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SHORT LISTS OF INGREDIENTS MAKE COOKING A SNAP

With time for cooking growing shorter for many people, recipes ought to be shorter, too. Though many cookbook authors still go on and on, four recent collections offer short and simple ideas.

The books, which have the same basic theme, are: "The 4 Ingredient Cookbook," "Cooking with Five Ingredients or Less," "Six Ingredients or Less" and "Cooking with Eight Items or Less.""The Original 4-Ingredient Cookbook" by Shirley Atwater-McClay and Marilyn Miech came out in 1980. The revised 1987 edition, published by HPBooks for $6.95, is still available. Its 160 postcard-size pages are color-coded: yellow for appetizers and beverages; pink for salads, vegetables and sauces; white for meats and main dishes; light blue for cakes and cookies, and bright blue for desserts.

There's no binding - the pages are held together by two metal rings - no table of contents and, in many cases, no baking time and never any clue as to the number of servings. Most of the recipes are familiar to me, quickies that have been published many times.

"Cooking with Five Ingredients or Less" a 1984 paperback by Susan Kosoff and Teresa Kennedy, is still in print, but I couldn't find it in bookstores.

The book's 300 recipes are organized in chapters called Appetizers; The Main Event; The Vegetable Express; Pasta, Rice and Cheese; On the Side; Bread and Baking; desserts; Cooking for One or Two, and That Extra Something (tips, timesavers).

Many of the ideas appealed to me; their top-stove entrees sounded particularly good.

The title "Six Ingredients or Less" caught my eye while I was shopping. This 224-page 500-plus recipe collection is by Carlean Johnson and was published by hercompany, CJ Books, Gig Harbor, Wash., in 1982 and recently revised.

Johnson collected family-pleasing recipes. She reports that sons Brian and Mike never knew what they were going to have for dinner when she was testing. Their comments, from "Yuk" to "Put it in the book, Mom," guided her selections.

Johnson's book includes lots of oldies-but-goodies, such as 7-Up Punch, the lemon-lime drink afloat with lime sherbet; I remember making it for parties in the 1950s. And there are standbys such as the baked chicken smothered in a mixture of apricot preserves, Russian dressing and onion soup mix, some version of which has made every church/community cookbook I've seen.

Johnson uses quite a few convenience foods. And she added just enough little notes - things such as "this freezes well" to make me wish there were more.

When this first book sold well - it's in its 13th printing - Johnson followed it with the "Six Ingredients Or Less Chicken Cookbook." Either can be ordered by sending $12.20 (this includes postage and handling) to: Six Ingredients or Less, P.O. Box 922, Gig Harbor, WA 98335.

"Cooking with Eight Items or Less," the most sophisticated of the books, also is by a Washington cook, Ann Lovejoy of Seattle. Its subtitle is "Great-Tasting Recipes for the Express Lane Gourmet."

Lovejoy makes it a point of pride to use fresh, whole ingredients "without recourse to a can opener." She also wrote a background paragraph to accompany each of the 200 recipes; her vivid descriptions help the cook envision the results.

The recipes come from all over, from Camarones Bolivianos (Shrimp Bolivian Style) to Almond and Gruyere Omelet, a Euro-style dessert omelet. This collection contained many ideas that I want to try soon.

From the "4-Ingredient Cookbook" comes this quick cake recipe, which I've been making since helping to develop it at General Mills in the early '60s. This book will pass it on to a second generation.

Triple Fudge Cake

1 pkg. regular cooked chocolate pudding mix

1 box Devil's Food cake mix

1/2 cup chopped nuts

1/2 cup chocolate chips Prepare cooked chocolate pudding mix as directed. Blend the dry Devil's Food cake mix into hot pudding. Pour into greased 9- by 13-inch pan. Sprinkle 1/2 cup each chopped nuts and chocolate chips over batter. Bake 350 degrees 30 to 35 minutes.

Polish Stew

2 pounds kielbasa sausage, cut into 2-inch chunks

3 large white onions, cut in chunks

4 medium zucchini, sliced (or yellow summer squash)

5 large tomatoes, cut into eighths In a large saucepan over moderate heat, saute a few pieces of sausage until they give off enough fat to grease the pan. Add remaining sausage and vegetables and cook 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Tester's note: This recipe works well if you make only half as much.

(The neighbors who shared this easy meal-in-one from "Cooking with Five Ingredients or Less" liked it as much as I did.)

Halibut-Shrimp Bake

4 small halibut steaks or fillets

1/2 cup fresh lemon juice

1/2 cup butter, melted

1/2 cup sour cream

1/2 cup (2 ounces) Cheddar cheese

1/3 cup tiny shrimp, cooked Place halibut in shallow baking pan. Combine lemon juice and butter; pour over halibut. Bake at 350 degrees 10 to 12 minutes or until fish tests done.

Top each steak or fillet with sour cream. Sprinkle with cheese. Place under broiler and cook just until cheese melts. Garnish top with shrimp. Makes 4 servings.- From the seafood chapter of "Six Ingredients or Less:"

Mexican Shrimp Salad

1 large lime, juiced

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 to 2 tablespoons fresh salsa

1/2 bunch cilantro, trimmed and chopped (to equal about 1/4 cup) plus 2 sprigs for garnish

1 large cucumber, diced

1 large avocado, cut into chunks

12 ounces cooked shrimp

2 bunches lettuce, rinsed and trimmed Blend lime juice with oil, salsa and cilantro.

In a large bowl, gently toss cucumber and avocado with shrimp and salsa dressing. Pile lettuce on large plates, mound shrimp salad on top; garnish with cilantro sprigs. Makes 3 to 4 servings.