Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New Years, The Stork Club and Chicken à la Walter Winchell

Stork Club at New Years in the 1950s by artist Albert Dorne (1906-65)

No matter how much I love ancient history and food, there’s something about New Years that makes me think New York City and the golden age of the nightclub.

How about a little eye candy for my New Year's present to you before a bit of background on the Stork Club?

Ah, The Stork Club. Its rooms overflowed with celebrities. I really don’t think there’s any modern correlative in New York.

In the 70’s there was Studio 54 but since then, it’s been a long run of ‘flavor of the month’ clubs that have the shelf life of raspberries on a hot day. The Stork Club was hot from the mid-30’s through the mid-1950’s –– a 20 year run.

Ernest Hemingway, Spencer Tracy and George Jessel

Ava Gardner

Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall

Judy Garland and Vincent Minnelli

JFKennedy and Jackie Kennedy

Elizabeth Taylor and her parents

Frank Sinatra and his wife and children

Marilyn Monroe and Joe Dimaggio

The Stork Club began in 1929 when a man named Sherman Billingsley got together with a couple of swells and started the place on 58th Street. It really got going when it moved to its final resting place at 3 East 53rd street in 1934. Within 2 years it was taking in a million a year.

Stork Club Ladies Room 

In 1946, Billingsley bought the building and spent $200G on renovations putting in the Cub Room and $25G a year keeping the place up to snuff (including the installation of the women’s room with the famous fan wallpaper and striped seats).

The men’s room was unusual, or should I say men’s rooms, plural. Billingsley didn’t like the idea of an unpleasantly oderiferous men’s room so only urinals were in the downstairs men’s room. You had to go up a few flights to sit on a toilet in the #2 room.

The Blessed Event Room was terribly popular as was the Cub Room -- also referred to as “The Snub Room”.

The Cub Room with Orson Welles in left front

Billingsley ruled the place like a potentate. There were laws that had to be obeyed ‘or else’ (the kitchen was full of warning signs – and with the exception of the beloved Jack Spooner, employees were told if a person was known by the employee, they had no business in the club) but he was also generous -- bestowing 100G in gifts every year to his favored patrons.

I read in a great article in Life Magazine  that he had a waiter whose only job was to light Ethel Merman’s cigarette, and he also had a man who followed him discretely throughout the evening and interpreted his hand signals:

“Bring a round of drinks to these folks.”
“Get them out and don’t let them come in again.”

“Call me to the phone, I want to get away from this table.”

“No check for this table, I’ve got it.”

The Stork Club was one heck of a place that was pretty much divided between those who were seen and those that did the seeing –– either fans or professional gossips.

The biggest of the professional gossips was a fellow named Walter Winchell (1897-1972) – his rival Ed Sullivan had court at El Morocco.

Winchell was the king of gossip columnists of New York. His radio show was the top top rated show in America. “Another New York nightclub owner named Tex Guinan (Mary Louise Cecilia Guinan) introduced Billingsley to her friend, the entertainment and gossip columnist Walter Winchell in 1930. In Winchell's column in the New York Daily Mirror, he once called the Stork Club "New York's New Yorkiest place on W. 58th” He was there nearly every night at table 50.

Winchell’s radio shows and columns helped to make the Stork Club what it was. He reported on who was doing what in the club and kept the buzz on high.

Being the voice of the Stork Club had its perks. His favorite Stork Club dishes were named after him and put on the menu.

The first was Winchell’s chicken Hamburger (recipe in the article above). The second was Chicken a la Walter Winchell. It’s an insider joke because it is made with turkey not chicken. I found the recipe on a fun site by the grandson of the famous Jack Spooner who was the gate-keeper captain of the Stork Club. He knew everyone and was much loved.

The recipe is comfort food at it’s finest and a superlative way to get rid of the last of the holiday turkey and ham. The sauce couldn’t be better and its little beard of broccoli brightens the dish perfectly (it's a good addition to my Creative Cooking Crew Challenge too -- what to do with leftovers!)

I also include the famous Stork Club Punch that packs quite a wallop.

Don’t despair, on January 1st, put your ice bag on you head, relax for a few hours and prepare this for your New Year’s Day treat.


