A roundup of cookbooks to give - or to keep

By Bonnie S. Benwick, Washington Post
Published December 12, 2007

Give a cookbook and you can't go wrong. It's literature that promises many happy returns, even if it never makes it off the bedside table. Normally, at this time of year the big volumes of recipe collections command attention, and some are worth their weight and price tags.

But when we looked back at 2007 titles, the smaller and mid-sized models were the ones we wanted to take for a test drive. Alice Waters delivered a clear and personal message; bakers and vegans got a dose of humor along with new recipes.

- The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters (Clarkson Potter, $35; 250-plus recipes): This is more than a cookbook; it's a commitment, at the opposite end of the spectrum from anything semi-homemade. Buy fresh and local produce in season, make pasta, soak beans, consider the effort involved in an omelet or vegetable soup before you get started. Author, restaurateur and food pioneer Waters provides first-person guidance, with menus, in the conversational, ingredients-interspersed-with-directions recipe style found in Joy of Cooking.

- A Passion for Baking by Marcy Goldman (Oxmoor House, $29.95; 220-plus recipes): One can't ask for much more in a baker's book, which is why this deserves near-top billing. It's almost impossible to flip through without reaching for a way to mark recipes of immediate interest.

Goldman, an author, pastry chef and occasional newspaper contributor, has put together a significant yet easy-to-peruse batch of her "best-ever" sweets and savories, well written and presented clearly with a mix of technique and beauty shots.

- Madhur Jaffrey's Quick & Easy Indian Cooking (Chronicle, $19.95; 70-plus recipes): Thirty-minute meal options get much more interesting with these recipes from a pre-eminent Indian cookbook author and cultural icon. Include the following directions with the gift of this tidy paperback: "Take this on your next grocery shopping run. Flip to the 'An Indian Pantry' chapter, visit the international aisle and stock up on all the ingredients Jaffrey suggests." Then the Silken Chicken and Red Lentils Tarka will be within reach on a cold weeknight.

- Veganomicon: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero (Marlowe, $27.50; 250-plus recipes): The hipster duo who host the Post Punk Kitchen podcasts have injected their hefty collection with chatty attitude and a little self-deprecating vegan shtick ("Broccoli and cauliflower: Since this is what everyone thinks vegans live on, why not prove them right?"). There are some seriously good recipes with broad appeal, such as Jicama-Watercress-Avocado Salad With Spicy Citrus Vinaigrette and Chili Chocolate Mole.

- Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker: Recipes for Entertaining by Beth Hensperger and Julie Kaufmann (Harvard Common Press, $18.95; 300 recipes): As promised, Hensperger (with co-author Kaufmann) has delivered the third paperback installment of her slow-cooker series, geared to coaxing more ambitious food and drink from the Rodney Dangerfield of appliances.

Hence, the "Electric Punch Bowl" chapter offers 29 ways to make warm beverages for a crowd, and entrees rise above the usual chilis and stews, with non-slow cooker recipes for complementary side dishes and salads.

- The Martha Stewart Living Cookbook: The New Classics and The Martha Stewart Living Cookbook: The Original Classics (Clarkson Potter, $35 each; 1,200-plus recipes and 1,100-plus recipes, respectively): It's a good thing to have Martha's recipes bound in two smart volumes, but longtime fans may miss seeing her domestic-diva smile. Compilations span Martha Stewart Living magazine recipes from 2000 to 2006 and 1990 to 2000.

- Cook with Jamie: My Guide to Making You a Better Cook by Jamie Oliver (Hyperion, $37.50; 154 recipes): The boyish British chef will donate all of this cookbook's profits to his famous Fifteen effort, which underwrites culinary training for disadvantaged youths. It is written in Oliver's cheeky style, with directions that are not as explicit as they might be ("heat a griddle until white-hot"; "simply put the meat on a barbecue"). Oliver fans will enjoy the slightly ethnic mix of dishes.