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Dig in to some of the year's best food books

Oh yes my dears, they're still publishing cookbooks -- even though we keep hearing dire stories about how no one eats home anymore, and even if a fair amount of cooks get their recipes online.

From late August through November each year, a couple of review copies arrive on my desk each and every day.

Some are winners, but more are not. Sadly, in 2007 there are far too many books written by the people who appear on the Food Network. You sometimes get the idea that the only reason they appear on camera is to shop their books and signature kitchen utensils.

There are also the usual cookbooks meant to help people who want a miraculous way to lose weight.

And let us not forget the "rehash for cash" trend. There are always new printings of old cookbooks with new covers. Let's avoid those.

Instead, here is an overview of what we consider the best culinary books of 2007. None is cheap, but you won't go wrong if you buy any of the choices below -- either for yourself or as a gift.

"How To Cook Everything Vegetarian" by Mark Bittman (Wiley, $35.) A follow-up to one of best all-purpose cookbooks out there ("How To Cook Everything, 1998), this is a treasure house of meatless recipes. You want to know how to make fresh cheese? You want great pasta? You want simple yogurt sauce? Be Bittman's guest.

And what's more, you won't have to work too hard. Bittman's recipes are sensible and tempting. No attempts to be overly clever here.

"Vegetable Harvest" by Patricia Wells (William Morrow, $34.95). Great for both gardeners and cooks. Recipes for tempting dishes with a French touch -- but not too French if you know what I mean. This is not a meatless book. There are recipes for Braised Beef with Carrots, for example, and Roast Leg of Lamb with Honey and Mint Crust. Distinctive food.

"Lidia's Italy" (Knopf, $35.) Lidia Matticchio Bastianich is a favorite Italian cooking authority for many people, this reporter included. And so her new book written with her daughter-in-law, Tanya Bastianich Manuali, is a predictable delight.

It's part travelogue, part recipes -- with the daughter-in-law telling you what you should see in 10 of Italy's regions and what you would eat there.

Good for armchair travelers and cooks.

"The Art of Simple Food: Notes, Lessons, and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution" by Alice Waters (Clarkson Potter, $35) is also worth your consideration since it's been written by the woman who revolutionized American food in the last decade. It is a little disorganized but the recipes are indeed simple; technique is thoroughly dealt with, too.
"The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food" by Judith Jones (Knopf, $24.95). Before Alice Waters came along, there was Julia Child and her watershed book "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" (1970). The woman who was responsible for the publication of that masterpiece was none other than Judith Jones, senior editor and vice president at Alfred A. Knopf publisher. This is her memoir.

Jones, who is in her early 80s, has what you might call an "eye" (and a palate). She has been responsible for cookbooks by Marcella Hazan, Madhur Jaffrey and other giants. But she was also responsible for the publication of "The Diary of Anne Frank," and is still the editor for nonculinary types like John Updike and Anne Tyler.

Jones grew up in an upscale home where it was considered rude to talk about food. She developed her culinary interest while living in Paris when Paris was very much the center of the gastronomical world. She even ran an illegal restaurant in that city for a time.

Her book is delightful. I particularly salute her dedication to actually cooking for herself, though she lives alone now. But no frozen pot pies here. And yes, it's full of easy to make, non-fussy recipes, too.

"Roast Chicken and Other Stories" by Simon Hopkinson with Lindsey Bareham (Hyperion, $$24.95.) Hopkinson is a Brit -- he was the first chef at the highly acclaimed Bibendom restaurant in London -- and this book, adjusted for the American audience with American measurements, actually pushed "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" off the best-seller list when it was published in Great Britain in 2005.

The book is s delightfully opinionated since he gives recipes that he personally is fond of, and it's delightfully charming. Even if you don't cook, it's a fun read.

And finally, what should I tell you about "My Last Supper: 50 Great Chefs and Their Final Meals, Portraits, Interviews and Recipes" by Melanie Dunyea (Bloomsbury, $39.95.) It's a coffee table book -- for only the grandest of coffee tables. The photographs by the author are what the book is all about. But they are fabulous photographs of the different chefs.

This is a version of the "What would you eat if it was your last meal on earth?" game. And so you get all the great chefs answering the question -- Ferran Adria ("I would drink Champagne because Champagne is magic") and Anthony Bourdan (Roast Bone Marrow with Parsley and Caper Salad) and Thomas Keller ("I would like all the chefs from the French Laundry and Bouchon to prepare my final meal," and anyone else you've ever heard of plus some you haven't and you get recipes, too. For your favorite foodie -- who, come to think of it, might be yourself.


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