Category: Cookbooks

Twelve Food-Related Statements That Need To Be Banned

Adam at age 15 with some camp cooking equipment from the 1950s. People in the U.S. today would likely be extremely squeamish about eating food prepared with these.

When it comes to food, I don’t really like “top-ten” or “top-one-hundred” or any other kind of similar lists. Those lists are very dependant on the taste buds of the voting majority, their culture and history, where and how they grew up, even what kind of mood they’re in or whether or not they have a cold when they eat whatever they’re voting on. But at the same time, there are things I constantly … constantly … hear regarding foods of various kinds, statements that burn my biscuits so bad, my biscuits turn into hockey pucks.

I’ve been working in the foodservice industry off-and-on since the summer of 1979. Most of the statements in the list below have only really shown up in the past ten years or so. It seems people in the U.S. are just getting snarkier, more arrogant about their own feelings about various foods and other people, and decidedly less informed about what real food is and how to enjoy it. I’m definitely of the opinion that it’s the demise of the formerly ubiquitous “home economics” courses in public schools, along with less knowledge of farming and animal husbandry and butchering, that’s contributing to this overall ignorance. This type of education needs to make a comeback, and fast, before we end up as a nation of “food ignoramusses” with no knowledge of those subjects whatsoever.

When it comes to this list, you will never hear me say these things, and if you say them in my presence I might just have to call you on the carpet for it. Ok, so there are two on this list that I used to say … but I won’t any longer … seriously, my daughter will make sure of that … Frankly, if you want to be snarky about food, especially if you open your mouth with any of these and haven’t thought it through, you have a lot to learn. Here are your hard lessons …

12) “I never use canned ingredients … Don’t you dare ever make me anything out of a box.”

Really? If that’s an absolute, I want to see the cow you’re getting your milk from, the backyard chickens giving you your eggs every day, the garden with all your veggies, the bread you’ve got proofing somewhere, your butchering shed … If you’re in the U.S., this ain’t likely. Sure, there are a lot of overly-processed foods out there, but there are certainly some things you’re going to need to use in today’s busy world. Frozen phyllo dough in your baklava, packaged peas for that potato salad, that steel-cut Irish oatmeal that’s just so comforting in the morning … even the good Pepperidge Farm stuffing mix, prepped correctly, with the onions and celery sautéed in butter, and the chicken stock added. Yes, you can be particular about your canned and boxed foods, there are some decent ones out there, and to completely draw a line like that is rather unrealistic. Get your head out of your can and go get some good Kosher pickle spears to roll up in that thinly-sliced ribeye with the layer of German mustard out of a jar before slow-roasting it in that freshly-made gravy.

(The image: Margaret Rudkin was the founder of Pepperidge Farm, and was author of the Pepperidge Farm Cookbook. She developed the first packaged stuffing mix, the Sage & Onion, based on her grandmother’s recipe, which is in the book.)

11) “You’re going to eat some real food, not junk.”

If you’re taking your kids out somewhere and you say this to them, you’re some kind of stick-in-the-mud. If you’re saying this while you’re on any kind of day trip or vacation with them, you should facepalm yourself. Say it to your spouse at any time, and you should go see a proctologist about your Serial Buttholiness. Get the kids a grilled cheese sandwich, let them have ice cream first, it won’t kill them or you … if they’re asking for a bag of chips, maybe wandering Disney all day has dehydrated them a bit and their body is telling them they need salt …

And if the spouse wants the 16 oz T-bone with baked potato and sour cream, maybe look the dish over when it arrives and consider learning how to grill steak like that at home for a special occasion. Learn how to have fun on trips of any duration, and include the food in that fun. It’s good for relationships of any kind.

(The image: A handmade corndog from the Rock & Roll Café, one of the better food trucks in southeastern Michigan. They also offer an amazing half-pound sirloin burger topped with grilled peppers and onions.)

10) “That’s not how I make it … That’s not how my Grandma made it.”

And you didn’t bring me any? How rude is that???

Seriously, let’s talk about hot dogs and Chinese food.

It stands to reason that you will like the foods you grew up with. Regional, cultural, religious and family-specific preferences will always be a factor in what kind of foods you will enjoy or even prefer. In early 2012 journalists from MLive put together what they called the Michigan Coney Dog Project, resulting in what they determined to be Michigan’s Top 10 Coney Dogs. That they put the Flint Style Coney further down on the list (at position #4) than the Detroit Style Coney (at positions #1 and #2) is not at all surprising since only one of their members is from Flint. That “Coney Detroit” co-author Joe Grimm was along for the ride is even more telling as a partial reason for those results. And a brief look at the more-than 100 comments below that article will show proof of liking what you grew up with.

