About Monica Kass Rogers

The "Lost Recipes Found" lady

Another Cheesecake like Little Jack’s

From the time it opened in 1905, until it closed in 1962, Chicago’s Little Jack’s restaurant was a force in the Chicago restaurant scene. At its peak in the ’50s, the sprawling three-dining room restaurant reportedly served between 600,000 and 1 million meals annually. Named for John H. “Little Jack” Levin (1887-1971), a Chicago Park District commissioner from 1946 to 1969, the restaurant & bar had its own cigar and whiskey labels, and was the first to offer air-conditioning. But Little Jack’s is best remembered for its Mrs. Little Jack’s cheesecake. I’ve tried multiple times to get the original recipe from the family, but thus far, the closest I’ve come was a note from one of the Levins saying that a recipe I featured came close, but wasn’t the real deal. So….here we go again! Yet another, “cheesecake like Little Jack’s.”

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Last week, Lorraine Gregory, a lovely 87-year-old now living in Alsip, called to tell me that she had a Mrs. Little Jack’s cheesecake recipe given to her by a woman named Bev who used to work for the Levins.

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Lorraine’s been baking the cheesecake for decades. Her own memories of Little Jack’s go back to the 1940s when her sister Ruth used to go out ballroom dancing and capped the evening with a slice of the cheesecake. “Back then, Little Jack’s was in a neighborhood that was not a place you’d want to be alone. A little dicey,” says Lorraine. “My family just loves this cake. It’s really simple to make.”

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Double Chocolate Stout Pudding & Barley Malt Caramel

Complements of the skilled pastry team that fills the kitchens of the American Club resort’s various restaurants with can’t-say-no-to-that desserts, this kicks bread puddings up several notches. You might think the stout and barley malt would add a bitter note, but nope–the stout deepens the chocolate flavor and the barley malt, sweetness.

Maple-glazed Corned Beef with Champ (Potatoes & Green Onion)

You could buy a hunk of grocery-store corned beef and follow the package instructions….or, you could try this lovely version.  Rich and simmered in spices, this basted-in-maple-syrup version of the old classic, is a sweet/savory treat. My friend Rolla, who has a Jewish background, usually makes this for her family along with chicken-crackling enriched mashed potatoes, topped with more of the maple-y gravy. I’ve followed Rolla’s recipe for the beef, but decided to pair it with Irish champ–potatoes mashed with snipped green onions that have been gently simmered in milk. (For the meat: Rolla says, “it’s gotta be a whole brisket–first cut is too lean.”) And as a side-dish? How about some “bashed neeps” as my Irish lovely Majella O’Dwyer likes to call them. If corned beef isn’t your thing, this lovely Irish stew from Ballymaloe House, is a good alternative.

 

Ballymaloe House Irish Stew

Cherished recipes are like ripples, each one an echo of the original wave-making stone that broke the surface. This Ballymaloe House lamb stew recipe is the surface-breaking 1940s original, later published in Gourmet magazine (1960s) and then again in Ruth Reihl’s 2004-published volume featuring six-decades of Gourmet recipe bests. When LRF reader Iness wrote in search of the recipe, I reached out to Darina Allen, head of the Ballymaloe Cookery School in Shanagarry, County Cork, Ireland, author of Irish Traditional Cooking (just republished in a revised edition from Kyle Books) and part of the family running Ballymaloe House hotel and restaurant.

According to Darina, the stew recipe was given to her mother-in-law Myrtle Allen by neighbor-lady Madge Dolan in the 1940s. It became a staple at both Ballymaloe House  and at the Ballymaloe Cookery School. While lamb stew is extremely common in Ireland with regional variations from county to county, (no carrots in Northern Ireland; barley added for extra sustenance in other places) this version differed from others of the period because  the meat and vegetables are browned in hot fat before stewing, making the finished dish much more flavorful. The stew is delicious served up immediately after you make it, and is just as good warmed up the next day. Might be a nice alternative to corned beef for St. Patrick’s Day, right?

 

Hess’s Mile-High Strawberry Pie

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, & 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. Even if you couldn’t afford to buy the pricey dresses shown by models who sashayed through the store, “You could enjoy the spectacle,” says Youngken…and, the pie! A big slice of the Mile-High Strawberry Pie that Hess’s restaurant (the Patio) was known for featured stacks of fresh, ripe berries in strawberry glaze plus billows of whipped cream.

To ensure that the pie was available year-round, Max flew strawberries in from New Zealand, costing him a small fortune. Such extravagances meant that the restaurant itself wasn’t profitable. But Max–writing in his 1950s book about Hess’s–said he didn’t care because the restaurant drew people in to the store.

Many home-cook versions of the strawberry pie recipe have circulated since the last Hess’s closed in the ’90s. This recipe, using fresh strawberry juice thickened in to a glaze and poured over carefully stacked fresh strawberries, comes closest to the original store version. We’ve left out the red food coloring that some cooks add. (The glaze is bright red on its own.) And we followed America’s Test Kitchen’s practice of adding a little pectin to the cornstarch thickener to achieve a finished pie that’s neither gummy, nor gelatin-bouncy. Hess’s original pie had mountains of whipped cream on top. You can do that too, or, do as we did and garnish with just a dollop, allowing your guests to add more cream at table.

