Stories feast for the eyes

Marion Sullivan, Books for Cooks

'In the Kitchen With a Good Appetite." You get two for the price of one when you find a cookbook that's truly as delightful to read as it is to cook from, but then one could hardly expect less from Melissa Clark, journalist and author of 29 cookbooks. The book is structured in the same format as her New York Times dining column, "A Good Appetite," with a story accompanying each recipe. Entertaining examples include a tale of Clark happening upon a crowd in a gourmet food shop devouring granola samples, which resulted in Olive Oil Granola With Dried Apricots and Pistachios; a vignette of her husband's new-found love of running, which led to carbo-loading and Spaghetti With Spicy Tomato, Clams and Bacon; and a remembrance of a tiny New York walk-up, which necessitated Shrimp for a Small Kitchen.

We learn that the desire for an alternative to "the crack of kid's food," boxed mac & cheese, generated Easy Stovetop Macaroni, Bacon and Cheese a la Jamie Oliver and that the hassle of tracking down and carrying home fresh sugar pumpkins produced Un-Pumpkin Pie (Caramelized Butternut Squash Pie with Brandy).

But the simple enjoyment of a great read isn't all there is to "In the Kitchen With A Good Appetite." Clark is known for recipes that are innovative yet achievable for those of us who have little time to cook. Moreover, in most cases, she directs the reader to variations -- not just for a complete recipe change -- as the way a rather ordinary version of

baked Brie turns into a Baked Camembert With Walnut Crumble and Ginger Marmalade. Clark also inspires you to embrace ingredient possibilities -- that using something you have on hand, or something you might like better, will be just fine, such as the way she used the Turkish apricots and pistachios that she already had in her cupboard instead of the flaked coconut and pecans in the original olive oil granola.

Though this is not a picture book with fancy colored photos of each dish, it is nevertheless a book that I will keep handy in the kitchen and use often. Hardcover. Hyperion. $27.50.

"The Art of Preserving: Sweet & Savory Recipes to Use Seasonal Produce." Having not received this lovely book until late in the summer, I was a little afraid I had missed the season of its peak use, but I was wrong. The autumn, winter and dried fruit sections equal the spring and summer sections. If you're ready to make Apple Butter, Pear and Dried Fruit Conserve, Ruby Grapefruit Marmalade, Meyer Lemon-Ginger Marmalade or Kumquat Preserves or do any other putting up this fall, you'll love this book. Hardcover. Williams-Sonoma. $29.95.