A set of Henckels knives? Check. A collection of Le Creuset cookware? Check. A KitchenAid stand-mixer? Check. What gift do you get for a cook whose kitchen is filled with the best equipment and niftiest gadgets? A book, of course. Whether stuffed with unique recipes or sumptuous photographs, a good cookbook is a turn-on for the most jaded epicurean. Better yet, you can stay loyal to "local" with any of the following books, all by authors who live, at least part-time, in Vermont.
The Scrumptious Cookbook by Barbara Cook
Know someone who misses the beloved - and now defunct - Scrumptious Neighborhood Café and Bakery in Burlington's Old North End? Former fans will be delighted to know there's a cookbook with all their favorite recipes, from "breakfast goodies" to "quiches and other pies" and "dressings and spreads." The book was just released this week.
Former café owner Barbara Cook, who now lives in Florida, incorporated quotations from and memories of patrons to recall the eatery's community orientation. But the greatest feature of this cookbook is its simplicity. Recipes are written clearly and concisely - each one features a numbered list of steps to follow. The most complex ones, such as cinnamon rolls, are divided into easily digestible sections.
Read the recipe for Tomato Basil Soup and you'll see why it was a Seven Days staff favorite - it includes a cup of heavy cream and a whole stick of butter. The creators of Scrumptious cuisine didn't shy away from the "good stuff."
Other rich recipes are Artichoke and Potato Quiche and Cream of Leek and Brie Soup. On the lighter side, there's Asian Slaw, Spicy Black Beans with Lime, and Zucchini and Pasta Soup.
The Scrumptious Cookbook is available locally at As the Crow Flies and Rail City Market in St. Albans, The Willow House in South Burlington, American Heritage Gifts in Stowe and Shelburne Farms Visitors Center.
All About Braising: The Art of Uncomplicated Cooking by Molly Stevens
Braising had fallen out of favor in our quick-cuisine world - until Williston food writer Molly Stevens brought it back to the table in October 2004 with this James Beard Award-winning cookbook. The method involves browning meat or vegetables in fat and simmering the ingredients in a small amount of liquid, usually in a closed vessel that is placed in a slow oven. The beauty of braising is that it can elevate the ordinary: Gentle heat makes even the cheapest cut of beef beautifully tender, and turns those root vegetables in the back of the fridge into objects of desire. With clear writing and helpful illustrations, All About Braising aptly captures the transformative power of the technique.
Parsnips are the great-aunts of the vegetable world - delicately sweet and old-fashioned - but they turn sultry and sassy in Stevens' recipe for chicken breasts braised with parsnips, thick-cut bacon, cider, rosemary and shallots.
Though the featured fare is comfort food, this book doesn't stop at the borders of New England. There are also recipes for ethnic dishes such as Caribbean Pork Shoulder, which pairs the pork with a fragrant spice blend and a mixture of orange and lime juice.
Stevens has a way with words, as evidenced by her recipe for Red Cabbage Braised with Maple & Ginger, one of many vegetable - but not necessarily vegetarian - dishes in the book. In the introduction she writes, "Braising cabbage this way renders it lusciously silky and aromatic with the flavors of spice and fruit." Later, in the body of the recipe, she suggests, "Sauté, stirring frequently, until the strands begin to wilt and have a moist gleam." Has cabbage ever sounded so sexy?
The EatingWell Healthy in a Hurry Cookbook by Jim Romanoff and the editors of EatingWell
With recipes selected from EatingWell magazine's "Healthy in a Hurry" column, this book is an excellent choice for those who like to prepare their own wholesome meals but don't have much time. Since every dish is heart-healthy, low-carb or high fiber - or some combination thereof - it's also helpful for folks on restricted diets.
But the healthy moniker doesn't mean these recipes are bland - consider Mustard Crusted Salmon and Garlic, or Parsley Rubbed Lamb Chops with Greek Couscous Salad. And each recipe, no matter how complex it sounds, is meant to be ready in less than 45 minutes.
The lovely photography is a bonus, as is the nutritional analysis included with each recipe - the calorie content as well as amounts of saturated fat, carbs, sodium, fiber and more are indicated for each serving. If a dish is high in certain vitamins or minerals, a "nutrition bonus" segment on the page lets you know. And there are tips for how to save time at the grocery store.
Published last January, this book may not suit cooks who turn up their noses at convenience foods. The recip e for Shrimp Enchiladas Verde, for example, calls for pre-cooked shrimp, frozen corn, canned green chiles and refried beans, and pre-shredded cheese. Instant brown rice also pops up often.
On the other hand, most dishes, such as the American-sounding Korean-Style Steak & Lettuce Wraps, are full of whole foods. For the wraps, flank steak is grilled and tossed with a flavorful marinade made from soy sauce, lime juice, herbs and spices, then wrapped in leaves of Bibb lettuce. Mmmm.
Vegetable Love: A Book for Cooks by Barbara Kafka
Featuring 750 recipes, Kafka's year-old book on cooking vegetables is one of the most ample. It's also organized in a unique way; while most veggie-only books are strictly alphabetical, Kafka divides her produce based on what part of the world it stems from, and then by type of plant. Thus, in the chapter titled "Vegetables of the New World," there's a section for winter squash, another for "American roots" - even one for tomatillos.
The recipes in this book are all about the pleasure of eating vegetables, and they eschew neither fats nor animal products. The one for Avocado Ice Cream, for example, could be the "poster" recipe for decadent vegetable consumption. Another is Seafood Succotash, which includes corn, cream, butter, lobster, shrimp, mussels and bourbon among its ingredients.
Vermonters who try to eat local foods all year round will appreciate the number of dishes made with winter produce, such as seven recipes for celeriac and 19 for beets. Since Kafka gardens in Vermont, this makes sense. She also gives other underutilized vegetables a chance to shine. Kafka's recipe for leek gratin is a straightforward, lovely dish. Little-known plants such as purslane and samphire make cameo appearances here and there throughout the book.
While many of the dishes are beautifully simple, this is not a book for those who merely want to prepare a few familiar vegetables in tried-and-true ways. To quote Kafka: "I am not an expert in all nationalities of food. I can give recipes for that which I truly enjoy and the vegetables that I can find. I would love to have written a true encyclopedia. This is a love letter instead."
The Artful Eater: A Gourmet Investigates the Ingredients of Great Food by Edward Behr
This selection is not actually a cookbook. Rather, it's a collection of essays by Peacham resident Edward Behr, editor of a quarterly food newsletter called The Art of Eating. Each article in it is a passionate ode to "the best food and wine."
The book, composed mainly of material from the earliest editions of The Art of Eating, was originally published in 1992. The revised edition came out in 2004 and has a new list of supply sources for Behr's favorite items.
This book is best suited for a committed gastronome who enjoys deep analysis. One of its lengthier chapters is about the "arcane history" and botany of the carrot. Not just any carrot, but "the sweet orange carrot." As Behr points out, "There hasn't always been an orange carrot, nor has the carrot always been so very sweet."
Other chapters are devoted to culinaria such as "The Goodness of Salt," "Sorrel, Wild and Tame" and "English Walnuts." The writing has an academic tone absent from most food journalism these days, but Behr's fervent opinions frequently shine through.
To order a signed, hardcover edition of The Artful Eater, visit Behr's website at http://www.artofeating.com. To purchase a paperback, head to http://www.chelseagreen.com.