California Comfort Food, Southwestern Cuisine and Chocolate: More Can't-Miss Cookbook Gift Ideas



Still have a few empty slots on your gift (or wish) list? I’ve got three new cookbooks that would all make fine gifts for the home cook.

First up is The Lemonade Cookbook by Alan Jackson and Joann Cianciulli. When I first got the pitch for this book, I really thought that the publisher was way off. Why is Alan Jackson writing a lemonade cookbook? And why publish it in November? Turns out, it’s not a lemonade cookbook, but, rather from the Lemonade restaurant in Los Angeles run by the chef Alan Jackson (not the country star). The popular restaurant is a “modern cafeteria” that serves “Southern California comfort food.”

It didn’t take me long after opening the book to fall in love and want to board the next flight to L.A. It is full of mouth-watering photos of foods that reflect the many cultures that have long made up the Southern California population.

Asian, Middle Eastern, Mexican and solidly “American” fare and many combinations of all fill the pages. For example: forbidden rice with heart of palm, mushroom and jalapeno vinaigrette; a sandwich of buttermilk-baked chicken, Vidalia onion-bacon cabbage, fried green tomato, and cheddar; and Chinese-style braised duck with rainbow chard, pineapples, and cashews with chili-coriander vinaigrette. And then there are the desserts— of which there are many — such as, caramel- butterscotch pudding, lemon drop cupcakes, and passion-fruit Pavlova. And, of course, there’s an entire chapter devoted to lemonades.

Next is a bit further east and narrower in focus, The New Southwest by Meagan Micozzi of the popular food blog, Scarletta Bakes. Just like the blog, the book is filled with exquisite photography and informative bits about each recipe. And — essential to the non-Southwest cook/native — the book begins with very helpful sections about stocking the pantry (so many chilies!) and some of the unique equipment in an Arizona kitchen.

There’s a section on basics (salsa, tortillas) to get you started before moving into side dishes, entrees, desserts and beverages. A number of recipes are even vegan or vegetarian. Fideo burritos, vinegar biscuits, mushroom and leek migas, and savory baked pumpkin flautas are just a few of the recipes that jumped out at me as incredibly tempting. And the recipe that caught my eye right away — Navajo fry bread — just moved to the top of my to-do list.

So, who’s got a fryer I can borrow?

Lastly, there’s the lastest in the Crazy About series (I reviewed Crazy About Pies this summer), Crazy About Chocolate.

How can you possibly go wrong with this book? Author Krystina Castella has assembled more than 200 recipes for chocolate lovers here. Candies, cakes, pastries, cookies, puddings, ice creams are all included and even collected by occasion and holiday.

The book begins with the basics about working with chocolate and knowing what’s what among all the different types. Then it’s all about making “everyday chocolate,” which includes ganache truffles, which are not a part of my everyday chocolates, but I wouldn’t mind if they were. The special-occasion sections have a number of great ideas for bridal and baby showers, weddings, birthdays and other events. Everything from triple-chocolate biscotti, cakes and macarons to puffs and eclairs. Aside from the obvious dessert options, there are recipes for working chocolate into the main dishes as well (chocolate dipping sauce for fries! chocolate pasta!).

Of course, there are also great recipes for drinking your chocolate (besides just the standard hot cocoa). Hobby bakers can find loads of fun new projects in this book, and experienced bakers can find some inspiration as well.

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