Spirited Refreshers

Not A White Russian

August 11, 2019

White Russians. Remember those? They were silky as the synthetic dresses my girls-college friends and I used to slip into for all night dancing jaunts to Dallas bars. We’d pack into Sue’s battered VW bug, four or more of us squished in the back seat, or rumble over in Leslie’s tangerine orange Karmann Ghia, windows down to the scent of mesquite and Texas scrub. Then  we’d unfold our long legs, fluff our Farrah Fawcett hairdos and slink in to sip these at the bar. Layers of coffee liqueur, vodka and cream over ice, they were easy, fun, young.

This refreshing variation, iced spiced frozen coffee with rum, maple syrup and milk–and without the shimmery dresses, feathery hairdos or vodka, comes to you compliments of poet and dear friend Ori Fienberg, of Emily + Ori fame. Continue Reading…

Pie Revival

Mile-High Strawberry Pie

July 9, 2019

Max Hess, Jr. was the P.T. Barnum of the department store world, a master at selling with flamboyance and showmanship. Following in the footsteps of his father Max and his Uncle Charles, who founded the Hess Bros. department store chain in 1897, Max Jr. made shopping there an entertaining experience, with flower & fashion shows and “every week a different celebrity,” says Jill Youngken, assistant director and chief curator at the Lehigh Valley Heritage Museum, keeper of Hess-history esoterica. Under Max’s watch (1932 to 1968) Zsa Zsa Gabor, Gina Lollobrigida, Rock Hudson and Johnny Carson all made appearances. Continue Reading…

Pie Revival

Key Lime Pie

June 29, 2019

The story of Key lime pie is delightfully odd, including Cuban sponge “hookers”, mystery aunts, canned milk and curing. The classic filling: sweetened condensed milk, egg yolks & lime juice, has been around since the mid 1800s.

Key limes, those leathery little yellow-green golf balls otherwise known as Citrus aurantifolia, once thrived in the Keys as a commercial crop. That was before the local lime growers figured out they could make more money running tourist fishing boats, and sold off their groves. Key lime trees still grow in Key West backyards, but the big groves are in Mexico Continue Reading…

Chilled Desserts

Red+White+Blue Berry Trifle

June 26, 2019

Fresh picked and washed under the cold-water spigot at edge of the orchard is undeniably the best way to enjoy handfuls of summer berries. Short of that? A cool rinse and colander-jostle under the tap at home works fine. But if you want to fancy things up for Fourth of July festivities, layer the fruit with easy-to-make vanilla custard, fresh whipped cream and tender cubes of homemade poundcake in this in this red-white-and-blue berry trifle. You can stack everything in a tall, glass bowl, or, divi it up into single-serve parfait glasses. (Or paper cups for the backyard bunch.) Continue Reading…

Soup Kitchen

Cream of Celery Soup

June 20, 2019

According to the Farmer’s Almanac, celery needs three things to thrive: a long growing season, mostly cool weather, and a constant, unfailing water supply. So we’re like, “ding, ding, ding!” here in the Midwest–especially this year. Good thing I like celery as much as it likes the cool and damp : )

My suggestion? Buy plenty of that bumper celery crop and when you’ve had your fill of crudités and dip, and it’s raining yet again, make some of this comforting soup to take the chill off. Continue Reading…

Babycakes

Strawberry Shortcakes with Sugared Cream Biscuits, Strawberries & Cream

June 15, 2019

Dough made with a high fat-to-flour ratio is called “short” and bakes up into the tender crumbly biscuits we call shortcake. Although my mom sometimes brought home store-bought cell-o packs of little yellow sponge cakes to serve as the base for strawberry shortcake desserts, those were never as good fresh, hot biscuits topped with strawberries in their hot-pink sugared juice, and plenty of fresh whipped cream.

