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Books for Easter Cooks
By Mary Ann Smyth

It's holiday time again. Time to start planning the Easter family get-together. Time to get out Mother's good china and Aunt Mamie's lead crystal. Tired of the same old thing? The Easter Ham with Potatoes Au Gratin, French Style Green Beans, Green Salad with Blue Cheese Dressing, Parkerhouse Rolls from those little cans, and Cake with White Icing and a sugar bunny rabbit and gumdrops on top? Does that sound as dull to you as it does to me? Store those recipes away and do something new; daring; innovative. Something which makes the family look at you with new respect; stand up and applaud your efforts. Okay, so maybe I've gone a trifle too far. But you get the idea. Break out of the mold. Get out of your rut and try some of the wonderful recipes in these creative cookbooks.

Start with something from Country Breads of the World by Linda Collister and Anthony Blake. This book contains 88 of the world's best recipes for bread making. A preface speaks of milling the grain and describes the flours available for home made breads. There is something soothing about kneading dough. I made a lot of breads when my kids were small and I still love good country breads that have substance to them. Here are recipes for all types of breads imaginable; all welcome for the holidays, but also appropriate for every day. By the time you've baked three or four of these recipes, you may give up on the store-bought kind. Sunflower and Olive Loaf appealed to me, as did Daniel's Saffron Bread. Or maybe you've always wanted to bake your own baguettes - this recipe makes it seem easy. Try JapaneseGreen Tea Bread; Flatbreads from India; Malted Raisin Loaf; or Dried Fruits Cider Bread. Complete instructions, with accompanying photos, take the mystery out of baking good bread.

Don't have the time to allow bread dough to rise? Then try Muffins & Quick Breads : Over 75 Recipes for Quick and Easy Bakes (edited by Linda Fraser). After the intro, there are sections for Sweet Muffins, Sweet Quick Breads, Savory Muffins & Breads, and Biscuits & Popovers - which cover the gamut for quick breads. Tomato Bread Sticks seemed like a good bet to me; never thought about making them myself, but why not? A recipe for Focaccia with Rosemary sounds like a good base for Roasted Vegetables (one of my favorites). Bacon Cornmeal Muffins should go well with fluffy scrambled eggs. Applesauce Bread has been a favorite of mine since my mother first baked it a millennium ago when I was a child. The variety of muffins would put a different muffin on your breakfast table for weeks. The recipe for Dill Potato Cakes had me reaching for the baking sheets.

Potatoes ... almost every meal we eat could contain potatoes cooked one way or another. Potatoes were known to the inhabitants of the Andean region of South America 8,000 years ago. Used for medicinal purposes when brought to Europe in the sixteenth century, they found favor in the Old World and North America about 200 years ago. Thank heavens! I love a good potato. Potatoes : A Different Way to Cook for Each Meal, by Bodo A. Schieren, will open the door to familiar ways to cook the spud, but also offer variations to try and enjoy. Potatoes are so versatile. Try them in salads: with Bacon, Onions and Parsley; with Apples and Almonds; with Cheese and Olives. Do these recipes sound just different enough that you'd want to give them a try? How about Potato Souffle? Or Apple Turnovers with Potatoes? Almond Potato Balls? Croquette Potatoes that I first tasted in Ireland? Luscious. Potato Blinis? And of course ... the Perfect French Fries. The recipes are easy with lovely photos of the finished product. This book is a keeper for everyday and for that special holiday meal as well.

Good old American Food. Where did it come from? And has it become truly ours? Bobby Flay Cooks American explores the country and its foods in this truly wonderful cookbook. A chef himself with several popular restaurants in New York City, Flay explored America and adapted some of his favorite regional foods to create his own recipes. And what recipes! Though I normally cook for one, I was ready to reach for the sauce and roasting pans to create a meal for however many wanted to pull themselves up to my table. Who could resist Crawfish Lasagna? Or Roast Leg of Lamb with Honey, Balsamic Vinegar and Fresh Mint Baste? The partial vegetarian in me almost succumbed. Spit-Roasted Chicken with Grilled Lemon and Clementine Sauce will be the first dish I make. I love mashed potatoes and the Cilantro Pesto Mashed Potatoes would go well with the chicken ... and maybe the Blue Corn Muffins. And definitely Vidalia Onion and Jersey Tomato Salad with Blue Ranch Dressing. Chef Flay takes us on a gastronomic tour of the United States with a stop at uniquely American holidays - The Fourth of July and Thanksgiving. It is well worth traveling with him and reaping the benefits of his expertise.

