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Books That Cook: Recipes from Sandra Lee's 'Bake Sale Cookbook'; and recipes from 'Italian Cooking' and 'Cooking in the Moment'

TITLE: Bake Sale Cookbook: 165 Quick, Easy Sweet Ideas & Blue Ribbon-Worthy Recipes by Sandra Lee (Wiley Publishing, $19.95, 236 pages)

GENERALLY SPEAKING: If you're familiar with the Food Network you know that Sandra Lee uses many convenience foods in her Semi-Homemade cooking show. This cookbook is no different. The recipes are easy, innovative and visually appealing. These recipes go beyond bake sales and are perfect for family gatherings, holidays, birthdays, church dinners and more.

FOR: Bakers and those who don't have a lot of time to bake or who have kids who wait until the last minute to tell you they need something for the school bake sale.

TO CONSIDER: Some recipes are not really suitable for a bake sale. Ginger sorbet cup would be tricky, though delicious.

RECIPES: Banana split cupcakes, root beer cupcakes, chocolate banana mini loaves, pecan coconut cookie cups, caramel apple muffin melts, triple blueberry pie, white chocolate peppermint truffles, white chocolate macadamia cake, and sweet potato and pumpkin pie.

TITLE: Italian Cooking: At Home With the Culinary Institute of America by Gianni Scappin, Alberto Vanoli and Steven Kolpan (Wiley Publishing, $34.95, 328 pages)

GENERALLY SPEAKING: This cookbook is not for the faint of heart. If you don't own a pasta machine or enjoy making pasta, it is not for you. Otherwise, this is right up your alley, although these recipes aren't for nights you need to get dinner on the table fast. There are a number of "nonpasta" recipes that are less involved, including some desserts. Some are as labor-intensive as the pasta recipes.

FOR: Die-hard Italian food lovers and experienced home cooks.

RECIPES: The recipe titles are in Italian and English. I have written the English titles here: Classic lasagna, "badly cut" pasta with porcini mushrooms, carnival "lover's knots," potato gnocchi with a quick fondue, lobster risotto, pumpkin dumplings with Piedmont-style fondue, fish baked in sea salt, eggplant-filled ravioli, crepes with fontina and ham, roast duck with apples, classic tiramisu.

BONUS: Each recipe offers wine notes and wine education.

CULINARY HISTORY LESSON: The introduction describes the various regions and their signature dishes. It's good for anyone passionate about Italian food.

TITLE: Cooking in the Moment: A Year of Seasonal Recipes by Andrea Reusing (Clarkson Potter, $35, 271 pages)

GENERALLY SPEAKING: Cooking with fresh, local ingredients is touted everywhere. But coming up with recipes for seasonal ingredients can be challenging. Cooking in the Moment offers delicious recipes for fresh ingredients like zucchini, tomatoes, turnips and corn. There are recipes for everything from sides to entrees to sauces.

FOR: Families that cook with a lot of fresh ingredients or want to start doing so. Whether it's fruit, meat or vegetables, there are a variety of recipes for all tastes.

RECIPES: Garlic and black pepper soft-shell crabs, braised chard with fresh hot chilies, red onion preserves, whole-roasted sweet potatoes with butter, molasses and salt, roast moulard duck with kumquats and salt-cured chilies, tomato sandwich, crispy corn fritters, Monica's blackberry and summer apple pie, asparagus with butter and soy, grilled grass-fed porterhouse with crisp herbs, hard cider-braised pork shoulder.

>>EASY

Root Beer Cupcakes

1 (18.5-ounce) package devil's food cake mix, such as Duncan Hines

1 1/3 cups root beer, such as A&W

½ cup vegetable oil

3 eggs

1 (12-ounce) can whipped fluffy white frosting, such as Duncan Hines

1 teaspoon root beer concentrate, such as McCormick (if you can't find it, substitute vanilla extract)

Root beer flavor candy, crushed, optional, such as A&W

24 drinking straw tops for decoration, optional

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two 12-cup muffin tins with paper cups; set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, beat together cake mix, root beer, oil and eggs with an electric mixer on low for 30 seconds. Scrape down side of bowl; beat for 2 minutes on medium. Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups filling each about two-thirds full.

