Currently on my desk...

I was speaking with my dear friend Lee Jacobs over a pint of Great Lakes Dortmunder at our local pool hall yesterday and she told me after much deliberation, she’d decided on asking for Around My French Table: More Than 300 Recipes from My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan.

Greenspan, of course, is prolific cookbook author (and blogger) who has focused in the past on baking and sweets, but here she both broadens and personalizes her approach, which may account for the gangbuster start for her book.  Dorie, who’s so admired she has entire blog groups devoted to her work, is always excellent and this is a gorgeous well done book.

Lee had asked me what books I would recommend.  Here are a few of the books that have caught my attention this season.

For reading:

As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child and Avis Devoto is a collection of letters between Julia Child and Avis De Voto focusing on the years of Child’s creation of Mastering the Art.  I haven’t dived in yet but am eager to, especially after Russ Parson’s enthusiastic review in the LATimes. Avis was married to Bernard, a prominent magazine columnist and also author of a superb book out earlier in the year, The Hour: A Cocktail Manifesto by Bernard Devoto, a spirited meditation on how and why we drink.

Georgia Pellegrini has come up with a great premise for her Food Heroes: 16 Culinary Artisians Preserving Tradition, about the passionate people who create some of the world’s best artisan foods, such as Marc Buzzio, who makes some of the best, if not the best, salumi in America.

And I’ve just come across the work of Simon Majumdar and can highly recommed his Eat My Globe: One Year in Search of the most Delicious Food in the World, now out in paperback.

Harold McGee has published Keys To Good Cooking: A Guide to Making the Best of Foods and Recipes, a book for which we don’t have a category but should. Acknowledging that we don’t need more recipes, we need more technique (hear hear!), he has written not a cookbook, but a cooking book, a book about the hows and whys in the kitchen; but unlike his astonishing masterwork, On Food and Cooking (always highly recommended), which delves deep into the science of food behavior, Keys is more casual and conversational; it’s loaded with practical advice, like how to make a quick beurre blanc (white butter sauce), what you need to worry about and what you don’t. That kind of practical help. This is a great book for people who really care about improving their cooking.

It’s not a book for reading or cooking really, but if you have a food photographer in the house, this would make a great gift. Food Styling: The Art of Preparing Food for the Camera by Delores Custer. It’s pricey but thorough and authoritative.


My pick for personal favorite of the season is Salted: A Manifesto on the World’s Most Essential Mineral, with Recipes by Mark Bitterman, which I’ve enthusiastically blurbed. My reverence for salt is bettered only by Bitterman’s, who sells salt and chocolate at The Meadow. Bitterman writes well about the history of salt, the amazing array of salts available, and offers numerous recipes and techniques for using these salts.

Another excellent single subject cookbook, which I reviewed for The Piglet (it won!), is Good to the Grain. Excellent whole grain cookbook.

I also admire Meat: A Kitchen Education by James Peterson, a knowledgeable work about cooking and eating animal flesh (this is what were doing when we serve steak, or a pork shop, or a rack of lamb, and it’s important to acknowledge this).  Lots of color process shots which I love.

The Flavor Thesaurus: A Compendium of Pairings, Recipes, And Ideas for the Creative Cook by Niki Segnit, will rival The Flavor Bible for pairing info (I recommend both books!).

Here’s one that few have heard of but that I really admire, The Lost Art of Real Cooking: Rediscovering the Pleasures of Traditional Food One Recipe at a Time by Ken Albala & Rosanna Nafziger.  This is a book of cooking know-how and recipes devoted to, well, real cooking.  Making your own pickles, or your own fresh tomato sauce, your own pasta and bread and sausage. To me, this is what cooking is all about.

My affection and admiration for these two people only increases the more I read their work—Shauna James Ahern and Daniel Ahern—and their latest, Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef, is more gluten-free goodness. Read their superb blog, too!

And finally, I want to mention a book from earlier in the year, highly recommended if you’re looking for a sweets book: Ready For Dessert: My Best Recipes by David Lebovitz who writes the excellent and popular blog, “Living the Sweet Life in Paris” at This is a compendium of his favorite recipes that he’s reworked and rewritten.  As ever, superb and recommended.

