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Must-have gifts for an epicurean longing for a bigger library.



Mario Batali, chef and fashion risk-taker, makes some of the best food in New York in all of his many establishments. I'd love to cook like Mario, and fortunately, in his latest book, "Molto Italiano" (Ecco, $34.95), I can learn how. Recipes include linguine with crabmeat, radicchio, and garlic as well as chicken thighs with saffron, green olives and mint (an unexpectedly delicious combination of flavors — trust me). Batali is another true believer of the less-is-more school, and his recipes are laughably easy to prepare and always satisfying.

The repressed vegetarian in me covets the newest addition to the Moosewood Collective's oeuvre, "Moosewood Restaurant Simple Suppers" (Clarkson Potter, $32.50). With a welcome emphasis on speed (a promise of 30 minutes or less prep time), most recipes, although reliant on a well-stocked spice rack, use shortcuts like prepackaged broccoli slaw, frozen pearl onions or canned chipotles in adobo sauce. The daunting task of chopping and peeling large quantities of vegetables is deliberately downscaled, resulting in interesting, flavorful meals that are welcome on my table any night of the week.

When I'm feeling nostalgic, Marion Cunningham's "Lost Recipes" (Alfred A. Knopf, $22) can show me how to cook all the comfort food I've forgotten about. Recipes for meatloaf or chicken dumplings are a welcome change from the high-wire acts some brand-name chefs demand of the home cook. It's also nice to know that although I'll pass on the tomato aspic, Waldorf salad and green goddess dressing are just a bookshelf away.

Locally, the Grace & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church has put out a beautiful cookbook, "Cooking With Grace" ($24.95). It starts fittingly enough with a recipe for Episcopal Bloody Mary mix (don't forget the 2 1/4 cups of vodka). Not the usual cream-of-mushroom soup and frozen broccoli community fare, these Episcopalians really know how to cook, with recipes for pan-seared tuna with olives and wine, and pork roast with citrus adobo and chimichurri.

Although I'm no longer a child, I do cook with them, and the perfect children's cookbook this year is by Mollie Katzen. The third she's written for children, "Salad People" (Tricycle Press, $17.95) is aimed at preschoolers and their slightly older siblings. Charming step-by-step drawings illustrate each recipe, and with a little adult help, the younger set will soon be whipping up their own egg salad and tiny tacos. S

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