Dear Santa: the best cookbooks for gifts this Christmas

Perfect gifts: Cookbooks for Christmas.
Perfect gifts: Cookbooks for Christmas. Photo: Simon Schluter

The Good Food team reviews this year's Christmas hit list of cookbooks. 

Big Gay Ice Cream Book
Doug Quint and Bryan Petroff, Ten Speed, $45

Big Gay Ice Cream by Bryan Petroff and Douglas Quint.
Big Gay Ice Cream by Bryan Petroff and Douglas Quint.  

Doug Quint and Bryan Petroff are the two New Yorkers who won the hearts and minds of America in 2009 with a rainbow-emblazoned Mister Softee truck, fancy soft serve toppings and hilarious banter. Their first book, designed like a high school yearbook, is full of bad hairstyles, playlists for ice-cream socials and stories about the time they held a food seminar in a funeral home. It's also really useful, starting basic with ways to gussy-up store bought ice-cream, and more complex make-it-from-scratch recipes.

I made: the Choinkwich (a chocolate and caramelised bacon ice-cream sandwich)
Go-to recipe: Hot fudge sauce
Good for: Ice-cream enthusiasts with dirty minds

Gemima Cody

NOPI: The Cookbook
Yotam Ottolenghi and Ramael Scully, Ebury Press, $60

NOPI: The Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Ramael Scully.
NOPI: The Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Ramael Scully. 

Banana leaves and barberries. Rice vinegar and rose petals. In this gilt-edged cookbook Jerusalem-born celebrity cook Yotam Ottolenghi and Malaysian-born, Australian-raised head chef Ramael Scully pool their cultural influences on dishes from the menu of London's NOPI restaurant. Ottolenghi warns that home cooks may find the recipes challenging. He's not kidding. Some involve six components and arcane ingredients such as cocoa nibs and date syrup. But while less accessible than Ottolenghi's previous cookbooks, fans will find plenty of inspiration.

I made: Roasted carrots with coriander seeds and garlic
Go-to recipe: Twice-cooked baby chicken with chilli sauce and kaffir lime leaf salt
Good for: Ottolenghi diehards

Roslyn Grundy

Special Delivery by Annabel Crabb and Wendy Sharpe.
Special Delivery by Annabel Crabb and Wendy Sharpe. 

Special Delivery
Annabel Crabb and Wendy Sharpe, Murdoch Books, $40

"Bring a plate" occasions. Potluck dinners. Cooking for new parents, the bereaved or the overwhelmed. The host of ABC TV's Kitchen Cabinet has enlisted her bestie to help write this cookbook, featuring dishes that are good to go, tips for successfully transporting them and suggestions for matching recipe to recipient. Recipes range from hot chocolate mixture in a jar to a lavish vegetarian moussaka. Crabb is renowned for toting desserts to politicians' houses and it's the sweet dishes that really shine.

Spice Temple by Neil Perry.
Spice Temple by Neil Perry. 

I made: Apricot slice with lemon icing
Go-to recipe: Roasted strawberry ginger cheesecake
Good for: Caring and sharing cooks

Roslyn Grundy

Spice Temple
Neil Perry, Lantern, RRP $70

River Cottage: Love Your Leftovers, by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.
River Cottage: Love Your Leftovers, by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. 

On first flip-through of this beautifully photographed, black-and-red book I felt daunted. Each recipe required another recipe (like salted chillies, which I should have started two weeks ago). Lots of dishes hail from the fiery Sichuan province (a win for chilli fans, choose carefully for kids), and there are some cool speciality ingredients, such as wild bamboo pith and yellow rock sugar. This isn't for the fast, midweek dash; this is an exciting, challenging collection. I don't mean to bring out the "J-word" but once you were set up with some basic preparation underway, this book could take you on a grand culinary journey.

I made: Masterstock (easy and aromatic) and red-braised lamb. Winner.
Go-to recipe: Hit the "Basic Preparation" chapter first, eg, salted chillies
Good for: Those who want a BodyPump class in Chinese cooking

Adam Liaw's Asian Cookery School by Adam Liaw.
Adam Liaw's Asian Cookery School by Adam Liaw. 

Nina Rousseau

Love Your Leftovers
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Bloomsbury, RRP $45

Oooh, leftovers. I went to a mate's place once and was served reheated, two-day-old pasta. If only she'd had this book, we could have cheers-ed over a whiz-bang spag bol omelette or fab frittata. This cheery yellow offering by River Cottage's Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall worships the pre-loved ingredient. Mushy tomatoes? Shazam! A savoury supper of eggs. Yesterday's roast lamb? Hello lamb and mint cous cous. Each chapter is colour-coded for easy reference from roots to rice to bread to fish (which HFW reckons is the king of the next-day meal). Some dishes seem a little far-fetched (broccoli stem carpaccio, anyone?) but this is a fun, useful read.

