Recipe Revisit: Fossils and Classics

Revising and updating a cookbook has an element of archaeology to it. Just ask Marian Burros about Jell-O molds.

While working on "The New Elegant But Easy Cookbook," co-written with Lois Levine, Ms. Burros, longtime food writer for the New York Times, had a dilemma.

The old "Elegant But Easy Cookbook," published in 1960, sold more than 500,000 copies and included recipes that called for Jell-O molds. "If I didn't include them in the new book, I would have to endure the wrath of longtime readers. On the other hand, if I did include them, I would have to endure the scorn of fellow food writers," Burros says in an interview. (Plus, who uses Jell-O molds anymore?) She decided on the former, and said to her editor, "Jell-O molds will be the first to go."

Home cooking has changed so much in 30-plus years, Burros remarks. The variety of fresh foods from around the world has exploded. Once-popular dishes such as potato-chip casseroles and cream-everything creations would never make it out of the kitchen today. MSG? No. Try herbs and spices.

But some things remain the same. The focus of the new book still satisfies yearnings for foolproof recipes that can be prepared ahead, such as chocolate souffl. Macaroni and Cheese (from the Canal House) is another favorite. The idea is to get meals on the table with the least amount of stress, says Burros. To help readers out, she and Levine include mail-order sources and week-by-week planning guides for dinner parties. Some recipes are updated, some new, and others virtually unchanged.

Original Plum Torte

'Because of reader demand, this recipe has been published in one form or another in The New York Times almost every year since I went to work there in 1981. Lois [Levine] brought this recipe, originally called Fruit Torte, to Elegant but Easy, and its appeal comes from its lovely old-fashioned flavor and its speed of preparation....'

1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened

3/4 cup plus 1 or 2 tablespoons sugar

1 cup unbleached flour, sifted

1 teaspoon baking powder

2 eggs

Pinch salt

24 halves pitted Italian (prune or purple) plums

1 teaspoon cinnamon or more, to taste

Arrange a rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Cream the butter and the 3/4 cup sugar. Add the flour, baking powder, eggs, and salt and beat to mix well. Spoon the batter into an ungreased 9- or 10-inch springform pan. Cover the top with the plums, skin sides down. Mix the cinnamon with the remaining 1 or 2 tablespoons of sugar and sprinkle over the top.

Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let cool; refrigerate or freeze if desired.

To serve, let the torte return to room temperature and reheat at 300 degrees until warm, if desired. Serve plain or with vanilla ice cream.

Serves 8.

- From 'The New Elegant but Easy Cookbook,' by Marian Burros and Lois Levine (Simon & Schuster, $25)

Quick Meals

You've been home for five minutes, and the chorus begins. 'Honey, when do we eat? What's for supper? Is it ready yet?' This column marks the introduction of fast dishes, meals you can whip up in minutes.

Baked Mustard-Tarragon Chicken

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1 tablespoon butter

3/4 tablespoon crushed, dried tarragon

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

3 tablespoon Dijon (or your favorite) mustard

Salt and ground black pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Trim chicken of any visible fat, rinse, and pat dry.

Melt butter, and stir in remaining ingredients. Dip chicken pieces in mixture, and place in a baking dish.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until chicken juices run clear when pricked with a toothpick.

Serves 4.

Fresh Salmon (or Tuna)

Au Poivre

2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns (or a melange of black, white, green, and pink peppercorns)

2 teaspoons olive oil

2 6-ounce fresh salmon or tuna steaks, 1-inch thick

Crush peppercorns with a mortar and pestle, or place them in a plastic seal-lock bag and pound them lightly with a hammer or bottle.

Brush steaks with olive oil and firmly press crushed peppercorns into both sides. Broil or grill, turning once.

Serves 2.

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