The best books for cooks

Jan. 08, 2013 @ 03:28 PM

Selecting a gift for a really good cook can be a gamble because most talented cooks already own and use all the basic kitchen equipment, as well as many gadgets and newfangled gizmos. But there are still plenty of items out there that will please seasoned and novice cooks alike.
Cookbooks can be a good solution for everyone on your list. Most cooks I know say they can’t own enough of them.
For a cookbook with great tasting and healthy recipes, consider Cooking Light’s “The New Way to Cook Light” ($34.95). The price may seem a bit steep, but this hardcover, picture-filled cookbook delivers more than 400 recipes and every recipe includes nutrition information. All recipes have been thoroughly tested, virtually guaranteeing success.
Every year the James Beard Foundation gives its official nod-of-approval to the year’s best cookbooks including what they believe is the year’s very best, which in 2012 was “Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking” by Nathan Myhrvold. At $625 this six-book set may be the most expensive (and heaviest at 40-plus pounds and longest at 2,438 pages) cookbook ever. Not exactly gift-giving friendly.
A more wallet- and user-friendly guide to the whys of cooking comes from Cook’s Illustrated’s “The Science of Good Cooking” ($40).
The James Beard Foundation also brought Laurie Colwin’s books “Home Cooking” ($15) and “More Home Cooking” ($12.99) into its Hall of Fame. Colwin’s witty and warm essays express her joy of cooking and they include her personal recipes. Colwin’s words never fail to delight. I own both and love them.
If your cook loves the heat and aromas that roasting creates in the kitchen then take a close look at Molly Stevens’ “All About Roasting: A New Approach to a Classic Art” ($35). The book took honors from both the James Beard Foundation and the International Association of Culinary Professionals. Whether you want to roast a leg of lamb, a pineapple or a whole chicken, using her recipes and techniques will guarantee that what you roast won’t turn to toast.
If you’ve ever visited the epicurious.com website you know that its partners, Bon Appétit and Gourmet magazines, play major roles in the breadth and depth of its recipe content. Its recently released “The Epicurious Cookbook: More Than 250 of Our Best-Loved Four-Fork Recipes for Weeknights, Weekends & Special Occasions” ($27.99) collects some of the best of epicurious.com into one place.
This is not a weight-loss cookbook. No. Just a cookbook full of four-fork (like four-star) recipes including Orange Poppyseed Cake, Prosciutto-wrapped Asparagus Spears, Cinnamon Rolls with Cream Cheese Glaze, Dominican Chimichurri Burgers and Bacon Smashed Potatoes.
The advantage of giving your favorite cook a truly great cookbook is that you stand an excellent chance of seeing your gift give back to you in many delicious ways.
Don Mauer’s “Lean and Lovin’ It” column appears every other Wednesday. Don welcomes comments, suggestions and recipe makeover requests at leanwizard@aol.com.
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Try this recipe: The best guacamole should sing an almost singular note in the key of A: avocado. Unfortunately, avocados also serve up a lot of calories from fat.
Many guac recipes call for two avocados and deliver 26 calories and 2.5 fat grams per tablespoon. I substituted 1 cup green peas for one of the avocados and cut calories per tablespoon to 18 and fat to 1.3 grams. My new guacamole looks brighter and still gives avocado a strong voice. Give my version a try at your next party or use this neat trick with your own guacamole recipe.

Half-the-Fat Guacamole

2 garlic cloves, peeled
1 cup frozen sweet peas, thawed
1 medium-large ripe California avocado, peeled, pitted
1 tablespoon fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper, or to taste

Drop garlic cloves through the feed tube of a running food processor fitted with the steel blade. When chopped fine, stop the processor. Add peas and process, pulsing and scraping down the sides five or six times. Add avocado, lemon juice, salt and pepper and process until smooth, scraping down the sides once or twice. Taste and add additional salt if necessary.
Spoon the guacamole into a serving bowl and serve immediately with low-fat or fat-free chips. Makes about 1 1/2 cups.
Cook’s note: Cover any leftover dip tightly with plastic wrap, pressing it onto the surface to preserve the bright color.
Nutrition values per tablespoon: 18 calories (63 percent from fat), 1.3 g fat (0.2 g saturated fat), 1.5 g carbohydrates, 0.8 g fiber, 0.5 g protein, 0 cholesterol, 32 mg sodium.