Feel free to recommend any of your own favorites in comments (please say why, if you do mention).

Post Script: Some of Your Suggestions (Thanks!)

Non Fiction

Losing Mum and Pup: A Memoir by Christopher Buckley

The Blood of Strangers: Stories from Emergency Medicine by Frank Hyler


Primal Cuts: Cooking With America’s Best Butchers by Marissa Guggiana

The Man Who Ate Everything by Jeffery Steingarten

Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky

It Must Have Been Something I Ate by Jeffery Steingarten

The Story of Sushi: An Unlikely Saga of Raw Fish and Rice by Trevor Corson

A Saucier’s Apprentice: One Long Strange Trip Through the Great Cooking Schools of Europe by Bob Spitz

The River Cottage Meat Book by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods by Sandor Ellix Katz

52 Loaves: One Man’s Relentless Pursuit of Truth, Meaning, and a Perfect Crust by William Alexander

The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook: Stories and Recipes for Southerners and Would-be Southerners by Matt Lee and Ted Lee

The Apprentice: My Life In The Kitchen by Jacques Pépin

The Theory and Practice of Good Cooking by James Beard


38 Wonderful responses to “Books for the Holidays”

  • Rohan

    i know it’s been written about here before and is about 8 years old at this point, but I’m about 3/4 through Mak Kurlansky’s Salt: A World History, and it’s such an entertaining read. I’m planning on picking up Cod. Either of these would be great for the food lover/history nerd combination.

  • Elise

    I downloaded the Julia Childs book yesterday to my Kindle – I find it fascinating to read other people’s correspondence!

    Great list – I’ll be checking the others out and adding to my Christmas wishlist.

  • Natalie Sztern

    Thanks…I needed this kind of list. Some I can add are the timeless Steingarten’s book The Man Who Ate Everything…I am now reading The Story of Sushi by Trevor Corson (because I think in another life I was Japanese)

    Also on the ipad are A Saucier’s Apprentice and Steingarten’s other book.

    • Todd

      Agreed on Steingarten. If you haven’t read it, you need to. Also, the Zen of Fish is a good, but different take on sushi.

  • B.Miller

    You were hustling pool on a Sunday? All hope really has been lost in Cleveland.

  • Julian

    Nice! An entire post specifically about food books and you didn’t even pimp any of your own (or the associated apps). How refreshing!

  • Wilma de Soto

    Great list. Thanks for the book about food styling. It’s something in which I have always been interested. I constantly marvel at Donna’s stunning food photos. I understand she does not use a stylist or she does the styling herself.

  • JDR

    Thanks for the suggestion about Harold McGee’s book. I went to my favorite online book site and found a signed copy! Now I am twice as happy as I was a minute ago!



  • Dorie Greenspan

    Thanks so much to you and your pool pal Lee Jacobs. I’m glad to be anywhere in the neighborhood of the terrific books on your list.

    As an aside, I just recently finished As Always, Julia and want to start it all over again — I miss the company of those two smart, funny, curious, caring and articulate women.

  • Mitchal

    I’m just now delving into McGee’s On Food and Cooking – definitely informative and I can’t wait to read his newest publication.

  • rockandroller

    Since the House of Cues just closed, I’m glad to hear someone is still playing pool somewhere here. And I too couldn’t believe you didn’t mention your own books. I actually gave a friend the trifecta of Making of a Chef, Soul of a Chef and Reach of a Chef for her birthday and she said it was the best birthday gift, ever. 🙂

  • Chris

    Ad Hoc at Home for it’s breadth of knowledge and the explanations on many of the dishes.

  • Noelle

    The River Cottage Meat Book by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is a great reference to have. There’s a large section on responsible meat eating, which I think every cook should read.

  • Victoria

    This is off the point – except it is about a book recommendation from you. I just finished reading Losing Mum and Pup, which has been on my list of books to read after I read your comments about it quite a while ago.

