If you're on the hunt for gift books with exotic ingredients, laborious techniques and over-the-top dishes for the foodies on your list, you're out of luck.
Because 2011 was a year when cookbooks -- even those by high-end and celebrity chefs -- went all homey and nostalgic.
There were books dedicated to meatballs, rustic dishes and childhood treats, leaving plenty of choices for those of us who must blend the joy of cooking with the sometimes crushing need to feed.
Here are our suggestions:
For the hurried and harried
"EatingWell One-Pot Meals" (Countryman Press) offers more than 100 recipes for healthy, comforting food done in a single vessel. From classics such as skillet-roasted chicken and gravy to inventive dishes like fennel-spiked barley risotto from the slow cooker and sweet-and-spicy pork in the wok, the book helps families spend more time at the table than at the sink.
And what gift season would be complete without Jamie Oliver? The peripatetic British chef's "Meals in Minutes" (Hyperion, 2011) offers recipes for 50 full meals designed to take no more than a half-hour. Spinach feta pie with two salads and dessert, mustard chicken with scalloped potatoes, greens and a black forest affogato, and roast beef with baby popovers are all engineered to please busy, hungry families.
"Robin Takes 5" (Andrews McMeel) is a book for those cooking for themselves or a busy family. The Food Network star provides 500 recipes made with 5 ingredients or fewer that come in at 500 calories or under, and that includes the Cashew-Crusted Chicken with Roasted Jalapeno-Mango Chutney.
"Cook This Now" (Hyperion) by James Beard award-winning food writer Melissa Clark features hearty, easy meals with pairings just unusual enough to keep things interesting. Rosemary-scented white beans meet farro, grilled sausages huddle with celery root and hazelnuts, and in the spring curry and coconut make their way into tomato soup. More than 120 inventive recipes take you from season to season.
Celebrity chefs at home
In his remarkably easy-to-follow "Cooking in Everyday English" (Oxmoor House), Todd English serves up red snapper and melon ceviche, wild mushroom couscous, tequila-braised short ribs, and, yes, chili. An entire chapter on family cooking offers kid-pleasers, such as butternut mac-and-cheese and classic pizza.
The estimable Jacques Pepin gives up 700 recipes in "Essential Pepin" (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). This is one dense tome packed with recipes like Haddock in Rice Paper with Shallots and Soy Sauce that will appeal to Pepin-opiles and introduce a new generation of cooks to classic cooking.
Crabcakes with gingered grapefruit might not sound much like your home cooking, but this is Tuesday night food for Jean-Georges Vongerichten. In "Home Cooking with Jean-Georges" (Clarkson Potter), gorgeous photos illustrate recipes for dishes such as veal scaloppini with broccoli rabe and lavender, and almond caramelized duck breasts with amaretto jus. Maybe not weeknight stuff, but a nice book for leisurely cooking.
And what gift season would be complete without Jamie Oliver? The peripatetic British chef's "Meals in Minutes" (Hyperion) offers recipes for 50 full meals designed to take no more than a half-hour. Spinach feta pie with two salads and dessert, mustard chicken with scalloped potatoes, greens and a black forest affogato, and roast beef with baby popovers are all engineered to please busy, hungry families.
"Sunday Roasts: A Year's Worth of Mouthwatering Roasts" (Chronicle Books) conjures images of the perfect winter Sunday, with dishes like orange-scented pork roast with fennel and potatoes, and lamb shanks with dates and olives. A standing rib roast with porcini mushroom sauce might even impress the in-laws.
For 20 years Cook's Illustrated captivated cooks with its mad-scientist approach to recipe development and shared the foolproof recipes. This year it collected 2,000 recipes from those past 20 years into "The Cook's Illustrated Cookbook" (America Test Kitchen). This weighty, 928-page book highlights the test kitchen's most groundbreaking work that will keep both novice and practiced cooks busy, warming the house with recipes like Slow-Roasted Beef and Ultimate Banana Bread.
For armchair travelers
For the carb lover on your list, you can't do better than "The Glorious Pasta of Italy" (Chronicle), a comprehensive guide to hearty, handmade spaghetti, ravioli, gnocchi and the richly diverse sauces that go with them. Try the ragu all'Abruzzese (a simple meat sauce) and you will never go back to the stuff in the jar.
Souther cuisine captured our attention this year with a handful of titles. You can't go wrong with Martha Hall Foose's "A Southerly Course" (Clarkson Potter), which stands out for great recipes and sheer fun, with stories of "pageant girls," boys with bean shooters and dogs on the dinner table. "Sara Foster's Southern Kitchen" (Random House) is worth it for the Rice Pudding Brulee recipe alone.
Allegra McEvedy's "Bought, Borrowed and Stolen" (Conran Octopus) takes cooks on a world tour with recipes like Portuguese caldo verde, Filipino chili noodles and Venison biltong (jerky) from South Africa. Beautiful photos and a scrapbook feel make the book a nice read.
Vegetarian and vegan
The ever-reliable Marie Simmons adds to her admirably long "oeuvre" with "Fresh & Fast Vegetarian" (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). "Cook without a Book: Meatless Meals" (Rodale) comes from an equally reliable Pam Anderson who turns her attention to recipes and techniques for part-time and full-time vegetarians.
"EatingWell Fast & Flavorful Meatless Meals" (Countryman Press) comes from the magazine known for healthful recipes. "Vegan Family Meals" by Ann Gentry and "Quick-Fix Vegan" by Robin Robertson (both from Andrews McMeel) gather the family around the table.
Specialty and quirky
"The Apple Lover's Cookbook" (Norton) may be the best celebration of fall's fruit that we've ever seen. Savory dishes such as pork and apple pie with cheddar sage crust pull together all the flavors of the season. A primer on 59 varieties of apples and how to use them makes this a must-have for apple lovers.
Food-loving rockers can get the best of both worlds in "The Recipe Project" (Black Balloon Publishing), a collection of recipes by top chefs set to music. Rock out with Mario Batali's spaghetti with Sweet 100 Tomatoes or Michael Symon's octopus salad with Black-Eyed Peas. Comes with the CD, of course.
"Odd Bits" by Jennifer McLagan (Ten Speed Press) focuses on "underappreciated but incredibly flavorful alternative cuts" such as tripe, kidney, belly, cheeks, heart, testicles and brains. This is strong stuff, but it's an excellent gift for a committed foodie, a dedicated locavore or anyone who raises meat animals.
Who knows more about "the barbie" than an Aussie? Award-winning chef from Down Under Pete Evans fits the bill. His Tandoori Pork is from "My Grill" (WeldonOwen).
"Artisan Pizza and Flatbread in Five Minutes a Day" (St. Martin's Press,) will get the baker on your list jumping with glee. Thin crust, thick crust, dipping breads and desserts -- think good old pizza margherita, Turkish pita boats, and banana cream hand pies -- all in the time it takes to heat up the oven.
For the kids
"OMG Pancakes!" (Avery) pretty much says it all. Little mouths will gobble up green alligators, bees in their hive, puppy dog faces and unicorns, all captured in pancakes and brought to life by the magic of natural food coloring and squeeze bottles. Perfect for snow days and sleepovers.
And if there's no other way to get your kids into the kitchen, "SpongeBob's Kitchen Mission Cookbook" (Wiley) offers a primer on vegetable parfaits, healthy egg dishes and whole wheat pizzas.