In no particular order, some of my favorite cookbooks from 2009; I'll bet there's at least one for everyone on your holiday gift list. Here's to inspiring friends and loved ones to get into the kitchen!
For someone who thinks they can't cook: Jamie's Food Revolution by Jamie Oliver (Hyperion, 2009). Yes, he's a celebrity chef, but this guy really does want to improve the health of eaters everywhere ... and bring joy to the table as well. I love that his solution is to teach people to cook -- real people, regular janes and joes who've never cooked much of anything and who he profiles with photos and their finished dishes in hand. Alongside the accessible and hearty recipes, Jamie provides simple, clear directions and step-by-step pictures for making everything from chopped salad to pot roast to simple curry to fruit scones. "His goal is to encourage lasting proficiency in easy cooking methods that save money and result in a healthier lifestyle." Bravo!
For your college student: College Vegetarian Cooking by Megan Carle and Jill Carle (Ten Speed, 2009). No more junk food and creeping weight gain while trying to maintain that GPA! One of the best things about this cookbook is the plethora of "Cooking 101" tips that appear throughout, making good, healthy, affordable, and delicious cooking possible even for the complete novice and/or time-strapped student. Chapters include Cheap Eats, Avoiding the Freshman 15, Party Food, Impressing Your Date, and Just Like Mom Makes.
For the cultural culinarian (and everyone cheering New Orleans' post-Katrina renaissance): My New Orleans by John Besh (Andrews McMeel, 2009). After I was lucky enough to tour the area on a whirlwind culinary trip, I am now besotted with New Orleans. This cookbook is a treasure of more than 200 Southern-favorite recipes, historical and cultural notes, and stunning photography, lovingly offered by NOLA native son John Besh, a passionate chef and farm-to-table restauranteur (I had the pleasure of dining at his La Provence restaurant and mini-farm). Viva the Crescent City!
For the cheese lover: In a Cheesemaker's Kitchen by Allison Hooper (Countryman Press, 2009). For a splurge, I love, love, LOVE truly good cheese. This is not only a useful and unpretentious guide to great cheese, but also a picturesque celebration of localvores made good, from the founders of the 25-year-old Vermont Butter & Cheese Company. Complete with some of the most gorgeous food photographs I've seen this year, and mouthwatering (but doable) recipes by renowned chefs (for example, Goat Cheese Parfait by Eric Ripert; Creme Fraiche Potato Gratin from Dan Barber). A couple other beautiful-looking cheese titles from this year: Artisan Cheese of the Pacific Northwest by Tami Parr (Countryman Press, 2009) and the encyclopedic Mastering Cheese by Max McCalman and David Gibbons (Clarkson Potter, 2009).
For the gluten-free devotee: The Gluten-Free Almond Flour Cookbook by Elana Amsterdam (Celestial Arts, 2009). Elana makes gluten-free baking easy and even more nutritious by her dedication to high-protein, blanched almond flour (instead of complicated non-GF flour mixes). Her GF chocolate chip cookies are legendary. This cookbook, already in multiple printings, is getting GF raves everywhere.
For your boss: Zero-Proof Cocktails by Liz Scott (Ten Speed, 2009). I'm a big fan of cocktails, but sometimes I just want the nice drink without the buzz ... and I don't mean a plain ginger ale or syrupy Shirley Temple. This book, with delectable photos, offers "inspired mocktails and virgin renditions of famous drinks ... incorporating exciting ingredients and flavor combinations that will overshadow the absence of alcohol." Hey, it's 5pm somewhere.
For your music- and food-loving roommate or personal trainer: Vegan Soul Kitchen by Bryant Terry (Da Capo, 2009). Who says soul food has to be unhealthy? Terry, one of my eco-food-activist heroes, takes the flavors of African American and Southern cooking and makes them sing, using fresh, quality ingredients. (Did I mention each recipe comes with a suggested soundtrack?) I'm all about his Sweet Coconut-Ginger Creamed Corn ("Duppy Conqueror" by Bob Marley & the Wailers), Black-Eye Pea Fritters with Hot Pepper Sauce (I.T.T., Pt 2" by Fela Kuti), Not-Too-Dirty Rice ("Very Special" by Duke Ellington) and Citrus Collards with Raisins Redux ("Sankofa" by Hypnotic Brass Ensemble and Tony Allen).
For the expectant couple: Cooking for Baby by Lisa Barnes (Fireside, 2009). Here's your holiday baby shower gift: an easy, practical, healthy-food guide to feeding a baby from first solids through toddlerhood. Lovely, cheerful photos and graphics make it a pleasure to browse, and I like the emphasis on organic and creative vegetable combinations and the simple instructions, which inspire and teach without being overwhelming (an approach every new parent needs). Another good one along these lines is The Healthy Baby Meal Planner by Annabel Karmel (Fireside new edition, 2008).
For the literary-minded mom, dad, co-worker, or cook: What We Eat When We Eat Alone by Deborah Madison and Patrick McFarlan (Gibbs-Smith, 2009). For anyone who ever eats on their own (I assume that applies to everyone at some point), this charming book of stories and recipes is a welcome accompaniment. The wonderful Deborah Madison interviews friends, students, foodies, strangers and more, gleaning what their favorite comfort foods are when the only one cooking and eating is me, myself, and I. A fun read, with cozy recipes. Another winning cookbook along these lines is The Pleasures of Cooking for One by the eloquent Judith Jones -- who was Julia Child's beloved editor (Alfred A. Knopf, 2009).
For the Food Network addict: Good Eats: The Early Years by Alton Brown (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2009). A fun compendium of the "Good Eats" show, complete with tons of cooking tips, 140 recipes, and hilarious photos and comments.