Sunday, November 26, 2006

Happy Birthday Joy of Cooking

Here is a story I wrote recently for a local paper:

On its 75th birthday, "Joy of Cooking" is getting a facelift. Partially to correct the botched job done in the mid 90's, when much like Michael Jackson's face, too much of the good stuff had been cut away. Can it be saved-(Joy of Cooking, not Michael's face)?

"Joy of Cooking" the 1973 edition was the first cookbook I ever purchased. I was recently graduated from Western Illinois University, with my first job, and my first apartment on Cornelia Street in Chicago. It is a book I know very well and it is reliable for information and technique. "Joy of Cooking" has had a lot of influence on how I cook today.

Irma S Rombauer wrote the original "Joy of Cooking" and self-published it in St Louis in 1930 or 1931 (I have found references for both dates). The initial printing was for 3,000 copies, which she sold out of her apartment located in the Cabanne neighborhood. That book is now worth over $5,000 depending on condition. Throughout the years the book has been reissued, reprinted, and reborn millions and millions of times. It is probably the most successful cookbook in the world and has been the only cookbook named one of the most influential books of the twentieth century by the NYC Public Library.

This informative and witty cookbook actually has a dark beginning. Mrs. Rombauer wrote the book after her husband's suicide as a way of making ends meet and coping with her personal disaster. Her delightful witticisms and family stories show no hint of the tragedies she was experiencing.

Irma was born into the wealthy von Starkloff family and grew up in one of the mansions in Compton Heights. She married Edgar Rombauer, an attorney, and they were a socially prominent fixture in St Louis society. She can at times seem smug, but mostly she seems good natured and just a daughter of privilege. She shows no qualms about relating stories about her cooks-including dialect. For example in her introduction to "Never fail Hollandaise Sauce" she says "our cook calls this "holiday sauce"-isn't that a grand name for it?"

Here's what she has to say about edameme-"They really need an uplift, being on the dull side but, like dull people, respond readily to the right contacts."

Many of the mid century recipe additions suffer from the "add a can of soup syndrome" that became popular in the 1950's and 1960's. The controversial 1997 edition tried to eliminate this by replacing the sodium train-wreck Campbell's Cream of Mushroom with Bechamel. Critics and fans declared this to be pretentious and inauthentic. This new edition will try to recapture Mrs. Rombauer's original voice and a return to decidedly old-fashioned recipes but also newer dishes to reflect the revolution in contemporary eating habits. A balance she would probably approve of.

In all of its incarnations, "The Joy of Cooking" has tried to remain current to its times. Even if some of those recipes were awful, they were the way the country was eating at the time., and in this way it also provides a sort of anthropological timeline of American culture in the last century.

I began this article by asking of "The Joy of Cooking can be saved, and I will end with a rather prophetic introduction to "French Casserole Chicken" from the 1973 edition. I love the unique voice this introduction displays, slightly smug and wise, bitchy and well written enough to be confused with a piece of dialogue from Clare Booth Luce (The Women).

"Whenever we see one of our contemporaries trying to regain her youthful allure with gaudy sartorial trappings, we think of a dish we found in a collection of college alumnae recipes, called Supreme of Old Hen". We all know the supreme, in chef's parlance simply means a breast of fowl. But in this case, it really lives up to its billing and makes such a good dish out of a poorish bird that the old girl is still an acceptable morsel." What follows this introduction is a rather straightforward recipe for braised chicken, with vegetables and stock-no can of soup in sight.

Mick's Pik:Chinese Low Calorie Dressing-from the 1973 edition

Good on sliced cucumber and tomato.
3 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon finely chopped candied ginger

This dressing is simple, light, and delicious. I made it many times in the late 1970's, although I used it over fresh spinach, sliced mushrooms, sprouts, and toasted sesame seeds.

Pork Adobo stuffed with Chorizo with Adobo Hollandaise

Butterfly the pork loin and stuff with chorizo. Roast and glaze with adobo mixed with lime, orange, and honey. Make a hollandiase and flavor it with Adobo, 1 chipotle (pureed), and lime and orange juice. This was quite delicious and sold out quickly. The dish has a little fire to it, but the honey tames the fire in the glaze, and the firey chipotle and adobo spice up the rich blandness of Hollandaise. A chilled Beaujolais Nouveau would be a great wine pairing for this.
Pork should be brined a couple of hours before roasting (like poultry) to insure a juicy roast.
Roast to an internal temperature of no more than 155 degrees, let the roast rest for 5 minutes before slicing, the internal temperature will continue to rise to 160 degrees. Overcooked pork is dry and tough.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Thanksgiving at The Restaurant

