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Exceptional cookbooks make great gifts


COOKBOOKS ARE A welcome gift at the holidays because they provide sweet tastes year round. The cookies might be long gone, but you can always reach for a book and make more. Here is a sampling of some exceptional cookbooks, Christmas-themed and otherwise, to delight a variety of cooks.

?3 * "The Christmas Cookie Book" by Judy Knipe and

Barbara Marks (Fawcett Columbine, 1990, $14.95 hard cover). This small, charming book has no photographs or color pictures, but the recipes sound so tantalizing it's no matter. There are over 90 traditional American and European recipes with information about freezing and refrigeration to plan your cookie-making campaign. Offer this gift a few weeks before Christmas to get the most taste for your money.

"Christmas from the Heart of the Home" by Susan Branch (Little, Brown & Co. 1990,$19.95 hardcover)

The author's exquisite watercolors of children and animals make this the definitive Christmas book for readers of all ages. Homespun recipes, ideas for home-cooked gifts, parties and decorating are all presented in a beautiful curly script. This, book which cries to be read aloud in some sections, may well become a heirloom for future generations.

"Cocolat," by Alice Medrich (Warner Books, Oct. 17, $35 hardcover)

"Chocolate is like a 'difficult' personality. A successful working relationship depends on knowing why it behaves as it does and how to make it work for, instead of against you." So speaks Alice Medrich, chocolate czarina, in "Cocolat," a luscious coffee-table book about the western world's favorite dessert. Luxurious, full-page color photos treat European-inspired desserts as works art, and a detailed section on technique shares the secrets to creating masterpieces. A book for a dedicated baker or certified choc-aholic.

* "The Fannie Farmer Cookbook" by Marian Cunningham (Knopf 1990, $24.95 hardcover)

In the old days, you could get by with a sole cookbook to take you from muffins in the morning to a pot roast and vegetables in the evening. That book was "The Fannie Farmer Cookbook," and has returned in a spanking new 13th edition with 1,900 recipes. Without a doubt, the book is still the most extensive compendium of basic recipes, tips on cooking techniques, microwave use, pressure-cooking, measurements, and other cooking know-how. While many of the best original recipes are included, some have been revised to be a bit more healthful. Cunningham has also added her own stamp with new recipes for Italian polenta, English scones and other specialties. For a beginning cook or classicist.

"John Hadamuscin's Enchanted Evenings" (Harmony Books 1990, $27.50 hardcover). From high fashion to high kitsch, Hadamuscin knows how to put a party together. International, regional and home style dishes all get attention, organized into menu plans divided by season and lavishly illustrated with color photographs. Table settings are as enticing as the foods themselves, and some party ideas are deliciously zany--a "back to the '50s" cocktail party, for example.

"Sundays at the Moosewood Restaurant" by The Moosewood Collective (Simon & Schuster 1990, $16.95 paper, $29.95 cloth).

The '60s may be over but vegetarian cooking is thriving, especially with an ethnic focus. The Collective writers take us on a world tour of good food from Chile to Africa, Finland to England. From soups to curries, stuffed vegetables to breads, the recipes are simply written. Authors also write about their own connections to the food of the countries featured, and there's a ++ helpful techniques section that explains unfamiliar ingredients and procedures.

"The Taste of China" by Ken Hom (Simon and Schuster 1990, $29.95 hardcover)

The celebrated Chinese chef born and raised in the United States returns to meet his relatives in in China and his tastes are awakened. Home, regional and street cooking are explored in easy recipes that call for commonly found vegetables and meats transformed in uncommon ways. The 200-plus color photos by Leong Ka Tai offer a glorious trip through China that celebrates working people, bustling markets and country roads.

"We Called It Macaroni" by Nancy Verde Barr (Knopf 1990, $21.95)

Italian cooking is arguably America's most popular ethnic cuisine, so a deluge of new Italian books hits the market each year. Barr's book is special because it concentrates on the unadulterated, traditional Southern Italian dishes that were popular in the Italian neighborhood in Providence, Rhode Island, where she grew up; luscious combinations of tomato, garlic, eggplant and pasta. Unpretentious and alluring, these well-written family recipes come with reminiscences and photographs of Italian immigrants and their descendents.

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