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Some books right at home on kitchen counter or bedroom nightstand.

Byline: COOKBOOKS By Kim Davaz For The Register-Guard

There is a place on my kitchen counter where the cookbooks I use most often are kept. There is the "Betty Crocker" book that was a wedding present. There are two old versions of "Joy of Cooking" with threadbare bindings; "The Silver Palate" books; a very fragile-from-use "The Frog Commissary Cookbook"; the disintegrating "Betty Crocker Cookie Book" that was a Christmas present from my parents in 1966; plus others that rotate in and out from a tall bookshelf that holds books I refer to often.

That bookshelf holds everything I own by Julia Child, Nigella Lawson and Donna Hay. It holds books by Sarah Leah Chase and Marcella Hazan. Two shelves are devoted to baking. They've all been on the easy-to-reach counter spot of honor. My cookbooks get around.

Some cookbooks are held in high esteem simply for one recipe. It doesn't mean there aren't other recipes in them that are good. They are worth the price for that one recipe: the chocolate cake recipe from the yellow "The Gourmet Cookbook" and James Peterson's Sauteed Salmon With Thai-Style Coconut Broth from "Simply Salmon." My list could go on and on.

It is evident that my cookbooks are used. Their covers are rough around the edges. Pages are spattered. They are well loved. Pristine books are a dead giveaway: They may be pulled off the shelf to be admired, even read, but not really used.

When I read the James Beard Foundation's list of the best 20 cookbooks, it was like seeing old friends receive awards. Of course, yes, yes, maybe. Certainly that one. Many of them are among the rattiest in my kitchen.

In 1997, "Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone" by Deborah Madison was one of my holiday recommendations. On the foundations list and newly re-released, it remains a favorite of mine. I've given it often as a gift and use it often in my kitchen.

Many recipes have become family standards. The recipe for Sesame-Ginger Marinade for tofu holds a place of honor. I know it by heart, which is good because it's hard to read through the spots on the page. It works equally as well as a marinade for salmon, halibut, shrimp or broccoli.

Don't miss the White Bean, Sage and Roasted Garlic Spread. Or the Curry Mayonnaise With Chutney. I can't imagine a cold blanched vegetable or cold shrimp that wouldn't benefit from a dunk in that gorgeous golden dip.

Stepping away from the Beard Foundation's list, here are a few more holiday suggestions, not all new but highly recommended.

Sometimes it takes me a while to get around to a book. As I once read on a book bag, "So many books. So little time." I wish I'd made time sooner for Diana Abu-Jaber's 2004 "Crescent" (WW Norton and Company, $13.95, paperback). It is high praise when I say a book inspired me to leave the house and search out baklava and mint tea. Twice.

Molly O'Neill edited "American Food Writing: An Anthology With Classic Recipes" (Library of America, $40, hardcover). The cover has a homey retro look with a red, white and blue checkered cover.

This book has it all: essays, short stories, recipes. You can stand there, a long wooden spoon in one hand, leisurely stirring, one eye on the pot, the other on "American Food Writing." You might want to set a timer because if you get distracted by the writing, you may overcook.

Keep this book in the kitchen so you can read while stirring risotto or custard. Keep it beside your bed for times when you'd like to read a little of this and a little of that. Keep a tablet and pen close, so if you really like the essay or recipe, you can find it later in the book.

"Seriously Simple Holidays: Recipes and Ideas to Celebrate the Season" by Diane Rossen Worthington (Chronicle, $24.95, paperback) will help you get through the holidays deliciously with ideas for cooking, entertaining and gifts.

I love the books Chronicle puts out. They have great recipes with style to match. The look is clean with beautiful photos and graphics.

Recipes in "Seriously Simple Holidays" often have a note at the end, "The Clever Cook Could ..." with serving suggestions and substitutions. The Clever Cook would probably know these things already, so thank you to the author for letting the rest of us in on those tips.

The Holiday Seafood Gumbo calls for making the roux in the microwave. That might be considered unorthodox or unlawful in certain parts of the country. Feel free to make the roux at a leisurly pace, slowly stirring it to the desired brownness while reading something appropriate and southern from "American Food Writing." Savor that time, the calming repetitive stirring.

The giving of a cookbook always holds the possibility of being invited to eat a meal prepared from it, so it is truly a gift that keeps on giving.

Goulash Soup is from "Seriously Simple Holidays." Worthington suggests serving it with a rustic bread and simple green salad. The soup may be made up to three days ahead or frozen, a bonus when you're busy. Plan ahead for this soup because the flavor gets even better over time. It is also good in its chunky state before processing.

Goulash Soup

3 tablespoons olive oil

4 leeks, white and light green parts only, cleaned and finely chopped

2 teaspoons caraway seeds

1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped

1 pound beef stew meat, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

3 tablespoons Hungarian sweet paprika

8 cups chicken, beef or vegetable stock

1 can (141/2 ounces) diced tomatoes with juice

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 Yukon gold potato (3/4 to 1 pound), peeled and diced

2 carrots, peeled and sliced

1 parsnip, peeled and sliced

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/4cup finely chopped fresh parsley

1/2cup sour cream for garnish

In a large, heavy pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Saute the leeks and caraway seeds for 5 minutes, or until softened. Add the bell pepper and saute for 2 minutes, or until softened.

Add the beef and paprika and saute for 7 to 10 minutes, or until the beef is evenly browned on all sides. Add the broth, raise the heat to high, and deglaze the pot by scraping up the brown bits. Reduce the heat to low, partially cover, and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the meat is tender.

Stir in the tomatoes, garlic, potato, carrots and parsnip. Season with salt and pepper, partially cover, and simmer for 20 minutes, or until all the vegetables are tender.

With hand blender, coarsely process the soup, retaining some texture. Stir in the parsley. Taste and adjust the seasonings.

To serve, ladle the soup into soup bowls, garnish each with a dollop of sour cream and serve immediately.

Advance preparation: Make up to 3 days ahead, cover and refrigerate. Reheat gently and adjust the seasonings. The soup also freezes well; defrost, reheat gently and adjust the seasonings.

Serves 6.

Kim Davaz of Eugene writes a biweekly cookbook column for The Register-Guard.
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Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Nov 28, 2007
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