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.
Southwest Tastes by Ellen Brown (HPBooks: $19.95, 206 pp., illustrated)
These recipes are from the PBS television series "Great Chefs of the West." And they reflect the two trends in Southwestern cooking today: the traditional and the innovative.
Along with fajitas, huevos rancheros, green enchiladas and old-fashioned Texas-style chili, the book offers creations with only a faint link to traditional Mexican and Southwestern cooking. Thus we have duck and white-bean chili (from Trumps in Los Angeles); deep-fried crab balls with jicama-pepper panache (Rosalie's Restaurant, San Francisco); blue corn blini with smoked salmon (The Rattlesnake Club, Denver); warm lobster tacos with yellow tomato salsa and jicama salad (The Mansion on Turtle Creek, Dallas) and escargot sombreros in saffron cream sauce (Tucson Country Club, Tucson).