Wade House Cranberry Muffins (and a primer on hearthside cooking)

Having raised a household of always-hungry children, the thought of living at a time when meal prep meant endless hours over a stone hearth and wood stove sounds nearly as terrifying as, say, being sent back to 16th century Europe where they burned redheads like me at the stake for suspected witchery. But shifting perspectives on that…. the chance to participate in the making of an old-ways meal could be looked at as a sort of feminist vigil, engendering gratitude and appreciation for the thousands of women who had no choice but to cook this way. Teasing that out a little further….with the right bunch of equally-curious friends along–the experience could be, well, enjoyable. Here’s how: If you make a group reservation for a “Hearthside Dinner” at the historic Wade House in Greenbush, WI, volunteers who’ve mastered the art of hearth & wood cookery, will guide you and your friends through making and eating an 1860s meal.

A little history: Wade House, a stagecoach hotel which opened in 1850, halfway between Sheboygan and Fond du Lac, was deeded to the Wisconsin Historical Society in 1953. The site expanded to include more property and buildings over the years, including the 2013-completed Wade House Visitor Center which also houses the  Wesley Young horse-drawn carriage museum.  For the themed dinners, docents in 19th century dress, welcome groups to the hotel and tap room to make a midday meal like those proprietor Betsey Wade would have served her guests in stagecoach days. To give you a feel for what you’ll experience, LRF did a Q&A with Kathy Dimig, Lead Interpreter, Wade House Historic Site.

WadeHouseCupboardLRF: What’s the optimal size for a group wanting to do a Hearthside Dinner, and how do you reserve a spot?

KD: We’ve done them for groups between 10 and 20 people, but 18 seems to be the ideal number. With less than 10 people, there aren’t enough cooks to prepare all of the dishes, and with more than 20, it’s too crowded. We have several set dates that are open to individuals coming to form a group with other individuals, or, you can make a special reservation for your group of 10 to 20 on a date that we work out with you.  Call to reserve for your group, or e-mail us.

LRF: You serve a set dinner menu including squash soup, pork roast, red cabbage & apples, glazed carrots, mashed turnips, cranberry muffins, bread pudding, cider cake, cider and coffee. What helped you decide what dishes to include?

KD: The menu is based on items that would have been served during the 19th century, the space and cookware we have available, and the timing/cooking of each dish.

LRF: To prepare the meal as it would have been made in the 1860s, you use both a wood cooking stove and fireplace, correct? How did you familiarize yourself with the process?

KD: Yes, we use both a Star brand wood stove, and the fireplace. I learned by watching and working with someone who was very proficient in this kind of cooking. With the stove, a lot of trial and error goes in to it. The biggest difference compared with cooking with a modern-day stove is that you need constantly to be aware of what your fire is doing. You can’t just turn it on—it takes a good hour to 1 ½ hours to bring the temperature up to a nice baking level. And all along, you need to monitor the fire and add more wood as necessary.  Also, you have to pay attention to the nature of the fire/heat: the firebox is directly under the front part of the stove, so the front is “high”, the back “medium” and the section above the oven, “low”

LRF: Jeez. That sounds really difficult. What types of dishes are the easiest to prepare on the stove?

KD: It’s not really that one thing is easier and another more difficult…it’s more a matter of timing. For example, if I want to make coffee, I would put the water on to boil right away, before I did anything else, because it’s amazing how long it takes to come to a boil. Or another example: if I want to sauté onions for the squash soup, that goes fairly quickly, but to actually cook the squash (or the turnips or the carrots) in the liquid takes quite a long time.

WadeHouseStoveLRF: You also use the fireplace to cook with. What type of apparatus is the fireplace fitted with so that you can cook over or near the fire?

KD: The fireplace is brick, with a crane that swings out so that you can more easily hang a pot on a hook and the swing it back over the fire. It has a nice wide hearth to facilitate Dutch oven cooking. We make the carrots and cabbage and apples by hanging pots from the crane over the fire. The bread pudding is made in a Dutch oven on the hearth by pulling out hot coals from the fire onto the hearth, setting the Dutch oven on top of the coals, and then shoveling hot coals onto the recessed lid of the Dutch oven. The pork roast is made on a spit in the “tin kitchen” (a reflector oven) which is also placed on the hearth of the fire.

LRF: YIKES! So when my group comes, we’re all going to do this together?

KD: Yes, you do it all! We are just available to assist, teach and answer questions. You will be chopping the vegetables, mixing the batter for the cranberry muffins and cider cake, boiling the water for the coffee, setting the table, washing the dishes.

LRF: So, everybody’s good with that? Or, do people mutiny at certain jobs?

