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.
Good Friends, Great Dinners by Susan Costner (Crown: $22.50, 224 pp., illustrated)
Some people use food as a fashion statement, dashing from one trendy restaurant to the next. Others use it as a means of denial--the perpetual dieters. But the best food is that employed as a gesture of good will, a delightful lubricant to fellowship. What more warming vision is there, especially at the holidays, than that of friends gathered about the table to enjoy each other's company, the cares of the day set aside?
Costner promotes that approach in a book that is slanted toward casual entertaining rather than show. Menus are designed to serve six, the maximum number before a meal turns into a "dinner party." The 32 menus in the book are divided into seasons and provide ideas for almost any occasion.