It's official: America's cooks are peeling the plastic off their six-burner stoves and settling in for some long, slow hours of culinary dedication. After what seemed like an unbeatable streak of make-it-easy, make-it-simple, make-it-quick trends in cookbook publishing, this year's volumes show signs of a new relationship with time, one that savors every moment spent preparing, serving, eating -- even reading -- about food.
To that end, nothing will satisfy the foodie more than the two volumes of The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America (Oxford University Press, $195 until Jan. 31, then $250), which takes the reader from Anadama bread, which originated on Boston's North Shore, to an 1845 dinner at the White House, after which Mrs. J. E. Dixon wrote, ''Sit! I guess we did sit -- for four mortal hours." Everything was French, she writes, and she didn't arrive back home until 10 p.m.
Thanks to its savvy combination of adventure and thoroughness, one of the year's most popular books is the hefty The Gourmet Cookbook (Houghton Mifflin, $40). The editors of Brookline's Cook's Illustrated are trying to match Gourmet page for page with their ultrareliable The New Best Recipe (America's Test Kitchen, $35).
Carnivore friends will be thoroughly satisfied by Bruce Aidell's Complete Book of Pork: A Guide to Buying, Storing, and Cooking the World's Favorite Meat (HarperCollins, $29.95). This unrestrained paean to the pig goes from breakfast sausage (why not make your own?) to cultish barbecue. Rick Stein's Complete Seafood: A step-by-step reference with over 150 recipes and 550 photographs (Ten Speed Press, $40) is a demystifying how-to that will gladden the heart of anyone who's ever hovered over a scaly conundrum with a sharp knife, hoping someone more experienced will come to the rescue.
Two bean cookbooks illustrate the frugal rewards for cooks willing to devote leguminous hours to their craft. Judith Barrett's Fagioli: The Bean Cuisine of Italy (Rodale, $22.95) celebrates the chickpea salads, lentil spreads, and multifarious bean stews of regional Italy. In Beans: More than 200 Delicious, Wholesome Recipes from Around the World (Running Press, $19.95) Aliza Green takes the cosmopolitan approach, uniting falafel, feijoada, and mulligatawny for perhaps the first time ever in anall-beans-for-all-courses (yes, even dessert!) compendium.
Molly Stevens's indispensable All About Braising (Norton, $35) is filled with long-simmered stews and pot roasts, which will prove their mettle with every degree the mercury falls.
To keep palates tantalized before dinner, Tori Ritchie's Party Appetizers: Small Bites, Big Flavors (Chronicle, $14.95) offers an easy sense of luxe. Bring on the chorizo! Hurrah for puff pastry!
The ethnic cookbooks were few but choice. Joyce Goldstein's Italian Slow and Savory (Chronicle, $40) extends the territory covered in Paula Wolfert's ''Slow Mediterranean Food" last year. Goldstein is astute in bridging the gap between authentic ingredients and those that are merely hard-to-find. Grace Young's The Breath of a Wok (Simon & Schuster, $35) is captivating home cooks with its deep respect for versatile wok-based recipes. Yes, it's an homage to a pot, but a very convincing one. Finally, Rosemary Barron's Flavors of Greece (Interlink, $27.95) stands out among the raft of Greek books in this year of Olympics. This one is thorough and clear.
Chefs were out in force this year, including New York restaurateur Lidia Bastianich, who is doing her best to be the Italian grandmother most of America never had. Lidia's Family Table (Knopf, $35) translates her presence right to your kitchen, her rough, confident hands kneading dough or stuffing veal. Thomas Keller's Bouchon (Artisan, $50) is grand and gorgeous, with fine traditional recipes that deserve to make it into the kitchen rather than sprawling on the coffee table. Ina Garten's Barefoot in Paris: Easy French Food You Can Make at Home (Random House, $35) gets the job done without breaking a sweat; these dishes are simple and appealing. Front and center in the eminence grise category is Marcella Hazan, whose Marcella Says (HarperCollins, $29.95) may be the last of the Italian doyenne's many contributions to the cookbook world. Her recipes are as robust and her voice as bracing and witty as they ever have been.
In what can only be a rush of post-Atkins euphoria, hardcore baking books -- the ones that tell you which bacteria to encourage in your sourdough culture and so forth -- always do well, but this year bakers seem to feel less guilty about dipping into the flour just for fun. Abigail Johnson Dodge's The Weekend Baker (Norton, $30) envisions a world of baking made easier by dividing recipes into ''do-ahead" and ''under-an-hour," neatly capturing the Type-A baker, as well as its scatterbrained counterpart. Debby Maugans Nakos's Small-Batch Baking (Workman, $13.95), on the other hand, sings the praises of full-throttle, labor-intensive little cakes that only two people can enjoy.
Meanwhile, the cookie book market bustles as busily as ever. Not to be missed is the King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion (Countryman Press, $29.95), galloping to the rescue of bake sales in distress with 500 pages of cookie classics.
Elinor Klivans's Big Fat Cookies (Chronicle, $17.95) opens up a whole universe of giants, including chocolate chip whoppers and king-sized raisin pillows. If you're going to go blow 400 calories on a cookie, do it here.
Baking at Home with the C.I.A. (Wiley, $40) makes a fine companion to last year's ''Cooking at Home with the C.I.A.," handily surveying the sweet and savory ends of the oven with expected cooking-school precision. Maggie Glezer's A Blessing of Bread: Recipes and Rituals, Memories and Mitzvahs (Artisan, $35) brings a baker's joy to the Sabbath, complete with easy-to-understand instructions -- a miracle! -- for many-stranded, braided challahs.
Even teens are firing up the stove: Rick Bayless and daughter Lanie hit the road in Rick & Lanie's Excellent Kitchen Adventures (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $29.95), cooking everything from chicken donburi to Peruvian ceviche. Though glossy and cosmopolitan -- this is no after-school project -- it still has something of the chatty air that propelled Teens Cook, by Megan and Jill Carle, to solid sales this year.