Chicken à la Walter Winchell (there is no chicken in it) Serves 4

8 thick slices of roast turkey (or deli slices) – chicken works just as well, of course
4 thick slices ham (or deli slices)
6 -12 spears of cooked broccoli, sliced
1 ½ T butter
1 ½ T flour
1 ½ c light cream + ½ c milk (OR 1 c cream and 1 cup milk)
2 egg yolks
1 Tb hollandaise sauce (add a squeeze of lemon juice to 1 T of softened butter if you don’t have hollandaise hanging around)
1 ½ T prepared mustard
½ t salt
pepper to taste
2 T heavy cream


Melt butter in saucepan. Stir in flour. Heat and gradually add cream and milk. Stir over low heat till mixture thickens and simmer 5 minutes.

Stir some of the mixture into two beaten egg yolks.

Return egg mixture to saucepan and heat a few minutes longer.

Stir in 1 T of Hollandaise sauce (or lemon and butter), 1 ½ tbs. of prepared mustard, salt, pepper and heavy cream

Warm the meat and broccoli in a covered dish in a low oven. Remove and heat the broiler.

Alternate slices of roast turkey and baked ham on a broiler pan Top with broccoli. Spoon sauce over meat and broil till heated through and bubbly – just a few minutes.

From 1944 NYTs:


1 1/3 cups orange juice
1 1/3 cups pineapple juice
1 1/3 cups lemon or lime juice
1/2 bottle Jamaica rum
1/2 bottle Bacardi rum
1/3 bottle domestic maraschino liqueur
1/3 cherry brandy
Sliced orange and lemons or limes.
Slice fresh pineapple, if available
Canned cherries

Mix ingredients, except slices fruit and cherries, in a large bowl, then pour into a punch bowl containing a big piece of ice. Add the sliced fruit in amounts to taste—there can be as much or as little as you like. Serve with bread and butter sandwiches or simple cookies. This makes a quantity sufficient for twenty.

The Creative Cooking Crew Roundup will be at the end of the month.  Links up then!

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Monday, December 22, 2014

M'Lady's Book of Household Secrets and 17th Century Almond Ginger Bread

Castleton House (1722), County Kildare, Ireland (19th c photograph)

A few months ago, I received a copy of a charming book, M'Lady's Book of Household Secrets: Recipes, Remedies & Essential Etiquette –– a perfect guilty pleasure for before or after the holidays.  It was full of century's old treasured tips from some stately British households.  I soon discovered that the lady that wrote it is as interesting as her book (and terribly nice to boot).

Long Gallery in Pompeiian style at Castletown

Castletown stairs, so beautiful with the brass balusters

The Honorable Sarah MacPherson knows the ways of a great house – she’s the daughter of the 6th Baron Conolly-Carew and grew up at one of the great houses of Ireland –– the Palladian masterpiece Castletown House in County Kildare (she wrote about here life there in  The Children of Castletown House).

Because of this, Sarah knows this world like few others who write on the subject. Members of her family have lived in many great houses in Great Britain through the centuries. She has first hand knowledge of the treasures in Household Books kept at these houses often with centuries of entries.  Many have been lost but those that remain hold delightful secrets indeed (I shared Elinor Fettiplace's version HERE)!

In her introduction to M'Lady's Book of Household Secrets she reveals, “Eighteenth century ladies of high society and aristocratic lineage kept handwritten notes on recipes, remedies, gardening and household tips in their personal Household Books.” Reading these books is like dropping into the past and breathing the real air of the time. All those brilliant Austen-y details are there to add shade and color to our knowledge of history.

Lady Louisa Conolly (1743-1821

MacPherson uses household books of the first-water from both her own home at Castleton, written by her ancestor, Lady Louisa Conolly, née Lennox (a novel and then a BBC series, called The Arisocrats were inspired by the fascinating Lennox sisters), another one by Lady Talbot of Lacock Abbey (that I wrote about HERE ) as well as a book full of information about the servant class from Weddington Castle – sadly no longer standing.

As with the other household books I have seen, tried and true remedies and potions for everything from worms to coughs and colds are an important component.

Lacock Abbey 

Magic Cold Remedy

2 cloves garlic
1 t grated ginger
2 lemons
1 cup water.
2 t honey
1 cinnamon stick

Crush the garlic, grate the ginger and squeeze the lemons. Boil the lemon skins in water and pour into a cup. Add the garlic, ginger, lemon juice and honey and cinnamon and cool for 2 minutes. Remove the cinnamon stick and drink while hot.

