If you have a home cook in your life, you know which side your bread is buttered on. You also know it is in your best interest to keep them buttering that bread by keeping them interested in cooking.
On a less self-interested note, it's nice to be able to say "thank you" for all the love and attention that goes into what goes onto your plate. Go for useful and beautiful when it comes to gifts for the cook. If you buy kitchen tools, make sure they do what they claim to do and that they are something that will get used a lot.
For cookbooks, the same rules apply. I've surveyed a few and here are my suggestions for gifts for the home cook. Note that these are the list prices.
- One Good Dish, by David Tanis (Thomas Allen & Son), $32.95
Got a cook in your life who is looking to try something a little bit off the beaten path, say, Egyptian breakfast beans? Or maybe they like to take familiar ingredients and do something new? Gorgeously photographed, recipes range from the delicate and simple (simple is not always easy when it comes to flavour) to much more challenging techniques and ingredients. This one will pique the interest and appetites of your more seasoned cooks.
- Cast Iron Cookbook: The Recipe Deck, by Joanna Pruess (Skyhorse Publishing Inc.), $15.95
This is a cookbook that is not a cookbook: it's a fun deck of sturdy, wipe-clean cards with 45 recipes and instructions on cast iron care and restoration. Colourful photos are on one side with the recipes on the other, and half the fun is shuffling through the deck to see what you'd like to make. This would be a great gift packaged along with a new cast iron pot or pan.
- The Tea Cyclopedia: A Celebration of the World's Favorite Drink, by Keith Souter (Skyhorse Publishing Inc.), $24.95
I love this wonderful book by Scotsman Dr. Keith Souter, a medical writer and mystery novelist. He enthusiastically covers everything the tea lover will find fascinating: the history, the science, the etiquette and even the lore (including an extensive chapter on tasseography or tea-leaf reading) surrounding tea consumption. For tea lovers, of course.
- The Really Hungry Student Cookbook: How to Eat Well on a Budget, by Amanda Grant et al. (Ryland Peters & Small), $23.95
The best way to keep the next generation healthy is to get them into the kitchen to learn to cook for themselves. This cookbook takes the task seriously with creative recipes for real meals with a variety of ingredients that are economical enough for every day and good enough for company. Covers food safety and culinary technique. Best for high schoolers through young adults.
- The Kinfolk Table: Recipes for Small Gatherings, by Nathan Williams (Artisan Books), $43.95
This is a substantial and beautiful book, both rustic and elegant, and just brimming with inspiration for those who enjoy entertaining on a small scale. The recipes come from people all over the world for whom having company for dinner is their own creative mission in life, courtesy of the editor of Kinfolk magazine. If your home cook likes Donna Hayes' cookbooks, they'll like this one, too.
- Kitchen Things: An Album of Vintage Utensils and Farm-Kitchen Recipes, from Table magazine (Thomas Allen & Sons), $31.95
This hefty, photography-driven tome will be of special interest to collectors of vintage kitchenware. Simple photos are accompanied with conversational text about each of the items. Includes some recipes that have been taken from old recipe boxes. Fun for the kitchen table or the coffee table.
- Betty Crocker's Christmas Cookies, from Betty Crocker Kitchens (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), $20.99
It's a really fun thing to have a couple of cookbooks with those special treats that only come out with the Christmas tree. This is a cheery collection of cookies that covers old favourites, shortcut recipes (using mixes), fun for kids, gluten-free, bars, cutouts, sandwich-style -- you name it. Good instructions, lots of tips and bright, clear photos make this a happy choice for your own shelf or the busy baker in your life.
I like to feature recipes from at least one Christmas cookbook each year and this one really grabbed me. These treat recipes and their photos come from Betty Crocker Christmas Cookies. The first two are something you and the kids will have a jolly time doing together and the third one is a gluten-free recipe. Having even one gluten-free sweet on hand is so nice to offer guests who have that particular food restriction. After that, if you still need a cookie fix, keep up with Alison Gillmor's ongoing Free Press series 12 Days of Christmas Cookies. If you've missed some of her recipes, you can catch up with her online at http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/special/cookies/. Here's wishing that your kitchen is merry and bright!
