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Books for Eclectic Cooks
By Mary Ann Smyth

I wandered into the cookbook section of my local bookstore recently. This Chester County Bookstore is not one of the big chains. They have a neighborhood, comfortable feel with easy chairs and good music. I started browsing. Hard to not look at the lovely cookbooks with their mouthwatering covers. Within moments, I was taking notes for a new column. The only thing the books I chose have in common is that they are all different from each other. A little bit of everything for everyone.

Crave a flute of Champagne with a toast point of caviar? I've just the book for you. How about the perfect apple pie? You can decide for yourself which one of the 100 recipes offered is the best. Can't resist a good loaf of bread? Read on. Maybe down home cooking is your style. Got some wonderful and comforting foods for you. Guilt free desserts? Go for it. I hope you find my choices meet your needs.

I love good breads and Linda Collister's Flavored Breads is chock full of marvelous recipes - Easy Cheesy Brioche, Cheese Rolls with Cheddar and Onion, Pumpkin Bread, Garlic Knots, Sour Cherry Loaf, and Granola Round are just some of the teasers in this little gem of a book. The Cherry Tomato Focaaccia with Basil would be where I'd start and then just work my way through all the recipes. Of course, the Coarse Whole-Wheat Beer Bread would probably be my second choice. Bring on the butter or dipping oil.

Louise Stoltzfus' Favorite Recipes from Quilters has over 900 recipes from dedicated quilters arranged by category from Appetizers to Condiments. Quilters share a lot as they work - quilt patterns, ideas, recipes, stories of their lives. Each recipe gives the name of the one who submitted it, the place of residence, and the name of the quilt pattern they were working on at the time. At first, I thought this was just a gimmick to sell a book. But the foods listed are good and hearty fare and the recipes tried and true.

Asparagus Casserole would be a winner at my table any day. The Stuffed French Toast sounds intriguing. Never thought of making my own Ketchup. By why not? And I could never turn down Fresh Peach Cake. Beans are always a must in a vegetarian's kitchen and Grandma's Beans sound good to me. Gift of the Magi Bread has to be tried just for the name. And Elegant Rice Soup sounds like the perfect way to start a winter meal. An interesting book. You can get lost just leafing through its many pages.

Grace Ann Walden of San Francisco Chronicle's Inside Scoop says of Margie Lapanja's Foods Men Love - 'Sex and yummy food, what could be better?' The author found that men want an honest serving of a favored food that turns them on, food that Mom made, breakfasts in bed, grilled fare. They love their meat, prefer to be served rather than to serve, and the food they love to eat is immeasurably different than the food they love to cook.

Try a recipe for Sensuous Cinnamon Rolls, or French Stud Muffins (laced with two vital aphrodisiacal ingredients). The book is studded with delightful quotes, such as one from Dr. Ruth Westheimer; 'An aphrodisiac is anything you think it is.' Lapanja says about the Apple Pie from the How Sweet It Is section, that it was not an apple Eve tempted Adam with, but rather a hot, bubbling, succulent homemade apple pie - with this recipe and a sexy lover to spoon feed it to you, you won't need a prescription for Viagra any more. Foods Men Love is brimming with wonderful temptations for any time of the day or night.

Christine France's Tomato is a beautiful book. It's large and has art quality photographs. Could easily be a coffee table book and is a steal at the price. Its first pages are devoted to a history of the tomato, growing tomatoes, buying tomatoes, and tomato varieties. The recipes are varied and seem scrumptious to me. Roasted Pepper and Tomato Salad contains two loves of mine.

There are Monkfish with Tomatoes, Fresh Tuna and Tomato Stew, Grilled King Prawns with Romesco Sauce, Green Tomato Chutney, Focaccia with Sun-Dried Tomatoes (again combining two more of my favorite ingredients), Baked Herb Crepes with Tomato Sauce, and Hot Pepperoni Pizza. I grew hungry just looking through this book (and I had just finished a meal.) Now it's time to try some of the recipes. Jumbo Shrimp with Bev's Kicked by a Horse Cocktail Sauce intrigues me. I m partial to pasta, so the Linguine with Olive Oil, Parmesan and Onion and the Tortellini Verdi will be high on my list to try.

