After reflecting on the vast universe of cookbooks out there for just a few minutes, my head began to hurt. How do you whittle down even the basics to a manageable list when there are three versions of The Joy of Cooking alone to consider?

So instead of a general gift guide, I'm listing the some of the best cookbooks of 2007 with an eye toward what from this year's crop would make a jolly, useful, tasty present.

Prices don't include shipping unless otherwise noted.

The Best Reference Book

James Peterson's Cooking is unmatched in terms of giving clear instruction for useful culinary skills. It leans heavily towards classic French dishes, but its value as a guide to technique make it an essential for home cooks who want to step up their game in terms of polish and consistency. Sidebars full of tips and the photos that accompany the well-thought out directions make complicated-sounding processes unambiguous - a recipe for success. $26.40, from Amazon

The Best on Basics

You can't argue with Alice Waters, the patron saint of the farm-to-table food movement. Basic cooks looking to expand their repertoires, new enthusiasts to culinary localism, or anyone who wants advice about shopping and cooking seasonally will enjoy her Art of Simple Food: Notes, Lessons, and Recipes From a Delicious Revolution. The recipes really are simple and wonderful, ideal for the newly independent cook, and the menus she presents would be a great help to the novice entertainer in giving dinner parties. $21, from Amazon

The Best Book on Meat

It's a good time to be a carnivore. This year we saw new and reissued guides to pork (Pork and Sons), bacon (Bacon), offal (Beyond Nose To Tail), Fish (The Young Man and The Sea) and chicken (Roast Chicken and Other Stories)—all great guides to single (albeit sometimes inexhaustibly broad) subjects. But no book published this year captures more about the virtues of flesh than The River Cottage Meat Book, delicious armchair tourism to a jolly England of roast fowl and spit-cooked joints of lamb. Equal parts pastoral romance, philosophical reflection, and instruction on selecting and working with a vast variety of meats, it is an excellent guide to shopping sensibly, making dinner thoughtfully and using leftovers wisely. $24, from Amazon

The Best Eclectic Cookbook

Because he is gently irreverant and always passionate about how to make delicious food, Eric Gower is a Serious Eats favorite, and we've featured several recipes from his The Breakaway Cook that should convince you. This book is perfect for the cook who likes to experiment, use unusual ingredients and embrace bold flavors, and will give you cred as a gift-giver who knows the difference between fusion and finesse. $20, from Amazon

The Best on Sweets

Ed has waxed rhapsodic about Gina DePalma's desserts at Babbo for a long time, and his excitement about Dolce Italiano was met by enthusiasm from Serious Eaters when they tried the recipes we featured on the site. If you give this collection of lovely desserts and charming anecdotes to the pastry maker in your life, maybe you'll get the gift of delicious treats in return. $23, from Amazon


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