If you’re from Detroit, you might like American or Lafayette Detroit Style coneys, while thinking a friend who likes Flint and Jackson styles is crazy. A person standing by from Chicago will tell them they’re both nuts, while the Hawaiian resident and the West Virginian will be arguing Puka vs. Sam’s Hot Dog for an hour. Similarly though, a person from the deep south will avoid Zehnder’s fried chicken like the plague since it “will never be like my mama’s”, Chesapeake Bay crab lovers will always be at odds with those who love Bering Sea ophelia, and a new Chinese visitor to the U.S. will always have a difficult time figuring out why a so-called Chinese restaurant serves that incredibly popular General Tso’s thing he’s never heard of.

Being even a mildly-adventurous eater means not only being more accepting of flavors and textures outside your comfort zone, and being willing to try them, but also acknowledging our differences in food likes and dislikes, celebrating those differences even though we may not agree for whatever reason. Saying a town “Doesn’t know how to do a hot dog” isn’t true. They don’t do your hot dog. They do theirs just fine. When you’re in their town, you’re actually the one who’s nuts. So try theirs. And remember to keep your mind and your taste buds open.

(The image: Some Chocolate-Oatmeal No-Bakes, made from my mom’s recipe.)

9) “That just sounds nasty … I can’t believe you’re gonna eat that … I can’t stand that, I’m good.”

I’ve enjoyed the Flint Style Coney since I was probably 7 or eight, maybe earlier, I really don’t know for sure. My kids have always liked them as well. Unfortunately now, since I’ve let those kids know the real thing has beef heart in it (the original sauce from Abbott’s Meats is almost 100% beef heart), my daughter has a difficult time stomaching it.


I’ve always told my kids they have to try every food once. I don’t care if it looks bad, smells bad, came out of a sheep’s or lamb’s gullet (i.e., the natural casing on sausages and some good weiners) or the bottom of a cloudy lake (i.e., catfish), you’re going to try at least one bite before you tell me you don’t like the thing. At that point I can have some respect for your opinion, but not before. Because of this, my daughter now enjoys alligator, calamari, some of the eel she’s tried (not all, but that’s ok), deer venison, has a passion for good rabbit dishes, helped me search on a trip once for the best fried okra …

… but she won’t eat cornbread. Can’t stand the stuff. Make her a corndog from scratch, the breading comes off of it. Doesn’t like it with chili or ribs. However, that stinker will break up that same cornbread, dump it in a glass with some 2% milk and eat it with a spoon. I can’t figure that out …

Something to keep in the back of your mind is that we have seriously become a whole country of complete food wimps. I happened on an original copy of the 1922 “Home Economics Cook Book for Elementary Grades” printed by the Board of Education in Toledo, Ohio. In the chapter on poultry, kids through grade eight were taught to singe the pin feathers off the chicken, cut its head off, draw the pin feathers out with a knife, use the fingers to find and remove the windpipe and crop, dig in with the hand again to remove the intestinal organs (“being careful not to break the gall bladder”), also pulling out the lungs, kidneys, the heart (“found near the lungs”), the oil bag near the tail …

If you enjoy chicken, but the above description and the thought of following it grosses you out, you do indeed have double standards. You should be ashamed of your squeamishness. In these “first-world” countries we’re supposedly so incredibly advanced. But our food has become so sanitized and processed that we’ve selectively (yes … selectively) lost track of where our food comes from. We prefer not to know that other countries pass down recipes for dishes usng the complete animal, largely without a cookbook for a hundred miles in any direction. Only recently have restaurants here began to celebrate “farm to table” and “nose to tail” menus and recipes. This is supposedly a big deal, with higher-end and specialty restaurants making a lot of noise about it. Meanwhile though, authentic Mexican restaurants have always served Menudo made with good tripe (a.k.a. cow stomach), Abbott’s Meats in Flint still makes and distributes the 1919 version  of the Flint Coney sauce made with almost 100% beef heart, secluded families in the Ozarks eat daily meals of squirrel and raccoon, and any time you eat a decent sausage, that crunch is some animal’s intestine. So pull your heart out of your throat and have some real food. Learn about where your food comes from. You’ll appreciate it more.

(The image: A whole beef heart, used in the development of a recipe for Flint Style Coney sauce.)

8) “I had a bad experience there once … They used to be good, not anymore though.”

This one’s a “mea culpa” moment for me …

It’s rather common knowledge that restaurant reviewers will make multiple visits to a single location prior to writing their review of the place. While quite a few so-called “reviewers” are hacks who have no history of cooking, knowledge of good flavors and textures, or even the culture of a given restaurant and why its regular guests love it, they normally know better than to only go once. Restaurants should have consistency between servers and cooks at any given time, but it’s definitely necessary to check more out than can be done at one time.

Even if you’ve had a bad experience somewhere, maybe the cook was having an off day, maybe the server had some issues (even though that should never be reflected in customer service), maybe there are new owners/management (maybe someone actually read your comment card and acted on it) … There are a lot of reasons to try a place again.

There’s one restaurant chain I have a problem with. Ok, multiple problems. It’s a fast-casual place, and there seem to be a lot of hit-and-miss depending on which location I visit. One location in particular has really had my hackles up for a long time and I vowed never to go back.

