• Cookbooks for giving — and cooking
    December 07,2012
    James Ransom Photo

    Crispy Spice-Brined Pecans offer yet another reason to buy a cookbook. The photo and recipe are from “The Food52 Cookbook, Volume 2” by Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs.

    Lynn Neary of National Public Radio recently broadcast a story about the survival of independent bookstores. This holiday season, she said, “Cookbooks are the new black.”

    Daniel Goldin of Boswell Book Co. in Milwaukee told Neary that large, expensive, coffee-table-type cookbooks are flying off the shelves.

    “We know people aren’t particularly cooking out of those books,” Goldin says. “It’s people buy the book to have the book, to show off the book, to enjoy the book, to be enraptured by the book.”

    This makes me very happy for independent bookstore owners and authors of expensive cookbooks, but a little sad for our collective, apparently empty, kitchens.

    A cookbook can be an adventure guide, a travelogue, a how-to manual, a nostalgia-filled memoir, a romance, a thriller and, occasionally, sheer poetry, but in the end, it should lead you to the stove.

    If you maintain that cookbooks are to be cooked from, and kitchens are to be cooked in, you might consider some of these as holiday gifts:


    Like millions of others, I was smitten by Deb Perelman and her “Smitten Kitchen Cookbook” (Knopf), an outgrowth of her Smitten Kitchen blog. If a woman whose kitchen is the size of a shoebox can happily whip up Mushroom Bourguignon and Chocolate Raspberry Rugelach, so can the rest of us.

    Speaking of blogs, Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, the founders of Food52.com, an online cooking community, offer another bunch of week-by-week recipes in their second book, “The Food52 Cookbook, Volume 2” (William Morrow). Its recipe for Crispy Spice-Brined Pecans (recipe follows) would make a perfect gift or a tasty addition to a holiday party.

    “Barefoot Contessa Foolproof: Recipes You Can Trust” by Ina Garten (Clarkson Potter) is a must for all “Contessa” fans. “Gourmet Weekday” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) can hook you up with some of the magazine’s casual-chic recipes, such as Greek salad served in mason jars.

    Foreign travel

    Take an Italian adventure with “Lidia’s Favorite Recipes” by Lidia Bastianich and Tanya Bastianich Manuali (Knopf) or “La Cucina Italiana: The Encyclopedia of Italian Cooking” by the editors of La Cucina Italiana magazine (Rizzoli), with scores of how-to photographs. Drop by Paris, y’all, where Texan Ellise Pierce wrote “Cowgirl Chef: Texas Cooking With a French Accent,” with dishes like Cornbread Madeleines.

    For more exotic fare (and stunning photos), check out “Vietnamese Home Cooking” by Charles Phan (Ten Speed Press).


    “Simply Satisfying” by Jeanne Lemlin (The Experiment) lives up to its name, as does the more intriguingly titled “The New Middle Eastern Vegetarian: Modern Recipes From Veggiestan” by Sally Butcher (Interlink Books). “The Gardener & the Grill” by Karen Adler and Judith Fertig (Running Press) is one of those books from which it is impossible to pick a favorite recipe. And then there’s “Roots” by Diane Morgan (Chronicle Books). You’ll never look at a rutabaga the same way again.

    Single subject

    “I Love Corn” by Lisa Skye (Andrews McMeel) celebrates an American wonder, while “Mac & Cheese, Please!” by renowned cheese expert Laura Werlin (Andrews McMeel) leaves no variation untasted. “Garlic: The Mighty Bulb” by Natasha Edwards (Firefly Books) got me addicted to a garlic butternut squash risotto recipe and offers information on planting, growing, harvesting and keeping garlic.


    “Hero Food” by Seamus Mullen (Andrews McMeel) explores the health-giving qualities of 18 foods. “Allergy-Free and Easy Cooking” by Cybele Pascal (Ten Speed Press) will rescue any cook trying to avoid gluten, wheat, dairy, eggs, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish and/or sesame.

    Sustainable cooking

    “The Farm” by Ian Knauer (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) takes the home cook through a year on the author’s farm in Pennsylvania. “The Foothills Cuisine of Blackberry Farm” by Sam Beall (Clarkson Potter) offers a culinary tour through a luxury resort in the Smoky Mountains. Both are coffee-table books. But you can cook from them, too.

    Crispy Spice-Brined Pecans

    Yield: 2 cups

    2 teaspoons sea salt

    ½ cinnamon stick, broken into 3 or 4 pieces

    ½ teaspoon ground mace

    3 whole cloves

    2 (3-by-1-inch) strips orange peel

    1½ cups boiling water

    2 cups pecan halves

    Put salt, cinnamon, mace, cloves and orange peel in a heatproof glass or ceramic bowl. Add the boiling water. Cool to lukewarm, then stir well and add nuts. Allow nuts to soak 6 to 8 hours.

    Heat oven to 150 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment. With a slotted spoon, remove the pecans from the brining liquid and spread them on the baking sheet. Remove any whole spices and orange peel. Roast 10 to 12 hours, stirring occasionally. Enjoy! If by chance there are any left, store them in a tightly sealed container.

    Recipe contributed by Antonia James, reprinted in “The Food52 Cookbook, Volume 2” by Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs (William Morrow, 2012)

    Marialisa Calta is a syndicated food writer who lives in Calais.

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