Lots of beautiful cookbooks from Bay Area restaurants, chefs, and writers are gracing our shelves this year. But how to match the perfect gift to just the right gift-ee? We’ve paired our favorite food and wine books with those most likely to appreciate them. And remember the great benefit of giving cookbooks: anyone to whom you give one of these great books should feel compelled to cook from it for you at least once.
The Fancy Diners Who Actually Use Their Kitchen
Perhaps (lucky you!) these are your in-laws or longtime family friends, these well-heeled folks who have actually, gracefully, splattered their copy of The French Laundry Cookbook with use. Want to keep getting invited to their wonderful dinner parties? Splurge on a copy of Manresa: An Edible Reflection, by chef David Kinch. This is a big, show-stopping doorstopper of a book, with 300+ pages lavishly illustrated with gorgeous photos by Eric Wolfinger. The recipes are accompanied by Kinch’s thoughts on the hyper-seasonal, hyper-local (the restaurant has its own dedicated micro-farm) cuisine he’s been turning out since 2002 at his renowned Los Gatos restaurant.
Or are your recipients strictly city people? Instead of sending them down to the peninsula, wrap up the elegant Coi: Stories and Recipes by Daniel Patterson. Unlike most chefs, who rely on professional co-authors to shape their stories into evocative (or at least serviceable) prose, Patterson wrote his own text (and recipes), so nothing gets in the way of his strong personality and vision as he delves into the philosophies at work in his North Beach restaurant. The recipes, such as they are, are essays in themselves, densely written in small-font corona type alongside detailed origin stories by Patterson. Each recipe is scaled to precise tasting-menu size, with no corners cut for sous-chef-deprived home cooks; just making the restaurant’s cultured butter takes more than a dozen steps and the better part of a week. Still, if your friends or family like a challenge in the kitchen, it doesn’t get more sensual-cerebral than this.
The Cheese Heads
Cowgirl Creamery Cooks by Sue Conley and Peggy Smith
Something old, something new, something goat, something blue: For those who just can’t get enough of that wonderful stuff, the top contender for dairy lovers is, of course, Cowgirl Creamery Cooks. Owners Peggy Smith and Sue Conley tell their inspiring story of how a couple of Berkeley chefs (Smith at Chez Panisse, Conley at Bette’s Oceanview Diner) ended up as the doyennes of Northern California cheese, making their own award-winning cheeses while spreading the good word about the culinary artisans and dairy farmers of West Marin and beyond. It includes a comprehensive set of recipes, many inspired by the menu at Sidekick, their Ferry Building prepared-foods counter, covering everything from egg creams and frosty flavored milks to cheese plates, cheese pairings and condiments, salads, sandwiches, and all manner of gooey, cheesy delights like crunchy Fricos (recipe below), Smokey Blue and Bacon Souffle, and Three-Cheese Lasagna with Mushrooms and Spinach. (For more on the book, check out Brie Mazurek’s CUESA interview with Sue Conley.)
The Pinterest-ing Cook
One Good Dish by David Tanis
Your niece is just out of college and IKEA-furnishing her first apartment. She loves to Instagram, she loves to pin, and she wants her food to look just as good as it tastes, but she’s still figuring out her way around the kitchen. Any of Ina Gartner’s easy, reliable books might feed her and her friends well, but for the hip young things among us, Ina is the mom jeans of cookbook authors. Show her you’re still the cool aunt or uncle with One Good Dish by David Tanis. Here are appealingly simple recipes with plenty of casual style but no fuss, showing there’s no need to spend a whole paycheck just to get a shareable dinner on the table.
The Bake Sale Baker
The Model Bakery Cookbook: 75 Favorite Recipes from the Beloved Napa Valley Bakery by Karen Mitchell and Sarah Mitchell Hansen with Rick Rodgers
For longtime fans of Napa’s Model Bakery, the recipe for their signature English muffins–so fat! so fluffy!–alone would be worth the price. But this bright, cheery baking book includes recipes for 74 more all-American favorites, starting the day off right with Cranberry-Buttermilk Scones, carroty-coconutty Morning Glory Muffins, cinnamon-sugar Morning Buns, and almond-crunchy Bear Claws, then moving on to Red Velvet Cupcakes, Carmelita Bars, triple-decker Chocolate Mousse Cake, Peach Streusel Pie, and more. (Lots of useful holiday recipes, too, from Festive Sugar Cookies, Gingerbread Cookies, Gingerbread Houses, and a chocolate-and-coffee Buche de Noel.) Prolific cookbook author Rick Rodgers provides easy-to-follow, well-tested translations of the bakery’s recipes for home cooks, while mother-daughter owners Karen Mitchell and Sarah Mitchell Hansen describe how they turned this historic bakery into a much-loved destination for locals and visitors alike.