Then my daughter became pregnant. Three guesses where she wanted to meet up to discuss it … first two guesses don’t count … Now she’s one of the lead servers there … at that same location … I can’t win for losing on this one, I have to go back to the place I really don’t like.

So get your butt over there and try it again. Maybe everything will be fine. In my case, it’d better be or I get to withhold a tip from my own kid.

(The image: Bree with some Poutine at Crazy Joe’s in Wallaceburg, Ontario.)

7) “It made me sick before, I’m not eating that.”

Another “mea culpa”. Worse for me is that this one is my daughter’s suggestion. Sometimes, she’s right. Sometimes …

Longtime readers will know I’ve had multiple sinus bleeds since 2008, requiring (we think) twelve surgeries to shut off the flow of what’s mostly been arterial blood. (You can tell by the color, along with the occasional pulsing that’s synchronized with the heartrate.) For those first three episodes stretched out from 2008 through early 2010, the night before the bleed started I had enjoyed scallops at the Frog Leg Inn. As I also run their web site and shoot photos in the kitchen, I actually have the pics to prove this. It got to the point where I brought it up with my ENT specialist, who thought it rather odd but still worth some consideration. Was there something in the scallop beds off Massachussetts that the scallops were eating that I was strangely allergic to? Just made no sense at all.

But then with these last two bleeds, in June and May 2013, there hadn’t been a scallop in sight since the previous bleed in June 2010. Why? Because “It made me sick before, I’m not eating that.”

I think maybe it’s time for some scallops. I should probably have a bucket and some towels standing by though. It can get messy.

(The image: A particular plate of scallops in the kitchen at the Frog Leg Inn, the very dish I’ve always suspected as being responsible for the sinus bleed of March 2010.)

6) “If it’s past its expiration date, you’d better throw it away.”

Were you aware at all that the US Food & Drug Administration only actually regulates a use-by/expiration date on infant formula and some baby foods? That the USDA only requires poultry to be labeled with the date it was packed? That any “use-by/expiration date” on food products is highly dependant on handling, storage temperature, and other uncontrollable variables? And that if you stick hard-and-fast to these dates and throw food away just because the date says it’s “expired”, your level of brain deadedness is showing?

If you can’t tell when food has gone bad and need to go by those dates, you probably shouldn’t be cooking whatsoever. Common sense, smell, the look of a certain ingredient, if fish smells fishy, if beef is brown, if poultry is slimy, if veggies have mold on them … Pitch it. It’s really not that difficult to figure this out.

(The image: A 39-pack of Koegel Skinless Frankfurters with a “Sell By” date of September 20. No year is specified on the package. I didn’t make the package blue for effect, that’s a reflection of the sky on a very nice day.)

5) “Poor little bunny … How can you eat Bambi?”

If you’re a vegan or vegetarian and you say this, zip it. It’s very seldom I’ve seen or heard of a carnivore preaching that people damn well better start eating meat becuse it’s better for both them and the planet. A good friend of mine is a full vegan, I respect both his and your views. He and I simply don’t force our views on each other the way vegans and vegetarians generally do with carnivores. You certainly don’t have the authority to tell me what I should eat, that’s my decision. Go have some Fritos and “original” Oreos, and be quiet.

If you’re a carnivore and you’re saying this, what’s your problem? Do you really believe that whether or not we should eat something is somehow related to its level of cuteness? Piglets are somehow inedible early-on because they’re adorable, but when they’ve aged a bit they’re only good for a long smoking of the shoulders and ribs with sauce added, and the divvying up of the bacon and pork rinds. Baby chicks seem to only belong in a petting zoo, while chickens only belong in a skillet with seasoned breading and an inch of hot oil for frying. Selecting which animal to cook based solely on how flippin’ cute it is, is a ridiculous double standard. No, deer, rabbits and other species don’t lose their attractiveness as they age like other animals do. But that in no way means we shouldn’t enjoy them at dinner time. If your emotions are in the way when you’re deciding what to cook, or what I cook, you’re the one with the problem. It’s all food, so eat it.

(The image: A serving of some impromptu Rabbit Chili.)

4) “I can’t tell you, it’s a secret recipe/ingredient.”

In 2007 when I first started working on developing, Chef Tad made it clear he wanted a section where he could post recipes. With so many chefs and professional cooks guarding proprietary recipes as “trade secrets”, I asked why he’d want to do something like that. He explained that home cooks would not have the tools, equipment, or the cooking techniques he and his team do, and that even if a professional were to attempt a duplication, subtle differences in those items would prevent an actual duplication. Any “copycat recipe” will certainly result in something similar but never an exact duplicate. You can only duplicate exactly within the same kitchen the recipe was developed in using identical ingredients.

In late July 2013 Mary and I spent the weekend at the Henderson Castle Bed & Breakfast in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where we enjoyed a 7-course meal prepared by owner French Master Chef Francois Moyet. The entrée I selected was his Chicken Marsala. Later in the weekend I bought a copy of the book the Chef had written on the history of the more-than-100-year-old castle. It it were some of his recipes, including the Chicken Marsala. Think about that.

