FOOD fads come and go - kiwi fruit one year, oat bran the next. Customs endure, however. And after a few years of eating out, Americans are once again cooking and eating at home. Tighter budgets have taken the glamour out of family restaurant dining, which peaked over the last few years. ``People want the anchor of homemade cooking and they're going back into the kitchen for it,'' says Sheila Lukins, co-author of ``The New Basics Cookbook,'' ``but they need help in learning to cook.'' Those who ate takeout food as teenagers usually had no training in cooking, no grandmother or mother to watch in the kitchen.
``Older cookbooks aren't always efficient for today's beginners,'' Ms. Lukins adds, ``since the pantry is entirely different than it was 20 years ago.''
With Julie Rosso, her partner in the food business, Lukins has produced a book for today's cooks who are low on experience and time. Their book is among a number of cookbooks out just in time for Christmas giving. Some are suitable for beginners while others are geared to the professional cook. A sampling:
The New Basics, by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins (Workman Publishing, $27.95 cloth; $17.95 paper). Here is the newest addition from the authors of the Silver Palate cookbooks that have sold nearly 2 million copies. This practical cookbook was conceived as an everyday kitchen assistant for the '90s.
``We've changed the way we think about food,'' says Lukins, who takes into consideration the availability of ingredients to make this a workable, usable book. ``The New Basics'' contains plenty of imagination and lively art work.
The Mediterranean Kitchen, by Joyce Goldstein (William Morrow, $22.95). Experienced cooking teacher Goldstein creates superb, earthy foods free from pretension and fuss. As she does in her San Francisco restaurant, Square One, she shows her talent for interpreting the American palate in this book.
Her eagerness for authentic cuisine from this ancient region is tempered by a keen, modern eye for what Americans want to cook and eat today. She includes tastes you'll never forget in dishes like Israeli Avocado Salad with Toasted Cumin Vinaigrette; Rosemary Cr^epes with Four Cheeses; and Broccoli and White Bean Soup.
America Eats, by William Woys Weaver (Harper & Row, cloth $30, paper $16.95). Mr. Weaver says his book is about ``connectedness.'' ``The classical folk cookery of early America was based on connectedness, an affiliation with place, a direct link with nature, and a strong bond between people,'' he says. ``A cook who nurtured her own garden was `connected' to the earth and the seasons. Connectedness also implies ties to community and family as well as place.'' Weaver explores the development of culture, hearths, and regional cooking styles, and adapts historical recipes for today's kitchen. A leading food historian, he has written several other books that provide new insights into American food.
The Renaissance of Italian Cooking, by Lorenza de'Medici (Fawcett/Columbine, $30). Born into one of Italy's most distinguished families and married into another, Mrs. de'Medici reveals the refined cooking methods perfected by the great, old Italian families, rather than the peasant cooking many Americans consider Italian.
Lavishly illustrated, the book covers families from 12 regions of Italy. The book contains unforgettable menus including those from a Venetian villa, an 11th-century abbey, a Riviera home, and the palace of an Italian princess.
La Varenne Pratique, by Anne Willan (Crown Publishing Group, $60). Expensive, but this luxurious cookbook for the novice has detailed explanations of techniques and ingredients. You can actually see the consistency of a proper hollandaise sauce or Italian meringue.
``La Varenne Pratique'' includes action photos that take you step by step through a recipe. There are 2,500 excellent color plates, and the amount of research and information is encyclopedic and astounding.
Pomp & Sustenance, by Mary Taylor Simeti (Knopf, $25). Bookish browsing led this writer far afield while restoring her husband's family farmhouse in Sicily during the 1970s. From exploring the past of the area, American-born Simeti has written a cookbook that is an evocative mixture of culinary history, lively reporting, and richly annotated recipes.
The Art Of Mexican Cooking, by Diana Kennedy (Bantam Books, $29.95). Considered the leading authority on Mexican cooking, Ms. Kennedy has spent more than 30 years traveling in Mexico, learning about the food from chefs and home cooks.
This is her fifth book, and she considers it her masterwork. Kennedy shares some secrets of true Mexican flavor: balancing chili flavors with salt and acid; charring them to bring out flavor; using cumin for a light accent.
Cooking With Herbs, by Emilie Tolley and Chris Mead (Clarkson N. Potter, $40). Ms. Tolley's second herb book has ideas gleaned from travels around the world with photographer Chris Mead. Their first book, ``Herbs,'' showed how to grow herbs in gardens, container pots, and kitchen windows.
This book contains hundreds of possibilities for these fragrant, aromatic, useful plants: A Spanish chef combines sage, sole, and noodles, and decorates a lobster salad with rose petals; a Long Island chef uses cilantro and jalapenos with Rock Cornish hens; a Cape Cod cook adds marjoram to osso buco (a veal dish); a garden editor adds sprigs of cinnamon basil to baked apples.
The Pioneer Lady's Country Christmas, by Jane Watson Hopping (Villard Books, $18.95). Here is a nostalgic treasury of warm, comforting kitchen Americana. Ms. Hopping, whose great-grandmother was a pioneer from Kentucky, has put together old-fashioned recipes.
The book also includes poems by the author and others that tell of joyful times as well as tender, lonesome Christmastimes at home in the country. It's the kind of book you'd like to buy a dozen of for friends and family who like to read about country and farm living in the olden days.
Martha Stewart's Christmas, by Martha Stewart (Clarkson N. Potter, $18.95). This writer has not only sold some 18 million of her colorful coffee-table cookbooks since ``Entertaining'' in 1982, but she has also produced a constant series of books with advice on everything from weddings to weeding.
In her Christmas book she continues her series with a colorful array of ideas on entertaining and decorating. Included are tasteful tips on how to make the holiday glitter with gold decorations made at home.
James McNair's Pie Cookbook, by James McNair (Chronicle Books, $10.95). Mr. McNair vows that pies are as American as the Fourth of July, and that no one makes pies better than Americans. In this, his 12th cookbook, he gives us 35 delicious pie recipes with tantalizing pie fillings for all seasons and every occasion.