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Cookbooks and wine guides for holiday gift-giving

November 30, 2013|By S. Irene Virbila, Betty Hallock, Rene Lynch and Russ Parsons

Whether the cook on your holiday gift list is interested in reading about family and food in Soviet Russia or the preparation of classic French dishes such as jambon au foin ("ham in hay"), baking pies or making authentic pasta carbonara, this fall has been an excellent season for food and wine books.

Los Angeles cooks and authors are heavily represented: Valerie Gordon's "Sweet: Inspired Ingredients, Unforgettable Desserts," Kevin West's "Saving the Season: A Cook's Guide to Home Canning, Pickling, and Preserving," the long-awaited "The A.O.C. Cookbook" by Suzanne Goin and Caroline Styne, and "Bountiful: Recipes Inspired by Our Garden" by Todd Porter and Diane Cu.

Here are highlights of the cookbook season.

"The World Atlas of Wine, Seventh Edition" by Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson (Mitchell Beazley, $55)

British wine writer Hugh Johnson's "The World Atlas of Wine" has long been every wine lover's bible. Johnson is an erudite and engaging writer, pouring decades of wine knowledge into succinct paragraphs that place each country and region in context. And the brilliantly detailed maps have been essential to understanding why certain vineyards and appellations produce the wines that they do. For the last few editions Johnson has been joined by another stellar wine writer, Jancis Robinson. The two have just signed off on the seventh edition of "The World Atlas of Wine." It's also available in an e-book format for the iPad. Of course, the world of wine today is very different from when the book was first published in 1971. There are now about 215 maps, including those for coastal Croatia, Swartland in South Africa, northern Virginia — and Ningxia in China. (SIV)

"The New California Wine: A Guide to the Producers and Wines Behind a Revolution in Taste" by Jon Bonné (10-Speed Press, $35)

Jon Bonné's new book is a wonderful, engaging read with a cast of characters who think outside the box, care about sustainability and have a strong curiosity and work ethic. This is a new generation of California winemakers who aren't hedge fund directors or dot-com entrepreneurs. If they want to buy a piece of land to plant a vineyard, it takes years to save up. Some are children of winemakers, others grew up in wine country and always wanted to do something with wine and still others are hard-core dreamers with an itch to make wine. Their wines can be classic or wildly experimental, definitely hands-on and most often made in small quantities. They tend to be lower in alcohol, more subtle in style than the wines that have garnered top scores in recent years. More important, they tend to be food-friendly too. (SIV)

"Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Longing" by Anya von Bremzen (Random House, $26)

Hunger, to paraphrase the old line, makes the best sauce. Judging from Anya von Bremzen's splendid new "Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking," it also makes for a pretty good memoir. The essence of "Mastering" — named after Julia Child's first book with what seems a very Soviet-style mix of cynicism and irony — is Von Bremzen's personal history of growing up in the Soviet Union. While most food memoirs are recollections of meals past, "Mastering" is more about meals missed — in both senses of the phrase. There are constant shortages and hunger. But there is also the intensity of unexpected, almost miraculous feasts that the well-fed may never experience (even if in retrospect they don't measure up as such). (RP)

"Daniel: My French Cuisine" by Daniel Boulud, Sylvie Bigar, Thomas Schauer and Bill Buford (Grand Central Life and Style, $60)

Is there anyone who has done more for French cooking in the United States than Daniel Boulud? If you have any doubts, you need only pick up his new cookbook, "Daniel: My French Cuisine." This is one seriously gorgeous book, and it has the air about it of a magnum opus. While previously he has mostly aimed at home cooks, "Daniel" is a full-fledged chef book, a kind of document of where his cooking stands at this stylistically advanced stage of his career. In addition to the main body of the book, there is also a fascinating series of essays by New Yorker writer Bill Buford ("Heat") detailing the making of several classic French dishes, and almost as if Boulud couldn't publish a cookbook without including at least something you could make at home, there's a short section of the sorts of dishes he says he cooks for friends on Sundays. (RP)

"Manresa: An Edible Reflection" by David Kinch and Christine Muhlke (10-Speed Press, $50)

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