Cool books for the foodie on your list
If your food-lover already has the indespensible tomes, here are three great new-ish releases:
1001 Foods You Must Taste Before You Die
An amazing, photo-packed, easy-to-use encyclopedia of foods from around the globe. Each entry is brief yet informative, making it easy to browse and spur conversation if your gathering gets awkward. You'll learn something new about familiar foods (Ciabatta bread was born out of post WWII poverty, from odds and ends of leftover dough) and discover foods you've never heard of before. The paca, for example, is a large, brown, white-spotted rodent eaten in Latin America. The Guyanese stuff its stomach with a mixutre of meat and grain before roasting it. Who knew?
I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence
There are actual recipes in this book, though, with Amy Sedaris as its author, it's more like a cookbook on crack. It's got a zine-like aesthetic, with quirky little illustrations and low-fi photos, say, of Amy's pet rabbit's creamated ashes. Sure you could make the mac& cheese, but it's more fun to browse Amy's wacky tips tips on how to put a party together (possible guest combinations to avoid: a girl, her boyfriend and his secret girlfriend; director and out-of-work actor; fraternity brother and anyone else) and how to behave (blind date don't's: don't answer the door in a wedding dress and veil, he might not think you're joking).
Come One, Come All
For a more serious hostess, Star Tribune's "Taste" editor Lee Svitak Dean offers a practical guide to entertaining. Menus (many of which are created from former Taste recipes) are organized by season and meant to impress guests while keeping hosts un-stressed. Below-zero temps call for braised short ribs with creamy polenta and cranberry-pear crisp.