Much Ado About Food

Much Ado About Food

I will admit that I have lots of relatively obscure cookbooks. Many are in my collection simply because of where I lived as a child.

For instance, Much Ado About Food is the excellent and little-known cookbook that was published to benefit The Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. I’ll bet most people have never heard of it.

Much Ado About Food: A Guthrie Theater Cookbook

But it’s an excellent book with unusual recipes and fun captions taken from Shakespeare.

The book was printed in 1978. The chapters include such gems as “A Midsummer Night’s Scheme,” “Taming of the Brew,” and “All’s Well That Ends Well.” The recipes range from Ramos Fizz (an alcoholic drink made with orange flower water, gin, and cream) and Gougere to Braised Oxtails and Trittini (a ground beef and spinach casserole). These are unusual ingredients for a midwestern cookbook printed in the 1970s!

The chapter “The Cherry Orchard” is my favorite, since it is made up of recipes for “posh picnics.” The Pita Pockets, Keeper Coleslaw, and Herbed Chicken Drumsticks are all excellent.

Chocolate Layered Pound CakeMore good recipes for Peppermint Fudgefingers, Dobosch Torte, and Old Fashioned Chocolate Cake are simply divine. In fact, I have made Dobosch Torte my own, by using a different chocolate filling with pound cake; I call it Chocolate Layered Pound Cake. It’s a fabulous dessert and so simple.

I often read this cookbook just to enjoy and think about the recipes. There are no pictures, just charming line drawings. Give the book a try! You’ll love it too.


Mary Hart Favorite Recipes

Mary Hart Favorite Recipes

I personally feel that every editor of every city’s newspaper food section should write a cookbook. No one has a better feel for the best kinds of recipes in their area.

In my hometown of Minneapolis, Minnesota, the editor of the Taste section was Mary Hart. She became the food editor of the Minneapolis Morning and Sunday Tribune in 1946, then presided over the food section in 1969 when it was called Taste.

The cookbook Mary Hart Favorite Recipes gathers, well, her favorite recipes. It was published in 1979, so is heavy on the tomatoes, cheese, ground beef, bar cookies, and seafood. The recipes aren’t complicated, and represent the types of food people were making in the upper Midwest at the time. But they are all delicious and I refer to this cookbook regularly, to make the recipes or just enjoy it.

She writes, “When I pored over my 34 thick notebooks containing clippings of newspaper food articles, I found that main dishes and desserts formed the bulk of readers’ favorite recipes. My choices for this book also fall into that pattern.”

I love her recipes for Lemon Muffins, which uses 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice in the batter, Sour Cream Drop Cookies, which feature a soft dough wrapped around date stuffed with walnuts, then frosted with a Brown Butter icing, and Chewy Picnic Bars, a type of dream bar made with walnuts, coconut, and dates.

Wild Rice Baron is a hearty and savory main dish made with wild rice, beef, mushrooms, and lots of sour cream. And I have used the base for her recipe for Artichoke Quiche hundreds of time, varying the additions. It starts with a white sauce, which is something I have never seen in any other cookbook, then adds eggs and sour cream. It makes the most tender and velvety quiche recipe ever.

So try this cookbook. It’s homey and inviting and contains many wonderful recipes.

The Complete Cheese Cookbook From Kraft

The Complete Cheese Cookbook

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. 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.

Beat This!

Beat This

I am always on the lookout for cookbooks, but I struck gold when I picked up Beat This! by Ann Hodgman at a bookstore years ago. The cover looked cute, but I was sold when I opened the book and saw that there was a recipe for homemade graham crackers to make the crust in a recipe for cheesecake.

Now I love cooking from scratch, but I had never ever made graham crackers for any recipe instead of buying them. Ever. I don’t even remember ever seeing a recipe for graham crackers, and I owned thousands of cookbooks at that time. I knew right then and there this book would be good.

And it is! I read it not just for the recipes, but for Ms. Hodgman’s style of writing and sense of humor.

This book is a kick.

