Folks searching for a glorious gift for that special cook got lucky in 2010.
Publishers release attractive cookbooks every year, but 2010 saw the arrival of an unusual number of volumes that were literally years in the making. Several already seem likely to join the canon of modern American cooking, candidates to become the most splattered, dog-eared volume on your shelf.
Others are meant more for inspiration and reading than the pleasures of the palate. Here are 10 recommendations for all the cooks on your holiday gift list.
Load up your family's leading cook with battle-tested recipes for every occasion. Find something satisfying for your uncle the vegan. Consider engrossing volumes for people who love to read about exotic cooking -- from the safety of their couch.
Make the right choice, and recipients might even invite you to dinner. Cookbooks: the gift that keeps on giving.
"One Big Table," by Molly O'Neill; Simon & Schuster; 864 pages; $50
A veteran food writer spent years making a map of America dotted with people and places whose cooking she wanted to witness. Then she hit the road to experience the glorious buffet being dished up every day by real people from coast to coast.
Her cooks' stories are organized by their specialties. Details from their lives -- figures like baseball stars and immigrants, farmers and media executives -- add an extra layer of flavor to their recipes.
From the New Jersey stock analyst's Armenian grilled mackerel to the Colorado rancher's roast beef, from the Florida reverend's spicy fried chicken to the Vermont church lady's blueberry pie, it's a mesmerizing accomplishment of original research and recipe-mining. O'Neill proves a skillful guide to the united but ever-so-diverse states of American kitchens.
"Steve Raichlen's Planet Barbecue!," by Steve Raichlen; Workman; 638 pages; $23
The author has a blizzard of books in print, but this volume stands out for its on-the-ground reporting at places around the world where food greets live fire.
From South Korean barbecue to the Brazilian spit-roasted caramelized pineapples, Raichlen adds insights you can gain only by watching master cooks do what they do best. Not just meat, either -- vegetables, seafood and desserts like grilled Azerbaijani ice cream all fit into the mix.
"Thai Street Food," by David Thompson; Ten Speed Press; 372 pages; $60
This oversized, gorgeously photographed ode to the street food culture of Thailand has one major drawback. It might awaken hunger that only a plane ticket can cure.
The author runs the first Thai restaurant in Europe to win a Michelin star, and has already written an award-winning Thai cookbook. His recipes, in painstaking detail with ample discussion of their places in Thai cuisine and culture, provide both simple and dizzyingly complex road maps for the adventurous cook.
"1001 Ways to Cook Southern," by Southern Living magazine; Oxmoor House; 928 pages; $35
One glance through this book and your definition of "Southern cooking" could change dramatically.
Immigrants and changing food culture have expanded the norms below the Mason-Dixon line to include Beef Tenderloin with Avocado Bearnaise and Honeyed Orzo Pecan Pie. But the heart of this tried-and-true recipe collection is Southern classics, like Pineapple Meringue Pie and five or six distinct fried chicken recipes.
Selected by editors after testing thousands of recipes, the winners are mostly simple and annotated helpfully for entertaining possibilities.
"At Home With Madhur Jaffrey," by Madhur Jaffrey; Knopf; 301 pages; $35
The renowned author's Indian cookbooks have a reputation for authenticity -- and sprawling, exotic ingredient lists -- that lots of would-be Indian dabblers find intimidating. This collection of Jaffrey's homestyle favorites is simpler, and should suit beginners to Indian cooking. (One chicken curry recipe uses only five spices, all available at most supermarkets.)
Culinary cousins Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are also represented, with recipes like a coconut-milk based Sri Lankan White Zucchini Curry. The focus on everyday dishes makes buying the array of fresh whole spices you'll need seem like a better investment.
"The Veganopolis Cookbook," by David Stowell & George Black; Agate; 256 pages; $20
Two vegan chefs who ran a popular Portland, Ore., restaurant have translated their ambitious vegan offerings for the masses.
They offer building block recipes like seitan, a wheat gluten used as a meat substitute, and tofu-based vegan mayonnaise, then build from there. With recipes like vegan Coq au Vin, vegan BLT, vegan creamy "clam" chowder and more, this isn't a book for beginning vegan cooks.
Those with some experience with vegan substitutes are promised dishes that vegans will love -- and even omnivores can appreciate.
"Around My French Table," by Dorie Greenspan; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 544 pages; $40
Another entry-level cookbook from an esteemed author known for more sophisticated fare.
Greenspan's recipes are always well tested, but they're simpler this time. Some, like the Twenty-Minute Honey-Glazed Duck Breasts, wear their ease with pride. All come larded with Greenspan's insights into French culture, cooking and entertaining.
"The Essential New York Times Cookbook," by Amanda Hesser; Norton; 932 pages; $40
Six years in the making, Hesser's book collects the best recipes published in America's most influential newspaper food section since the 1850s. The result is a mammoth tome -- the author notes that it makes a fine weight for pressing terrines -- that's much more than an update of the 1961 Craig Claiborne classic.
Its 1,400 recipes allow readers to follow the evolution of American food, from 1877's tomato soup to 2008's Arctic Char with Ancho-Shallot Butter.
Better yet, as the best of the Gray Lady's food pages, its recipes have been made so many times by readers, testers and the authors that they're really the authoritative creme-de-la-creme. So to speak.
"Foodista Best of Food Blogs Cookbook," edited by Sheri L. Wetherell, Barnaby Dorfman and Colin M. Saunders; Andrews McMeel; 204 pages; $20
Food blogs have been an excellent source of recipes and inspiration for many home cooks, in cities and isolated farm towns alike.
Readers can stumble across new favorites through serendipity, or pick up a book like this. It introduces 100 food blogs and their authors, with a recipe to try. Some of the photos could be sharper, but that's more than made up for by the authentic voices of cooks eager to share their best.
"Good Eats: The Middle Years," by Alton Brown; Stewart, Tabori & Chang; 432 pages; $37.50
The crown prince of the Food Network offers a guide to his second 80 episodes, from "Use Your Noodle III: Fresh Pasta" to "Pantry Raid VI: Lentils."
As usual with Brown's groundbreaking show, the recipes and cooking dissertations are far more engaging than the titles. A great book to have on the coffee table while you watch the included DVD of 15 "short subjects" included as bait to die-hard fans.