The same goes for home kitchens. Sure, it’s a “home kitchen”, and y’all probably shop at the same Piggly Wiggly over yonder. But the concept is the same … You’re going to buy different ingredients, you’re going to measure them somewhat different, Paula’s 350F oven will average 355F while Mildred’s averages 343F, it’ll rain the day Frank makes it while, when Gilbert finally gets around to it, it’ll be 95F outside with high humidity and he ain’t got no A/C. Yes, each batch will taste and feel differently.

“Secret” recipes … “secret” ingredients … Get over yourself.

3) “My chicken/pork/beef/fish has to be well-done.”

Why do you want to ruin the taste and texture of your food this way? Why is it so important to you to remove all those good flavors by overcooking what can actually be better on your plate? This is nothing more than paranoia about supposed food safety issues that are preventing you from enjoying these foods the way other people actually enjoy them and survive.

There’s a burger place in Toledo called Bar 145. They didn’t name it that because of an address or area code, rather they’re using the internal temperature of a piece of beef that’s been cooked medium-rare. At the Frog Leg Inn in Erie, Michigan, the menu description for the 12-ounce Pork Saltimbocca states “Recommended medium-rare unless otherwise instructed.” And in his Les Halles Cookbook, Chef Anthony Bourdain wrote “Hell, most people figure that if the crispy skin tastes good, and there’s no yucky blood or pink stuff near the bone, that’s a fine roast chicken … Chicken should taste like chicken. Understand also that legs and breasts cook at different rates. In your zeal to make sure that there is no pink (eek!) or red (oooohh!) anywhere in the legs, you are often criminally overcooking your breasts. Find a happy medium. A little pink color by the thigh bone does not necessarily mean you are eating rare poultry.”

People do eat food this way. In Japan they have medium-rare chicken sushimi. They are also allowed to have chicken tartare. It’s only because their chickens are raised in such a way that they’re safer to eat. We’re the ones that are backward, while their ancient culture has food goodies we can only dream of having. We’re the ones with the food safety problems. We really, truly suck at it. Meanwhile, other cultures are enjoying some great treats. You should at least try food medium-rare when possible. You might actually like it.

(The image: The raw ribeye I then cooked to medium-rare at the Monroe Boat Club over their community grill.)

2) “That’s a heart attack waiting to happen … A heart attack on a bun … It’ll put me in a diabetic coma.”

No, it’s not. It’s a splurge, a meal to be enjoyed, a once-in-a-lifetime food experience, a challenge, maybe even a meal to be shared with someone you’re with. And you … are inappropriately judgemental.

Unless you’re a Registered Dietition, someone’s doctor, their trainer, or even their lifestyle coach, you have no right and zero authority to use this snide and blatantly offensive comment. Even if you say it when looking at a photo of a dish, you’re more than welcome to slap yourself in the face. People happen to like food, people do like large meals, and if you’re using the current media obsession with “the obesity epidemic” as your basis for saying this you are, again, judgemental and inappropriate.

For example, my wife and I like the Chateau Burger. It’s a one-pounder cooked and served at the Chateau Louise here in Luna Pier. But even when I tell people she and I split the burger, those same people tell me basically that we shouldn’t be having it because it’s just too big. Excuse me, but at that point it’s a half-pound … the same size as a cheeseburger at Sonic, the double at Wendy’s, the double quarter-pounder at McDonald’s … The things they eat all the time. But this info is never good enough for them, because apparently they want to see themselves as “the better, healthier person”.

Gimme a break. You’re a clueless jerk.

Granted, if someone eats like that all the time, that’s a problem. But it’s their problem, not yours. It’s something for their doctor to discuss with them. Now … If you happen care enough about someone to urge them to get help, you’re welcome to do that as well, sitting down with them and having a loving talk about how you don’t want to lose them because of their health. But if you’re going to be snide, insulting, say nasty things about what they’re eating … If you then get slapped or get hot, greasy food dumped on you, you damn-well deserve it.

This same thing goes for those people who claim something will put them into a “diabetic coma”. Have you ever been in a diabetic coma? Are you even a diabetic? Are you possibly just being offensive to diabetics with a snide and insulting remark about an actual medical condition that isn’t always brought on by eating too many sugary sweets? Is there a candymaker standing in front of you who’s possibly proud of their work while you stand there insulting what they do? Those latter two questions are probably more like it. Have some of their work, you obviously need more sweetening.

(The image: The one-pound Chateau Louise burger, as pictured on A Hamburger Today out of NYC. Yes, after shooting that pic I split the burger with Mary.)

1) “Damn, that’s too expensive.”

I’m reminded of a sign that used to hang in the former Bill Knapp’s restaurant in Adrian, Michigan. It listed how much various items cost in 1975. Google the following words:

1975 prices

Look at the results. Gas was 57 cents a gallon. Pretty cheap. Eggs were 77 cents a dozen. They’re only about twice that now.

But then there’s milk.

38 years ago in 1975, milk was $1.57/gallon.

