Staring at the shelves of a bookstore or browsing Amazon isn’t going to get you any closer to knowing which cookbooks to buy as gifts this year. Here are some that we actually use, and they’re the ones we’ll be giving to our friends and family.

1001 Foods to Die For. This is an ideal book for the friend who always wants to make something unexpected. Nasi goreng (fried rice) from Indonesia and ajiaco (potato soup) from Colombia are where we’re starting our travels.

Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics: Fabulous Flavor from Simple Ingredients. Anything Ina Garten does is good, and this book’s another winner, even if it is a bit skimpy (and a tad refined). Most of the nearly 100 recipes really are basics—dishes you can keep going back to like easy sole meunière or Parmesan-roasted broccoli. But they’ve almost all got something unique about them also; for example the addition of pine nuts and julienned basil leaves in the broccoli. Pitch perfect.

My Bombay Kitchen: Traditional and Modern Parsi Home Cooking. Niloufer Ichaporia King’s intimate tone, wit, and personal stories make us feel as if we’re right next to her, with her mother and her grandmother, cooking up dishes such as 100 almond curry or creamy paneer with walnuts and mint leaves. Drawing from Persian and Indian influences, King’s cookbook makes Parsi cuisine absolutely accessible, and is full of menus that range from easy to extravagant.

The Bon Appétit Fast Easy Fresh Cookbook. This 700-plus-page, 1,100-recipe swarm of good ideas was inspired by the magazine’s column of the same name. Pretty much every page offers something that we’re not only willing to cook but also delighted to eat. Flip through and you’ll find things like red beet risotto with mustard greens and goat cheese. See, doesn’t that sound good? Flipping again … sausage and potato breakfast casserole. Eh, fair. But it’s on the same page as Arizona cheese strata, a Tex-Mex savory bread pudding that has our number.

Cooking with Les Dames d’Escoffier: At Home with the Women Who Shape the Way We Eat and Drink. Started in 1973 for women working in the culinary arts, Les Dames d’Escoffier now has a membership numbering in the thousands. Perhaps you’ve heard of some of them: Does Julia Child ring a bell? Cooking with Les Dames d’Escoffier leverages its star power, putting together tips and recipes from people such as M. F. K. Fisher (black olive tapenade with tuna and hard-boiled eggs) and Dorie Greenspan (seared scallops with “surprise sauce”).

The Essential Cocktail: The Art of Mixing Perfect Drinks. Dale DeGroff’s latest book includes recipes for all the classics as well as inventive concoctions of his own (for example, the Copa Verde) and how-to basics of glassware, garnishes, and tools. The best part is DeGroff’s seemingly infinite well of cocktail knowledge: Each recipe is paired with tips, anecdotes, and historical background that you can crib for conversation starters at your next cocktail party.

The Modern Baker: Time-Saving Techniques for Breads, Tarts, Pies, Cakes, and Cookies. You might believe that baking takes too much time, but Nick Malgieri thinks differently. His book contains 150 simple recipes for all kinds of sweet and savory baked goods, with the kicker being that all dishes clock in at around 45 minutes to make. Malgieri’s steps are clear and concise, making this an excellent book for the novice.

The River Cottage Meat Book. The beautiful photographs pull you in, and the well-researched information keeps you reading. But River Cottage doesn’t skimp on the recipes: The chapters on slow cooking, roasting, and preserving and processing are especially good.

Secrets of the Red Lantern: Stories and Vietnamese Recipes from the Heart. More like a rich memoir than a straight-up cookbook, Pauline Nguyen’s book recounts her family’s painful and emotional history—including emigrating from Vietnam to Australia—alongside lush photographs and more than 275 traditional Vietnamese recipes. Some standouts include crispy-skin snapper with ginger and lime fish sauce, and the ever-comforting noodle soup pho bo tai nam.

Two Dudes, One Pan: Maximum Flavor from a Minimalist Kitchen. Times are tough, and that means more meals at home. But what about your guy (or girl) friend who never cooks? Well, just like the title says, all the recipes in this book need only one pan, inviting the most reluctant of chefs into the kitchen with meals like sake-soy sea bass with baby bok choy, and buttermilk-sage fried chicken.

The Young Man & the Sea: Recipes & Crispy Fish Tales from Esca. David Pasternack has a little thing for fish. (Understatement.) The Young Man & the Sea draws heavily on recipes from the kitchen of his New York restaurant, Esca. It even has a full chapter on crudo, Pasternack’s signature dish.

Michele Foley is an associate editor at CHOW.