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Food books for Christmas

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My Aunt made the declaration that our family, instead of drawing names, was going to exchange cookbooks with a value of $25. A great idea....for about 1/2 of my family. For the other 1/2 it will be wasted money. I'd like to know if there are food related books out there that would be of interest to the non-chef. Could be a novel, fact book, whatever. Something besides a cookbook. Age range and lifestyles are so different, (24 yr old college student to 70 yr old retired grandfather) so I know I won't be able to please everyone. thanks.

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  1. For the 24 year old, I think anything Bourdain would be a good pick.

    Michael Ruhlman has written a number of excellent "food / chef" books. I think his works would be a good fit for anyone.

    5 Replies
    1. re: gatorfoodie

      I agree with the Bourdain recommendation. My husband is a 35 year old lawyer who couldn't care less about cooking or cookbooks and he thoroughly enjoyed 'Kitchen Confidential'.

      1. re: ms. clicquot

        Absolutely bourdain. hands down. the les halles cookbook is also a great gift...and it's not just a cookbook, it's a great "beginners guide" to french cooking...bedside and stoveside reading :) Bourdain is just universally appealing, and totally not snobby in his food writing

        1. re: saramcgovern

          Another vote for Bourdain. I was an ultra-picky eater and i thoroughly enjoyed Kitchen Confidential and A Cook's Tour. They actually helped me get over my pickiness and made me more adventurous with what I would try. Will i eat a cobra's heart? Uhh, no, But i love thai and sushi now. :)

          And I got the Les Halles cookbook 2 years ago and have served up several tasty dishes from it.

          Bourdain is just a fantastic writer.

        2. re: ms. clicquot

          I would also suggest "Don't Try This At Home: Culinary Catastrophes from the World's Greatest Chefs", a compilation of hysterically funny stories telling what it's like when it DOESN"T go like it usually does on TV. Bourdain's story is particularly hysterical. He tells the tale of a New Year's Eve in a kitchen with a, shall we say, chemically impaired staff and a chef who planned a no-cooking-ahead menu. The Two Hot Tamales also contribute a wild tale of Spilled Soup.

        3. re: gatorfoodie

          Bourdain's cookbook is a great read and the recipes are awesome, but you really need to have a strong interest in some fairly involved cooking to get much use out of it: he doesn't cut any corners, and his dishes aren't simple. Kitchen Confidential, though, is utterly entertaining.

        4. Fast Food Nation is pretty eye opening. I also love Jeffrey Steingarten's books (The Man Who Ate Everything and It Must Have Been Something I Ate).

          4 Replies
          1. re: Megiac

            The brand-new SECRET INGREDIENTS, an anthology of food writing from The New Yorker magazine, should have something for just about everybody. I plan to pick up a copy today.

            1. re: Megiac

              I found "Omnivore's Dilemma" by Michael Pollan to be another eye-opener, and a good read.

              1. re: coney with everything

                Also Pollan's book, "The Botany of Desire: A Plant's Eye View of the World."

              2. re: Megiac

                I bought the Steingarten book a few weeks ago and whizzed through it, enjoying his scholarly approach, his outstanding writing style, and laughing aloud frequently.

              3. The first book that popped into my mind is, Peter Mayle's "My Year in Provence." So about food on many different levels.

                1. Bourdain (Kitchen Condifential) is great, but if you don't thoroughly enjoy Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl, I will personally buy it back from you! It is a really great read. Her Tender at the Bone is also a wonderful read... whether you are a foodie or not.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: bnemes3343

                    Great book! Oddly enough I love to read, and love food & cooking but never put the 2 together before reading that particular book. Now I seek out the novel section of the cooking section at Barnes and Nobles. They have quite a selection and you can really browse the titles to see what may appeal to your grab bag pick!

                  2. Agree with all who suggest Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential, and Reichl's books. While I haven't read Ruhlman's books yet (hope to if I get them at Christmastime!), based on his blog writing, I know I'll like it.

                    What about Calvin Trillin's Tummy Trilogy as well? http://www.amazon.com/Tummy-Trilogy-C...

