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For the Kitchen Bookshelf : Cookbooks. Big books, little books, showy cocktail table books . . . all arrive in time for holiday shopping each year. The Times' Food staff took a look at some of this year's offerings, many of which will make excellent gift choices for last-minute shoppers. Here's a rundown on some we found interesting.

December 21, 1986|Barbara Hansen

Chinese Seasons by Nina Simonds (Houghton Mifflin: $19.95, 267 pp., illustrated with Chinese paintings and calligraphy).

Nina Simonds lived and studied in Taiwan for several years. She escorts gourmet tours there and knows Mandarin well enough to cope with Taipei taxi drivers and to translate cookbooks by noted Chinese authors. Thus, she is a splendid source of information on Chinese cooking. In this, her second book, Simonds branches out from the traditional, incorporating ingredients and ideas from other cultures with Chinese recipes and vice versa. Salt-baked chicken becomes salt-baked Cornish game hens. Poached pears are served with a mousseline sauce that incorporates fresh ginger and Madeira wine. Acorn squash is steamed with black-bean sauce. And the green beans that her mother made for Thanksgiving are changed to long beans in a Chinese variation.

Simonds has placed her menus and recipes in a seasonal format. Each section starts with a menu of traditional dishes devoted to the major Chinese festival of that season, then goes on to a contemporary menu that crosses cuisines and ingredients, followed by a group of recipes designed around seasonal foods. A menu for fall that demonstrates her ability to mix cuisines consists of Chinese black-mushroom bisque, star-anise beef served over fresh fennel and a dessert of spiced pears. Descriptions of holidays, commentary on Chinese ingredients and wines and explanatory notes attached to the recipes add to the interest of this unusual book.

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