by Danny Meyer and Michael Romano

Foodies can tuck right into these dishes-to-die-for from the Union Square Cafe in New York City. Chef Michael Romano finds his inspiration in the rustic flavors of Mediterranean cooking (lemons, olives, garlic) and the bountiful array of fresh produce on sale at the farmers market just steps away from his lively eatery. This is not fussy fare. The longer recipes in the collection of appetizers, soups, salads, main courses and desserts are divided into manageable steps so that even the novice can triumph. The introduction is practical, and the tips on pairing wines with food are unpretentious. (HarperCollins, $30)

by Martha Stewart

Ready for a pink-peony dinner party or a Tuscan outdoor buffet? You may be once you open this new production from Stewart, whose magazine Living is published by Time Inc., the owner of PEOPLE. Organized around such theme menus as a North Carolina Barbecue (Roquefort potato salad, stew and slaw), a Small But Special Baby Shower (brown-sugar cookies and coconut ice cream) and, naturally, ideas for celebrating Christmas, Martha lends her unrivaled ambience to each page. The dishes are not daunting to fix despite an occasional exotic ingredient like 10-inch organic grass (this is Martha, after all). Toss in luscious photos (by Dana Gallagher) of cozy rooms, golden children and creative table settings, and you've got a must-have for Martha fanciers. (Crown, $30).

by Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby

Consider seasoning the next shrimp you slip on the barbie with such potent spices as cumin and cayenne pepper. That's just one red-hot suggestion from the authors of The Thrill of the Grill in this big guide to the pleasures of spicy coatings, marinades and cooking techniques popular in such sunny countries as Greece, Indonesia and Morocco. This amiable book offers clear instructions for preparing and serving (not to mention locating hard-to-find ingredients). Overall, here's the source for those who like their food fired with flavor. (Morrow, $27.50)

by Viana La Place

Sandwiches, snacks and light meals Italian-style translate into crusty breads stuffed, toasted and topped with color: yellow and orange peppers, dark sauteed greens, pink prosciutto, red tomatoes. Expect the unexpected when bread paired with dark chocolate, sugared fruit and creamy cheese turns into dessert. These tempting delights are almost as easy to make as they are lovely to look at in La Place's perfect little book. (Hearst, $20)

by Pierre Franey and Richard Flaste

This companionable guide to Franey's PBS series is a book for the bedside as well as the kitchen. Franey meanders through France visiting friends in vineyards, relations on farms and colleagues in bistros and stops off to learn about cheese making, truffle hunting and the production of walnut oil. The recipes he gathers en route—some improvised in friends' kitchens (rabbit marinated in Ricard and roasted), some gleaned from France's most illustrious chefs (Bernard Loiseau's snails in garlic)—are lucid and enticing. (Knopf, $30)

by Helen Chen

by Rosa Lo San Ross

Chen, daughter of culinary star Joyce Chen, defines Home Cooking (Hearst, $25) as simple stir-fries and steamed dishes. But her book also includes restaurant specials like Kung Pao chicken, egg rolls and Szechuan noodles. The well-illustrated chapters on techniques, ingredients and equipment almost make the reader forget the sour taste left by Helen's repeated plugs for Joyce Chen products. (Helen is president of the family cookware and specialty foods company.)

And if you've never gotten around to using that wok you received as a wedding present, you need only turn to this new volume in the popular 365 series (HarperCollins, $17.95), with its laminated covers and lay-flat binding. It's filled with easy stir-fries (many of them vegetarian) that even the cooking impaired should be able to master.

by Chris Styler and Bill Hodge

The best food is simple food, made in ways people can relate to," declare these two down-home guys who actually have years of professional experience as cooks and food consultants. Here they display an assortment of recipes that work without expensive ingredients or complicated maneuvers. All the food groups are represented in such familiar dishes as meat loaf and mashed potatoes, with enough variations to make them worth a try. (Hearst, $20)

by Jane Brody with Richard Flaste

Hoping to help the American cook overcome pescaphobia ("fear of fish"), Brody, The New York Times' health columnist, answers a school of seafood questions—from is it fresh to when is it done? Then she applies low-fat but flavorful cooking techniques to the catch of the day. Brody's bible is a wise choice for newcomers who want to distinguish their cod from their catfish and for seasoned cooks who want to expand their repertoires. (Norton, $27.50)

