Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >
Nov 30, 2007 09:02 AM

How do you pick a great cookbook to give as a gift?

I am compiling a list of the best Southwest cookbooks to give as gifts (for, so I thought I had better come up with the criteria for evaluating a cookbook. I came up with this list, but I find I’m not always sticking with it. Please give your input!

Here are the characteristics I look for:
1. A theme: recipes from a particular restaurant, culture, or locale. Lowfat or high-fiber. 30-minute meals or cooking for two. Possible themes are endless.
2. Good basic recipes. I expect a Southwestern cookbook to have chili verde, salsas, guacamole, enchiladas, tortilla soup, etc.
3. Interesting, imaginative and unusual recipes.
4. Easy-to-prepare recipes. When a recipe can be made in 30 minutes and uses easy-to-find ingredients, I’m inclined to try it right away.
5. Colorful pictures. Seeing gets the taste buds interested.
6. Recipe descriptions. Commentary on how popular the dish is, what it goes with, how good it is as a leftover, etc. brings the recipe to life before you even try it.
7. Basic how-to information. What the less common ingredients are and where to buy them, how to use the tools needed, etc.
8. Entertaining, informative commentary. The author’s philosophy or story, history of a dish or cuisine, and anecdotes or legends about a dish all add color and make for great reading. When you can sit down and read a cookbook for fun, you have something memorable.

What do you look for? Did I miss something?

Since I started the “Denver Green Chili Recipe of the Week” in September, 2007, my priorities have shifted. I no longer scout wide varieties of cookbooks for interesting recipes. I now stick to the wonderful cookbooks that offer solid basics along with interesting recipes well-presented. The great cookbooks hit home run after home run and are entertaining reading to boot. My list of the best Southwest cookbooks keeps growing, but you can view the current list and reviews at

Do you have any special books I should add?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Picking a splendid cookbook (using your sound criteria) is important, but perhaps even more so, considering the giftee's desires and needs.

    Is the giftee experienced, novice, adventerous, timid, etc.

    Matching the cookbook to the cook, in other words.

    1 Reply
    1. re: toodie jane

      Taking a look at the giftee's personality is something I hadn't thought of, not in those terms. It occurred to me that a food snob (I don't mean it derogatorily) belongs in there - someone who values the high-end prestigious restaurants. That's where you might focus on the cookbooks from prominent restaurants. I included the book "Recipe, Please: Favorite Recipes From Colorado Restaurants" and I'm going to alter my review of it a bit. Actually, I'm going to do a rewrite of many to reflect the personality. It even occurs to me that the cookbooks you pick could be a personality test.

    2. I think it's best to give a cookbook you've used yourself, or a cookbook author you know is reliable. Only one of the cookbooks I've been given as a gift was any good ...

      1 Reply
      1. re: foiegras

        I agree. I look over my collection and think of the one that would suit the recipient.

      2. Since you asked . . .
        I'd throw out many of your criteria. The main thing is matching the book to the person: interests, experience, style and abilities.

        #1, you've already thrown out in your post - you no longer scout wide varieties etc and prefer the greats. For me, there's a place for specialty books, but they have to be especially good to bother with them in the first place. Unless the giftee loves books from restaurants or some other specific collector topic.

        and so it goes -- some people love photos, some people hate picture books
        some cooks would be irritated to get an easy-to-prepare book, ETC.
        know your audience!

        1. Good gifting is all about tailoring the gift to the recipient, no matter what the gift item is. For instance, I would give Joy of Cooking to my little sister who's just starting out, and a restaurant/chef-specific cookbook to my father, who loves to eat out and has the skills to handle a more complex recipe.