OK, so some well-meaning person who doesn’t really know you thought you’d find a book by Sandra Lee or Rachel Ray useful for the holidays. Luckily she gave you a gift receipt for it too. Here are some better options:
The Bacon Cookbook, James Villas (Wiley, $35) The former food editor of Town & Country reports in his introduction that U.S. bacon consumption has increased 40 percent over the past five years, so I’m amazed that the market hasn’t been throughly glutted by cookbooks focusing on the gateway meat. Not everyone has the strength to resist bacon’s dark side, an inexorable force that can pull one into a spiral of overindulgence or inspire ill-conceived creations (bacontini, anyone?). But Villas, a longtime champion of classic American cuisine, can handle his bacon. His 168 recipes show restraint, good taste, and worldwide influence, from Irish colcannon, Brazilian feijoada, and German fennel-and-bacon soup to bacon-wrapped figs stuffed with almonds in port and an entire chapter on bacon breads.
No Reservations: Around the World on an Empty Stomach, Anthony Bourdain (Bloomsbury, $34.95) This accompaniment to the Travel Channel series is mostly just the scrapbook of an enviable life, probably of little use to anyone not already a fan. But for those of us who are, it’s laced with the Bourdainisms, both snarky and heartfelt, that we love about his show and his longer nonfiction.
Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, Deborah Madison (Broadway, $40) Judging a book by its cover, I think I avoided this now classic collection for years because the author and founder of San Francisco’s Greens restaurant looks the very picture of prim, self-satisfied plant eating. But though Madison’s book, in its tenth anniversary edition, is widely regarded as the Vegetarian Bible, its utility for omnivores is endless, with 1,400 recipes over 721 pages.
After the Hunt: Louisiana’s Authoritative Collection of Wild Game and Game Fish Cookery, John D. Folse (Chef John Folse & Company, $64.95) This tome is so gigantic it nearly falls apart under its own weight. Beginning with a history of the hunt (that begins in prehistory), it’s packed with archival photos, paintings, and contemporary food porn, profiles of folksy locals, and tons of recipes, many for critters you’re not likely to cross paths with unless you were born on the bayou (smothered nutria, muskrat stew).