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Junior League cookbooks from Virginia, Indiana and Texas captured the top three places in the 2004 Tabasco Community Cookbook Awards announced recently.

First place went to "Toast to Tidewater: Celebrating Virginia's Finest Food and Beverages," by the Junior League of Norfolk-Virginia Beach, Va. "Once Upon a Time: Recipes and Recollections From a River City," by the Junior League of Evansville, Ind., came in second, and "Lone Star to Five Star: Culinary Creations for Every Occasion," by the Junior League of Plano, Texas, was third.

The Junior League of Buffalo's cookbook, "Great Lake Effects: Buffalo Beyond Winter and Wings," won a Tabasco award in 1997.

The Tabasco Community Cookbook Awards were created by McIlhenny Co. 15 years ago to recognize outstanding contributions to the nation's culinary and historical heritage.

"Toast to Tidewater" is the second cookbook from the Norfolk-Virginia Beach Junior League, the first being the 1985 award-winner "Tidewater on the Half Shell." The new volume is even better: up-to-date, innovative recipes in 10 chapters, historical notes galore, a riot of color throughout and beautifully presented to the reader. In addition, there is a well-done section on the area's wine history, its wineries and their wines. The recipes in all three books are, in the main, easily prepared, although the call for local ingredients now and then may make a recipe difficult to duplicate. (Perhaps you may not want to: "Once Upon a Time" serves up Brain Sandwiches -- fried pork brains on a hamburger bun, apparently a favorite at an annual Evansville festival.

The offerings in "Lone Star to Five Star" are on a loftier plane, with such entrees as Roasted Pork Tenderloin With Brandied Mushrooms, Herb-Crusted Prime Rib With Port Wine Sauce and Chicken With Pistachio Pesto Pasta.

The three 2004 winning books may be ordered by mail from each Junior League. The addresses and prices, plus the shipping and handling charge for each, are: "Toast to Tidewater," P.O. Box 956, Norfolk, VA 23501 ($27.95 plus $5); "Once Upon a Time," 123 N.W. Fourth St., Suite 422, Evansville, IN 47708 ($24.95 plus $5); "Lone Star to Five Star," 5805 Coit Road, Suite 301, Plano, TX 75093 ($26.95 plus $4.50).

"Toast to Tidewater" offers up this "quick but elegant" recipe, which pairs well with Riesling wines.

Thai Coconut Chicken

1/2 cup crushed peanuts

1 small onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, crushed

1 teaspoon grated lemon peel

1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

4 chicken breasts, weighing approximately 6 ounces each

Olive oil

15 ounces cream of coconut

Soy sauce to taste

Jasmine rice
Mix peanuts, onion, garlic, lemon peel, sugar, salt and cayenne pepper.

Coat chicken with peanut mixture.

Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat.

Cook coated chicken 3 minutes per side in the skillet.

Stir in cream of coconut and soy sauce to taste; cook 10 minutes on low heat or until done.

Serve over cooked jasmine rice.

Makes 4 servings.

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