In August 2013 I paid $2.49/gallon. Mary and I both bought milk at school in 1975 at 15 cents a half-pint. That comes out to $2.40 for a gallon of milk when milk was $1.57/gallon.

Yes, seriously. That’s what we paid.

Milk subsidies to farmers have kept gallon prices artificially low. If those subsidies didn’t exist, you’d be paying $7.50 – $8/gallon at the grocery store.

You, my friend, are spoiled.

Here’s the thing: One way or another, you’re paying that $7.5 – $8/gallon, whether you do it in the store or through your taxes via the “subsidies”. It’s the same with corn and other crops and farm products as well. It’s shielded from you so you don’t have to think about it, so it’s out-of-sight and out-of-mind. You are absolutely paying more for some of your food that you think you are. Deal with it.

And then you’re at a restaurant. There’s no “dollar menu” and the 1/4-lb burger is five bucks. You blanche. Right in front of the minimum-wage worker or below-minimum wager server who’s smiling at you waiting for your order, your $50k/year self mumbles “Damn, that’s expensive”. After bitching further about the price of an added drink and fries, you head out to your Lexus, fire up your iPhone and complain on Facebook. Later on after work, that minimum-wage worker picks up their child-support and their public assistance in their rusty used car which is all they can afford because prices at work aren’t actually high enough to pay decent labor wages, heads over and pays the sitter when they pick up the kids, then the rent, the utilities, and hopes to have enough for a couple things at Aldi.

In most states, minimum-wage laws do not apply to tipped employees, meaning servers. That’s stupid. They make probably $2.65/hour and guests are assumed to make up the rest. That’s even more stupid. Minimum wage laws need to apply to everyone, flat-out and period. Tips are a gift, not a wage. Yes, the cost of a meal will then go up, so what? Those workers will then be better able to survive. Get your prissy self out of your immaculate car in your $200 jeans, shove your expensive iPhone into your … pocket … and man-up to paying what you should be paying for food.

It’s a simple fact that customers refuse to pay higher prices for food, prices that are needed in order for workers to make decent wages, while those same customers pay premium prices for anything and everything else. No, unions are not any kind of answer. Customers simply need to stop being penny-pinching boneheads in any situation having to do with eating. The problem will exist while people keep buying off the “dollar menu”. If you don’t like higher food prices, you should be the one starving for a while so you can see what it feels like, not the people who feed your selectively-miserly, inconsiderate and arrogant self.

(The image: Brina, our server for our 7-Course Dinner prepared by French Master Chef Francois Moyet at his exquisite Henderson Castle Bed & Breakfast in Kalamazoo, Michigan, in late July 2013.)

Recipe: Cherry Chili Chicken, and Zack’s 27th Birthday

A serving of Cherry Chili Chicken from the book Cooking Jewish, plated on a bed of buttered white rice. Click on any of the images in this post for larger versions.

Recently Mary and I have become very interested in what might seem an odd combination of cross-cultural holiday celebrations. A few years ago one of the Toledo television stations, 13abc, did a batch of Sunday morning live shots from an event my wife and her girlfriends were having, a fund-raiser for one of their own who has multiple myeloma. The young reporter they sent out, Zack Ottenstein, hit it off so well with Mary and I that before he left he handed me his card, wanting to get together with us outside broadcasting. Since that time he’s become a dear Jewish son to us Christians, and an older brother to our six kids.

A couple years ago Zack had his first Christmas Eve dinner with us and some of our friends here in Luna Pier. An hour prior, he called to ask, “Do I need to wear a suit? I’ve never been to one of these things!” One Christmas after we gave him a Hanukkah card he performed the proper candle ceremony with us … and then promptly helped us finish decorating our Christmas tree.

A year ago last March when this here German Lutheran was holed up in a Catholic hospital, Mary found the book Cooking Jewish in the hospital’s gift shop and bought me a copy. We love this book! There are some incredible recipes in here and while there are no photos of the completed dishes it’s not difficult to visuallize how they’d turn out. (As you can see in the photos, the Cherry Chili Chicken was beautiful even while it was being prepared.) But what’s even more endearing about the book is the whole “family” aspect of the overall writing. The family tree is laid out, charts indicate which family member is related to which and how that happens (i.e., Fanny Vitner is Silvia Robbin’s mother), and a written history goes back over 100 years.

Yesterday evening Mary made Hilda Robbins’ Cherry Chili Chicken from Cooking Jewish and Zack joined us for his 27th birthday, along another serving of this dish. Of course for dessert he had to have the Chocolate Chip ice cream with sprinkles. We’re all still kids after all.

The seasoned chicken being browned in a large skillet. Note how the pieces progress from unbrowned at top-left to browned at bottom-right.

This recipe makes a lot of food. The book says it serves 8 but take a closer look. There are two chickens 3 – 4 lbs each, each cut into eight pieces (Mary had to spread it out between two roasting pans). Depending on what you might be serving this with, and what your family’s appetite is, serving 10 – 12 people isn’t unreasonable.

