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The Best of the Benefit Cookbooks Contain Some Great Regional Dishes

April 10, 1986|ANNE WILLAN | Willan, a cooking teacher and author, is founder and president of La Varenne Ecole de Cuisine in Paris. She lives in Washington. and

A surprising number of good cookbooks are nonprofit affairs, put together by benefit committees and often privately printed. It gave me the inspiration to give a supper Junior League-style for 10.

Traveling around the country, I keep my eye out for the pick of the crop, particularly for regional collections, which represent local traditions in a way that larger, more ambitious publications cannot.

The good ones are very good indeed, with time-honored dishes and lively background notes to put them in context. Less careful compilations of whatever recipes happen to be at hand are often betrayed by the liberal use of cans and additives. Recipe ingredients tend to be out of order and bear no relation to the region they are supposed to represent.

This menu draws on three of my favorite benefit cookbooks, veterans of several print runs and long exposure to critical cooks. All are currently in print.

A Lavish Production

"San Francisco a la Carte" (Doubleday: $19.95) is a relatively lavish hardcover production that won a Tastemaker Award. Assembled by the local Junior League, the 500 recipes cover a generous range, with typical Californian salads and sourdough breads spiced with ethnic Chinese, Greek, Mexican and Italian contributions. This Layered Vegetable Salad is typical of the book's practical approach.

I was first introduced to "River Road Recipes" 20 years ago by a colleague at Gourmet magazine. Compiled by the Junior League of Baton Rouge, La., "River Road Recipes" fully deserves its success. These classic recipes for dishes like crawfish etoufee and the Seafood Gumbo I've picked as main course will long outlast the current fad for Cajun cuisine.

Looking at the recipe, I was surprised by the long cooking time for the shrimp and crab, but when I tried it, it came out just right, with the okra half-dissolved to form the characteristic slightly gluey thickening of genuine gumbo.

"River Road Recipes I and II" are $11.50 each and available from: The Junior League of Baton Rouge Inc., 4950-E Government St., Baton Rouge, La. 70806.

Odd Man Out

The recipe for cornbread is an odd man out, but I could not neglect this treasure. "Printer's Pie," hand set on private presses and assembled by Mark Carroll in Bethesda, Md., consists of a couple of dozen recipes. The charm lies in lovingly chosen paper, esoteric typefaces and colored inks that change from page to page. The book costs $10 and is available from: Mark Carroll, 6302 Friendship Court, Bethesda, Md. 20817.

Dessert comes from Minnesota, with its German and Scandinavian traditions. Rhubarb Bundt Cake is a combination of two recipes from the "Minnesota Heritage Cookbook," edited by Sue Zelickson for the American Cancer Society. The book costs $9 and is available from American Cancer Society, 3316 West 66th St., Minnesota, Minn. 55435.


Layered Vegetable Salad

Seafood Gumbo

Uncle Jake's Cornbread

Rhubarb Bundt Cake

Suggested Drink: Domestic beer or iced tea

Up to one week ahead, bake the cake, then store in airtight container.

Up to three days ahead, make the base for the gumbo, then refrigerate.

Up to one day ahead, make the salad, then refrigerate. Boil the rice, spread in buttered dish and top with buttered foil for reheating. Brew iced tea, then chill. Chill beer.

Thirty-five minutes before serving, heat the oven to 400 degrees. Set the table.

Twenty minutes before serving, reheat the gumbo. Add shrimp. Make and bake cornbread.

Just before serving, add crab meat to the gumbo and keep warm. Remove cornbread. Reduce oven heat to 350 degrees and reheat rice.

After serving salad, add oysters to the gumbo. Simmer five minutes, then serve with cornbread. LAYERED VEGETABLE SALAD

1 head Boston lettuce

Cottage Cheese Topping

1 (1-pound) can sliced beets, drained

1 cucumber, thinly sliced

1 medium sweet white onion, thinly sliced and crisped in cold water

2 large tomatoes, thinly sliced

3 tablespoons chopped chives

Chop lettuce and line glass salad bowl. Coat with 3 tablespoons Cottage Cheese Topping. Add layer of beets, then cucumber slices and drained onion rings. Top with tomatoes and cover with remaining topping. Sprinkle with chives.

Cover salad tightly and chill at least 4 and up to 24 hours. Makes 10 servings.

Note: This salad is a good picnic salad as it keeps well. Cottage Cheese Topping

2 cups cottage cheese

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper

1 tablespoon grated onion

Mix cottage cheese with mayonnaise, salt, pepper and onion in mixing bowl. Taste for seasoning. SEAFOOD GUMBO

2/3 cup oil

1/2 cup flour

1 large onion, peeled and chopped

2 to 3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped

1 (1-pound) can tomatoes

1 1/2 pounds okra

2 quarts hot water

2 tablespoons salt

3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 large bay leaf

Dash dried thyme

1 teaspoon allspice berries

Few grains dried chili pepper

2 pounds raw shrimp, peeled

1 pound claw crab meat, picked over to remove cartilage

1 pint oysters

1/2 cup chopped green onions

1/2 cup chopped parsley

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