The proliferation of cookbooks, queues of chefs lining up to demonstrate their skills on television, joy of eating set against fears about certain types of food... cooking, more than ever, is a dichotomy between the simplest pleasures and most complex choices. So too when it comes to choosing which cookbooks are worthy of space underneath the Christmas tree. There are too many to list here, so several worthies had to be left out, such as Darina Allen's Easy Entertaining, Gary Rhodes' Keeping it Simple and Ursula Ferrigno's La Dolce Vita. Writers such as Elizabeth David and Constance Spry originally made culinary delight accessible; these books are their 21st-century successors.
Soup Kitchen by Annabel Buckingham and Thomasina Miers
Soup Kitchen is an earthy, practical resource to turn to when you are in need of something warming and restorative. There are 100 recipes for soup, coming from talented chefs and writers such as Nigella Lawson, Gordon Ramsay, Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray, and they are interspersed with appetising photography. Rather brilliantly, 70 per cent of the proceeds goes to homeless charities.
The Cook's Book by Jill Norman
Few of us enjoy the privilege of having a professional chef in our kitchen, but this book is an easy way to have the experts at hand, bringing together the collective knowledge of chefs from four continents. It cuts to the core of preparation techniques and comes complete with helpful photographs and advice on what to do if it all goes wrong (swearing is always optional).
Dorling Kindersley, £30
The Delia Collection: Baking by Delia Smith
There have been many pretenders to the throne, but this book is a stark reminder that Smith still reigns supreme. It is part of a "library" collection of thousands of recipes that Smith has organised and developed over her 25 years of experience: some new, some old (but forgotten) and some favourites. Recommended are the goats'-cheese, red-onion and rosemary muffins - delicious.
BBC Books, £9.99
The Chocolate Connoisseur by Chloé Doutre-Roussel
Chloé Doutre-Roussel has a passion for chocolate that goes far beyond sweet-toothed affection and this book, sensuous and entertaining, shares some of her knowledge. Once chocolate buyer at Fortum & Mason and head of Ladurée in Paris, Doutre-Roussel's expertise is in taste and history, opening doors for the reader into the secrets of flavour. (omega)
Piatkus Books, £9.99
The Kitchen Diaries by Nigel Slater
Slater writes with a belief and passion that is underpinned by the practical understanding that not everyone is an expert chef. This book is a bulwark against the idea that we want to eat all foods all year round, a myth, he says, that was created by supermarkets. Each month, he chooses sumptuous recipes that use seasonal ingredients.
Fourth Estate, £25
Jamie's Italy by Jamie Oliver
A cheeky chappy with a social conscience, Jamie Oliver is especially appealing here because he was willing to become the pupil again. Taking off around Italy in a camper van with a portable kitchen, he learns to cook Italian food from the people he meets. The result is classic Oliver: chatty and personable with doable lip-smacking recipes.
Michael Joseph, £20
Exploring Taste and Flavour by Tom Kime
Tom Kime, chef at Jamie Oliver's wedding and formerly of Food@The Muse restaurant, studied the South-East Asian taste theory in great depth in order to write this book. The idea is that a meal is delicious if four tastes - hot, sour, salty, sweet - are balanced. For the experimental, a taste directory breaks ingredients into the categories so that your creations can go beyond his recipes.
Kyle Cathie, £19.99
The Silver Spoon
It has been Italy's best-selling cookbook for 50 years, and now the 2,000 recipes are available in English. Central to Italian cooking is being in tune with the seasons, holding to rural traditions, and celebrating food and friendship, and The Silver Spoon brings all these ideas together. It's a hefty tome that's truly authentic.
The River Cottage Family Cookbook by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Fizz Carr
Recipes so simple that a child could do them, but this is not a cookbook for children; it is a brilliant introduction to making food that's suitable for everyone. Pictures show delicious drop scones made by an eight year old, and a fish gutted by a nine year old. The book is also a rich recipe source for any cook still learning, with "why" being as important as "how": plenty of explanations means much longer, more comprehensible recipes.
Roast Figs Sugar Snow by Diana Henry
As the chill of winter weaves itself into the air, this is the book to turn to. Travelling round countries that know the cold - Russia, northern Italy, New England, Ireland - Diana Henry discovered comforting recipes wrapped in personality. Beautiful photographs, poems, folk sayings and extracts from winterish novels make it an excellent fireside read, too. s
Mitchell Beazley, £20
To order any of these books with a 10 per cent discount (plus free p&p), call Independent Books Direct on 08700 798 897, quoting reference 'IBD11/05'Reuse content