A Readable Feast

Here are 10 culinary gift books of exquisite taste. Plus three edible holiday presents.


"The time has come," the Critic said, "To talk of many things. Mostly holiday gifts.” And this year, my choices are firmly anchored on the bookshelf, a chance to learn new things and escape to new lands. Join me, won’t you?

A Table in Venice: Recipes from My Home by Skye McAlpine
Real recipes from real home cooks in my favorite city on Earth.

Basque Country: A Culinary Journey Through a Food Lover’s Paradise by Marti Buckley
Travels through the land, history and rich food culture of Northern Spain.

Chasing the Gator: Isaac Toups and the New Cajun Cooking by Isaac Toups and Jennifer V. Cole
I loved James Beard-nominated Chef Isaac when he created magic on Top Chef; in this book he uses lessons learned from a 300-year-long family history in Louisiana to prove that wizardry.

Cooking South of the Clouds: Recipes and Stories From China’s Yunnan Province by Georgia Freedman
Little-known dishes and fascinating people from Tibet to the edge of Laos.

The Immigrant Cookbook: Recipes That Make America Great by Leyla Moushabeck
A celebration of America’s ever-changing immigrant population.

Mississippi Vegan: Recipes and Stories From a Southern Boy's Heart by Timothy Pakron
Deep Southern vegetarian cooking; yes, it does exist, and delectably so from recipe developer, food stylist and professional forager Pakron.

Paladares: Recipes From the Private Restaurants, Home Kitchens, and Streets of Cuba by Anya von Bremzen and Megan Fawn Schlow
Documenting the still-underground world of private restaurants that until very recently were illegal in Cuba. 

Salt Fat Acid Heat by Samin Nosrat
The James Beard Award-nominated book follows through on techniques, flavors and concepts merely hinted at during Nosrat’s perfect Netflix series of the same name, as good in its own way as the superb Chef’s Table series. In fact, the perfect gift for a budding chef or self-educated gourmand might be a subscription to Netflix so they can catch up on both of these brilliant and beautiful series.   

Solo: A Modern Cookbook for a Party of One by Anita Lo
Michelin-starred chef Lo takes the lonely out of cooking for one.

Waste Not: How to Get the Most From Your Food by the James Beard Foundation and Keirnan Monaghan
Recommended not just because DeLand chef Hari Pulapaka contributes three recipes, but because food shouldn’t be wasted during the holidays.

And for the non-readers on your list, three of my favorite ways to enhance any kitchen pantry:

Harissa spice blend: Teeny Tiny Spice Company
Actually, any eclectic blend from this family-owned organic spicerie based in teeny tiny Harrisonburg, VA, is worth discovering, but this marvelously versatile blend of exotic spices is a joy from the first twist of its little metal tin. Amazon and Grassroots Natural Market, Jacksonville. 

Purple rice grits: Congaree and Penn
The only rice farm and mill in Florida continues to produce exquisite flavorful grits, aromatic brown and white rice, shrubs and jellies. Beautifully packaged wooden gift boxes make for perfect under-tree packages. Congaree and Penn website and Amazon.

Weak Knees Gochujang Sriracha: Bushwick Kitchen
Sorry, my dear local hot sauce friends, but when I’m looking for a spicy, sweet, umami blast on top of practically anything, this Brooklyn-born concoction is my first choice. Along with their other spicy creations (hot honey; spicy maple syrup) this classic sriracha meets gochujang chili paste is complex and exciting and just picante enough to keep your attention. Amazon and Fresh Market.
[image: Bushwick Kitchen]


* The Second Annual Ramen Rumble noodled its way through Osprey Tavern on December 10. I was a judge last year and it was a broth-filled blast, and this year the caliber of cooking was just as high. Competing was Travis Cliff, chef at Jade Sushi, with a pork bone and prawn head broth ebi tonkotsu ramen; Yuhi Fujinaga, executive chef at Morimoto Asia with two bowls—roasted bluefin tuna broth and Iberico pork tsukemen, and Peking duck ramen; and a coconut chicken broth-based red curry kapoon ramen from Sticky Rice Lao Street Food owner/chef (and former Buddhist monk) Kevin Phanhvilay, who took first place for best creation. Congrats to all the contestants and especially the lucky diners!

* And don’t forget to vote for your favorite local restaurants for the 2019 Orlando magazine Dining Awards! Ballot and instructions can be found here.

Give yourself the gift of a good meal, you deserve it. Stay in touch at  joseph.hayes@orlandomagazine.com,  and access a comprehensive list of my print and online reviews here!


Categories: Savor Orlando