Promise most anything, but give a book to the cook
This year's crop of cookbooks offers a great number of special books on individual foods and ethnic cuisines and there are also some general recipe collections by well-known cooking authorities.
They add up to a tremendous variety and assortment from which to choose cookbooks for holiday giving or for your own pleasure and education. Here are some with more than routine interest.
For celebrity chasers, literary or culinary, Jane Grigson's book, Food With the Famous, (Atheneum, $15) is a collection of beautifully written profiles of people such as Claude Monet, Marcel Proust, and Thomas Jefferson with recipes for dishes and foods mentioned in their journals, letters, paintings or novels.
Starting with John Evelyn, one of the founding fathers of the English garden and a great champion of the salad, she goes on to Parson James Woodforde, who kept a record of almost everything he ate over a period of more than 25 years.
Like her interesting Vegetable Book (Atheneum 1979), this is more than simply a cookbook. Beginning with the more limited fare available in country parishes, the book progresses to the rich variety of foods found in France during the 19th and 20th centuries.
French Cuisine For All (Doubleday & Company, $19.95) by Louisette Bertholle, is a handsome volume with new cooking techniques and recipes culled from a collection of 1686 recipes from 350 starred French restaurants which she recently surveyed and studied.
Madame Bertholle who was co-author with Julia Child and Simone Beck of "Mastering the Art of French Cooking", evaluates the subtle variations that give the new French cuisine its distinction.
She offers all kinds of advice on such things are her preference for mousselines and unmolded souffles which can wait before serving, rather than the capricious, classical souffles, and on homemade aromatic oils and vinegars that can make a personal and distinctive statement.
Classical sauces for fish, meat, game and vegetables have not been neglected but she has added some of her own "little sauces" which are simple and easy to make, including her own "jus lie", a much lighter sauce than the classic sauce from which it derives.
Classic Indian Cooking by Julie Sahni (Wm. Morrow & Co., $15.95) gives you Indian food in all its rich variety with many economical dishes. She not only explains things like how to tell the difference between French clarified butter and Indian, how to roast cumin seeds and how to make the wonderful Indian breads like whole wheat chapati, but she tells why.
Some of the recipes are Sweet Banana and Yogurt Salad; spicy, Herbed Split Peas; Beef with Fragrant Spinach Sauce; Indian Cheese Fritters and Stuffed Cabbage Rolls with Ginger-Lemon Sauce.
The Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cokkbook (Hearst Books, $19.95) edited by Zoe Coulson, contains recipes streamlined to assure accuracy; they involve the least possible number of steps and the fewest utensils, yet taste and flavor are dominant factors.
Many reflect interest in today's light eating and in ethnic dishes. All are complete on one page with no need to refer to other parts of the book for integral steps. Basic information is complemented by unusual tips such as how to cut a coconut and how to speed cooking for Brussels sprouts.
The many step-by-step sketches and handsome color pictures make this a basic book for part time cooks, busy cooks and beginners.
Souffles, Mousses, Jellies and Creams by Robert Ackart, (Atheneum, $11.95) has a subtitle, A Collection of Light and Easy Recipes For Main Courses and Desserts. A beginner cook can learn easily from these careful and correct recipes divided into sections on souffles, mousses, jellies and creams. And an experienced cook will recognize that the master recipes in each section provide a fine basis for improvisation.
The Cook Book by Terence and Caroline Conran (Crown, $30) is a handsome, large, beautifully illustrated book of about 400 pages, a reference book with an amazing amount of information about food.
The format is unusual, divided as it is into four main sections charting the progress of food from market to kitchen and the table. Novices can explore any subject in depth, while an experienced cook can easily find just the information required.
Recipes are good, some very simple, a few more challenging such as quenelles de brochet and leg of lamb stuffed with kidneys. But in the main recipes are at a level that one can live with. Although the book was written for a British audience, recipes have been adjusted to American measurements.
Terence Conran is the owner of the furniture-design Habitat Shops and a restaurant in London's Covent Garden. Caroline Conran, a well-known English cookery writer, has several cookbooks and is known for her work on the translation and editing of "Cuisine Minceur" and "Cuisine Gourmande" by Michel Guerard and "Cuisine of the Sun" by Roger Verge.
