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The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook
by The Editors at America's Test Kitchen
Published by America's Test Kitchen
848 pages, 2005

If the merit of a cookbook is weighed in pure ounces, The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook would lead by a country mile. With over 1200 recipes on nearly 850 pages, what adds to the heft of this book is its binding. The pages are loose leaf and the cover is a very sturdy three ring binder, inviting the user to remove pages, shift them around or even lay the whole thing flat on a kitchen counter while you work. Everything is covered here. All meals and types of a food, though its clearly been prepared with American tastes and ingredients in mind. This is not a book for the hard-core foodie, who will likely be better served with a more esoteric book. However, for the neophyte to the kitchen or for someone looking to start with an all-purpose backbone to their kitchen library, you could do much worse. -- Adrian Marks

Book of Chocolate
by Annie Perrier-Robert
Published by Hachette Illustrated
128 pages, 2005

It seems to me that people of almost every nationality and every religion and every type of background include chocolate in their winter solstice-time holiday activities. Almost. Annie Perrier-Robert brings us the perfect holiday book for people who just can't get enough. Small in stature -- it might fit in a large holiday stocking -- it nonetheless packs a flavorful punch. Now, don't misunderstand: Book of Chocolate (sometimes marketed as Le Chocolate) is no part cookbook. That is, a few recipes have been included, but they play a very small part. Mostly Book of Chocolate is a journey. An adventure. A dream in chocolate. Perrier-Robert takes us through a beautifully illustrated history and looks at chocolate around the world, the "vices and virtues" of chocolate; how chocolate is made in contemporary times and what we're using it for these days. It's a fascinating, beautiful book that would make an ideal gift for the chocolate lover in your life. -- Linda L. Richards

Breakfasts: More than 80 Inspiring Recipes
by Jacque Malouf
photographs by Tara Fisher
Published by Conran Octopus
96 pages, 2005

I have perhaps half a dozen breakfast cookbooks in my collection and it's still not enough. Maybe there is no such thing as enough when it comes to this topic. There's something deliciously decadent about dreaming up breakfasts. Or dreaming about them, for that matter. Don't get me wrong: I do actually try some of the recipes in every book I write about, however with breakfast cookbooks, I often spend more time dreaming about having the time to actually get up in the morning and make something like Kedgeree Risotto Cakes with Poached Eggs or Baked Ricotta Cheese with Grilled Figs and Honey or Oak-smoked Salmon and Chive Scrambled Eggs on Toasted Brioche (though, in truth, these last two are not difficult: it's just a matter of planning on having the ingredients on hand). There are more simple recipes here, of course. Mushrooms on Toast, for instance. And Wild Strawberry and Vanilla Yoghurt (except I used domestic strawberries. Not wild.) And they turned out well, but what's the fun of dreaming something you actually do? Jacque Malouf, author of 2004's excellent Mushrooms, has gone through some work to create a book just about guaranteed to make you wish you had a little more time in the morning to be something besides sleepy. -- Aaron Blanton

The Enlightened Kitchen: Fresh Vegetable Dishes from the Temples of Japan
by Mari Fukii
Published by Kodansha
107 pages, 2005

Though the popularity of Japanese food outside of Japan has never been higher, many of us tend to have preconceptions about the food. At least, our experience of Japanese cuisine is limited to various configurations of sushi and sashimi, with perhaps a bit of teriyaki and maybe even tappanaki thrown in for good measure. Few, however, are familiar with the beautiful, appealing and very healthful vegetarian cuisine for centuries prepared by Japan's Buddhist monks. Author Mari Fujii is the wife of one such monk and it was he who taught her the "secrets of temple cuisine," secrets she has, in turn, shared with the world. In The Enlightened Kitchen we're treated to a full showing, with selections appropriate to every meal. The food here is front and center, prepared to preserve texture and flavor, to enhance without smothering. Mari Fukii has helped to popularize temple cuisine -- known as shojin ryori -- in her native Japan. The Enlightened Kitchen makes a good case for this way of eating in English-speaking countries, as well. -- Linda L. Richards

Essential Winetasting
by Michael Schuster
Published by Mitchell Beazley
192 pages, 2005

If you -- or someone you know -- has ever dreamed of walking into a restaurant, plunking themselves down in front of a wine list and speaking the language of wine well enough that the sommelier raises an admiring eyebrow, yet you don't have the time to take an actual, you know, get-up-and-go-there course on winetasteing, Essential Winestasting: the Complete Practical Winetasting Course might just be the book for you. Author and instructor Michael Schuster trained in Bordeaux, then set up his own wine school in London. He writes for decanter and Wine International and is the author of Understanding Wine. Clearly, Schuster knows his stuff. The book makes this clear as well. Illuminating photos and illustrations and clear and concise writing makes it an easy book to follow and Schuster manages to reduce even complex thoughts into understandable one or two line explanations. Essential Winetasting is a super book for those with a strong interest in wine and a desire to learn more. -- David Middleton