Falafel For Breakfast by Michael Rantissi and Kristy Frawley.
Falafel For Breakfast by Michael Rantissi and Kristy Frawley. 

I made: Stew enchiladas, a cheesy, beany, sour cream reincarnation that hit the spot midweek
Go-to recipe: Roasted root veg gratin with a crumble of blue cheese and nuts (awesome)
Good for: Instinctual cooks who love lots of options and loose recipes

Nina Rousseau

Adam Liaw's Asian Cookery School
Adam Liaw, Hachette Australia, RRP $50

Cornersmith by Alex Elliott-Howery and James Grant.
Cornersmith by Alex Elliott-Howery and James Grant. 

Asian cookery enthusiasts, welcome to your manual, a brilliant step-by-step guide in the tradition of Julia Child. Recipes are easy and well-organised, covering a range of Asian cuisines with an emphasis on Japanese. In how-to style, there's at least one picture, or multiples, for every dish. Detailed explanations give clear guidelines of the basics, from using the right equipment to seasoning a wok, so there's loads of support for the home cook. One minor downer, there's no ribbon, so keep the bookmarks handy.

I made: Salt-grilled salmon and spinach in sesame dressing
Go-to dish: Boiled dumplings (Shui jiao) filled with pork
Good for: Those who want a crash course in Asian cookery

Nina Rousseau

Greek by George Calombaris.
Greek by George Calombaris. 

Falafel for Breakfast
Michael Rantissi and Kristy Frawley, Murdoch Books, $50

When Kepos Street Kitchen opened in Sydney's Redfern in 2012, the queues soon followed for its Middle Eastern riff on weekend brunch. Many of the menu crowd-pleasers feature in this book, including the falafel, shakshuka and gorgeous summer drinks. Vegetables are given a flavour injection (cumin, coriander and green chilli), and there's a whole section devoted to shareable dishes, but some make great midweek meals too. And sweet tooths rejoice. They've included the recipe for their chocolate halva brownies.

At My Table by Mary McCartney.
At My Table by Mary McCartney. 

I made: Roy's chreime (fish stew); cauliflower, raw tahini and zhoug salad
Go-to recipe: Falafel
Good for: Flavour-seekers

Sarah McInerney

Cornersmith: Recipes from the cafe and picklery
Alex Elliott-Howery and James Grant, Murdoch Books, $50

New Kitchen by Karen Martini.
New Kitchen by Karen Martini. 

This is the kind of book that makes me want to be a better person. A bottler, a preserver ... the kind that starts a tomato day tradition with family and friends to stock up on passata. Written by the husband-and-wife team behind popular Sydney cafe Cornersmith, the book is divided seasonally, plus there's a chapter at the back devoted to the ins and outs of preserving. If you've ever been tempted to get your pickle on, this book is a good place to start.

I made: Bread-and-butter cucumber pickles; red cabbage, pickled corn, chilli and coriander slaw
Go-to recipe: Preserved lemons or limes
Good for: New Year's resolution makers

Sarah McInerney

Good Food, Good Life, by Curtis Stone.
Good Food, Good Life, by Curtis Stone. 

Greek
George Calombaris, Lantern / Penguin, $60

"If you're not in the mood to cook, if you're just not feeling it, don't do it." This advice in the introduction to Calombaris' fifth cookbook goes a long way to explaining his success as a restaurateur, TV host and author; we only ever see the love. I started with souvlaki – an entire chapter – and started craving the lamb souvla mixed with miso eggplant. Accessible and exciting recipes.

Biota by James Viles.
Biota by James Viles. 

I made: Pork sheftalia with coriander tabbouleh and tahini yoghurt / peanut and coriander seed hummus
Go-to recipe: Cauliflower skordalia and crispy pork souvlaki
Good for: Those who've already succumbed to Calombaris's recipes, but equally those who've not.

Jane Holroyd

At My Table
Mary McCartney, Random House, $55

McCartney? Yes, as in the daughter of Paul and Linda. It would be easy to dismiss this as a celebrity's whim. But At My Table wins me over with its practicality. Based on celebratory menus, McCartney shows vegetarian dishes (and guests) needn't play second fiddle at special occasions. I love the My American Side chapter – a US-style barbecue feast featuring black bean burgers, creamy salads and key lime pie. It's a lovely homage to McCartney's clearly happy years growing up in a household that famously eschewed meat, with plenty of brainwaves inspired by her own young family.

