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Cookbooks for Holiday Giving
By Mary Ann Smyth

Got your holiday gift list ready? If not, why not? Get with the program, already. I not only have my list ready, but have been searching cookbook shelves for you. How's that? Grateful? I sure hope so. Though being knee deep in gorgeous cookbooks with luscious photographs and mouthwatering recipes is the next best thing to heaven for me. So, okay. Here goes. I've found some books that are for the serious cook or the wannabe serious cook. Several others are at the basic level - for a student, or a single, or the harried cook who hasn't time to fool with complicated recipes. And the remainder are good old food spruced up and presented in wonderful ways. These are my picks for gracious gifts ...

A really thoughtful Christmas gift for your Polish friends is Bernard Lussiana's Poland's Gourmet Cuisine, with gorgeous photographs of spectacular foods. Pan-Fried Dublin Bay Prawns served in a Crunch Cage is literally a work of art. Pierogi of Crab and Bigos is not as dramatic, but sure looks good to eat. Salad of Wild Boar with Roasted Curd Cheese and Sweet and Sour Forest Blackberries is the ultimate. The authors cover a gamut of fish dishes - such as Turbot Roasted with Sunflower Seed with a Bison Grass Sauce. That could go on my dinner plate at any time. Fillet of Bison Roasted in a Crust of Clay and Salt looks scrumptious, as does everything offered in this great cookbook.

Ready for dessert? I am. You all know the old saying, 'Life is uncertain. Eat dessert first.' I'm a strong advocate of that theory. Lussiana offers desserts that are not for the beginning cook. But they are imaginative and beautiful. Shortbread Lily Biscuit with Yoghurt Sorbet would tax my skills but not my taste buds. Opera of Warsaw cannot be described; it needs to be seen to be believed. This is a cookbook with appeal for any ethnic background. The recipient needn't even be a cook to appreciate the wonderful food. Hey, how many of us have haunch of bison readily available? Leaf through the pages and enjoy true masterpieces of culinary art.

I've said in a previous review of Happy Days with the Naked Chef that Jamie Oliver is a down-to-earth cook with down-to-earth dishes that any of us could make, adding some unusual ingredients to old favorites. I stand by that statement. Oliver is a young man with new ideas. He tells it like it is, and encourages the cook to experiment as he surely does himself. His Marinated Mozzarella in Crhme Fraiche with Lemon and Marjoram looks super. Or 'pukka' as Chef Oliver would say. The Scrummy Warm Arugula Salad shows this chef's propensity to use non-culinary language.

Jamie Oliver dares to go where not many have gone before. Using Crhme Fraiche again with Grilled Lemon, he makes a dressing that is divine. A section of the book that makes it for me is the part on bread making. Good bread is a part of any meal and Oliver suggests nine recipes that are 'fandabidozi' and made with one simple bread recipe. This is the perfect gift for almost anyone. It's fun. It's interesting. And it's got a 'stonking' good selection of recipes.

From the Editors of Cook's Illustrated Magazine comes American Classics, an awe-inspiring cookbook from what many consider to be the best of the best. From Soups and Stews through every imaginable category ending with Puddings, recipes are given and techniques explained, with finely drawn illustrations so you can't go wrong. There are few pictures, but they captured my attention - big time. How about Three Bean Salad with Cumin and Oranges? I'd almost kill for Stuffed Tomatoes with Parmesan, Garlic and Basil. Wellll - almost. Same goes for the Broiled Salmon with Mustard and Crisp Potato Crust.

This is one for the committed cook. Such weighty questions as which method is best for cooking bacon - microwave, pan or oven - are answered. Don't laugh. This is professional stuff. Here are tips for cleaning soft-shell crabs. Three kinds of pork ribs are illustrated. Each recipe is gone into in depth. And you must check out the Fresh Corn Fritters. American Classics is the right gift for the serious cook, recommended highly by my gourmet cooking friends.

Sandra Lee states in the beginning of Semi-Homemade Cooking 'that cooking not-from-scratch can produce fabulous meals using pre-packaged, brand name ingredients.' She uses the rest of her marvelous book to prove this statement. And she's right! It can be done. Try her French Apple-Raisin Sandwich for breakfast. Divine. Then cook up some Southwestern Turkey Chili and Corn Bread, Prosciutto and Goat Cheese Pizza, or Six-Cheese Tortellini - all using brand name ingredients.

This is a great gift for the not-so-serious cook or one who just doesn't have the time to create new dishes from scratch. Lee's foods are exciting, and, if they taste as good as they look, delectable. The author suggests music to go with her meals, and also the wines that might best accompany them; a really nice touch. Semi-homemade cooking doesn't preclude the use of crystal, linen and the good china. This is a gift that will be used, believe me.

