The season for giving: Cookbooks

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There's an old saying, which I loosely adapt here: Make someone a meal, and you've fed them for a day. Teach someone to cook, and they'll dine well for a lifetime. Give someone a cookbook, and you may enrich their repertoire in the process.

I was given an old dog-eared copy of "The Joy of Cooking" when I was 11, by a kind neighbor. She had noticed me cooking every day with my mother who was teaching me to prepare our Greek family's most important recipes. I was thrilled with the gift - here was an opportunity to learn something about American food. I read it voraciously as I experimented, not always successfully, with the recipes within.

In the years since I received "The Joy of Cooking," I've come across a thousand cookbooks. Each one fills me with delight as I delve through its pages hoping to learn something new. I like to read cookbooks. Whether one actually makes any of the recipes or not, people who cook love to read cookbooks. Cookbooks are joyful and speak to our interests, and they're usually beautiful to look at, too. So when you're making up your holiday gift-giving list, don't hesitate to give a cookbook to a cook.

Therefore, I'm going to give you some mini-reviews and recommendations on cookbooks you can give as gifts, whether for friends or family, or even yourself.

While there are a million cookbooks out there, I thought I'd focus on books about New Mexico's cuisine and by food writers who live in our state. Here in New Mexico, we are fortunate to have many talented food writers, chefs and home cooks, both regional and international, who have published a number of excellent choices over the past few years.

To start, I'd like to recommend two good, local cookbooks originating from Taos. A few years ago, Bonnie Lee Black edited the stories and recipes of local Taos writers in a cookbook called "Storied Recipes." That wonderful collection was created as a fundraiser for SOMOS, our Taos writers' organization, and is still a wonderful read filled with lovingly told reminiscences about food, accompanied by tried-and-true recipes by our own Taos cooks. "Storied Recipes" is available for purchase at SOMOS for $10. I have given at least a dozen copies as gifts. Drop by and pick up your copy. SOMOS, 108-B Civic Plaza Drive, Taos NM 87571. Or call (575) 758-0081.

Another gem is "The Gift of Good Food," a cookbook from the Talpa Community Center. I have cooked a couple of dishes from its New Mexico specialties, and can vouch for its appealing home-cooking style. The proceeds from the sale of "The Gift of Good Food" benefit the Talpa Community Center and Library. "The Gift of Good Food" is still available at the center located on State Road 518, Ranchos de Taos, NM 87557 or call "575) 751-1014 to order your copy, or e-mail them at talpacommunitycenter@yahoo.com. $15.

Next, there are several cookbooks I heartily recommend that provide an excellent overview of New Mexican cuisine, an area that interests me greatly. Since I did not grow up here, I long to know the secrets. And as all of us know, the variations on red and green chile are as plentiful as there are families to share them!

As a transplant, I have gleaned recipes and ideas from various people and sources, but it's nice to have a recipe written down. Here are a few New Mexico cookbooks I like, both for the variety of recipes and ideas, as well as some historic and cultural anecdotes.

"Celebrating The Foods of New Mexico," by Susan Curtis and Nicole Curtis Ammerman (Smith, Gibbs Publisher, 2015; $19.99).

Recently, the Santa Fe School of Cooking published its "Celebrating the Foods of New Mexico." Renowned chefs and cooking teachers, many experts in the field of New Mexico cuisine, have imparted their knowledge over the years to an eager student body of cooking enthusiasts at the Santa Fe School of Cooking. The recipes in this book are straightforward, creative and gourmet, sometimes taking well-executed liberties with more traditional recipes. But you can count on local New Mexico-centric recipes, as well.

In the mood for carne adovada? I can say that their recipe is one of the simplest and tastiest I've ever tried.

"The New Mexico Farm Table Cookbook" by Sharon Niederman, (W. W. Norton 7 C0., Inc., 2015; $19.95).

Sharon Niederman gives us a marvelous selection of reliable recipes from cooks and chefs all over the state in her cookbook, "The New Mexico Farm Table Cookbook." Focusing on local flavors, Niederman visits some of New Mexico's most popular and notable restaurants and shares their secrets. This collection has several recipes from Taos' own Love Apple Restaurant, including details for their Baked Tamales with Oaxacan Molé -- one of my favorites."

"Dishing Up New Mexico"(Storey Publishing, 2014; $19.95).

