Stuck for a Christmas gift? Check out my top foodie books

What do you get the friend/workmate/partner/family member who has everything? If they love food, you’ll never go wrong with a good book. Perhaps you’re after a good present just for yourself? Either way, a beautiful cookbook makes a gift that lasts forever.

Trouble is, with so many on the shelves, which one do you choose? I’ve tried to take some of the dilemma out of picking a good cookbook, as all these have come across my desk this year, and I really enjoyed every one of them.

These are some of my favourite food books of 2017.

The Little Library Cookbook / Kate Young
Head of Zeus, RRP $45.00

I think that of all the books I’ve seen this year, The Little Library Cookbook is my favourite. Australian-born Kate Young came up with the idea of creating recipes using food-related quotes from some of the great books she loves, and the result is a mish-mash of the most gorgeous trip down Literature Lane.

While the recipes are really good, and none of them are hard, for me the quotes which contextualise the recipes are so gorgeous, and so refreshingly original, that I feel like I’m transported to another world before I even start looking at the menu. An example: “And when they had finished the fish, Mrs Beaver brought unexpectedly out of the oven a great and gloriously sticky marmalade roll, steaming hot, and at the same time moved the kettle onto the fire, so that when they had finished the marmalade roll the tea was made and ready to be poured out.”  This quote, from C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe precedes the most yum recipe, best enjoyed in the snow, with custard. Yep, it’s currently summer. But this book still made me want this.

In a Jam / Kirsten Day
Bateman, RRP $29.99

Whether you’ve got fruit trees, you’re a brilliant forager or you just can’t resist buying all this delicious seasonal fruit while it’s so cheap, this is a very useful book on how to create your own jams, jellies, curds, marmalades and cordials from Kiwi author Kirsten Day. With beautiful photography from a great food photographer (and good friend of mine) Todd Eyre, this book sets out to explain the basic differences between the preserves (do you know what the difference is between a jam, a jelly and a marmalade? I do now!), how to enhance the natural flavours in your seasonal fruit, and where to find fruit if you don’t grow your own.

There are some really interesting flavour combinations in the book – I’d never have thought of putting pear and lavender together in a jam, for example, but now she says it, I’m going to give it a go. There are a couple of watermelon recipes in here too that sound great – now you’ll actually know what to do with the rest of that whole watermelon you bought! For a taste of Kirsten’s preserves, try her recipe for Jasmine Tea and Ginger Jelly now.

Ho Chi Minh City in 12 Dishes: How to Eat Like You Live There
Red Pork Press, RRP $24.95

If, like me, you’re a foodie who’s never been to Ho Chi Minh City, you’re going to want to after you’ve read this travel guide. Written by Kiwi food experts Antony Suvalko and Leanne Kitchen, this book is dedicated to the food lover who`s come to this melting-pot of delicious food, not for a long time, but definitely for a good time!

Leanne and Antony start with a huge claim: that Ho Chi Minh City is `the mother of all culinary destinations`. HCMC (as they helpfully abbreviate the city) is divided into 24 destinations, which is a useful start as you’ll know where to go depending on what food and drink you want, from the cheap and cheerful to something a little more special.

Even if you’re not planning a trip to this intriguing city, the line-up of dishes, from Banh Xeo (sizzling pancakes) to Che (sweet soup) will see you craving some of these dishes that really are the taste of a city.

I Quit Sugar: Smoothies, Bowls & Drinks / Sarah Wilson
Macmillan, RRP $29.99

Come January, many of us will be looking for something good and healthy to counteract the excesses of the festive period – and this is the perfect solution.Sarah Wilson is well known for her I Quit Sugar books range, and this latest one is full of easy-to-make recipes that caters to a variety of skill level.

Whether you`re a smoothie novice, or you`re brilliant with your blender but just need a bit of inspiration, this is a good option for you. There are plenty of sugar substitute ideas to help keep the sweet cravings at bay, as well as recipes to beautify and energise.

From Cucumber Coolers and Veggie Garden Golden Latte through to Choco-Nut Mint Mousse and Strawberry Fields, there are flavours galore in here. Sarah really knows her stuff; if you`re looking at a healthy New Years resolution, this may well be the book for you.

Food for Good: Easy, tasty family meals
Michael Meredith and Eat My Lunch

Fans of former Meredith’s restaurant owner and all-round good bloke Michael Meredith will know he has a tangible passion for helping. He has hosted several events where proceeds have gone to others who need his help, and this book is no exception: it’s a selection of delicious, budget-conscious family recipes everyone will love, and for every book sold, a Kiwi kid gets a lunch.

