Fran McCullough and Suzanne Hamlin have done it again. For the second year in a row, they've combed the Internet and pored over piles of books, magazines and newspapers looking at thousands of recipes, ultimately coming up with the 135 best in The Best American Recipes 2000. Taste is their first criterion, but their refined recipe radar is tuned to spot the distinctive, exciting and smart approaches that maximize flavor. Some of this year's picks are quick to fix (Shrimp and Corn with Basil); some are slow (Twelve Hour Roast Pork). Comforting tradition mixes with imaginative new dishes (Mexican Pistachio Soup), and fresh spins on the classics (Chocolate Mousse with Olive Oil). Fran and Suzanne consider these the essential recipes of the year and they've added what many cooks consider essential embellishments notes on ingredients, tips on techniques, serving suggestions, wine choices and inviting variations. Let's hope there's another awesome annual in the works for next year.

The pleasures of treasures
They're old, they're new, they're borrowed but they're never blue we're talking recipes here, not wedding charms. Specifically, we're talking about the 200 prize-winning recipes from America's hometowns gathered in 
Better Homes and Gardens Treasured Recipes. The food editors at Better Homes and Gardens magazine started their Prize Tested Recipe Contest in 1923 and, over the following decades, millions of home cooks have come to look for that red plaid seal of approval when choosing dishes to make for their families. The treasures here come from all over the country and cover every meal from breakfast to dinner, with extra helpings of cookies and candies (great for the holidays) and a bountiful bevy of breads. Part of the fun is discovering what we were cooking way back when, what pleases our palates today and what happened along the way. Whether it's mushroom-topped, marinated Somerset Steak from 1930, feathery light Banana Cream Cake from 1961 or superbly spiced Indian-Thai Basil Chicken in Coconut Sauce, the 1997 grand prize-winner, these timeless recipes, shared with pride by their creators, form a treasure chest of the best, all tested and endorsed by the renowned Better Homes and Gardens test kitchens.

Keepers from the League
The Junior League will be soon be 100 years old. For over 50 of those years they've published cookbooks that not only help support their good works but preserve the food traditions of their communities and our country lively, loving legacies from women dedicated to voluntarism of the highest order. As a salute to that centennial, we have 
The Junior League: Celebration Cookbook, an all-new collection with more than 400 of their most-requested recipes family favorites, regional favorites and holiday specialties, delicious dishes that offer tasty tributes to the past and the present. The very first recipe is for Hot Cheese Puffs, the very last for Christmas Bourbon Balls and Fudge and in between, a rich harvest of sweet and savory, easy and elegant, lean and lush, made even richer by stories of successful Junior League projects.

All souped up
James Peterson doesn't just write good cookbooks, he writes definitive cookbooks not boring compilations, but innovative, expansive, highly personal books with extraordinary breadth and depth. 
Splendid Soups, an excellent example of the Peterson approach, is an updated version of his solidly splendid original, made even better with the addition of 50 new recipes and 40 of his own full-color photographs. Peterson has organized his array of 400 recipes by main ingredient vegetable, fish, shellfish, meat, poultry, bread, fruit with an extensive chapter on broths and consommes. He ladles out intriguing info on national and regional cuisines, ethnic flavor clusters, serving suggestions, variations and detailed discussions of individual ingredients. As you're drawn deeper into soups, you'll see that they can involve a near infinity of combos, ranging from the homey to the elegant, from Watercress Soup, on the table in 15 minutes, to slow-simmered Pot-Au-Feu that provides an entire meal. A super book from a gastronomic souper-man.

Sybil Pratt has cooked up this column for more than five years.


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