How about Laura Karr's The Can Opener Gourmet? No, this is not tongue-in-cheek. It is a real life guide to using what's in your pantry, plying the can opener and producing good and nutritious meals. Trust me on this. I kid you not. The difficulty of each dish is defined by an icon of one, two or three can openers. Also, a note is included on needed utensils. The Baked Artichoke Dip will do for drinks with company. Crab Salad with Lemony Vinaigrette would be my first course. Salmon with White Wine and Parmesan - well, you get the idea. Anything is possible. Toss in a new can opener and you have the perfect gift for a college student. Personally, I plan to use this cookbook a lot. I'm tired of the old tried and true recipes and don't want to revert to frozen entrees.

Terra is a very popular restaurant in the Napa Valley of California. Some of their most asked for recipes are between the covers of Hiro and Lisa Doumani's cookbook, Terra - Cooking from the Heart of the Napa Valley. From appetizers through desserts, Terra is a beautiful choice for a gift cookbook. Though Grilled Miso-Marinated Beef Salad with Ginger-Mustard Vinaigrette is not for the beginner cook, what a lovely dish! And it is joined by succulent foods such as Chanterelle Mushrooms and Lentil Soup with Sautied Foie Gras, and Cappelini with Smoked Salmon.

Or how about Poached Skate Wings on Napa Cabbage with Ponzu? Medallions of Lamb with Anchovy-Black Olive Sauce and Artichoke Fritters sound scrumptious, as does Baked Apple Crhme Brulee with Maple Cookies. Basic techniques are at the back of this lovely book, which starts with a history of the restaurant and continues with an interesting chapter on a Day in Life at Terra.

This is the time of year to start thinking of serving hearty soups to warm body and soul. Frederica Langeland's Main Dish Soups will give the lucky recipient on your gift list a head start on the cold winds of January. Starting with the basics, Part I of this hearty cookbook features Accompaniments, Garnishes and Stocks. Part II opens into great recipes: Uncle Bill s Sausage Soup, Cold Mussel Soup, and the ever popular Pistou with lots of garlic, basil and sage. I would like to try Garlic Soup, as well as Zuppa Di Ceci Avantagiatta (Quick Chick Pea Soup).

Try Part III for Lighter Fare or First Course Soups. Nothing starts off a good meal on a cold day better than freshly made soup. Cream of Tomato Soup - divine. Cream of Asparagus, Bongo-Bongo Soup (Spinach). I can almost taste them now. And let's not forget the most elegant of soups - Lobster or Shrimp Bisque. My favorite section of any cookbook? Desserts, of course. In this case, Dessert Soups. How does Apricot Soup, Raspberry Wine Soup, or Mixed Fruit Soup sound to you?

The Junior League of Boca Raton tells us to Savor the Moment via their very upscale cookbook. It has luscious photos of foods and settings, with many good tips for food prep and entertaining. Chapter headings suggest menus for many different occasions - a Wedding in a Secret Garden, French Country Charm, Barefoot Elegance to name a few.

Creamy Cucumber Soup sounds cool and refreshing. Hey, it's hot somewhere! Southern Citrus Punch served with Firecracker Chili Cheese Pie would certainly enhance a sunny day. Then there are Escargots in Poblano with Sourdough Croutons, Macadamia-Stuffed Mushrooms, Ham and Cheese Strata, or Roast Beef and Stilton Salad. This one is not for a beginner cook, but is a perfect gift for the person who loves to entertain; someone who is always looking for that new dish with which to wow his or her guests.

Mollie Katzen feels that 'breakfast is the first meal of the rest of our lives'. Hence Mollie Katzen's Sunlight Café, chock full of wonderful ideas to brighten up the daily granola. She has so many ideas for good food for breakfast that I find it hard to focus on any one thing. I want them all - including the Lemon-Glazed Rosemary / Lavender Raisin Bars. A breakfast Gazpacho surprised me. But why not? Eggs, Scones, Waffles, Smoothies, Fruits. Any cookbook that Mollie Katzen writes is a good one, and one that will be appreciated for many years to come. Buy two and keep one for yourself.

This spiral bound cookbook, Rare Collection by the Junior League of Galveston County, is an oldie but a goodie, guaranteed by my friends to have wonderful recipes. The introduction assures the cook 'that the book may be opened at any page, a recipe prepared and the finished result will be attractive and will elicit prompt compliments to the chef'. I would like to try Garlic Broccoli Soup, as well as Sweet and Sour Asparagus, Shrimp Quiche, Bourbon Sweet Potatoes, Crab Smothered Shrimp, Pecan Lime Pie - doesn't that sound great? And those are just my choices. If you can find copies of this one, keep one for yourself. My friends' copy is dog eared and dusted with flour and spices. It's not a glamorous publication, but a sure winner.

I hope you enjoy shopping for cookbooks as much as I did, and that you find a few for yourself and for friends ... Bon appétit and happy holidays!

Editor's Note: This is one of a series of articles on books, on a variety of subjects, as holiday gifts. Find more suggestions in our Columns.
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