Classic Casseroles

Johnny Marzetti Casserole

October 7, 2019

Johnny Marzetti could very well be America’s best loved and longest standing comfort casserole. A mix of ground meat, tomato sauce, garlic, onion, cheese and noodles, the dish has populated community cookbooks nationwide for decades under the guise of Salmagundi, Hamburger Hotdish, Elbow Goulash—even Irish Monkey (!) But as the story goes, Johnny Marzetti is both the “real” name of this dish, and  one of Columbus, Ohio’s most prominent early businessmen whose brother Joe and sister-in-law Teresa had a restaurant called Marzetti’s. I just wrote a cover story for the food section of the Chicago Tribune on this : ) Please enjoy the story of the men, the myths and the legendary dish–and  do try my version of the dish! Unlike bland community cookbook renditions which often include processed cheese food and canned soup in the mix, my version gets its deep rich flavors from fresh herbs, garlic, a blend of Italian sausage and ground beef, red wine and  the real star: oven roasted and caramelized tomatoes and onions—the best possible way to transform these vegetables into flavor-packed morsels of goodness. Continue Reading…

Gone But Not Forgotten

Madison Guerrilla Cookie (….or comes close!)

October 3, 2019

I first posted this story exactly three years ago. In the interim? I’ve had another dozen letters from Madison Guerrilla Cookie fans asking me to repost it. So! here you go. Enjoy.

I just had a great conversation with Monica Eng of WBEZ about how people’s recollections of recipes they loved, but lost, can sometimes eclipse their experience of the actual recipe : ) I once spent weeks tracking down a recipe from a long-closed-restaurant for a mushroom barley soup that ran in the Tribune more than 30 years ago and didn’t exist in searchable archives. I was thrilled when I finally found the thing, complete with the actual dated clipping. I typed it up, e-mailed the recipe to the guy who requested it and in short order, got a reply stating that the recipe was the wrong one. “The soup I remember,” said barley-soup lover, “had much more bacon in it.” Ha HAH! And so it goes. Recipes are fluid things, as are our memories of them.  Not always entirely accurate. Or could it be that the cook the night barley-soup-lover had the dish, went “off recipe” and was extra generous with the bacon?

Well,  relatedly, the recipe for the Madison guerrilla cookie is of that ilk. First created by Mary MacDowell (UW MA ’67) riffing on ingredients from 1960s Tigers Milk protein bars, MacDowell shared the recipe with ’64 UW graduate Ted Odell, who tweaked the ingredients and baked them for the Quercus Alba Bakery. Hearty and filling, the cookies were sold in six- and twelve-pack sleeves through the Mifflin Street Co-op and other University of Wisconsin shops and became a student staple.  I should say, a MUCH beloved student staple. Continue Reading…

Pie Revival

Key Lime Pie

August 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…

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

August 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…

Mother's Day

Vintage Tea Sandwiches

August 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…

Chill + Fruity Desserts

Tropical Fruit Tapioca Gelee Dessert

August 3, 2019

You know those recipes your mom used to make from what she pulled last-minute from the pantry? Nothing gourmet about them, but a few became family favorites? Well, this is one of those. It’s REALLY easy, comforting, chill and yummy, works well as a dessert, side dish for a brunch, or afterschool treat. And with a little imagination, you can embellish this to suit your tastes by changing up the fruit and fruit juices you use. We have several kids who love mandarin oranges and bananas, so that’s what goes in to ours, plus pineapple tidbits, and a little unsweetened coconut flakes on top as the garnish.  Continue Reading…

Crunchy Cheesy Good

Tortilla Crunch Stack

July 28, 2019

This crispy crunchy stack of fresh-fried tortillas layered with a tomatilla- poblano meat sauce, and Chihuahua cheese is a surprisingly yummy throwback/fresh-take on ‘70s tortilla casseroles. The crunch is delicious, and the flavor of the tangy sauce, mild. If you prefer more heat, feel free to add hotter peppers to the mix, or, serve with spicy salsa. 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…