''If this is the only cookbook you're going to own, will it do the job for you?'' A good question to ask yourself when you buy your first cookbook, according to Barbara Tober, editor-in-chief of Bride's magazine. And it's obviously a question the editors of Bride's considered carefully in planning their basic cookbook and entertaining guide for the newly married.
To be truly all-purpose, a cookbook needs to address what Mrs. Tober calls the dichotomy in eating today. ''Some nights,'' she explains, ''you'll only have a half hour between work and your French class or your racquetball game. So you're probably going to use some form of fast food. But when you're entertaining, you want a more leisurely meal.''
This unique guide handles both halves of the dichotomy in a thorough and logical fashion. Addressing both spouses equally, Part 1 gets newlyweds off to an orderly start with hints on equipping and stocking their first kitchen. This section includes a useful comparison of cookware types, from cast iron to copper , and the advantages of each. There are also several inventory lists, a glossary of cooking terms, and tips on freezing foods.
Part 2 covers the basics of preparing convenient and appetizing everyday meals. Among the book's handiest features are tables that list buying tips and cooking instructions for every sort of meat, vegetable, fruit, or herb. These tables are more comprehensive, quicker to locate, and easier to read than those in most cookbooks.
Part 3 goes on to the fun of planning and preparing formal and informal dinners, buffets, brunches, cookouts, and dessert parties. It includes menus for all occasions, formal and informal party etiquette, and how-tos on all the trimmings: invitations, table service, decorating, fancy garnishes, and napkin-folding. Taking into account the busy schedules of today's two-career couples, the book outlines a two-week countdown that breaks party preparation into manageable chunks. This section on entertaining, unusually complete for a cookbook, puts ''Bride's Lifetime Guide'' in a class by itself.
Throughout the book the selection of recipes reflects the eclectic tastes of young people today.
Along with traditional favorites like All-American Beef Stew, zucchini bread, and Chocolate Chip Cookies, there are exotic dishes like Spiced Peanut Noodles, Mango Supreme, and tangy Goat Cheese Tart.
With all it has going for it, ''Bride's Lifetime Guide to Good Food and Entertaining'' has a couple of minuses that may keep it from being the cookbook of choice for today's young couples. One is the too-sparing use of photographs. The modest section of 16 photos, while artfully done, doesn't even have captions to identify the foods pictured.
A generous use of photos would have made the book both more instructive and more inspiring.
The paucity of pictures is all the harder to understand in light of the book's whopping price. At $25, it is $8 to $10 more than several good competing cookbooks, one of which has excellent photos on nearly every page.
But getting back to our original question, if the ''Bride's Lifetime Guide'' were to be your only cookbook, would it do the job for you?
The answer, despite its price tag and a ''C'' for visual appeal, is a confident yes.