5 cookbooks for holiday gift-giving

‘Dinner Made Simple’ by the editors of Real Simple magazine.
‘Dinner Made Simple’ by the editors of Real Simple magazine.

What a great year for cookbooks!

I’ve come up with a short list of new releases that would be terrific holiday gifts for the home cook, whether experienced or new in the kitchen.

My batch of recommendations is pretty diverse, and each has helped me become a better and more creative cook.

Inhaling the pleasant aromas of something on the stove or in the oven is one of the best ways I know to slow down time, and after spending a long day in front of a computer screen, chopping up beautiful, nutritious vegetables makes me feel like I’m reconnecting with the earth.

In addition to giving one of these books to a loved one or friend, why not give one of them to yourself as well?

Peace to you and yours for the holidays and all the other days of the year — and happy cooking!

No. 1: "Dinner Made Simple: 35 Everyday Ingredients, 350 Easy Recipes" by the editors of Real Simple; 352, $24.95. Published by Oxmoor House, 2016.

What's to love: Starting with common ingredients, these dinner recipes will get you through the work week. Many recipes take 20 minutes or less to make.

“Whether your favorite thing is apples or zucchini, you will find 10 recipes that celebrate the diversity of that thing.” — the editors of Real Simple

No. 2: "Cook It In Cast Iron: Kitchen-Tested Recipes for the One Pan That Does it All" by the editors at America's Test Kitchen; 304 pages, $26.95. Published by America's Test Kitchen, 2016.

What's to love: Cast iron can withstand high temperatures, which makes it ideal for searing steaks and other meats. It's also very durable and can last for generations. This collection illustrates the versatility of cooking with cast iron and covers appetizers; skillet roasts; seared meats and fish; one-dish dinners; sandwiches, burgers and pizzas; eggs and breakfast; biscuits and breads; and desserts. The introduction includes tips for using a cast-iron skillet as well as recommendations for buying one.

“The cast-iron skillet is the one pan that does it all. This super tool is definitely a star in the test kitchen and our home kitchens and with the recipes and techniques in this book, we’re convinced it will become the star of yours, too. — the editors at America’s Test Kitchen

No. 3: "Meals for Me: One Core Ingredient — Two Delicious Meals" by Sam Stern; 192 pages, $29.95. Published by Quadrille, 2016.

What's to love: Cooking for one is different, but this collection of 130 recipes makes it easy and enjoyable. Recipes are presented in pairs that use a core ingredient; so instead of leftovers on the second day, you have a brand new recipe to make.

“Solo cooks should revel in having the kitchen exclusively to themselves; in showing you how to cook for yourself, I hope to be able to inspire you to make the effort — and it’s not even a big effort!” — Sam Stern

No. 4: The New Cocktail Hour: The Essential Guide to Hand-Crafted Drinks" by Andre Darlington and Tenaya Darlington; 296 pages, $22. Published by Running Press, 2016.

What's to love: This book contains 230 vintage and modern cocktail recipes, along with suggested food pairings; suggestions for putting together a bar, hosting parties and seasonal gardening garnishes.

“The craft cocktail movement has restored the cocktail as an American rite … Our goal is to make is accessible.” — Andre Darlington and Tenaya Darlington

No. 5: "The Hungry Fan's Game Day Cookbook: 165 Recipes for Eating, Drinking, & Watching Sports" by Daina Falk; 256 pages, $22.95. Published by Oxmoor House, 2016.

What's to love: Chapters are organized into appetizers; soups, salads and flatbreads; sandwiches and burgers; barbecue and other mains; sides; desserts; drinks, and basics (homemade condiments, dips and sauces).

“This cookbook is an ode to every sport fan out there, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, age, or team preference … Happy cooking — and even happier eating!” — Daina Falk



From “Dinner Made Simple”

¼ cup buttermilk

¼ cup mayonnaise

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

4 plum tomatoes, roughly chopped

Kosher salt and black pepper

2 romaine hearts, torn into bite-size pieces

1 2- to 2 ½-pound rotisserie chicken, cut up

½ tablespoon chopped fresh chives

Whisk together the buttermilk, mayonnaise and lemon juice. Add the tomatoes, ¼ teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Divide the lettuce among the plates and top with the chicken. Spoon the dressing and tomatoes over the salad and sprinkle with the chives.


From “Cook It in Cast Iron”

3 ounces thinly sliced pepperoni, quartered

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 pound pizza dough

8 ounces cream cheese, cut into 8 pieces and softened

¾ cup pizza sauce

4 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded (1 cup)

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Cook pepperoni in 10-inch cast-iron skillet over medium heat until crisp, 5 to 7 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer pepperoni to paper towel-lined plate; set aside. Off heat, add oil and garlic to fat left in skillet and let sit until fragrant, about 1 minute; transfer to medium bowl.

Place dough on lightly floured counter, pat into rough 8-inch square, and cut into 32 pieces (½ ounce each). Working with 1 piece of dough at a time, roll into tight ball, then coat with garlic oil. Evenly space 18 balls around edge of skillet, keeping center of skillet clear. Place remaining 14 balls on top, staggering them between seams of balls underneath. Cover loosely with greased plastic wrap and let sit until slightly puffed, about 20 minutes.

Remove plastic. Transfer skillet to oven and bake until balls are just beginning to brown, about 20 minutes, rotating skillet halfway through baking. Meanwhile, whisk cream cheese and pizza sauce together in large bowl until thoroughly combined and smooth. Stir in mozzarella and three-quarters of crisped pepperoni.

