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AN ITALIAN CELEBRATION, A NOD TO PLANNING, AND THE FRESH FLAVORS OF MEXICO

TITLE: A Tavola! Recipes and Reflections on Traditional Italian Home Cooking by Gianni Scappin and Vincenzo Lauria, part of the Culinary Institute of America Dining Series (Lebhar-Friedman Books, $29.95)

Generally speaking: In many Italian households, the center of life is family and food. The title of this book - A Tavola! - translates to come and eat, and it offers traditional Italian home cooking recipes. These recipes are full of flavor, using only the freshest ingredients.

For: Home cooks who know their way around the kitchen. Some of the recipes may be intimidating to lesser experienced home cooks because of the number of ingredients or number of steps. If you do decide to take them on, you will be pleased: The results are so flavorful. This cookbook is also for adventurous cooks not afraid to try or use ingredients like pigs' feet.

Recipes: Prosecco-lemon-vodka digestive; limoncello;Sicilian cannoli;market fish with escarole and yellow potatoes; pasta with mussels and beans; soft, fresh mozzarella with grilled peach and prosciutto.

EASY

Mixed Fry

1 quart peanut or olive oil, as needed

2 cups buttermilk or milk

2 cups all-purpose flour, as needed for breading

1 tablespoon paprika, optional

1-1/2 pounds assorted vegetables, washed, dried and cut into bite-sized pieces

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, as needed

Heat the oil to 375 degrees in a deep pot or fryer.

Place the buttermilk or milk in a shallow pan. In a separate pan, mix the flour with the paprika, if using. Soak a few pieces of prepared vegetables in the liquid at a time, then transfer to the flour mixture. Make sure the pieces get well coated. Do not flour the food and leave it to rest too long; it will get sticky and too hard to handle, and the results will not be good. Shake off any excess flour and place into the hot oil.

Before you start frying, be sure to have a pan lined with paper towels to drain the vegetables once cooked. Do not overcrowd the fryer; work in small batches, letting the oil recuperate and come back to temperature after each batch. Monitor the temperature of the oil during cooking.

Once the vegetables have been dropped into the hot oil, do not disturb them until they start getting some color, about 1 or 2 minutes, depending on the size of the pieces. Once cooked, do not handle the vegetables too much or the breading will come off, and the vegetables will get greasy and limp. Season with salt and pepper and serve while hot.

Serves: 6

Source: A Tavola! Recipes and Reflections on Traditional Italian Home Cooking by Gianni Scappin and Vincenzo Lauria (Lebhar-Friedman Books, $29.95)

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TITLE: Once-a-Month Cooking: Family Favorites by Mimi Wilson and Mary Beth Lagerborg (St. Martin's Griffin, $14.99)

Generally speaking:Authors Wilson and Lagerborg suggest shopping once a month, buying everything in bulk except for fresh produce. The idea is a good one, but it may not be realistic for many cooks. For one, many families are on budgets and can't spend all at once. Plus, you need three things to be successful with this cookbook: free time to prepare the dishes according to the recommended schedule; a plethora of baking dishes you won't need for a month while they're in the freezer; and a freezer large enough to store the frozen dishes. Many things are stored in freezer bags, but they still take up space. I would suggest making a week or two worth of meals for the freezer. It would be more economical, less time consuming and free up freezer space. Some recipes do make eight servings, which could be frozen in smaller portions, depending on the size of your family.

For: Extremely organized individuals. There is a process to this cookbook, and it is well explained, but if you aren't good at following directions, this might not be for you. There aren't a lot of new or unique recipes here.

Recipes: Cornish hens with scallion butter and lime; grilled Tandoori chicken;Vietnamese chicken salad;risotto with smoked turkey, leeks and mascarpone.

EASY

Garlic-Cheddar Chicken

2 teaspoons chopped garlic

-1/2 cup butter

-3/4 cup dry bread crumbs

-1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1-1/2 cups (6 ounces) mild shredded cheddar cheese

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

-1/4 teaspoon dried oregano

-1/4 teaspoon pepper

-1/4 teaspoon salt

8 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves

Saute the garlic in butter for about 5 minutes.

In a shallow bowl, mix the bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, cheddar cheese, parsley, oregano, pepper and salt.

Pound the chicken breasts to flatten them. Dip each chicken breast in garlic butter to coat, then press into bread crumb mixture. Arrange the coated chicken breasts in a 9- by 13-inch baking dish that has been coated with nonstick cooking spray. Drizzle with any remaining butter and top with any remaining bread crumb mixture. Cover with heavy duty aluminum foil, label and freeze.

To serve: Thaw. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bake, covered with foil, for 45 minutes. Uncover and cook another 15 minutes, or until the chicken is no longer pink and juices run clear.

Makes 8 servings.

Source: Once-a-Month Cooking: Family Favorites by Mimi Wilson and Mary Beth Lagerborg (St. Martin's Griffin, $14.99)

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TITLE: Fresh Mexico: 100 Simple Recipes for True Mexican Flavorby Marcela Valladolid (Clarkson Potter, $22.50)

Generally Speaking: Fresh Mexico calls for fresh ingredients, making for dishes that are full of flavor. The salsa chapter is wonderful. Salsa is very versatile, and many of these recipes could go with chicken or fish. Some recipes are spicy, but you can adjust the heat by the type of chili peppers you use.

For: Those with adventurous palettes and the desire to find specialty items like octopus and banana leaves.

Recipes: Jalapeno and cheese stuffed olives; white beans and grilled octopus salad; mahi in smoked banana leaves; easy chicken mole;cold shredded beef salad;butternut squash-chipotle bisque.

MODERATE

Cilantro Tandoori Chicken With Grilled Pineapple Salsa

For the chicken:

1-1/2 cups plain yogurt

1 cup (packed) fresh cilantro leaves

4 cloves garlic

1 piece fresh ginger, peeled, -1/2-inch thick

1-1/2 teaspoons ground cumin

1-1/2 teaspoons ground coriander

1 teaspoon salt

1 (4-pound) chicken, cut into 6 pieces

For the salsa:

-1/2 ripe but firm pineapple, peeled, cored and cut into -1/2-inch thick slices

-1/2 cup fresh chopped cilantro

-1/2 serrano chili, stemmed, seeded and diced

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

Pinch of sugar, or to taste

Salt and freshly ground pepper

To make the chicken, combine yogurt, cilantro, garlic, ginger, cumin, coriander and salt in food processor or blender and blend until smooth. Transfer marinade to a large bowl. Add the chicken pieces and turn to coat. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Prepare grill to medium-high heat, or heat grill pan over medium-high heat.

Remove the chicken from the marinade, shaking off the excess. Discard the marinade. Grill the chicken for 12 minutes per side or until just cooked through. Transfer the chicken to a platter, top with salsa and serve.

To make the salsa, prepare a grill or grill pan to medium-high heat.

Grill the pineapple slices for 2 minutes per side or until tender and grill marked. Transfer the slices to a cutting board and chop them. Put the chopped pineapple in a medium bowl and stir in the cilantro, serrano chili and lime juice.

Season the salsa to taste with sugar, salt and pepper. Serve warm.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Source: Fresh Mexico: 100 Simple Recipes for True Mexican Flavor by Marcela Valladolid (Clarkson Potter, $22.50)

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