Usually, there's a theme to the holiday lineup of cookbooks, but this year the titles are as varied as the flavors in a stew.
Last Christmas, it was a heavyweight lineup of books that taught us how to prepare the very best meals using the finest ingredients, and the books were hundreds of pages. This year, the books are smaller, with a few ethnic topics, lots of desserts, and books about cooking for youngsters.
If there's a cook on your Christmas list, here are several cookbooks that will please him or her. Or, if you like to buy yourself a new cookbook to make a festive meal or find a recipe for something special, there are plenty of choices.
■ When Carla Kimmons and her husband, John, of Lexington returned from a trip to India in September, they raved about the food. Especially a dish called mishti doi (sweetened curd). The chefs at the Calcutta hotel where they stayed told the Kimmonses that the dish could not be reproduced in the United States because of the climate. But if anyone could create a similar recipe for doi, it is cookbook author Madhur Jaffrey. The James Beard Award-winning author has written numerous cookbooks on Indian cooking, and her newest cookbook is At Home with Madhur Jaffrey (Alfred A. Knopf, $35). Jaffrey includes several yogurt custard recipes that are tasty.
■ Mary Engelbreit's artwork is what keeps many cooks buying her cookbooks. Her latest is Mary Engelbreit's Fan Fare Cookbook (Andrews McMeel, $16.99). It's for the harried cook who still wants to make homemade meals. It has 120 slow cooker recipes.
■ If you have a friend who likes to experiment with ethnic flavors, give him or her Daisy's Holiday Cooking: Delicious Latin Recipes for Effortless Entertaining by Daisy Martinez (Atria Books, $16.99). Martinez, star of the Food Network's Viva Daisy!, gives a menu for a holiday cocktail party that includes crispy potato-cabrales won tons and chipotle-pork meatballs.
■ The owners of Alice's Tea Cup in New York City divulge their tea-making philosophy and famous recipes in Alice's Tea Cup (William Morrow, $24). Sisters Haley and Lauren Fox opened the Tea Cup on 73rd Street in 2001, and they later opened two more tearooms. Recipes include scones, sandwiches, cakes, cookies and salads.
■ Who wouldn't enjoy a copy of I love Bacon! by Jayne Rockmill (Andrews McMeel, $19.99)? Recipes are from famous chefs including Cat Cora, John Besh, Jasper White, Ming Tsai and Rick Tramonto, and they include chocolate-bacon cupcakes and bacorn (bacon-caramel popcorn with chile-spiked peanuts).
■ The only time some of us turn on our ovens is to bake Christmas goodies. Rachel Schifter Thebault, owner of the Manhattan bakery Tribeca Treats, uses fashion advice to teach cooks how to master dessert basics: Use a few staples as the foundation and change "accessories" to dress it up or down. In her cookbook Sweet Chic (Ballantine, $28), Thebault shows how to transform a traditional birthday cake into tiramisu cupcakes, or graham crackers into cinnamon-cream cheese sandwich cookies.
■ Sweet Magic: Easy Recipes for Delectable Desserts by Michel Richard (Ecco, $27.50) explains how to improve your dessert techniques by creating crisper pie crusts and making holiday classics such as buche de noel and pavlovas.
■ Last fall, Ann Pearlman published a novel, The Christmas Cookie Club, about a dozen women who support one another through life's crises by having a cookie exchange. Pearlman's The Christmas Cookie Cookbook (Atria Books, $15) shows readers how to begin a club, and it has recipes for favorite cookies.
■ Robin Olson has written a similar cookbook. The Cookie Party Cookbook: The Ultimate Guide to Hosting a Cookie Exchange (St. Martin's Press, $17.99) teaches readers how to throw a cookie exchange and create festive packaging, and it includes 170 recipes for cookies, bars and candies.
■ Young mothers who would like to make lunches that will entertain and nourish their children would love to get a copy of Yum-Yum Bento Box: Fresh Recipes for Adorable Lunches by Crystal Watanabe and Maki Ogawa (Quirk Books, $16.95). Boxed lunches, called bento, are popular in Japan. Learn to make rice-ball froggies and use mini cookie-cutters to shape cheese.
■ Norah O'Donnell, chief Washington correspondent for MSNBC, contributing correspondent to The Today Show and a mother of three young children, co-owns five restaurants in Washington, D.C., with husband Geoff Tracy. O'Donnell has written Baby Love: Healthy, Easy, Delicious Meals for Your Baby and Toddler, (St. Martin's Press, $19.99). Baby Love recipes include peach and apricot oatmeal, brain-booster zucchini muffins, baby guacamole, and strawberry and fig purée.
■ Meat lovers will praise you for the gift of Falling off the Bone by Jean Anderson (Wiley, $29.95). Anderson explains how to cook tough but inexpensive cuts of meat so they come out fork-tender. She explains how to master the techniques of braising, slow-cooking and stewing.
■ Ming Tsai, host of PBS's Simply Ming, tackles the four basic needs in everyday cooking — taste, healthfulness, simplicity and affordability — in Simply Ming: One-Pot Meals (Kyle Books, $24.95).
■ Ultimate Chocolate Recipes: The New Collection (Kyle Books, $24.95) is from Green & Black, the organic chocolate brand founded in 1991. Recipes include ice cream, cookies, souffles and cupcakes.
■ Clean Start: Inspiring You to Eat Clean and Live Well by Terry Walters (Sterling Epicure, $25) is about eating minimally processed foods for maximum nutrition.
■ The Illustrated Step-by-Step Cook (DK Publishing, $35), a modern-day recipe bible is for beginners and experienced cooks alike. Exact timing for every stage of making a dish makes it almost impossible for things to go wrong.
■ The best things you can give a cook are a high-quality knife and a book on how to use it. Zwilling J.A. Henckels' Complete Book of Knife Skills: The Essential Guide to Use, Techniques & Care (Robert Rose, $34.95) will be treasured by cooks who would like to improve their kitchen skills.
Reach Sharon Thompson at (859) 231-3321 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3321.