Stocking stuffers should be at the very top of everybody's gift list: something affordable from under $10 up to $25, and that can also double as a host gift, being something small and lightweight. Most of the books here are paperbacks. And of course, they can stuff an adult stocking.
Typical for food are:
--PRISON RAMEN (Workman, 2015, 154 pages, $12.95 US soft covers) is by Clifton Collins Jr. And Gustavo Alvarez. The former is a Hollywood actor; the latter has been through mentorship programs such as SEEK. These are recipes and stories from behind US prison bars, and include such as hot chili corn chip pie, ramen tamale, ramen burger, PB & J ramen, and about 60 others.
--PIEROGI LOVE (Gibbs Smith, 2015, 124 pages, $20 US) is by Casey Barber. It's a series of new takes on old world comfort food with 32 savoury and 28 sweet pierogies. Global influences here include saag paneer and saltimboca pierogies, as well as gnocchi dough.
--MAKE YOUR OWN CHEESE (Familius, 2015, 40 pages, $5.95 US paper covers) is by Caleb Warnock. These are self-sufficient recipes for cheddar, parmesan, Romano, cream cheese, mozzarella, cottage cheese and feta, using veggie rennet and household equipment.
--CIAO BISCOTTI (Chronicle Books, 2015, 144 pages, $18.95 US) is by Domenica Marchetti. It has 44 sweet and savoury preps, including my fave of fig and fennel. There's smoky gouda, cornmeal with rosemary and parmesan, and Gorgonzola and walnut.
--MUG MEALS (Taunton Press, 2015, 154 pages, $16.95 US paper covers) has 125 options here for breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert. All you need is a mug and a microwave, a handful of ingredients, and up to five minutes cooking. A pantry is essential, with ready made tortilla chips, Thai curry paste, granola, ketchup, cheese, salsa, chocolate chips, etc. Another too for the millennial and/or student.
--NUTS (Sasquatch Books, 2015, 134 pages, $19.95 CAN hard covers) has 50 preps from crunchy to creamy, and savoury to sweet. The wide-ranging look at staples, snacks, soups, salads, sides, seafood and meats, plus desserts is enough to get you started.
--FRIED CHICKEN (Ten Speed Press, 2014, 123 pages, $19.99 CAN hard covers) is by Rebecca Lang, who divides the volume into skillet fried and deep fried. These 60 global preps, with everything crispy, include classic Southern buttermilk fried chicken, chicken Milanese with chimichurri, and Thai drumsticks.
--THE HOME BARISTA (The Experiment, 2015, 192 pages, $19.95 CAN soft covers) is by Simone Egger and Ruby Ashby Orr. They tell you how to bring out the best in every coffee bean. There's a primer with history and certain essentials needed for roasting your own (you can use a popcorn maker), a glossary, mastering the espresso, creating milk textures and designs, blending, and how to make seven different types of brew (from cafetiere to Turkish ibrik).
--CHOWDERLAND (Storey Publishing, 2015, 136 pages, $18.95 CAN hard covers) is by Brooke Dojny. These are 32 hearty chowder bisques, soups and stews with sides, breads, salads and desserts – total of 57 preps in all.
--CHOCOLATE (Workman, 2015, 112 pages, $17.95 CAN soft covers) is by Sandra Boynton, who claims to have "overresearched" the volume. It was out before; this is a revision with more of her illustrations, and was originally published in 1982 before the millennials were around. There are some 200 drawings plus history and descriptions and a few simple recipes (good for the impatient cook).
--SEVENTY FIVE HOMEMADE SALAD DRESSINGS (Gibbs Smith, 2015, $15 US flip cards) is by Jeff Keys. These flip cards are easy to manage and to wash.
--FAT WITCH BAKE SALE (Rodale, 2015, 184 pages, $26.99 CAN hard covers) is by Patricia Helding, who puts out 67 preps from the Manhattan bakery for you next charity/church/school bake sale or party.
--DIPS & SPREADS (Chronicle Books, 2015, 112 pages, $16.95 US hard covers) by Dawn Yanagihara who gives us 46 preps of legumes, veggies, olives, nuts, seeds, yogurt and cheese. Good gift for those who host parties.