Another New Mexico-focused cookbook is "Dishing Up New Mexico," by Dave DeWitt. With attractive photographs by Doug Merriam, and signature recipes from many of the state's wineries, breweries, restaurants and farmers, DeWitt seeks to give us a taste of New Mexico's vibrant food scene filled with creative new ideas, as well as classic preparations.

"The Pueblo Food Experience Cookbook," by Roxanne Swentzell and Patricia M. Perea (The University of New MexicoPress, 2016; $24.95).

An uncommon offering featuring the original foods of New Mexico is "The Pueblo Food Experience," by Santa Clara Pueblo artist Roxanne Swentzell. She is internationally known for her ceramic and bronze sculptures seen at her Tower Gallery in Pojoaque. "The Pueblo Food Experience" grew out of Swentzell's involvement with The Flowering Tree Permaculture Institute which she founded in 1987. The cookbook offers recipes as old as Native culture itself. Swentzell explores the foods of her native ancestors, and in the process discovers immense health benefits for herself and her people. More than just a cookbook, "The Pueblo Food Experience" offers both a history of native sustainability and an exploration of ancestral cuisine. Making use of ingredients that were naturally found, hunted or cultivated before the contact of European explorers, Swentzell experienced an unexpected domino effect of positive physical health and spiritual connectedness while following this ancient diet.

"Dinner With Georgia O'Keeffe," by Robin Lea (ASSOULINE, 2017; $50).

Although not strictly a book about New Mexican cuisine nor written by a New Mexico food writer, I found "Dinner With Georgia O'Keeffe" to be an enchanting look at recipes from O'Keeffe's personal collection. Author Robyn Lea painstakingly researched O'Keeffe's papers, letters and cookbooks, and she has not only compiled an exquisite selection of O'Keeffe's favorite recipes, but has accompanied them with historical anecdotes and stunning photographs in what almost amounts to a coffee-table book.

My Kitchen," by Deborah Madison(Ten Speed Press, 2017; $32.50).

Several cookbooks have come out this year from notable food writers who live in nearby Santa Fe, and each makes a unique contribution to cooking in our state.

The iconic Deborah Madison, whose many creative vegetarian cookbooks have provided the bedrock of inspired cooking for several decades, has just published her most personal tome, "In My Kitchen." This anthology of her favorite vegetarian recipes both inspires and comforts. She lives in Santa Fe with access to the finest produce our farmers can grow, and presents preparations for lesser-known vegetables as well as more familiar varieties. Every recipe in the book is accessible, beautifully presented, well-tested and delicious. "In

"Texas Slow Cooker," by Cheryl Alters Jamison (Quarto Publishing Group - Harvard Common Press, 2017; $22.99).

Cheryl Alters Jamison, a James Beard award-winning cookbook author and a former food editor of New Mexico Magazine, has authored, among many titles, "The Rancho de Chimayo Cookbook," and "Tasting New Mexico." She has now turned her attention to our neighboring state with a cookbook called Texas Slow Cooker. This volume offers a slew of Texas-style recipes from breakfast to dessert, all prepared with the convenience of the slow cooker. Jamison includes a plethora of stews and chile dishes, plus interesting preparations for more unusual meats such venison, goat and bison.

"The Jambo Cafe Cookbook," by Chef Ahmed M. Obo. (c) 2016. $24.95.

For many of us in Taos, a trip to Santa Fe means stopping for lunch at the Jambo Cafe, an African-inspired restaurant in a modest shopping mall on Cerrillos Road. Chef Ahmed Obo's culinary journey from the island of Lamu off the coast of Kenya to New York and finally to Santa Fe both inspires and delights. Anyone who has dined at his charming eatery knows that the flavorful dishes served there keep us returning for more. Chef Obo himself is a delightful person and very engaging, which is one of the reasons his recipe for Coconut Chicken Curry with Sautéed Spinach and Garlic is a staple in my personal repertoire.

You can order your copy at jamboimports.com, or visit the restaurant in person, Jambo Cafe, 2010 Cerrillos Road, Santa Fe, (505) 473-1269.

"Pie in the Sky," by Robin Lea. $29.99.

And finally, this book is not connected to Taos by cuisine or author, but it is by altitude. Who hasn't tried to bake a cake in Taos with somewhat lackluster results? High-altitude baking can sometimes pose a daunting challenge. No longer, thanks to "Pie in the Sky."Author Susan G. Purdy diligently tested each recipe for baking at sea level, 3,000 feet, 5,000 feet, 7,000 feet and 10,000 feet, offering foolproof techniques and most promising results.

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