If you're looking for a gift for a cooking friend, consider the kind of cook this person is and find a special cookbook that's just right. The busy cook, the family cook, beginner, semi-pro, specialist in desserts or vegetables, someone who is into Chinese cooking, or the cook who makes a chemical analysis of every recipe - they're all considered special in this year's crop of food books.
There are books that describe and evaluate tools and utensils; others that tell about unusual ingredients.
Some answer the scientific and chemical questions that explain why a puff pastry does or doesn't puff, or why white vegetables turn yellow.
There are several how-to books with step-by-step photos. Others concentrate just on techniques.
Practical scientific principles which take the mystery out of many cooking techniques are plainly stated in Kitchen Science, by Howard Hillman (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, $11.95).
In Q and A format, the author answers queries such as how and why a sauce emulsifies, how ethylene gas ripens fruits, what MSG does, how pounding and scoring tenderizes meat, why knowing the smoke point of oil is important, and the difference between black, white, and green peppercorns.
Many principles are illustrated in step-by-step recipes; the book is easy to read, well indexed, very helpful, and informative.
Cuisine a la Carte by Anton Mosimann, (CBI Publishing Company, Boston, $34.95 ) presents 230 original recipes by this executive chef of London's Dorchester Hotel, who produces the old standby foods of the grand hotel as well as his own creative combinations of food in nouvelle cuisine style.
The color photographs are superb and recipes are explained in detail with comments and notes that reflect the chef's philosophy.
''Make it simple but make it perfect'' is one of his guiding principles, an indication of the high standards that have made one of the world's finest chefs.
A 20-page profile of the chef gives behind-the-scene glimpses of the working of this large hotel and an introductory essay by Quentin Crewe, the distinguished English writer, describes Mosimann's personality.
There is a glossary of terms, an English-French index, and metric conversion scales.
If you remember Mr. Micawber's discourse on Mushroom Ketchup and Devilled Mutton from David Copperfield, or the description of Boiled Turbot - A Noble Dish of Fish from ''Great Expectations,'' you'll enjoy The Charles Dickens Cookbook (New York: Personal Library, Everest House, $12.95).
It's a wonderful book to browse through and is especially appealing to anyone who takes pleasure both in food and in the writings of Charles Dickens.
Author Brenda Marshall has collected dozens of old recipes for dishes that belong to the 19th-century table and can be cooked and enjoyed today.
A quote from the Dickens book in which the dish is mentioned precedes each recipe, and there is variety in the kinds of dishes represented, from soup to dessert.
There is David Copperfield's description of Mr. Dick's partiality for gingerbread from ''The Mystery of Edwin Drood,'' Chapter III; there is the quote about the Lumps-of-Delight shop and a recipe for a Turkish sweetmeat.
This is a thoroughly delightful book and includes charming old prints along with other recipes such as Mrs. Bagnet's Boiled Pork (Bleak House), A Dish of Stewed Beef, (David Copperfield), Hashed Mutton, (Martin Chuzzlewit) and A Savoury Meal of Yarmouth Bloaters (The Old Curiosity Shop).
In Entertainments, by Judith Olney (Woodbury, N.Y.: Barrons, $19.95), the author shows some stunning results in menus when using famous paintings as inspiration along with a superb knowledge of cooking and the ability to tickle what George Lang in the introduction calls your ''pleasure'' bone.
''Imagine,'' she says, ''a table as Monet might have designed it, all flows and eddies, swirls, reflections, glittering light and lustrous pastels with food to match.'' Prisms, silver foil, and lotus-folded napkins are a few of the props.
A Breughel peasant celebration involves hearty peasant food to be eaten with the fingers; there are directions for a Rousseau jungle feast featuring couscous , a Flemish still life dinner, and a Children's Cookie Party with chocolate cookie dominoes and other edible toys.
The design of the book by Milton Glaser and photographs by Matthew Klein are gorgeous.
How Cooking Works, by Sylvia Rosenthal and Fran Shinagel, (New York: Macmillan, $19.95) answers questions like: Why are some vegetables cooked covered and some uncovered? Why does meat shrink when it's cooking? When does the size of the pot or pan make a difference?
There are descriptions and directions for deglazing, sauteeing, chopping, and slicing and good sketches showing how heat works in various kinds of ovens.
Recipes, too, from Salad Nicoise to Blueberry Buckle, popovers, and roast meats. This is a comprehensive, clearly written book with excellent explanations for the principles of cooking.
Modern French Cooking, by Wolfgang Puck, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, $19.95) expresses the philosophy of a creative young chef who believes in simplifying food preparation by undercooking fish and vegetables, using less butter, fewer sauces, and smaller portions attractively arranged.
Austrian born but trained in France, the author uses French techniques but emphasizes fresh American ingredients with a definite California style.
Chef Puck is head teacher at Ma Cuisine Cooking School in Los Angeles and many of the recipes in the book are from Ma Maison Restaurant, where he was a partner with Patrick Terrail.
Chef Puck's new restaurant, Sparga, opens this month on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood.
''Working people in general suffer from a lack of time to plan and shop economically if they like to eat at home, whether it's alone or with a family, ''says Marion Burros, author of Keep it Simple, 30-Minute Meals From Scratch (New York: William Morrow & Co., $11.95).
''Thirty-minute meals are possible but not necessarily easy if you are a rigid person when it comes to cooking,'' she writes.
''It doesn't allow for military precision in chopping, nor for emergency trips to the grocery.
These are some of the suggestions in this new book by the Emmy-award winning broadcaster and consumer writer who provides recipes for meals using fresh, unprocessed foods - that are ready in 30 minutes from the time the first ingredients are taken out of the cupboards.
Pierre Franey's More 60-Minute Gourmet (New York: New York Times Books, $12. 95) goes a step farther than his first book on this subject, written with Craig Claiborne.
Included for the first time are more than 100 completely new menus, plus a chapter on appetizers and one on desserts that can be prepared within the same hour.
As Chef Franey points out, the very soul of a first-rate but hastily made meal, is in its organization, and he tells exactly how to do that in this book.
One of the master chefs in this country, Pierre Franey brought the accolade of best French restaurant in America to Le Pavillion when he was chef there.
His standards are high yet the recipes are clear, making this a book that will be invaluable to busy people who like good food.
Chinese Technique (Simon & Shuster, $16.95) by Ken Hom with Harvey Steiman, modeled after Jacques Pepin's book ''La Technique'' uses over 1,000 pictures to demonstrate the many techniques and skills basic to Chinese cuisine.
Ken Hom, teaches at his own school as well as at the California Culinary Academy, a school for professional chefs.
Born in Arizona, Chef Hom speaks several languages, studied medieval art history and was formerly a professional photographer and free lance television producer.
Harvey Steiman is a food columnist for the San Francisco Examiner and author of ''Great Recipes from San Francisco'' and ''Guide to Restaurants of Greater Miami''.
Photographer Willie Kee is a prize-winning photographer whose credits include seven Emmy Awards.
The book includes over 100 techniques from the basics of using a cleaver to making a complicated dish such as Peking Duck.
Harvey Steinman has done an excellent job of keeping directions clear and well written. There is introductory information on each main subject.