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Cookbooks provide recipe ideas and great reading

I used to think people who said they read cookbooks for fun couldn't possibly mean it. Now, I know they did.

I have developed a definite affection for cookbooks in the past few years. I like using them for recipe ideas, but I also enjoy learning more about food in general.

My very favorite cookbook is "A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen" by Jack Bishop (Houghton Mifflin, $35). I'm not a vegetarian, but the recipes in this book are so rich and flavorful, I don't even notice that they don't include meat.

I use the book so much that its pages don't lay flat anymore. The page with the recipe for basic pizza dough is particularly well loved. I use this recipe often. Though my kitchen cabinets aren't well stocked, I almost always have the flour, water, yeast, salt and olive oil needed to make pizza dough. I have also made an effort to keep tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese on hand. Now, instead of calling for delivery, I just make a pizza for myself.

In addition to the recipes in "A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen," I love the advice the author gives. He addresses everything from ingredients, like dried mushrooms and rice vinegar, to techniques for drying tomatoes and toasting nuts.

The book includes information on chipotle peppers and a lot of recipes that call for them. These peppers, which are smoked, dried jalapenos, have become one of my favorite ingredients. I especially like the avocado-chipotle salsa in the book. This easy dip, made with avocados, a chopped chipotle pepper, cilantro and lime juice, is great for taking to parties or just to eat at home.

Actually, I love dips of all kinds, which is why I was attracted to "Salsas and Tacos: The Santa Fe School of Cooking" by Susan D. Curtis and the Santa Fe School of Cooking (Gibbs Smith, $12.95). This small book is filled with colorful photos and great recipes. So far, I haven't made any of the recipes, but I am definitely planning on it.

Since Thanksgiving, though, I have been thinking almost constantly about sweets, so I have spent a lot of time looking at "Cooking Light Dessert," edited by Heather Averett (Oxmoor House, $17.95). I like this book not only for its recipes, but also for the beautiful color photographs of each dessert.

I am most looking forward to making the butterscotch bars and the peanut butter icebox cookies, but my ultimate goal is to make every dessert in the book. Perhaps I'll put that on my list of New Year's resolutions.

Actually, it might be better for me if I resolve to make and eat fewer desserts and spend more time reading cookbooks. More reading - that's a resolution I would have no trouble keeping.

If there's a book you think I really ought to read, please e-mail rachael.mason@gwinnettdailypost.com.