Want a new dish for the company dinner? Want to impress someone? Or just to create a lovely meal for that someone special in your life? Find what you're looking for in Georges Perrier Le Bec-Fin Recipes. Perrier is the owner of the Four Star Le Bec Fin restaurant in Philadelphia. This cookbook is not for the novice - but the results can be spectacular if the recipes are followed with care and precision: Crhme D'Asperges Au Crabe (Cream of Asparagus Soup with Crab); Galette De Crabe 'Le Bec Fin' (Le Bec Fin Crab Cake with Light Mustard Sauce); Saumon Fumi Maison (House Smoked Salmon); Gratin De Macaroni Et Homard (Baked Penne Pasta with Lobster); Tornedos de Boeuf, Sauce Medoc (Fillet of Beef in Bordeaux Wine Sauce); Gratin Dauphines (Gratin Potatoes with Cream and Garlic); Peches Au Sirop De Cerises (Peaches in Sour Cherry Syrup). Enough? These recipes alone are good for a fine meal and then some; well worth the price of the book. At the back are instructions for different basic stocks and broths and a list of sources for various ingredients. I've had the good fortune to dine at Le Bec Fin and it was the grand treat this book suggests.

The Minimalist Cooks Dinner is for the busy person who barely has time to shop - let alone cook. From Soups to Stews to Salads to Side Dishes, Mark Bittman emphasizes that good cooking can be easy, simple and quick. Each recipe in the cookbook suggests appropriate wine and other accompaniments to serve with the dish. The cooking may be simple and easy, but the dishes sound complex and should impress family and friends. Chef Bittman writes a column for the New York Times. These recipes are ones he developed ('one a week for two years') for his column The Minimalist: Broiled Cornish Hens with Lemon Balsamic Vinegar; Fast Chicken Tandoori; Chickpea Soup with or without meat; Pasta with Anchovies and Arugula; Salmon Roasted with Herbs; Grilled Flank Steak with Kimchee-Style Cole Slaw; Slow-Cooked Ribs; Tomato Salad with Basil. This book is a must for the busy cook of today.

For those of us who feel they should watch their fat intake - or those of us who must watch their fat intake - The Food Lovers Low-Fat Cookbook by Food Wine Magazine is the cookbook for you (I include myself in the must group and was very pleased to find this book). Calories, fat content and other statistics are listed at the end of each recipe; a real plus, to my mind. Wonderful sounding recipes are side by side with equally appetizing photography. Just because a diet must be restricted is no reason to eat boring food -and the recipes in this cookbook are far from boring. Easter breakfast could center around Potato and Red Pepper Frittata. Paella with Seafood and Chicken caught my eye. How about Fried Turkey Cutlets with Three Mushroom Gravy? Or Duck Steaks Grilled over Thyme? Red Snapper Cooked with Lemon might replace the traditional Ham for Easter Dinner. Serve it with Garlic Potatoes with Eggplant in Smoky Tomato Sauce. Cranberry Spice Bread would go well with that. Dessert comes next (did you know that Stressed is Desserts spelled backwards? Is there a message in that?) Banana Brulee with Citrus Fruit Salsa makes a great sweet. Or the ultimate ... Warm Spiced Chocolate Souffle Cake. Everyone seems to think that cutting fat in recipes automatically cuts the flavor. Not so.

As a follow up to Linda's Kitchen, Linda McCartney on Tour : Over 200 Meat-Free Dishes from Around the World shows how we can all eat Vegetarian and not miss meat. She felt that, like all diets, a vegetarian diet should be a balanced one. That is what is offered here in her last book. She starts with a description of what makes a vegetarian and the necessary terms and nutritive information. As she said, 'There are so many delicious and exciting recipes for non-meat dishes in this book alone that the chances ... that your meat-eating friends ... will not even notice they haven't eaten any meat.' From Starters, Soups, Salads, Quick & Easy Meals, Main Courses, Side Dishes, Sauces & Sundries to Desserts, Cakes & Cookies, McCartney filled her cookbook with the makings of a lovely Easter Dinner with no meat in sight. Beautiful food had this partial vegetarian drooling: from India Sambhar (Lentil Curry with Vegetables), Mexican Red Enchiladas, Italian Fontina and Tomato Pie, Boston Slow-Baked Beans from the good ole USA, Goulash from Hungary, Grilled Spicy Tofu from Senegal, Banana and Yam Stew from Tanzania, Green Curry from Thailand. Afraid of a meal without meat? Give it a try. You'll like it.

Want a great wine to enhance your Easter Dinner? Great Wine Made Simple : Straight Talk from a Master Sommelier, by Andrea Immer, is the book to make the choice of wine simple and easy. I must warn you there are no pictures. But this is a complete course from a Master for people who like wine but end up buying the same brand over and over because they don't understand what's available and are afraid to ask. The author promises that after reading Great Wine Made Simple, the biggest barrier between you and your enjoyment of a good glass of wine will be the cork. She teaches you what to expect from 90% of the quality wines just by looking at the label or wine list entry. You'll know how to ask for the wine you want, how to branch out of your wine rut (that's me), and to get pleasure and great value from wine, whether you spend a little or a lot. The first section of the book starts with Wine By The Glass and continues through everything you need to know about grapes and the wine produced from them - a good reference to keep on your shelves after the initial reading.

