Great Cookbooks for Holiday Gifts (Recipe: Quick Olive Focaccia)

Great Cookbooks for Holiday Gifts (Recipe: Quick Olive Focaccia)

Did you know that cookbooks make terrific holiday gifts? It’s true. Really. And I happen to know a whole group of food writers with cookbooks so varied, one of them should make almost anyone you know exceptionally happy. We all got together to throw a little virtual potluck today—each of us has cooked something from another’s book and written about it.

Don’t tell the others, but I think I got lucky. I scored The I Love Trader Joe’s College Cookbook by Andrea Lynn. Yes, that’s right, the word “college” is in the title and I’m a few *cough cough* years out of school. But the very things that make Trader Joe’s so perfect for college students—the convenience, the quality, the value, the fact that most of the prepared foods are made exactly the way you’d make them at home yourself, if you had the time—also appeal to parents. When Harry was wee, I used Trader Joe’s whole-wheat pizza dough* at least once a week, in pizza, pinwheels (the savory kind, not the cookies I just wrote about), and turnovers. It’s just so easy. I don’t know about you, but when I had a baby attached to my body for 18 hours a day, easy was the main goal.

Andrea’s recipes take items you’ll find in any TJ’s, from simple pre-cut vegetables to frozen entrees, and repurpose, recombine, and reinvent them in the most ingenious ways. And because they’re intended for college students, who often don’t have the kitchen skills—or the kitchens—of older, employed folks, the recipes are insanely easy. There are cocktail party-worthy munchies like Thai Red Curry Deviled Eggs, filling soups like Double Butternut Squash with Gorgonzola Ravioli, bright-tasting Fish Tacos with Mango Salsa, zingy Black Pepper Shrimp with Fried Rice, even Nutty Caramel Popcorn (which uses TJ’s fleur de sel caramel sauce, making it utterly irresistible) and a crazy-simple Chocolate Fondue. None of them requires much more than the ability to turn on a burner—and in many cases, a microwave.

Seriously, if you know a college student or a new parent who’d like to eat well but doesn’t have the wherewithal, stick a bow on The I Love Trader Joe’s College Cookbook.

* Now I make my own dough, using Jim Lahey’s super-flexible recipe. But I went old-school and used TJ’s for the focaccia!

Olive Focaccia
Adapted from The I Love Trader Joe’s College Cookbook by Andrea Lynn

Flour, as needed
1 ball Trader Joe’s pizza dough, at room temperature (I used whole wheat)
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more as needed
3 tablespoons Trader Joe’s Olive Tapenade Spread, divided
2 Roma tomatoes, thinly sliced lengthwise (I used about 1 cup of grape tomatoes)
1/4 cup shaved Parmesan cheese, optional
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
  2. Lightly flour a clean work surface. Place the dough on top and gently knead it, stretching it with your fingers.
  3. In an 8 x 12-inch baking dish, combine the oil and 1 tablespoon olive tapenade, and spread the mixture around the bottom of the dish.
  4. Lay the pizza dough over the olive oil and tapenade, pressing the dough down into the bottom of the dish. Use your fingers to punch tiny indentations into the top of the dough.
  5. Spread the remaining tapenade on top, then layer tomato slices on top, followed by the Parmesan shavings and salt. Bake until the focaccia is puffy and golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Drizzle with olive oil and cut into pieces.

MAKE BABY FOOD: If you’ve got a baby on finger food, give her a piece of focaccia to gnaw on. Tapenade can be fairly salty, so serve her from the less-covered portion.


No baby? No college kid? I’ll bet you’ll find the perfect gift from this list instead…

100 Perfect Pairings: Main Dishes to Enjoy with Wines You Love
By Jill Silverman Hough

Chock-full of delicious, creative, and easy-to-make recipes for everyday cooks, 100 Perfect Pairings makes food and wine pairing easy and approachable. With recipes organized into twelve chapters by wine variety, simply turn to the chapter for the wine you want to serve, make any of the entrees you find there, and enjoy it with your wine. It’s that easy. Be it Pinot Grigio or Pinot Noir, a big dinner party or a simple meal with friends, “100 Perfect Pairings” promises wonderful recipes that make every pairing, well, perfect!

Jill Silverman Hough is a cookbook author, food and wine writer, recipe developer, and culinary instructor whose forte is making food and cooking simple yet special.

On Jill’s blog:  Tortilla Soup from Almost Meatless


Almost Meatless: Recipes That Are Better for Your Health and the Planet
By Joy Manning & Tara Mataraza Desmond

Ideal for today’s conscientious carnivores, Almost Meatless is a timely new book featuring 60+ tasty recipes that go light on the meat.  Without compromising flavor or protein, these dishes maximize health benefits while minimizing the grocery bill and impact on the planet.

Tara Mataraza Desmond is a writer, cookbook author and recipe developer focused on food for health and wellness, pregnancy and parenthood.

On Tara’s blog: Yogurt Chicken with Yogurt Chutney Sauce from 100 Perfect Pairings

The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook: Home Cooking from Asian American Kitchens
By Patricia Tanumihardja

Asian grandmothers—whether of Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian, Vietnamese, or Indian descent— are keepers of the cultural, and culinary, flame. Their mastery of delicious home-cooked dishes and comfort food makes them the ideal source for this cookbook. The 130 tantalizing dishes assembled in this tome comprise hearty food, brightly flavored, and equally good to look at and eat. Plus, all the recipes are translated to work in modern home kitchens.

Pat Tanumihardja is a food and travel writer currently based in the Washington, D.C. metro area and blogs at The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook.

On Pat’s blog: Chickpea Curry with Tomato and Mango from Roz Cummin’s blog


Brewed Awakening
By Joshua M. Bernstein

Brewed Awakening is Joshua M. Bernstein’s definitive take on the craft beer revolution. The book is the deeply reported story of the wild innovations and passions driving craft beer, focusing on the tales of the risk-taking brewers, bar owners and the dedicated beer drinkers across the globe. There’s a story in every pint glass, and Brewed Awakening gives voice to each one.

Josh Bernstein is a Brooklyn-based beer, spirits, food, travel and bicycling (phew!) journalist, as well as an occasional tour guide.

On Josh’s blog: The Jucy Lucy Burger from The Encyclopedia of Sandwiches

The Encyclopedia of Sandwiches
By Susan Russo

How do you keep a Dagwood from toppling over? How did the Hero get its name? And who invented the French Dip? Discover these answers and more in The Encyclopedia of Sandwiches—a chunky little cookbook dedicated to everything between sliced bread. You’ll find recipes for every sandwich imaginable along with fascinating regional and historical trivia. From the humble Sloppy Joe to the chic Nutella sandwich, from the iconic Po ‘Boy to the fresh-faced donut sandwich, The Encyclopedia of Sandwiches will satiate sandwich connoisseurs everywhere.

Susan Russo is a San Diego-based cookbook author, blogger (Food Blogga), and freelance writer specializing in food and lifestyle.

On Susan’s blog: Highlights from Brewed Awakening


Golden Afternoons: The Official Handbook of the Society for the Preservation of Ladies’ Afternoon Tea
By Roz Cummins

Roz Cummins is a Boston-based food writer who specializes in sustainability. She also loves tea and baking. She has worked as an editor, a teacher, and an arts administrator. She is currently working on a book called Golden Afternoons: The Official Handbook of the Society for the Preservation of Ladies’ Afternoon Tea.

On Roz’s blog: Steamed Meatballs with Tangerine Peel from The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook