Why the best cookbooks of 2023 make great Christmas presents

Karen Hardy
November 22 2023 - 12:00am
Watch: The best Christmas cocktails to impress your guests.

I'm happy to admit I struggle to cook without a cookbook. So I'm always grateful when I get my hands on a new one, full of new recipes and new inspiration.

Every cook likes to find a cookbook under the Christmas tree. Picture Shutterstock
Every cook likes to find a cookbook under the Christmas tree. Picture Shutterstock

It's for this reason I reckon cookbooks make the ideal Christmas gift. Who doesn't want to start a new year with new ideas to feed family and friends?

Here's my pick of the year, and a few recipe suggestions that have ended up on my table.

From Salt to Jam, by Katrina Meynink. Hardie Grant. $40.

From Salt to Jam, by Katrina Meynink.
From Salt to Jam, by Katrina Meynink.

The author has spent her life thinking, cooking and writing about food and she knows the depths of an empty cupboard and the angst that comes with a hungry child screaming for dinner. This book is full of shortcuts. Make a batch of zhug - a zingy Middle Eastern sauce full of chilli and herbs - and use it in several recipes over the next week.

What I've been cooking: Try the zhug in a chicken pie. I simplified it and just made a pot pie. Still delicious.

Best tip: Chicken salt is really easy to make.

A New Way to Bake, by Philip Khoury. Hardie Grant. $55.

A New Way to Bake, by Philip Khoury.
A New Way to Bake, by Philip Khoury.

I've got a friend who makes the best vegan cakes so I don't know why I was so sceptical about this book. Khoury explains the "plantry" and then goes on to cook breads, biscuits, tarts and pies, cakes and confection, and there's not an egg or a knob of butter in sight. He's worked at Quay with Peter Gilmore and with Adriano Zumbo and now he's the head pastry chef at Harrods.

What I've been cooking: Yotam Ottolenghi is a fan of the triple chocolate fudge cake and so am I.

Best tip: Use sweet potatoes to soften sweet yeasted doughs.

Heartbake: A bittersweet memoir, by Charlotte Ree. Allen and Unwin. $39.99.

Heartbake: A bittersweet memoir, by Charlotte Ree.
Heartbake: A bittersweet memoir, by Charlotte Ree.

There aren't many cookbooks that talk about threesomes but this memoir from food writer Charlotte Ree is about so much more than the recipes that pulled her out of a post-divorce depression. She's an amazing woman; honest, confronting, candid, and Heartbake is all those things. Give this one to a friend who might need a little love.

What I've been cooking: The burnt Basque cheesecake went viral for a reason.

Best tip: Online dating is not the answer.

The Plain Cake Appreciation Society: 52 weeks of cake, by Tilly Pamment. Murdoch Books. $39.99.

The Plain Cake Appreciation Society: 52 weeks of cake, by Tilly Pamment.
The Plain Cake Appreciation Society: 52 weeks of cake, by Tilly Pamment.

Where has the year gone? Why haven't I followed Pamment's instructions and baked a cake every day? 2024 here we come. She's a self-taught home cook whose cakes are simple yet still delicious. Seasonal too. Summer is a good time for passionfruit spring rolls or a sky-high meringue.

What I've been cooking: The spiced pear and semolina cake took everyone by surprise.

Best tip: Try her tea matching suggestions for the perfect afternoon tea.

Every Night of the Week Veg, by Lucy Tweed. Murdoch Books. $39.99.

Every Night of the Week Veg, by Lucy Tweed.
Every Night of the Week Veg, by Lucy Tweed.

Not your typical vegetarian cookbook. Tweed uses a "shitload of cheese, plus a ton of eggs, and butter and carbs in all their glory". What more could you want? She's edgy, but it's food your family will never turn their noses up at. Comforting, easy to cook, with a plan for the week ahead. This one is well worn.

What I've been cooking: Spring goddess risotto, topped with a chunk of gooey cheese.

Best tip: Fussy kids? Crumb everything and add tomato sauce.

Garlic, olive oil and everything else, by Daen Lia. Plum. $29.99.

Garlic, olive oil and everything else, by Daen Lia.
Garlic, olive oil and everything else, by Daen Lia.

Go and buy yourself a loaf of simple white bread and your life will never be the same. Blitz it, add some parsley and a little rosemary and pimp everything from mac and cheese to broccoli pasta. Lia takes some staples - garlic, olive oil, butter, bread and eggs - and turns recipes on their heads. It's ingenious thinking with a Mediterranean twist.

