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  Cookbook Reviews

Giving cookbooks as gifts may not be an altogether selfless act. With any luck, you'll be eating well in the good graces of the recipient.

If buying for the novice, here are two recommendations to make even a neophyte a master of the morsel:

Alton Brown's I'm Just Here for the Food is not so much a traditional cookbook, but rather science and technique. In 80 recipes, Brown teaches the how's and why's of cooking. His unconventional and funny style will help anyone understand the basics of what he calls heat applied to food, otherwise known as cooking.

Pound for pound, Mark Bittman's tome How to Cook Everything is a great investment for anyone just starting out. It's a book for absolute beginners, with much room for growth. Aspiring cooks will keep on learning with over 1500 step-by-step recipes and information on ingredients.

And on to the advanced cook - know someone who likes their rice from Spain and their meat from Maine? Global and regional cuisine is a popular safe bet. Here are three ways to add an exotic touch to your cook's table:

  • Viva la Vida by Rafael Palimino is a Latin-fusion lover's dream. From fiery salsas to intensely flavored grilled meats to sinfully sweet desserts, Viva la Vida is guaranteed to make a fiesta out of any meal. Be sure to try the Caipirinha cocktail, my vote for the year's best new beverage.
  • Angela Chang demystifies Asian cuisine in her book Chinese Home Entertaining. It's a little-known treasure filled with easy to follow recipes for authentic dishes made at home.
  • Oysters, Dungeness crabs, king salmon, cherries, and hazelnuts - with those ingredients in your pantry how could you go wrong? Neither could you go wrong with Greg Atkinson's Northwest Essentials: Cooking with Ingredients That Define a Regional Cuisine. Atkinson's narrative is as lively as the delicious dishes he prepares.

Got girth? For those with a bent toward healthier eating, cookbook offerings expand as quickly as our waistlines. But most of these books are long on nutrition and short on appeal. I say go for the gold - Rozanne Gold, that is. Her Healthy 1 2 3 recipes maximize flavor in sophisticated yet healthy offerings. Who would think that cumin crusted lamb or chocolate mousse cake could be part of a healthier diet?

Are you buying for the prince of pates or the empress of epicure? The serious gastronome on your list would be happy to find this gift:

  • Eric Ripert's A Return to Cooking. This lavish book goes into the mind and philosophy of the four star Le Bernardin Chef. And the hefty price will make you look generous, indeed.
  • Or try: On Cooking: Techniques from Expert Chefs by Sarah R. Labensky. It's neither elegant nor fun, but this professional text is comprehensive and an excellent reference for the life-long learner.

The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern combines Claudia Fleming's impeccable technique and flavor palette to create such delights as Earl Grey Chocolate Truffles and Lemon Verbena Custard. Eighty-five stunning color portraits make this an obvious choice for gastroporn.

And, speaking of gastroporn, don't forget Nigella Lawson - whose sultry TV show, "Nigella Bites" is credited with this term that brings all things carnal to the table. Nigella's How to Eat is her first - and best book. It's been re-released with the alabaster-skinned beauty slyly peeking out from her jet-black tresses - but husbands please note that a copy of the old pre-television version, lacking the glam shot of sweet Nigella, is the kinder gift.

And if you know a cook who sits by the fireside with absolutely NO intention of cooking, here is a toothsome book to satisfy the reader without the burden of recipes.

Cornbread Nation: The Best of Southern Food Writing is a heaping portion of great reads. As editor John Egerton notes in the introduction, "The chefs are wannabe writers and the writers are wannabe chefs". The stories come rolling out like Cajun popcorn. Dig in is my advice.

Reading and eating, I'm Lari Robling

 

©2005 WHYY