And even better – there is a sequel! Beat That! Cookbook (in which she says that the secret ingredient for the best potato salad [the ingredient my mom has been using in My Mom’s Potato Salad for more than fifty years] really IS the secret ingredient that makes potato salad fabulous) is even more delightful, if that’s possible. You need both of these books, even if you don’t cook. Or bake.

One of my favorite recipes is for an appetizer. Pesto Torta uses 2 packages of cream cheese and 4 – yes FOUR – sticks of butter. I must admit I haven’t had the courage to use all that butter – I use just one stick of butter (and leave out the sun dried tomatoes, which I think are icky – use roasted red peppers instead) and it’s still fabulous.

Some of the phrasing she uses in this book are my favorite phrases ever. (Is that kind of weird? I don’t care.) For instance: in her recipe for Guacamole she says “The two things that help avocados keep its color are citric acid, which is found in the lime juice we put in guacamole, and lack of air – which is found under very tight plastic wrap.” And in Mom-Style Chicken Salad, she asks people what “mom-style” means and got these answers, “‘Plain mayonnaise for the dressing,’ said one person,’ ‘or that gross white salad dressing.’ ‘Grapes,’ another told me firmly. ‘Seedless grapes, cut in half.’ ‘Pasty and white,’ said a third. Hey! No personal remarks about mom please!”

You must try her recipes for Brownies and Cheese Straws, and Perfect Roast Chicken. And Crab Cakes and Hot Fudge Sauce and Chocolate Cookies. Read her book while you eat them.

From My Mother’s Kitchen

From My Mother's Kitchen

Mimi Sheraton has written a lot of cookbooks. And I love all of them, but From My Mother’s Kitchen, her memoir cookbook, is my favorite. I will read this book just for the stories. And the recipes are fabulous too.

Ms. Sheraton is a famous cookbook writer, who was the food critic for the New York Times from 1975 to 1983.  Some of her books include The German Cookbook, Visions of Sugarplums, The Whole World Loves Chicken Soup, The Bialy Eaters, and Eating My Words. (And she cowrote Is Salami and Eggs Better Than Sex? Memoirs of a Happy Eater” with Alan King – read it!)

I have read them all. But From My Mother’s Kitchen is my favorite.

The book chronicles her childhood and food experiences. The way she writes about food is so incredibly evocative. Her words make you long to eat what she is describing.

My favorite chapters in the book are “Eating Out,” and “Sour Pickles.” Of going to restaurants, she writes about eating at Lundy Brothers in Brooklyn, “Light reflections from the sunlit water outside bubbled onto the white ceilings, and the atmosphere was filled with the pulsating murmur of voice, the tinkle of ice, the clatter of silver, and laughter. My parents would nod to friends or stop to chat with them at the big wet and briny clam bar (one dozen cherrystones or littlenecks each was the warm-up while waiting for a table), and the whole adventure had about it the festive air of an ocean liner about to set sail.”

Can’t you just see it?

Her chapter on Sour Pickles is wonderful too. Her grandmother made the pickles and kept them in big wooden barrels on the porch. She writes, “carefully, stealthily, we knelt against the back of the glider and dipped in. Oh the ecstasy, as teeth snapped through the firm but tender skin to the cool, spicy interior that slowly, juicily released its counterpointed flavors of hot peppers, garlic, dill, the piny bay leaves and exotic mustard seeds and the faintly winy-cider tang of the pickling liquid made yeasty with a crust of sour rye bread.”

Can’t you just taste it?

The recipes in the book are equally amazing. Her mother’s recipe for Chicken Soup is the gold standard. Her recipes for Shrimp au Gratin, encased in a crisp golden bread crumb crust, and Seafood Newburg are stellar. I love the recipes for Pot Roasted Brisket, Chocolate Almond Torte, and Halibut Salad with Dill.

But the recipe I like best is for Schnecken, or Cinnamon Rolls. The only change I make to that recipe is to frost the cooled rolls with a simple buttercream icing. They are tender and fluffy with the best flavor – they melt in your mouth.

So try this book. You’ll get lost in the language and the memories and you’ll enjoy every second. Of reading and eating!

