LIKE OTHER people, cooks are inclined to long for times when life was simpler. Before raspberry vinegar, before walnut oil, before peppercorns of every hue, nouvelle and minceur and Scarsdale, there was James Beard's "Fireside Cook Book."
Reading it, one recalls why Beard is the dean of American cooking. He catalogued honest, practical foods in a realistic, informative way. He managed to ignore the post-war enthusiasm for canned soups while introducing us to chayote, leeks, cassoulet, polenta, brie and pommes souffle. He allows us fresh vegetables with endless variations on a theme: mushrooms come sauteed, with cream, polonaise, country style, pungent, broiled, a la grecque, in a pie and stuffed. Onions are boiled, sauteed, french fried rings, baked, stuffed and grilled.
In 1949, Beard wrote not of quiche and pasta but of cheese pie and spaghetti. For "French pancakes" (known today as crepes) and "roast duck with orange sauce" (otherwise known as duck a l'orange), he used one paragraph to describe the cooking directions.
It's refreshing to read of simple pleasures, confident that Beard will not sacrifice sophistication. A simple recipe for cheese souffle enables us to enjoy a classy meal with a brief trip through the express lane of the supermarket, assuming we have such staples as flour, sugar, salt, pepper and butter and/or oil at home. If your supermarket allows more items through the express lane, buy some cinnamon for the blueberry muffins.
EXPRESS LANE LIST: Milk, hot pepper sauce, cheddar cheese, eggs, blueberries, baking powder, cherry tomatoes, tarragon. BLUEBERRY MUFFINS (Makes 6 muffins) 2 cups sifted flour 3 teaspoons baking powder 3 tablespoons sugar 1/2 teaspoon salt 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon, optional 3/4 cup milk 1 egq, well beaten 1/2 cup melted butter 1 cup blueberries
Sift flour with baking powder, sugar, salt and cinnamon. Beat together milk, egg and melted butter. Combine gently in bowl, turning only until the flour is dampened (there will be lumps). Add blueberries and give it a few more turns, being careful not to overmix (the lumps will cook out). Fill buttered muffin tins 2/3 full with mixture and bake at 400 degrees for 25 minutes. CHEESE SOUFFLE (6 servings) 6 tablespoons butter 1/4 cup flour 2 cups scalded milk 1 teaspoon salt 2 drops hot pepper sauce 2 cups grated cheddar cheese 8 eggs, separated
Melt butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add flour and stir until well blended and smooth. Gradually add hot milk, whisking constantly, and stir until mixture thickens and becomes smooth. Add salt, hot pepper sauce and cheese. Continue stirring until cheese is melted. Set aside.
Beat egg yolks until light and lemon-colored and pour the slightly cooled cheese mixture onto the yolks, beating constantly. Set aside.
While the cheese mixture cools, beat egg whites until stiff, then fold them into cheese mixture. Pour into a buttered casserole and bake at 375 deqrees 40 to 45 minutes until light and well-browned. Serve immediately with 2 pints (more or less) of cherry tomatoes that have been cleaned and heated in 1/4 cup butter and 1 teaspoon tarragon. Stir in a skillet over medium heat to coat the tomatoes with the herbed butter, and heat them through.