Bake for 18 to 22 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the centers comes out clean. Cool cupcakes in pans on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Remove cupcakes from pans and cool completely on rack.

In a medium bowl, combine frosting and root beer concentrate; stir until well mixed. Frost each cupcake with root beer frosting. If desired, dip edges of each cupcake in crushed root beer candies. If desired, remove and discard bottom half of straws. Insert a straw top in each cupcake.

Makes 24 cupcakes.

Source: Bake Sale Cookbook: 165 Quick, Easy Sweet Ideas & Blue Ribbon-Worthy Recipes by Sandra Lee (Wiley Publishing, $19.95)

>>MODERATE

Fish Baked in Sea Salt

(Pesce al forno al sale marino)

10 egg whites

6 cups sea salt or kosher salt, for crust

1 (4-pound) whole fish, gutted, scales left on

1 cup fennel fronds

6 garlic cloves, crushed

10 flat-leaf parsley stems

4 thyme sprigs

2 rosemary sprigs

½ cup lemon zest

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Lightly whip the egg whites and fold them into the salt, mixing well until combined. It is supposed to be grainy so, if necessary, add a little water. Press a ¼-inch layer of the salt mixture onto a large baking sheet or in a casserole.

Stuff the cavity of the whole fish with the fennel, garlic, parsley, thyme and rosemary. Cover the fish with lemon zest. Lay the fish on top of the salt and pack the remaining salt mixture over the fish to enclose it completely.

Roast for about 30 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 135 degrees. There will be some carryover cooking once you remove the fish from the oven. Let stand for 5 to 10 minutes and serve.

Serves 4.

Source: Italian Cooking: At Home With the Culinary Institute of America by Gianni Scappin, Alberto Vanoli, Steven Kolpan (Wiley Publishing, $34.95)

>>MODERATE

Crispy Corn Fritters

5 to 6 ears of corn, shucked

2 large eggs, separated

Kosher salt, divided use

¾ cup all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon baking powder

1/8 teaspoon cayenne

Vegetable oil, for frying

On a large plate, using the coarse holes of a box grater, grate 5 ears of corn with swift downward strokes (to avoid the fiber from the cob). Be sure to catch all the milk. Measure the corn mixture and if necessary continue with the last ear to make exactly 1 cup corn. Transfer to a medium bowl.

Separate the eggs over a small bowl, allowing the whites to fall into the bowl and adding the yolks to the corn. With a fork, combine the yolks, corn and ½ teaspoon salt. Sift the flour, baking powder and cayenne directly onto the corn mixture and mix to combine.

Pour 2 inches of oil into a large, deep skillet, making sure the oil does not fill the pan more than halfway, and heat over low heat. Meanwhile, beat the egg whites to soft peaks and gently fold them into the corn mixture. Raise the heat under the skillet to medium and heat until the oil reaches 350 degrees on a deep-fat thermometer.

Working with two tablespoons, carefully lay about 10 dollops of batter into the hot oil, fewer if they begin to crowd the pan. Fry for 2 to 3 minutes, until golden brown, flipping them about halfway through cooking. Transfer the fritters with a slotted spoon directly onto a clean brown paper bag to drain. Repeat with the remaining batter. Season with salt to taste and serve immediately.

Makes 30 small fritters.

Source: Cooking in the Moment: A Year of Seasonal Recipes by Andrea Reusing (Clarkson Potter, $35)

Books That Cook: Recipes from Sandra Lee's 'Bake Sale Cookbook'; and recipes from 'Italian Cooking' and 'Cooking in the Moment' 04/26/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 26, 2011 5:30am]

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