Nigella Lawson is a gorgeous free spirit of the kitchen. Nigella Express: 130 Recipes for Good Food, Fast serves up her prescription for eating well when time is short. The 11 chapters cover breakfast bonanzas, truly doable weekday dinners, Mexican- and Italian-inspired easy entrees, express takes on nostalgic favorites and cozy comfort food, and razzle-dazzle party dinners that don't take endless hours of prep. There's a wonderfully infectious ease in Nigella's approach; her header notes make each recipe inviting and her chatty directions and a snap to follow.

Alice Waters, champion of local, seasonal ingredients and prime perpetrator of California cuisine, is probably second only to Julia Child in shaping the way Americans cook and eat. The Art of Simple Food: Notes, Lessons, and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution, her latest, is for everyone who wants to learn to cook, or wants to become a better cook. You get all the techniques, whys and wherefores needed for choosing fresh ingredients, making perfect poached salmon, baking biscotti and so much more. The more than 250 recipes here are easily made, build confidence and inspire you to find joy in cooking and eating simple food. Waters is a natural teacher and her book is a natural for holiday giving.

Crescent City Cooking: Unforgettable Recipes from Susan Spicer's New Orleans, with 86 luscious full-color photos, is a debut for Spicer, the much admired chef/owner of two renowned New Orleans restaurants. Her signature talent for marrying unexpected flavors with New Orleans tradition gives her dishes the innovative zing that makes her food so appealing. Now, with Susan's expert, detailed help, those unique flavors are achievable in your own kitchen.

With more than 270 enchanting photos and 250 enticing recipes, Anne Willan's The Country Cooking of France is fabulous for looking and cooking. A highly acclaimed teacher, food writer and cookbook author, Willan is the founder of the famed LaVarrene Cooking School in Burgundy. She knows French cuisine and culture intimately and shares that magnificent bounty here. A gift book par excellence for gourmet travelers and for those who would rather cook that cassoulet at home, just dreaming of dinner in a chateau.

It's sugarplum season and desserts are front and center. In the center of that center is Desserts by the Yard: From Brooklyn to Beverly Hills Recipes from the Sweetest Life Ever by James Beard Award-winning pastry chef Sherry Yard. Sherry has worked for the best and baked for the famous, but she's never forgotten her Brooklyn roots. So, you'll find simple white cupcakes with chocolate icing and a knock-your-socks-off Triple Silken Pumpkin Pie; Rainbow cookies (late of Leon's Brooklyn bakery, now a Spago standard), and chocolate mousse-filled Chocolate Boxes created for the 73rd Oscars after-party.

If Santa Baby has a sweet tooth, he'll put Marcel Desaulniers' I'm Dreaming of a Chocolate Christmas under every chocoholic's tree. It's chock-a-block with dark, dreamy desserts to serve, share, store or ship. And Desaulniers promises that every recipe is fail-safe.

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