by Dick and Sandy St. John

If you're hankering for some good ol' country cooking with a little star flavoring, look no further than these finger-lickin' faves from the likes of Tanya Tucker (corn-bread), Randy Travis (pecan pie) and Tammy Wynette (old-fashioned tea cakes). And where else would you find the secrets of Billy Ray Cyrus's achy-breaky garlic bread sticks or Ray Stevens's beanie wienies? Waist watchers may want to sidestep the recipes with ingredients like Cool Whip, Crisco and Karo syrup, but what junk-food junkie can resist Clint and Lisa's burritos? Proceeds from sales will benefit down-and-out musicians. (General Publishing Group, $19.99)"

by Paula Wolfert

Wolfert, an award-winning food writer, once again demonstrates her insatiable appetite for research with encyclopedic accounts of Byzantine ways to approach such Mediterranean staples as lamb, yogurt and lentils. Nor does she ignore less familiar fare like pomegranates, quinces and sumac (astringent red berries, often crushed as a garnish). Cooks who are new to this ancient cuisine will find Wolfert an indispensable if sometimes wordy guide. (HarperCollins, $30)

by Regis Philbin & Kathie Lee Gifford with Barbara Albright

With a tone as perky as their morning show, Reege and his perpetually sunny sidekick chitchat about parties they have tossed and attended, dispense advice—some of it obvious (when you send an invitation, they instruct, make sure to include the date and time)—and introduce dishes that suit the year's holidays. The recipes—good, bad and dubious—are culled from friends, family and guests who have appeared on the show. The best fare is from food professionals like Jean-Georges Vongerichten, who offers the secrets of Thai cuisine. But cooks may think twice about the recipe for sweet-and-sour chicken made with apricot preserves, Russian dressing and onion-soup mix. (Hyperion, $19.95)

by Richard Sax

Now this is comfort food. Sax, a food columnist and former chef, spent 10 years gathering recipes from around 11 the world and out of the past (19th-century cookbooks and unpublished manuscripts) for his definitive collection of 350 desserts. The result: a loving tribute to the pleasures of plain-Jane cobblers, crisps, puddings, pies and cakes. These cozy sweets—with their rich mix of pure vanilla, real butter and fragrant spices—are the stuff of dreams and the beginnings of family ritual. (Chapters, $29.95)

by Marilyn M. Moore

To feed the Cookie Monster in all of us, Moore has assembled 100 simple recipes that call for ingredients present in most kitchen cupboards. The neophyte baker will find the chapter on equipment and baking methods a good place to start. (Atlantic Monthly Press, $15)

by Chuck Williams and Kristine Kidd

Gifts from the kitchen—provided you can cook—are often a sweet treat for the holiday season, but where to begin? In this new edition in the Williams-Sonoma Kitchen Library, Kidd, an editor at Bon Appétit, suggests caramel-nut popcorn, pecan-molasses toffee or hazelnut amaretti for starters. On the savory side, how about lemon-spice olives or peach vinegar? Never mind the calories; each easy-to-follow recipe fits on a single page, and the photographs of the finished products look good enough to eat. (Time-Life, $14.95)

>THE GREAT FOOD ALMANAC by Irena Chalmers

Did you know that there are 100,000 taste buds on the surface of a catfish tongue? That the largest clam on record weighed 750 pounds? That a teaspoon of dry sugar may halt the hiccups? Well, now you do, thanks to Chalmer's Almanac, subtitled A Feast of Facts from A to Z. This snappy volume brims with such arcana, along with recipes, notes on preparing, serving and storing; booklists and mail-order sources; health tips; and odd bits of lore. Whether you're curious about what keeps a Twinkie fresh (a combination of additives including sodium stearyl lactylate and calcium caseinate), looking for just the right edible term of endearment (how about honey-bun, sweetie-pie or my little cabbage?) or grazing for obscure stats to impress your date (Americans eat 90 acres of pizza per day), this is the source. From subjects as diverse as Animal Rights and Aphrodisiacs to Yogurt and ZZZ-Bed-time Snacks, Chalmers' Almanac has enough ingredients to satisfy the pickiest food fan. (Collins, $25)

  • Contributors:
  • Lisa Greissinger,
  • Louisa Ermelino,
  • V.R. Peterson,
  • Ben Harte,
  • Maria Speidel,
  • Kristin McMurran.