The Chocolate Chemist
62 percent. 70 percent. 82 percent. Now that nearly all high-end (and plenty of supermarket) brands of eating and baking chocolate are labeled with their percentage of cocoa solids, home bakers can increasingly bake with the precision of professional pastry chefs. Alice Medrich, the Bay Area’s longtime queen of chocolate, has thoroughly revised and updated her 2003 classic Bittersweet: Recipes and Tales from a Life in Chocolate to reflect the changes in today’s chocolate. Explaining how the chemistry of different chocolate percentages can affect finished recipes, Medrich takes the guesswork out of chocolate dessert-making and ensures top-quality results every time. Plus, she doesn’t subscribe to darker-is-better snobbery; instead, you’ll find plenty of recipes working with good quality milk and even white chocolate here.
The Grain Brain
Tartine Book No. 3 by Chad Robertson
Do you even have to ask? For the bread baking geek in your life, this holiday season is just a countdown to the publishing date of Tartine Book No. 3, Chad Robertson’s follow-up to his exquisitely detailed, method-driven Tartine Bread. Like so many of his chef compatriots, Robertson has moved beyond French culinary influences, heading north to discover the dark, cold-weather grains and baking traditions in Germany and Scandinavia. Subtitled Modern Ancient Classic Whole, this book goes funky and deep with recipes for dense loaves based not just on whole grain flours but on sprouted whole grains and seeds as well as cooked-grain porridges. Next year’s must-have party snack? Robertson’s stunning homemade crispbreads, whose doughs are flavored with whole herbs and spices then thinned through a pasta machine to great stained-glass effect.
While this isn’t a gluten-free book (Robertson uses plenty of rye and barley), it does cover a lot of interesting grains, including emmer, kamut, einkorn, and spelt (all precursors to modern wheat strains) to inspire those looking to bake with options beyond standard supermarket flours. The book isn’t limited to breads and crackers, either; there are a number of surprising, inventive sweets, including Salted Chocolate-Rye Cookies, Barley-Walnut-Fig Cookies, Bohemian Apple Layer Cake, Lemon-Poppy Seed Kefir Pound Cake, and even whole-grain versions of classic French pastries like palmiers, pithiviers, sables, and eclairs.
The DIY Carnivore
In The Charcuterie: The Fatted Calf’s Guide to Making Sausage, Salumi, Pates, Roasts, Confits, and Other Meaty Goods by Taylor Boetticher and Toponia Miller
Happily, sourcing locally pastured, humanely raised meats isn’t difficult in the Bay Area anymore. Now, your kitchen table bragging rights come from what you can do with these well-bred meats. Husband and wife team Taylor Boetticher and Toponia Miller of the Fatted Calf share their secrets for (safely) making delicious charcuterie at home, along with a delectable number of dolled-up, rolled-up, flavored-up roasted, grilled, and braised meat dishes. Salt, spices, care, pork fat, and time will get you through most of the recipes in this book. (For more on the book, check out Kate Williams’ Bay Area Bites interview with Boetticher and Miller.)
The Wine Locavore
San Francisco Chronicle wine writer Jon Bonne explores the new world of California winemaking, talking to a current crop of winemakers who are more interested in making balanced, restrained, and food-friendly wines than high-alcohol, big-fruit Cabs and Chards that made California a player on the international wine scene in past years. Using offbeat varietals and, often, more natural techniques, these growers and winemakers are opening up California wines to a new generation, and Bonne is a staunch advocate with a clear, well-informed style that’s accessible to both interested drinkers and dedicated collectors. (For more on the book, check out Rachael Myrow’s interview with Jon Bonne.)
Recipe: Cheese Fricos
Excerpted from Cowgirl Creamery Cooks by Sue Conley and Peggy Smith (Chronicle Books). Copyright © 2013.