We love the concept of using this as a cross-cultural Easter dinner dish (I mean, hey, Christ was Jewish) with a distinctly Michigan bent (i.e., cherries with chicken), particularly since Mary’d bought the Jewish cookbook at a Catholic hospital for a German-Lutheran and used PAPA Sweet Hungarian Paprika (available at Kroger) when preparing the dish. I think the chickens may have even been Amish …

A few changes we made were to use golden raisins vs. dark raisins, granulated garlic instead of powdered, and a Chardonnay for the white wine. Mary also served it on a bed of buttered white rice.

With the publisher’s permission I’m going to include the preface to this recipe from the book itself so you can see how delightful this book is.

The browned pieces of seasoned chicken being loaded into one of two roasting pans lined with sliced onions.

Cherry Chili Chicken
from Hilda Robbins

*Excerpted from Cooking Jewish
Copyright © 2007 by Judy Kancigor
Used by permission of Workman Publishing Co., Inc., New York
All Rights Reserved

For some it’s a rabbit’s foot. For others it’s a lucky penny. For me it’s Cherry Chili Chicken.

My lucky recipe was Aunt Hilda’s specialty, her decades-old signature dish, eagerly anticipated by all (although she just called it “holiday chicken” – I always was a sucker for alliteration.) Sweet yet zippy, pretty plump cherries peeking through the piquant sauce, Aunt Hilda’s holiday chicken ushered in countless New Years, heralded scores of birthdays, and graced many a holiday table.

When the self-published Melting Pot Memories came out I noticed a very strange thing. Everyone who told me they were trying the recipes seemed to start with the same one. How odd is that! You guessed it … Cherry Chili Chicken. Then four food editors who featured my book in their various publications also selected the Cherry Chili Chicken to highlight their holiday stories. So forgive me if I attribute magical powers to this recipe!

But where did it come from, I wondered. After much research I found a similar recipe called Chicken Jubilee in that fifties classic, long out of print, called Thoughts for Buffets. Did Aunt Hilda own that book? Cousins Bonnie and Jackie don’t remember it. We’ll never know.

Serves 8, medium difficulty

3/4 cup raisins
1 cup (16-1/2 ounces) pitted black cherries, undrained
2 large onions, thinly sliced
2 chickens (3 – 4 pounds), each cut into 8 pieces, rinsed and patted dry
Garlic powder to taste
Paprika to taste
Kosher (coarse) salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 to 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup dry sherry or white wine
2 bottles (12 ounces each) chili sauce, such as Heinz
1/2 cup (packed) dark brown sugar

1. Put the raisins in a small bowl and pour the juice from the canned cherries over them. Set aside.

2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Scatter the onion slices over the bottom of a large baking pan or roasting pan. Set the pan aside.

3. Season the chicken with garlic powder, paprika, and salt and pepper.

4. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until it is quite hot but not smoking. Add the chicken, in batches, and cook until browned on both sides, 3 to 4 minutes per side, adding the remaining 1 tablespoon at a time, if needed. As the chicken pieces brown, arrange them, skin side up, on top of the onions in the baking pan.

5. Remove the skillet from the heat and discard all the oil. Add 1/2 cup of the sherry to the skillet and scrape up all the brown bits. Stir in the chili sauce, brown sugar, 1/4 cup water, and the plumped raisins with the cherry juice. Bring the mixture to a boil, and then pour it over the chicken. Roast, uncovered, basting occasionally, for 25 minutes.

6. Pour the remaining 1/2 cup sherry around the chicken, distribute the cherries throughout the pan, and baste. Roast, basting occasionally, until cooked through, 20 to 30 minutes.

7. Transfer the chicken to a warm serving platter and cover to keep warm. Strain the liquid into a medium-size saucepan, reserving the solids. Bring the strained sauce to a boil over medium-high heat and boil until reduced by about one-third, or until thick, 8 to 10 minutes (longer if you like a thicker sauce).

8. Spoon the onions, cherries, and raisins over the chicken, and pass the sauce.

Cherry Chili Chicken, after 25 minutes of roasting, topped with cherries and basted.

Original Recipe: Pepperidge Farm Sage & Onion Stuffing

When I picked up Margaret Rudkin’s autobiographical “Pepperidge Farm Cookbook” from 1963 at an antique shop back in March, it was with hopes of finding some of the company’s original recipes.

Mrs. Rudkin, it turns out, did not disappoint.

My maternal grandmother used to make a seriously-good sage & onion stuffing. Grandma Liske probably did as well, although I was born a few years too late to find out. It seems to be a perennial favorite, with numerous variations appearing on my plate from various cooks throughout my lifetime.

