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A grab bag of cookbooks for the new year

By Phyllis Hanes, Special to The Christian Science MonitorPhyllis Hanes is the Monitor's food editor. / December 26, 1984

THE beginning of the year is probably the best time to buy a new cookbook - not because some prices have been reduced, but because the selection is so complete.

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Since many cookbooks are expensive, it makes good sense to take time in choosing one for your own use. Make sure you will find the recipes usable, see that you'll be able to learn some new methods or techniques, and check that the recipes are clear and easy to read and that there's a good index. Here are some books to consider:

In Madeleine's Kitchen, by Madeleine Kamman (Atheneum, $19.95 until January, then $22.95). Challenging, charismatic, and sometimes controversial, this author combines French cooking, food chemistry, and her own contemporary approach in classes and in a new restaurant at Glen, N.H.

The central focus of Ms. Kamman's technique is improvisation. The freedom of the cook is stressed in this book, which the author says is for all cooks - home cooks, fancy cooks, professionals, or beginners.

Along with excellent charts, diagrams, and some old-fashioned recipes, the book includes opinions on food fashions such as balsamic vinegar, red peppers, and Chinese influences.

Ms. Kamman offers simplified methods of making comfit and modern sauces to go with preserved meats and directions on how to taste a sauce as well as make it. She tells how to cook lobster in a microwave oven.

Food for Friends, by Barbara Kafka (Harper & Row, $19.95). Barbara Kafka is a sophisticated New Yorker, but here is the only new cookbook with directions and recipes for old-fashioned roasts - roast beef, roast chicken, roast leg of lamb or pork, and roast turkey with sauerkraut stuffing.

The recipes here show the originality and vitality of this much-sought-after food consultant.

Speedy cooking and good company are important to Ms. Kafka, but she also has a touch of country about her when she talks about her garden in Vermont and growing herbs in the shade.

This isn't a course in cooking but rather a collection of international recipes and practical tips written in an amusing, entertaining manner.

Oysters: A Culinary Celebration, by Joan Reardon and Ruth Ebling (Parnassus Imprints, $25). People who like their oysters fresh, cold, and raw on the half shell may wonder at a book full of so many things to do with this delicious seafood.

Whether reading about them on the half shell, fried, baked, or grilled, you will enjoy the way these authors tell of the oyster's history from the time the Romans discovered the flavor of Colchester oysters in the Thames River to the changing role oysters played in America - from the wigwams of the Indians to the private dining rooms of Delmonico's restaurant.

So even if oysters are a rare treat at your table, you can enjoy this book with its well-chosen quotations, anecdotes, and commentary. The authors did their research and testing for this delightful collection of old and new recipes on the shores of Cape Cod.

Nothing Fancy, by Diana Kennedy (Dial Press, $18.95) is a personal book, with descriptions of testing recipes in an ecological adobe house in the Mexican mountains, of cooking with rainwater stored in a tank, of baking mushrooms for a special mushroom soup, of spending days making pate, and of preparing things in stages and letting them mature.

Yes, Ms. Kennedy believes in taking time to cook - and also in cooking with your heart in it. Her book reflects this sentiment, as she writes about the kind of food she grew up with and which she prepares for her own comfort and pleasure.