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2020 COOKBOOKS: Perfect for Holiday Gifting

Updated: Nov 25, 2020

Heads up, everyone--the “gifting” season is approaching!! I for one am really looking forward to the pleasure of choosing thoughtful (preferably non-budget-busting) holiday gifts for the people on my list. I know for some it’s early, but I really want to savor the process.

Mulling over possible ideas, I thought about how recently, food has become such a focal point for many of us. We’ve all been spending so much time at home—working, helping kids with remote learning, chilling with Netflix, reading, doing projects and puzzles, entertaining outdoors and especially cooking more—either out of necessity or for fun.

Anyone who loves to cook no doubt has a few reliable “go-to” cookbooks that can always be counted on. Several of mine are pretty well-worn, and my very favorite cookbook called Around My French Table by Dori Greenspan is falling apart. I’ve literally cooked the cover off of it! But my “tried and true” recipes have become a bit boring--I’ve just made them too often. I’m ready for some new inspiration!

One thing I’ve been keeping an eye on lately is all the newly released cookbooks. And there are tons. Here’s what appeals to me in a cookbook. First, great recipes that I’ll actually try--some simple ones that my family will eat; some that will challenge my skills or taste buds; and a few more difficult, aspirational recipes. Second is gorgeous photography—I love food porn! (Okay, I really wanted to go further with that comment, but I abstained!) And finally, I want a cookbook with interesting commentary or a backstory, and if that relates to travel, even better!

This week I spent a couple of hours at my local bookstore checking out a few of the buzziest new cookbooks. One that I immediately put at the top of my Christmas list is The Roads to Rome by Jarrett Wrisley and Paolo Vitaletti. This is a beautifully photographed Italian cookbook/travelogue. The premise of the book is that Roman cuisine developed from foods that were brought to the capital via the trade routes of the ancient Appian Way (hence “the roads to Rome”). The authors, who own Appia, an Italian restaurant in Bangkok, spent five years exploring and eating in towns, villages and farms along the Appian Way. The cookbook combines authentic recipes, and the history and culture of the food with stories and photos of the people they met and the places they visited. I can’t wait to scratch my travel itch with this book!

In Bibi’s Kitchen Hawa Hassan, along with Julia Turshen, has collected “The Recipes & Stories of Grandmothers from the Eight African Countries That Touch the Indian Ocean”. This intriguing book honors the stories of these bibis (grandmothers) and their home cooking. The women are originally from Somalia, Eritrea, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, South Africa, Madagascar and Comoros. Some are immigrants or refugees of war. Along with the recipes, the bibis talk about their lives, family and gender roles, love and loss. The cookbook connects them to the cultural and historical traditions of their countries. You can see the remnants of colonialism in East Africa’s cuisine. For example the absence of spices in some Kenyan food is attributable to its time as a British colony, and the enduring popularity of spaghetti in Somalia resulted from its decades as an Italian colony. Who knew? In any case, I’m excited to discover these women’s stories while stretching my taste buds!

No catalogue of new cookbooks is complete without Ina Garten’s recent offering, called Modern Comfort Food. (One of my favorite guilty pleasures is to binge watch episodes of “Barefoot Contessa”. I just love Ina—she’s the bomb.). Ina defines comfort food as “familiar, delicious and soul-satisfying.” That about sums up her new book, which (fittingly) was written during the pandemic. She’s freshened up the old standards with condiments and garnishes like white truffle butter, red-pepper aioli, Sriracha, microgreens and pomegranate seeds. And some dishes have been reimagined: think beef stew made with short ribs rather than tough, dry beef chuck; or pasta carbonara with less cream and more veggies; and tomato soup with saffron. This sounds like the kind of food I want to be cooking and eating to cheer me up during the cold, dark winter days of the pandemic!

Below, I’ve listed a few of the new cookbooks that appeal to me. I wasn’t able to examine each one (some were shrink-wrapped in the bookstore, and some I couldn’t find), but all of these are getting great reviews. For sure the chefs, bakers, cocktail makers and travel-deprived people on my list will be receiving a few of these volumes!


The Roads to Rome

by Jarrett Wrisley and Paolo Vitaletti ($25.52)

In Bibi’s Kitchen

by Hawa Hassan with Julia Turshen ($21.99)

Modern Comfort Food

by Ina Garten ($21.00)

The Chilean Kitchen

by Pilar Hernandez and Eileen Smith ($24.99)

The Rise: Black Cooks and the Soul of American Food

by Marcus Samuelsson with Osayi Endolyn ($32.67)


by Nigel Slater ($18.09)

by Claire Saffitz ($17.98)

The Mexican Home Kitchen

by Mely Martínez ($25.19)

Milk, Spice and Curry Leaves


by Olly Smith ($14.39)

Il Buco

by Donna Lennard with Joshua David Stein ($28.49)

A Blissful Feast: Culinary Adventures in Italy’s Piedmont, Maremma, and Le Marche

by Teresa Lust ($13.91)

The Kitchen Without Borders: Recipes and Stories from Refugee and Immigrant Chefs

by the Eat Offbeat Chefs ($24.95)

Around My French Table

by Dori Greenspan (published 2010) ($27.99)

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