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Reading Food : Cookbook Favorites--The Volumes That Changed Our Lives


I was at a loss to come up with a favorite cookbook until a co-worker posed the following question: "If you were moving to some obscure place and could take only one cookbook, what would it be?" It took me only minutes to decide on "Cooking A to Z" (Ortho Books, 1988: $32.95).

This volume--edited by Jane Horn, with recipes created in consultation with the chefs of the California Culinary Academy--is an encyclopedia of terms, techniques, ingredients, equipment and more than 600 recipes. It's one of the books I use extensively in researching my weekly Back to Basics and You Asked About . . . columns.

The book is anything but trendy. But by using its solid base of information, my past experience in recipe development and testing, and observations of current trends, even if I lived in a remote area, I'd still have an edge on keeping up with the culinary scene.

Take the pate maison recipe, for example. It uses classic techniques:

--Lining the pan with pork fat

--Mixing the forcemeats with herbs and spices

--Layering the ingredients

--Baking the mixture in a bain marie

--Weighting the cooked pate

--Storing the finished recipe a day or more before serving.

By applying these guidelines but substituting ingredients currently in vogue, you can create variations that might show up on some of the hottest menus in town.


1/2 medium onion, minced

2 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons Cognac or Armagnac

1 pound ground pork

1 pound ground veal

1 clove garlic, minced

2 eggs, slightly beaten

1 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 chicken breast, boned and skinned

1 pound pork fat, cut into 1/8-inch slices

2 ounces pistachio nuts, shelled

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a small skillet saute onion in butter over medium-high heat until translucent. Pour in 1/2 cup Cognac. Cook until Cognac is absorbed into onion (mixture will measure about 1/3 cup). Remove from heat and place in a large mixing bowl.

Add pork, veal, garlic, eggs, salt, pepper and thyme. Mix with hands until thoroughly blended, or blend in food processor until light in texture and well blended.

Cut chicken breast into 1/2x3-inch slices. Put slices in a small bowl and add the remaining 2 tablespoons Cognac.

Line a 2-quart terrine or (12x4 1/2-inch) loaf pan with slices of pork fat. Press one half of ground meat mixture into pan. Cover with Cognac-soaked chicken, then pistachios. Press remaining ground meat mixture on top. Cover with another layer pork fat.

Cover terrine with aluminum foil. Set in a pan of boiling water. Place on rack in center of oven. Bake until juices run clear yellow and pate has shrunk from sides of pan (about two hours).

When pate is done, remove terrine and set on cooling rack. Place another loaf pan on top of pate; fill with 3 to 4 pounds of weight (canned good or bricks work well). Let pate cool at room temperature several hours, then pour off liquid, recover and weight. Refrigerate 2 to 3 days before slicing. To serve, unmold and slice. Serves 10 as a first course.

Note: Sliced bacon may be substituted if pork fat is unavailable.

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