For us, vegetable-based cookbooks edged out the year's meat-minded tomes; we were drawn to the ever-advancing glorification of seasonal produce. Gift givers will be glad to hear that, with a few exceptions, works of modest size and price tag are the norm. The Middle East continues to pique our interest in ethnic cuisine. Some very fine food blogs yielded fine cookbooks.
Here are our picks, listed alphabetically within categories: CANAL HOUSE COOKS EVERY DAY, By Christopher Hershimer and Melissa Hamilton (Andrews McMeel)
GRAN COCINA LATINA, By Maricel E. Presilla (W.W. Norton)
Impressive in scope and depth of research, this volume delineates Latin American cuisines with history, and by ingredients. The trade-off of no photos vs. insightful essays and 500-plus recipes seems more than fair. Helpful "What to Drink" and serving suggestions are included.
HERBIVORACIOUS, By Michael Natkin (Harvard Common Press)
If we had to choose one book to cook from in 2012, this would be it. The vegetarian blog of the same name has produced a recipe collection that's varied
JERUSALEM: A COOKBOOK, By Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi (Ten Speed Press)
The Israeli city imprinted their food, the authors say, but their recipes reflect a broad range of Middle Eastern influence. The dishes are beautiful. This book's all the motivation you need to put barberries, sumac, pomegranate molasses and fenugreek seed in your pantry. Worth a look: Shrimp and Scallops With Tomato and Feta.
MASTERING THE ART OF SOUTHERN COOKING, By Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubart (Gibbs Smith)
If anyone can do for Southern food what Julia Child did for French, it's the estimable Dupree. Recipes for Southern mainstays come with a storehouse of tips: how to cook a country ham, how to kill a trout, how onions can save a marriage. We liked Fig and Pecan Tapenade With Goat Cheese, Frozen Fruit Salad and White Fruitcake.
PRESERVING, By Pat Crocker (William Morrow)
This is a big, beautiful bargain of a book that is almost a solo effort by the author - including the photography. Keep Curried Summer Stone Fruit in mind for after Memorial Day.
PURE VEGAN, By Joseph Shuldiner (Chronicle)
The food is elegant, the photos are striking and the lifestyle proselytizing is absent. Shuldiner is a graphic designer, and his book is intelligently organized with the cook in mind. Jicama Salad is simple and flavorful.
ROOTS, By Diane Morgan (Chronicle)
Root vegetables are treated with respect, and photographed to stunning effect. The author spent more than two years researching, writing and developing recipes; her work is our reward. Try her Salsify Provencal.
SLOW COOKING, By Antony Worrall Thompson (Mitchell Beazley)
A chef's skill set is applied to the humble appliance, and that means some recipes push beyond the dump-and-wait routine. Most helpful: a chart that converts oven and stove-top cooking times. Check out Spicy Braised Eggplant With Prunes; Pork, Apple and Lemon Thyme Meatballs.
THE SMITTEN KITCHEN COOKBOOK, By Deb Perelman (Knopf)
Here's another fine example of blog-to-cookbook success. It's a fun, empowering read with recipes that beckon. Her Linguine With Cauliflower Pesto is a quick and popular meal.
BAKED ELEMENTS, By Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito (Stewart Tabori & Chang)
The owners of Brooklyn's Baked bakery disclose their 10 favorite ingredients - one is caramel - and use them in cookies, pies, puddings, cakes, even milkshakes.
BAREFOOT CONTESSA FOOLPROOF, By Ina Garten (Clarkson Potter)
Her recipes are reliable and uncomplicated. Don't miss the Contessa's Cinnamon Baked Doughnuts and Israeli Couscous and Tuna Salad.
BOUCHON BAKERY, By Thomas Keller and Sebastien Rouxel (Artisan)
When a famously exacting chef turns his attention to baking, you expect precision and perfection. This book delivers. Case in point: a four-page pretzel recipe.
BREAD, By Nick Malgieri (Kyle)
The hand of a master baker offers entry points for all skill levels, plus complementary recipes. Cinnamon Knots: Yes, please.
COOKING WITH LOVE, By Carla Hall and Genevieve Ko (Free Press)
This first cookbook from "The Chew" co-host and former "Top Chef" finalist comes across as warm and genuine as Hall is in real life. "Catering Like Carla" tips are savvy.