--THE WORLD'S BEST BRUNCHES (Lonely Planet, 2015, 224 pages, $19.99 US soft covers) is written by named global food writers, from Africa to Vietnam. This collection of 100 classic dishes has a history for each item, the best place in the world to sample a bite, and a recipe for you to prepare at home. Alternative ingredients are also included.
--THE RELUCTANT HOSTESS (Random House Vintage Classics, 2015, 130 pages, $18.99 CAN hard covers) comes from 1954, and was written by Ethelind Fearon for those who dread parties and catering events. She designates most activities as GVC (good and cheap) and NN (not for novices), and includes party games and weird food (e.g., liver flan, curried cheese).
--CATTLEWOMEN'S RANCH COOKBOOK (Gibbs Smith, 2015, 176 pages, $13 US) is by Amber Johns and produced by the CattleWomen, a US organization. It is meant for cooking on a ranch. There are many historical photos of cattlewomen, from the late 1800s to early 1900s.
--GRILL EATS AND DRINKS (Chronicle Books, 2014, 64 pages, $14.95 US hardback) deals with drinks, nibbles, sides, desserts, and a few mains. These are recipes for good times, mostly previously published.
--Academia Barilla from Italy has launched a fun series of special die-cut cookbooks, and these make excellent stuffers or host gifts. Each is on a theme (e.g., ICE CREAM, TARTS, PANINIS) uniformly priced at $18.95 CAN, 128 pages with 50 easy recipes apiece, 7" x 9" in size. Everything in the books is Italian-influenced.
--But the mother lode of small stuffers must be Ryland Peters & Small. All of their small gift books are hard covers, usually line priced at $23.95 with 64 pages each and 35 recipes. Some of the latest include FRIES by Laura Washburn, using not only potatoes but parsnip, pumpkin, celeriac, and asparagus. THE CAST-IRON SKILLET COOKBOOK is classic home cooking with tarte tatin, Spanish tortilla, and bacon cornbread. A BOWLFUL OF BROTH is for the paleo dieter who wants to reduce a dependency on processed foods. Classic clear soups are here, such as healing miso soup and chicken noodle soup. PAELLA by Louise Pickford has 28 recipes for different types (Valencia, Basque), plus some associated rice dishes from Spain such as creamy rice with lobster or rice and clam soup. There is also SUSHI (128 pages, $18.95 CAN paper covers) by Emi Kazuko and two others, with lots of instructional photos amongst its 59 recipes.
Other little books, for beverages, include those on beer, wine and spirits:
--THE ESSENTIAL SCRATCH & SNIFF GUIDE TO BECOMING A WHISKEY KNOW-IT-ALL (Rux Martin, 2015, $29.99 CAN, boards) is by Richard Betts, who had earlier written a comparable set of boards for scratching and sniffing wines. Here he emphasizes that you know your booze before you choose, and it forms a good introduction to the differences between bourbons, irish, scotch, and more, along with an aroma wheel.
--WISE COCKTAILS (Rodale, 2015, 176 pages, $22.99 CAN hard covers) is by Jenny Ripps and Maria Littlefield, founders of Owl's Brew in NYC. These are fresh-brewed tips and tricks for mixing up tea-based alcoholic cocktails. It also includes a history of tea cocktails. In addition, there are preps for tea sodas, smoothies, and tea-infused snacks.
--THE BOOZY BLENDER (Clarkson Potter, 2015, 128 pages, $19.99 CAN paper covers) is by writers Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarborough. 60 classics are all done in a blender using fresh ingredients, utilizing every one of the four seasons. And there are lots of frozen fruit choices available on the open market. The difficulty is in finding the right consistency. There's bananas foster freeze and frozen lemon meringue pie. To implement many of these preps you will need a full bar.
--BOOZY SHAKES (Ryland Peters and Small, 2015, 64 pages, $19.95 CAN hard covers) gives us 27 recipes for milkshake derived hard drinks (Dark and Stormy Bourbon Ice Cream, Amaretto Sour Malts, and others. Victoria Glass offers us indulgences; you've got to thin to begin with.
--BOND COCKTAILS (Ryland Peters & Small, 2015, 64 pages, $9.95 CAN hard cover) seems to be a veritable bargain with its 23 recipes for various cocktails based on the Bond books. There's the Silver Streak (with pictures of Silver Cloud Rolls Royce), the Negronic, the Sazerac, Scotch and soda (21 times in the books), Vodka Martini, et al.