Traditional fricos are thin, crisp disks formed from small mounds of grated Parmesan, but you can make fricos from most hard-aged grating cheeses. Some folks like to add flour or spices to fricos, but we don’t. We think the best fricos are made simply of cheese and used as a crispy finish to a salad or a bowl of polenta. It’s easiest to make fricos in your oven using parchment paper or a silicone baking sheet as the liner for a metal baking sheet.
Makes 16 fricos
4 ounces (115 gms) Parmesan cheese, grated (or any hard grating cheese)
- Preheat the oven to 375°F.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking sheet. Use a tablespoon to measure a spoonful of the grated cheese. With your fingers, shape the cheese into mounds, arranged about 4 in/10 cm apart.
- Bake just until the fricos begin to color, turning golden brown, 2 to 4 minutes. It’s easy to burn them, so as soon as you notice them darken and smell their fragrance, take them out of the oven. Let them cool on the baking sheet for 3 minutes and then use a metal spatula to transfer the fricos to a wire rack to cool completely.
- If you like, you can make these up to 2 days ahead. Store them in an airtight container in a cool, dark spot with wax paper between them so they don’t stick together.
Recipe: Warm Mocha Tart
Excerpted from Seriously Bitter Sweet by Alice Medrich (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2013.
Two weeks of nonstop shortbread testing produced an unorthodox surprise: perfect shortbread made with melted butter. That shortbread became an exquisitely crunchy and flavorful base for lemon bars, a crust for cheesecake, and, ultimately, my favorite sweet tart crust. I even bake brownie batter on top of it. This remarkable crust barely shrinks in the pan, so there is no need to weight or even prick it before baking. To ensure that the bottom remains crunchy, bake the crust fully, to a deep golden brown, before pouring in the filling.
At the same time I was playing with the new tart crust, I was experimenting with different cocoas, tasting and comparing natural and Dutch-process in all kinds of recipes. Voilà, rich warm cocoa custard in the simplest crust.
Makes 1 tart, serves 8 to 10
9 1/2-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom
For the Crust
- 7 tablespoons (100 grams) unsalted butter, melted
- 1/4 cup (50 grams) sugar
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 cup (130 grams) all-purpose flour
For the Filling
- 3 tablespoons (45 grams) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
- 1/2 cup (100 grams) sugar
- 1/4 cup (25 grams) premium unsweetened cocoa powder (natural or Dutch-process) (see Chocolate Note)
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 1/4 teaspoons instant espresso powder (such as Medaglia d’Oro), or 1½ teaspoons instant coffee powder or crystals
- 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
- Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F.
- To make the tart crust: Mix the butter, sugar, salt, and vanilla in a medium bowl. Add the flour and mix just until well blended. Don’t worry if the dough seems too soft. Press all of the dough very thinly and evenly into the bottom and up the sides of the tart pan.
- Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the crust is a deep golden brown.
- Meanwhile, make the filling: Place the butter, sugar, cocoa powder, and cream in a medium saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring, until the mixture is blended and smooth and begins to simmer around the edges. Remove from the heat and stir in the espresso powder and vanilla.
- Just before the crust is ready, whisk the egg thoroughly into the hot chocolate mixture.
- Pour the filling into the hot crust and turn off the oven. Leave the tart in the oven until it quivers like tender Jell-O in the center when the pan is nudged, 10 to 12 minutes. Cool on a rack.
- Serve the tart warm or at room temperature.
Espresso Walnut Tart: The same tart in a walnut cookie crust produces a subtler but still delicious effect. You could also make it with toasted skinned hazelnuts—then I would omit the espresso powder.
Reduce the butter to 6 tablespoons (85 grams) and add 2 teaspoons brandy and 1 teaspoon instant espresso powder (or a heaping teaspoon instant coffee powder or crystals) with the sugar, salt, and vanilla. In a food processor, pulverize 1/3 cup (35 grams) walnut pieces with 3/4 cup (105 grams) flour until fine. Substitute this mixture for the flour. Proceed as directed.
Either natural or Dutch-process cocoa works well here. The former has a livelier, more complex, fruity flavor, while the latter has a cozy old-fashioned flavor reminiscent of chocolate pudding. You choose.