Padma Lakshmi is gorgeous, smart, an actress, model, host of Bravo's popular "Top Chef" and author of a lively, new international cookbook. (Oh, she was married to Salman Rushdie, too). Born in South India, she grew up in New York and California, spent her junior year abroad in Madrid, then lived in Paris, Milan and Rome strutting the fashion runways for Ralph Lauren, Ungaro and others. So, this girl knows the world, the world's flavors and how to mix and match dishes from the cuisines she's come to love. And, Padma points out, in our shrinking global village she's not unique; most of us pick and choose our daily fare from near and far—sushi today, Thai tomorrow, Mexican or Italian the day after that. Tangy Tart Hot & Sweet is Padma's paean to this multitude of multiethnic culinary influences, with more than 150 easy, Padma-pizazzed recipes and luscious color photos. There are Keralan Crab Cakes with coconut and green chiles, Curried Butternut Squash Soup, Pan-Seared Flounder in Chipotle Yogurt Sauce, Merguez Sausage with Fennel and Couscous, Braised Spinach Catalana with Raisins and Pine Nuts and smooth Chilled Papaya Mousse.

LA DOLCE VITA
Italian desserts? What comes to mind—gelato, tiramisu? OK, but they don't conjure up the extravagances of French or Austrian pastry or the vertical, spun-sugar-crested creations of some of our top chefs. They're not meant to; Italians view the sweet finale in a very different way—a perfectly ripe piece of fruit, biscotti with a glass of dessert wine, quietly elegant crostate (fruit tarts), cakes without gobs of frosting, a silky panna cotta or an icy semifreddo. The Italian sweet tooth hasn't been extracted; it's just satisfied with the simple and the seasonal, with desserts that feature the texture and taste of the best local ingredients. No one makes this clearer than Gina DePalma, pastry chef at Babbo, Mario Batali's renowned New York restaurant. Dolce Italiano: Desserts from the Babbo Kitchen is extraordinary, a fabulous cookbook and a fabulous read. Gina is not only a self-described "dessert-obsessed insomniac," she's a wonderful writer who can inspire and delight with her passion for all things Italian—take the time to read her introduction, short essays and header notes; you'll be well rewarded. More than 135 recipes are divided into nine chapters that cover dolce from tender Almond Fingers, rich Ricotta Pound Cake and Chocolate and Polenta Tart to Creamy Lemon Sorbet and Spiced Blood Orange Marmalade. Mangia bene!

WELCOME WEEKEND WONDERS
The New York Times is often referred to as the "newspaper of record." For me, a native New Yorker, it's always been the "newspaper of recipes," too. I've clipped recipes for years and have the folders of stained newsprint to prove it. So, it's a culinary blessing when the Times gathers the cream of its recipe crop into a book. The latest is The New York Times Country Weekend Cookbook, edited by Linda Amster, with a foreword by Mark Bittman. With more than 200 recipes by renowned chefs and food writers, it celebrates that ineffable change that makes Friday night so special and weekend cooking, unique. Whether you retreat to your mountain cabin, beach house, lakefront lodge or your living room sofa, you can choose from an array of "Quick Suppers After a Long Drive" (your daily commute qualifies), a bonanza of breakfast/brunch and lunch ideas, veggie variations galore for turning a farm stand visit into a feast, including make-ahead salads that heat up or cool down, a stunning selection of dinner dishes from Charred Striped Bass Nicoise to Tandoori-Style Whole Leg of Lamb and an ingenious recipe planning chart. "Thank God, it's Friday" will take on new meaning!

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