Therapy for sleeplessness can be as simple as rosemary and hops in a muslin bag in a bath. One might use poppy petals for dry skin and rose oil or myrrh for mature skin, and buttermilk and rosemary for a cleanser with cider vinegar and lavender or rosemary for a toner –– a great collection of recipes awaits you here. Actually, after reading the back of one of my beauty products recently, I am thinking of making my own with simple ingredients from now on (even some perfumes read like something from a toxic horror film).

Matthew Darly, Vis a Vis, May 1776

There are great anecdotes in the book –– one of my favorites is about the famous ‘big’ hair of the 18th century that was championed by the notorious Duchess of Devonshire –– a pal of Louisa. Louisa, ‘…wrote to her sisters, laughing at herself, of having to sit on the floor of the carriage – or she would not fit in.” Herbal powders prepared by her lady’s maid containing arris root and rosemary were applied to keep the hair on a large dome that was fitted to the head – proto-hairspray.

Lady’s maids were mistrusted by the rest of the servants because of the close relationship they had with their mistresses. They did have a great deal of influence over the lady of the house. The lady’s maid controlled her hair, makeup, clothes, jewelry, hats as well as skincare, exercise and diet. Because of this power, the book advises that, “Any employer would be sensible to choose her lady’s maid wisely.”

If you are not feeling like making your own cosmetics, there’s a section on exercises from Lady Talbots’ maid to improve your figure – including the same one I was taught by a lovely older lady a zillion years ago (and should have done!).

Neck and Throat

Sit upright, tilt head back and look at ceiling. With lips closed, make chewing movement. This works the muscles in throat and neck to. excellent effect. Repeat 20 times.

No household book would be complete without household cleaning tips for keeping your armor tidy (scrubbing wool and oil), your alabaster statue white and shining (turpentine and pumice), your doll’s hair from being a rat’s nest (heated bran is sprinkled on then brushed out), your lace snowy white (soak in milk and borax to prevent yellowing).

There’s a section on companion gardening (what plants are best planted together) and a great upstairs-downstairs section on servants – how many to have, what ages for various positions (cooks and butlers the oldest, scullery maids/stable boys youngest), and what their jobs entailed from Weddington Castle (this section aught to get you in the mood for Downton Abbey).

I was particularly interested in the description of the cook’s duties –– which could be quite onerous if she was a simple cook and not a ‘professional’ one. Basically, the pro worked for the finer houses and much kitchen work was done for her/him – the pro had no other job but to order and prepare food although the meals were many and complicated. The plain cook did all the work to prepare simple meals but also had responsibilities for cleaning parts of the upstairs of the house, setting fires and caring for candles and lamps and cleaning the kitchen.

In addition to preparing meals, smoking food and preserving, fruit wines and beers were often made by the staff for the household –– upstairs and downstairs. “ There were home-made wines, including “… orange, cherry, cowslip, sage, elder, birch, raisin, ginger and quince, along with traditional mead and metheglin.” ‘Small Beer’ was the drink of choice for household “…until safe drinking water became widely available.”

Lady Ann Talbot’s Household book cover, 1745 from Sarah MacPherson's research

Lady Ivory’s household book cover page 1685-6 from Sarah MacPherson's research 

M’Lady’s Book of Household Secrets includes a section of recipes for fish, vegetables and even cordials. I love looking at the original old recipes and the author was kind enough to share a few from the treasure of 1500 recipes that she's collected from Lacock Abbey. She will soon be using them in her new book out next summer, The Royal & Heritage Cookbook –– some of them hadn’t seen the light of day for 400 years. Sarah has sole access to them so I am hoping this will be the first of many books covering the collection. I can’t wait to see what's next.

Original recipe from Sarah MacPherson's research

The Gingerbread recipe is nothing like you would imagine.  It's more of a spicy candy and perfect for the holidays since it smells like heaven and is gluten free!

