My cookbook collection already overflows from the kitchen to the living room to the coffee table, but I always find space for one more title. Among the new additions—Pok Pok, the A.O.C. Cookbook, and the Gramercy Tavern Cookbook included—it’s Picture Cook (Ulysses Press, 2013) by Katie Shelly that I think makes the best all-around gift.

You see, the aforementioned tomes are detailed treasures but they’re for cooks who live to lose themselves in a recipe. Picture Cook, on the other hand, accomplishes something totally different: At its most basic level, it encourages, Shelly writes, “experimentation, improvisation, and play in the kitchen.”

Shelly is not a chef, she’s a designer living in New York, and her ode to cooking comes through colorful sketches of recipes (sweet potatoes + cinnamon + olive oil + salt and pepper = sweet potato fries). Instead of listed ingredients followed by instructions, each dish’s process is told through colorful illustrations (check out the video). The recipes—Shelly refers to them as blueprints—are simple, so much so that it’s easy enough for a novice (a recent grad, a child interested in making dinner) but out-of-the box enough to hold the attention of a skilled cook. For me, Picture Cook shuffles between the coffee table and the kitchen while inviting conversation between talented home cooks, friends, and even my children.

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Amanda M. Faison
Amanda M. Faison
Freelance writer Amanda M. Faison spent 20 years at 5280 Magazine, 12 of those as Food Editor.