There appear to be a great many empty kitchens this fall, vacated by cooks who have taken to the road to promote new books they have written. What follows are conversations with a handful of these authors and samples of their recipe creations.
One of the year's most eagerly anticipated books has been "The Key to Chinese Cooking" by Irene Kuo (Knopf, $15), Mme. Kuo, who lived in Washington when her husband was military attache at the Chinese embassy, went on to own and operate two successful New York restaurants. The Liche Tree and The Gingko Tree. She also taught Chinese cooking to American students and as she tells it, "realized my students and customers had questions despite the books available."
The answers she gave them, plys four years of research and writing provided the 500-page, carefully illustrated text that was published last month. "When I found that neither of my sons wanted to take over the business, I decided to sell or retire and work on the book to leave something permanent," she said during a recent visit.
"But to codense something with the depth and scope of Chinese cooking into one volume is impossible. This book should provide a sound and fundamental foundation so Americans will no longer think only tedious cutting and nerve-racking timing can produce a Chinese meal at home."
Mme. Kuo begins with utensils and cutting (she minimizes the need for special tools and maximizes the importance of mastering various techniques with a cleaver). She then explains the uses of four different heat sources - liquid, oil, wet heat and dry heat - in text and recipes. The rest of the book consists of recipes broken down by courses, explanation of Chinese ingredients and mail-order sources.
"I recommend strongly," she said, "that people bring Chinese dishes into their meals gradually instead of trying to do an entire Chinese menu right away. Make an appetizer or a cold-stir dish that takes the place of a salad or one or two vegetables, but have the rest of the memu Western food. They blend beautifully."
Here is a recipe that might be used for an appetizer with drinks or as a cold vegetable side dish. CHILLED LIMA BEANS 1 package (10 ounces) large forzen lima beans 2 tablespoons oil 1 teaspoon salt 1 tablespoon sugar 1/2 cup chicken stock or water 1 teaspoon sesame oil Remove beans from package, let them defrost a little, a separate them with your fingers.
Heat a skillet over high heat until hot; add the oil, swirl, and heat for 30 seconds. Scatter in the beans and stir-fry briskly for 30 seconds until the frost is dissolved and the color of the beans brightens into icy green. Sprinkle in the salt and sugar and stir rapidly for another 30 seconds to season them evenly. Add the stock or water, even out the beans, turn heat to medium low and maintain a strong simmer, cover, and simmer for 5 minutes.
Uncover, turn heat high and stir rapidly for about 30 seconds until the small amount of foaming liquid has evaporated. Add the sesame oil, give the beans a few fast turns, and pour into a serving dish. Cover, refrierate, and serve chilled.
Anne Willan has undertaken an even greater challenge than Mme. Kuo. Her "Great Cooks and Their Recipes" (McGraw-Hill, $19.95) sets out to trace the development of Western cooking through 13 great chefs and teachers whose lives span seven centuries.
Willan once served as food editor of the Evening Star here and now directs and Paris cooking school La Varenne. "The idea had been evolving for several years," she said recently. "The 'Roots' theme has been overworked, but we do have a food heritage and one questions where things come from and why they developed.
"It would seem that puff pastry emerged full-blown in the 17th century. It must have developed, but how is an unsolved mystery. In medieval times cooking throughout Europe was much the same. Cooks for the wealthy used lots of spices, making dishes that were somewhat like the food from India we know today. Then the Italians began an evolution, as they did in so many other fields."
Willan traces that evolution in chapters on two Italian chefs, Martino (whose reputation was made from 1450 to 1475) and Bartolomeo Scappi (who came along a century later), then switches to 17th-century France (La Varenna). Her survey also includes three English cooks, French masters Antonin Careme and Augusta Escoffier and two American women, Amelia Simmons and Fannie Farmer.
In addition to essays on the cooks and their times, Willan presents original recipes and has provided modern translations suitable for home kitchens. The book is lavishly illustrated with prints, drawings and photographs.
"So many things can be traced back so far," she said. "Listen to this: A French chef describes his cooking as 'less trouble, fewer mixtures yet as much variety: a simpler, cleaner, and more knowledgeable kind of chemistry.' Paul Bocuse? No. It was a chef for Louis XV writing in 1742."
Here is the updated version of La Varenna's 17th-century recipe for stuffed mushrooms. STUFFED MUSHROOMS
(4 first-course servings) 1/2 pound uncooked veal or breast of chicken 2 tablespoons chopped chives Salt and pepper 2 egg yolks 1 pound large mushroom caps 3 tablespoons butter A squeeze of lemon juice
Set the oven at moderat (350 degrees). Work the veal or chicken meat twice through the fine plate of a grinder. Add the chives with plenty of salt and pepper and stir in the egg yolks to bind the mixture. Remove the stems from the mushrooms and spoon the mixture into the mushroom caps, mounding it well. Spread the butter in a heatproof baking dish, set the mushrooms on top, and bake them in the heated oven, basting often, for 25 to 30 minutes or until the mushrooms are tender and the stuffing is browned. Sprinkle with the lemon juice and serve hot.
