As the holiday season comes to a close, I am sure many of us have at least one gift card floating around, waiting to be redeemed. Or, if you are like me, maybe the holidays are not formally “done” yet and you might even have belated holiday gifts left to buy for those that we planned on seeing after the holidays. In either case, if you are a food-lover looking for some ideas to use up your gift cards, or in search of a nice host/hostess gift for the person throwing the New Years Eve cocktail party that you are going to attend tomorrow, here are just a few suggestions worth looking into. These are pretty recent books, so you should still certainly be able to find them in most big-box stores, as well as online.
One Christmas present that I purchased for myself was a copy of the new Barefoot Contessa cookbook. This was the first Barefoot Contessa cookbook that I ever purchased for myself, after many years of watching Ina Garten’s shows on the Food Network, reading her recipes online, and leafing through my friend Dawn’s collection of her cookbooks any time I visited her house. What a phenomenal job Ina Garten has done, once again, to create a cookbook with beautiful pictures and no-fail recipes that are equally perfect for weeknight meals as they are for special occasions. Dawn made the Make-Ahead Goat Cheese Mashed Potatoes a few weeks ago for a Christmas party she had with friends and they were so good, I knew that I needed to make them again — and soon. They were an obvious choice when it came time to make Christmas dinner for my family, although I modified it both out of necessity and to experiment. The leftovers were great when made into mashed potato cakes the next day, too. I combined the cold potatoes with two eggs, coated the patties in panko breadcrumbs, and heated them in the oven, flipping a few times until crispy, to make mashed potato pancakes. Yum.
I have followed the blog of the same title for several months now since getting back into making my own preserves, pickles, and other canned goods over the summer. Her beautiful book was gifted to me by a relative of Steve’s and features a number of small-batch recipes for jellies and jams, curds and conserves, salsas, and more. Each of the recipes in this book offers a approachable take on canning for the modern home cook. There are the obligatory twists on originals, such as strawberry jam spiked with vanilla and orange marmalade made with blood oranges, as well as ones that struck me as “not your grandma’s” canning recipes, such as cantaloupe (yes, cantaloupe!) jam with vanilla and caramelized onion relish. I am dying to try the recipes for the spicy honey mustard and tomato jam, both of which seem simple (in a good way) yet totally gratifying. As a bonus, she has since converted many (if not all) of her recipes on her blog to use honey instead of white sugar, which seeing as I have a fondness for both Bee Raw honey and local honey that I find at the farmers market during the season, I can certainly get behind.
Funny that I’m seeing a trend in the books that I’ve selected for this post… an unintentional trend, at that (I swear!) Clean page layouts, beautiful photography, and classic recipes are in order, and this third and final book I’m recommending is certainly no exception to that rule. Martha Stewart’s homage to American food features a sampling of classic recipes from each region of the United States. For anyone who has either traveled around or lived in various parts of the U.S., it is a treat to look through this book and recognize many familiar favorites. Inside, the likes of New England clam chowder and cheese steaks represent the Northeast; po’boys and pulled pork for the South; caramel corn and succotash for the Midwest; chili and cornbread for the Southwest; and fish tacos and cobb salad for the West. Like Ina Garten, I’ve always found Martha Stewart’s recipes to be no-fail and lovely for both entertaining as well as casual eating.