Books worth leaving the beach for

One look at these latest cookbooks and you might rather spend a day at the stove than the shore.

OK, time out. Lighten up. Time to put down a certain New York senator's tell-a-bit book and reach for something you can really sink your teeth into.

There's a fresh crop of cookbooks out there, some of which are downright droolable. Others offer a seasonal flair that will nudge you off your beach blanket and beckon you back to the kitchen.

Here are just a few that whet our appetite:

The poor Blanchards. They have to divide their time between the cool, verdant Vermont mountains and the palm-shaded beaches of Anguilla. But wait: Before you rush off a CARE package of Ramen noodles to the Caribbean, they do appear to be eating well.

In Melinda and Robert Blanchard's At Blanchard's Table, A Trip to the Beach Cookbook (Clarkson Potter, $32.50), the peripatetic pair, with the help of their local island staff, set the table for us at their Anguilla restaurant.

Melinda, a self-taught cook, sets out delicious dishes with simplicity and deftness. Poultry recipes are among the most appealing. Calypso Chicken With Lime and Coconut Curried Chicken meld the best of island flavors, while Pan-Roasted Chicken With Lemon, Olives, and Rosemary sets a more Mediterranean tone. Just save room for their White Chocolate and Apricot Bread Pudding With Apricot Sauce made with fresh, flaky croissants.

The Blanchards give an occasional nod to their New England roots with Vermont Cheddar Soup and Cinnamon Maple Wonton Crisps.

Ben Fink enriches the venue with sun-drenched photographs as bright as a ripe yellow papaya.

Feeling the heat? Let's sail north to Norway.

In Kitchen of Light (Artisan, $35), chef Andreas Viestad breaks the ice on an often overlooked cuisine. My Swedish parents would have devoured his book.

Here are all the ingredients that graced our family smorgasbord each Christmas Eve - but in reincarnations no one would recognize.

Fish, of course, takes center stage. But where we had poached halibut or salmon mousse, Mr. Viestad serves up Vanilla-Scented Halibut With Asparagus and Hollandaise and Honey- Mustard-Marinated Salmon With Rosemary Apples.

Where we supped on a simple roast pork stuffed with prunes and pears, Viestad offers Prune-Stuffed Meatballs With Beet Salad and Pears With Ginger, Juniper Berries, and Caraway Cream.

If food is the soul of "Light," Viestad's family reminiscences and occasional nuggets of history - along with Mette Randem's exquisite photographs - illuminate the life and warmth of this hauntingly beautiful land and exquisite cuisine.

This book accompanies the public-television series "New Scandinavian Cooking With Andreas Viestad."

I remember those warm summer evenings when we'd line up outside Legal Sea Foods' first restaurant in Inman Square in Cambridge, Mass. Because the wait could be long, my date would get in line while I grabbed a paper plate stacked with shucked oysters from the restaurant's adjoining fish market. The wait was almost as memorable as dinner.

About three decades later, Legal Sea Foods has expanded (as have I). And now, with 26 restaurants scattered throughout seven East Coast states, comes another classic cookbook from Legal's kitchens.

In The New Legal Sea Foods Cookbook, (Broadway Books, $26), Roger Berkowitz, president and CEO of the restaurant chain, and cookbook writer Jane Doerfer have netted 200 recipes, many that have made the Boston-based eatery an American institution.

Along with such classics as Clam Chowder - a staple at the past six presidential inauguration dinners - Coquilles Saint-Jacques, and Bluefish Paté, they tempt us with such cross-cultural dishes as Shrimp and Avocado Quesadilla and Crabmeat and Artichoke Hushpuppies.

The most commonly available fin and shellfish are described and detailed.

Even the mythical scrod is demystified. (Scrod is simply a name given to young cod or haddock.)

Accompanying most of the recipes are workable substitutions - when, for instance, swordfish can be replaced by halibut when the former isn't available.

Edward Koren's whimsical, squiggly cartoons are a perfect foil in this otherwise serious book.

In From the Cook's Garden (Morrow, $29.95), Ellen Ecker Ogden brings us down-to-earth in the land of bountiful. She and her husband, Shepherd, own America's premier organic-seed catalog, The Cook's Garden, in Londonderry, Vt. In their 10-acre farm and test gardens in Burlington, Vt., they grow pink eggplants, purple potatoes, green zebra tomatoes, a host of heirloom vegetables, and whatever organic vegetables, fruits, and flowers they can find.

Color woodcut illustrations by Mary Azarian bring a perfect down-on-the-farm warmth to the pages of this indispensable book for the home cook and gardener.

