Best cookbooks to give as gifts

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If all they want for Christmas is a cookbook, here are eight of the year's best.

ALICE WATERS: THE ART OF SIMPLE FOOD. Alice Waters set out to change the way we eat, and succeeded. From her came the dicta: Eat local, and a million farmers' markets sprang into being. This book combines her philosophy with explanations of technique that can become a tad tiresome (two pages on how to roast a chicken seems excessive). Still, the recipes make it all worthwhile. (Crown; $35)

BISTRO LAURENT TOURONDEL. It's entirely possible that the most endearing thing about Laurent Tourondel is the fact that he considers ketchup one of America's great achievements. That relaxed attitude to haute cuisine pervades his laid-back style of cooking and informs the recipes and comments that make up his new book. (John Wiley & Sons, $34.95)

LIDIA'S ITALY, by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich. Bastianich's latest book is as much a journey through Italy as it is a cookbook. In Istria, now part of Croatia, where Lidia grew up, she explores the region's Central European culinary influences -- a hangover from the years when the Austro-Hungarian empire ruled here. Rabbit sauce comes from Maremma; panelle makes an appearance in the section on Sicily. Altogether, there are some 140 recipes interspersed with commentary from her daughter, an art expert, who points out the sights along the way. (Knopf, $35)

ASIAN FLAVORS OF JEAN GEORGES. From the very beginning, the chef has been fascinated by the fusion of eastern and Western tastes, and his style has influenced cooks around the world. The clearly laid-out recipes in his new cookboook include a lamb shank braised with green curry, black pepper shrimp, and a chocolate Vietnamese coffee tart. Broadway Books; $40.

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THE BACON COOKBOOK, by James Villas. It's not the healthiest thing you can put in your mouth. But, still, we indulge: good old American strips at one end of the spectrum, pancetta at the other. James Villas, formerly food editor at Town and Country, presents a mouthwatering array of recipes to nudge the pork lover. (John Wiley & Sons, $35)

A GREAT AMERICAN COOK: RECIPES FROM THE HOME KITCHEN OF ONE OF OUT MOST INFLUENTIAL CHEFS, by Jonathan Waxman. Waxman was one of Alice Waters' confreres back in the old days at Chez Panisse, and with his restaurant, Jams, brought California cooking east. Today, he runs Barbuto, in the West Village, but this book focuses on simple classics like grilled chicken, pizza, and chicken and goat cheese burritos. Forward by Bobby Flay. (Houghton Mifflin; $35)

HOW TO COOK EVERYTHING VEGETARIAN, By Mark Bittman. The Minimalist takes on the vegetable world and comes up a winner. With its 2,000 or so recipes, the book is a must even for carnivores. (John Wiley & Sons, $35) .DESSERTS BY THE YARD, by Sherry Yard. Spago's pastry chef to the stars ranges from the traditional (birthday cake with chocolate icing) to the fancy. While the book is full of sublime creations, there are also stories about the homey treats she's made for the celebrated: oatmeal-raisin cookies for Bill Clinton, a chocolate tart for Hugh Grant.. (Houghton Mifflin Company; $35.95)

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