Many of the cookbooks I love were the books my mom had. I started reading them when I was eight. The way I would read them is kind of rude – she kept them next to my spot at the kitchen counter where we ate most of our meals. I would sneak looks at the books while we ate.
To this day my husband doesn’t understand how I can be eating one thing and reading about another.
That’s how I got interested in the Pillsbury Bake-Off in the first place. My mom saved these newspaper inserts about the Bake-Off winners, and I memorized them. I didn’t want to be one of the contestants – I wanted to be the stylish and savvy home economists, all dressed in crisp suits and wearing badges – that were assisting those who were vying for prizes. And I did! Although I rarely wore a crisp suit.
The Complete Cheese Cookbook from Kraft was one of her books. And to this day, it contains some of my favorite recipes using cheese and is one of my favorite books to read.
As an aside, out of curiosity I looked up the woman responsible for this book: Dorothy Holland, and found her obituary. She died in 2002. She was the Director of the Kraft Kitchens starting in the 1950s and became a vice-president with the company. And that is another woman (including Laurie Colwin and Peg Bracken) I wish I had written to when I had the chance to tell her how much I admired her.
She writes in the introduction, “Cheese, bread, and wine have been on dining tables for as long as civilization has existed – indeed their development brought civilization with them. By accident and by design, the world’s earliest cheese soon brought its particular blessing to the home.”
So to the recipes.
Two of my favorite recipes using cream cheese are in this book. I have made countless variations on one, Sicilian Supper, that combines ground beef in a tomato sauce layered with elbow macaroni enveloped in cream cheese sauce. The recipe doesn’t exist online – you’ll have to see the original in the book. That recipe is the first time I saw the method of making a white sauce using cream cheese and milk melted together. And every one I have made the casserole for loves it.
But fiddling with recipes is my metier. The first variation, Sicilian Meatball Casserole, my new current favorite, uses meatballs in place of the ground beef and adds cream cheese to a white sauce that coats the pasta and corn. It’s rich and hearty and perfect for a cold winter’s night.
The second is Sicilian Tortellini Bake, which uses tortellini in place of the elbow macaroni, and adds garlic and sour cream to the recipe. It’s also a rich and wonderful dish and one I make often.
Another favorite, Chicken Rococo, is made from chicken breasts stuffed with cheddar and rolled up, then coated in bread crumbs and baked atop a rich pilaf of white and wild rice and veggies in a bechamel sauce made with chicken broth. Kraft has changed that recipe by baking the chicken separately and serving it on the rice mixture made in a saucepan.
I changed the recipe by substituting cream cheese for the cheddar (natch), and adding more veggies to the rice. I also added cheese and light cream to the rice pilaf to make it richer. That is a divine dish to serve to company. But be warned – you can’t brown the chicken rolls ahead of time because that’s a food safety issue. You have to brown the chicken just before you bake the casserole.
Other fabulous recipes include:
- Heavenly Cheese Mold, a divine combination of gelatin, whipped cream, pineapple, and grated cheddar cheese that tastes so much better than it sounds. It is fluffy, light, rich, and velvety with the best texture. You have to try it!
- “Philly” Quiche au Jambon, which uses melted cream cheese for the base for a quiche. It’s marvelous and smooth.
- Top Hat Cheese Soufflé, which is the first soufflé I ever made. I tried to replicate the picture in the book and succeeded when I was 13.
- Praline Cheese Cake, which uses dark brown sugar and pecans to make a rich and dense cheesecake that reminds me of New Orleans.
- Cheddar Chowder is a rich and hearty soup that uses potatoes and ham in a cheese soup base.
There is an entire chapter called “The Romance of Cheese” that contains all kinds of information about how different cheeses were developed and describes all the different types of cheese, from the blue-veined varieties to Gouda and Cheddar. The pictures in the book are dated, of course, with odd lighting and seem kind of stiff. But that was food photography in the 1970s. Don’t let that put you off the recipes.
So if you are looking for an informative vintage cookbook with great recipes, try The Complete Cheese Cookbook. You won’t regret it.