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updated: 12/9/2014 6:19 AM

Lean and lovin it: Don Mauer recommends books for cooks

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  • "How to Cook Everything Fast" by Mark Bittman

    "How to Cook Everything Fast" by Mark Bittman

  • "The Skinnytaste Cookbook" by Gina Homolka

    "The Skinnytaste Cookbook" by Gina Homolka

 
 

Thinking about what to give someone who loves to cook this holiday season? Look no further. Here are four suggestions for books that will make the ideal gift.

First up, Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything Fast: A Better Way to Cook Great Food" (Houghton Mifflin, $35). Bittman doesn't do anything in a small way. His 1998 cookbook "Cook Everything" was just as big (more than 1,000 pages) and just as promise-filled. Bittman kept his "simple recipes for great food" promise in 1998 and he keeps it again in 2014.

His newest tome delivers a mind-boggling 2,000 all-new recipes that use clever time management, such as chopping-up garlic and onions while meat browns in the skillet, to speed cooks to the finish line with great results. You'll find Bittman's streamlined preparation in recipes like spanakopita (he shreds the phyllo sheets and uses a skillet) or a chicken parmesan (cooked under the broiler in 30 minutes).

In order to hit the $35 price point, "Fast" contains no pictures, yet is a terrific gift that will keep giving long after the wrapping has been discarded.

Amazon ranked my second "good gift" cookbook, Gina Homolka's "The Skinnytaste Cookbook" (Clarkson Potter, $30), on its 2014 top 10 cookbooks. Behind Homolka's clever title lies an even better cookbook.

After losing weight via a popular weight-loss program, Homolka "skinny-fied" her favorite recipes. The result? A hot (3 million unique visitors every month) blog: skinnytaste.com.

Homolka's book is packed with 100 stunning photos that make her 150 healthy, lower-calorie recipes look absolutely delicious. My mouth watered before I even cracked open the cover.

Here's sample of Homolka's recipes: Buttermilk Oven-Fried Chicken, Loaded "Nacho" Potato Skins, Double Chocolate Chunk Walnut Cookies, Skinny Chicken Parmesan and Noodle-less Zucchini Lasagna. Her recipes include nutritional analysis, including sugars. Homolka uses real food and, just like me, she's not an artificial sweeteners fan. I only wish the book had included preparation times and wasn't peppered with name brands. (Does it really matter if I use Gold Medal flour or another brand?)

Samuel Fromartz's "In Search of the Perfect Loaf: A Home Baker's Odyssey" (Viking, $26.95) takes the reader along for his search of a great homemade bread.

Fromartz shares the knowledge he gained from his travels and the sensational bakers with whom he works. The bread recipes he shares, if made exactly as described, should produce a "perfect loaf" in any home kitchen. Fromartz sprinkles some black and white pictures throughout.

Earlier this year I wrote about Nina Teicholz's "The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat & Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet." Teicholz's well-research book explains how we got to this point with fats and sugars and shows that saturated fat and heart disease are not linked and, even more surprisingly, that dietary cholesterol does not affect our cholesterol. It's a fascinating, paradigm-shifting page-turner.

Try this recipe: Here's a low-carbohydrate, company-friendly recipe from Homolka's "SkinnyTaste" cookbook. Happy Holidays!

Don Mauer welcomes questions, comments and recipe makeover requests. Write him at don@theleanwizard.com.

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