The Pepperidge Farm pre-packaged version is by far the closest I’ve found to the from-scratch stuff … ing I’d enjoyed all those years. This year, after finding the original recipe for this stuff … ing on page 30 of Mrs. Rudkin’s book, I’ve been all gung-ho to finally make her grandmother’s version this year. She wrote about it in such a way that had me craving some:

Turkey time at Thanksgiving was a great treat — not because of the turkey, to my mind, but for the stuffing. I was so crazy about the stuffing that after the turkey was stuffed to bursting, an extra portion was wrapped loosely in a square of cheescloth and tucked into the pan alongside the turkey. The rich turkey fat sizzled round my little bundle, and when the cheesecloth was opened up, there was a crisp golden ball with a soft, spicy, fragrant center, all for me.

There it is … me wanting one of those same balls of freshly-roasted stuffing.

But dagnabbit … now I’m sick. Flu-bug, or some such nasty thing.

Hense the bags you see here of the commercial goods, which according to Mrs. Rudkin should still have been derived from her grandmother’s method.

Maybe I’ll make the original for Christmas dinner. That is, if I don’t have pneumonia or something.

Of course, Mrs. Rudkin also dealt with the age-old problem of dealing with grandmothers who simply knew how to cook:

My grandmother didn’t use any measuring spoon for the spices — she gauged the amounts by tasting and sniffing.

Doesn’t that just drive you nuts? “Grandma, can you show me how you make that?” “Certainly dear, but I never measure anything.” “Well gee grandma, how the HELL do you do that then???”

Mrs. Rudkin talks about something else that’s quite similar, part of her learning about this stuffing recipe:

When the big day came, the kitchen table was cleaned, a bowl of cool water was placed on one side, a large empty bowl was placed on the other side, and in the middle were thick slices of dry bread with the crusts removed.

Each slice was dipped into the water and then squeezed out thoroughly.

Why it had to be dried out for days and then wet again was a mystery, but whoever figured it out was mighty smart because the moisture was just right.

It’s a grandmother, Margaret. No explanation will ever be given. It’ll just drive ya’ knuts.

She continues:

The moist slices were crumbed by rubbing between the hands, and then salt, pepper, sage, thyme and finely chopped white onions were added and tossed well together.

Melted butter was poured on and everything tossed together lightly with a fork.

This then begs the question; Why, when this process, and the recipe at the bottom of the same page (shown above) both use crumbs, do today’s pre-packaged stuffing mixes, including Pepperidge Farms brand, use cubes of dried bread?

Mrs. Rudkin explained:

In a bakery you never know exactly how many loaves to bake, so you are almost sure to have some left over after the orders are filled.

I remembered how much I loved stuffing, so I decided to make some from the extra bread.

But fresh bread crumbs have a certain amount of moisture and will not keep long without molding.

A dried product which could be packaged seemed to be the answer, but there were problems galore. We had to find a way of drying the product and still keep the aroma and flavor of the herbs. We finally solved it by making a special machine for our Pepperidge Farm Stuffing.

The packaged stuff … ing is like the original, her grandmother’s recipe. Only different.

For a very good reason

The first recipe below is what Mrs. Rudkin developed as a measured and simpler version of her grandmother’s recipe for Sage & Onion Stuffing, with the bread crumbs intact. The second recipe is one of her many ideas for Thanksgiving leftovers; Turkey Loaf. One of these days I’ll see how this turns out. Sounds pretty darn good to me. Anyone have scissors? I gotta get these bags opened …

Mrs. Rudkin’s Pepperidge Farm Original Sage & Onion Stuffing
1 large white onion
1/2 teaspoon powdered sage
2 cups soft bread crumbs
4 tablespoons melted butter
salt and pepper to taste

Chop the onion very fine.
Mix with the bread crumbs.
Add the powdered sage, salt and pepper, and mix well.
Add the melted butter and toss with a fork.

After-Thanksgiving Turkey Loaf
(serves 6 – 8 )
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F

2 eggs, slightly beaten
4 tablespoons melted butter
1 package Pepperidge Farm Stuffing
1-1/2 cups turkey or chicken broth
2 cups cooked turkey
2 tablespoons parsley
1 tablespoon minced onion
2 tablespoons minced green pepper

For the sauce:
1 can cream of celery soup
3/4 cup milk

Mix together all the [first eight] ingredients in order as listed.
Turn into a greased loaf pan, 9 by 5 by 3 inches.
Bake at 375 degrees F for 30 to 40 minutes until firm.
For the sauce: Blend the cream of celery soup with the milk in a saucepan.
Simmer for about 2 minutes.
Pour over the loaf.

Margaret Rudkin’s 1963 Pepperidge Farm Cookbook

I tried using a smaller pic of this cookbook, but it just didn’t give enough detail of the great cover art.

Back on March 27th I posted quite a few photos from a couple long walks Mary and I had taken the day before in the Waterville and Grand Rapids areas of Ohio along US-24 and the Ohio River. Toward the end of that post is an image of the cookbook you see in the above pic. I’d also written:

The cookbook, “The Margaret Rudkin Pepperidge Farm Cookbook”, contains Rudkin’s autobiography, including how she and her husband first founded the baked-goods company in their barn in 1937. Some of her personal bread and cake recipes are included in the book’s 500+ recipes, including pages of discussions and “rules-of-thumb” regarding making the best baked goods. I felt this was quite a find at $5.

