Christmas cocktails, dessert recipes and a palate primer are among our recommendations.
As hard as it is to believe, there comes a point where the home cook or home bartender in your life really doesn’t need another gadget, utensil or mixing vessel as a gift. What they can always use, though, is more information about the thing they love, including recipes, techniques, ingredients and even origin stories. To facilitate this, books make an excellent and underappreciated choice as a gift or stocking stuffer. A few places around town have food- and booze-related books, and as always, shopping local is showing love to family-owned businesses, so hit up Barkeep Supply, Commonplace Books and Full Circle Bookstore before shopping online for these.
The Flavor Bible. It’s hard to imagine a kitchen or bar without this remarkable reference. The early chapters are helpful in developing a food and flavor vocabulary, but the real value of this tome is the “flavor matchmaking” charts which comprise the overwhelming majority of the content. Wondering what walnuts or tamarind or marjoram pair well with? The answers are here in a nearly exhaustive list of herbs, spices, proteins, etc., all arranged in flavor groups so you can be confident in your pairings and likely learn about combinations you’d never considered.
The Book of Hops. Yes, a book about hops in beer is so beautiful it can be a coffee-table book, but it’s not a prop. The book is full of beautiful illustrations and finely detailed photography, but it’s also replete with details about 50 varieties of hops, the flavors and aromas they impart — along with the level of bitterness expected — and the science of beer. It functions as an introduction to brewing as much as a detailed exposition on one of the most important components of the brews we love.
Let’s Get Blitzen. The pun is forgivable because this holiday cocktail book from award-winning bar professional Sother Teague is an amazing combination of useful, easy-to-follow recipes and festive illustrations that capture the essence of the holiday season. There are classic and modern cocktails and boozy beverages from spiked eggnog to clever concoctions like the Humbug and Santa’s Little Helper. The whimsy adds fun to a book that at its heart is an incredibly detailed, useful guide to holiday mixing and drinking.
Desserts Illustrated: The Ultimate Guide to All Things Sweet. This massive recipe book from Cook’s Illustrated contains more than 600 dessert recipes with detailed instruction and stunning photography, which makes it suitable for display, but it’s too practical to only use it for a coffee-table prop. Yes, baking is part magic and part science, and some people just seem to get it — they probably work and study hard, too, but I prefer to believe it’s genetic — but the recipes here make even the most complex recipes approachable for home bakers.