    I absolutely loved every single minute spent reading it and couldn’t believe when it came to an end. Based on that – and the book about the ER doc – I would read anything you told me to.

    The book about Julia’s letters has just moved to the top of my list.

  • Victoria

    This is off the point – except it is about a book recommendation from you. I just finished reading Losing Mum and Pup, which has been on my list of books to read after I read your comments about it quite a while ago.

    I absolutely loved every single minute spent reading it and couldn’t believe when it came to an end. Based on that – and the book about the ER doc – I would read anything you told me to.

    The book of Julia’s letters to Avis has just moved to the top of my list.

  • Chris

    Have to disagree about Simon Majumdar’s book. I read it a few months ago, and while it was interesting, it was ultimately unsatisfying because it’s just sort of incomplete. He has these wonderful adventures, but essentially write capsule reviews of them. If only he’d add a few more pages of detail to each adventure he’s on, and actually share more details. It feels like he’s skimming over a great deal, and trying to be concise when he really shouldn’t be.

    I actually found the book 52 Loaves: One Man’s Relentless Pursuit of Truth, Meaning, and a Perfect Crust by William Alexander very enjoyable, as I like making bread. Some of the book was waaaaay too anal retentive, and it strayed into annoying periodically, but by the end, it was riveting. And it really made me hungry for good bread!

  • Raffi

    What did you learn from McGee’s new book?

    A quick look at the book and the Amazon reviews make it look like the sort of knowledge one picks up from having read, say, Ratio and Cookwise. His past books have been superlative, if dense. What’s new and useful in his new one?

  • former butcher

    About “meat books”…..since I have an interest in the subject…while I like the River Cottage Meat book, I was somewhat annoyed by the Krasner “Good Meat” book. I just enjoy the Englishman’s writing more entertaining, and more knowledgeable. I rather dislike being bombarded with the terms “pastured” this or “free range” that every time the author has to mention whatever meat species is in the recipe. And the total rejection of everything else as “industrial meat” is a bit too smug. I’m starting to get really annoyed by the “sustainable farming” crowd, while agreeing totally with the core of their message. The recipe’s in the Krasner book look interesting (I haven’t tried any of them yet, although I have made variations of many of them over the years).

  • Myra Orenstein

    For the first time in my life, I’m a groupie. I’m addicted to Dorie Greenspan’s books. Have given them to a number of friends this holiday season. All have equally fallen in love with her (however, not to the point of writing notes to her as I have!)

  • Andra@FrenchPressMemos

    I loved Food Heroes! I am not the biggest fan of short stories but this is truly a fun collection of very interesting personalities. And while not thrilling, I loved reading Coleman Andrews’s Ferran this year.

  • William

    I hope you love the Julia as much as I did. I read every night before bed as DeVoto and Child struggled, shared, and grew into great friends. It was definitely my favorite book of the year.

  • David Tucker

    I’d highly recommend the first Lee Brothers book – Southern Cookbook. Recipes are well written and designed, traditional but with a modern sensibility, and great stories that enrich many of the dishes. Good reading even if you don’t make a single dish.

  • Comal Caliente

    great selection. I have gone through On Food and Cooking on various occasions, one of the best presents I got since it is so useful. I will definitely need to check out Harold Mcgees new book.

    How about Ratio? Great book 😉

  • AFW

    Jacques Pépin’s, “The Apprentice: My Life In The Kitchen” is a lovely autobiography, tracing his career from cooking as youngster in WWII France, to becoming personal chef to DeGaulle, his friendship with Julia Child, and his decision to decline an offer to be White House chef for the Kennedy’s in order to head R&D for Howard Johnson’s. A very enjoyable book about a truly great chef.

  • Linda Langness

    I’m currently reading Douglas Starr’s “The Killer of Little Shepherds,” about the beginning of forensics including forensic anthropology. A fascinating read! I very much enjoyed Judith Jones’ “The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food.” For all the wonderful cookbooks and books about food that we now enjoy, we owe her a large debt. I have to mention Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” which I bought as a teenager in the late sixties.


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