KD: I think the guests like the food prep. As they chop and mix, they are getting to know each other and it’s always very lively. I’m not sure there is a least favorite job, but we have a dry sink, which means there is no drain, so when we change the dish or rinse water, we have to take the dish pan outside to dump it, which is done many times over the course of the afternoon.

LRF: What’s the most popular dish?

KD: Most people like the carrots and the squash soup, and the cranberry muffins are always a hit.

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Boston Baked Beans & Brown Bread Baked in a Can

Despite the unfortunate  Phaseolus vulgaris moniker—the American Common Bean category includes bunches of beloved, native-to-the-Americas beans: navy, red kidney, pinto, great northern, marrow, & yellow eye, plus garden variety edible-pod beans (string, stringless and snap.) It’s not clear which of these the New England colonists first stewed in a pot, but we do know baked navy beans started with Native Americans. The Narragansett, Penobscot, and Iroiquois wrapped navy beans in deerskins—or put them in earthenware pots, along with venison, bear fat and maple syrup and then baked the lot in hot-stone-lined pits. Puritans eschewed the deerskins, but took to bean-pot cookery because the long, slow cook times meant housewives could prepare the beans a day ahead, and in so doing, stick to Puritanical no-cooking-on-Sabbath rules.

Eventually molasses–the sticky-sweet sugar-refining byproduct used to make rum in colonial Boston, found its way into the beanpot, sealing the beans-and-Boston partnership that lasted long after no-cooking-on-Sabbath waned.

Molasses was also used to make brown bread, itself an adaptive-use product Colonists created due to the shortage of wheat flour. Wheat didn’t grow well in the Colonies, but rye and corn did. So to stretch what wheat they had, the Colonists created “thirded” breads–made with equal parts corn, rye and wheat flour. Earliest examples of the resulting loaves were yeast-raised and less sweet, but sometime later in the 19th century, the pudding-like practice of sweetening the bread with raisins and more molasses and steaming it in a mold, became common.

This recipe for Boston Brown Bread, a slight update on Cheryl & Bill Jamison’s version in their 1999 classic, American Home Cooking, is very similar to the Boston Brown Bread published in the 1896 Boston Cooking School Cook Book.  It has all of the same ingredients, save two. What makes it different/better is the addition of an egg, and, substitution of cooking oil for 1 cup of the sour milk (buttermilk here.) It’s astonishing that such a hearty grain trio–rye, coarsely-ground corn, and whole wheat–yields such a moist, tender and flavorful loaf! But putting those dry ingredients with molasses, baking soda and buttermilk works food-chemistry magic: The finished bread most closely resembles the best bran muffin you ever had.

Our recipe for Boston Baked Beans is a standard we’ve used for years–source indeterminable, although it matches most of the recipes we have here in multiple vintage cookbooks. We do include some ginger in it, which enhances the dry-mustard spice in the mix. (You already know I love ginger...)

The biggest challenge you’ll have with either of these recipes is that they take time. For best results with the beans, you’ll need to soak them overnight and then slow-bake them in the oven for 7 or 8 hours (cut that to 5 to 6 if you have a convection oven.) And it will take you a good hour-and-one-half or more to steam the bread. The results are worth it!

 

Short Rib Stroganoff

Chef Rob Hurrie’s deeply-flavorful short-rib bourguignon is an upmarket spin on his favorite childhood dish. “My affinity for rich foods started early,” Hurrie laughs, describing his Mom’s “2-cans-of-condensed-soup with ground beef, bacon & sour cream” stroganoff. Hurrie’s update at his two Black Pig restaurants (one in Sheboygan and one in Elkhark Lake, WI) is a short rib slow-braise with soooo many good things: red wine & sherry, rosemary & thyme, mushrooms & bacon, crème fraiche and truffle oil.

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When you’re ready to make this, you could go all-out and order Golden Bear Farm bacon through the Goodside Grocery Co-op in Sheboygan (call or e-mail them at the number on the site to let them know what you’re after.) Or just use good quality applewood-smoked bacon. Either way, this is one of the best “Chef Recipes with Vintage Flair” dishes we have featured at LRF.

Brussels Sprout Petals with Bacon, Onion & Maple

In quiet moments, at least a few friends have confided tales of hard-to-shake Brussels sprout loathing, having had bitter sprout experiences as children. In sum? Mothers from decades past overcooked the little green globes, thinking that would make them milder and more palatable to kids, but instead, ruined them. Overcooking Brussels sprouts leaches out their sulfurous-smelling, cancer-preventative compounds, making the soggy result less nutritious and the kitchen bad-smelling. A trauma not to be repeated. INSTEAD– try this delicious recipe, featuring the sprout petals quick sauteed with onion, sprinkled with oven-crisped bacon & just a little drizzle of maple syrup.

Sizzling Salmon with Lemongrass & Tamarind

Pan-steaming fish over aromatics and then sizzling it with hot garlic oil is an old Cantonese cooking method…..the tamarind, ginger, lemongrass and lime adds Southeast-Asian zing. This is a lovely thing. Make extra, they will want it.