Spoon cheese mixture into center of skillet, return to oven, and bake until dip is heated through and rolls are golden brown, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle with basil and remaining crisped pepperoni. Serve.


From “Meals for Me”

3½ ounces eggplant

3 cherry tomatoes

Small handful of fresh basil

3½ ounces fusilli

1½ teaspoon red wine vinegar

½ shallot, diced

1 tablespoon olive oil, plus extra for frying

Squeeze of lemon juice

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Parmesan shavings, to serve

Put a large saucepan of salted water onto boil for the fusilli.

Meanwhile, chop the eggplant into 5/8-inch cubes. Cut the tomatoes into quarters. Tear the basil. Combine the red wine vinegar, shallot and the 1 tablespoon olive oil in a bowl.

Cook the pasta according to the package directions. Coat the eggplant lightly in olive oil and fry in a frying pan over medium heat for about 5 minutes until golden and cooked through. Remove from the pan, squeeze the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper.

Drain the cooked pasta and return it to the pan. Add the eggplant, tomatoes, basil and the vinegar mixture. Combine well and check for seasoning. Plate up, top with Parmesan shavings and squeeze over a little more lemon juice, to taste.


From “Meals for Me”

7 ounces eggplant

1 tablespoon peanut oil

2 teaspoons brown miso paste

2 teaspoons rice wine

2 teaspoons rice wine vinegar

1 Boston lettuce, leaves separated

2 scallions, finely chopped

Toasted sesame oil, for dressing

Cut the eggplant into 5/8-inch wide strips. Toss it in the peanut oil. Fry it in a saucepan over medium heat for about 5 minutes or until golden brown.

Meanwhile, combine the miso paste, rice wine and rice vinegar in a bowl.

Once the eggplant is soft and well colored, remove from the heat, top with the eggplant and scallions, and finally drizzle with sesame oil.


From “The New Cocktail Hour”

2 ounces gin (Plymouth)

1 ounce orange curacao (Pierre Ferrand)

¼ ounce fresh lime juice

1 to 2 dashes Angostura bitters

Lime wedge, to garnish

Shake ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled coupe glass. To garnish, slice lime along the rind, halfway through the wedge, separating the skin from the fruit. Hang it on the rim of the glass.

Cocktail history: This is the signature drink of the Pegu Club, a famous Victorian-style gentlemen’s club in British colonial Burma (presently Myanmar). The drink became famous in the United States during Prohibition and served in underground speakeasies where libations could oftentimes be enjoyed regardless of gender, economic status or race.


From “The New Cocktail Hour”

2 ounces Scotch (Famous Grouse)

½ ounce Drambuie

Lemon twist, for garnish

Pour ingredients into a rocks glass over ice, stir and garnish with a lemon twist in the glass.

Cocktail history: This drink dates back to Manhattan’s 21 Club in the 1960s. It was a favorite of the Rat Pack (Humphrey Bogart, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop).


From “The New Cocktail Hour”

2 ounces Amaretto

1 ounce apple brandy (Laird’s Applejack or Calvados)

1 ounce fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon simple syrup or maple syrup

¾ ounce egg white

Half lemon slice and cherry, for garnish

Dry shake ingredients. Then shake with ice and strain into a rocks glass with one large cube of ice. Garnish with the lemon slice wrapped around the cherry and threaded on a cocktail pick.

Cocktail history: A centuries-old sweet Italian liquor made with apricot pits and/or almonds, amaretto wasn’t imported to the United States until the 1960s. It quickly caught on.


“The Hungry Fan’s Game Day Cookbook”

2 tablespoons molasses

½ cup balsamic vinegar

Sea salt

1 large egg, beaten

Splash of whole milk

4 chicken tenders

3 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil

1 tablespoon sesame oil

24 whole wheat mini waffles

1 small Granny Smith apple, cored and thinly sliced into 12 bite-size wedges

Brie cheese, cut into 12 bite-size wedges

Panko Mixture

1 cup panko breadcrumbs

¼ teaspoon sea salt

¼ to ½ teaspoon Lawry’s seasoned salt, to taste

1/8 teaspoon chili powder

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/8 teaspoon garlic powder

1. Combine the molasses, vinegar and a pinch of salt in a small saucepan. Stir well, and then reduce over low for about 15 minutes, whisking frequently, until you have about ¼ cup.

2. Meanwhile, combine all the ingredients for the panko mixture in a large shallow bowl, and mix well. Combine the egg and milk in another shallow bowl. Dunk each chicken tender in the egg mixture before coating them completely in the panko mixture.

3. Combine the oils in a large skillet over medium. Add the coated chicken tenders, and pan-fry them over medium to medium-high, making sure to flip them until both sides are browned and the chicken is cooked through, 6 to 8 minutes. Remove from the heat, and cut each tender into 12 chunks, roughly the size of the waffles.

4. Warm the waffles, preferably in a toaster oven or low oven so they’re warm but still have a bit of texture.

5. Sandwich a piece of chicken between two waffles, top with a wedge of apple and a wedge of Brie, drizzle with the molasses-balsamic reduction, and serve.


New cookbooks flood the market every week. This feature will help you make sense of what’s new and what’s worth trying out. Email your questions and ideas to connie.post@coxinc.com

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