5 Best California-Based Cookbooks to Gift for the Holidays

Hans Röckenwagner's herbed gravlax from Das Cookbook
Hans Röckenwagner's herbed gravlax from Das Cookbook
Staci Valentine

If you are lucky enough to have foodies — or even aspiring foodies — in your family or stable of friends, fear not the treachery of gift shopping: behold five great food (and drink!) books to place under your tree, menorah or kinara.

From local haunts, like Auntie Em’s Kitchen and Rockenwagner, to further flung locales, like the East Bay’s Chez Panisse and San Francisco’s Bar Tartine, this list stays true to the flavors and fancies of the Golden State.

Oh, and if you like to drink, there is a special guide for you, so you can imbibe with flair. So, eat, drink and be merry, or make sure someone else does so by providing a book that celebrates food. If you’re lucky, maybe the receiver will whip you up a thank you dinner.

The Auntie Em’s Cookbook
With a wink and a flourish, Theresa Wahl presents The Auntie Em’s Cookbook: A Musician’s Guide to Breakfast & Brunch (Prospect Park Books), published in June of this year. The chef-owner of Auntie Em’s, Ms. Wahl brandishes a host of recipes encompassing traditional breakfast fare with an edge, like vegetarian red flannel hash and orange ciabatta French toast with berries. The cookbook also features desserts, like caramel monkey bread; salads, like peach, burrata, prosciutto and hazelnut; and preserves, like spicy pickled beets. For super-novices, there are even helpful tips, like how to scramble eggs. Anyone with an appreciation for homey and scrumptious food will love this book.

Bar Tartine
The photos, by Chad Robertson, in Bar Tartine: Techniques & Recipes (Chronicle Books, November 2014) dare you to get off your ass and into the kitchen. Co-chefs and owners of the San Francisco restaurant Bar Tartine, Nicolaus Balla and Cortney Burns bring an international flair to their cookbook with recipes reverberating with the diverse spices of Laos, Okinawa and Jutland. “This layering of flavors – ones that naturally complement each other in technique or origin, even as they are culled from different cultures – is the key to unlocking long-forgotten depths of flavor.” Give this luscious book to your favorite wanderer, even if their travels only exist in their mind’s eye.

Drink: Los Angeles
Give the gift of debauchery with Drink: Los Angeles: The Drink Lover’s Guide to L.A. (Prospect Park Books), by Colleen Dunn Bates and Miles Clements. Bursting with options from breweries to cocktail lounges to coffeehouses, this book has up-to-the-minute options, with the recent publication date of November 14th. The sections break down by genres of bar (karaoke, wine), or use the index to isolate your fancy by neighborhood. There is even a section for boba spots, if you like your drinks sans alcohol. For a true night on the town, Drink serves up routes for bar crawls in neighborhoods like Koreatown or Long Beach, where you can walk your way into a completely drunken state without fear of reprisal.

Das Cookbook
Hans Rockenwagner, chef, purveyor of baked goods and owner of restaurants for thirty years in Los Angeles, shares his secrets in Das Cookbook: German Cooking…California Style (Prospect Park Books). This fall release makes a terrific gift for Angelenos who have eaten at Rockenwagner, Café Rockenwagner and 3 Square Café, and are looking for a little insight into the chef’s unique fusion cuisine. Recipes range from those unforgettable pretzals that also make for great buns to spring spatzle with herbs & peas. The instructions for the actual spatzle (a German dumpling-like noodle) make the dish sound doable, even if your giftee is not a whiz in the kitchen. Sprechen sie supper?

Twelve Recipes
A terrific introduction to cooking from none other than the chef at Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse, Twelve Recipes (William Morrow Cookbooks) knows how to keep things simple. While Chef Cal Peternell has worked for two decades at the Berkeley staple, and cooked countless meals for his wife and children, Chef Peternell realized he hadn’t done much to teach his sons the art of preparing meals. Focusing on basics as basic as toast and rice, Twelve Recipes (published in October) then provides embellishments for those looking to take it up a notch. The cookbook works well for those who aspire to understand the ingredients and principles behind a basic recipe while allowing a certain amount of freedom within the structure. For example, the quick-style meat sauce uses only ten ingredients with simple instructions. For those with a little more ambition, meatballs can be added in a variety of flavors, from Indian to Mexican. A lot of heart went into this cookbook and Chef Peternell’s family is invoked often, which makes this book a thoughtful and tender gift for someone you love.


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