Culinary reading: Perfect holiday gifts

Henri bones up on hot chow

Lookin’ for books? Lyon Books, 121 West Fifth St. (530) 891-3338.

While cookware, cutlery and exotic spices make great gifts for the epicure in your life, so does just the right book. Below are a few of Henri’s many favorites, some new, some classic. (Always try Lyon Books first; they’ll gladly special order anything they don’t carry.)

The All-American Cowboy Cookbook, Ken Beck and Jim Clark, $16.99. One of Henri’s favorite cowboy cookbooks (alongside A Cowboy In The Kitchen), this book is packed with trivia, stills and promotional photos from western television shows and movies (including of Lash LaRue, the “king of the bullwhip").

Bistro Cooking, Patricia Wells, $13.95. Collected from a range of French bistros—as well as adapted by Wells herself—these recipes emphasize simple but robustly elegant dishes cooked with fresh ingredients and served with an appropriate wine—which are recommended, and usually French.

The Joy of Cooking, by Irma S. Rombauer, $30. Craig Claiborne calls this classic cookbook—first printed in 1931 and containing almost 5,000 recipes—a masterpiece. Where else can you read about preparing opossum ("[T]rap ‘possum and feed it milk and cereals for ten days before killing") and beaver tail ("Hold over open flame until rough skin blisters")? A new edition, The All-New, All-Purpose Joy of Cooking ($35), includes information on modern grilling, flavored oils and ethnic salsas, but at the cost of canning, pickling and wild-game information, much of which has been deleted.

The New Best Recipe, editors of Cooks Illustrated Magazine, $35. Probably the ultimate in the magazine’s excellent series of cookbooks, this one includes 1,000 recipes, as well as a wide range of useful kitchen advice (how to tie butcher’s knots for roasts), product recommendations (from grill brushes to canned white beans) and several “anatomies” (exquisitely detailed drawings of the parts of fish, beef, eggs, etc.).

Oxford Companion to Wine, Oxford University Press, $65. Handsomely illustrated and extremely thorough, this reference encyclopedia lists virtually everything related to wine, from amphora to Zinfandel. Other listings include wine-growing regions, grapevine pruning, various chemical processes, wine in literature as well as important wineries and winemakers.

The Silver Palate Cookbook, Julie Rosso and Sheila Lukins, $15.95. With a wide range of recipes from Manhattan’s award-winning Silver Palate Restaurant (owned by Rosso and Lukins), this unpretentious little book also includes suggestions for complete meals ("An Autumn Feast,” “Election Night Supper” and “Welcome Home Buffet"), emphasizing fresh ingredients and simplicity.

The Vegetarian Epicure, Anna Thomas, $18. Though Henri resisted this early ‘70s classic for many years—figuring the recipes would call for a Joni Mitchell soundtrack—he now truly enjoys many of the book’s 250-plus recipes, especially the soups (particularly the lentil and the potato) and desserts (a divine apple crisp). It’s less embarrassing to take to the cashier than a tie-dye T-shirt and far cheaper than a pair of Birkenstocks.

The Way to Cook, Julia Child, $35. This indispensable book is more a kitchen manual than a cookbook, though in addition to its witty culinary advice and insights (on buying fish, trussing chickens, coring apples), it’s packed full of recipes. Many are what Child calls “master recipes,” followed by suggestions for improvising.

Additionally, books by America’s greatest food writer, the late M.F.K Fisher, make excellent gifts. Suggestions: How to Cook a Wolf, Consider the Oyster, The Gastronomical Me or The Art Of Eating (which includes selected essays from the three other books).

Magazine subscriptions also make great gifts. Best bet: Cooks Illustrated, a bi-monthly, ad-less publication that includes wonderfully detailed recipes, feature articles and product reviews and always has a frameable back cover—hand drawings of varieties of a particular food, from pears to crustaceans, depending on the season. Go to

Chow, just three issues old and independently published in San Francisco, is a welcome newcomer, especially in a field dominated by publications that take themselves too seriously (Chow‘s motto: “Food. Drink. Fun.") Go to