Hopefully everyone has been both naughty and nice in the kitchen this year -- and by naughty I mean you've indulged in at least a few things that are more about the yummy and less about the size of your tummy.
Naughty or nice, cooks love and deserve good cookbooks, which I consider to be as much a tool in the kitchen as any appliance or piece of equipment. A good cookbook can take you on a whole new culinary adventure and even change your opinions about the food you put on your plate. It's also important to get the right book for your foodies, so here are a few suggestions for your list.
For the food lover, a new kitchen appliance is the equivalent of finding the Red Ryder BB gun or a new train set under the tree. It's even better if you include a cookbook that gives you great ideas on what to make with it. A panini press fits the bill nicely here (without the danger of putting an eye out), and a good manual to include with it is Panini by Dominique & Cindy Duby (Whitecap Books, $20).
This one features a photo with every recipe for the grill-pressed sandwiches (great for first-timers) and additional recipes for sauces, meat and vegetable fillings, and a chapter on beer and wine pairings, which means theses fabulous sandwiches are good enough for company. You can really go to town as you become more experienced in the kitchen. Here's something savoury and something sweet from the Dubys. Check out their website at www.dcduby.com.
Prosciutto, fig and provolone panini
4 slices ciabatta bread or 2 ciabatta buns, halved
1 medium pear cut into 1.25 cm (1/2-in) thick slices
15 ml (1 tbsp) olive oil
60 ml (4 tbsp) fig butter (recipe follows)
60 g (2 oz) provolone cheese, sliced
60 g (2 oz) prosciutto, sliced
Butter for spreading
Preheat the press to high (225C/ 440F).
Brush pear slices lightly with olive oil and cook in the press for about 3 to 4 minutes, or until pear flesh is soft but slices still hold their shape. Cut into small strips and set aside.
Reduce heat of the press to medium 190C (375F).
To build each panino, arrange ingredients in the following order: ciabatta spread with fig butter, one-quarter provolone cheese, prosciutto, pear, one-quarter provolone cheese, ciabatta.
Spread butter on outside of panini (top and bottom) and grill for about 5 to 8 minutes, or until cheese is melted and bread is nicely grilled. Makes 2.
Fig or Date Butter
8 whole black mission figs, quartered or 10 whole dates, quartered
45 ml (3 tbsp) sherry
2.5 ml (1/2 tsp) 12-year-old balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
pinch of ground star anise
30 g (4 tsp) chopped sun dried tomato
30 ml (2 tbsp) butter
In a microwaveable container, combine figs or dates with sherry and cook on high heat for about 2 minutes, or until fruit has absorbed nearly all of the liquid. Transfer hot mixture to a food processor, add remaining ingredients, and blend until ingredients are combined and mixture is smooth.
Store refrigerated butter in a container with a tight-fitting lid for up to one week. Makes about 125 ml (1/2 cup).
Nutella, Orange Marmalade and Raspberry Panini
4 slices white bread
2 tbsp (30 ml) Nutella
32 fresh raspberries
30 ml (2 tbsp) orange marmalade, store-bought
Butter, for spreading
Preheat the press to medium 190C (375F).
To build each panino, arrange ingredients in the following order: bread spread with Nutella, raspberries, bread spread with marmalade.
Spread butter on outside of panini (top and bottom) and grill for about 3 to 4 minutes, or until bread is nicely grilled. Makes 2.
Alternatives to try: Brioche or challah for the bread; almond or peanut butter instead of Nutella; blackberries or strawberries instead of raspberries.
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You still have time to shop for these ones...
-- The right tools are great in the kitchen, but if you don't have technique you're not going to have much success. Complete Book of Knife Skills: The Essential Guide to Use Techniques and Care by Jeffrey Elliot and James P. DeWan (Rober Rose, $34.95) is a worthy text for every cook. Cutting skills are something that are easily taken for granted, but if you do a lot of cooking, proper technique will save wear and tear on your knives by using the right knife for the job and using it in a way that won't ruin the knife. It will also save you from injury by learning how to keep from cutting yourself or cramping your hands with improper grip. This hefty manual covers it all from the basics of vegetables and fruits through every kind of meat, fish and poultry and even sashimi. It also covers garnishes -- the things that take you from utility to creativity, and that makes it fun. It's beautifully and very thoroughly photographed. If you know how to prepare it you're more likely to try something new.
-- Creative cooks need some sound reference books and The Food Substitutions Bible by David Joachim (Robert Rose, $27.95) boasts more than "6,500 substitutions for ingredients, equipment and techniques." This one has no illustrations, but you want it for the information, not the pictures. This one is very comprehensive and comes in at just under 700 pages, but it includes detailed instructions on how to get the most out of it. Everything is set up alphabetically so there's no guessing.
-- You do need something pretty to look at and Donna Hay Seasons: the Best of Donna Hay Magazine (Harper Collins $39.99) is gorgeous. This is coffee table-sized with Hay's signature visual style; everything looks like it came out of your grandma's kitchen, surrounded by well-worn pans, dishes and soft kitchen linens. You'll also get her yummy recipes and shots of beautiful people in beautiful places eating the yummy recipes. It's almost a vacation...
-- If you've got a bread freak on the list, they'll love Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson (Raincoast Books, $46). This is by the owner of San Francisco's Tartine Bakery, who travelled to France to re-discover the techniques used to create amazing, rustic breads that could only be seen in paintings -- he was searching for a "certain loaf with an old soul." He found it after years of patient work and now those who share that patience and dedication to the perfect bread can try his methods. Includes additional recipes to serve with the bread.
-- TV foodies will like 3 Chefs The Kitchen Men by Michael Bonacini, Massimo Capra and Jason Parsons (Whitecap, $26.95). These three are regulars on Citytv's Cityline and they bring their three ethnic backgrounds together (Wales, Italy and England) to create a Canadian melting pot of good food. Food Network fans of the foul mouth will enjoy Gordon Ramsay's World Kitchen, a whirlwind tour of 10 different world cuisines -- and he actually looks happy in the photos!
-- If family fare is the focus of the cook, you really can't go wrong with any of the cookbooks from Chatelaine, and Modern Classics: 250 Fast, Fresh Recipes from the Chatelaine Kitchen (Wiley, $39.95) is another worthy title. The cooks at Chatelaine are very conscious of the time crunch but still manage to put together wholesome, creative meals that are family-friendly. Every recipe is illustrated and well-tested, so beginners can feel confident .
-- The Family Dinner: Great Ways to Connect With Your Kids One Meal at a Time (Grand Central Life & Style, $33.99) is a delightful choice for the cook just becoming acquainted with life with young children. This cheerful, helpful book gives you good nutritious recipes and ways to help you get the kids to the table. It covers composting and gardening, gratitude and games, health information, things that kids can do and a good list of other references. This is one the kids will pick up and look at as well, so it will encourage future cooks.
-- Time-crunched gourmets will go for In a Pinch: Effortless Cooking for Today's Gourmet by Caren McSherry (Whitecap, $29.95). This is especially for those who love to cook and want to entertain with style, not sweat. The Cordon Bleu-trained Vancouver cook presents bright new ideas and presentations that will have special appeal for 20- and 30-somethings who want to show off in the kitchen.