I have a thing for cookbooks, I love them, and I think you should too. My thought is that you can never have too many cookbooks, and to that end I feel they make fabulous presents. I picked out a few of my favorites to share with you, and I may be completely biased because, after all, they are my favorites, but I think they would make good gifts for anyone.
Nigella Lawson is my favorite cookbook author, and I would recommend any and all of her books. Her recipes are fabulous and the way she writes makes you feel like she is your favorite, decidedly not dieting, aunt who popped in for a chat. We have a running joke in my family about how in the event of a divorce my dad is going to marry Nigella, and I am a-ok with that. I would also move to London to be her unpaid intern, I'm just saying. So Nigella, if you ever need a hand (I can babysit or be an amateur therapist with my psych degree or walk your dog....), call me.
Pioneer Woman, or P dub or PW or whatever you want to call her, the blogger turned cookbook author turned autobiographer turned subject of a future major motion picture has a great cookbook, The Pioneer Woman Cooks, with what can only be described as cowboy food. We are basically besties because I sat in the front row when she spoke at the National Book Festival and she waved to me, and then she signed my cookbook. I must admit though, I read her blog long before I met her and I imagined her voice differently and it really threw me hearing her for real. But her food is good.
Julia Child cookbooks are a bit of a classic, I have Mastering the Art of French Cooking (volumes 1 & 2) (and yes I was inspired by the book Julie and Julia) and they are really informative books. They are detailed and frequently have many, many steps in a recipe, no shortcuts here, but every step is well explained and various other possible methods are outlined. And sometimes a girl needs to have a recipe that calls for beating nearly an entire pound of butter with a rolling pin in her possession, just in case.
The Art of Simple Food is one of those cookbooks with a little of everything in it, but what I really like about it is that at the end of the recipes there are suggestions for ways to tweak them. For example there is a basic almond biscotti recipe but at the end there are several suggestions about substituting various nuts and dried fruits and spices and the quantities of each that would work in the recipe. There are also good descriptions of basic techniques (which you may not think you need, but you might be surprised, I really had no idea what braising was until Alice told me) and the illustrations are gorgeous.
Of Tide and Thyme is a Junior League of Annapolis cookbook that my family has given to many people over the years. The recipes are great and while you can get it online at Amazon or Borders, because it is a Junior League cookbook you might say that it isn't a super well known title. And because I love to get people presents that they don't think of asking for but will love, this book is perfect. If I had to classify it, I would say it has it's eye on casual entertaining. Also, the breakfast strata type recipes are amazing.