It's October, the holidays are just around the corner and the big fall cookbooks are beginning to pile up. Cooking by James Peterson qualifies as big in every way, with well over 500 pages, 600 recipes from starters to sweets, and 650 instructional photos. And it has a big goal to teach you all the basic cooking methods you need along with valuable tricks of the trade. If, as Peterson suggests, you cook your way through his book (it's OK to just dip in, too), you'll understand that there are no secrets and that good cooking is based on doing lots of little things correctly without taking shortcuts. Peterson, who teaches, writes about, photographs, lives, breathes, and cooks fine food, has written 13 cookbooks and is known for the extraordinary depth he brings to every subject he turns his talented hand to. He has cooked for more than 40 years, dealt with his students' mistakes and with his own and learned about as much as one can learn and he shares it all here. If you're a novice, you'll be able to build the confidence you need to cook anything you choose. If you're a well-seasoned cook, you'll find this an energizing, refreshing, reliable reference. Cooking is basic and beyond, simple and elegant, accessible and authoritative an instant, indispensable culinary classic.

I flip through all the cookbooks I get, just to get a quick feel for the book before making a more careful perusal. As I did my quickie run through Talk with Your Mouth Full: The Hearty Boys Cookbook, a recipe for chicken, sausage and shrimp stew flavored with fresh fennel and orange zest caught my eye. It was love at first sight and with my guests that weekend it was love at first bite. That snazzy stew was not an exception the Hearty Boys, Dan Smith and Steve McDonagh, serve up 125 trendy treasures guaranteed to jazz up your cooking repertoire and add spunk and sparkle to your party planning. Neither Steve nor Dan went to cooking school; they were actors who worked in the food business to keep the wolf from the door. But talent will out, the inner chef prevailed and now they run a thriving catering business in Chicago, plus a popular Food Network show. Steve introduces each chapter, from classy passed hors d'oeuvres, sides, mains, desserts and libations to sample menus with timelines. Dan presents each recipe with make-ahead info, then Steve finishes up with practical tips. Luscious color photos throughout.

Pino Luongo and Mark Strausman have been good friends and successful restaurant partners for 20 years and they've argued for all those years about the right way to make everything. Pino, a big-time restaurateur, learned cooking from his mother in a typical Tuscan kitchen; Mark, a big-time chef, is a New Yorker with a culinary school degree and years of experience in renowned hotels and restaurants. Pino reveres Italian tradition; Mark applauds Italian-American innovation. Fortunately, they've decided to make their dueling culinary philosophies public in Two Meatballs in the Italian Kitchen. So, we get to see how an Italian cooks in America and how an American cooks Italian, how authenticity vies with improvisation in their differing ideas and recipes for soup, pasta, risotto, meat, poultry, fish and dessert. You can choose among them or, if their debates really get to you, you can have a grand cook-off. These two master meatballs may be food professionals, but their recipes are truly for home cooks in home kitchens. The instructions are thorough and their shared passion for unpretentious, timelessly pleasing Italian food is inspirational.

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