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.