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Cookbooks Could Be Your Last Minute Gift-giving Solution

Still looking for a holiday present? Our food columnist has a few cookbook suggestions – including a few from Orange County authors.

Cookbooks, from left, "Chili Crisp," "The Fierce Foods Kitchen," "Spaghettini at Home" and "Take It Easy." Photo collage by Heide Janssen, Culture OC

I own too many coffee cups. There is still some space for glassware, but I just cannot with the mugs anymore. 

Now, a cookbook is a purchase I can get behind. They look good on shelves and tables, encourage reading away from a screen and are a not-so-subtle hint to cook for framily. If you’re still scrolling Amazon for ideas, perhaps you’re shopping in the wrong place?

This modest list is a starting point to inspire holiday purchases when you find yourself contemplating the mug selection inside Target.

‘The Fierce Foods Kitchen: Healing Through Culinary Medicine’ by the MaxLove Project

Cover of the cookbook "The Fierce Foods Kitchen: Healing Through Culinary Medicine" by The MaxLove Project

In June 2022, I discussed the story behind MaxLove Project and participated in a Fierce Foods Academy class. While the cooking session was curated to our audience, the pulled pork recipe I shared from Chef Andrew Johnson could be prepared multiple ways and be appreciated by anyone. The notion of food as medicine really resonated with me, as I learned from Fierce Foods how everyone can benefit from the healing power of preparing food from scratch. 

While most cookbooks focus on recipes (rightfully so), MaxLove took this passion project further by generating a practical, family-friendly reference with his cookbook, “The Fierce Foods Kitchen.” From pages that can be wiped clean, to a wire-bound spine allowing the book to lay open and flat, these thoughtful details make cooking more approachable for those of us who aren’t professional chefs. I’m ready to tackle the Thai-style curried pumpkin soup next week.

Additional features include nutritional data (fat, net carbs and protein), a useful “Staples” chapter of basic sauces and dips, and color images of every completed dish by photographer Anne Watson. “The Fierce Foods Kitchen” is available on the MaxLove Project’s website.

‘What’s Gaby Cooking?: Take It Easy’ by Gaby Dalkin

Cover of the cookbook "Take It Easy" by Gaby Dalkin, a part of her "What's Gaby Cooking" series.

Los Angeles-based Gaby Dalkin founded the website What’s Gaby Cooking? in 2009. A writer, personal chef and entrepreneur, she promotes an easygoing California lifestyle. Her personal commitment to building a community, however, makes the culinary brand stand out in a sea of content creators. It’s Dalkin’s authentic nature that fans gravitate to and want to hang out with.

No stranger to culling recipes, her fifth cookbook in the What’s Gaby Cooking? series, “Take It Easy,” promotes a stress-free collection of bites that are low-maintenance and tasty. Dalkin doesn’t fixate on a particular cuisine, instead celebrating many with chapter titles like Pizza, Pasta and a Few Other Carbs and Spring Roll Party. Many recipes even build upon each other, so once you’ve mastered a basil vinaigrette you can incorporate it into the oven-baked ratatouille like a pro. 

A businesswoman who selectively chooses who she partners up with, Dalkin’s ongoing collaboration with Crate & Barrel is how I acquired the book. The commentary offered before recipes provides a glimpse into her thought process as well as her gregarious personality.

‘Spaghettini at Home’ by Spaghettini

Cover of "Spaghettini at Home" which is organized by favorite meals by jazz musicians with QR code links to their music.

Roughly the size of a vinyl record, this progressive hardcover is not your typical collection of recipes – then again Spaghettini isn’t your average Italian ristorante. This Seal Beach institution of 35 years is well known not only for its cuisine but the live jazz performances held throughout the year. So it made sense that in lieu of standard chapters, each section of “Spaghettini at Home” is dedicated to a musician and his/her preferred meal at Spaghettini.

Chef Victor Avila lays the culinary foundation for each recipe with an accessible ingredient list beside user-friendly instructions. How does Dave Koz prefer his martini? It’s in the first chapter. 

Comprehensive meals that include sides, dessert and sauces allow patrons to appreciate the breadth of Spaghettini’s menu. Wine pairing suggestions and artist biographies encourage readers to learn beyond the sauce pan. 

The detail that makes this cookbook a cohesive companion to the restaurant is the inclusion of a QR code next to each musician bio linking readers to playlists for a multi-sensory experience. Now that’s a cookbook

Chili Crisp’ by James Park

Cover of the cookbook "Chili Crisp" by James Park

A single subject (albeit a condiment) cookbook sounds like a tough sell, if you ask me. Yet if there was ever an opportunity for a distinct taste other than sriracha to shine, this may be it. Author of “Chili Crisp,” James Park embraces the topic, discussing the condiment’s influence on his culinary upbringing before giving cultural context.

Chili crisp’s three components, chili flakes, oil and flavoring, have so much versatility in what exact ingredients can be blended that it begins to make sense how such a taste can marry well with composed dishes of both a savory and sweet nature. The narrow focus of this book means the recipient will have strong feelings about it; like the way “Chili Crisp” names different food pairings, I think a homemade jar of the stuff will package nicely with this cookbook when gifting.

Bonus: ‘Unreasonable Hospitality’ by Will Guidara 

This is not a cookbook, but its message can be applied to other industries. Going beyond traditional notions of customer service, “Unreasonable Hospitality” explores the mindset of creating a memory or experience to make someone feel special. The anecdotes Will Guidara shares were so engaging, I referenced one in a previous column.

Guidara makes “Unreasonable Hospitality” a very personal yet relatively short read. Although there aren’t any recipes included, there is enough behind-the-scenes talk of New York’s Eleven Madison Park and its rise to fame that readers will come to appreciate the hospitality industry from a different perspective. 

Save the Date

Tuesday, Dec. 12: Sweetgreen opens in Huntington Beach at 18681 Main St. with free coffee, flowers and kids activities. Note: The new salmon plate is fire.

Friday, Dec. 22: OC Baking Company’s final pop-up for the year at 1960 N. Glassell St. in Orange. Vendors were sold out by noon last time.

Saturday, Dec. 30: I’m on the SoCal Restaurant Show (AM 830 KLAA) for two segments.

Sunday, Dec. 31: Kick off New Year’s at your local Puesto (Irvine and Anaheim); they’re handing out boozy Mexican candy shots at 9 p.m. (midnight NYC time).

Every Sunday: The Queen Mary reintroduced Sunday brunch for the first time since 2020 earlier this month. If you’ve been craving a buffet, look no further than this OC-adjacent landmark.

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