The best cookbooks of the year:
"Bouchon Bakery," by Thomas Keller and Sebastien Rouxel (Artisan, $50)
I'll go out on a very sturdy limb here and say this deliciously beautiful book will be a James Beard award-winner next spring. Legendary and revolutionary chef Thomas Keller turns his attention to his childhood favorites, if his childhood favorites were made by a four-star Michelin chef. It's a big book, both in size and ideas, and the adventurous cook will love the recipes for Keller's vision. Lots of tips from executive pastry chef Sebastien Rouxel, the culinary talent behind Keller's Bouchon bakeries.
"Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking," by Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubert (Gibbs Smith, $45)
Here's another cookbook that I predict will grab awards next year. Nathalie Dupree, the grand-mama of Southern cooking, has amassed some 750 recipes from what's considered the only original American cuisine. This book represents nearly 30 years of Southern cooking experience, starting with the authors' collaboration in 1985 for Dupree's PBS series, "New Southern Cooking." Cobblers, biscuits, greens and all manner of Southern favorites get their due here, with lots of color photos and helpful tips and instructions.
"Pure Vanilla," by Shauna Sever (Quirk, $22.95)
If only you could lick the pages of this slim, one-subject volume. Bread pudding, cream pie, shortbread cherry squares and salted vanilla chip oatmeal cookies, oh my. Author Shauna Sever writes the dessert blog (shaunasever.com/blog) and has a dessert catering business in San Francisco. If you think the subject is too narrow (what about chocolate?), just know that vanilla ice cream is the No. 1 seller in the United States.
"Hungry Girl to the Max: The Ultimate Guilt-Free Cookbook," by Lisa Lillien (St. Martin's Press, $22.99)
Lisa Lillien is another blogger who has jumped back old school to print and a TV cooking show, thanks to her Internet success at hungry-girl.com. The Hungry Girl has put together a massive 650-recipe, paperback cookbook that promises recipes packed with flavor but light on calories. This is the cookbook to buy if you've got a 20-something cook on your list. You won't find a recipe that has more than 350 calories a serving.
"Tyler Florence Fresh," by Tyler Florence (Clarkson Potter, $35)
OK, so maybe it's the photo of the hunky Food Network chef on the cover with a fuzzy little chick perched on his shoulder that drew me to this book. But the photos inside are just as luscious, though in a culinary way, most of them close-ups of sexy food arranged directly on shooting surfaces, no plates or anything. Very sensual. Tyler Florence's move to the ingredient-abundant San Francisco bay area has influenced his cooking mightily. This is a chef-y book, for sure, but one that will be appreciated by his fans and lovers of classic recipes with updated twists.
"The Daily Cookie: 365 Tempting Treats for the Sweetest Year of Your Life," by Anna Ginsberg (Andrews McMeel, $24.99)
Anna Ginsberg, yet another blogger (cookiemadness.com), has gathered a year's worth of delicious and totally doable cookie recipes. Sandwiches, bars, drops, layered numbers and even frosted sweets are among the offerings. Each recipe has a photo so the baker knows what to aim for.
"The Epicurious Cookbook: More than 250 of Our Best-Loved Four-Fork Recipes," by Tanya Steel and the editors of Epicurious (Clarkson Potter, $27.99)
Since the early days of recipes on the Internet, Epicurious has been a trusted, go-to source. The website mostly compiles recipes from Bon Appetit, Cooking Light and the now-defunct Gourmet, but a slew of reader reviews are one of its best attributes. The paperback cookbook collects 250 of the site's best-loved recipes. Beautiful photography plus comments from home cooks about the recipes provide real-world suggestions.
"My Key West Kitchen," by Norman Van Aken and Justin Van Aken (Kyle, $29.95)
Before celebrity chef Norman Van Aken conquered Miami, he was tramping around the Keys, where he found his passion for cooking and the ingredients that make South Florida famous -- key limes, conch, grouper and all manner of Cuban food. Van Aken's love affair with Key West is evident and the photos by Penny De Los Santos will make you want to head into the kitchen.
"Modern Sauces," by Martha Holmberg (Chronicle, $35)
Martha Holmberg is the former food editor of the Portland Oregonian and a graduate of La Varenne Cooking School in France, so she is well-equipped to guide a home cook through making a variety of sauces, from sweet to savory, and including vinaigrettes. This cookbook is for a more experienced cook or a Food Network devotee who is eager to try some of the techniques picked up watching the tube. The photos are inspirational, but I really how Holmberg writes simply about upping your game. Another award-winner, mark my words.
"Nick Malgieri's Bread: Over 60 Bread, Rolls and Cakes Plus Delicious Recipes Using Them," by Nick