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Books That Cook: 'Gourmet Game Night,' 'Favorite Food at Home' and 'Bean Appetit'

TITLE: Gourmet Game Night by Cynthia Nims (Ten Speed Press, 160 pages; $17.99)

Generally speaking: More people are entertaining at home these days — from poker night to family night, bridge parties, book clubs and more — and author Cynthia Nims serves up the perfect accompaniments. Many of the recipes are mess free, making them suitable for many activities. She also includes beverage recipes.

For: Folks who want to offer some new and exciting foods at get-togethers. The author offers dips, finger foods, skewers and small dishes. Many recipes start with convenience foods or deli items and can be thrown together quickly; others require some preplanning. The author also offers menu suggestions depending on the number of guests.

Recipes: Shrimp cakes in shiso leaves, petits croque monsieurs, PB&J blondie bites, mini shepherd's pies, Nutella and banana galettes, itty bitty BLTs, pork tenderloin with rhubarb chutney, baby Baja tacos, key lime gimlet cocktail.

Worth mentioning: Some recipes can be pricey, but that shouldn't deter you. Instead of pancetta, try using bacon. And no one has to know you used button mushrooms when the recipe called for wild mushrooms. It will still be delicious.

TITLE: Favorite Food at Home: Delicious Comfort Food From Ireland's Most Famous Chef by Rachel Allen (William Morrow, 224 pages; $24.99)

Generally speaking: You might expect traditional Irish recipes from "Ireland's most famous chef." Not so. Favorite Food at Home is full of mouthwatering contemporary recipes with a few designed to appeal to children. This cookbook has a worldly feel with Thai, South American and Italian influences, to name a few. Allen's recipes are conversational, like she's standing in your kitchen giving directions along the way.

For: Whether you're hosting an intimate dinner party or larger gathering, you'll find recipes to suit. These recipes serve anywhere from 6 to 20. Vegetarian recipes are scattered throughout the cookbook.

Recipes: South American beef steak with chimichurri salsa; lamb samosas; warm pasta salad with herbs, garlic and arugula; gratin of fish with cheese, tomatoes and herbs; lemon cookies; and green leaf and pea soup.

TITLE: Bean Appetit: Hip and Healthy Ways to Have Fun With Food by Shannon Payette Seip and Kelly Parthen with Carisa Dixon (Andrews McMeel Publishing, 208 pages; $14.99)

Generally Speaking: At first glance, you think this cookbook is all about beans. Take a longer look and you'll find it's a fun cookbook dedicated to getting kids excited about food. Bean Appetit strives to provide a bonding experience in the kitchen.

For: Kids (and parents) who want to have fun in the kitchen. Whimsical recipe names coupled with playful directions will surely entertain all who participate. Studies show that kids who help prepare meals are more likely to try the food. Who wouldn't want to try a recipe called Bug Bites?

More than a cookbook: While the main focus is recipes, this book is part activity book, part party planner and part conversation starter. Table talk tips help you get conversations started during meals.

Recipes: Mama Mato!, Starry Night Bites, Super Stars and Salsa, Pot Sticker Pinwheels, Delicious Dominoes, Palm Tree Paradise, Pita Boat Pizza.

Word of warning: The recipe instructions are, in some cases, not well written. For example, in the directions for Fla-mango Soup, you are instructed to rinse out the blender but not told what to do with the previous concoction. I have modified the directions here.

>>EASy

Green Pea and Mint Spread

With Crispy Pancetta

2 cups fresh or thawed frozen green peas

3 tablespoons chicken or vegetable broth or water, plus more if needed

2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh mint

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

5 thin slices pancetta

2 thick (6-inch) pitas, preferably without pockets

Bring a pan of salted water to a boil and prepare a bowl of ice water. Add the peas to the boiling water and simmer over medium heat until tender, 2 to 3 minutes for fresh peas, about 1 minute for frozen peas. Drain, add to the ice water and let cool. Drain the cooled peas and scatter them on paper towels to dry.

Puree the peas, chicken broth and mint in a food processor until smooth, scraping down the sides as needed. The texture should be firm enough to hold its shape but not stiff; add another teaspoon or two of broth if needed. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Refrigerate, covered, until you are ready to serve.

Heat a skillet over medium heat. Add the pancetta slices and cook until nicely crisp and lightly browned, about 5 minutes, turning the slices occasionally. Drain on paper towels.

Preheat the broiler and set the top rack about 5 inches below the heating element. Set the pitas directly on the rack and broil until lightly browned, 1 to 2 minutes per side, using tongs to turn the pitas easily. Let cool, then cut each pita round into 12 wedges.

Top the wide end of each pita wedge with about 1 tablespoon of the pea puree. Break the pancetta into bite-sized pieces and press a piece or two into the puree on each wedge. Arrange wedges on platter to serve.

Makes 24 pita wedges.

Source: Gourmet Game Night by Cynthia Nims (10 Speed Press)

>>MODERATE

Roast Leg of Lamb with Garlic

and Rosemary and Olive Paste

For the lamb:

1 leg of lamb, 5 ½ to 7 ¼ pounds

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon cracked black pepper

1 generous tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary

1 big pinch sea salt

8 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced

For the olive paste:

½ cup pitted black olives

1 tablespoon capers

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

Freshly ground black pepper

¼ cup olive oil

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Using a very sharp knife, make about 10 shallow slashes in criss-cross patterns on the top side of the meat. Mix together the olive oil, pepper, rosemary, sea salt and garlic and spread all over the lamb, pushing it into the incisions. Place it in a roasting pan and put into the preheated oven.

Cook for 20 minutes, then turn the heat down to 350 degrees and cook for a further 45 minutes for pink lamb, 1 hour 10 minutes for medium, or 1 hour 45 minutes for well-done. This cooking time allows for 18 minutes per pound at this temperature. I usually aim for medium since there will inevitably be some pink bits and some well-done so that everyone can have their favorite.

To make the olive paste, whiz up the olives with the capers, mustard, lemon juice and pepper in a food processor — you probably won't need any salt. Add the olive oil and blend again. It keeps for months in a sterilized jar in the fridge.

When the lamb is cooked, allow it to rest for 15 minutes, covered with foil, somewhere warm if possible, then carve into slices and serve with the olive paste, mint sauce or red currant jelly.

Serves 8 to 10.

Source: Favorite Food at Home: Delicious Comfort Food From Ireland's Most Famous Chef by Rachel Allen (William Morrow)

>>EASy

Fla-mango Soup

3 ripe mangoes

3 tablespoons vanilla yogurt

½ cup pineapple juice

2 tablespoons water

3 large strawberries

Peel, pit and chop the mangoes.

Plop the mangoes, yogurt and pineapple juice in a blender. Before an adult turns it on, yell, "Coconuts!" As the mixture whirls around, perform a quick hula dance.

Pour the mixture into 4 soup bowls.

Rinse the blender so it's clean. Combine the water and strawberries in the blender. Before an adult turns it on again, yell, "Surf's up!" and pretend you're surfing while the blender is on.

Blend until smooth, then pour the strawberry sauce into a squeeze bottle. Keep a steady hand while you draw a cool design or pattern on top of the soup.

Makes 4 servings.

Source: Bean Appetit: Hip and Healthy Ways to Have Fun With Food by Shannon Payette Seip and Kelly Parthen with Carisa Dixon (Andrews McMeel Publishing)

Books That Cook: 'Gourmet Game Night,' 'Favorite Food at Home' and 'Bean Appetit' 04/20/10 [Last modified: Monday, April 19, 2010 4:34pm]
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