BOOKS FOR THE COOK

The Baltimore Sun

So many cookbooks to give; so little money to spend. This holiday season, we want the cookbooks we give to offer more - more tips, more variety, more recipes. Here are five new books that deliver good bang for the buck, and that we think the cooks on your list will love. See recipes on page 4.

The Bon Appetit Fast Easy Fresh Cookbook

by Barbara Fairchild

Wiley / 2008 / $34.95

Perfect for: The very busy cook who likes to stay on trend

Why we like it: There are more than 1,000 recipes here, and they're short and tasty. Produce guides encourage no-fuss seasonal eating. And a subscription to Bon Appetit magazine comes with the book.

The Art & Soul of Baking

by Sur La Table and Cindy Mushet

Andrews McMeel Publishing / 2008 / $40

Perfect for: The passionate baker

Why we like it: Veteran pastry chef Cindy Mushet serves up a "pro" tip with almost every creation. The precision of her 275 recipes, with weights as well as measures, leads to good results. There's lots of guidance for beginners as well as veteran bakers, and beautiful photography.

Best of the Best, Vol. 1

by the editors of Food & Wine

Food & Wine Books / 2008 / $29.95

Perfect for: The cookbook addict who wants 25 great new cookbooks - but has space for only one

Why we like it: This annual compilation of recipes from the year's best cookbooks offers a stellar roundup for 2008, from authentic Asian recipes to the latest from Alice Waters. Many of the authors share a bonus recipe not in their original cookbooks.

1,000 Gluten-Free Recipes

by Carol Fenster

Wiley / 2008 / $35

Perfect for: Anyone who can't tolerate gluten, but loves to eat well

Why we like it: The sheer variety of recipes here means that a gluten-free diet needn't feel restrictive. Carol Fenster adds lots of tips, menus and an ingredients guide. And her popovers manage to rise as high and taste as good as the ones we've made with regular flour.

A Day at elBulli

by Ferran Adria

Phaidon / 2008 / $49.95

Perfect for: The armchair-traveling fan of molecular gastronomy

Why we like it: We're not big on complicated chef books, but this one makes you feel as if you've booked a table at the famous restaurant in Spain - and had a behind-the-scenes schooling in how pulp extraction, freeze-drying and using liquid nitrogen can create fine food.

basic popovers (gluten-free)

(makes 6 popovers)

shortening, for greasing the pan

3 large eggs, at room temperature

1 cup 1 percent milk, at room temperature

1/3 cup potato starch

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon Carol's Sorghum Blend (see recipe)

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum

Place a rack in the lower-middle position of the oven. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Lightly oil each cup of a standard 6-cup popover pan with shortening.

In a blender, thoroughly blend all the other ingredients. The batter will be almost as thin as crepe batter, but not as thick as pancake batter. Place the pan in the hot oven 5 minutes to heat it. Wearing oven mitts, carefully remove the hot pan from the oven, divide the batter among the cups, and return the pan to the oven.

Bake 20 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350 degrees. Continue baking another 10 to 15 minutes, or until the sides of the popovers become rigid. (Do not open the oven door during this time.)

Quickly and carefully remove the pan from the oven. Pierce each popover along the rigid side with a toothpick to release the steam; return the pan to the oven to bake another 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool the pan on a wire rack 5 minutes. Remove the popovers from the pan and serve immediately.

Adapted from "1,000 Gluten-Free Recipes"

Per popover:: 139 calories, 5 grams protein, 5 grams fat, 2 grams saturated fat, 20 grams carbohydrate, 1 gram fiber, 113 milligrams cholesterol, 247 milligrams sodium

carol's sorghum blend

(makes 4 cups)

1 1/2 cups sorghum flour

1 1/2 cups potato starch or cornstarch

1 cup tapioca flour

Whisk the ingredients together until well blended. Store, tightly covered, in a dark, dry place. You may refrigerate or freeze the blend, but bring to room temperature before using. You may double or triple the recipe.

Per cup: : 460 calories, 6 grams protein, 2 grams fat, 0 grams saturated fat, 112 grams carbohydrate, 5 grams fiber, 0 milligrams cholesterol, 0 milligrams sodium

chocolate velvet poundcake

(makes 1 loaf or 18 mini cakes)

1 1/2 sticks (6 ounces) unsalted butter, softened (65 to 68 degrees)

1 1/4 cups (8 3/4 ounces) sugar

1 teaspoon water, at room temperature

2 teaspoons instant espresso powder, such as Medaglia d'Oro

3 large eggs, at room temperature

1 cup (5 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour

1/2 cup (2 ounces) unsifted unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

pinch of salt

1/2 cup (4 ounces) buttermilk, at room temperature

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and position an oven rack in the center. Lightly coat an 8 1/2 -by-4 1/2 -inch loaf pan with melted butter, oil or high-heat canola-oil spray, and fit with parchment paper to extend up both long sides to the top of the pan.

Place the butter and sugar in the bowl of a mixer and beat on medium-high speed until light, almost white, in color, 4 to 5 minutes. Scrape down the bowl with a spatula.

In a small bowl, stir together the water and espresso powder until smooth. Crack the eggs into the bowl and beat to blend. With the mixer running on medium, add the egg mixture to the butter mixture about 1 tablespoon at a time, allowing each addition to completely blend in before adding the next. About halfway through, turn off the mixer and scrape down the bowl, then continue adding the egg mixture. Scrape down the bowl again.

With a fine-mesh strainer, sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt into a separate bowl and whisk to blend. With the mixer running on the lowest speed, add the flour mixture and the buttermilk alternately to the egg-butter mixture, beginning with 1/3 of the flour mixture and 1/2 of the buttermilk. Repeat, then finish with flour mixture. Scrape down the bowl and finish blending the batter by hand, if necessary.

Scrape the batter into the prepared baking pan and smooth the top. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, until firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer to a rack to cool completely. When cool, remove from the pan, peel off parchment paper, and serve.

To make mini cakes: : Butter or spray with cooking spray each mold of a mini bundt pan (with twelve 1/4 -cup molds) and dust with flour, tapping out excess. Spoon 3 tablespoons batter in each mold. Bake for 13 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a rack and cool for 10 minutes, then turn out cakes while they are still warm. Rinse baking pan under cold water until cool, dry and bake remaining batter. Fill unused molds halfway with water so cakes bake evenly.

From "The Art & Soul of Baking"

Per serving (based on 18 servings): : 167 calories, 3 grams protein, 11 grams fat, 5 grams saturated fat, 20 grams carbohydrate, 1 gram fiber, 56 milligrams cholesterol, 33 milligrams sodium

Find recipes for Lemon-Oregano Roast Chicken ( above), Apple-Cranberry Crisp With Oatmeal Topping and Stir-Fried Beef With Snow Peas at baltimoresun.com/taste

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