Old recipes, old friends: Don't discard either one

August 09, 1998|By Rob Kasper

WE CLING TO favorite foods. A cherished recipe can be like an old sweater: It feels comfortable long after it has gone out of fashion. And for that reason, we like to keep it around.

Marian Burros was reminded of this when she poked fun at the dated dishes - including some from her old cookbooks - that were served at a deja vu dinner party in Bethesda. I was at that 1985 party, and I recall eating sweet-and-sour hot-dogs speared with toothpicks, Swedish meatballs, something jiggling in tomato aspic and various sauce-choked entrees.

When Burros subsequently joked about these dishes in an article in the New York Times, some readers were not amused. Defenders of meatballs dropped their toothpicks and picked up their pens to write her letters of protest. Would-be members of the tomato aspic defense league also objected to the slighting of their wobbly old dinner-time companion.

Burros kept this experience in mind when she and co-author Lois Levine, a California cooking teacher, revised some of the recipes in their 1960 cookbook, "Elegant But Easy." Instead of casting out all the old recipes, they kept the favorites, sometimes tinkering with a few ingredients. In all, 50 of the old faithfuls, bTC including toasted mushroom rolls, appear among the 200 recipes in their new cookbook, "The New Elegant But Easy Cookbook."

Burros spoke up for toasted mushroom rolls during a recent interview. They are a good hors d'oeuvre, she said, adding that she served them at her daughter Ann's 1992 wedding. She now recommends using fancier mushrooms, like portobello or shiitake, rather than the generic white kind commonly used in 1960. But pressed white bread, she said, should still be used to wrap up the mushroom mix.

"People like tastes that are familiar," she said, adding that "There are some tastes that you never outgrow." For instance, Burros, the author of 11 previous books, including several lauding the low-fat lifestyle, told me she is still fond of tapioca pudding. "Every time I make it, I remember when I was a girl and made tapioca and ate the whole thing before my mother got home," she said. I found such admissions of indulgence from Burros reassuring because some of her recent cookbooks had too much low-fat yogurt in them for me. Gimme sour cream!

Burros acknowledged that the recipes in her new cookbook are less calorie-conscious than those in some previous books. The food in this book is to be served when you are entertaining, she said, when splurging is acceptable.

Many old recipes, Burros said, call for putting too much sugar in too many places. "Sugar should be in desserts, not mayonnaise," she said. Moreover, modern desserts let the components of the dish - the fruit or the chocolate - have a strong voice. The sugar doesn't shout it down. So, too, with salt, she said. A small amount brings out flavor, but too much overpowers. As for butter, she said several times that "We are cooking now with a few tablespoons of butter instead of using an entire stick."

But Burros, who splits her time between residences in New York and the Maryland suburbs of Washington, said that certain recipes, like crab cakes, require butter.

"I have to have my crab cakes sauted in butter, not olive oil," she said.

I agree. But I'm one of those moss-covered types who still like sweet-and-sour hot-dogs.

Pub Date: 8/09/98

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