Confession: though a professed foodie, I am by no means a competent chef.

Well, that may be a bit harsh (I have been honing my knife skills lately, I suppose) but it’s not too far off from the truth.  In reality, the RG is is the one who cooks–I am the humble taster/barmaid/sommelier in our little household.  I’m also often responsible for picking either some of the weekday dishes or the the more elaborate weekend meals, and therefore I’ll turn to one of the many titles in our small culinary library:

(Yes, we really have over twenty titles.  The bottom shelf and half of the middle shelf are devoted to my old New Yorkers)

So while my confidence with a saute pan is minimal to non-existent, my education in food has come from reading recipes and tasting a wide variety of dishes, most of them coming (in some form) from these books.  From what I’ve seen and heard from other brides, cookbooks tend to be popular gifts to both give and receive, but with the thousands of titles in your typical Borders or Barnes & Noble, and tens of thousands more on Amazon.com, how can one even start figuring out which make the best gifts?

  • The Silver Spoon:  perhaps the most comprehensive Italian cookbook in the world–originally only available in Italian, it was recently translated into English (which means that some recipies don’t quite make sense on the first read), it captures recipes from all over the country and organizes them by primary ingredient.  A must-have book due to its coverage of every culinary basic, from stock to sauce, along with having some crazy recipes (now the next time you see oxtail in the store, you can actually make something with it!), it’s a gift that most definitely keeps on giving.
  • Molto Italiano, by Mario Batali (Ed.–This is a correction to the original title):  this is only one of Mario Batali’s many cookbooks, but it’s very much a “Silver Spoon”-lite (only in pages, mind you).  It too is organized in a similar fashion, and because Batali specializes in cooking food that is natural to each region of Italy, recipes focus on what’s available there.  A must for any Batali fan or any Italian cooking enthusiast, for that matter.
  • The Les Halles Cookbook, by Anthony Bourdain:  long before Bourdain was traveling around the world on both the Food Network’s and the Travel Channel’s dime, he was the head chef at Les Halles in New York City (and apparently, the downtown location is one of his preferred haunts whenever he is in town).  Due to having a very reasonable prix-fixe house special (steak, steak frites and a mescalun salad), this is one of the few celebrity restaurants I’ve visited.  If you’re at all familiar with Bourdain, you know that he swears, smokes (at least he did) and drinks quite a bit, and this book reflects, to a degree, all three of those.  Not for the faint of heart, it is an excellent tutorial into the world of authentic French bistro cooking.
  • Everyday Italian, Giada’s Family Dinners and Everyday Pasta by Giada DeLaurentiis:  due to the RG’s surprising crush on Ms. DeLaurentiis (shocking, I know) we have all three of her cookbooks (in fact, two are autographed).  Maybe she’s a bit overexposed now, but you know what?  Her first book boasts a glowing forward by Mario Batali (who all but says “I really don’t like any of the other chefs on the Food Network” in it) and she’s one of the few FN stars who escapes the ire of Tony Bourdain because, simply put, the lady can cook.  She loves making lighter but satisfying versions of some of her family’s favorite recipes, and all three of these books have been a go-to resource for us time and time again.
  • The Food You Want to Eat, Ted Allen:  I have a major crush on Mr. Allen, both as a judge on Iron Chef America and on Top Chef.  He’s one of the most articulate, intelligent food writers out there (though my favorite is Jeffery Steingarten) and his cookbook is chock full of the food that yes, you reallywant to eat.  Though you may be skeptical at first, he will show you that the best burger in the world is a lambburger–and he’s absolutely correct.
  • I’m Just Here for the Food:  Food+Heat=Cooking, Alton Brown:  Another culinary crush (I’d also lump Tony in there as well) Alton Brown presents more than mere recipes in this book (in fact, most of them are fairly traditional)–he presents the how-to.  If you’ve ever seen an episode of Good Eats, you’ll know that he’s all about blending the science of food with the method of cooking it so you understand not just how to do it but why it is the way it is.  An excellent resource for anyone who ever wanted to optimize a grill, or learn a new way to cook scrambled eggs.
  • The Wiseguy Cookbook:  My Favorite Recipes from Life as a Goodfella to Cooking on the Run, by Henry Hill et al:  Easily one of the most comprehensive Italian American cookbooks out there, because if you are at all familiar with Goodfellas, you know that food is an essential part of the story (and even more so in WiseGuys, the biography it was based on).  Henry Hill takes you through a fairly condensed version of his life through recipes, from his mother’s favorites to what he made while ensconsed in jail to his ways of making it work while in the FBI’s Witness Protection Program.  A fabulous gift for anyone who is a fan of the film (especially if they, like the RG, like to constantly quote it).
  • The Spanish Country Kitchen Cookbook, Linda Tubby and Martin Brigdale:  it’s all too easy to fall in love with the glory that is Spanish cooking, and this is one of the best resources for someone looking to get started in it.  The soups in particular are delicious–the lamb meatball soup is always a unique crowd-pleaser at our dinner parties, and the garlic soup with poached egg is a great, light weeknight meal.
  • Viva la Vida:  Festive Recipes for Entertaining Latin Style, Rafael Palomino:  This title is a bit harder to find, as it’s currently out of print, but is available via Amazon.com’s Marketplace for a reasonable price.  Sr. Palomino is the executive chef of Pacifico, easily one of our favorite special-occasion restaurants in New Haven.  His focus is fish and seafood with a Latino Nuevo angle, and I can tell you that this yields in some of the most creative food you’ll ever taste.  Some of the ingredients are a bit out there, but they are generally available in your favorite mega-mart (you just may have to ask).  Another great way to impress at a dinner party and also showcase your culinary adventurousness.

Phew!  This is a long post.  But I hope this proves helpful when either looking for cookbooks to add to your registry or trying to find something helpful but unexpected for a friend’s/relative’s upcoming wedding.

What are all of your favorite cookbooks out there?

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