What I've been cooking: I made some garlic butter with homegrown bulbs and slathered it on everything.

Best tip: Confit is not as complicated as it sounds.

Even more Basics to Brilliance, Donna Hay. Fourth Estate. $55.

Even more Basics to Brilliance, Donna Hay.
Even more Basics to Brilliance, Donna Hay.

How does Donna Hay keep doing it? I think, like most of us, she just wants things to be a little simpler in the kitchen. This follow-up takes one idea, say ricotta fritters, and pimps the idea three ways. Now you have zucchini and kimchi fritters. Sweet and savoury ideas and QR codes for instructional videos. Love it.

What I've been cooking: The crispy potato cake is a meal on its own but add beetroot and vodka-cured kingfish to take it to a whole new level.

Best tip: Make a batch of sushi rice and you've got dinner for days.

The Farm Table, by Julius Roberts. Ebury Press. $55.

The Farm Table, by Julius Roberts.
The Farm Table, by Julius Roberts.

The kind of book that makes you want to pack it all in and buy some land. Which is exactly what Roberts did. A chef who left London on a mission to grow his own food and reconnect with the natural world. Seasonal recipes that are simple and produce driven. If summer means a glut of zucchinis, there's several recipes here.

What I've been cooking: The epic tarragon chicken is now a staple.

Best tip: Be generous with olive oil and use herbs with abundance.

The Best Things in Life are Cheese, by Ellie Studd and Sam Studd. Plum. $44.99.

The Best Things in Life are Cheese, by Ellie Studd and Sam Studd.
The Best Things in Life are Cheese, by Ellie Studd and Sam Studd.

They had me at cheese. There's so much more to cheese than cheese boards and grated parmesan on your pasta. They celebrate cheese in all its oozy glory, with 70 delicious recipes for casual brunches, midnight snacks, date nights and picnic with mates. With tips on how to buy, store and use it, it's the only reference you'll need.

What I've been cooking: The one-pan cheesy new potatoes with bacon and galotyri is my new "bring a plate" dish.

Best tip: Your Christmas bubbles will pair well with creamy cheeses, including blues.

The Flavour Thesaurus: More flavours, by Niki Segnit. Bloomsbury. $39.99.

The Flavour Thesaurus: More flavours, by Niki Segnit.
The Flavour Thesaurus: More flavours, by Niki Segnit.

Segnit's books, the 2010 edition and this plant-based one, might be the books which teach me how to cook without a cookbook. She takes ingredients, sectioned into flavour profiles, and gives suggestions of what they pair well with. With more than 800 entries, you'll find connections between things you never would have thought to put together. It's inspiring.

What I've been cooking: The zucchini and mint pasta is perfect for summer suppers.

Best tip: Coconut and kidney beans. Who would have thought?

Seven Days of Dinner, by Adam Liaw. Hardie Grant. $45.

Seven Days of Dinner, by Adam Liaw.
Seven Days of Dinner, by Adam Liaw.

Liaw doesn't romanticise the process of having to make dinner every night, "quite often it's a pain in the arse", he says. This book will help ease the pain. More than 80 recipes from his hit SBS show The Cook Up, where each night of the week has a theme. Fish on Friday, Thursday night pasta. We like the order of it all, and the recipes are all spot on.

What I've been cooking: Don't mock the idea of fish finger tacos, they're bloody delicious.

Best tip: Turn a supermarket barbecue chook into a "salmagundi".

Gohan: Everyday Japanese Cooking, by Emiko Davies. Smith Street Books. $49.99.

Gohan: Everyday Japanese Cooking, by Emiko Davies.
Gohan: Everyday Japanese Cooking, by Emiko Davies.

We like to claim Davies as one of our own. Her parents live in Canberra, the family travelled the world and she now lives in Italy with her own family. Her mother Sumie is Japanese and the memories of her family's kitchen are built around this cuisine to some extent. Her words are beautiful, her food delicious.

What I've been cooking: The fried rice omelette is a satisfying supper for one. Topped with tomato sauce, of all things

Best tip: Japanese food is not as complicated as you think.

Want more recipe ideas? We've got a tasty offering that'll leave you satisfied. Enjoy it here. Bookmark the page so you've got a wide selection at your fingertips next time you're hitting the kitchen.

Karen Hardy

Karen Hardy

Canberra Times lifestyle reporter

I've covered a few things here at The Canberra Times over the years, from sport to education. But now I get to write about the fun stuff - where to eat, what to do, places to go, people to see. Let me know about your favourite things. Email: karen.hardy@canberratimes.com.au