My Recipe for the Perfect Gift

Holiday Time is fast upon us, and my favorite gift to give is cookbooks. Here are recipes to celebrate this time of year, and books to give as gifts.

According to Michel Moushabeck, publisher and editor of Interlink Publishing in Northampton, Massachusetts, the world is failing the refugees coming out of Syria. To help, he is publishing “Soup for Syria: Recipes to Celebrate Our Shared Humanity” ($30 hardcover), collected and photographed by Barbara Abdeni Massaad. All profits from the sale of the book, which features photographs of the refugees, will be donated to the UN refugee agency UNHCR to provide food for the refugees. This dynamic cookbook offers readers and home chefs the opportunity to do something to alleviate human suffering while also learning how to make some of the world’s most delicious soups.

The recipes come from all over the world and more than 80 chefs. Recipes like Anthony Bourdain’s “Soupe au Pistou,” Alice Waters’s “Carrot Soup,” and Paula Wolfert’s “Lentil and Swiss Chard Soup” include easy-to-follow directions, easy-to-find ingredients, and mouth-watering gorgeous photographs.

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Roasted Pumpkin Soup with Cardamom from Paola Skaff Alford

6 1/2 lb. pumpkin, halved and seeded; clean out the inside, leaving just the flesh

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 medium onions, chopped

2 leeks, trimmed and chopped

1 teaspoon sugar

1 tablespoon butter

1 teaspoon ground cardamom

Pinch of nutmeg

8 1/2 cups vegetable stock

1 cup cream


Freshly ground pepper

Croutons for garnish, optional

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Place pumpkin upside down on the baking sheet. Roast for about 90 minutes or until tender by poking it with a fork. When tender, scoop out the flesh and discard the shell. Coarsely chop the flesh and set aside.

Heat the oil in a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Add the chopped onion and leeks. Sauté for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the sugar and butter and cook for 20 minutes, stirring frequently until caramelized, then stir in the pumpkin.

Add the spices and stock, mix well, and bring to a simmer. Cook over medium heat until the pumpkin flesh is soft and breaking down.

Puree the soup using a stick blender, food processor, or blender.

Return soup to a clean pot set over low heat and gently stir in the cream. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve hot garnished with croutons, if desired. Serves 6 to 8.

“The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science” by J. Kenji López-Alt stands out as the definitive manual of cooking beloved American dishes and is a bold and irreverent guide to making hundreds of easy, delicious recipes based on ingenious, rigorous research. Kenji demonstrates that some traditional cooking methods are not only outdated but occasionally flat-out wrong. Kenji expertly debunks long-held myths and shows home cooks that they don’t need a state-of-the-art kitchen to prepare pitch-perfect meals. With more than 1,000 full-color images illustrating step-by-step instructions, this wonderful book gives readers the practical tools and confidence they need to take on the kitchen fearlessly. “The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science” is published by W.W. Norton & Co.

Extra-Crunchy Southern Fried Chicken

2 tablespoons paprika

2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper

2 teaspoons garlic powder

2 teaspoons dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 cup buttermilk

1 large egg

Kosher salt

One whole chicken, about 4 pounds, cut into 10 pieces (see “How to Break Down a Chicken,” page 363) or 3½ pounds bone-in, skin-on breasts, legs, drumsticks, and/or wings

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup cornstarch

1 teaspoon baking powder

4 cups vegetable shortening or peanut oil

Combine the paprika, black pepper, garlic powder, oregano, and cayenne in a small bowl and mix thoroughly with a fork.

Whisk the buttermilk, egg, 1 tablespoon salt, and 2 tablespoons of the spice mixture in a large bowl. Add the chicken pieces and toss and turn to coat. Transfer the contents of the bowl to a gallon-sized zipper-lock freezer bag and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, and up to overnight, flipping the bag occasionally to redistribute the contents and coat the chicken evenly.

Whisk together the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, 2 teaspoons salt, and the remaining spice mixture in a large bowl. Add 3 tablespoons of the marinade from the zipper-lock bag and work it into the flour with your fingertips. Remove one piece of chicken from the bag, allowing excess buttermilk to drip off, drop the chicken into the flour mixture, and toss to coat. Continue adding chicken pieces to the flour mixture one at a time until they are all in the bowl. Toss the chicken until every piece is thoroughly coated, pressing with your hands to get the flour to adhere in a thick layer.

Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 350°F. Heat the shortening or oil to 425°F in a 12-inch straight-sided cast-iron chicken fryer or a large wok over medium-high heat. Adjust the heat as necessary to maintain the temperature, being careful not to let the fat get any hotter.

One piece at a time, transfer the coated chicken to a fine-mesh strainer and shake to remove excess flour. Transfer to a wire rack set on a rimmed baking sheet. Once all the chicken pieces are coated, place skin side down in the pan. The temperature should drop to 300°F; adjust the heat to maintain the temperature at 300°F for the duration of the cooking. Fry the chicken until it’s a deep golden brown on the first side, about 6 minutes; do not move the chicken or start checking for doneness until it has fried for at least 3 minutes, or you may knock off the coating. Carefully flip the chicken pieces with tongs and cook until the second side is golden brown, about 4 minutes longer.

Transfer the chicken to a clean wire rack set on a rimmed baking sheet and place in the oven.

Cook until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breast registers 150°F and the legs register 165°F, 5 to 10 minutes; remove the chicken pieces to a second rack or a paper towel-lined plate as they reach their final temperature. Season with salt and serve—or, for extra-crunchy fried chicken, go to step 7.

Place the plate of cooked chicken in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour, and up to overnight. When ready to serve, reheat the oil to 400°F. Add the chicken pieces and cook, flipping them once halfway through cooking, until completely crisp, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack set on a rimmed baking sheet to drain, then serve immediately. Serves 4.

With “Making Artisan Cheesecake Expert Techniques for Classic and Creative Recipes” by Melanie Underwood (Quarry Books) you can create virtually any cheesecake imaginable. With this guide you can try your hand at mouthwatering variations of everything from fruit-flavored cakes to cheesecake pops and cakes that are not baked at all. Here are the classic and well-loved cheesecakes presented in a new, adventurous and modern way. You’ll find many variations to help you build a range of different styles and develop your own unique recipes. This book includes vegan, gluten-free and nut-free recipes, and 100 color photos.

Black Olive and Herb Cheesecake

“This recipe is adapted from one by my friend Sharon Gutstadt,” writes Melanie Underwood. “This is easy to make, and you can use any type of olive, sun-dried tomatoes, or artichokes in place of the black olives, as well as rosemary, parsley, or sage for the herbs. If you have a difficult time finding farmer cheese, you can just use all cottage cheese. This recipe can also be mixed by hand.”


1 tablespoon (14 g) butter, melted

1/2 cup (60 g) white sesame seeds


1 cup (225 g) cottage cheese

1 cup (225 g) farmer cheese

3 tablespoons (24 g) all-purpose flour

3 large eggs

3/4 cup (100 g) crumbled feta cheese

3/4 cup (100 g) grated white cheddar cheese

1/2 cup (50 g) pitted finely chopped Kalamata olives

1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Large pinch of ground black pepper

To make the crust: Pour the melted butter into the bottom of a 10-inch (25-cm) square baking pan. Using a pastry brush, brush butter all over the bottom and sides of the pan. Pour 1⁄3 cup (46 g) of the sesame seeds into the bottom of the pan and rotate the pan around so that the seeds cover the bottom and the sides completely; you will have a thin layer of seeds on the bottom. Set aside.

To make the cheesecake: Preheat the oven to 325°F (170°C, or gas mark 3). In the bowl of an electric mixer, using the paddle attachment, mix the cottage cheese, farmer cheese, and flour on low speed until softened, scraping down the sides of the bowl, underneath the paddle, and the paddle frequently with a rubber spatula, about 1 minute. Add the eggs, one at a time, and mix just until combined, about 10 seconds after each egg. Add the feta, white cheddar, olives, thyme, salt and pepper, and mix on low just until combined.

Pour the batter over the crust and level with an offset spatula. Sprinkle the remaining sesame seeds on top of the batter. Place in the oven and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the cheesecake is firm in the center and lightly golden. Allow to cool for 1 hour before cutting.

To unmold, run a sharp knife or spatula around the edges of the pan. Using a small knife, cut the cheesecake into 2 1/2-inch (6.4 cm) squares. Use a small offset spatula to lift the squares from the pan. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Yield: One 10-inch (25-cm) square cheesecake

Editor’s note: For more edible delights by Sheilah Kaufman, go to