Are you the pasta freak I am? I found Pasta Fresca, by Viana LA Place and Evan Kleiman, and was immediately entranced. Old book? Sure. But that doesn't diminish the quality of the recipes. Be prepared for no pictures. That's okay with me, as I can visualize. Just hand me a fork and I'll work my way through each page. The authors state that this is an 'Exuberant Collection of Fresh, Vivid and Simple Pasta Recipes.' And so it is ... Garbonza Bean and Whole Wheat Pasta Soup, or Forest Soup with those luscious porcini mushrooms. The Raw Summer Sauce with Mozzerella appealed to me, as did Spaghetti with Goat Cheese and Tomato. For an inexpensive dish, try the Penne el Maestro. Farm Style Macaroni captured my peasant's heart and stomach. There are recipes for pastas with fish as well as pastas with meat. The Pasta Frittata sounds good, and there are also lovely suggestions for making dumplings.

Comfort Foods: Favorite Recipes from the Land O'Lakes Test Kitchens is published in loose-leaf style so it can be easily used in the kitchen, over and over again. Stews, pastas, chowder and chili, soups, chicken dishes, garlic mashed potatoes, dips, Philly cheese steaks, lovely breads and downright wonderful desserts - comfort foods all. Full color photos are scattered throughout the book and make me want the Blue Cheese Tomato Tarts and Gingersnap Mini Muffins. Soup has always been tops on my list when the world just isn't spinning right for me. Country-Style French-Onion Soup with Big Croutons would help get it get back on course, as would Crock of Savory Vegetable Stew, which runs a close second. The Simple Shepherd's Pie on the cover moved me to pick up the book.

Cooking Light Annual Recipes 2002: A Year's Worth of Cooking Light Recipes draws from nearly 900 cross-referenced recipes to cover any need you might have - from a full course company dinner to a midnight snack; from a New Year's Day party through the whole year to New Year's Eve again. The few photos placed through the book are superb. Various sections help you cook ethnic. Asparagus-Turkey Wraps with Roasted Pepper Mayonnaise could become a favorite of mine - possibly served as a Patio Dinner with Cabbage and Carrot Slaw. Purple Grapes and Chocolate Cookies - divine. An on the edge menu that is sure to make your mark as the hostess with the mostest: Spice Crusted Shrimp with Remoulade Sauce; Thai Bell Pepper, Cucumber and Peanut Salad; Citrus Chicken Tagine; Roasted Asparagus with Balsamic Browned Butter; Green Onion Pancakes; followed by Star Anise Bread Pudding. How about a Thanksgiving menu titled 'Feast with No Beast'? Mushroom and Caramelized Shallot Strudel; Marinated Lentil Salad; Sweet Potato & Apple Gratin or Creamy Mashed Potatoes With Chives; Cranberry, Pear and Ginger Relish; and Herb and Onion Wheat Biscuits.

When attending cocktail parties, I always station myself near the cheese platter - one of the most favorite of foods to my palate. A Cook's Guide to Cheese : Illustrated Encyclopedia (by Juliet Harbutt) tells you all you ever wanted to know about cheese. This removes the mystique from making the selection for your own cheese platter, and might help you get a little bit frisky with your choices. The back portion is chock full of great recipes with sections on Soups, Snacks, Salads and Vegetable Dishes, Main Dishes, Vegetarian Dishes, Pastries, Pizzas & Pastas, and Desserts & Baked Goods. The Lemon Cheese Mousse with Brandy Snap Baskets had me making out my grocery list, as did the Cheese and Zucchini Cluster Bread; Calzone, Porcini and Parmesan Risotto; or Broccoli and Maytag Blue Soup.

If you, like my older daughter, consider chocolate one of the major food groups, do I have a couple of cookbooks for you. Chocolate Passion: Recipes and Inspiration from the Kitchens of Chocolatier Magazine, by Tish Boyle and Timothy Moriarty. What a title! The authors obviously love chocolate and have used it in many different guises. I was shocked to discover the average American consumes 12.1 pounds of chocolate a year (would have thought more!) A fascinating history of chocolate precedes the recipes in Chocolate Passion, as well as a handy guide to utensils for cooking with chocolate. The recipe for White Chocolate Chip Fudge Cookies had my salivary glands working overtime. From White Chocolate Summer Truffles to Death by Chocolate, this book is worth the purchase price in photographs alone. The recipes take the chocolate lover step by step from start to repletion.

Ready for more chocolate? Who isn't? A brief introduction in Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Herme leads into a marvelous array of recipes for desserts sure to bring your family or guests to their feet, with deafening applause, when you present them with any of these
delights. The first recipe immediately caught my fancy. Apricot and Ginger Chocolate Loaf Cake. Doesn't that sound wonderful? The French Banana Split seems the ultimate of splits - topped with rum-soaked raisins! Bliss. Chocolate Rice Pudding; Mint Profiteroles with Hot Chocolate Sauce; Simple Chocolate Mousse; Traditional Linzer Torte upgraded (if that is
possible) by a layer of luxe dark chocolate ganache topping the raspberry jam. Pertinent facts and complete instructions accompany each recipe, and a glossary at the back explains terminology that might not be known to you - an excellent cookbook.

Bon Easter Appétit!
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