A Year of Practiculture: Recipes for living, growing, hunting and cooking with the seasons by Rohan Andeson.
A Year of Practiculture: Recipes for living, growing, hunting and cooking with the seasons by Rohan Andeson. 

I made: Let Them Have It Fruit Popsicles
Go-to recipe: Moussaka (a caramelised vegie version topped with melty cheddar and feta)
Good for: Those leaning towards the meat-free lifestyle, not a token dish (or day)

Jane Holroyd

New Kitchen
Karen Martini, Pan Macmillan, RRP $45

Fried Chicken and Friends: The Hartsyard Family Cookbook by Gregory Llewellyn and Naomi Hart.
Fried Chicken and Friends: The Hartsyard Family Cookbook by Gregory Llewellyn and Naomi Hart.  

You know the name, you know the face, and with seven bestseller cookbooks, chances are you've cooked or been served a Karen Martini dish. New Kitchen is a collection of recipes inspired by past and present and it's clear south-east Asia, particularly Japan and Korea, has been a big influence of late. You'll find pho, bibimbap and shoyu ramen​ alongside re-vamped ricotta ravioli and bolognese-style mushroom ragu. My favourite chapter? Hands On: leave the cutlery in the drawer, with empanadas, spiced pork belly bao and Korean-style fried chicken, Pass the serviettes.

I made: Pulled pork belly with tortillas, lime and herb salsa and chipotle adobo
Go-to recipe: Anything from the Hands On: leave the cutlery in the drawer chapter
Good for: Karen fans; all-rounders

The Cook and the Baker by Cherie Bevan and Tass Tauroa.
The Cook and the Baker by Cherie Bevan and Tass Tauroa. 

Jessica Dale

Good Food, Good Life
Curtis Stone, Random House, $40

This is far from the coolest cookbook released this year (I spied it on sale at Kmart for $10) and while Stone isn't fermenting bunya nuts in birchwood, the recipes here are exactly the no-fuss dinners you want to cook midweek and eat with mid-priced plonk. I never thought the recipes I cooked most in 2015 would be from a Coles-spruiking, hang-tenning, Chesty Bond lookalike, but here we are.

Supernormal by Andrew McConnell.
Supernormal by Andrew McConnell. 

I made: Simple roast chicken, pan-roasted brussels sprouts with chorizo
Go-to recipe: Porcini-braised beef with horseradish mascarpone
Good for: Anyone who enjoys the smell of slow-cooked ragu wafting through the house

Callan Boys

Biota
James Viles, Murdoch Books, $60

The Blue Ducks' Real Food by Mark LaBrooy and Darren Robertson.
The Blue Ducks' Real Food by Mark LaBrooy and Darren Robertson. 

Wowee, this is a gorgeous book. Photographer Jason Loucas has done a knock-out job of capturing both the beautiful, composed dishes James Viles creates at his two-hatted Bowral restaurant and Biota's sense of place in the Southern Highlands. Are you going to whip up pork neck in eucalyptus with chestnuts for Tuesday dinner? Probably not, but you might take its chestnut creme component and use it with the pigeon cooked in maltstock.

I made: Smoked hen, creamed corn and sprouted grains
Go-to recipe: Green almonds, purslane and fried fish throats
Good for: Noma-philes, gardening enthusiasts and wilderness lovers

Callan Boys

The Mediterrranean Diet Cookbook by Dr Catherine Itsiopoulos.
The Mediterrranean Diet Cookbook by Dr Catherine Itsiopoulos. 

A Year of Practiculture
Rohan Anderson, Hardie Grant, $49.95

I was sold on the cover alone for Ro Anderson's second book; the Whole Larder Love blogger and legend bloke photographed in the forest like a foraging cowboy mystic, dog at his side, basket in hand. The pages are alive with charming, witty and considered stories about everything from growing broad beans, to deer hunting to a little goose named Ryan the Gosling and based around a year of Anderson's living on the Victorian land. There is nothing here I don't want to cook, ideally with Neil Young's Harvest spinning on the side.

I made: Broccoli pappardelle, elderflower cordial
Go-to recipe: Sweet and hot braised hare with fried polenta
Good for: Anyone who longs to quit their job and raise pigs in the country

Ben's Meat Bible by Ben O'Donoghue.
Ben's Meat Bible by Ben O'Donoghue. 

