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Concoct some holiday cheer with books for expert and novice cooks

It's always exciting when a world-acclaimed chef comes out with a cookbook. This year two great European chefs have put down the ladle and picked up the pen.

Since so many of this genre of cookbooks end up being difficult, esoteric, and downright intimidating, it was a real pleasure to peruse Michel Guerard's Cuisine for Home Cooks (William Morrow, New York, $15.95).

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In his third cookbook, Mr. Guerard has compiled a fairly simple group of recipes based on those prepared on his French TV series. They have been carefully edited for an American audience.

Simple is subjective, though. These are not the kind of recipes you'll find on a Campbell soup can, but most can be handled with a little extra time and attention.

Substitutes are freely given for difficult-to-get ingredients. Out of guinea hens? Mr. Guerard suggests a chicken.

As straightforward as these recipes are, the Guerard creativity has not been sacrificed. Spinach Puree with Pear is original and as easy as it sounds.

Once you've mastered these recipes, you might consider The Cuisine of Fredy Girardet (William Morrow, New York, $17.95), subtitled, ''The Incomparable Recipes of the Greatest Chef in Europe.'' If that doesn't intimidate you, read on.

Certainly Mr. Girardet is one of Switzerland's living treasures. In this book he lovingly shares his pearls of culinary wisdom.

These recipes, however, are aimed at the serious cook for whom expense is no object. Truffles, foie gras, game, and wild mushrooms clamor for equal time. It's money rather than technique that needs to be invested here.

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If you are comfortable with French terms and phrases and already have a sound foundation in baking, Mastering the Art of French Pastry, by Bruce Healy and Paul Bugat (Barron's, Woodbury, N.Y., $21.95), may be the book for you. If you're a grandmother who likes to make cookies on weekends for the grandchildren , forget it.

Some of the more difficult and lesser known French pastries are carefully explained. Helpful chapters on ingredients and equipment are also included.

But don't expect to find marzipan in the index - unless you are familiar with enough French to look under pate d'amandes. It's that kind of book.

The Easy Cooking collection (Barron's, Woodbury, N.Y., $4.95 each) is a cheerful series of little books that are a treat for those who value a reassuring picture of the end result before they start cooking. Each of the simple no-nonsense recipes is beautifully illustrated by a full-page color photograph.

The modestly priced books have been written by well-known food writers, editors, and consultants - people for whom food is a business and not merely a pastime.

The series includes ''Warm Weather Dishes,'' ''Old American Favorites,'' ''Easy Appetizers,'' ''Quick Gourmet Dishes,'' and ''Great Desserts,'' to name a few of the 16 titles published so far. Two more are coming this spring, and the publisher says, ''We're not through yet.''

The Mellons have just stepped off the Concorde and have invited themselves over for dinner. Oh, dear, what to serve?

Just pick up the Carnegie Treasures Cookbook (Atheneum, New York, $19.95). Open it up at random, choose an appropriate menu, mortgage your house, and go shopping.

One suggested menu: Chilled Cream of Spinach Soup and Lobster Salad with Avocados, Mangoes, and Oranges. For dessert, Raspberries among the Roses.

Had too much lobster lately? What about Chilled Plum Soup followed by Squab with Apricots and Macadamia Nuts? For breakfast you might try Oysters and Artichokes, Chevre with Assorted Fruits, and Nectarine Tarts.

This handsome book combines a crash course in art appreciation and gourmet cooking. It is filled with color prints of some of the choice pieces collected by the Museum of Art, Carnegie Institute, and some equally dazzling recipes collected by the Women's Committee.

For its size and slickness the price is fairly modest; the recipes are not.

Kathy Gunst's little book, Condiments (Putnam, New York, $17.95), deserves a place on your kitchen shelf - right up there between the mustard and ketchup.

This helpful work not only explains the different condiments, but tells you what to do with a bottle of sambles (hot peppers) if one shows up in your Christmas stocking. And a $25 bottle of extra-fine virgin olive oil is only worth the price if you know how to use it, says Ms. Gunst.

The book is expensive for its size, but if you enjoy making your own sauces and chutneys, it too is worth the price if you know how to use it.

The title of Jack Lirio's Fast Fabulous Desserts (E. P. Dutton, New York, $18 .95) is a little misleading.

Fabulous? Maybe.

Fast? Well, not so fast, Jack.

The introduction, however, quickly explains what ''fast'' is, according to Mr. Lirio. ''Very Fast'' is 15 to 20 minutes. Then there's ''Fast Considering the Complexity of the Dish.'' That's between one and two hours. But then you can't expect anything called Strawberry Taj Mahal to be made in record time.

In fairness, though, most of the desserts are quick. That's mostly because Mr. Lirio is not above using shortcuts. If you have the time to poach pears, fine, but canned pears are OK in Jack's book.

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