                    1. Wow, thanks for the suggestions. I'll check them all out. I'm sure to find something suitable.

                      1. "Heat" by Bill Buford is a great read. When he started his research, Buford knew very little about restaurants and professional cooking, so his style is almost anthropological.

                        Or, for anyone who's more science-minded, one of Alton Brown's books. Sure, there are recipes, but it's more about how cooking works.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: pamalamb

                          Oh, and I want to add Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant. It's a collection of food writing about eating and cooking alone. Contains a handful of recipes, but it's more about the situation of eating alone.

                        2. For grandpa--and anyone else who revels in brilliant writing--there's a fairly new collection of A. J. Liebling essays called Just Enough Liebling, which is a collection of some of his best articles. Liebling was a legendary gourmand, a boxing afficionado, a war correspondent in France during WWII, and on the staff of The New Yorker for many years thereafter.


                          Another book that concentrates even more specifically on essays related to food is Between Meals: An Appetite for Paris.


                          Liebling is much less well known now than he once was, and that's a real shame. His writing on food is right up there with the very best of them.

                          1. For those who like mysteries and/or something lighter, how about a culinary mystery? My favorites star the caterer-detective Goldy Schulz, in the series by Diane Mott Davidson. This is serious light reading -- escapist, beach reading, but it's writing with warmth starring an endearing cast of characters. Each book includes recipes which are part of the mystery. There is something utterly satisfying about these books - I used to a book snob, but now I just love curling up with mysteries for pure ESCAPE.


                            Tender at the Bone is one of my favorite books. WOW. It's a poignant memoir and also really a great portrait of the Bay Area and the foodie revolution/explosion there - Reichl was right in the middle of it. Recipes included in this one too. Having lived for several years in the Bay Area, I enjoyed reading about the transformation and evolution of food there.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: foxy fairy

                              Oh, and of course My Life In France by Julia Child... co-written with her grand-nephew, Alex Prud'Homme. This is fantastic. I gave it to my mom last year and she raved and raved and raved about it and when I finally got my hands on it I also found it delightful.

                              Lighter but cute: Julie and Julia by Julie Powell. Another memoir: a young chowish woman in NYC decides to cook her way through JC's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Funny, a story of young professionals (Julie, her husband, some goffy friends) seeking deeper meaning and surprising ingredients. Pretty good writing but also quite light. Could be good for the college student age bracket, as it traces the struggles of really learning to cook from a cookbook! :)

                              1. re: foxy fairy

                                I also suggest "The Tenth Muse" by Judith Jones, editor of Julia Child - really better for an older reader who will have heard of the authors whom she has edited. She does come off a bit lofty (her family had servants and a full-time cook when she was growing up), but by the end, she wins you over.

                                My book club just read "The Sharper Your Knife the Less You Cry" by Kathleen Flinn. The author lost her job, cashed in her savings and went to Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. That is a good, very well written book for anyone who loves Paris or has had even fleeting dreams of running away to cooking school. It's also a strong story about taking a chance to ignore people's advice and just follow your dream. It's funny and also has recipes. Would be a good gift for a lot of people.

                                1. re: foxy fairy

                                  "Julie and Julia" is being made into a film with Meryl Streep as Julia Child!

                                  "My Life In France" is really wonderful.

                              2. How about " Spice: The History of a Temptation" by Jack Turner? I haven't read it myself yet but it is in the pile by my chair...

                                1. I was SO impressed by Anthony Bourdain Les Halles Cookbook.

                                  Mario Batali and Gordon Ramsay also have impressive food related books.

                                  1. Roy Andries de Groot wrote "The Auberge of the Flowering Hearth" which is a joy for those who love to eat but may not cook.
                                    Second Calvin Trillin's "Tummy Trilogy" and books by Jeffery Steingarten, Michael Pollen and Mark Kurlansky.
                                    If you have a scientist in your group, Harold McGee's "On Food and Cooking" or "What Einstein Told his Cook" by Robert Wolke would be great choices.
                                    Reay Tannahill's encyclopedic yet easy-to-read "Food History" is a classic.
                                    Photographers would appreciate and of "........................., The Beautiful" series of books. They need not make the recipes, just enjoy the photography.