A Holiday Gift Guide for Cookbook Lovers

cookbook beside a cutting board

God, I love the holidays. Twinkle lights. Christmas music. Ornaments passed down through generations.

And then, of course, there’s the food. I mean, I always love food, no matter what time of year it is. But there’s something special about the whole family squeezing into the kitchen every December to bake cookies. It feels like joy when I make the spinach balls every year, tiny lumps of deliciousness held together with tons of melted butter. I love the smell that fills the house when I slide them into the oven, and I love that people find them just as delicious as they did when my mom made them. My grandmother.

I also love that there are certain dishes I can always look forward to. Stuffed artichoke hearts. A spiral ham. Yam casserole with marshmallows swirled in. I even look forward to the shrimp scampi I started making for my pescatarian sister-in-law. It just tastes better at Christmas dinner.

Perhaps it is this strong association I have between food and the holidays that makes me certain that cookbooks make for great gifts. I love to feed people… love taking up the mantle that used to be my mom’s. And cookbooks can feed people indefinitely.

But just as not every book is a perfect match for every reader (alas, my dad is the only person who seems to appreciate my horror recommendations), not every cookbook is the perfect match for every cook. Which is why I and my fellow FBC-ers are sharing some of our faves, highlighting which cookbooks are best for which gift recipients.

For the Friend Who’s Just Starting to Build Their Cookbook Collection

Joy of Cooking cookbook cover featuring large text over a white background

Feminist Book Club founder and CEO Renee M. Powers shares that Joy of Cooking is one of her all-time faves. “I swear by the chocolate chip cookie recipe in there,” she says, “and my pie-fiend partner will ONLY use their pie crust recipe.” I have a copy on my shelf, too. It just seems like one of those titles you have to have if you ever intend to cook. This classic cookbook was first self-published by Irma S. Rombauer in 1931 and has since sold so many copies, it’s considered a kitchen Bible of sorts. In addition to all its classic recipes, it also includes indispensable information on everything from food safety to menu planning that should prove useful to all home cooks.

For the Friend Who Craves Family-Friendly Comfort Cooking That Feeds the Soul

Memories of a Cuban Kitchen cookbook cover featuring an illustration of an elaborate spread that includes various meats, fish, and even plantains

Blog Editor-in-Chief Natalia Santana-Pollard says her copy of Mary Urrutia Randelman and Joan Schwartz’s Memories of a Cuban Kitchen is the oldest cookbook she owns. Her mother-in-law gave it to her when she and her husband first came home as a married couple. “It’s got a lot of great recipes that we love in our family,” she says. On Christmas Day, they make the Pan con Bistec (a steak sandwich) and serve it with yucca (cassava) fritters. “We serve the yucca with mojo criollo which is — in my expert opinion as a dip person — one of the best dips on the planet.” When Natalia is feeling “sentimental and nostalgic,” she likes to make the Moros y Cristianos (black beans and rice) with Picadillo (ground beef) and serve it with bananas. “this is what kept me alive in Miami when I was in my first year of college.”

For the Harried New Parent Who Doesn’t Have Time for This Bullshit

Parents Need to Eat Too cookbook cover featuring a photograph of a baby shoving food into their mother's mouth

When I became a mom, I felt so lucky to have a copy of Debbie Koenig’s Parents Need to Eat Too. Recipes are split up into different stages you can tackle throughout the day — or even across multiple days — and Koenig even includes tips for transforming the dishes into baby food. She also favors recipes that make things easier for time-crunched parents, like big-batch meals, slow cooker suppers, and “un-recipes” for those who can’t cook. The chipotle tortilla soup is still a family favorite, though I admit to snacking on the baked tortilla strips all on their own.

For the Aspiring Locavore in Your Life

Ithaca Farmers Market Cookbook cover featuring a photo collage of farm produce

Renee is a fan of Michael Turback’s Ithaca Farmers Market Cookbook, loving it especially for its seasonal veggie recipes. If you have someone in your life who aspires to eat locally and seasonally, this one’s a treat. The farm-to-table recipes will inspire them to hit up their local farm stand or farmer’s market, where they’ll find ingredients that are fresher and likely tastier than the average out-of-season fare. It will also give them some direction when choosing produce at the supermarket. Just because you can still find clementines at the market doesn’t mean they’ll taste good…

For the Vegan Who’s Sick to Death of Green Bean Salad

The Korean Vegan Cookbook cover featuring a photograph of a Korean dish against a black background and beneath gold font

Listen. Just because someone has decided to abstain from animal products, it doesn’t mean they magically know how to make amazing plant-based dishes. Removing an entire food group can be limiting, and non-intuitive cooks may find themselves stymied, especially at the beginning. I’m not a fan of abstaining from anything, but Joanne Lee Molinaro’s The Korean Vegan Cookbook makes even me consider giving up meat. Gamja Guk, a potato leek soup? Yes, please! Chocolate Sweet Potato Cake? Gimme more! I guess what I’m saying is: Someone please buy me this book?

For the Person Who Would Be Happy Eating Noodles at Every Meal

Let's Make Ramen! cookbook cover featuring a colorful illustration of a ramen dish beneath bold black lettering

Reading Hugh Amano and Sarah Becan’s graphic cookbook, Let’s Make Ramen!, for the first time is daunting. The first time I attempted a ramen dish, I spent a full week prepping the broth, the tare, the dashi, and the other components. But sticking with it is worth it and, even when I don’t have a ton of time, I can always whip up their recipe for yakisoba (wok-fried ramen). Because if there’s anything that I and my 7-year-old agree on when it comes to dinner (and there’s not much), it’s that noodles are always delicious. Your ramen-loving friend is sure to agree.

For the Person with High Cholesterol Who Has No Intention of Dieting

The 30-Minute Mediterranean Diet Cookbook cover, featuring a photograph of a fish-based dish against a pale blue background

Sure, my staggeringly high cholesterol puts me at risk for Type 2 Diabetes. But just because I have to eat healthy doesn’t mean I’m going to deprive myself of deliciousness. My primary care physician recommended I shift to a Mediterranean diet because of its focus on veggies, beans, and fish. Since then, The 30-Minute Mediterranean Diet Cookbook has been my go-to (the key qualifier being “30-minute”). The orange and garlic shrimp is one of my favorite dishes, and I look forward to making the pasta fagioli later this week. If you know someone who’s trying to eat healthier, and who wouldn’t mind saving time in the kitchen, this cookbook could be a godsend.

For the Budding Mixologist

Cocktail Codex cookbook cover featuring minimalist black text against a grey background

Our administrative assistant, Sarah Hernandez, has got your back if you’re shopping for a homebrewed mixologist. They regularly reference Death & Co.’s Cocktail Codex, insisting that it’s “perfect for those who want to learn about building cocktails and making their own infusions and syrups.” This one may prove especially helpful as we begin hosting household gatherings again.

For Those Who Want to Up Their Ice Cream Game

The Perfect Scoop cookbook cover featuring a closeup photograph of a single scoop of chocolate ice cream in an ice cream scooper

Finally, if you have a friend with a sweet tooth who’s ready to move beyond bundt cakes and cookies, Renee recommends The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz. A cookbook devoted to ice cream, Renee claims it has “some of the most outrageously tasty flavors ever.”

Steph Auteri is a journalist who has written for the Atlantic, Pacific Standard, VICE, and elsewhere. Her more literary work has appeared in Poets & Writers, Creative Nonfiction, Southwest Review, and other publications. Her reported memoir, A DIRTY WORD, came out in 2018. She is the founder of Favorite Genres: horror, comics, horror comics, and narrative journalism.

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