesome blog chronicling the Gourmet magazine archive), and generally accessible for home cooks, this book is just begging for decade-themed dinner parties. Where to buy: Powell's Books, The Strand, Amazon  

Holiday Cookbookery: Buyer's Guide to Gifting Cookbooks
Photo by Hannah Palmer Egan

For your sister, OR your straight broham who loves to cook:Sorella: Recipes, Cocktails & True Stories from our New York Restaurant by Emma Hearst and Sarah Krathen ($35) The Deets: Three parts amazing Italian recipes, one part Girls Gone Wild (think stiletto-clad women wielding knives and big slabs of meat), this book is a festive feast waiting to happen -- or a feast for lusty eyes, in the most charming possible way. Also, Sorella means sister in Italian, so it's a sweet gift for your kitchen-savvy sis. Why it's great: Fun, funky, and user friendly. Find recipes organized by cocktails and apps, pastas, and mains -- all directly descended from Hearst and Krathen's beloved downtown destination. Where to buy: Barnes & Noble, Powell's, Amazon

For the culinary-school graduate Le Livre Blanc by Ann-Sophie Pic ($60) The Deets: Three-Starred Michelin chef Ann-Sophie Pic comes from a long line of restaurant illuminati, and for her first cookbook, a pristine volume bound in white, she shares recipes that head deep into molecular territory -- foams, fusions, and other advanced preparations most of us couldn't (or shouldn't) try at home. But for someone with serious culinary chops, this book could be a wellspring of inspiration and how-to guide to taking it to the next level. Why it's great: A three-star French chef shares her secrets -- and you don't have to hop a flight to Provence to get in on it. Also, this was printed in a limited run -- there are only a few thousand copies out there, so it has future rare-book potential. Where to buy: Amazon

Holiday Cookbookery: Buyer's Guide to Gifting Cookbooks
Image courtesy Ballatine Books

For the culinary trophy-bagger: Classico e Moderno by Michael White with Andrew Friedman ($50) The Deets: Michael White's hulking coffee table topper is a big, beautiful book that covers Italian cuisine from the basics (pizzas, pastas, and sauces) to super-tricky, advanced cookery and just the right amount of memoirism from Chef Bianco himself. Why it's great: Learn to make pasta (from scratch), or take White's recipes and bastardize them with corner-store ingredients and dry pasta from the box -- by the book or not, it's an endless source of inspiration. Where to buy: St. Mark's Bookshop, The Strand, Amazon  

Holiday Cookbookery: Buyer's Guide to Gifting Cookbooks
Photo by Hannah Palmer Egan

For the outdoorsman or wild-game aficionado: Duck, Duck, Goose: Recipes and Techniques for Cooking Ducks and Geese, both Wild and Domesticated by Hank Shaw ($24.99) The Deets: This latest book from Hank Shaw learns you on the difference between cooking duck breast or drumstick, and recipes range from east (duck pho) to west (buffalo duck wings), old world (duck confit) to new (Mexican duck with green mole). Why it's great: Shaw wants to demystify the duck (or goose, as it were) and make it accessible for people to prepare beautiful, fanciful dishes at home, with minimal effort -- take a Robber-Baron era recipe from Delmonico's and make it your own, or make goose prosciutto in your garage...It's all there, from beak to butt. Where to buy: Barnes & Noble, St. Mark's Bookshop, Amazon

For pescatarians or fishermen: The Grand Central Oyster Bar Cookbook by Sandy Ingber with Roy Finamore ($35) The Deets: Chef Sandy Ingber cooks the day's catch in preparations that range from classic (oyster pan roast, oysters Rockefeller) to modern (tempura fried matje herring with wasabi mayo) -- this book runs the gamut. Why it's great: In New York, many restaurants fail within a year, but Grand Central Oyster Bar has been around for a century, rolling onward though economic ups and downs, recessions, even the odd restaurant fire and rebuild. The fish is good. You want to cook this at home. Where to buy: The Strand, St. Mark's Bookshop, Amazon

For the uber noodle-nerd:Ivan Ramen: Love Obsession & Recipes by Ivan Orkin ($29.99) The Deets: Native New Yorker Ivan Orkin recently returned from a decades-long sojurn in Japan, where he founded a small ramen empire. His book is one hell of a travel story that's half memoir, half cookbook. Why it's great:Hone your noodle-rolling skills with a how-to guide from Orkin himself, or use his recipes as a springboard to dress up the dry ramen that's hanging around your cupboard. It's also great for the nerdy noodlehead as it offers a fairly unglazed backstory to one of today's most talked-about chefs. Where to buy: The Strand, St. Mark's Bookshop, Amazon

STILL not finding what you need?

Hit up a specialty cookbook shop: For rare and out of print marvels, we love Bonnie Slotnick (163 W 10th Street, 212-989-8962) in the West Village; for more rarities and culinary curiosities, check Joanne Hendricks's shop (488 Greenwich Street, just above Canal, 212-226-5731); if you're uptown, visit Kitchen Arts & Letters (1435 Lexington Avenue, 212-876-5550) for just about anything (and everything) else.

For more cookbook-gifting ideas, check out our Cookbook of the Week archives.


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