The holiday season this year has been a compressed blur, with
Thanksgiving segueing instantly into Hanukkah into Christmas. I bet
you haven't had a chance to do much more than crack your cookbooks
to the right page as you dash from one festive culinary ordeal to
the next. Forget about browsing through new books in an
But in the week before New Year's, there always seems to be a
bit of a lull. The office is deserted, the kids are home from
school, the cookies are just sitting there. Isn't it time for a
snack and a book?
If you agree, you might have a look at some of this year's
biggest books. And by big, I mean physically big--the ones that
hurt your toe if you drop them. Most of them have about a thousand
What to Cook and
How to Cook It: Jane Hornby's love letter to new cooks,
showing in full color every step in recipes ranging roast chicken
to cheese onion tart.
Illustrated Step-by-Step Cook: A slightly less illustrated,
more sophisticated version of the same, if you're not afraid of
trying the show-off foods of many countries and if you like, say,
Cooking at Home has all the recipes you ever bought high-end
cookware for--soufflés (ramekins), tartlets (false bottom pans),
sorbets (ice cream maker), citrus curd (whisk, zester).
The New York Times Essential Cookbook has a
dizzy, multiethnic collection of recipes collected over the years;
juxtaposes the dated-but-charming with the trendy-and-urbane.
Sunset Cookbook, from Sunset Magazine. Just-folks, large-scale
recipes (typically serving 8 to 10) with photographs pretty enough
to go in a magazine--oh, that's right.
Skills of Cooking: Can you field-dress a guinea hen? Dry your own beef jerky? Make your own
butter? Darina Allen can. If you want to too, this is the book you
Any one of these books will leave you feeling empowered to cook
just about anything that is edible to humans, whether animal,
vegetable, or mineral (OK, not a lot of mineral, but there's always
salt). Or you can just stretch out, reach for a takeout menu and
the phone, and grab another book. All of us deserve to feel a
little "Let's not and say we did!" from time to time. After all, we
can always resolve to be more industrious on January 1.