Helping Santa avoid cookies 'n' milk nut a Baker's dozen

December 15, 1993|By Karol V. Menzie | Karol V. Menzie,Staff Writer

Dear Santa:

You didn't finish the cookies last year. What's wrong? Were the ** reindeer getting restive? Are you watching your weight? Counting cholesterol? Or did you just get tired of chocolate chip? Maybe you're tired of so many snacks, house after house, and you'd prefer something a little more . . . um, substantial?

I'll bet that's it. If only folks would provide a few gourmet goodies, some appetizers, a plate of pasta, a slice of key lime pie or, hey, how about a nice bowl of tomato-fennel soup with garlic croutons and Parmesan cheese?

Sound more like it? Well, Santa, here's what you have to do. Fill the stockings of all your "foodie" fans with one of 1993's best cookbooks. One with practical, interesting recipes and manageable techniques. One with style and personality and a point of view. Leave a bookmark at your favorite recipes and cross your fingers. Unimaginative Santa snacks could become a thing of the past.

But you're probably pretty busy right now, no time to pore over the scores of new books the year produced -- everything from glorious coffee table travelogue types to tiny treasures no bigger than an oven mitt.

So, Santa, I'm going to help you out. I've compiled my own 1993 cookbook guide, a baker's dozen books I have used this year, and will continue to use in years to come. It's a mixed book bag: Two special-diet books, three on ethnic cuisines, two on baking, one on desserts, three on vegetables, and two on regional American cuisines. It's a small selection, but there should be something every cook on your list could enjoy.

So here it is (the "knife" symbols indicate degree of difficulty; four means some skill required, one means anyone can do it):

*Dr. Dean Ornish is a San Francisco heart specialist, whose book, "Eat More, Weigh Less" (HarperCollins, $22.50) offers a program of diet and lifestyle changes that have been shown to reduce heart disease while helping people lose weight and generally feel better. The diet is somewhat stringent: it's vegetarian, with virtually no dairy products, and includes only 10 percent of calories from fat. But Dr. Ornish's message (that stress, overeating and heart problems are all curable) is so appealing, and the 250 recipes he gathered from some quite noted chefs (Joyce Goldstein, Wolfgang Puck, Deborah Madison and Hubert Keller among them) are so delicious, that the book is for everyone. And if you've ever been concerned about weight or heart problems, or cooked for anyone with those concerns, Dr. Ornish's book will be a welcome addition to the kitchen $l repertoire. **-***.

*Another book whose title suggests it is a special-diet book is actually an all-purpose gourmet cookbook that addresses all the dietary concerns of the '90s -- fat, sugar, cholesterol, sodium, ease of preparation, menu planning. It's "The Joslin Diabetes Gourmet Cookbook," by Bonnie Sanders Polin and Frances Towner Giedt, for the Joslin Diabetes Center, affiliated with Harvard Medical School (Bantam, $24.95). The authors, a psychologist and a food consultant, are both diabetics and foodies. So, while the recipes are heart-healthy, they're also wide-ranging and just plain good: appetizers and drinks, soups, salads, fish, meat, poultry, grains, beans and pastas, snacks and desserts -- more than 530 of them, with cooking tips, menu suggestions and nutritional information. **.

*There were a number of lovely coffee-table type books published this year, but "Provence The Beautiful Cookbook," by Richard Olney (Collins Publishers, $45) might actually make it into the kitchen. As lavishly and lusciously photographed as other books in this series, "Provence" includes recipes that are simple to prepare and striking in their taste combinations: Sauteed chicken with a characteristic garlic and parsley mix; gratin of mashed potatoes with garlic and Parmesan; and Provencal pumpkin pie among them. **-***.

*What is surely one of the world's most interesting and delicious cuisines is not all that familiar to folks in the United States, but with Najmieh Batmanglij's "New Food of Life," (Mage Publishers, $44.95) there is good reason to learn about Persian food and cooking. Recipes include fesenjun (pomegranate and walnut sauce for chicken or duck), spinach narcissus (a sort of omelet with spinach and onions) and rice with lentils. The book is illustrated with historic prints and photographs, and sprinkled with poetry, folk tales and legends. ***.

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