Almond Tree Cookies
250 ml (1 cup) butter, softened
125 ml (1/2 cup) granulated sugar
2 ml (1/2 tsp) almond extract
500 ml (2 cup) all-purpose flour
250 ml (1 cup) powdered sugar
30 ml (2 tbsp) butter, softened
15 to 30 ml (1 to 2 tbsp) milk
8 to 10 drops green food colour
Heat oven to 180 C (350 F). In medium bowl, beat 1 cup butter, the granulated sugar and almond extract with electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. On low speed, beat in flour.
Shape dough into 48 (1-inch) balls. On ungreased cookie sheets, place balls 5 cm (2 inches) apart.
Bake 12 to 15 minutes or until firm to the touch. Cool 1 minute; remove from cookie sheets to cooling racks. Cool completely, about 30 minutes.
In small bowl, beat powdered sugar, 30 ml (2 tbsp) butter and the milk on medium speed until smooth and spreadable. Stir in green food color until uniform color.
Spoon frosting into re-sealable food-storage plastic bag. Seal bag; cut off tiny corner of bag. Squeeze bag to pipe tree shape in zigzag pattern on each cookie.
Prep time: 2 hours. Start to finish: 2 hours. Makes 4 dozen cookies.
Tinsel time tip: Add ornaments to the cookie trees by sprinkling with yellow, red and green holiday candy sprinkles. Candy stars on top of the trees are a nice touch.
Chocolate Chip Reindeer Cookies
1 pouch Betty Crocker chocolate chip cookie mix
15 ml (1 tbsp) all-purpose flour
125 ml (1/2 cup) butter, softened
2 pouches (200 g/7 oz each) chocolate decorating icing
32 candy eyes
16 small round chocolate-covered creamy mints
1 pouch (200 g/7 oz) white decorating icing
In large bowl, beat cookie mix, flour, butter and egg with electric mixer on low speed just until blended. Shape into ball. Flatten dough to 1.25 cm (1/2-inch) thickness; wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate 3 hours or until very firm.
Heat oven to 180 C (350 F). Unwrap dough; on well-floured surface, roll dough to 0.5 cm (º-inch) thickness. Cut with floured 9-cm (31/2-inch) gingerbread boy cookie cutter. On ungreased cookie sheets, place cutouts 5 cm (2 inches) apart. Refrigerate on cookie sheets 10 minutes.
Bake 9 to 10 minutes or until edges are lightly golden brown. Remove from cookie sheets to cooling racks. Cool completely, about 30 minutes.
Turn each cookie upside down to look like reindeer face. Outline cookie with chocolate icing; fill in and spread icing with toothpick. Attach candy eyes and mint for nose. Decorate with white icing to look like antlers. Let stand until set.
Prep time: 74 minutes. Start to finish: 5 hours, 5 minutes. Makes 16 cookies.
Gluten-Free Holiday Toffee Bars
250 ml (1 cup) butter, softened
250 ml (1 cup) packed brown sugar
5 ml (1 tsp) gluten-free vanilla
1 egg yolk
500 ml (2 cup) Bisquick Gluten Free mix
250 ml (1 cup) milk chocolate chips
125 ml (1/2 cup) chopped pecans or walnuts, if desired
Heat oven to 180 C (350 F). Spray 13x9-inch pan with cooking spray without flour. In large bowl, mix butter, brown sugar, vanilla and egg yolk. Stir in Bisquick mix. Press into pan. 2. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until very light brown (crust will be soft). Immediately sprinkle chocolate chips over hot crust; let stand about 5 minutes or until chocolate is soft. Spread chocolate evenly; sprinkle with nuts. Cool in pan on cooling rack 30 minutes. Cut into 8 rows by 4 rows. For the best results, cut the bars while they're still warm.
Prep time: 15 minutes. Start to finish: 75 minutes. Makes 32 bars.
Tinsel Time Tips: Cooking gluten-free? Always read labels to make sure each recipe ingredient is gluten-free. Products and ingredient sources can change.
All Recipes & Photographs from BETTY CROCKER CHRISTMAS COOKIES. Copyright 2013 by General Mills, Minneapolis, Minn. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.