Gifts for Foodies: My Top Ten Book Picks of 2000

by Cheri Sicard

As the editor of FabulousFoods.com, countless food, wine and cookbooks come across my desk each year (six arrived in today's mail alone). Most have merit, some make you wonder what the publishers were drinking when they decided to print them, and a few are outstanding.

As always, it was tough to narrow down the field to just ten. I tried to choose a variety of topics, as well as an overall list that would have something for cooks at every end of the spectrum. With the exception of choice number 1 (my favorite book of 2000) they are in no particular order. Perhaps some of these books would be the perfect gift for the foodies in your life.

1. Great Wine Made Simple: Straight Talk from a Master Sommelier, by Andrea Immer. 
My number one book pick of 2000 isn't technically a food book, but it is the most outstanding tome to cross my desk this year. If you want to learn about wine, this is by far the best guide. That's because Andrea Immer doesn't teach wine by the book, she teaches the only way you can truly learn about it, by tasting. Throughout the book are affordable, pace-yourself "tasting lessons" that make it fun and easy to learn and remember wine styles and vocabulary that can then be used in every buying and drinking situation. Immer makes learning about wine easy and fun. The tasting lessons are excellent group or couples activities for friends interested in learning about wine.

2. How to Cook Without a Book: Recipes & Techniques Every Cook Should Know by Heart, by Pam Anderson
It may seem ironic to own a book titled How to Cook Without a Book, but it makes good sense. This is, bar none, the best basic how-to cookbook that I've ever come across. How many times have you stood in front of a full refrigerator, the daunting task of preparing dinner at the end of a busy day still before you? How many times, despite the variety of ingredients in that refrigerator, have you said to yourself, "there's nothing to eat?" How many times have you given in and gone out for fast food instead of preparing something nutritious? The main objective of this book is to help readers put satisfying, healthy weeknight dinners on the table in rocket time with as little mess and clean up as possible. There are no wasted movements, as the author takes you literally, step-by-step through each process. Once the basic techniques are mastered, it can take as little as minutes to prepare an entire meal. This book is an excellent addition to everyone's cooking library, regardless of experience or age. In fact, I would go so far as to say, schools should consider making How to Cook Without a Book required reading for all graduating high school or college students. Whatever other skills these students may lack, they would always eat well.

3. Simple to Spectacular: How to Take One Basic Recipe to Four Levels of Sophistication by Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Mark Bittman 
Finally, a book that is as varied and multi-faceted as the people who read it. What a fabulous concept! Kudos to authors Vongerichten and Bittman for coming up with a unique and practical idea for a cookbook, something difficult to do in this year's glutted market. Food columnist and author (The Minimalist Cooks at Home) Mark Bittman's collaboration with four-star chef Vongerichten takes the principle of a simple foundation recipe that can be expounded upon to new lofty new heights. Here is a cookbook you can grow with. Building upon fundamentals of such staples as scrambled eggs, steamed rice or sautéed chicken, readers will gain valuable insight into cooking techniques along the way. Simple To Spectacular removes the intimidation factor for those with little kitchen experience and offers a range of increasingly challenging dishes for those who are ready. The book truly serves cooks at every level of the culinary spectrum, from absolute beginners to sophisticated chefs. Illustrated throughout with gorgeous photography, I simply can't recommend this book highly enough.

4. The Farmer's Market Cookbook: Seasonal Dishes from Nature's Freshest Ingredients, by Richard Ruben
Most foodies are also farmer's market aficionados, and with over 3500 farmer's markets in America with more opening every day, there's a big need for this book. Master chef Richard Ruben helps readers choose and prepare produce for every season, as well as offer tips for shopping at organic markets, roadside stands and even the produce aisle of the supermarket. Of course there are also tons of creative produce recipes as well as instructions for putting up oils and vinegars.

5. Food: A Culinary History, English Edition, by Albert Sonnenfeld, edited by Jean-Louis Flandrin and Massimo Montanari 
If we are what we eat, this book can teach us a lot about ourselves, as the history of food from prehistoric time to the present, in cultures as diverse as Mesopotamia to America, is examined in detail. Thorough and entertaining, the world's leading culinary history authorities answer such tantalizing questions as the real origin of pasta, at what point in history did people start serving meals at regular hours and the secret ingredient in the original recipe for chocolate (it wasn't sugar). For anyone interested in the origins and cultural dimensions of cuisine, this book will teach you everything from the dietary rules of ancient Hebrews to the "McDonaldization" of today's fast food culture.