Carrie Brown and John Werner took over the Jimtown Store in 1987 and it quickly became a gathering place to share down-to-earth food in a beautiful setting. Made with quality ingredients, the more than 135 recipes in The Jimtown Store Cookbook include Crisp Grilled Dates with Manchego and Bacon as well as their famous Pan-Fried Petaluma Duck Burgers. (Doesn't sound too down-to-earth to me, but still enticing enough to make me drool.)

Cooking tips, menus for entertaining and colorful profiles of local venders are scattered through the book. There are no photos but a good imagination would place Apple, Pear and Fig Skillet Cake with Caramel Sauce before your eyes. Roasted Three Ginger Carrots, Fragrant Basmati Rice for a Crowd, Pork and Green Chili Stew, and Yogurt-Marinated Lamb Kebobs with Rosewater and Saffron are all recipes that look well worth trying to me.

The Pocket Idiot's Guide to Tailgating by David Blend will fit in your back pocket or purse and is chock full of tips to make your tailgating parties not only a success but also enjoyable for the host. This powerful little book starts with the basics, then moves on to Power, Parking Lot Activities, Tailgating Fashion, and Alcohol. Hangover Science and Prevention makes some good points, abstinence being one.

A paragraph on External Catheters sounds like a logical solution to an old problem. Some useful tips on how to mooch beer seem worth trying. Grilling and Barbecuing and the difference between the two are noted. The Traveling Tailgater rates its own chapter and covers many stadiums, with their weather, type of food likely to be served and parking accommodations. Not technically a cookbook, but looked very useful to me.

For a change of venue how about Effortless Elegance With Colin Cowie? It abounds with ideas and suggestions for ambiance and menus for just about any occasion of entertaining. Glorious photography and a great blending of ingredients - such as plain yogurt in scrambled eggs; a new idea to me and one I shall definitely try. Whether entertaining on a yacht or your own back porch, you can produce beautiful food with a minimum of effort. The menus suggested come with the prep time.

I was taken with the idea of Terrine of Eggplant and Roasted Peppers with Arugula Sauce. Be still my heart. How about Homemade Apricot Crepes with Chocolate Sauce instead of traditional cake at a birthday party? My family's favorite for years has been my chef daughter's Brownies to Kill For. But we're always open to change.

There's a recipe for Homemade Crhme Fraiche and Devonshire Cream. What more can one ask if served with homemade scones and strawberry jam? Had that for breakfast one morning aboard a train, riding across England for the first time. Wonderful. There's a short lesson on Port and another on Cigars. A list of Household Essentials on the back pages and a section on Cocktails wraps up a truly succulent book. A little expensive - but worth every penny.

Esther H. Shank's Mennonite Country Style Recipes and Kitchen Secrets includes hearty, farm-based recipes that trace their roots back to Germany, Switzerland, and Central Europe. This may be a 15 year-old book, but, to paraphrase Gertrude Stein, food is food is food. No photos, but there are how-to diagrams on some recipes. There are more than 1,000 recipes! Beverages start this treasure, Breads, Coffee Cakes and Cereals follow, and on to Desserts, Dairy, Main Dishes, Meat, Poultry and Seafood, Pastries and Salads.

At the back of the book are some great tips for Quick Fixes, Canning & Freezing; finishing with non-food recipes and tips - such as Soap Making, Removing Stains from Fabrics and Substitutes for Ingredients. This is good, old-time Grandmom type of cooking. The kind that people in my area seek out in nearby Amish and Mennonite Country. Truly good, comfort food.

In what I think is the ninth Moosewood Cookbook, Moosewood Restaurant New Classics, there are 350 new recipes to cover a myriad of dishes, and fresh ideas for old dishes. Read on. Helpful note - the nutrition figures are given for each recipe for those of us who must watch intake, and don't we all, in one way or another? I especially like the Hot Flash Cooler. Where was it when I needed it?