Are You in the Kitchen with Dinah?

Someones In the Kitchen with DInah

The book Someone’s In the Kitchen with Dinah was probably the first cookbook I ever read. It was published in 1971. My mom watched her talk show, as did I.

Someone's In the Kitchen with DInahShe had several talk shows during the 1970s and 1980s.  I remember the shows as full of laughter and cooking. Dinah always cooked on the show with her guests. She sang in her wonderful voice, and talked with just about everyone.

Most people who are over a certain age only know her as a singer, most notably the song “See the USA in Your Chevrolet.” If you’ve never heard her, watch this clip and listen. Her voice was fabulous.

Now, I am usually contemptuous of celebrities who write cookbooks. To me, it seems like they are just taking an easy way to make more money. They aren’t trained in food in any way, and most of the books don’t have any special recipes, unique ideas, or something to contribute. And some of the advice in those books can make you sick!

Anyway. Enough ranting.

I think that Dinah was the first celebrity chef. It made sense that she wrote a cookbook: she entertained hundreds of famous people. She cooked on her show. And she obviously knew her way around the kitchen. She includes recipes from Pauline, the woman she cooks with (I can’t call her her “cook” because Pauline was more than that), her mother, and her sister. Plus, I think she did it for the love of food, not to make more money or “expand her career.”


I have memorized many of these recipes and the stories that go with them. I first saw a recipe for Spaghetti Carbonara in her book, and was so intrigued. Who knew you could make spaghetti with just a sauce made of eggs, cream, and cheese? Her recipe for Mother’s Pecan Rum Cakes (which I make minus the rum) is simply spectacular. It is the best white cake recipe I have ever made. One bite of the velvety, soft cake will make you swoon. I love the recipe for Tennessee Lasagna, which is most likely the very first interesting variation on that classic recipe, and for Cream Cheese Cookies, which are smooth and rich, and on and on and on …

More of her recipes I love:

Sour Cream Cherry Molded Salad

  • Sour Cream Cheese Fruit Salad Mold
    This fabulous molded salad has the most bright and fresh flavor.  And isn’t it pretty? If you think gelatin molds are déclassé, you need to eat a bite of this recipe. You’ll change your mind. I don’t make the dressing the recipes calls for but I certainly make the Cream Cheese Nut Balls to serve with it.
  • French Toast
    I have never seen a recipe like this. The bread actually cooks in 1 INCH of melted butter! I don’t even know how many cups that would be! I’m a little afraid to try this recipe but I will someday.
  • Piroshki
    This is a fabulous little deep fried meat pie. I serve this on my husband’s birthday; it’s the only way he has ever, or will ever, eat liver. Don’t wrinkle your nose; this recipe is delicious and unique.
  • Turkey Mornay
    I make this fabulous recipe every day after Thanksgiving. It’s an open face sandwich served on toasted English muffins that is easy and satisfying.
  • Gougere
    This is an incredibly good quick bread made like a cream puff. It’s hot and melting and tender and flavorful and could almost be a meal in itself. It’s a fabulous accompaniment to soups or salads.
  • Fresh Peach Pie
    This is the recipe to make when peaches are in season. The coconut crust is sublime and for some reason, this recipe tastes more like peaches to me than any other.

The only recipe I will not recommend is for Steak Tartare. That is made of raw ground beef mixed with seasonings and served as-is.

The world was a lot different in 1971; the Jack-in-the-Box E. coli outbreak didn’t happen until 1993. I don’t recommend eating ground beef cooked to rare, medium rare, or medium, let alone raw. You can, of course, make that recipe and cook it – using a food thermometer to make sure the meat gets to 160°F.

Dinah wrote two other cookbooks before she died in 1994. I’ll review those later; suffice it to say they are also fabulous and interesting with new and unusual recipes.

So if you don’t know about Dinah, try this book. I promise you won’t regret it.