6. The Asian Grocery Store Demystified, The Indian Grocery Store Demystified, by Linda Bladholm
Two books in the same series occupy spot number 6. These guides open up a world of new and exotic ingredients to adventurous cooks. Author Linda Bladholm has done extensive research, living abroad in Asia and traveling in India, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, Japan, Hong Kong, China, Korea, Laos and Vietnam, to write these invaluable guides. She gives a detailed tour of nearly every spice, ingredient, mix and dish you're likely to encounter in Indian or Asian grocery store. The books can even save adventurous cooks money as ethnic grocery stores typically carry ingredients that normal or specialty markets consider exotic and as such, usually offer them at much lower prices. This is especially true of spices, where an Indian Grocery store can be a frugal shopper's best friend.
7. 3 Bowls: Vegetarian Recipes from an American Zen Buddhist Monastery by Seppo Ed Farrey with Myochi Nancy O'Hara 
Each year Seppo Ed Farrey, in his role as head chef at Dai Bosatsu Zendo, a Zen Buddhist Monastery in upstate New York, feeds thousands of hungry visitors. In this beautiful book, he shares his favorite recipes, along with personal notes on cooking in this unique setting. The book has a warm tone with the author's sharing bits of wisdom and philosophy along with the truly creative vegetarian cuisine. There is nothing sparse about these recipes. Despite the fact they are being served in a monastery, they would be equally at home on the plates of today's trendiest restaurants.

8. Food for Friends: Homemade Gifts for Every Season by Sally Pasley Vargas
If birthdays, wedding, showers or the holidays always leave you scrambling to find the perfect gift, this book can save you a lot of time and aggravation, not to mention money. The author has gathered an eclectic collection of gift worthy recipes that you can create write in the comfort of your own kitchen. Homemade gifts are a wonderful "one size fits all" present that just everyone treasures. What else is more personal than something you made yourself with love? Despite the varied tastes of the important people in your life, you re sure to find recipes to please here. There are chapters on breakfast foods, jams and marmalades, preserved fruits, homemade liqueurs, condiments, salsas, cakes, confections and gifts for the host. Also included are packaging and wrapping tips. What I especially liked is that while beautiful, most of these ideas were easily and inexpensively accomplished. While I love making homemade gifts, I don't have hours to spend making fussy little packages, and chances are, neither do you. The book has clear, simple and concise instructions and is liberally illustrated with gorgeous full-color photos to inspire you to create personal homemade gifts, for the holidays or all-year long.

9. My Kitchen Wars, A Memoir, by Betty Fussell 
We all have different backdrops against which we measure our lives, depending on the things we value or those that are most familiar. In an era when women of her generation strived to define themselves away from the home, Betty Fussell imparts the important events and nuances of her life from the perspective of the kitchen. This is just one more brave element in an already heroic memoir, filled with brutal honesty and deep soul-searching. Well known as one America's finest writers and food historians, the kitchens in Betty's lives bear little resemblance to the cozy Betty Crocker/June Cleaver havens that we were all led to believe made up the center of every 50s home. These kitchens are battlefields, as the author struggles for identity and independence at the various stages of her life. They are also schools of learning, not just the fine points of cooking, but the important lessons of life. Following the author through the tyrannical Puritanism of her family upbringing to the constrained roles of faculty wife and mother, the memoir reads like a novel. Fussell allows us an almost voyeuristic view into the thoughts, frustrations, hopes and dreams of a remarkable woman gaining strength and coming into her own, on her own terms. An outstanding writer and storyteller, the book will take you on an emotional rollercoaster. You'll laugh, you'll cry and above all else, you'll have hope that you too can win your own wars, be they in the kitchen or wherever your battlefields may be.

10. The Olives Dessert Table: Spectacular Restaurant Desserts You Can Make at Home, by Todd English, Paige Retus and Sally Sampson
Celebrity chef Todd English, owner of the widely acclaimed Olives restaurant has teamed with Olives pastry chef Paige Retus and cookbook author Sally Sampson to produce a glorious book filled with mouth-watering, restaurant quality dessert recipes. This spectacular fare, intricate and fussy, yet broken down into manageable bit so home cooks can achieve legendary results in their own kitchens. Illustrating Todd English's signature style of "the familiar made finer," the recipes enhance classic favorites with glorious new flavors, transforming simple fare into extravagant, restaurant worthy desserts. Each of the 43 dessert recipes is composed of building blocks that can be prepared ahead of time, or even enjoyed on their own. This book is an excellent dessert companion to Simple to Spectacular (#3 on this list).
Cheri Sicard is the editor of FabulousFoods.com, a content-rich cooking site where you'll find recipes, cooking tutorials, celebrity chef interviews, holiday and entertaining idea, newsletters and much more.
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