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Hey, Good Lookin,’ Whatcha Got Cookin’?

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Was this the greatest winter ever, or what? Warm temperatures and hardly any snow. Is this global warming, or just Mother Nature finally coming to her senses? In times of celebration, our ancient ancestors always threw a great feast in thanks. I’m totally for this tradition, and I know just the people to call on to get the banquet underway.

Fans of cooking shows “Top Chef” and “Top Chef: Just Desserts” know Gail Simmons as the tough chef with the demanding palate and the great shoes. If she’s TALKING WITH MY MOUTH FULL, it’s always worth hearing what she has to say. With honesty and good humor, Simmons traces her journey from growing up as a little Jewish girl in a loving Toronto family to becoming not only a TV star, but also the Special Projects Director at “Food & Wine” magazine. But when Simmons graduated from college, she had no idea how to choose a career path. A wise family friend told her to write down a list of what she loved to do best. The short list contained four words, “Eat, write, travel, cook.” Simmons took her own advice, and the rest is culinary history.

Ree Drummond calls her autobiography THE PIONEER WOMAN: BLACK HEELS TO TRACTOR WHEELS-A LOVE STORY. Drummond was living the high life in L.A. when a relationship gone sour pointed her to a new life in Chicago. On the way, she stopped at her hometown in Oklahoma, and really changed her life. In a dark, smoky bar, she was swept off her feet by her future husband, whom she calls “The Marlboro Man.” Before she knew it, she was living on a cattle ranch and having kids. Coming to terms with it all wasn’t easy, but she began cooking and blogging, and gathered a real following with her warm and humorous style. Ree’s now written a bestseller, and appeared on numerous TV shows, including her own cooking series.

MADE IN ITALY is Cooking Channel personality David Rocco’s gorgeous book full of recipe he’s gathered on his travels. Rocco and his wife, Nina, find the best food in every region of Italy, and get to know the people and customs, too. You can almost smell the lemon groves of the Amalfi Coast; Sunday meat stew flavored with tomatoes and red wine is a treat for the eyes as well as the palate. Rocco has made the instructions easy to read and to follow, and brought the real flavor of the Apennine Peninsula vividly to life.

Joy Wilson’s JOY THE BAKER COOKBOOK calls itself “a celebration of butter and sugar.” Could anything be more delicious? Wilson fully admits that she’s not a trained pastry chef, but her enthusiasm for delicious homemade baked goods has made her popular with dessert lovers everywhere. Wilson grew to love baking when she was a little girl making pies with her dad. She’s made sure her cookbook is full of helpful hints and humorous commentary, all geared to make us feel like we’re schmoozing with a girlfriend while we whip up tasty treats.

Ian Knauer’s THE FARM is a must have for everyone who loves food. Knauer is a major proponent of the farm to table movement, not surprising since his own Pennsylvania farm has been in the family since the eighteenth century. Like his colleagues who believe in using every part of an animal in creating meat dishes, Knauer believes in using vegetables to their full potential, too. For example, he uses radish leaves as well as the root. The one-hundred fifty recipes are grouped according to season, and the photos are colorful and evocative.

There’s no better way to give thanks for a benign winter and to revel in an early spring than to create great meals, and to feed our loved ones in celebration.

Michall Jeffers is an accomplished Cultural Journalist, a dedicated foodie, and an avowed bibliophile. She writes extensively, both in print and online. Her eponymous cable TV show is syndicated throughout the tri-state area, and features celebrity interviews, reviews, and commentary. Michall is a voting member of National Book Critics Circle. www.michalljeffers.com

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