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Take a U.S. taste tour with Bobby Flay

(ran SP, NP editions)

Bobby Flay Cooks American: Great Regional Recipes with Sizzling New Flavors

By Bobby Flay with Julia Moskin

Hyperion, $34.95

Celebrating this country's great flavors from every region, Flay spices up favorite dishes with his own spin on them in his new Bobby Flay Cooks American. Using regional ingredients such as Vidalia onions from Georgia, lobsters from Maine and various chilies from the Southwest, he leads a taste tour of America.

The various "postcards" throughout the cookbook show that Flay enjoyed his travel experience as well, meeting the locals in places like Savannah, Ga., Lancaster County, Pa., Miami and San Antonio, Texas, among others. Flay completed his visit to Miami by savoring a favorite Florida delicacy _ stone crabs.

Stone Crab Claws with Red Chile-Mustard Mayonnaise is his twist to the traditional mustard sauce. He suggests using this sauce on lobster claws or chilled shrimp, too. Other Florida favorites include Little Havana-Style Cuban Sandwiches and Key Lime-Red Pepper Shellfish Ceviche with Fried Tortillas.

For a taste of the Mid-Atlantic region, he offers Crispy Soft-Shell Crab Salad with Yellow Tomatoes and Green Garlic Vinaigrette, Shrimp and Littleneck Clam Curry on Wild Rice Waffles with Candied Mango Butter or Cured Ham and Sauteed Pear Salad with Aged Sherry Vinaigrette and Black Pepper.

Although this cookbook offers regional themes, most ingredients seem to be readily available. Don't shy away from dishes such as Crawfish Lasagna, Wild Rice Tamales with Sage Butter or Guava and Cheese Tarts just because you may not know where to buy ingredients. Crawfish and guava paste can be found at local markets, sometimes even supermarkets, and for other ingredients, such as dried cornhusks, mail-order sources are provided. Obviously, many recipes require planning, as the ingredients may not be staples in your pantry.

No one region is favored over another. There is a little bit of everywhere in Bobby Flay Cooks American. From the south's Shrimp and Grits with Double-Smoked Bacon to the avocado dishes of California to Pan-Fried Rainbow Trout with Pecans and Brown Butter from the Adirondacks, this recipe collection is as diverse as our country.

Chicken, Williams-Sonoma Collection

By Rick Rodgers

Simon & Schuster, $16.95

Think for a minute about all the comfort foods made with chicken. There's chicken pot pie, fried chicken and chicken noodle soup, to name a few. The new Williams-Sonoma Collection includes a cookbook devoted to the bird and simply titled Chicken.

Familiar classic recipes are included along with other poultry dishes including Quail with Zinfandel-Orange Sauce, Grilled Cornish Hens with Lemon-Mustard Marinade and Turkey Meatloaf with Sage Gravy.

With a few exceptions, namely complicated Coq Au Vin or Spinach and Chicken Spanakopita, the recipes will appeal to cooks of all skill levels. Coq Au Vin requires flambeeing, and Spanakopita calls for phyllo dough, both somewhat intimidating to less-experienced cooks.

Other, less daunting recipes include Chicken with Three Peppers; Grilled Chicken Cuban Sandwiches; Chicken, Asparagus and Roquefort Divan; and Risotto with Chicken, Parmesan and Peas.

A bonus with this cookbook is that a full-page color photograph of the dish, along with a photographic sidebar highlighting an ingredient, technique, additional recipe or other educational fact, accompanies each recipe. The sidebars are particularly helpful and range from how to glaze chicken to a nifty tomato chopping shortcut that suggests using kitchen shears to snip canned tomatoes right in the can.

The recipes included in Chicken are suitable for both family dinners and for entertaining. Crisp Chicken with Sweet and Sour Dipping Sauce could be served as either an entree or appetizer. For a special occasion dinner, try Chicken Breasts with Wild Mushrooms and Marsala.

At the back of the cookbook are helpful tips regarding chicken basics such as selecting, storing, grilling basics and butterflying breasts, among other things. The glossary defines the various ingredients used in the recipes.

Also available in the single subject Williams-Sonoma Collection are Soup, Hors d'Oeuvres and Thanksgiving. Five books, Pasta with Salad, Fish, Desserts, Grilling, and Vegetables, are to follow in spring 2002.

Cucina Rustica: Simple, Irresistible Recipes in the Rustic Italian Style

By Viana La Place and Evan Kleiman

William Morrow, $18

The English translation of Cucina Rustica describes a style of cooking whose elements are kept at their most basic. In Italian, cucina means kitchen, cooking, cuisine and food itself, and rustica means simple, unadorned, basic.

This is a collection of simple, authentic Italian recipes, using flavorful Italian ingredients. Each recipe title is in Italian followed by the English translation. The "Italian Kitchen" chapter offers information and definitions of popular ingredients including cheeses such as pecorino Romano, Parmigiano-Reggiano and Gorgonzola, plus other items such as arborio rice used in risotto and Italian cured meats such as pancetta and prosciutto.

As the title implies, this recipe collection is simple and perfect for any skill level.

There are instructions on making risotto, a time-consuming, though not difficult, process because the rice must be constantly stirred.

The authors offer a variety of menus to help with planning. At the Beach fare includes Seafood Salad "Our Way," Grilled Fish Steaks with Marinade and Baked Sliced Potatoes with Tomato and Oregano. For a Pasta Party for 12, serve Spaghetti with Oil and Garlic, Linguine with Colorful Sauce, Orecchiette with Broccoli and Sausage and a Mixed Salad. There are also ideas for elegant dinners, Easter gatherings and summer lunches.

There are two other Italian cookbooks from these authors, Pasta Fresca and Cucina Fresca, but with more than 250 recipes for everything from antipasti to desserts, Cucina Rustica offers something for everyone.

Ellen Folkman's cookbook review column appears monthly in the Taste section.