The “Domestic Goddess” has done it again, just in time for homey holiday cooking. Nigella Kitchen is an expression of her love of cooking and of making cooking lovable, spelled out in over 200 recipes, with gorgeous, almost edible full-color photos, great header notes, reassuring directions and tips for “making leftovers right.” Nigella wants to put her audience at ease and to allay entertaining anxieties, especially the dinner-party heebie-jeebies; she wants us to consider the kitchen “an enduring place of comfort” and the food we create there “essential sustenance” for body and soul. To that end, the dishes included are consummately practical and pleasurable, whether it’s chorizo-adorned Crustless Pizza, Scallops with Thai-scented Pea Purée or Pantry Paella for a busy weekday night, or one of her informal weekend supper sensations, such as Roasted Seafood, polenta-based Venetian Lasagna or “gorgeously warming” Marmalade Pudding Cake.

Interest in Southern cooking never wanes, and neither does the number of Southern cookbooks. Two big (and I’m not whistling Dixie) new additions have come our way this season; both are worthy of landing on your holiday gift list. The fine folks at Southern Living magazine have compiled Southern Living 1,001 Ways to Cook Southern, a hefty, well-illustrated handful. Exceeding expectations, there are 1,232 recipes for every course and category imaginable, each with fail-proof, detailed instructions perfected by Southern Living’s test kitchen experts. And sprinkled throughout are “Taste of the South” vignettes that highlight recipes for iconic Southern delicacies such as Buttermilk Biscuits, Chess Pie, Hush Puppies and Fried Okra. Meanwhile, Tammy Algood has taken an ingredient-oriented approach in The Complete Southern Cookbook that starts with Almonds and ends up—87 entries and over 800 recipes later—with Zucchini. Each ingredient comes with info on nutrition, preparation, selection and storage and a succulent array of down-home recipes.

David Tanis seems to have true simplicity at his core and an understated approach to the seasonal. Heart of the Artichoke and Other Kitchen Journeys is not about artichokes but about getting to the essence of good food made at home. He is, refreshingly, a restaurant chef who really prefers to cook at home and is quite happy with a sharp knife, wooden spoon and cast-iron pan. Tanis divides his recipes into small—the “ordinary pleasures” of cooking for yourself, with a recipe for jalapeño-onion pancakes I could eat every day; medium—20 eminently doable menus that celebrate the seasons, accomplished without foam, blowtorches or wildly exotic ingredients, including Mussels Marinière, Spaghetti with Squid and White Beans and divinely dense Italian Spice Cake; and large—four “simple feasts for a long table.” Tanis’ recipes and his writing have a quiet elegance that invites you to slow down, think and savor. 

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