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Favorite cookbooks for 2002

Thursday, December 19, 2002

By Marlene Parrish

Of the scads of cookbooks crowding the shelves of bookstores this year many are obvious stand-outs and must-haves. What you buy depends upon who you are and how you cook.

(Annie O'Neill, Post-Gazette)

If you are a serious and dedicated cook in search of a New Year's resolution, resolve to read the following three new cookbooks cover to cover during the year. All three authors are Americans with cooking roots from California's Chez Panisse, considered by many to be the No. 1 restaurant in the country.

"Chez Panisse Fruit," by Alice Waters (hardcover, HarperCollins, $34.95).

Waters, who is often called the "mother of California cuisine," changed the way Americans eat and think about food by championing organic, sustainable agriculture and fresh, seasonal produce. Any visit to San Francisco must include a detour to Berkeley to taste her superb, uncomplicated food. This is her latest in a series of one-subject cookbooks.

"Jeremiah Tower Cooks," by Jeremiah Tower (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, hardcover, $35).

Jeremiah Tower is often called the "father of California cuisine." He was chef at Chez Panisse with Alice Waters in the early years of the restaurant in the 1970s. In 1984, he opened Stars restaurant in San Francisco. His book is a tad heavy on ego and light on education, but his point of view is stimulating.

"The Zuni Cafe Cookbook," by Judy Rodgers (W.W. Norton & Company, $35).

Rodgers must then qualify as the "daughter and reigning queen" of California cuisine. Her training began (get that, "began!") in high school with a year of study in France at the Troisgros Brothers' three-star restaurant. She then apprenticed at Chez Panisse before taking the range at San Francisco's Zuni Cafe, where she is now chef-partner. Rodgers presents an intelligent, comprehensive cookbook of lengthy essays and in-depth recipes. Buy it just to get the five-page recipe for Zuni Roast Chicken with Bread Salad. You couldn't view the brain of this great chef any better with an MRI.

If you are the sort of home cook who prefers accessible recipes that will please and satisfy guests on the first go without having to do a "try-out," then the following cookbooks make the cut. They are packed with recipes that are tempting, healthful -- for the most part -- and made with ingredients that are reasonable to find.

"The Best American Recipes 2002-2003," edited by Fran McCullough with Molly Stevens (Houghton-Mifflin Company, hardcover, $26).

This is the fourth edition of the year's top picks from books, magazines, newspapers and the Internet. Many recipes will be familiar, since a high proportion come from sources such as Fine Cooking, Saveur, Gourmet -- lots from Gourmet -- Food and Wine and The New York Times. But the occasional anonymous winner from the back of a box or from an ad on the Internet is included. Every year, I read this cookbook cover-to-cover and put stickies on recipes I intend to try, and I've never been disappointed. Lots of notes, hints and suggestions for menus and wines pave the way to success. A must.

"Apple Pie Perfect," by Ken Haedrich (The Harvard Common Press, soft cover, $15.95).

You'll never forgive a glue-y diner apple pie again. Not when you know how good and how versatile this favorite can be. Haedrich has conjured 100 apple pie recipes, no small feat. Besides pie recipes, there are tips that get to the core of apple know-how -- the best varieties, when to freeze, how to measure and equipment. There are 10 recipes for easy-to-tricky doughs, and pies are grouped together by season -- summer, autumn and special occasion. Apple and Jalapeno Tailgate Pie, Apple Hand Pies and Apple Applesauce Cherry Pie are too much of a stretch for my notion of classic apple pie, but the ones that I did test were grand. I recently gave this book to a novice baker, and I plan to sneak it into a gift bag for a pro I know during the holidays. Can't miss.

"Mollie Katzen's Sunlight Cafe," by Mollie Katzen (Hyperion, hardcover, $29.95).

