by Sybil PrattDecember 2009
Learn from the masters
Cookbooks by renowned chefs make fabulous presents and, in this season of giving and getting, a wonderful way to solve your gift list quandaries.
The lovely Nigella Lawson, though a self-described happy heathen, loves the social festivities of Christmas and revels in their exuberance and excess. She understands the joys and stresses of holiday entertaining and can help anyone get through it with grace and good cheer. Her very practical coping skills and easy-to-follow recipes, many with make-ahead advice, are accompanied by lots of full-color photos and all wrapped up in Nigella Christmas. Nigella’s prescription for maintaining seasonal sanity begins with cocktails and canapés for a cozy few or a bustling crowd, goes on to ideas for simple, no-fuss suppers for casual evenings, then gets to the Main Event: feasts for Christmas Day, pulled off with elegant élan and backed up with good planning strategies, menus and detailed recipes.
Keller cooks at home! Hard to believe that the high priest of haute cuisine in the U.S. (and author of three cookbooks that are the quintessence of chic, sophisticated armchair cooking) has put together a collection of approachable family meals. Ad Hoc at Home has over 200 recipes that you and I can cook without a battalion of sous-chefs and cutting-edge culinary equipment—a slice of the sublime accessible to mere mortals. It’s a gorgeous book, wonderfully designed, with 250 color photographs and charmingly marked “lightbulb moments” offering instructional tips and Keller-kitchen wisdom. The recipes, inspired by Ad Hoc, Keller’s most casual eatery, will take your everyday dinners up a big notch: Keller brines his chicken and pork, adds pistachios to sautéed cabbage, caramelizes sea scallops and serves peaches with mascarpone cream.
If your giftees might prefer a cookbook with the knife-twirling, pot-swirling high energy hoopla of an Iron Chef, Michael Symon’s Live to Cook is it. Filled with dishes that reflect Symon’s Mediterranean-Eastern European heritage, plus his blue-collar Cleveland distaste for pretension, the book lets polenta and pasta share center stage with pork, pierogies, potato pancakes and pickles. Symon’s food isn’t fussy, but his zest for “big, big flavors and soul satisfaction” produces innovative pairings, simple but surprising, like Spicy Tomato and Blue Cheese Soup, Scallops with Lamb Sausage and Beans, Pork Cheek Chili or Grilled Radicchio with Orange and Balsamic Vinegar. Symon’s cooking, garnished with his gusto and flair, is simple enough for the home cook and simply fun.
Middle-aged, hefty, bathed in butter and cream, with a trove of recipes that are time- and labor-intensive, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, in a new, slipcased, two-volume edition, is again, thanks to the silver screen, the must-have cookbook of the year. After 48 years, it remains the source for Americans who want to cook French food, a masterpiece of instruction that organizes this classic cuisine into a logical sequence of themes and variations. You can almost hear Julia’s lilting alto as you follow the steps she and her co-authors so carefully detailed, and you’ll surely share her consummate joy in the end product, whether it’s the Boeuf Bourguignon, Céleri-Rave Rémoulade or Pots de Crème au Chocolat. Truly a great cookbook and a great gift to get and to give.