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Flip through the pages to see if the design and illustrations appeal to you. Check to see if recipes are printed all on one page. A well-designed book won't require cooks to turn pages.

Check for complete, convenient directions. Do instructions for one part of a recipe - a sauce or special stock, perhaps - refer you to another chapter or page?

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Think of a favorite dish or simple recipe you have made often, and find it in the book. Does the author's recipe sounds correct or interesting?

Scan the index, if you're the kind of person who likes to find recipes in a hurry.

Take time to browse in a well-stocked shop that carries books on authentic ethnic cuisines and those with foreign recipes adapted for American kitchens.

Richard Sax, a New York food writer and author, has these additional tips:

Flip through the book and look for recipes that make you say ``I'd really like to make that one.'' If several look really good at first glance, trust your first impression.

Read for clarity. Does it seem as though you could follow the instructions easily?

Scan the lists of ingredients to be sure they're available in your area.

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