That's why I was scrutinizing the books and gift boxes that came to my attention in the last few months for holiday gift-giving potential. Following are my favorites:
For anyone who likes to cook and craft: Gourmet Gifts by Dinah Corley; Harvard Common Press, $19.95 (paperback). This book of edible gifts contains many recipes, from nuts and cookies to more unusual items like handmade herbal tea sachets and creme fraiche fudge. What adds to the fun is that Corley makes the presentation of the gift as important as the gift itself. She suggests such novel presentations as a chocolate chiffon cake in a hat box, and a poster-sized peach fruit leather in a shipping tube. Includes recipes for Orange Essence Wine (a staple in Southern France) and Cool Cucumber Vodka.
For Francophiles: The Bonne Femme Cookbook by Wini Moranville; Harvard Common Press, $24.95 (hardback). This book takes you from amuse-bouches to desserts using the ideas, techniques and traditions of the French home cook (bonne femme roughly means housewife). It focuses on casual, everyday cooking rather than 12-step recipes for culinary masterpieces. A sample of the recipes: Cucumbers with Mint, Chickpea Soup, Blanquette of Pork, French Lasagne and Tres French Green Beans. Along the way, the author tells amusing and informative stories of her personal encounters with French food, culture and people. Great food to go with your French wine.
For Italian food junkies: Piatto Unico: When One Course Makes A Real Italian Meal by Toni Lydecker; Lake Isle Press, $19.95 (paperback). Another look at home-style cooking, this time from Italy. This book focuses on the one-course Italian meal, traditionally peasant food or that associated with religious festivals and funerals. Peasant food never sounded so good: Rice, Beans and Sausages in Red Wine Sauce, Brothy Bread Soup with Poached Eggs, and Mountain Salad with Bacon, Fontina and Sweet-Sour Onions. Especially helpful are the author's shopping and cooking tips in such asides as "Italian Market Strategies," and "At the Butcher, Fishmonger and Deli Counter."