Italian Holiday Cooking by Michele Scicolone If you weren't lucky enough to grow up in an Italian household, this book will fill you with regret. Scicolone enthusiastically addresses such topics as the history of pecorino di fossa (which is aged underground) and the preparation of baccalà (dried salted cod). Her recipes are easy to follow and thorough; they range from a simpleand divinely richpolenta with soft cheese and browned butter to a stupendous porcini-stuffed zucchini and an exotic chocolate-and-eggplant dessert ($35).
The Naked Chef Takes Off by Jamie Oliver A confidence-inspiring charmer, Oliver constantly reminds us that cooking isn't an exact science and that, above all, it should be fun. He covers the basics as well as the more involved processes of pasta and bread making. Recipes range from pukkolla (a simple cereal of oatmeal, dried fruits and nuts, soaked overnight and served with fruitit's absolutely delicious) to Fantastic Fish Pie (it's even better)($35).
The All-American Cookie Book by Nancy Baggett Baggett traveled across the country to get historical and regional perspectives on a host of sweets: not just oatmeal and peanut-butter cookies but also Pennsylvania Dutch sugar cakes, Kentucky bourbon fruitcake balls and biscochitos (the state cookie of New Mexicowho knew?). Plus, there are whole chapters devoted to chocolate chip cookies, brownies and holiday baking. Baggett's recipe writing is clear and concise, and almost every cookie comes with a lovely story ($35).