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).
Printed on glossy paper, the generously illustrated book includes menus for entertaining, wine suggestions and a glossary of food terms and ingredients. Portraits and biographies of the contributing chefs are scattered throughout.