Think of the big names in the publishing industry as masterful, complex engines that run on premium fuel, carry high maintenance costs and turn heads (at least for the Warholian 15 minutes) as they streak down the highway on their way from conception to fame, or oblivion.
So we've got our big engines, with public relations departments, marketing experts, design experts, Big Names, and cash flows as relentless as breakers over Waikiki beach.
Then we've got the others -- the people who sit in tiny offices at obscure addresses, working the phones by themselves, developing mailing lists one name at a time, figuring out the market with their wits instead of with computers full of demographic data.
Where cookbooks are concerned, everybody knows the big names. There are several Washington cookbook authors whose names are well known nationally and whose books always get wide attention from the food press.
In this category is Joan Nathan, whose recent "American Folklife Cookbook" was well received, and who has recently come out with a new book called "Children's Jewish Holiday Cookbook." Carol Cutler (books on bread, entertaining, pa~te') is also well known and well received, as is Anne Willan, whose specialty is the food of France and whose books are among the very best on that subject. Susan Belsinger and her partner Carolyn Dille have written two successful books, one on herbs and a more recent one on Southwestern cooking.
Putting along on the back roads, meanwhile, are the smaller, less ambitious efforts of the American Cooking Guild, a local publishing company run by local boy Bill Cates.
Look around at kitchenware, specialty and gift stores -- not book stores -- and you will begin to see a series of small (5 1/2 by 8 1/2 inches), paperback cookbooks with nicely designed covers and one-topic titles. The books are generally 64 pages long, and are meant as introductions to various topics.
Here's the idea -- without spending $20 or $25 on a specialty book such as Paul Prudhomme's on cajun cuisine, the inchoate cajun cook can get the basic idea by buying the American Cooking Guild's $2.95 effort on the same subject. It won't be nearly so comprehensive, obviously, and the recipes will often be less complex, but then the investment will be less. If cajun cuisine seems like it might turn into a $20 kind of interest, Prudhomme's book will still be there.
Cates is very clear about the kind of book he wants to publish. It is aimed at the post-novice -- the person who can get dinner on the table but wants to begin to expand on the basic repertoire. The recipes may be sophisticated but in general they won't be difficult to execute and they won't take any weird detours into ingredients only available from one mail order source in one particular Louisiana swamp.
Not all of the American Cooking Guild's authors are local, and the books are sold nationwide. In fact, Cates says, about 40 percent of his business is in California.
The most recent book, however, is by a local author. It's called "Barbeque: Sizzling Fireside Know-How" and it's written by Leslie Bloom. It has the potential, Cates thinks, to be among the company's best sellers.
And it's a perfect example of his company's philosophy. The recipes are modern, sometimes even hip (smoked red pepper sauce) and clearly written. Graphics -- the way the print is set up -- add to rather than detract from the clarity of the presentation.
The small details that make a cookbook useful or not are carefully attended to. Cates says he's learned over the years, for example, how to present recipes in print -- something his previous life as a flight attendant could not have prepared him for. One seemingly small detail -- that ingredients be listed in the order they are used -- makes a big difference to the user of the books.
Careful editing -- spelling of foreign ingredients, accent marks, ingredient amounts -- Cates attributes to an editor on his staff, Marian Levine.
Leslie Bloom's book offers up-to-date grilling tips, including information about the grill itself and accoutrements such as skewers and fuel. In its compact 64 pages, the book gives recipes -- nice ones -- for marinades, basting sauces, glazes, serving and dipping sauces, meat, poultry, fish and vegetables. In the back of the book Bloom has put together three grilling party menus -- one for a Middle Eastern barbecue, one for a breakfast, and one for a kebab dinner.
Bloom's is the newest of the American Cooking Guild books, but there are others by local authors as well.
One particularly interesting example is "Louisiana Creole and Cajun" by local cooking teacher Margaret Maring, who is a native of south Louisiana. Maring's book has been one of the series' best sellers, having achieved what the big guns spend thousands trying to figure out -- it hit the market while the trend was peaking.
"Louisiana Creole and Cajun" hits the high points of that type of cooking. Most of the recipes will be familiar to connoisseurs but not to less experienced cooks. They are divided into traditional cookbook categories, with an especially interesting group of breads and desserts.
The subject of another locally written book in the series is the cooking of India, this one authored by Sambhu Banik, a psychologist who, like many another Indian cook, learned his avocation when he was sent off to school in the wilds of England and found plain boiled brussels sprouts lacking in that certain je ne sais quoi.
Again, connoisseurs whose bookshelves are lined with the collected works of Madhur Jaffrey would probably find lots of duplication here, but Banik has provided non-experts with an authentic collection of basic but interesting recipes, including directions for making paneer (a mild cheese) at home.
In these little books you won't find frills -- there is no index, for example, nor are there lavish illustrations -- and you won't find thousands of recipes (which can lead to panic and confusion anyway). What you will find is a good, solid introduction to a number of intriguing areas of cooking.
If you want a free catalogue of the entire series, write to American Cooking Guild, P.O. Box 2691WP, Silver Spring, Md. 20902.
BAYOU CORN SOUP WITH SHRIMP (6 servings)
This is especially good in the summer when tomatoes and corn are fresh.