Cookbook Review: Home Cooking

Home Cooking - Laurie Colwin

I adore cookbooks and I own thousands, both 3D (what I call hard covers and paperbacks) and virtual cookbooks. But when I discovered Laurie Colwin’s cookbooks Home Cooking and More Home Cooking my standards changed. I expect more out of cookbooks now.

Home CookingI first became aware of Ms. Colwin while reading Gourmet magazine. She wrote a column for that great, defunct tome and I looked forward to reading it every month.

I was very upset when I heard she died in 1992. She died in her sleep. She was only 48 years old.

Then, I learned that she wasn’t just great at writing about food – she was a great writer period! She wrote ten books: five novels, three collections of her short stories, and two cookbooks (one published posthumously from her Gourmet columns). Of course, I immediately bought the fiction and read every word.

And loved every word. She used such wonderful spare prose. And did not use contractions, which I think made her writing richer. (There’s nothing I despise more in writing than the lazy contractions “would’ve” or “might’ve.” Write out the words, for pete’s sake!)

But there was nothing like her writing about food. With a simple sentence about a pot roast, your mouth would start watering. I had to stop after every chapter and think about it and sigh and wish I could write that well.

Perfect Pot RoastIn the essay “Friday Night Dinner” she describes serving her fabulous meltingly tender pot roast and crisp and flavorful potato pancakes to friends and says, “People often eat this in total silence in which case you may assume that you are not going to have any leftovers.”

Just stop a minute and let that sentence sink it. It says so much. The food is fabulous. The guests are appreciative. The party is cozy and wonderful. No commas, no extraneous words, not even any descriptions of the food! Now that’s good writing.

Every recipe has a story and a history. She describes tackling homemade bread, figures out how to make a great dinner party menu that will satisfy everyone’s weird allergies and peccadillos, and how to make the best gingerbread.

I haven’t tried many of her recipes; I prefer just reading the stories. Although I will say that her Bloomer Loaf is spectacular, and her Pot Roast recipe is just sublime. You should make them right away. I’ll wait.

The essay I love most, along with many other people, is called “Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant.” She describes her first apartment, about which she says, “It is lucky I never met Wilt Chamberlain because if I had invited him in for coffee he would have been unable to spread his arms in my room, which was roughy seven by twenty.” She didn’t have a kitchen sink, but she had dinner parties and dance parties in that small place.

She talks about the child’s desk that served as a coffee table, about her Meissen plates that she loved, and her routine during the work week and on the weekends, when she browsed New York’s rich farmers markets.

But the essay really is about the weird things people eat when they are alone. Think about it. When my husband isn’t at home, I make myself sweet potatoes glazed in honey and brown sugar. That’s all I eat. Or I have some sourdough bread, toasted and smeared with cream cheese. Weird stuff like that kind of defines you.

Ms. Colwin ate eggplant when she was alone. She ate it “fried and crisp, stewed, sludgy, hot, and cold.” She ate eggplant “constantly, with garlic and honey, eggplant with spaghetti, eggplant with fried onions and Chinese plum sauce.”

That is kind of weird.

She ends with this paragraph: “Now I have a kitchen with a four-burner stove, and a real fridge. I have a pantry and a kitchen sink and a dining room table. But when my husband is at a business meeting and my little daughter is asleep, I often find myself alone in the kitchen with an eggplant, a clove of garlic, and my old pot without the handle about to make a weird dish of eggplant to eat out of the Meissen soup plate at my desk.”


Buy this book. If you don’t know anything about her, you are in luck. Because you can discover all of her writing in one fell swoop.

I envy you.


Hello world!

Cookbook Lady Logo 11218

And welcome to The Cookbook Lady!

I have loved cookbooks all my life. I can’t remember when I started reading them, but once I started I was hooked.

Cookbooks really “hit you where you live,” to quote Laurie Colwin (a lot more about my favorite writer ever later). Cookbooks are history. They are family. They can be a comfort and a solace and a place to make sense of the world.  Cookbooks record where we are as a country, they help us remember our past and ethnicity, and can communicate to the world who we are.

What could be better?

So join me as I review cookbooks, both old and new, and sample some recipes I have made that these books inspired.