If Michelin rates restaurants with stars and wine critics do it by numbers, shouldn't cookbook ratings reflect the speed with which your salivary glands spring into action? I've been drooling over a stack of books that would all make great gifts.
Although Food TV presenter Trish Magwood has been yuckily named a "taste maker of tomorrow" by the Globe and Mail, this shouldn't stop you from buying Dish Entertains: Everyday Simple to Special Occasions (HarperCollins, $44.95). Magwood is a mom, well aware that the daily family routine leaves scant time for making posh food, so everything here is fresh and fast, and both tastes and looks good, with recipes classified as "everyday simple" or "special occasions". Here's a sample dish from the salad bar: Asian slaw with mango, red cabbage, and bean sprouts.
Vancouver's elite chefs seem hugely generous about sharing their secrets. If you hang out at either of Alessandra and Jean-Francis Quaglia's eateries–Provence Mediterranean Grill and Provence Marinaside–you'll want to grab their New World Provence: Modern French Cooking for Friends and Family (Arsenal Pulp Press, $26.95). Open and joyous about their story, the Quaglias absorb you into their family as they reveal what's behind their ratatouille, cannellini beans with sautéed calamari, and that intense lemon tart.
For the cost of a couple of orders of osso buco at his restaurant, you can learn how to duplicate this and other dishes in Cioppino's Mediterranean Grill by Pino Posteraro (Douglas & McIntyre, $60). Along with the push-the-boat-out food–lobster, truffles, sablefish casserole with sautéed green peas and fava beans, salmon with a soy-ponzu-tomato vinaigrette–there are less extravagant dishes, such as an asparagus and green pea risotto with chili oil, and a porcini mushroom and chestnut soup with black olive croutons that's to die for.
That last plateful is vegan, which leads neatly into the new book by White Rock resident Dreena Burton. Like its predecessors, Eat, Drink and Be Vegan: Everyday Vegan Recipes Worth Celebrating (Arsenal Pulp Press, $25.95) puts flavour at the fore. Even as a roaring carnivore, I can see myself making her Thai coconut corn stew or tomato-dill-lentil soup.
Slimmed-down U.S. dollars mean we can afford to take our palates south of the border again. In the couldn't-be-more-timely category is Seattleite Braiden Rex-Johnson's Pacific Northwest Wining & Dining: The People, Places, Food, and Drink of Washington, Oregon, Idaho and British Columbia (Wiley, $41.99). Profiling wine and vinegar makers, restaurants, and places to stay, and aided by Jackie Johnson's sunlit photography, Rex-Johnson cuts a commendable swath through the region, including contact information and festival listings for instant trip planning. Until you hit the road, tease your taste buds by re-creating recipes such as Native Indian crispbread with "snakebite" dip from Nk'Mip Cellars in the Okanagan Valley, or roasted breast of chicken with lentil vinaigrette, cracked walnuts, and wilted spinach from Portland's famed Wildwood Restaurant.
Let's conclude with dessert and a couple of standouts. Even as someone who doesn't make cakes (that's what patisseries are for), I was completely seduced by Indulge: 100 Perfect Desserts (Whitecap, $45), by French Laundry pastry chef Claire Clark. While leading you into the professional arena of desserts like authentic sacher torte, the British-born Clark also covers domestic basics like sticky toffee pudding, treacle tart, and (can't wait to bake this one) a marmalade bread-and-butter pudding made with panettone. The recipe for an opéra, the French classic cake, occupies four pages (two devoted to a photo you want to dive into), but lemon posset simply calls for lemons, sugar, and cream. Clark uses imperial and metric measurements only, maintaining that "baking is about precision and accuracy, and cups as a measurement give neither". Maybe add a small electronic scale if your giftee doesn't own one.
Locals Dominique and Cindy Duby list quantities in spoonfuls and cups largely because Wild Sweets: Chocolate (Whitecap, $40), the trailblazing follow-up to their first book, strides fearlessly into a culinary world where short ribs lie down with chocolate, while crab cohabits with white- chocolate hollandaise sauce and hot celery gelée. A rave foreword by none other than Charlie Trotter suggests the sophistication of the dishes, such as mahi-mahi with cocoa oatmeal granola, red Swiss chard, and cumin crunch. Definitely not meat-and-potatoes stuff, but catnip for those keen to ride the next wave of culinary invention. And talk about talent–the Dubys even provided most of the dazzling photos.