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FOOD - Books Feature!

Books for cooks

Volumes of food porn, kitchen science and gastronomic philosophy that earn their place on the shelf

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Are cookbooks obsolete? That’s the current alarmist opinion of some cult-of-the-new types who are so technology-obsessed they’re ready to consign anything made of paper to the scrap heap of history. Well, hang on to your lighter fluid there, chief, because cookbooks aren’t going anywhere. Yes: It has become standard practice to go to the Internet rather than the bookshelf to look up a recipe. But anyone who’s tried to scrub olive oil off an iPhone’s gorilla-glass touchscreen or scrape pureed squash from between the buttons of a Blackberry knows that recipes on paper have their advantages. Not only do sauce-splattered pages serve as a visual reminder of successful (or not) meals, encoding an instant sense memory of that-one-night-we-made-Indonesian-gado-gado in turmeric fingerprints and peanut-butter smudges, but you don’t have to take a book to a repair counter if you drop it in the sink.

But even I, Kindle-averse and iPad-lacking as I am, will admit that cookbooks have to reach beyond the instructional guides they once were. Trophies for some readers, bedtime reading for others (a practice I’m convinced exacerbates Ambien-induced “sleep-eating”), culinary manuals now must offer something extra to earn their spots on your shelf. Spectacular photography, a philosophical underpinning, evocations of far-off lands, the sheen of celebrity endorsement – any of these can help a paper-and-glue book justify its physical existence and its price, usually quite a bit more than an App Store download.

Gift-giving is another huge justification for the continued existence of books, and as this annual selection of books on food and eating arrives in Orlando Weekly’s Last-Minute Gift Guide issue, I’ll remind you that today (Dec. 22) is the last day to order from Amazon with guaranteed delivery by Christmas Eve. Check what’s still in stock as soon as you put down the paper (or if you’re reading online, open another tab right now!).

Gorgeous gifts

The Family Meal: Home Cooking With Ferran Adrià, Ferran Adrià (Phaidon Press, 384 pages) Here’s where I go all “If you buy only one cookbook this year, make it this one” – because, seriously, this book has it all. It’s impressively weighty, the photography and design are impeccable, and it combines the risky allure of molecular-gastronomy god Ferran Adrià with down-home comfort food that anyone (anyone) can execute. “Family meal” is the staff feeding before service in good restaurants; Adrià and crew may have been serving sphericalized chicken foam at El Bulli (until it closed last July), but they were eating roast chicken with fried potatoes beforehand. Adrià applies his scientific mind to 31 three-course menus, evincing precise directions and timing and calling only for everyday ingredients and kitchen equipment. Essential.

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