Books for Cooks: The best gift books ever for cooks, foodies and serious eaters. | Wine | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

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Books for Cooks: The best gift books ever for cooks, foodies and serious eaters.

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I’ll bet you probably know intimately a few cooks, foodies and folks who are just plain serious about food. Me, too. But as much as I enjoy certain Food Network chefs and cookbook authors like Batali, Bourdain, Flay, De Laurentis, et al., it seems a tad lazy just to wrap up the latest celebrity-chef cookbook in shiny paper and consider your holiday shopping done. After all, most such cookbooks have a shelf life of somewhere between six days and six months. n

What you really want to do for the food junkie in your life is bestow the gift of really great food writing on him or her—an offering that will endure not for weeks or even years, but for a lifetime. There are only about a dozen such books I’ve acquired over the years that I truly wouldn’t part with. So here are a few suggestions for holiday gift books for cooks and other food-obsessed beings.

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“Never remove the eggs, which are the best part of the frog.” This is one of my favorite cooking instructions ever, from the Stewed Frogs recipe in Pelligrino Artusi’s Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well. First published in 1890 following the unification of Italy, this, I believe, is the first pan-Italian cookbook covering the range of Italy’s regions and cuisines. It’s not literally about the “science” of cooking a la Harold McGee’s books, but more about the technical aspects of executing a dish like stracotto alla bizzarra (whimsical stew). Recipes for stewed starlings, hare and wild boar hark back to a time when we ate closer to our natural surroundings, but it’s the fascinating writing here that appeals to me more than the recipes themselves. For example: “To stew a lamb’s head, do not cut it in half crosswise like the maid-servant whose master told her to divide it in two.”

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In an age of celebrity wannabes, I find John Thorne immensely refreshing. A few years back when I hosted a long-format radio food show on KSL 1160 AM, I contacted him for an interview. He declined; it just wasn’t his sort of thing. I can’t think of anyone else declining an opportunity for free press or radio exposure. Kudos to Thorne for rising above the fray. Like all of his books, Thorne’s Mouth Wide Open: A Cook and His Appetite is one you’ll find yourself rereading every couple of years. That’s because Thorne’s writing about food has a certain timeless quality to it; he’s not caught up in food fads or dining trends. And frankly, his essay (with recipes) on “Sussing Out Satay” is the definitive word on the topic and worth the price of admission.

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Jim Harrison’s collection of food essays, The Raw and the Cooked: Adventures of a Roving Gourmand, is about as good as it gets. America’s best writer writing about his most beloved activity (eating) is a mouthwatering recipe indeed. On the very first page of the very first essay—“Eat or Die”—Harrison addresses the importance of lobster, oysters, snails, braised lamb shanks, Delmonico steak and German kassler rippchen. Decadently delicious, this one.

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Ditto Everything on the Table: Plain Talk About Food and Wine by Colman Andrews. This one’s out of print, but used copies are plentiful and I buy one for a gift whenever I find a copy. As a restaurant critic, I’m always drawn to the section of Andrews’ book called “Waiter, There’s a Flaw in My Soup” and the article “Restaurant Critics Never Have a Nice Day.” The book itself begins with the statement, “Americans eat badly.” But don’t let that throw you. Everything on the Table is a thought-provoking collection dealing with everything from 3-Star Michelin restaurants (which he skewers) to Joe Brodsky’s deep-fried steak—a veritable buffet of delightful food and wine essays.

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I’ve written at length about it in these pages before, so I won’t go into a lot of detail again, but Secret Ingredients: The New Yorker Book of Food and Drink is probably the single smartest gift you could give your favorite foodie. Collected here are essays by dozens of celebrated writers, including A.J. Liebling, John McPhee, Roald Dahl, Julian Barnes, Nora Ephron, Calvin Trillin, Ogden Nash, Woody Allen, Mark Singer and M.F.K. Fisher. Noah Baumbach’s “The Zagat History of My Last Relationship” alone is worth the price of the book.

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And speaking of M.F.K. Fisher, The Art of Eating would be a welcome gift for anyone who doesn’t already own it. This collection contains How to Cook a Wolf, first published in 1942 during wartime shortages. When you tire of Rachael Ray, turn to Fisher, who had a real lifetime love affair with food, and wrote about it so seductively.

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Ah yes … love affairs. Paula Wolfert has had a love affair with the world’s foods for decades. Although her books all contain excellent (if often complicated) recipes, it’s what comes between the recipes that I love so much in Wolfert’s work. Her World of Food focuses on the Mediterranean—Sicily, Catalonia, Morocco, the Ionian Islands and such—and is a wonderful introduction to the cuisines of the region. And, well, you’re going to love eating Moroccan Fish Tangine with Tomato, Peppers and Preserved Lemons. Also, Wolfert’s classic The Cooking of South-West France is back in print again, a book New York magazine called “a gastronomic masterwork.” You need look no farther than her stupendous essays and recipes for cassoulet to conclude that wasn’t just hyperbole.

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Finally, anybody who doesn’t already own Julia Childs’ classic Mastering the Art of French Cooking will love it wrapped up under the tree. The same goes for Elizabeth David’s wonderful collection of food articles, An Omelette and a Glass of Wine. Any of these excellent books would make a delectable holiday gift.

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