Katzen is the Barry Bonds of the cookbook world. She does it all and better than anyone. She has maybe 5 million books in print and is often called the best-selling cookbook author of all time. She is largely credited with moving healthful vegetarian food from the "granola fringe" to the center of American dinner plates. Remember the ground-breaking classic, "The Moosewood Cookbook?" Hers. "The Enchanted Broccoli Forest?" Hers. "Vegetable Heaven?" Hers, too. And in her spare time, she does the book illustrations, too. If you agree that breakfast can be eaten all day, you'll feel right at home with recipes for coffeecake, buns, pancakes, breakfast bars and smoothies. Look for boxes and sidebars packed with stuff you didn't know you need to know: Imperfect Fruit 911, The Inside Scoop on Whole Grains, Cheese-based Toast Toppings. The layout is superb; recipes have excellent headnotes, numbered steps, a typeface that can be read while standing and colored boxes that are eye-catching. This book will win a prize this year. Bet on it.

"My Kitchen in Spain," by Janet Mendel (HarperCollins, hardcover, $34.95).

"My Kitchen In Spain," by Janet Mendel, has "winner" written all over it -- and inside too. Mendel writes like the friend and neighbor you wish you had next door. She talks about how she came to live in Spain, an American journalist from Indiana who thought she and her husband would spend a year abroad. Thirty years, a couple of sons and six cookbooks later, Mendel tells about her adopted country, her village and its foodways.

You'll read this cookbook in bed for the essays, including Mendel's first foray into village kitchens, where she learned to cook from her neighbors. You'll feel at home in her home in the center of an olive grove in Mijas, one of the white villages of Andalusia overlooking the Mediterranean. Recipe headnotes are generous with tips and suggestions. Ingredient lists and directions are easy to read and easier to follow. The recipes are superb, and their flavors are true. Go beyond paella and gazpacho, and you'll find that Spanish home cooking is right at home in America.

"Everything Tastes Better With Bacon," by Sara Perry (Chronicle Books, soft cover, $18.95).

Boy-oh-boy-oh-boy, was the recipe-testing for this book ever the best. For a whole week, I justified frying copious skillets full of bacon. Perry has assembled 70 recipes included in chapters on rise-and-shine reasons for wakin' with bacon, bacon as salad's best kept secret, pasta and polenta dishes, classic and forbidden pleasures and even some sweets. Dr. Atkins would approve the Gorgonzola Cheeseburgers with Bacon.

Taste-testing kids loved the Peanut Butter and Bacon Sandwich with 11 variations. The same kids cleaned up their Green Beans with Crispy Bacon and Lemon Zest. My personal favorites were Spaghetti alla Carbonara -- haven't had that in years -- and Sizzling Herb Pasta with White Beans and Crisp Smoked Bacon. It's crucial to search out thick-sliced, hickory-smoked bacon. Each recipe has a full-page color photo to catch the drool.

"Real Stew," by Clifford Wright (The Harvard Common Press, soft cover, $18.95).

If you were asked to write a cookbook, what would you cover? It would take serious thinking. But Clifford Wright has no problem choosing a subject. He thinks big, so he chose the world. Traveling in more than 50 countries, he has sought out nearly every ethnic one-pot bowl of comfort food. Wright is no newcomer to the field. He is the author of seven cookbooks, including "A Mediterranian Feast," named the James Beard Cookbook of the Year. Some of his recipes are too far out for me. I flipped right over Laban Ummu (looks like an anagram), Kuyrdak (the national dish of Kazakhstan, a country which I haven't ever heard of), as well as Kakavia, Jagasee and Xonequi.

But I like the looks of Cuban Ropa Vieja, Cassoulet, Czech-style Goulash, Lobster and Oyster Ragout, Finnish Salmon Stew and Lamb Stew with Tagliatelle.This is a good book for January reading and playing in a warm, steamy kitchen.

P.S.

"The Roasted Vegetable," by Andrea Chesman (The Harvard Common Press, soft cover, $12.95).

If this title seems familiar, it's because this book is also included in the vegetarian cookbooks list. It gets my vote for the year's best cookbook, for vegetarians or carnivores alike.

Marlene Parrish is a Mount Washington freelance writer.

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