Lora Brody, author of the super-successful Bread Machine Baking Perfect Every Time, loves kitchen equipment and admits happily that she's been a slow cooker addict ever since she got this homely appliance as a wedding present 35 years ago. Many such cookers (mine, included) have lurked in the back of cabinets, lonely and unappreciated for decades. But with Brody's new book, Slow Cooker Cooking, they're given a new life with pizzazz aplenty. And the new generation of slow cookers has gotten smarter; the ceramic inserts can now be used to jump-start a dish in the microwave, or finish one in the oven or under the broiler. No longer relegated to simple stews and chilies, slow cookers can be used to make sophisticated, swanky Civet de Canard, duck breasts simmered in red wine, garlic and herbs; exotic Asian Short Ribs; even Rum-Croissant Bread Pudding or Candied Orange Peel. You can proof yeast, caramelize onions and garlic, make ever-so-trendy herb-infused oils and braise chestnuts (actually, you can braise almost anything). Slow cooking takes time but it makes time, too, by leaving you free for precious hours and saving on kitchen clean up. Slow has just gotten fast.

FAST FOOD
You're running late (do we ever run early?), time is short and the dinner hour always seems to be rush hour. Sound familiar? Hassle-free days are few and far between, but we have to eat and we want to eat well. More help is here in the new Reader's Digest 30-Minute Cookbook: 300 Quick and Delicious Recipes for Great Family Meals. I'm not sure that you can get the whole meal on the table in 30 minutes, but each dish can be done in that time or less, and that's not bad. There are extra bonuses, too fast-cooked foods conserve their nutritional components and retain their fresh, intense flavors. The good folks who put this book together explain the basics that allow you to cook easy, pleasing lunches and dinners with a minimum of fuss and a maximum of taste. Add their advice on time-saving equipment and smart shopping and you'll be ready to pore through the pages and pick winners for every day of the week. The recipes run the gastronomic gamut from appetizers and main courses, sides, salads and sandwich fillings to desserts, cakes and cookies, and from comfort foods to the elegantly exotic. You'll find simple Cod Steaks with Creamy Broccoli and French-style Monkfish Ragout with Vermouth; effortless Grilled Rosemary Chicken and spicy, stir-fried, coconut-scented Lime Chicken with Water Chestnuts; Easy Gumbo and stylish Salmon Tabouleh. This is not the first 30-minute cookbook and I'm sure it won't be the last, but it's certainly the most gloriously illustrated.

SAINTLY SIMPLICITY
Brother Victor-Antoine d'Avila-Latourrette is a resident monk at Our Lady of the Resurrection Monastery, near Millbrook, New York. He's also a best-selling cookbook author who welcomes us into the long tradition of monastic cooking, cooking known for its simplicity, frugality, balance, healthfulness and full flavor. The recipes he presents in Simplicity from a Monastery Kitchen: A Complete Menu Cookbook for All Occasions reflect the creative thriftiness of monastic life; great joy and loving care are the only lavish ingredients used. Brother Victor-Antoine's most important principles are good quality and wholesome simplicity. His reverence for food and its preparation pervades the book and sets a tone that makes many other cookbooks seem over-sauced, over-elegant and over-the-top. The quotations on every other page may inspire you not only to cook, but walk in the ways of simplicity. No meat or poultry here (a few fish dishes do make the grade), but there are so many intriguing ideas they won't be much missed. Separate sections on eggs, crepes and pancakes, casseroles, mushrooms, rice, pasta and couscous, sauces, breads and desserts, plus veggies, soups and salads galore provide endless opportunities for inventive, well-balanced, tasty meals. Brother Victor-Antoine's approach is a breath of fresh air, dare I say heaven-sent, that will put the spirit of serenity back into the kitchen.

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

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