Some cookbooks are so good they make great gifts for all kinds of people. Jerry Traunfeld's latest, The Herbal Kitchen: Cooking With Fragrance and Flavor (Morrow Cookbooks, $34.95), is one such text. Armchair chefs of varying expertise will appreciate the local herbalist's easy but highly informative style—and everyone who eats with them will enjoy dishes like feta sage cornbread and crab shiso cocktail. But this year, that's the only straightforward cookbook recommendation you're going to get from us. We're bagging tradition and going with food fiction, well-fed mobster memoirs, public radio tell-alls, and more.
While Jane Goodall's recent Harvest for Hope: A Guide to Mindful Eating (Warner Bros., $24.95) doesn't add information to what many already know about the hazards of genetically modified organisms, the benefits of eating seasonally and locally, and the dwindling number of small, family-owned American farms, the primate lady's prose is persuasive but not pushy and is highly readable. Goodall promotes vegetarianism, but she also proposes actual solutions. Even if her advice is sometimes simplistic, she offers an action item for almost every problematic scenario. Give Harvest to someone you love.
Friends, Lovers, and Chocolate (Pantheon, $21.95) is as much about friends, lovers, organ donation, and philosophy as it is about chocolate and cheese, but for that person who fantasizes about running their own DeLaurenti outpost and also enjoys a good Agatha Christie –type mystery, this could be just the thing. Alexander McCall Smith, the best-selling author of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, has set his latest whodunit in a gourmet shop belonging to the niece of Isabel Dalhousie, the heroine of his Sunday Philosophy Club series.
Not new (it's from 2000) but equally, well, mysterious, is Anthony Bourdain's Bone in the Throat (Bloomsbury, $14.95), the outspoken chef's first attempt at fiction. Big surprise: The novel concerns an up-and-coming New York City chef and his mobster uncle. This is Bourdain we're talking about, so there's plenty of rough language mixed up with the delicate cuisine, but if there's someone on your list who can't get enough of his Travel Channel series, No Reservations, this paperback will probably please them.
Someone on your list can't get enough of the mob? Give them Bourdain's paperback as well as Cooking on the Lam (Simon & Schuster, $18) by Joseph "Joe Dogs" Iannuzzi.Don't laugh at the author's name, either; according to the jacket text, Mr. Dogs' testimony "sent more high-ranking Mafiosi to the slammer than that of any other federal witness." Like Iannuzzi's first book, The Mafia Cookbook, On the Lam includes not only recipes but stories about preparing them. Included are bits on making lobster salad in Dallas, chicken zucchini in Mexico City, and polenta with sausage in Birmingham, Ala.
Little vignettes and recipes also make up Hidden Kitchens (Rodale, $27.50) by NPR's "Kitchen Sisters," Nikki Silva and Davia Nelson. The sisters write about culinary secrets on the campaign trail, the surprisingly high-minded meals made by NASCAR crews, and wild-rice pioneers in low- riding Chevy Impalas. As part of their quest to discover the culinary secrets of this country, Silva and Nelson opened up an NPR hot line and asked listeners to tell them about the food traditions that are disappearing from their lives. They then set out to document these stories (and recipes), and they, too, are included in the book.