I always like preparing this great American feast, but it was a bit stressful. Ater serving over 190 guests, the staff also ate dinner together.
the Menu:
Cranberry -Orange and Pumpkin-Walnut breads
Roasted turkey
Spicy Andouille and cornbread dressing and tradition bread dressing
Mashed Yukon Gold potatoes with gravy
Suzie's (my boss's recipe) sweet potatoes with vanilla, pecans and brown sugar
Green bean casserole-I know it's gross, but the hoi paloi demand it
Buttered sweet corn
Cranberry sauce
Pineapple orange congealed salad
Chocolate Kahlua Peacn pie
Brownstone Pumpkin Pie(Original recipe from the Nero Wolfe/Rex Stout cookbook)

Selected Wines:
Bridlewood Viognier and Cloudline Pinot Noir

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Atumn Salad of Mesclun with St Andre and Hot Walnut Dressing
Check out all the Fall salads at My Life As a Reluctant Housewife

This is a salad we used to make at the Richard Perry Restaurant in St Louis back in the 80's. It is so rich and delicious that I still make it occaisionally for dinner. The vinaigrette is so subtle that the main flavors are the cheese, greens, and walnuts, which make it a salad that is especially friendly to a glass of wine. This is for two large salads.

1 Pound mesclun
1 clove of garlic, smashed
2 Tablespoons of Balsamic vinegar
1 Teaspoon Dijon mustard
A sprinkle of salt and a grind of pepper
3 Tablespoons of wanut oil
3 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 Tablespoon butter
1/2 Pound black walnuts
1/2 Pound St Andre cheese, cut into 4 two ounce slices

Rub the salad bowl with the garlic, discard the clove when you are finished.
In the garlic seasoned bowl, add the vinegar, mustard, and salt and pepper. Whisk to combine.
Slowly whisk in the oils, and set aside.

Walnut Dressing:
Melt the butter in a saute pan and add the black walnuts, let bubble for a couple of minutes at very low heat-careful not to let them get too hot, as they burn easily with their high oil content.

Compose the Salad:
Add the mesclun to the salad bowl and toss with the vinaigrette in the bottom of the bowl.

Divide the dressed greens between two salad plates, and top with two slices each of the cheese.

Top the cheese with the hot walnut dressing and let the cheese melt and the greens wilt slightly.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Crab, Shrimp, and Lobster Lasagne Roll Ups

Here is a new dish we have been doing at the restaurant, it has been quite successful. I start by blanching some lasagne noodles-leave them al dente but they must be flexible enough to roll.

Make a stuffing with sauteed shallots and garlic, ricotta cheese, mascarpone cheese, some herbs-I like basil, oregano, and a bit of tarragon-, and egg or two and a mixture of the shellfish-cooked- as much as you like. Season with sea salt and a judicial pinch of cayenne.

Lay the noodles out flat and spread the seafood and cheese mixture over the noodles, roll up jelly roll style .

You also need a really nice tomato sauce and a fairly thin to medium bechamel.

I serve them in individual casseroles. Ladle some tomato sauce on the bottom, place two roll ups on top of the sauce, then ladle some of the bechamel sauce over the tops of the roll ups letting some run over the sides, lightly sprinkle some parmesan cheese over the top (light hand with the parmesan because too much would over power the delicacy of the shellfish) and bake for 20 minutes. Run them under a broiler to brown the tops.

Sunday, November 12, 2006


This head of Savoy cabbage looked so beautiful it inspired me to try and recreate this dish-I didn't have a recipe-that I once read about. It was served at the New York restaurant Lutece`-once the most revered French restaurant in the country. The original dish did not have mushrooms in it, but at Soulard Farmer's Market yesterday I purchased these Chanterelles grown in Washington state, and I thought they would make a nice addition.

I blanched the cabbage leaves and chose the most attractive to line a cake pan with, the rest of the leaves I julienned and mixed with potato slices, onion, and mushrooms. I crisped some bacon and then sauteed the vegetables in the drippings, I added a cup of wine and some water and simmered it until the liquid was absorbed and reduced. I then mounded the mixture in the cake pan lined with the reserved leaves and baked it for about 20 minutes.

I also bought a chicken at farmer's market from one of my favorite farmers-his name is Scott and although I've purchased things from him for years I don't know his last name. Oh well, he has great chichen, eggs, home made butter, wild caught rabbits and coons, and lamb chops. I brined the chicken overnight and then roasted it using Ruth' s recipe from her blog Once Upon a Feast. It was delicious. It starts with a dry rub of ginger, dry mustard, and paprika, with a basting broth flavored with fresh ginger and orange. You must visit her blog for the recipe listed under Orange Ginger Capon.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Power Dinner

Here is my idea of a restorative and emotionally uplifting dinner. Liver sauteed with onion, bacon, and balsamic vinegar with swiss chard sauteed with grape tomatoes and mushrooms. I think there is a lot of energy and mood enhancing elements to this dinner. The swiss chard is beautiful right now. The stems, which I slice and saute a little longer than the leaves, are in brilliant colors of scarlet and gold. the leaves are a bit chewier than spinach and slightly more bitter than spinach-the grape tomatoes sweeten it a bit, but you could also add a pinch of sugar.