 First featured in a British cookbook in 1588, strawberry shortcake went on to become very popular in the United States, where by the 1850s it was served hot with both butter, cream, and of course: sweetened fresh strawberries. Continue Reading…

Retro Burgers

Mister MacTavish Rarebit Burger

May 25, 2019

Once-upon-a-time, I left a job as an editor for a national food magazine, to do marketing for Chicago’s beefy Lawry’s the Prime Rib. Housed in the former 1889 L. Hamilton McCormick mansion at the corner of Ontario and Rush, the restaurant was soaked in history and the smell of slow-roasted meat. Before Lawry’s set up shop there in 1974, I used to go with my family to see the bizarre puppet operas the Kungsholm Scandinavian restaurant used to put on there. When I arrived decades later to do PR, the sloping theatre floors had been covered over to shore up Lawry’s dining rooms, and the managers weren’t quite sure where to put me. Continue Reading…

Appetizers & Snacks

Cheddar Crackers

May 13, 2019

These nippy, buttery little crackers are soooooo easy to make! And they have a wonderful, crumbly texture. You can make them with store-bought pub cheese, or, make them using the recipe Chef Jonathan Lundy gave me for a creamy, smoky pub cheese that includes barrel-aged ale and a splash of bourbon in the mix. Either way, this recipe is a snap: just blend the pub cheese, with unsalted butter and some flour, knead into a smooth dough, chill, roll out, cut and bake. I like to cut the crackers into rounds, but you can also score the dough to make squares. Be sure to prick each cracker with the tines of a fork to keep them from puffing up when you bake them. To serve, I like to blend a little mascarpone cheese with orange marmalade and spread between two crackers to make savory sandwich “cookies.”  Enjoy! Continue Reading…

Appetizers & Snacks

Pub Cheese

May 13, 2019

You could buy pub cheese from the refrigerated section near the deli, or you could make this creamy, smoky, beer-and-bourbon-spiked version yourself! I got this recipe from Chef Jonathan Lundy in Kentucky, and it’s a keeper. Lundy comes from family long-known for good recipes–starting with his great-great-grandfather William Monroe Wright, founder of the Calumet Baking Powder company, and a cousin of flight-tastic Wilbur and Orville Wright. William sold his baking powder company to General Foods for $40 million back in 1929 and used the profits to create the Calumet Farm racing stables in Kentucky. (The most successful in American history, with six Kentucky Derby winners.) Lundy likes to make this spread using a bottle of Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale from Alltech Lexington Brewing and Distilling Co., but you can substitute another barrel-aged ale.  I love this pub cheese with carrot and celery sticks. But I also make my own cheddar crackers with it–sooooo easy: just butter, this cheese and flour. Do try both recipes! Continue Reading…

Mother's Day

Vintage Tea Sandwiches

May 7, 2019

 One of the more entertaining things about recipe books from the ‘30s and ‘40s, is what they reveal about changing tastes. The jellied chicken, minced tongue and sardine and egg mixtures that were considered delectable snacks then have been replaced by sunchoke bundles grilled in ash, or spoons of gruyere-slaked pumpkin on tasting menus today. But despite changing tastes, vintage tea sandwiches with yummy spreads endure. This is a post full of those.

My copy of the 1943 Household Searchlight Recipe Book from Topeka, Kansas’ Household magazine is especially dog-eared in the “Gelatins,” “Icing and Fillings,”  and “Cakes” sections, clues that the books original owner, Mrs. Elbert Jackson, had a sweet tooth. But more apparent? She entertained. The end sheets and margins of the book are filled with hand-scrawled recipes for petit fours, bon-bons, canapes and cocktail nibbles. And the section tab for “Sandwiches” is completely worn through : )

Far from the meat-and-cheese-stacked clubs, panini, and submarines of today, most sandwiches in the ‘30s and ‘40s relied on spreads. Both thrifty and easy, sandwich spreads translated very well into bite-sized morsels for receptions, teas or ladies’ luncheons.

Some vintage sandwich ingredient combinations seem wildly weird now–the Grapenut cereal and cheese with Tabasco, catsup and mustard, for example, or the peanut butter and chopped pickle with cream and onion (!) But the best spreads endured, making their way into the Ladies Guild and Auxiliary Club menus that would come to define an accessible sort of ‘50s “fancy”: pretty, tasty, but still a little homey.

There are the “salads”: Ham, egg, chicken, and shrimp. There are the cheese blends: pimiento cheese, cream cheese with salmon, or for a lighter flavor– mascarpone cheese sweetened with honey or marmalade. Continue Reading…