* BOOK AND AUTHOR:

"A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen: Easy Seasonal Dishes for Family and Friends" (Houghton Mifflin, $35). The right man to write this book, Jack Bishop is the author of two previous books about vegetables and the executive editor of Cook's Illustrated magazine. He's also a husband, father of two young girls and the guy most responsible for putting dinner on the table every night. Could he produce a year's worth of lively, creative and relatively easy vegetarian dishes that he and his wife would enjoy and the kids would eat? Or would this challenge be so labor-intensive and forced that it would make a year of solitary confinement seem preferable?

* FORMAT:

Vegetarian recipes, of course, thrive on seasonality. So Bishop wisely divides his book into spring, summer, fall and winter chapters. But Bishop emphasizes, "I'm a practical cook as well as a seasonal one." So in winter and early spring, before farmers markets have opened, he shops in supermarkets like the rest of us. This practicality infuses the whole book. In winter, we're making soups and pizza sauces from canned tomatoes or tossing pasta with root vegetables, parsley and capers. In spring, we're serving white bean and radish salad.

In fact, the first time I flipped through I thought the recipes looked . . . a little boring. Not so. There's a prevailing emphasis on flavor, not theatrics, no tomato napoleons but instead a beautiful salad of heirlooms with pecorino-walnut toasts or a simple pan-fried noodle cake with bok choy. In addition, the book is nicely larded with tips (shredding zucchini, choosing the right feta cheese) and definitions (millet, red lentils) boxed on the page with a relevant recipe; all are smartly helpful, never just filler.

* WHO WOULD USE THIS BOOK:

Those in search of flavorful and straightforward recipes, but also those who are happy to experiment with more challenging dishes. You absolutely could cook for a year with this book, and the meat-eaters in the house might not realize for three months that they had become vegetarians.

-- Jeanne McManus