One aspect about that day that I didn’t mention was that, with it only having been a bit more than a week since I’d been in the hospital … and that they didn’t transfuse me after I lost those three units of blood … the walking that day was some of the toughest I’d ever experienced. You know how they make you wait 56 days between donations of one pint of blood? I’d lost three, and it was more than a few months before I actually felt as though I was myself again.

So finding the chafing dish and the cookbooks that day made it all the more interesting. It was cold and the walking became more difficult as the day went on, but I had my dear wife at my side, and she let me buy some cool stuff!

I’d thought I’d blogged more about this great book. But no, I hadn’t. So as the holiday season starts, let’s hear how Mrs. Rudkin enjoyed Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners when she was about ten years old:

Turkey time at Thanksgiving was a great treat — not because of the turkey, to my mind, but for the stuffing. I was so crazy about the stuffing that after the turkey was stuffed to bursting, an extra portion was wrapped loosely in a square of cheesecloth and tucked into the pan alongside the turkey. The rich turkey fat sizzled round my little bundle, and when the cheesecloth was opened up, there was a crisp golden ball with a soft, spicy, fragrant center, all for me … The Christmas goose was stuffed with a special potato stuffing — creamy mashed potatoes full of chopped onions which had been simmered in butter, dried bread crumbs, two beaten eggs and lots of sage and thyme, salt and pepper and the cooked giblets, chopped very fine … The roasting was done in the hot oven of the coal stove. All of the drafts were opened up and the oven was tested with a piece of white paper; the exact minutes necessary to brown the paper were carefully computed. Who needed an oven thermometer? The roasting was carefully watched, for the goose fat had to be spooned off several times as it cooked off. It mustn’t be allowed to burn, for it was kept to be mixed with camphorated oil and rubbed on chests when we had coughing cold.

Sometime next week I’ll post Mrs. Rudkin’s version of her grandmother’s recipe for the turkey stuffing she describes here. It’s quite simple really, and will possibly give slightly better results than using Pepperidge Farms’ prepackaged version simply because you’ll be using fresher ingredients. She also suggests quite a few variations, so you’ll likely find something you might like.

The rest of the wonderful autobiographical portions of the book are also in this kind of delightful and descriptive narrative. This is a book I seriously enjoy just sitting down and reading. Even the recipes are cool to read. The book as divided into sections related to Mrs. Rudkin’s life, such as growing up in Ireland, starting Pepperidge Farm in New York, and also includes a chapter of recipes and notes from antique and ancient cookbooks in her own collection. From a book published in the year 1475 in Venice comes this interesting recipe for Pumpkin Pie, which was apparently supposed to also have an upper crust:

Shred well-cleaned pumpkins and, as with cheese, let them cook a little either in heavy juice or in milk. When partially cooked, pass it through a sieve into a pan, as, I said first, for cheese.

Mix together a half-pound of sow’s belly or rich fat boiled and beaten with a knife, or in place of these, if you wish, the same amount of butter or liquamen; a half-pound of sugar, a little ginger, some cinnamon, six eggs and two cups of milk with a little saffron.

This dessert will be rich with a good crust only if cooked above or below a slow fire.

There will be those who add pieces of leaves in place of the upper crust and call the dish lagana. When cooked and put in a dish, sprinkle on it sugar and rosewater.

Cassius, who was bothered by colic and stones, did not eat this. It is difficult to digest and nourishes badly.

Of course, her own recipes are simply amazing in that they’re classics from the beginning. To start, here is Mrs. Rudkin’s recipe for a simple loaf of white bread. And don’t forget, I’ll post her stuffing recipe next week. You might just want to bake a fresh loaf of this bread for it …

White Bread
(Makes 1 loaf)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F, 20 minutes before loaf is ready to bake.

1/2 cup milk
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons shortening or butter
1/2 cup warm water
1 ounce package or 1 ounce cake yeast, dry or compressed
3 cups sifted unbleached white flour

Scald the milk.
Add and stir in the sugar, salt and shortening or butter.
Cool to lukewarm.
Measure into a large mixing bowl the warm (not hot) water.
(Cool to lukewarm for compressed yeast.)
Sprinkle or crumble in the yeast.
Stir until dissolved.
Add the lukewarm milk mixture.
Add and stir in 1-1/2 cups sifted flour.
Beat until smooth.
Add and stir in an additional 1-1/2 cups sifted flour (about).
Turn out on a lightly floured board.
Knead quickly and lightly until smooth and elastic.
Place in a greased bowl; brush lightly with melted shortening or butter.
Cover with a clean damp towel.
Let rise in a warm place, about 85 degrees F, free from draft, until doubled in bulk, about 50 minutes.
Punch down.
Shape into a loaf and place in a greased bread pan, 9 by 5 by 3 inches.
Cover with a clean damp towel.
Let rise in a warm place, about 85 degrees F, free from draft, until doubled in bulk, about 50 minutes.
Bake in a hot oven (400 degrees F) for about 50 minutes.