Italian Family Dining
by Edward Giobbi and Eugenia Giobbi Bone
Published by Rodale
314 pages, 2005

"Italian meals are structured in a way that keeps family and friends at the table," the authors write in the introduction to Italian Family Dining. "Multiple courses take time to eat, and wine keeps conversation flowing.... The meal is the entertainment: It has a beginning, a middle, and an end." It is, the authors contend, a more healthful way to eat, one conducive to getting more of better things into the diners while promoting a lifestyle that is healthier all around. They back this up with a carefully executed book divided into quarters: one for each season. And if you ever thought that Italian cooking was starch-based, you'll have another think coming. While you will find pasta dishes in Italian Family Dining, they are most often the healthful, vegetable-based dishes prevalent in Italian homes. Penne with Cabbage; Farfalle with Green Tomatoes; Penne with Peas and Tuna; Spaghettini Salad. And pasta plays only a very small role here. Lots of exciting things to do with vegetables and meats commonly found in North American markets as well as the occasional recipe containing more exotic ingredients. The recipes here are clear and easy to follow, the chapter and recipe prefaces are charming and well worth reading. Italian Family Dining is a book well worth adding to the kitchen library. -- Linda L. Richards

Le Gavroche
Michel Roux Jr.
Published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson
40 pages, 2005

The book is teeny. Small enough, in fact, to fit into almost any holiday stocking. Yet it packs a major culinary wallop, thanks to author Michel Roux Jr. who, for the last 14 years, has been head chef at Le Gavroche, one of the top French restaurants in London for three decades. Here Roux selects 10 of the famed restaurant's most popular dishes and presents them for the home chef in a gift-sized package. And so we find Pickled Wild Mushrooms; Dried Tomatoes; Roast Bresse Pigeon with Fresh Peas; Brie Stuff with Truffles and other elegant dishes that Roux maintains are "relatively easy for a confident cook to prepare, as long as you have a little bit of experience and are not afraid to get stuck in." Bring it on! -- Linda L. Richards

Pink Panther Cocktail Party
by Adam Rocke
Published by Surrey Books
64 pages, 2005

With the coming of party season and the 40th anniversary of the birth of the Pink Panther, what better way to celebrate than with 85 "pink-a-licious drinks" inspired by that brightly colored feline? This is a slender book without a lot of extra bulk or stuff, which might be part of the appeal. Let's face it: vast and complicated books on mixing drinks can be darn intimidating. Pink Panther Cocktail Party, with its breezy style and cartoonish focus, is not. And so we're given a lightening fast but effective mixology course, followed by lots of recipes and illustrations so brightly colored they're bound to be reassuring. The CD included here is fun but essentially useless. Who really needs two versions of "The Pink Panther Theme" plus a video track featuring the "Pink Panther's Penthouse Party video." Not me. Still, it's included in the package and, if nothing else, will help set the tone for your next Pink Panther party. -- Linda L. Richards

Quick & Easy Tsukemono: Japanese Pickling Recipes
by Ikuko Hisamatsu
Published by Japan Publications
104 pages, 2005

The Quick & Easy cookbooks published by Japan Publications and distributed in North America by the estimable Kodansha America are uniformly great books. These are not glamorous books and the prose will not move you, but they are very good. Strongly illustrated, clearly and simply written with recipe choices that are simple and basic to the culture under discussion. Quick & Easy Korean Cooking; The Quick & Easy Japanese Cookbook; Quick & Easy Vietnamese Home Cooking and others, all designed to take what was once exotic and make it accessible. They do a good job. The latest entry, Quick & Easy Tsukemono, is a little more esoteric, but is every bit as complete. Not everyone will be interested in the making of Japanese pickles -- tsukemono -- but those that are will not be disappointed here. -- Linda L. Richards

The South Beach Diet Quick and Easy Cookbook
by Arthur Agatston
Published by Rodale
338 pages, 2005

If holiday eating -- and overeating -- is giving you or someone you know cause for pause, you might be thinking about a different way. Not everyone is ready to drop the carbs, but if they are, you could do worse than South Beach. The South Beach Diet: Quick and Easy Cookbook is more than just South Beach Diet creator Arthur Agatston going back to the very deep well he's created. With a focus on meals that can come to table quickly and with a minimum of fuss, there aren't many people who wouldn't enjoy quite a few of the recipes in this book. Of course, there aren't many carbs to be found here, but what is included is more than just cutting out bread and pasta. For some people, it represents a whole new way of looking at food. Low-carb, sure. But also, low fat, low sodium. The "right carbohydrates," in the form of nutrient- and fiber-rich vegetables, whole fruits and whole grains. The "right fats" including the olive oil, flaxseed oil, omega-3 fish oil and the fats found in most nuts. -- Monica Stark

 

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