Probably the best of the spiral-bound cookbooks this season is the Yankee Church Supper Cookbook (Yankee Inc., $9.95). Collected by the publishers of Yankee Magazine and The Old Farmer's Almanac, the recipes are from churches all over the Northeast and include dishes in all categories plus a special chapter of recipes to feed a crowd.
For the most part they are individual recipes by cooks who have improved on family favorites or devised their own time-saving combinations.
Shepherd's Pie with a souffle potato; Chicken with Sour Cream; Molasses Cookies baked on a heated cookie sheet are a few along with many others for berry pies, chowders and casseroles made with country foods.
Sugar is called a bully among seasoners in Herbs and Spices (McGraw Hill, $19 .95). As soon as there was plenty of sugar available, years ago, it became so popular that many favorite but less agressive spices began to disappear. The sugar story is part of the history of man's efforts through the ages in the pursuit of flavor, as it is captured in this comprehensive book based on the expertise of celebrated columnist Waverly Root, cookbook authors Nika Hazelton and Paula Wolfert, and gardening expert Roy Genders.
Extensive data on the planting, cultivation, harvesting, drying and storage of culinary herbs and spices is given but it is by no means overly technical.
Herb plots suggested will intrigue any gardener into immediately making plans for next spring. Cooking instructions start with simple explanations of sweet herbs, pot herbs, salad pot herbs, salad herbs, fine herbs and herb bouquets.
Recipes by Paula Wolfert encompass a variety of dishes from a whole spectrum of cuisines, not all meant for timid eaters, but none too hot.
There are chef's tips on the best combinations of foods and seasoners, and the book also shows how herbs and spices define the taste and style of national cuisines from France, and Italy to China, Africa, India and the Anglo-Saxon world.
A one-volume collection of three of Mrs. David's previous books is available this year, Elizabeth David Classics (Knopf, $15.95) and includes "French Country Cooking," "Summer Food," and "Mediterranean Cooking." There is also a 5-volume paperback set from Penguin ($16.40) including the three titles above as well as "Italian Food" and "French Provincial Cooking.
Taking fish seriously is the underlying theme of Cooking Fish and Shellfish by Ruth A. Spear (Doubleday, $16.95). Her book is crammed with helpful information for handling and cooking all kinds of fish and shellfish with both family recipes and special party dishes. The chapter of 22 fish soups and stews are exceptionally good.
A pleasant, informal writing style laced with anecdotes makes good reading and the result is a valuable cookbook that can make cooking fish exciting as well as efficient.
Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art by Shizuo Tsuji, (Kodansha, $14.95) is the first very complete and serious work on Japanese cooking, surprising because although there are hundreds of Chinese cookbooks in English, Americans for the most part have not yet delved very deeply into Japanese cooking at home. This book is a good reason to start.
The author runs a cooking school in Osaka where 2,000 professional chefs are turned out each year. Translated by Mary Sutherland the book is arranged with recipes in groups according to cooking techniques.
The author also covers in depth such aspects of this cuisine as how to plan meals with the correct flavors and contrasts and how to time meals and present them with the artistic beauty that is so typically Japanese.
For those who compare cheescakes in every restaurant they visit, The Joy of Cheesecake (Barron's, $11.95) will be The authors, Jeremy Iggers, food editor of the Detroit Free Press, and Dana Bovbjerg, who worked his way through college as a cook and baker, offer more than 75 imaginative recipes, such as Blue Bottom Pie, Dark Chocolate Cheesecake, Kiwi Cheesecake, and Dutch, Hungarian and Italian cheecakes.
There are helpful introductory chapters on ingredients, equipment and techniques before one actually begins to make a cake -- and the first decision is what type of crust?
It could be basic crumb, or nut or a variety of others. And although the authors feel you can't beat the taste of creamy white cheescake by itself, they tempt you with recipes for lemon and strawberry glazes and pineapple and dark sweet cherry toppings. The full page color photographs will send you straight into the kitchen with book in hand.
More books for the cook will be reviewed next week.m