Ceil Dyer's concerns are practical rather than classical and she has worked with HP Books to produce the paperback "Wok Cookery" ($4.95), a book she insists is not ethnic despite its title.
"It's for American foods cooked by Oriental methods," she said in a light Southern accent. "Maybe it should have been called American Wok Cookery. There are only a handful of recipes with Chinese ingredients.
"A wok, a high-domed steaming lid and a two-plate burner: You don't need any other cooking equipment. With a work you use less energy and you save money by using less meat and more vegetables. The recipes are quick, too. There are people who are gourmets, but the average person wants to cook fast."
Dyer, who has more than half-a-dozen cook books to her credit, including a recent one featuring Carter family recipes, is not bullish on her fellow Americans as eaters.
"The majority of people simply ignore what they eat," she said. "They think there is no relationship between what they eat and how they feel. They believe in pills but not in the value of a good diet." She finds the gourmet scene "a bore" and feels the health food approach has been "overdone."
"This simplicity thing is right, though. There is an honest trend toward very fine food - fresh, best quality ingredients cooked very simply. It hasn't stopped the trend toward convenience foods, though."
Therefore, while she says she doesn't use them herself, convenience items - such as frozen creamed vegetables, which appear as a fish sacue - have found their way into "Wok Cookery." "They (the publishers) want recipes people won't be afraid of," Dyer said.
Here is one of those recipes. TURKEY AND RICE BASQUE STYLE (6 servings) 1 pound hot Italian sausage Water 2 tablespoon oil
"I recommend strongly," says Mme. Irene Kuo, "that people bring Chinese dishes into their meals gradually." 2 medium green peppers, seeded, cut in julienne strips 1 small onion, peeled, chopped 1 clove garlic, peeled and finely minced 1 can (1 pound) tomatoes with basil 1 teaspoon mixed Italians herbs Salt to taste Coarse-ground black pepper to taste 1 tablespoon tomato paste 3 cups cold, cooked rice 4 to 5 large slices cold roast-turkey meat, cut in bite-size pieces
In a small skillet, cover suasage with water and bring to a boil. Prick sausages in several places with a knife. Simmer for 10 minutes. Drain and slice 1/2-inch thick. Heat oil in wok. Add green peppers, onion and garlic. Stir-fry until limp. Add sausage and stir-fry about 2 to 3 minutes. Add tomatoes, Italian [WORD ILLEGIBLE] salt, pepper and tomato paste. Stir-fry over high [WORD ILLEGIBLE] about 2 or 3 minutes. Add rice and turkey. Stir [WORD ILLEGIBLE] lift until well mixed and heated.
Michele Evans is advocating "Fearless Cooking [WORD ILLEGIBLE] Men" (Mason/Charter, $9.95). It consists of [WORD ILLEGIBLE] to food storage, cooking terms and measurements plus half-a-dozen modern cooking aides [WORD ILLEGIBLE] large cross-section of recipes and menus collected from men who cook. The intention is to urge [WORD ILLEGIBLE] those who don't.
Should such an approach be considered [WORD ILLEGIBLE] Evans was asked. "Absolutely not," she responded. "It was done in the same spirit as a book on carpentery for women. Women should use it, too. My approach is not to begin with 'here's how to boil water.' I think cooking is easy and I teach by example."
Evans teaches on the "Today" show frequently. "I do recipes that are simple, relatively inexpensive but a little different," she said. "I'll put rum in a bolldy mary or zucchini in a cake. I'll demonstrate a 30-minute gourmet meal."
Her own food instincts were developed during childhood visits to a grandmother's kitchen on a Texas ranch. Acting brought her to New York, but for the past five years she has "been terribly happy making a living doing what I love."
Here is a recipt she obtained from New York political journalist Ken Auletta. KEN AULETTA'S FRIED MEATBALLS 4 stale seedless bread rolls 1 1/2 pounds ground top sirloin 1/2 pound ground pork 5 whole eggs 3/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese 1 tablespoon fresh chopped parsley 1 tablespoon salt Freshly ground pepper to taste 1/2 cup vegetable oil
Break rolls into pieces and place in a bowl. Cover with water until soacked through. With your hands squeeze out all water and place in a fresh large bowl. Add remaining ingredients. Mix thoroughly with your hand until smooth. Shape into meatballs the size of a handball. Now heat oil until quite hot but not smoking and add meatballs. Fry until crispy brown all over. Turn gently with large spoon as the various sides brown. When completely crisp, remove and drain. Meatballs can be added to favorite sauce or eaten as is. They are good as an appetizer or cold the next day with mozzarella.