Whether you're buying gifts for a culinary novice or an expert, an ideal present is as close as the nearest bookstore. The Times' Food staff looked at a sampling of the cookbooks released in time for this holiday season and offers the following reviews to assist last-minute shoppers. Some of these books get down to the basics, some deal with ethnic cuisines while still others are as much a feast for the eyes as for the appetite. These--or the host of other cookbooks you'll find on sale at local stores--will not only delight the recipient but might ensure the giver some memorable repasts during 1988.
Great Convertibles by Kit Snedaker (Cobble & Mickle Books: $7.95, 96 pp.)
Snedaker develops an interesting concept of using master recipes to prepare anything from appetizers to entrees to desserts. Her seven "convertibles" include souffles and roulades, quiches and pies, pasties and turnovers, timbales and custards, pate a choux pastry, crepes and omelets.
The chapter on pate a choux is a good example of her approach. It shows how this oldest of French pastries may be made into small appetizer puffs filled with chicken liver pate or ground ham with mustard and sweet pickles; a cheese-flavored gougere ring; large entree puffs filled with mousseline, or the French dessert Paris-Brest.