If you haven’t heard of it, Eat My Lunch is an enterprise Michael and Eat My Lunch founder Lisa King began in June 2015. It began after the pair discovered one in four Kiwi kids live in poverty, and they wanted to develop a workable business whereby as the business grew, so did the number of kids who would get a lunch.

These recipes are nutritious, delicious, simple to make and filling – exactly what all Kiwi kids need. This book is designed to make a difference to Kiwi kids, and for those of us who want to eat well, make a difference but not spend a fortune.

Under Italian Skies / Nicky Pellegrino
Hachette/Orion. RRP $24.99

Imagine getting on a plane, leaving your old life behind you and taking part in a house swap, moving into a beautiful Italian villa while a stranger moves into your house. That’s what Stella does after her beloved boss dies, leaving her wondering what her next step should be. Leaving her London flat for a place where she knows nothing and no-one is a bold move, and one that has plenty of challenges. But while she completely falls in love with the villa, she also finds herself falling for this stranger’s whole life.

The reason I’ve included this book in my top 10 foodie books is because of Nicky’s ability to bring the food and produce of Italy completely to life. Auckland-based Nicky’s father was an Italian who fell in love with an English girl, and taught his family that food is something to adore with a passion – and every word about the delicious ribbons of pasta, the artichoke salads, the delicious plates that come out of the local trattoria, will have you craving Italian food with a passion.

Nicky’s books are well known for their engaging stories of food and love, and if you’re looking for a good beach read this summer, this has to be it.

Low Carb, Healthy Fat / Pete Evans
Macmillan, RRP $39.99

One of the most anticipated food trends of 2018 is the ketogenic diet, a l0w-carb, high-fat diet where the body produces ketones in the liver to be used as energy. Controversial chef Pete Evans’ latest cookbooks is based around the idea that our bodies are not built to take the amount of carbohydrates we eat, and works on the idea that by significantly reducing carbs and increasing vegetable, protein and healthy fat intake, we increase our natural capacity to burn fat. As he explains in his introduction, when we move into this fat-burning state – ketosis – we teach our body to burn its own fat as an energy source, rather than the glucose created from ingested carbs.

I personally believe that no one diet suits every body, and what’s successful for one may not work for another; however there is a lot of logic and science that suggests a diet much lower in carbs than we are used to is better for us. However, the reason I’ve included this book in the list is because many of the recipes in it are really delicious! While I’m not so hot on some of the more full-on aspects of Pete’s diet (nope, I don’t have any homemade sauerkraut juice handy), for the most part the ingredients are easy to find, and I know from experience that kids and adults alike are happy to give most of these recipes a go. Even the most reluctant Kiwi bloke won’t argue if you dish him up a plate of Blood Sausage with Fried Egg & Chimichurri; or Chicken Wings with Tomato, Basil & Greens. Much as I’m slightly reluctant to say so, this book has become one of my go-t0 recipe sources of the summer.

Cork Dork / Bianca Bosker
Allen & Unwin, RRP $32.95

As an avid wine drinker with far more enthusiasm than knowledge, I was fascinated to read journalist Bianca Bosker’s book on her quest to discover just what it is about wine that drives scientists, sommeliers and oenophiles (wine boffins) to make such an evangelical journey in their quest to discover the impossible – the secret to what makes a really great wine.

As a former tech editor of the Huffington Post, and a professional writer of food and drink, Bianca knows how to spin a good yarn, and has managed to create a page-turning tale of giving up a perfectly respectable profession in order to hang out with people who see nothing wrong with feeling slightly tipsy at 10am, or spending the equivalent of a week’s holiday on a single bottle of wine. In between the story of Bianca’s crazy ride from cellar rat (counting bottles in restaurant basements) to her mission of passing tough top-level sommelier competitions, are paragraphs on wine I wanted to mentally photocopy and take with me to every decent restaurant.

Would I, as the book suggests, get used to licking rocks, pick my wine glasses based on the curve of the glass to fully celebrate the aromatic intensity of my wine, and forever eschew that most reviled of all wine lovers’ hates, the ‘mass market wine’? Nope. But it’s a great read (if you take some of the ‘science’ with a bit of a pinch of highly-flavoured salt), and I know a lot more about wine after reading it than I did at the beginning.