Cross all parents of young children off your gift list by buying them Chop Chop: The Kids' Guide to Cooking Real Food With Your Family (Simon & Schuster Paperbacks), the book version of an innovative nonprofit quarterly magazine created by Sally Sampson, one of the country's most skilled and experience cookbook writers. Sampson has solved a puzzle everyone talks about—how to make children and families cook—by being truly cross-cultural, practical, explicit, and never patronizing. Whether cheeseburgers, chili, gazpacho, homemade peanut butter, fajitas, or molasses cookies, these are recipes that will teach parents as well as children, and fill refrigerators for weeknight suppers.
As with chef books, professional bakers' books are seldom of direct use in a home kitchen. Chad Robertson's Tartine Book No 3 (Chronicle) isn't really an exception. It's not for beginners. But Robertson might be the most admired bread baker in the country: Tartine, in the Mission district of San Francisco, has a line out the door pretty much every minute it's open (I'm proud to say I devoted a chapter to its original location in my Pleasures of Slow Food); Bar Tartine, its restaurant a few streets away, is a must stop for every food-lover. His cult has reached Sweden and Denmark, where he has spent time teaching and baking. His new book shows the influence of those trips, in sprouted- and fermented-grain and seeded breads, and breads using cold-climate grains like rye, oat, cracked corn, kamut, toasted groats, and millet, many of which will be of interest to those looking to reduce or eliminate their gluten consumption
The four locations of Flour, a bakery-cafe in Boston, also have constant lines, but this being Boston, with infinite winters, they don't go out the door. At first the restaurants were popular for the sunny personality of the owner, Joanne Chang, who was always there to welcome customers. Now she bikes and runs (literally—she does marathons) between the locations, but not everyone knows her, they just know how good the soups, salads, sandwiches, and mini-pizzas are, as well as the baked goods. In Flour, Too: Indispensable Recipes for the Cafe's Most Loved Sweets & Savories (Chronicle), Chang reveals the secrets of her egg sandwich (bake scrambled eggs and cut them into pieces, layering the squares with tomatoes, cheese, and bacon), curried tuna with apples and golden raisins (the sandwich I always have; now I see one of the reasons it's so good is lime, not lemon, juice and red, not white, onion), and "winter paper salad," with hazelnuts, fennel, apples, celery, and flat-leaf parsley, dressed with hazelnut oil, dijon, and champagne vinegar. There are holiday showpieces—croquembouche and buche de noel—but the dessert likely to become standard is bittersweet chocolate-espresso terrine, flourless and not great to look at but potent to eat, and one of her most popular desserts.
No season is complete without chocolate porn. This year Alice Medrich updated her 2003 classic Bitter Sweet with Seriously Bitter Sweet: The Ultimate Dessert Maker's Guide to Chocolate (Artisan), which lives up to its title. But for Brooklyn hip you'll need Mast Brothers Chocolate: A Family Cookbook (Little, Brown), by Rick and Michael Mast, craggy-featured, long-bearded brothers whose flair for handmade papers, purist bars, and simple recipes makes this a beautiful but approachable book. No recipes are complicated, and you'll want to try the spare sauces and truffles, even if the meringues and Boston cream pie will take some skill to achieve.
Auxiliary trip to Brooklyn hip: The Way We Ate: 100 Chefs Celebrate a Century at the American Table [Touchstone], by Noah Fecks and Paul Wagtouicz, two young, talented, sunglassed, long-bearded, and in-demand photographers whose Tumblr blog The Way We Ate created a sensation in the food world when they set out to reproduce recipes from every issue of Gourmet ever published. The book is organized around a theme or event of every year of the 20th century, which they invited in-group chefs to riff on with one recipe for a drink, dish, or dessert. "Organized" is a loose term here—this is an amiable mess of a book, but on every spread there's a terrific food picture.
Not every year, a book features a voice you'll want to hear from again and again, by a writer with a beautiful, liquid, emotionally charged style. Fifteen years ago it was Ruth Reichl with Tender at the Bone; four years ago Tamar Adler with An Everlasting Meal; this year it is Elissa Altman, the writer of a James Beard award-winning blog of the same name as her book, Poor Man’s Feast: A Love Story of Comfort, Desire, and the Art of Simple Cooking (Chronicle). Poor Man's Feast is the story of her Jewish upbringing in Forest Hills and the merging of cultures with her partner, Susan Turner, whose Polish Catholic family was very different from her own. As with those books, chapters conclude with recipes to express and punctuate particularly charged passages, like songs in a musical; because Altman is such a good cook, they're appealing as well as strategically placed (onion panade, a warming supper to make when you've only got onions, old bread, and cheese in the house). But it's the frank, precise lyricism of her writing that will draw you to and back to this book.