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Cookbooks for Christmas: gift ideas for all the family

Cookbooks for Christmas: gift ideas for all the family

by Izzy Burton 10 December 2015

Considering buying cookbooks for your friends and family this Christmas? Izzy Burton explores some of the best titles to give as gifts, from new releases to classics every foodie would love to own.

Perhaps it’s a chilling portent of my destiny as a maiden aunt, but I am a great believer in themed gifts. Every year come late November I’ll sit down with a cup of tea, crack my knuckles and think of an idea to base my Christmas presents around. The year I moved to Glasgow, for example, I milked the Scottish theme dry, dishing out shortbread, knitted jumpers and copies of Boswell and Johnson’s Tour to the Hebrides like there was no tomorrow – even the copy of Rod Stewart’s seminal festive album, ‘Merry Christmas, Baby’, hit its mark. This year, skills honed over the last quarter of a century and the family grapevine fully informed of my role at Great British Chefs, I decided to opt for cookbooks. With the world of food publishing thriving and more diverse than ever before, finding the perfect Christmas gift for even the trickiest of personality types proved refreshingly easy.

For the passionate cook

From Elizabeth David to Delia Smith, there are a number of classic tomes which every keen cook owns – or, at least, should own. With this in mind, it can sometimes be trickier buying for someone who has a strong passion than for one who doesn’t, simply because you run a higher risk of giving them something which they have already. Stoke their interest in the world of food while making their coffee table look significantly cooler by opting for the seminal White Heat by culinary rock star Marco Pierre White, something which most foodies will have heard of but are less likely to have in their collection. It is widely known as the text which influenced a generation of chefs, reflected in the updated edition of the book which contains, alongside wonderful photography, contributions from a number of the world’s greatest chefs including Pierre Koffmann, Jason Atherton and Phil Howard.

For the everyday cook . . .

There are lots of recipe books collecting interesting weekday recipes – John’s Torode’s My Kind of Food being a lively example – but I’ve always thought they make slightly odd gifts, particularly at Christmas. It depends on the situation, I suppose – for a student or slightly less confident cook preparing their own meals for the first time something like Eat by the ever wonderful Nigel Slater would be an excellent choice, but for an accomplished cook who oversees the majority of the family meals look beyond everyday basics. Try Yotam Ottolenghi and Ramael Scully's latest offering, NOPI, which showcases some of the pair's most popular restaurant dishes in a stunningly designed book with beautiful photography. Not exactly everyday cooking (although easier versions and shortcuts are offered for several recipes), NOPI is an inspirational book from a household name with a cover so sleek and inviting that it's bound to leave its recipient feeling special.

. . . and the go-big-or-get-someone-else-to-do-it cook

There are some people who seldom cook but, when they do, you know about it. Whether that’s because they’re giving you regular updates on their Instagram or due to the noises and aromas (or smoke) coming from the kitchen, for them cooking is part performance, part pleasure. Challenge their culinary skills – while also helping to improve them – with Nathan Outlaw’s British Seafood, a comprehensive guide on the different varieties of British seafood and how best to prepare, cook and serve them. Seafood can be notoriously tricky to cook properly, but with informed advice from one of Britain’s leading (and multi-Michelin garlanded) seafood experts tackling anything from a live lobster to a bones-and-all flat fish will be within reach.

For the bon viveur

Stumbled across a potential theme destroyer who has little interest in cooking? I too thought the dream was over when I reached my brother, someone who seems to survive almost exclusively on baguettes. Fortunately, however, while there are those who don’t particularly enjoy cooking almost everyone seems to love eating, which opens up a whole new angle from which to approach the theme. The Michelin Guide (or The Good Pub Guide for those who are that way inclined) can be used either as an idle read or as a gastronomic challenge for the year ahead, while Tania Ballantine’s Eat Like a Londoner would make a great pick for those living near enough to the capital for regular foodie jaunts. Unlike so many London restaurant guides Ballantine’s actually dares to venture south of the river (so speaks an embittered south Londoner) and the varied categories ensures all occasions from fine dining to small chains and sticky-tabled one off restaurants are all equally catered for.

For a jaded baker

‘Sometimes I just want to say to people ‘there’s more to me than baking and being twee!’’ cried my flatmate at university several years ago, as I surreptitiously slid a gift wrapped floral apron back into my wardrobe. Like the chicken and egg debate, sometimes it’s hard to remember whether your loved one enjoys the hobby you are constantly buying them accessories for, or if you only think they do because you’ve bought them egg whisks and edible glitter every Christmas for the last fifteen years. If you’re worried your present will get filed away under ‘well-meaning but identity destroying’ along with the thirty-seven other similar gifts from that year why not throw a curveball and give them something they never knew they wanted? A Year in Cheese by Alex and Léo Guarneri (bearing our very own Bruno Loubet's seal of approval) takes an innovative approach to the increasingly common seasonal recipe format, demonstrating that, like fruit, vegetables and meat, certain cheese varieties are at their best at different points throughout the year. With everything from seasonal cheese board suggestions to quick lunches, desserts and dinner party showstoppers, this will be a welcome addition to any jaded baker’s bookshelf.

For a friend going gluten-free

Society has become increasingly accommodating to those with a gluten-free diet over recent years, with many restaurants offering dedicated menus and most supermarkets stocking a good range of alternative ingredients – being coeliac no longer means chewing miserably through loaves dense enough to double as bricks. There are a number of very decent gluten-free cookbooks on the market, but seeing as it’s Christmas treat them to something that will entertain as well as instruct – Great British Bake Off star Howard Middleton’s Delicious Gluten-Free Baking is a genuinely informative, funny book filled with nostalgic favourites and variations on treats those with a gluten intolerance might’ve once thought out of their reach. Particularly impressive is the guide to gluten-free ingredients, including an extensive exploration of gluten-free flour varieties and the distinctive qualities each one brings with it.


More about the texts

White Heat 25th Anniversay Edition - Marco Pierre White (Mitchell Beazley, 2015)

Eat: The Little Book of Fast Food - Nigel Slater (Fourth Estate, 2013)

NOPI: The Cookbook - Yotam Ottolenghi and Ramael Scully (Edbury Press, 2015)

Nathan Outlaw's British Seafood - Nathan Outlaw (Quadrille, 2012)

A Year in Cheese - Alex and Léo Guarneri and Alessandro Grano (Frances Lincoln, 2015)

Delicious Gluten-Free Baking - Howard Middleton (Little, Brown, 2015)

Eat Like a Londoner - Tania Ballantine (Frances Lincoln, 2015)

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Cookbooks for Christmas: gift ideas for all the family


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