Christmas is coming my friends– whether we are ready or not. (We’re not). And it’s time to start leaning towards the gifts that add value to the lives of our loved ones and away from the things that feel like a burden (and like one more odd item to try and figure out how to use and store). In our little household, we’ve really started to downsize what holiday gift giving looks like. As we’ve settled into our home over the past couple years and happily filled it with the kinds of objects that bring us joy, material presents have begun to wane.
So instead of a dozen small gifts, we’ll get one or two larger, long-dreamed-of items for one another. We’ll hand select local food products that are lovely but a bit too indulgent for every day life. Some years we’ll ignore physical objects altogether opting instead for tickets to exciting events and gift certificates to favorite restaurants.
And more often than not, we’ll give books: books on travel, books on farming, books on amazing, powerful women, and cookbooks to inspire the next year in the kitchen. Even though I’m increasingly becoming someone more minimalist, books are always welcome. We’ve got over-stacked shelves and piles of books in most rooms of our home and it’s the kind of excess I totally welcome.
So without delay, here are some of my favorite cookbooks, all of which would make a lovely holiday gift for someone you hold dear. Some are new, some are not. Some are simple, some are not. All have been well-loved and treasured in our kitchen.
This was, without question, my favorite cookbook purchase of 2018. It came out just over a year ago but hasn’t really made it to the Midwest yet for some reason. The author develops recipes for the New York Times which is how I eventually discovered it many months after publishing. With 125 recipes that are all “effortlessly chic,” it’s the perfect cookbook to design an impressive dinner party around. My favorite section (which likely comes as a surprise to no one) is the vegetable one but the whole book is absolutely lovely. Every single recipe is super simple, but also wildly creative, and extremely scale-able (aka you can scale them up for many people), and the cocktails artfully styled into many of the photos will make want to be a way more fun host.
My friend Nate chose this for his cookbook when he hosted our bimonthly cookbook potluck club at his house in April. I couldn’t believe I had never heard of it. I had just eaten at Joshua McFadden’s new restaurant Ava Gene’s when I was in Portland in January and had long been following the chef on Instagram! I bought the book as soon as I got home and it became my guide as I developed recipes for our farm newsletters all summer. I love a cookbook organized by seasons and then by vegetables because that is essentially how my life and kitchen are organized. It is the perfect gift for anyone in your life who gets a CSA share from a local farm and dares to get a little adventurous with vegetables.
This is the only book on my list that I haven’t actually cooked from yet, but I’m including it anyways because my dear friend Sarah has me totally obsessed. She bought it about six months ago and had me totally mesmerized with all the impressive cakes, pies, cookies and candies she’s been making. The book starts with classics in each of these four categories and then moves onto riffs on all the classic American convenience store treats. If you ever wanted to make Nutter Butters, ‘Nilla Wafers, Twinkies (original or Dulce de Leche), Milky Ways or Rainbow Sprinkles from scratch, well then here is your guide!
I have loved Ottolenghi since the moment I heard him on a podcast many, many years ago. He waxed poetic on his love of vegetables and how he always used herbs as a salad green. I immediately ran out and bought Ottolenghi, Jeruselum, Plenty and Plenty More. These cookbooks were favorites in my early farming arsenal welcoming me to brand new ingredients and techniques. I treasured them, but it didn’t take long for me to get tired of many of the recipes that were amazing but far too complicated for everyday everyday cooking. When this cookbook came out I jumped for joy. It’s the same old Ottolenghi but made so much, well, simpler.
I never really thought the Chrissy Teigan cookbooks would be for me until a certain CSA member started sharing recipes on our private CSA Facebook group. Every single one looked incredibly delicious, exactly like the comforting meals I wanted to be cooking with my Carrot on the weekends. Then I heard Chrissy talk in an interview about how writing this second cookbook helped her get through the postpartum depression of her second child. Simple, craving-worthy recipes developed by a woman who’s candidly honest; I ran out and bought it immediately. The book is a combination of everyone’s favorite comfort foods (think biscuits, pancakes, pulled BBQ chicken, potatoes au gratin) and everyone’s favorite drunk food (think cool ranch taco salad, crispy buffalo smashed potatoes, and kung pao broccoli) with a whole bunch of class and great taste tossed in. I especially love the Thai section aptly named “Thai Mom” that pays serious homage to Chrissy’s roots.
In spring, summer and fall I am ALL about the seasonal cooking and focusing on the bounty right here in my home state of Wisconsin (because there is MUCH bounty to celebrate). But in winter, I adore making my kitchen about something or somewhere else entirely. Most winters I choose one or two tomes from somewhere I’ve been to or would love to go and just immerse myself in the culture. Lovely books like this are perfect for the adventurous home cook and world traveler.
Balancing busy weeknights and meal time can be a real feat in most households. I tend towards batch cooking on weekends to make my week a little less crazy, but even that isn’t easy. It’s hard to find three hours to carve out on Sunday to cook and when that doesn’t happen my whole week of food feels off. Enter Milk Street: Tuesday Nights. This book is geared towards weeknight cooking focused on “quick” meals that take a little less effort without losing any of the amazing flavor. I would argue these are still a bit fussy when it comes to the efficiency most busy folks are desiring but the recipes are vast, interesting, and chef-inspired. So if you have a friend who enjoys cooking, traveling the world with their food, and is in need of a little bit simpler way of preparing world-class fare, then this book is for them!
If I were to attribute my love of food and cooking on any one particular person, it would have to be a tie between my mother and Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen. My mother taught me that food equates love. She also taught me how to host parties with confidence (and twice as much food as you actually need). Deb Perelman taught me how to cook. When I was young and in love, living on my own for the first time, I was determined to be a good cook. I wanted to cook for my Carrot and I wanted it to be good. Every single thing I made for my first two years in that first kitchen was a Smitten Kitchen recipe. When she published this cookbook six years ago it became my bible. Most of the foodies in your life probably already have this cookbook, but for the aspiring chefs who are just learning to cook, this is one of the best gifts there is.
I have one more gift guide to share with you late next week. It will contain a handful of items that are sure to inspire joy: a beautiful list of hand-crafted and locally-made favorite products that are small yet thoughtful and definitely won’t feel like clutter. May these guides help you start your holiday season in a way that feels light and stress-free!
It’s so important this time of year to find peace in the chaos and joy in the clutter.