--COOKIES AND COCKTAILS (Chronicle Books, 2015, 64 pages, $19.95 CAN hard covers) are recipes for entertaining. There's the Bangkok margarita, the Sazerac, appletini, the Wassail bowl, and food to accompany: pistachio and cranberry biscotti, candy cane cookies, meringue snow flakes.
--CIDER MADE SIMPLE (Chronicle Books, 2015, 175 pages, $22 CAN hard covers) is by beer writer Jeff Alworth. It is a basic intro to cider, and includes variants such as perry from pears and other fruit ciders. The processes are described as well as the types and regionality: look for English cider, corked cider, North American cider, Quebec, and ice ciders.
--101 ESSENTIAL TIPS FOR HOME BREWING (DK, 2015, 72 pages, $5.95 CAN paper covers) is an illustrated guide which presents the basics of home beer making: different methods, ingredients, techniques, equipment.
--THE POCKET HOMEBREW HANDBOOK (Dog 'n' Bone, 2015, 192 pages, $19.95 CAN paperback) is by Dave Law and Beshlie Grimes, who own and run a London pub. There are 75 recipes here (stouts, porters, IPA, wheat beers), principally for new style North American beers with much hopping. Good illustrations and tables.
And for no alcohol, consider...
--COOKING WITH COFFEE (Skyhorse Publishing, 2015, 161 pages, $16.99 US hard covers) is by Brandi Evans. These are sweet and savoury everyday dishes, created by incorporating most of your morning coffee excess into lunch, dinner and desserts. They keep you moving all day through espresso banana muffins, peanut butter mocha smoothie, slow cooked coffee short ribs, roasted mole chicken, or brownie coffee caramel sundaes.
Annual calendars are always monster hits and are often appreciated, both the wall and the desk type. The best of the desk are the "page-a-day" (PAD) calendars from Workman. A YEAR OF GOOD BEER 2016 (Workman, 2015, $17.99 CAN) has a combined Saturday and Sunday page. Most of the beers appear as imports in Canada, but otherwise there are few Canadian brews included. Lights, wheat, lagers, ales, porters, stouts, seasonal beers, and lambrics – they're all here, 165 or so craft beers. Check out Brew Dog's The End of History at 55% ABV. Other material in this PAD includes beer festivals, beer facts, food and beer pairing, tasting notes, label lore, trivia, and vocabulary. There are also "must-try" US beer recommendations. If you buy any of the PAD calendars, then you can go online to the website and pick up other, free stuff,
For wall calendars, there is FRESHLY BREWED COFFEE MINI CALENDAR 2016 (Workman, 2015, $9.99 CAN) for all the coffee lovers; it comes with a dozen deftly hand-lettered images, one a month. Or perhaps the KITCHEN HAPPINESS CALENDAR 2016 (Workman, 2015, $16.99 CAN), created by graphic artist Jan Skacelik for a mid-century Scandinavian design. Each month's spread includes detailed text: cooking and entertaining tips, useful conversions, and classic cocktail recipes with illustrated sayings. You could also try HOMEGROWN GOODNESS SIMPLE PLEASURES CALENDAR 2016 (Workman, 2015, $18.99 CAN) which has homespun touches on foods such as big yellow lemons ("squeeze the day"), or a beehive, or a cherry pie. For February, there is a beet ("you make my heart skip a beet"). The calendar package also has 12 colour Mason jar recipe cards.
And for other non-book items, there have been many blank books this year. For the Wine Drinker, there is A VERY NICE GLASS OF WINE (Chronicle Books, 2015, 173 pages, $16.95 US paper), a guided journal by wine blogger Helen McGinn. Two-thirds of the volume is a series of templated forms for writing notes. There is lots of material on how wine is made, how tasted, and how matched with foods. Another is Gina Homolka's THE SKINNY TASTE MEAL PLANNER (Potter Style, 2015, $21.99 CAN) which allows you to track your meals, week-by-week, with goals and calorie counters. It has 20 recipes, quotes, and tips, and features a journal to keep you organized (food, calories, exercises). It accompanies The Skinny Taste Cookbook, AND for the Millennials, it is also available as an ebook which can be updated digitally. Hey, how apt is that?
