Twenty by Michael Ruhlman
Ruhlman rules, man. (I still squee when I remember that time I met him!)This is a cookbook that focuses on techniques and basics... it will make you a better cook, even when you are not using the recipes directly from it. It will make you less reliant on recipes!
Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook
Classic French comfort food from one of the best writers around. This book has gorgeous recipes for feeding a family, with entertaining commentary and anecdotes. Classic.
Morimoto, by Morimoto
My favorite Iron Chef provides some of the most stunning recipes I've ever seen. Get this book even if you don't cook... just to look at it. Gorgeous.
Momofuko by David Chang
David Chang is one of the most influential chef's today. This is another super-gorgeous book of recipes that you may not have the patience to make, but holy moly, you will be inspired, and that's really what cookbooks should do.
The Family Meal by Ferran Adria
Photo-by-photo instructions for making meals for your family from one of the most cutting edge chefs of our time! Crazy.
Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child
Nigella Express by Nigella Lawson
Any cookbook by Nigella, really. I included this one in particular for those people on your list who might think that Rachel Ray and Sandra Lee (blech blech blech) are the only bitches that can cook fast meals. These recipes are quick, simple and made with real stuff.
How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman
The title says it all, really. Bittman is the best at really teaching people to cook through simple recipes combined with basic techniques and food knowledge.
Forking Fantastic by Zora O'Neill and Tamara Reynolds
I had the pleasure of meeting the awesome ladies who wrote this book. Besides being super fun and nice, they really break down dinner parties to a much more stress-free, casual level, with recipes, menus and party tips. Like, really good party tips.
I Like You by Amy Sedaris
This is my go-to gift for housewarming and hostesses. It's hilarious while having some really good recipes!
Arabesque by Claudia Roden
Mediterranean and Arab cooking within reach while remaining exotic and beautiful.
Pork & Sons by Stéphane Reynaud
PORK RULES. and this book is published by Phaidon, so you know it's pretty. I made the Ratatouille from it in this post.
Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient by Jennifer McLagan
We all know what it's like to feel misunderstood at some point (or points) in our life, right? Can you imagine how fat feels? It's blamed for EVERYTHING! But it shouldn't be. Fat is good! And McLagan does it justice with wonderful recipes.
Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan
Greenspan is known for her baking books, which are also great. When I got this book, though, I bookmarked just about every page... this book makes me want to spend all my time cooking. Every recipe begs to be made.
So what books would you add to this list?
Stay tuned for more gift-guide posts the next couple of weeks!