In the past few years (i.e.- since finishing full time schooling) I've gone from loathing the idea of having to deal with cooking supper to looking forward to it. But this has been with some serious cookbook magic, especially the part where somewhere along the line I became not to shabby in the kitchen. So I thought I'd review some of my favorites, because nothing says Merry Christmas like a good cookbook for new and old chefs! Plus you get to benefit from their stellar new menus. Win, win!
So for the beginner cooks I ALWAYS recommend my absolute favorite- Donna Hay
There are several reasons why.
She has a picture of everything
Her meals are super simple but have big bang for your buck
She almost never uses anything exotic and for the most part sticks to the staples in the average Joe's kitchen cupboard. Meaning you're beginner cook will be ready to take on her recipes without any investment on their likely minimal kitchen supplies and ingredients.
Now with Donna you have two awesome options. Cookbook, or Magazine. I've had a subscription to her magazine for the past 4 years or so now, and religiously hunted each issue down as it released from when she first launched it, prior to the subscription. The Magazine is nice because it's an inexpensive investment to try out her recipes. Each magazine generally has about 100 recipes in it and they're all based on season. It sells for about 10$ Canadian per issue but I suspect its less in the states and obviously much less in New Zealand and Australia (where it originates).
For the Cookbooks you can't really go wrong with any of them, though Modern Classics is awesome for covering all the basics of cooking. How to cook rice, how to cook roast chicken, roast beef, roast lamb, how to make Bolognese sauce, lasagna, or pad thai, not to mention all the other basics including veggies as well as meat. Her original bi line- Simple made Special, 100% applies and trust me when I say I've never had a disappointing Donna Hay meal.
After becoming confident with Donna's wonderfully easy recipes I started to branch into more demanding waters. My first step was Jamie Oliver. I'd loved his show for years but always felt daunted by his endless lists of ingredients and talk of using your local butcher and finding local produce, yada, yada. Of course this all becomes less challenging when you have a better idea of what you're doing and have moved beyond cooking minute rice (thank god for Donna). In the meantime, however, Jamie also got into the business of beginner cooks. Jamie's Food Revolution, also called Jamie's Ministry of Food in the UK was meant to start a revolution of people cooking again, by promising to teach you one great easy recipe, if you promised to pass it on. Obviously if you bought the cookbook you get way more than one great recipe!
I really like this cookbook, he's got some easy and innovated ways to do a number of things and I love that he first gives you the recipe for something basic- like rice- than shows you 3 or 4 ways to fancy it up. Something beginner cooks wouldn't normally attempt on their own, but which shows you how to confidently add your own touches to a recipe. I did have one recipe that was a total bust from this cookbook, which was really frustrating, but overall it's a great one.
For the slightly more advanced cook I'd highly recommend Jamie at Home or Jamie's America, which are both awesome cookbooks of his being both pretty to look at, informative and full of delicious recipes. Jamie at home is sort of the all natural, do-it-yourself of fresh cooking, growing, canning and more. Some of my favorite recipes are a potato and onion, balsamic vinegar roast of pork tenderloin, his BBQ salmon with crispy skin and his winter salad, yum!
Jamie's America is definitely for the slightly more adventurous cook as it bounces around through all sorts of cultural food across the states and includes things like Alligator Bites, Cowboy Campfire Chili (to die for) and Asian Fiery Dan Dan Noodles not to mention things like the L.A Steak with Two Sauces (one of my faves!), and NYC cheesecake. I think this is my favorite of all his cookbooks, every recipe feels like something new and exciting and I love the diversity in it. Not to mention all his chat about the people he met and how they taught him to cook their signature dish, is very engrossing even just on a reading level. Lately when looking for inspiration I almost always turn to this cookbook.
Now for the masterful chef on your list I have two suggestions, my two favorite cookbooks I've acquired in the past couple years after discovering I not only loved to cook but, was only scratching the surface of what I could master.
Julia Child's Classic, Mastering the Art of French Cooking is the most recent of the two. After eating my way through Paris I went on a year long quest for the best french cookbook I could find. It was hardly surprising it was Julia Child's well known book that came out the winner.
Completely pictureless, with the original french titles heading each recipe and rife with instructions this cookbook is not for the faint of heart in the kitchen. But if you love to cook, know what you're doing and looking for a challenge then you won't get better results in genuine french food anywhere else. Point in case, her Beef Bourguignon recipe, an all time classic and absolutely mouthwatering, but which will easily take you an hour to prep and 2 1/2 to 3 hours to cook in highly specialized cookware (cast iron dutch oven). Because this is such a classic make sure to spy your chef's cookbook shelf before buying it as they may already own it. If they do, get the second one Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Volume 2 (the darker blue one of the newer reprints, the aqua one is the first).
Finally any chef who's worth their salt will find themselves pining to master ethnic food at some point. My personal favorites (outside of french), Indian and Mexican have been part of my personal quest for the perfect cookbook for sometime. That is, until the hubby consulted his Aunt (who married a charming fellow who's mother was an astounding East Indian cook).
I will venture to say this cookbook will take you from good cook to a chef with outstanding meals to put on the table, even if you only master two or three of the recipes. At 816 pages you're getting virtually any vegetarian Indian dish you can name (no pictures), and if you can deal with the 500 ingredients for each dish, and the elongated prep time to cut and dice all the 500 ingredients, than prepare to have you and your guests socks blown off.
Now for any truly special occasion the hubby and I put in the time to make an all Indian feast, my mouth is watering just thinking about it! But the best part about this cookbook is how creative it makes you after using it. You develop so much confidence with all these ingredients you might not normally cook with, and start using them in a million other simple ways. Who knew I was mad about cumin and turmeric? I mean when is the last time you made an omelet with Cumin and chili's? Because I have, amongst other things.
The best part about giving this gift is the likely hood your recipient will have never seen or even heard of it. Chances are very very slim they own it, so feel secure in your amazon order.