Even audio CDs are coming back – Ruth Reichl's MY KITCHEN YEAR (Random House Canada, 2015, $41 CAN) is read by Ruth herself, and it contains PDFs of the 136 recipes that saved her life after Gourmet magazine shut down (plus a recipe index and a shopping index). She's a good story teller, and you can hear it all in 6.5 hours over 6 CDs. A great gift for the driver in the family...
And so on to the wine annuals. The two international leaders are HUGH JOHNSON'S
POCKET WINE BOOK 2016 (Mitchell Beazley, 2015, 336 pages, $18.99 CAD hard
bound) and OZ CLARKE WINE A - Z 2016 (Pavilion, 2015, 368 pages, $16.95 CAD paperback). Both are guides to wines from all around the world, not just to the "best" wines. Similarities: Johnson claims more than 6000 wines and growers are listed, while Clarke says more than 7000 wines, but then recommends 4000 producers. News, vintage charts and data, glossaries, best value wines, and what to drink now are in both books. The major differences: Johnson has been at it longer – this is his 39th edition (Clarke is celebrating his 25th anniversary) -- and has more respect from erudite readers
for his exactitude and scholarship. His book is arranged by region; Clarke's book is in
dictionary, A – Z form (about 1600 main entries). It is really six of one, or half a dozen of another which one to use. This year, though, the Clarke book is a couple bucks cheaper. Apparently, Amazon.Com reports that many people buy both, for about $20 US total. Both books have notes on the 2014 vintage and a few details about the potential of 2015, along with a closer look at the 2013. It is fun to look at these and find out where they diverge. Johnson and Oz are moving more into food: there is a 13 page section on food and wine matching in the former, while Oz has 6 pages. Johnson also has a listing of his personal 200 fave wines. Both books could profit from online accessibility or a CD-ROM production. What I don't like about both books is that they come out too early. Johnson was available September 1, while Clarke was released on November 17. I guess this gets them off the hook about having to comment on the 2015 harvest and vintage in the Northern hemisphere!
In Canada, we have THE 500 BEST-VALUE WINES IN THE LCBO: 2016
(Whitecap, 2015, 280 pages, $19.95 CAN paper back) takes a run at the wines at the
LCBO. This eighth edition by Rod Phillips (wine writer for the Ottawa Citizen) has wines arranged by wine colour and then by region/country with price and CSPC number. Each value wine gets a rating (the basic is now 3.5 stars out of five; there have not been any 3 star wines since 2011), and there is an indication of food pairings. A good guidebook, but I'm afraid most people will just look through it for the 5 star selections and leave it at that. Turnover in Ontario occurs regularly as quotas are unmet or prices rise or the producer decides it is time for a change; there are over 100 new entries this year, which is about a third of the book. Coverage is limited to LCBO General Purchase wines and LCBO Vintages Essentials, the wines that are available (if only by special internal order) in every LCBO store. Phillips has also included the
LCBO perceived sweetness notations rather than the older Sugar Codes. HAD A GLASS 2016; top 100 wines under $20 (Appetite by Random House, 2015, 201 pages, $19.95 CAN paper covers) is by James Nevison, the co-author of Have a Glass; a modern guide to wine. He reports regularly at www.halfaglass.com. Had a Glass showcases top inexpensive wines available with national distribution. He tries to pick wines available to match any occasion, and along the way he provides tips on food and wine pairing and stemware. The first forty pages present all the basics. I am not sure why the basics are here since the book is really about the top 100 wines. Most readers/buyers will head straight for the listings which follow, one per page, for whites, roses, reds, aperitifs, dessert wines and sparklers. New this year is a section celebrating the best of 10 years since he first published his book. Also new is material on the top 10 wines of the past 10 years. He also covers some "splurge" wines and some cocktails, but has some guest wine reviewers from BC. For us in Ontario, this is just at the very time that the LCBO is concentrating on the $15 to $19.95 spread. There are indexes by countries and by wine/variety. Tasting notes are pretty bare bones, but each wine does have a label, description of the product, a price, and some food matches.
Dean Tudor, Ryerson University Journalism Professor Emeritus
Treasurer, Wine Writers' Circle of Canada
Look it up and you'll remember it; screw it up and you'll never forget it.