There are four selections of Deviled Eggs, great ideas for Frittatas, Macaroni and Cheese with Tofu, Moroccan Fish with Cumin, Drunken Beans - everyone surely can find something to please them. Each section is preceded by a description piece on what follows. There are even suggestions for Vegan frostings. Everything is covered. Moosewood Restaurant New Classics has a family feel to it - as though you've just walked into a loved relative's home for a meal.

Where has Wendy Doyle's Guilt-Free Desserts been all my life? Now I won't have to give up my favorite part of the meal. You know that old saw; ' Life is uncertain, eat dessert first.' That's me. A few pages on Facts about Fats and a guide to Low-Fat Dessert Ingredients start Guilt-Free Desserts off with a bang. Techniques follow with appropriate photos to make the instructions clear. Then you can dig right into this treasure chest to a trove of fabulous, guilt-free recipes and stunning photos of the finished results. Nutritional Notes are listed for each recipe. Dried Fruit Fool weighs in with 180 calories per serving, 6.3g fat and 4.8g of fiber - and looks yummy too.

Hot desserts include Fruit and Spice Bread Pudding - I'm a sucker for bread pudding. Griddle Cakes with Mulled Plums look scrumptious as do the Grilled Bananas with Spicy Vanilla Spread. Recipes for Pastries, Cakes, Pies and Crepes precede Custards, Soufflis and Mousses. Fruit Salads and Ice Sorbets bring this cookbook to a conclusion. A mammoth undertaking for the author, but I, for one, am glad she made the effort.

Who doesn't love Apple Pie? Everybody loves Apple Pie, me included. Ken Haedrich's Apple Pie Perfect is a marvelous compilation of unusual and, I'm sure, delicious recipes for that all-American dish. An interesting intro leads into a Pie Maker's Guide to Apple Varieties; something I've always been unsure of. A section on pastries gives selections from All American Double Crust to Three Grain Butter Pastry. My chef daughter and I have had an almost life-long rivalry over whose pie crust is best - hers or mine. I'll admit to you, hers is best. But please don't to tell her.

There are 100 recipes in this great book with some mouth-watering pictures in the middle. How about Wine Country Green Grape and Apple Pie? Tipsy Apple and Dried Cranberry Pie? Works for me. The Apple and Pear Hand Pies with Raisins and Walnuts is the first I think I would try, followed quickly by Frozen Apple and Peanut Butter Cloud Pie. Haedrich's book could make you the queen of church and school bake sales.

Judith C. Sutton's Champagne, Caviar and Other Delicacies is a great little book for those special moments in your life, with chapters on Champagne, Caviar, Chocolate, Foie Gras, Smoked Salmon and Truffles. There are gorgeous photos. Dom Perignon is quoted as saying, 'Oh, come quickly. I am drinking stars!' So begins a chapter on the history of Champagne, which ends with recipes for Oysters on the Half Shell with Champagne Sauce and Champagne Sabayon. Heaven. Caviar is treated in a like manner. Mini Potato Pancakes with Crhme Fraiche and Caviar? Divine. Chocolate produces more scrumptious recipes. How does Chocolate Raspberry Tart sound? Is there a more delectable taste than chocolate paired with raspberry?. I haven't had much Foie Gras in my life, but am willing to change that. The Pasta with Morels and Foie Gras would make my day.

I first had Smoked Salmon on a flight to Ireland on Aer Lingus in 1970. So began a love affair with that noble fish. Smoked Salmon and Accompaniments did it for me, although all the recipes look better than just edible. The Truffles are so bizarre looking that it seems inconceivable that anything appetizing could be made from them. But it's worth a try with the wonderful sounding recipes. Don't tell my friends, but I purchased one of these beautiful and inexpensive books for a Christmas present - the perfect gift along with a bottle of Champagne and maybe some Smoked Salmon.

Enjoy all these cookbooks and ... Bon (eclectic) appétit!
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