Our Favorite Cookbooks of 2011

There are all sorts of cooks in the world: fly by the seat of your pants and throw-it-together types, meticulous list-makers and recipe followers, those who religiously catalogue intriguing recipes to test at a later date, whole foods-loving vegetarians, vegetable-adverse carnivores and people who are just trying to get dinner on the table. This year, there have been books written for every one of these unique cooks, which means that buying cookbooks for those on your holiday list is a pretty smart move. Here’s our something-for-everyone list of the top cookbooks of 2011.

For the "What Should I Make for Dinner?" Cook: 
How many times have you opened the fridge and wondered what to make for dinner? If you answered "too many," the
Food52 Cookbook is here to solve your query. Gathering recipes from their popular blog Food52, food writers Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs have curated a best-of cookbook that's packed with creative and exciting dishes created for home cooks by home cooks. Whether you're staring down a whole chicken, a bunch of beet greens, or few slices of bacon, the Food52 Cookbook will guide you to an incredible array of doable and delicious options.

For the Creative Home Cook Looking to Step Up Her Game:
Food writer Melissa Clark is the kind of home cook that most of us aspire to be: creative, resourceful and graceful.  In her latest book, Cook This Now, Clark shares the simple but inspired seasonally-driven meals that she makes for family and friends. By combining unexpected ingredients and keeping healthy eating in mind, Clark's recipes impress and satisfy, and in turn make you a better cook.

For Those Who Think Every Day Should Be Meatless Monday:
Not all of us are well-versed in nutritious whole foods and vegetarian cuisine, but food blogger Heidi Swanson's
Super Natural Every Day features everyday recipes that are virtuous but also really tasty. Swanson, the woman behind the popular blog 101 Cookbooks, knows how to transform vegetables, grains and legumes into meatless meals you can feel good about eating and serving.

For the "No More PB&J" Set:  
Anyone who packs lunch on a daily basis knows that keeping it exciting is a job unto itself. Instead of packing yet another sandwich, get your hands on
Makiko Itoh's Just Bento and start thinking about lunch the Japanese way. In Itoh's world, we'd all be eating midday meals lovingly placed in compact little boxes that are made up of the healthiest ratio of protein, vegetables and starch. Her recipes are amazing to look at, of course, but her make-ahead strategies make these fantastical bento boxes seem downright do-able.

For The Cook Who Loves to Garden:
If you've ever been flummoxed by kale or stumped by parsnips, author
Nigel Slater is here to help you. Tender, his ode to the vegetable garden, covers all things green from leeks to chard in a manner that is lyrical, inspired and educational, too. Growing his own produce brought Slater much closer to the vegetables that he eats and his book will do the same for you, explaining everything from cultivation to the best way to cook and enjoy your newfound veggie friends.

For the Grilling God or Goddess:
Chef Lourdes Castro's Latin Grilling is the sort of cookbook that makes hosting a crowd seem effortless, especially when you're greeting guests with pitchers of mojitos. Each of her menus comes from a region of South or Central America and is designed to feed a hungry group of 10 with cocktails, appetizers, mains, sides and dessert. She's even thoughtfully included a game plan for each menu that breaks down how the party can be prepared for ahead of time.   

For Your Friend Who Will "Just Have a Salad":  
We all know that salads are a great option for eating light, but honestly, how many more plates of mixed greens with balsamic vinaigrette can we stomach? That's where
Patricia Wells' Salad as a Meal comes in.  Siting that "salad does not need to include lettuce or greens," Wells opens up a whole world of possibilities for us and happily, a chicken Caesar is not part of that world. Her salads are elegant and fresh with bold flavors, and above all, they will not leave you wondering what you're going to eat later.

For the Pasta Fiend:  
Domenica Marchetti's The Glorious Pasta of Italy is a book for pasta obsessives, those who thrive on knowing obscure shapes and the proper sauces with which to dress them. But it's also for those who are equally happy with a quick aglio e olio, a bubbling dish of lasagna or one of Marchetti's lesser-known pastas that she came across while researching this cookbook. Recipes aside, the mouthwatering photos are going to make you quite happy indeed.

For Proud Texans (or Tex Mex Fans):

When
Lisa Fain moved from Texas to New York she quickly realized that the big city was seriously lacking in the Tex-Mex department. Instead of forgoing her beloved enchiladas and queso, she devised recipes to recreate these Texan dishes at home. She's been chronicling her cheesy, chile-laden creations on her blog, The Homesick Texan and this year she's come out with a cookbook of her greatest Lone Star hits. If you're shopping for a Texan expat pal or just someone with a soft spot for chicken fried steak and Dr. Pepper, Fain's cookbook is invaluable.  

For the Curious Cook:
Whether you're a novice in the kitchen or a comfortably seasoned cook, there's a certain measure of technique that goes into putting dinner on the table. Food writer Michael Ruhlman is all about technique and his latest cookbook, Ruhlman's Twenty delves deep into the hows and whys of what makes good food. His cookbook will have you roasting and braising with the best of them, making your own salad dressings, and mastering the methods of cooking a really good egg.
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