From Chinese banquets to Florentine specialities and the art of the cheeseboard, if you are stuck for gifts for the keen cook in your life then one of these suggestions could be just the thing under the tree.

The Flavour Thesaurus: More Flavours: Plant-led Pairings, Recipes and Ideas for Cooks by Niki Segnit (Bloomsbury)

Niki is the genius behind the authoritative The Flavour Thesaurus, and such is its influence, the first volume was spotted on David Cameron’s Number 10 bookshelf.
A decade on, she has created a sequel exploring plant-led pairings. On the endpaper flavour wheel she describes buckwheat, oat, corn, honey as ‘flower and meadow’, whereas vanilla, sweet potato, coconut and banana are ‘creamy fruit’. It's a new way to think about food. She matches mustard with cranberry, cumin, green bean, miso, papaya and turmeric. I use her books by taking an ingredient I already have and letting her matches suggest new dishes and combinations.

Invitation to a Banquet: The Story of Chinese Food by Fuchsia Dunlop (Penguin Random House)

Another world leading British food writer, here one who researches and explains Chinese food. Fluent in Mandarin and respected, even among the Chinese, she trained in Chengdu, becoming the first Western chef to complete the Sichuan Higher Institute of Cuisine. This isn't a cookbook; there are no recipes, rather it's a chronicle of Chinese food. Each chapter details a dish, its place in history, culture and health. A Chinese banquet attempts to balance flavours and cooking techniques so at the end you feel well, not burdened with rich, heavy foods. As for her name Fuschia, her parents were reading Ghormenghast trilogy when she was born.

The Secret of Cooking by Bee Wilson (Fourth Estate)

This is the first cookbook by food historian Wilson whose approach here is of an amateur cook. It's accessible, warm and practical. She understands that cooking can make you stressed and guilty and for mothers it can be an anxious duty, worrying are we making the right food for our children? At the beginning of lockdown, her husband left her for another woman. She sought healing through more cooking, as therapy, routine and comfort. Wilson generously credits recipes from other cooks and chefs, and the tips are useful and time-saving: don’t bother salting aubergines or peeling ginger; use frozen vegetables or gadgets as short-cuts; most things are improved with a squeeze of lemon; buy digital scales; use every side on your box grater; recipes aren’t commandments hewn in stone. In brief: make cooking easier.  A human and relatable book, written beautifully.

Islington Gazette: From books on bread to Italian food from Florence and two books on cheese there are plenty of recommended reads for the keen cookFrom books on bread to Italian food from Florence and two books on cheese there are plenty of recommended reads for the keen cook (Image: Kerstin Rodgers)

The Extra Mile: Delicious Alternatives to Motorway Services by Kerry O’Neill (Glovebox Guides)

This guide to the best UK roadside caffs is perfect for keeping in the car, you can search by motorway or by region, with information on where to charge your EV or whether there is wifi.
Travel is not just the destination but how you get there and O’Neill suggests going off the motorway to discover humble gastronomic gems, with the added benefit of pumping money into the local economy. Suggestions include the Tuning Fork, four minutes off junction 18 on the M1, or Tablehurst Community Farm just off the A22 in East Sussex which serves wood-smoked sourdough pizzas.

Brutto by Russell Norman (Ebury Press)

Norman’s books are always beautifully designed, with exposed, stitched spines. Having explored the cuisine of Venice in his first two cookbooks he now turns his palate to Florence, where the colourful central food market has stalls selling tripe, truffle pasta, Negroni cocktails, and focaccia sandwiches. Norman supplies recipes on how to make all these, plus unusual dishes such as pecorino brulée, and an apologia for the saltless tuscan bread (best eaten with highly flavoured sauces). At the end there's a gazetteer of his favourite trattorias should you wish to visit.

A Dark History of Sugar by Neil Buttery (Pen and Sword)

What an evocative name for a food historian, but this winner of the 2023 Guild of Food Writers first book award isn't a comforting read. It puts Britain on trial for growing wealthy through slavery. Our sugar plantations in the Caribbean decimated the indigenous populations, the Caribs, working them to death. We then imported slaves from Africa to cut the hand-shredding cane, then press it in machines, which could mangle your hand. (There was a machete to hack it off if it got caught) Forests were hewed to feed the fires to boil the syrup. Britain may have been the first nation to ban slavery but according to Buttery, we were the cruellest masters.

BReD, Sourdough Loaves, Small Breads, and Other Plant-Based Baking by Ed and Natasha Tatton (Penguin)

A handsome, heavy volume, this is another book on how to make sourdough, this time with sides of veganism, animal rights, and zero food waste. Ed hails from Kent but he and his Canadian wife Natasha moved to Vancouver where she runs yoga workshops while he bakes. Panettone buns, dark chocolate and miso babka, Meyer lemon tart, and maplecomb, similar to honeycomb but with maple syrup, are all recipes I'd like to try.

Glorious Boards by Jassy Davis (HQ)

Davis, aka Gin and Crumpets, is a food blogger with a witty turn of phrase who here tackles the internet trend of ‘boards’. Never heard of them? It takes the cheese board concept and ramps it up with various foods artfully arranged for grazing. Boards can be savoury or sweet. There are charcuterie boards with salami that look like roses, fresh seafood, butter boards (as weird as it sounds I've been dying to do one), frosting boards (equally strange) with puddles of coloured icing and dipping biscuits. Then there are crevice fillers: herbs, olives, grapes, cherry tomatoes, which you arrange around the main show. 

The Cheese Wheel by Emma Young (Penguin)

This book expands on Segnit’s idea of a flavour wheel; cheese ranges from milky fresh, mushroomy, bloomy rind, to farmy washed rind, acidic semi-hard, to animal hard cheese, and herbaceous blue. Each chapter curates a selection of international cheeses with recommended pairings and detailed descriptions. It’s very much for the cheese nerd (me!). Her suggestions include choosing an odd number of cheeses for a board, curating boards by nationality, and remembering cheese is seasonal - goats' and ewe’s suit spring; whereas Mont d’Or is for autumn.

Madame Fromage’s Adventure in Cheese by Tenaya Darlington (Workman publishing)

An American cheese expert, who writes in a chatty style with cute illustrations, her template for a great cheeseboard is different from Young's. She suggests a conversation piece, a comfort cheese, and a local product. Her approachable, informative encyclopedia takes you through the evolution of cheese, and she also suggests drinking glasses of milk in different seasons to appreciate cheese flavours: spring milk is delicate and floral; summer milk golden and thinner; autumn milk grassy and rich; while winter milk is fatty and straw-like.