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Weekly Alibi Books For Cooks

By Gwyneth Doland

DECEMBER 20, 1999:  Several years ago, when my cookbook collection grew past 10 books, I had to move it out of the kitchen. Now these pancake batter-splattered volumes are threatening to take over the bookcase in the dining room. I'm embarrassed to admit just how many there are, exactly, but suffice it to say that I believe they've been mating after lights out. Where else did the International Squid Cookbook come from? I'm not the only one with a passion for cookbooks, though; it seems everyone enjoys them. With cookbooks available on every topic imaginable, a special book can be a decorative touch on a coffee table, an occasional reference tool or a beloved kitchen companion.

Here are some of my suggestions to help fill in the holes in your favorite cook's library. There are a million great books to choose from, but the following is a small selection of books that I have used and loved. It's only a taste to spark your imagination. When you pick out a cookbook, check to see if you recognize the author or if he or she has special qualifications. Look through the recipes. Do they look doable? Are the ingredients available where the recipient lives? Is it well illustrated? Keep an eye out for books that have won James Beard Awards or Julia Child Awards; they're sure bets.

For the beginner

The Joy of Cooking
by Irma S. Rombauer and Marian Rombauer Becker
(Scribner, hardcover, $30)
You've got to have it. This cooking bible covers everything from hamburgers to pancakes to wedding cakes. Rummage around for an older copy, one of the ones that shows you how to skin a beaver and gives the best recipes for bear. Good, honest food and hours of enjoyment.

Simply Simpático: A Taste of New Mexico
(Albuquerque Junior League, hardcover, $16.95)
The recipes in this book, unchanged since 1981, were contributed by Junior League of Albuquerque members and friends, and include a good collection of native dishes. Proceeds go to fund community projects.

American Home Cooking
by Bill and Cheryl Jamison
(Broadway Books, hardcover, $30) Reviewed v8 i46
Local authors Bill and Cheryl Jamison present an enormous volume of regional dishes from New Mexico and around the country. Easy and tasty and worth it.

For the armchair gourmet who enjoys reading about food while single-handedly devouring $63 of takeout sushi

The Food Lovers Companion
by Sharon Tyler Herbst
(Barron's, paper, $13.95)
What is a génoise? What is ghee used for? Where is Gruyére from? This fascinating and invaluable dictionary of food terms, techniques and ingredients answers these questions and more. I use it five times a day.

Food: True Stories of Life on the Road
(Traveler's Tales, paper, $17.95)
This collection of stories will bring back memories of places you've been and give you a glimpse of places far away through the medium of food. Love it.

The Entertainment Book
This coupon book comes out every November and is used by jillions of diners all over the country. For those of you who've never seen one, it comes with hundreds of tear-out coupons for casual and informal dining, as well as a membership card to be used at more upscale restaurants. It costs $35 and is used as a fundraising tool by community groups. Call your favorite charity and ask if they're selling it.

For the aspiring chef

Becoming a Chef
by Andrew Dornenberg and Karen Page
(Van Nostrand Reinhold, paper, $29.95)
This book gives an accurate, if East/West coast-centric idea of what it's like to pursue a culinary career. Also good are their other books, Culinary Artistry and Dining Out.

A Woman's Place is in the Kitchen
by Ann Cooper
(Van Nostrand Reinhold, paper, $29.95)
Through interviews with hundreds of women chefs, this book tells it like it is for women in professional kitchens, good and bad.

The New Making of a Cook
by Madeleine Kamman
(William Morrow & Co., hardcover, $40)
This enormous book by chef and teacher Madeleine Kamman teaches simple tricks and complex techniques, including the whys and hows. It makes for wonderful reading, but may go over some beginners' heads.

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