When I was growing up, there was always a choice of desserts at home: canned pears or canned peaches. I should have lived next door to David Lebovitz.

In Ripe for Dessert: 100 Outstanding Desserts With Fruit: Inside, Outside, Alongside (Harper Collins, $34.95), the author says unequivocally, "My passion is fruit." No kidding.

Mr. Lebovitz cut his sweet tooth on cherry pits and peach stones at Alice Waters's legendary Chez Panisse. For 12 years, he served as pastry chef at the Berkeley, Calif., restaurant.

Although there is the occasional simple offering here, most recipes are for those willing (and able) to spend as much time preparing dessert as they would a three-course meal.

The first few chapters are devoted to useful instructions on chocolate, cookware, techniques, and selecting and storing tropical and local fruits.

With time, patience, and practice, maybe you, too, can dazzle your guests with an ethereal repast of Mango Napoleons With Lime Custard and Coconut Flatties.

When your sweet tooth cries "uncle," you might turn to his recipe for Gingery Lemonade.

For those who share David's passion for fruit desserts, this book is a plum.

If you're looking for eminently doable recipes, there's The Way We Cook, by Sheryl Julian and Julie Riven (Houghton Mifflin, $27).

For more than 20 years, the pair has brightened the pages of The Boston Globe's Sunday magazine section with their carefully selected and tested recipes.

For an old-fashioned favorite with a creative twist, they might suggest Meat Loaf With Roast Potato Topping or New England Boiled Dinner With Glazed Corned Beef. Dishes destined to become contemporary classics include Smoky Corn Chowder, Turkey Boulangère, and Chicken Breasts With Ricotta and Herbs.

These are the no-nonsense recipes your grandchildren will remember you for.

Although the straightforward, black-and-white photos mirror the simple honesty of the recipes, I miss those beautifully styled color photographs that add so much eye candy to Ms. Julian and Ms. Riven's Globe column.

Another newspaper food writer appears on cookbook shelves this year. But Amanda Hesser's Cooking for Mr. Latte: A Food Lover's Courtship, With Recipes (W.W. Norton, $23.95), is in a category all its own.

The New York Times reporter and columnist delivers the same style as her previous book "The Cook and the Gardener," weaving inviting recipes into delightful first-person prose. But this time she writes about her courtship with her now-husband, Tad Friend, who committed what she considers a major faux pas when he ordered a latte after dinner on their first (blind) date.

Thus begins her campaign to reform the way he eats, cooks, and orders at the upscale New York restaurants, where they share a table with such savvy diners as Vogue food critic Jeffrey Steingarten and Ms. Hesser's colleagues from the "Dining Out" section.

Abundantly talented, Hesser is often called the next M.F.K. Fisher. At the speed her star has been rising, such praise no longer seems too generous.

Food editor Jennifer Wolcott contributed to this report.

Almond Cake

You can bake this cake in two flat 8-inch cake pans, a 9-inch springform pan, or a Bundt pan. Don't panic if the cake caves in. 'The center always sinks like a well, but it's OK,' writes Amanda Hesser in 'Cooking for Mr. Latte.' This cake can be stored out of the refrigerator. It improves with age and can be made one to two weeks ahead.

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened, plus more for buttering pan
1 cup sour cream, at room temperature
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1-1/2 cups sugar
7-ounce tube almond paste, contents cut into small pieces
4 egg yolks, at room temperature
1 teaspoon almond extract
Confectioners' sugar, for sifting over cake

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Generously butter sides and bottoms of pan or pans. Mix together the sour cream and baking soda in a small bowl. Sift the flour and salt into another bowl.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle, cream the 2 sticks of butter and the sugar until fluffy. Add the almond paste, a little at a time, at medium speed, and beat for 8 minutes. Beat in the egg yolks, one at a time, and mix until incorporated. It will look curdled; don't worry. Blend in the almond extract and sour cream mixture. Reduce mixer speed to low and gradually add the flour mixture, just until blended.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly. Bake about 45 minutes if baking in 2 pans; 1 hour in 1 pan. The cake is done when you press the top and it returns to its shape, and also shrinks from the sides of the pan. Remove from the oven and place on a baking rack to cool in the pan. When ready to serve, sift confectioners' sugar on top and slice like a pie.

Serve with whipped cream and fresh berries.

Serves 10.

- From 'Cooking for Mr. Latte: A Food Lover's Courtship, With Recipes,' by Amanda Hesser

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