Everybody knows at least one — a pretentious foodie who insists on froufrou ingredients, laborious techniques and over-the-top dishes.
Well, this year they're out of luck. Because 2011 was a year when cookbooks — even those by high-end and celebrity chefs — went all homey and nostalgic. Which is good news for those of us who don't want to garnish a Wednesday night dinner with hand-harvested, truffle-salmon roe foam.
There were meatball books, tomes of rustic dishes and reminiscences on cooking your way back to childhood. The result? There are plenty of choices for those of us who must blend the joy of cooking with the sometimes crushing need to feed.
And that will make gift shopping for the food lovers in your life much easier. Here are our suggestions:
- For the busy cook who hates the postdinner cleanup, "EatingWell One-Pot Meals" (Countryman Press, 2011) offers more than 100 recipes for healthy, comforting food done in a single vessel. From classics such as skillet-roasted chicken and gravy to inventive dishes like fennel-spiked barley risotto from the slow cooker and sweet-and-spicy pork in the wok, the book helps families spend more time at the table than at the sink.
- In many places around the world, a pressure cooker may be the only pot a family owns. And it's not such a bad idea. "The Easy Pressure Cooker Cookbook" (Chronicle Books, 2011) serves up more than 300 ready-in-minutes recipes, from bacon and potato soup to barbecued brisket and veal stew with 40 cloves of garlic. It even makes dessert — think chocolate marble cheesecake and tasty bread puddings.
- "Cook This Now" (Hyperion, 2011) by James Beard award-winning food writer Melissa Clark features hearty, easy meals with pairings just unusual enough to keep things interesting. Rosemary-scented white beans meet farro, grilled sausages huddle with celery root and hazelnuts and curry and coconut make their way into tomato soup. More than 120 inventive recipes take you from season to season.
- Glitz and glamour come home this year as celebrity chefs take to nesting. In his remarkably easy-to-follow "Cooking in Everyday English" (Oxmoor House, 2011), Todd English serves up red snapper and melon ceviche, wild-mushroom couscous, tequila-braised short ribs and, yes, chili. An entire chapter on family cooking offers kid-pleasers, such as butternut mac-and-cheese and classic pizza.
- Crab cakes with gingered grapefruit might not sound much like your home cooking, but this is Tuesday night food for Jean-Georges Vongerichten. In "Home Cooking With Jean-Georges" (Clarkson Potter, 2011), gorgeous photos illustrate recipes for dishes such as veal scaloppini with broccoli rabe and lavender, and almond-caramelized duck breasts with amaretto jus. Maybe not weeknight stuff, but a nice book for leisurely cooking.
- For the real chef groupies on your list — the ones who don't even care about the recipes — there's "My Last Supper: The Next Course" (Rodale, 2011). In this sequel to the 2007 book, 50 chefs including Joel Robuchon, Marco Pierre White, Heston Blumenthal and David Chang reveal what they would eat for their last meal on earth. (Spoiler alert: Tom Colicchio wants a clam bake.)
- It's cold. It's damp. Maybe it's even snowing. "Sunday Roasts: A Year's Worth of Mouthwatering Roasts" (Chronicle Books, 2011) conjures images of the perfect winter Sunday, with dishes like orange-scented pork roast with fennel and potatoes, and lamb shanks with dates and olives. A standing rib roast with porcini-mushroom sauce might even impress the in-laws.
- "The Apple Lover's Cookbook" (Norton, 2011) may be the best celebration of fall's fruit that we've ever seen. Savory dishes such as pork and apple pie with cheddar-sage crust pull together all the flavors of the season, and desserts go from classics like oatmeal-topped apple crisp to spiced apple cupcakes with cinnamon-cream cheese frosting. A primer on 59 varieties of apples and how to use them makes this a must-have for apple lovers.
FOR ARMCHAIR TRAVELERS
For the carb lover on your list, you can't do better than "The Glorious Pasta of Italy" (Chronicle, 2011), a comprehensive guide to hearty, handmade spaghetti, ravioli, gnocchi and the richly diverse sauces that go with them. Try the ragu all'Abruzzese (a simple meat sauce), and you will never go back to the stuff in the jar.
"A New Turn in the South" (Clarkson Potter, 2011) presents chef Hugh Acheson's inventive take on Southern cuisine. For the cook who's mastered hoppin' John and collards, Acheson offers pea, ham hock and mustard green soup with cornbread croutons, butter-braised cabbage with caraway and short ribs with hominy.
Allegra McEvedy's "Bought, Borrowed and Stolen" (Conran Octopus, 2011) takes cooks on a world tour with recipes like Portuguese caldo verde, Filipino chili noodles and venison biltong (jerky) from South Africa. Beautiful photos and a scrapbook feel make the book a nice read.
FOR THE KIDS
"OMG Pancakes!" (Avery, 2011) pretty much says it all. Little mouths will gobble up green alligators, bees in their hive, puppy-dog faces and unicorns, all captured in pancakes and brought to life by the magic of natural food coloring and squeeze bottles. Perfect for snow days and sleepovers.
And if there's no other way to get your kids into the kitchen, "SpongeBob's Kitchen Mission Cookbook" (Wiley, 2011) offers a primer on vegetable parfaits, healthy egg dishes and whole-wheat pizzas.
FOR THE SPECIALISTS
"Artisan Pizza and Flatbread in Five Minutes a Day" (St. Martin's Press, 2011) will get the baker on your list jumping with glee. Thin crust, thick crust, dipping breads and desserts — think good, old pizza margherita, Turkish pita boats and banana-cream hand pies — all in the time it takes to heat up the oven.
Food-loving rockers can get the best of both worlds in "The Recipe Project" (Black Balloon Publishing, 2011), a collection of recipes by top chefs set to music. Rock out with Mario Batali's spaghetti with Sweet 100 Tomatoes or Michael Symon's octopus salad with Black-Eyed Peas. Comes with the CD, of course.