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Book Report: Old standbys make great gifts

Last week I mentioned several notable books of 2011 readers might like to consider when they're out shopping for gifts.

This time I'm trying something different. Normally, I'd suggest new books to give friends and family.

But this year, I'll suggest some old ones, some still in print, others you can easily pick up in used bookstores for bargain prices.

Our household owns about 150 cookbooks, but we regularly use only about a dozen unless an occasion arises that calls for something special.

For instance, I used Craig Claiborne's old "New York Times Cookbook" (Harper & Row) so much that it fell apart.

So I was happy several Christmases ago when my wife trotted off to a used bookstore in St. Paul and presented me with a used but newer edition of pretty much the same book.

Another treasured book, "The Food of Portugal," by Jean Anderson was purchased after a gourmet holiday on the Iberian Peninsula.

Someone borrowed it, never returned it. Last Christmas, my wife presented me with a paperback version published by Morrow.

Other books that are easily available new or used are the following:

My standard baking book is Bernard Clayton's "New Complete Book of Breads" (Simon & Schuster). It's foolproof and, glory be, Clayton tells bakers how to use a standard food processor to knead the dough for every one of his recipes.

I have two dozen Italian cookbooks, but stick pretty close to three that never disappoint:

"Marcella's Italian Kitchen," by Venice food maven Marcella Hazen (Knopf) is a richly illustrated and imaginative cookbook by the grouchy Hazen.

"Lidia's Family Table,"(Knopf) by New York restaurateur Lidia Bastianich, who regularly appears on PBS. This is a good book to have because her TV show has been changed to reflect American versions of Italian food. Not a good idea, unless you like your sauce bright red.

"The Italian Country Table," (Scribner) by Rosetta Lynn Kasper, the Twin Cities Italian food expert is charming and full of good, wholesome recipes."

If you prefer to wander away from Italy, but not too far, I would recommend "Mostly Mediterranean" (Penguin), by Paula Wolfert that covers the Mediterranean area like a blanket and concentrates on the healthy diet of the area.

How about vegetables? Years back I interviewed Russ Morash, producer of the old Julia Child show and of PBS's "Victory Garden."

He was in St. Paul to film a show of that year's national garden winner. If that weren't enough, he gave me a wonderful book, written by his wife Marian Morash, "The Victory Garden Cookbook," (Knopf).

Morash goes alphabetically through all the vegetables in her kitchen garden in Boston, tells you how to plant, tend, harvest and cook vegetables from Artichokes to Zucchini, recipes she uses in her restaurant.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention another category in books about food. That would be books about food, with maybe a few recipes thrown in for good measure.

My favorite in this category has been out of print for years, but pops up in used bookstores. That would be "Wild in the Kitchen," by the late, great Star Tribune columnist Will Jones.

The recipes aren't all that great, but the introductions the humorous Jones writes bear re-reading every year.

Still another is "The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook (Anchor), by Alice B. Toklas, partner of poet and critic Gertude Stein.

This is a quirky little book with recipes for marijuana brownies, chicken stuffed with cottage cheese, Eggs Francois Picabia (1 dozen eggs, 1 pound of butter, 1 double boiler) and "Occupation Meat Loaf," which Alice cooked up during the German occupation when meat was scarce.

If you're not used to reading such whimsical books, you might begin with a recent book, "Secret Ingredients: "The New Yorker Book of Food and Drink," (Random House), edited by David Remnick.

It's full of wonderful essays by the likes of M.F.K. Fisher, John McPhee, A.J. Liebling, Dorothy Parker and Anthony Bourdain.

Editor's Note: In last week's Book Review column the suggestion for Adolescents failed to include the author, it should have read:


"Spellbound," by Red Wing, Minnesota's Jacqueline West, a young writer whose second book about the adventures of Olive Dunwoody, who lives in a haunted house with two rather lamebrained college professor parents.

Dave Wood is a past vice president of the National Book Critical Circle and former book review editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Phone him at 715-426-9544.