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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|Rose Dosti

China, The Beautiful Cookbook (Knapp Press: $39.95, 256 pp, illustrated). Cookbooks which make great picture books are selling especially well these days--better than regular cookbooks--among people who love to cook vicariously. And that, apparently, is most of us, according to authorities in the book business.

This extravagant, art book-size picture book with pictures taken by a team of National Geographic photographers who traveled extensively through China on a special tour is an assembly-line book with texts, recipes and photographs made to fit. The recipes were provided by several Chinese government agencies in the major regions of China: Peking, Shanghai, Guangdong Province and Sichuan Province for a good cross section of recipes, which were translated for the book.

It's hard to imagine actually cooking many of the recipes from this book without explicit diagrams and graphic instructions, even with the help of Tan Lee Leng, a Singapore-based Chinese cooking instructor who received classical training at the Cordon Bleu in Paris and adapted the recipes for the American kitchen. But there are enough simple recipes for the average Chinese cooking aficionado (crispy crab claws, shredded duck with bean, roast lamb on skewers made with Sichuan peppercorns and tarts with coconut among others). A glossary explains many of the ingredients and where to find them. The real value of the book are the pictures. They're stupendous.

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