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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|Betsy Balsley

Pleasures of the Table by Florence Fabricant (Harry N. Abrams: 175 pp., illustrated).

Beware! Make no mistake about this book. It's a beautiful volume with photos, mostly by Matthew Klein, that woo the senses. But, and this is a big "but," this book belongs on the kitchen bookshelf where it is handy for the cook, not in the living room.

Based on the monthly column that food writer Florence Fabricant has written for Signature magazine over the years, the book offers a selection of menus that range from formal dinner parties to some delectable suggestions for dining alfresco. With the varied menus, Fabricant offers suggestions for compatible wines in a decidedly unstuffy manner.

A knowledgeable cook and hostess, Fabricant has developed menus that fit a variety of occasions and guests. She has a healthy overview of what entertaining is all about, placing more importance on enjoying her own parties than on serving extraordinary and complicated foods. Admittedly an organized person, Fabricant's menus are designed with the cook's well-being in mind. Good ingredients, well-seasoned and simply prepared, dominate in her recipes.

Her menus are uncomplicated, relying more on creative presentation to provide the proper touch of elegance than on elaborate preparation. The recipes are easy to read and follow, and the succinct explanations of why the wines selected for each menu were chosen make excellent sense. She makes it abundantly clear, however, that these are merely suggestions. If the wines are not to your liking . . . or your budget . . . others are perfectly acceptable.

Fabricant is a well-rounded and creative cook and food writer, who fortunately is the antithesis of a food snob. Her respect for and appreciation of good food complemented by good wine shows throughout the book.

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