Callan Boys

Fried Chicken & Friends: The Hartsyard Family Cookbook
Gregory Llewellyn and Naomi Hart, Murdoch Books, $50

This book from Newtown's hip fried chicken hotspot Hartsyard is a recipe for a rollicking good time. Following a 20-page ode to fried chicken, these recipes help you create your own southern-US feast – perhaps hush puppies, salad dressed in pork fat and fancied up beef shin. Recipes tend to be less refined than the restaurant, and the book is peppered with candid stories and family recipes, including cookout classics such as collard greens and thick sausage gravy.

I (am going to) make: Fried chicken – succulent meat encased in a shatteringly crunchy coating. Now to dedicate a long weekend to the three-day process…
Go-to recipe: Short on time? Try the (four-hour) quick-fire fried chicken
Good for: Fried chook fiends

Annabel Smith

The Cook and Baker
Cherie Bevan and Tass Tauroa, Murdoch Books, $50

This Bondi (via New Zealand) bakery's book is full of home-baking favourites – think praline-topped palm-sized Afghan biscuits and raspberry coconut ice. The cook (Bevan) and the baker (Tauroa) share nostalgic CWA-style "Kiwiana" classics from across the ditch, and give a diplomatic nod to the pavlova and lamington debates. On the savoury side, you'll find simple pastries for neat quiche cubes and flaky pies. A fine selection of slices, bikkies, tarts and trans-Tasman showstoppers; hummingbird cake topped with mango ribbons is sure to be a summer stunner.

I made: New Zealand lolly cake, the hedgehog slice's hyper-colour cousin
Go-to recipe: Vanilla custard doughnuts – split brioche buns with creamy filling snuggled in a raspberry jam blanket
Good for: Your Kiwi friend

Annabel Smith

Supernormal
Andrew McConnell, Hardie Grant, $60

As with anything carrying the name of Melbourne's most prolific restaurateur, this softcover volume is impeccably stylish. McConnell details the evolution of his hit Asian canteen from early days cooking in Hong Kong and Shanghai, to experimenting at St Kilda's Golden Fields. The 89 recipes are a modern mash-up of Chinese, Korean and Japanese flavours, evocatively photographed by Earl Carter, with a clever appendix categorising dishes into genres such as "picnic" or "weeknight dinner". It's a succinct snapshot of one of our most striking venues.

I made: Lobster roll with Kewpie mayo
Go-to recipe: Peanut butter parfait
Good for: Anyone mad for McConnell

Michael Harry

The Blue Ducks' Real Food
Mark LaBrooy and Darren Robertson, Pan MacMillan, $40

From fine-dining origins (the pair met in the kitchen at Tetsuya's), these Bronte hipsters opened a cultishly successful cafe with spinoffs in Byron Bay and Falls Creek. Like the guys themselves, this collection is laid back, healthy and very good looking. The 104 wholefood recipes are a snapshot of what people are eating right now: kale, quinoa, kimchi, easy curries, quick salads, barbecued meats and seafood. There are also handy how-tos on poaching eggs, opening oysters, making stocks and preserving vegies. One to take to the beach this summer.

I made: Braised lamb shoulder – the "One Pot Wonder".
Go-to recipe: Nana Barney's legendary love cake.
Good for: Sharehouse-living dudes.

Michael Harry

The Mediterranean Diet Cookbook
Dr Catherine Itsiopoulos, McMillan Australia, RRP $35

The author of this cookbook is head of dietetics and human nutrition at La Trobe University. And clearly a food lover. There's no sense of austerity among these pages – just sensible advice about shunning fad diets, embracing "the power of plants", and what a balanced plate looks like. You don't need to have heart disease, diabetes or a spare tyre to enjoy dishes such as chickpea and spinach soup, calamari with wild greens, or "Greek dim sims" (cabbage-wrapped lahanodolmades). But if you do, this cookbook may help.

I made: Cherry spoon sweets
Go-to recipe: Traditional flaky pastry cheese pie (Horiatiki tiropita​)
Good for: Anyone who needs more vegies, legumes and nuts in their life.

Roslyn Grundy

Ben's Meat Bible
Ben O'Donoghue, Hardie Grant Books, $34

Meat, meat, glorious meat. This ex-River Cafe chef, who worked with Jamie Oliver, shares 130 beast-driven hits, from classic meatloaf to hearty shanks to panko-crumbed duck nuggets, advancing Australia's meat-n-three-veg culture. A bright and lively soft-cover offering for creative carnivores.

I made: Steak, smashed potatoes and bearnaise
Go-to recipe: Greek lamb in a bag
Good for: Meat worshippers

Tomas Barnes

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