1/4 cup oil
1/4 cup flour
1 cup onions, chopped
3 tablespoons bell pepper, chopped
3 pieces bacon, fried crisp and chopped
2 large fresh tomatoes
1 1/2 cups fresh corn
2 quarts water
1/4 teaspoon or more hot pepper sauce to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
1 pound shrimp, shelled and deveined
3 tablespoons parsley, chopped
In a large heavy pot heat the oil and add the flour. Make a roux by cooking the oil and flour over low heat, stirring until the mixture turns light brown. Add the onions and bell pepper. Cook for a few minutes until the vegetables are soft but not brown.
Add the bacon, tomatoes, and corn. Cover and cook about 15 minutes over low heat. Add water, hot pepper sauce, salt and pepper, and simmer about 40 minutes. Add shrimp and cook slowly for 10 minutes. Sprinkle with parsley and cook 5 minutes.
From "Louisiana Creole and Cajun" by Margaret Maring (The American Cooking Guild, 1985, $2.95) MOM'S BASIC BBQ SAUCE (Makes 4 cups)
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup worcestershire sauce
1 cup strong coffee
1 1/2 cups ketchup
1/2 cup corn oil
In a medium saucepan, off the heat, mix the brown sugar, cider vinegar, worcestershire sauce and coffee. Whisk in the ketchup and corn oil. Bring the sauce to a boil and simmer uncovered for 5 minutes to blend flavors. Cool and store refrigerated indefinitely; warm the sauce before using to baste.
Use with ribs, hot dogs, hamburgers, beef, fish, seafood, pork, poultry, and lamb.
From "Barbeque: Sizzling Fireside Know-How," by Leslie Bloom (The American Cooking Guild, 1987, $2.95) ANCHO CHILE BBQ SAUCE (Makes 2 1/2 cups)
The ancho chile is a commonly used chile in Mexico. It is actually the poblano chile, ripened and dried. The average ancho chile is 4 inches long and 3 inches wide, and is triangular in shape; the skin is wrinkled and dark reddish brown in color. The ancho is one of the milder chiles and has a sweet earthy taste. You can find these chiles in Spanish markets.
4 dried ancho chiles
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon white pepper
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups Mom's Basic BBQ Sauce or 1/2 recipe (recipe above)
Remove the stem and seeds from the ancho chiles. Place chiles in a small pot and pour water over them to just cover. Bring to a boil and simmer covered for 5 minutes. Let stand off the heat for 5 minutes until chiles are softened. Drain, reserving liquid to poach chicken, cook pasta, etc.
In the work bowl of a food processor, with the steel blade, pure'e the chiles, garlic, cloves, cumin, white pepper, salt and black pepper for 10 seconds to from a paste, scraping the bowl as necessary. With the machine running, add the Basic BBQ sauce until the sauce is pure'ed and smooth. (If a food processor is not available, use a mortar and pestle or a blender.)
In a saucepan, bring the sauce to a boil and simmer, covered, for 5 minutes to blend flavors (or microwave for 3 minutes). This sauce can be refrigerated indefinitely; heat before using to baste.
Use with ribs, hot dogs, hamburgers, pork, poultry, fish. Great with boneless cubed chicken or pork, marinated and skewered for kebabs. Serve with a crunchy taco salad.
From "Barbeque: Sizzling Fireside Know-How" FLANK STEAK WITH MEAUX MOUTARDE (4 servings)
Meaux moutarde is a combination of crushed whole and ground black mustard seeds that has a crunchy texture and a nutty hot flavor.
1 1/2 pounds flank steak
2 tablespoons meaux moutarde or grainy mustard
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons dry white vermouth
4 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried crushed rosemary leaves
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 cup corn oil
Trim the flank steak and place in a flat, non-corrosive pan. Whisk the meaux moutarde, vinegar, vermouth, rosemary, pepper and oil together and pour over the steak. Cover and refrigerate several hours or overnight, turning several times.
Drain meat, pat dry with paper towels, and sear steak on high heat for 2 minutes per side. Cook steak for a total of 2 to 3 minutes more and baste carefully with the warm marinade; this marinade flames easily.
Let steak rest for 5 to 7 minutes, loosely covered, on a warm platter. Slice very thin across the grain and serve with accumulated pan juices.
Hint: grilled mushroom kebabs and Swedish potatoes make good accompaniments to this steak.
From "Barbeque: Sizzling Fireside Know-How" SHRIMP MALAI CURRY (4 to 6 servings)
"Malai" means "cream" and in this recipe, we use creamy coconut, which gives a rich and exotic flavor to the dish.
1/2 cup unsweetened dry coconut (soaked in 1 cup hot water) or 1/2 cup fresh coconut, grated (soaked in 1/2 cup hot water)
4 tablespoons oil or ghee (clarified butter)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 green chile, finely chopped
1 1/2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon cayenne powder
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined
Combine coconut and water; set aside.
In a large frying pan, heat oil or ghee. Saute' onion, chile pepper, and garlic until the onion is transparent and tender (3 to 4 minutes). Add all the spices and salt and mix well. Pour in coconut and water; cook over medium heat for 2 minutes.
Add the shrimp and cook over low heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve with rice.
From "Sampling the Cuisine of India," by Sambhu Banik, (The American Cooking Guild, 1986, $2.95)