I love to give food-related gifts for the holidays. And since Black Friday is soon upon us, this seems to be the appropriate time to write about gift-giving. Whether it's a package of cookies, a new cookbook or loaves of bread, sometimes even kitchen supplies - it's nice to have a 'signature' theme every year. One year I even gave away jars of granola.
And I've always loved viewing mason jars of layered cookie baking mixes in stores. But you don't need to buy them. These jars would be super easy to replicate at home with your own dry ingredients. All you need to do is write out the recipe on an index card and include the amount needed for the remaining ingredients (example: how many eggs, milk, etc.) Above is a photograph of challah, which I made for one of my private chef families. The bread came from a cherished family recipe a friend let me 'borrow' to great success! Tightly wrapped loaves of this type of bread (similar egg bread, brioche) would be a fantastic gift.
I always give my in-laws loaves of stollen, the German Christmas bread. It's similar to a traditional fruit bread, but much more alcoholic. I wrote about the bread back in 2009 (!) and still make it annually. I love the gingery sugar on top and the density. I usually follow David Leibovitz's recipe, which is a blend of both Melissa Clark and Hans Rockenwagner's original recipes. However, I like to double the recipe to make 4 large loaves and I skip the rye flour, instead using more all-purpose flour. It's not easy and takes a couple of days, or at least 2 long days, but it's fun and engaging.
There are so many wonderful cookbooks in circulation that it's difficult to recommend only a few. But if you're looking for suggestions, below are my top 5 for this year.
1) Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty. Ottolenghi is a Israeli-born British chef and the owner of several restaurants. He is famous for his vegetarian cuisine. The photographs are stunning and the recipes are fantastic. A couple I have earmarked: soba noodles with eggplant and mango; saffron tagliatelle with spiced butter; goat cheese souffles with vanilla-poached pears.
2) Sara Foster's Southern Kitchen. Those from the South may know of Sara via Foster's Markets. Her cookbook was essential when I catered the "Gone with the Wind" themed birthday party. The blackberry and peach cobbler is out of this world and her biscuits beyond easy to make.
3) I fully admit that I'm biased. But the Clinton St. Baking Company Cookbook is a must-have. The soups are excellent, desserts inspired and breakfast food unparalleled. I promise you won't regret this purchase. NYTimes ranked it on their top 10 cookbook list for 2010 - and this cookbook has staying power.
4) One book I always turn to is the Stonewall Kitchen Favorites. I purchased it for sentimental reasons, but I go back to it again and again. The recipes are simple and uncomplicated and all are crowd-pleasers. My all-time favorite dessert comes from this cookbook: (meyer) lemon cake with lemon-vanilla glaze. An intriguing marinade recipe for steak fajitas, which is requested time and time again, also comes from this cookbook.
5) Of course, I could cite all of the Barefoot Contessa cookbooks, but you must know this anyway. I swear by the Cooks Illustrated periodicals that arrive every two months. A subscription would make an excellent gift for a foodie - however, make sure you slyly check that they don't already receive this. On my gift list (for myself!) is CI's The New Best Recipe cookbook. Several friends have recommended it to me over the years and I think it would make an excellent reference book.
So there you have it! Any subscriptions or cookbooks you would recommend as gifts for this year?