Books That Would Send Even Scrooge To the Stove

Choosing the best gift cookbooks of 1994 is a daunting task - especially when faced with a pile of possibilities the size of a pitcher's mound. After sifting through the stacks and attempt-ing to focus on a trend, we decided simply to ask ourselves: ``Which 10 would we want to take home?''

Here `s what we came up with:

FOR some expert advice on holiday entertaining, look to Lora Brody, the hostess who thinks of everything. This year, she comes to the rescue with The Entertaining Survival Guide, a follow-up to her immensely popular ``Kitchen Survival Guide.'' The wire-bound trove is geared for the novice, but its useful ideas and encouraging tone are valuable to anyone hoping to avoid disaster and orchestrate a harmonious gathering.

The witty Brody instills a can-do attitude: ``Even take-out food looks great in a nice serving dish'' and ``Remember that someday this will get easier,'' she writes. Suggested menus cover 33 different entertaining situations, from a New Year's Day dinner to a cool-weather brunch buffet.

Morning meals are Ken Haedrich's specialty. The self-professed breakfast romantic created the book Country Breakfasts: Four Seasons of Cozy Morning Meals for contemporary cooks who appreciate wholesome fare but are short on time.

Glance at some of the 175 recipes and fire up the griddle: Blueberry Banana Pancakes, Classic Sour Cream Waffles, Eggs Creole, Cider-Syrup-Glazed Canadian Bacon, Stovetop Potatoes, and more. The appeal of this manageable paperback is in such inviting recipes - presented in a gather-round-the-table tone - which prove that breakfast need not be solely for the a.m. hours.

Fans of Mollie Katzen's enormously successful Moosewood Cookbook won't be disappointed with her latest gift to the vegetarian palate, the recently revised Still Life With Menu Cookbook. Recipes - from potato pancakes to Autumn Vegetable Soup - are as earthy as ever, yet an ethnic emphasis (Pad Thai, Greek Stuffed Eggplant, Turkish Bulgar Pilaf) takes Katzen's collection off the farm and around the globe.

The folksy handwritten text was dropped in this new format, but her same warm tone pervades. Especially handy for the time-strapped (and who isn't?) are ``do-ahead'' notes, and Katzen's own painterly illustrations lend a big boost to the book's appeal.

Katzen's cookbook is not to be confused with Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home: Fast and Easy Recipes for Any Day, which happens to be another one of our favorites. She sold her Ithaca, N.Y., restaurant back in 1979 to the ``Moosewood Collective,'' a group of 18 that has earned its own spot among the elite of vegetarian cookbook authors.

But the collective's fourth published work, with its Mediterranean twist, doesn't stray far from Katzen country. Tucked in the back of the book, a section entitled ``Home at 6, Dinner at 6:30,'' complete with suggested dishes, snatched our attention.

Seeing is believing in Rose Elliot's Classic Vegetarian Cookbook. Publishers Dorling Kindersley know the power of visualization in their cookbooks, which could also be considered ``look books.'' Featuring up-close photographs of ingredients surrounding finished dishes in brilliant color, this book will inspire any cook. Some of the 200 recipes include Spicy Phyllo Pies and Parcels, Striped Vegetable Terrine, Arugula Salad with Flakes of Parmesan, and Vanilla Poached Pears. A lifelong vegetarian, author Elliot says that ``One of the pleasures with vegetarian cooking is that the dishes are flexible. They can play any part in a meal, from supporting role to the main lead.''

Illustrating that concept is Italian-food expert Julia della Croce in The Vegetarian Table: Italy. Organized by course (Antipasti, Primi, Secondi, Contorni e insalate), the book of 80-some recipes and color photos proves that vegetables equal versatility, from Sweet-Pepper Stew to Eggplant-and-Lasagne Casserole. Della Croce's command of Italian cuisine shows in her writing, making this book a good read as well as a useful kitchen companion.

Master chef Giuliano Bugialli presents The Best of Bugialli, featuring more than 60 classic Italian recipes, honed from his 20-plus years as an internationally recognized authority on Italian cuisine. The authentic recipes are a combination of tried-and-true (chosen from Bugialli's two award-winning cookbooks, ``Foods of Italy'' and ``Foods of Tuscany'') and new (never before published). What's nice is that many of these recipes are surprisingly simple -

including Spaghetti with Cauliflower Sauce, Pasta with Zucchini and Shrimp, and Rolled Stuffed Swordfish Cutlets on Skewers.

Mediterranean cuisine may have moved to the back burner since the emergence of today's sizzling-hot trend in ``fusion'' food, but its popularity is hardly on the wane. The bounty of this sun-drenched cuisine is close to the heart of Paula Wolfert, whose revised Mediterranean Cooking is a sampling of recipes learned from village women during her travels. Her focus has shifted south, from northern and central Italy to the lesser-known region of Apulia, the heel of the Italian ``boot.'' Her culinary map also embraces foods of Provence, Turkey, and Tunisia.

Does your fish market smell fishy? Are filets and steaks set on ice? Is the melting ice drained and replaced often? If the answer to any of these questions is no, don't go back, advises Mark Bittman in Fish: The Complete Guide to Buying and Cooking. It's this easy: Buy it right, cook it simply, he writes in this hefty guidebook, which demystifies the often intimidating task of cooking fish at home. Recipes are arranged alphabetically by fish. Unencumbered by esoteric ingredients, they include plenty of alternatives, and appear to average a mere 20 minutes.

Another first-rate fish primer comes from the highly acclaimed husband-and-wife team, Margaret and G. Franco Romagnoli. They are well-versed in the joys of Mediterranean fare, which The Romagnoli's Italian Fish Cookbook brings to the American home. Its more than 200 fish recipes - from antipasti to polenta - introduce the contemporary cook to the Italians' ``large embrace and light touch.''

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