NEW YORK – Most cookbooks earn their keep in the kitchen. But there’s a wh ole category of books that dwell lovingly on the subject of food, ingredients or cooking, and that seem more appropriately savored first of all as gratifying armchair reading. That doesn’t mean they can’t also have a recipe content that may later lead the reader into the kitchen.
Both kinds may be what you buy as a present for someone else before indulging yourself. “Gift books” tend to be larger, or more expensive, usually handsomely illustrated, or charmingly decorative.
Among many candidates for gift lists published this year are the following:
“The Compleat Squash: A Passionate Grower’s Guide to Pumpkins, Squashes, and Gourds” (Artisan, $40) by Amy Goldman. Goldman, author of “Melons for the Passionate Grower,” writes as gardener, cook and advocate of preserving the world’s heritage of fruits and vegetables. The science of the squash she describes is balanced by a variety of mouthwatering recipes. The book becomes a work of art through photographs by Victor Schrager that persuade the reader that squash are as beautiful to look at as they may eventually taste.
“Bordeaux Chateaux: A History of the Grands Crus Classes 1855-2005” (Flammarion, $60) is a luxurious wine book whose text is an accessory to a pictorial tour of the French country estates and mansions of the Bordeaux wine region. Large-format double-page spreads alternate with smaller details in the color photographs by Christian Samarron that, yes, do include vineyards and wine, bottles and glasses, but focus mostly on the chateaus at the center of wine production. There’s a foreword by Hugh Johnson to the work of a team of writers: Jean-Paul Kauffmann, Dewey Markham, Cornelis van Leeuwen and Franck Ferrand.
As a related bonus gift for the serious connoisseur, note: “The Wines of Bordeaux: Vintages and Tasting Notes 1952-2003” (University of California Press, $60) by Clive Coates, a detailed reference book, as opposed to picture book.
A trio of famous professional chefs have produced books lavished with fine photography as well as recipes for those who aspire to attempt some of the masters’ dishes.
“Bouchon” (Artisan, $50) by Thomas Keller. This is a weighty, detailed account, by the owner of Napa Valley’s renowned French Laundry, of his other restaurant, Bouchon, located next door, and of its bistro style of cuisine. Photographs by Deborah Jones in color and black and white set the scene and bring the food, it can seem, just a bite away. Definitely one for the armchair.
“Patrick O’Connell’s Refined American Cuisine” (Bulfinch, $45) is based on O’Connell’s work at the highly rated restaurant, The Inn at Little Washington, Va., of which he is chef and co-owner. The book’s title aptly categorizes the stylish but down-home American-based cooking on which the recipes are based, while the photographs by Tim Turner show not only the food but also some of the inn and countryside.
“Frank Stitt’s Southern Table” (Artisan, $40) by Frank Stitt. This is sophisticated Southern, another large-format tome: The book’s subtitle is “Recipes and Gracious Traditions from Highlands Bar and Grill,” in Birmingham, Ala., of which Stitt is chef-owner. Photographer Christopher Hirsheimer makes the food look more than good enough to eat and includes some scenic context.
“Geronimo: Fine Dining in Santa Fe” (Ten Speed Press, $50) is by Cliff Skoglund and Eric DiStefano. Skoglund is owner and DiStefano is head chef of Geronimo, a popular restaurant in a historic hacienda building popular for its “new American” cooking combined with cosmopolitan fusion elements. Photographer Peter Vitale gives the food and setting handsome visibility.
“Foods of the Americas: Native Recipes and Traditions” (Ten Speed Press, $39.95) by Fernando and Marlene Divina, and the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, moves beyond the United States in its scope. Written by a chef and his wife, it features modern recipes and background essays on the North, Central and South American cultures in which they originate. Color photos by Maren Caruso alternate with period and archival photos of people and artifacts.
“Bringing Tuscany Home: Sensuous Style From the Heart of Italy” (Broadway, $29.95) by Frances Mayes, with Edward Mayes, elaborates on the details of the Mayes’ life in Italy to inspire admirers of it to adopt some of that detail into their own lives, wherever they live. This includes house and garden as well as kitchen and food. There are plenty of glowing color photos by Steven Rothfeld to back the text.
“A Celebration of Herbs: Recipes From the Huntington Herb Garden” (Huntington Library Press, 2004, $29.95) is based on the lectures of Shirley Kerins, former curator of the Huntington Herb Garden, in Pasadena, Calif. More than 200 recipes are featured, most using fresh herbs; herb chart and sources are included. Instead of photos, the elegantly designed book is illustrated with some 20 fine reproductions of historical botanical color plates, as well as numerous line drawings.
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