The Good Housewife's Companion (1674)

I have tried to make it as accurately as I could.  The word that confounded me was "serched'.  I found it in the 1674 The Housewife's Companion as well as in the 17th-18th century  Book of Simples where it was used in a recipe for marchpane (marzipan), which is what this gingerbread is.  Here the cook was advised to, "... strew in a handful of searched Sugar to bring it to paste...."  I believe that it refers to something that has been ground finely and/or sifted -- sugar originally came in blocks that had to be broken and ground to be used (easy to do now with a machine but devilish tedious by hand). There is a sensational video of about making things the way they were originally done in 1590  HERE, including a gilded marchpane dessert).  These would be grand gilded, wouldn't they??

To Make Almond Gingerbread

1 lb blanched almonds,  ground fine with 4T rosewater  in a processor -- leave in the bowl,  or pounded in a giant mortar
½ lb powder sugar
1 ounce of powdered ginger (***I would say to taste. 1 oz is around 6T which is strong –– their ginger may have been older and less powerful.  Start with 4T and taste) or use less and add a drop of Aftelier's Ginger which is spectacular stuff -- ginger at the top of its game)
1 or 2 drops of Aftelier's Rose Essence (optional, but I love the extra rose flavor, and it is such grand quality)
2 t *gum dragon (gum tragacanth) dissolved in 2 rosewater and stirred till thick

Put the sugar and ginger with rosewater/almond mixture and the soaked gum dragon in the processor and blend - it will have a heavy cookie dough texture (if you do this in a giant mortar it will take a very long time and enormous effort - sometimes technology is a great gift).  Cover the bottom of a sheet pan with parchment. Press the mixture in the prepared pan in a rectangle.   Top with plastic wrap and roll till 1/4 - 1/8" thick.  You can either press a design into the mixture or cut it out and press into a mold - I used a lobster pick to nudge them out.  I used positive and negative pressings of tiny molds I had. Allow to dry and serve.

* available at Kerekes in the USA

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Monday, December 15, 2014

Feast of the 7 Fishes, How Cod Came to Italy and Baccalà Mantecato (whipped salt cod)

Every year on Christmas Eve, many people in and from Southern Italy celebrate The Feast of the 7 Fishes (also known as The Vigil). Anywhere from 7 to 13 fish dishes are prepared for the event. I have always been amused that the idea of fish, the food of abstinence and piety in the Catholic Church, would be celebrated in abundant abandon on this day. There is nothing abstemious about this feast. Tables groan with fish and shellfish made from traditional and non-traditional recipes –– some have been handed down through generations. Guests generally eat and drink till they are nearly comatose.

One of the most popular components of the banquet is cod, a decidedly un-Italian fish that hails from cold Northern waters. Thing is, it was absorbed into Italian cuisine more than 500 years ago. It feels as Italian as... tomato sauce (it predates tomato’s introduction by many decades) The story is a dramatic one.

Pietro Querini

In 1431, Pietro Querini, of the famous Querini Venetian merchant family, set sail from Crete with 3 ships laden with wine and spices headed for Bruges. A horrible storm devastated his fleet and only a few men survived on life boats that drifted thousands of miles across the North Sea where they landed on an island near Røst in Norway (nearly 3000 miles off course).

The natives were terribly hospitable, restoring the sailors to health sharing their cod and, according to legend, sharing their wives as well. Three months later, the Venetians sailed back home with boats laden with dried cod fish that became popular all over Italy

Council of Trent (1545-63) in Santa Maria Maggiore Church

I read at Dalmatia that the connection between cod and the church was cemented in 1561 with the Council of Trent’s condemnation of excessive meat consumption.

The Council, Pasquale Cati (1588)

Fasting was the solution but the rich didn’t want to give up taste without a fight so chefs were ordered to come up with suitably delicious meat-free recipes and 6000 scholars tasted the results.  The Verdict? Fish was a pious choice for the believers and cod was king. The pillar of Italian cuisine, Bartolomeo Scappi, included cod recipes in his 1570 Opera, having prepared them for Pope Pius IV and V.  Given the history, having cod at Christmas seems only natural.

Baccalà Mantecato can be made with all olive oil or oil and milk.  Both styles have long histories.   The original Norwegian creamy cod was doubtless made with milk as it is unlikely olive oil was plentiful on frozen islands.  Cousins of this dish are made in France with cream and potatoes (the divine Brandade) and in various similar preparations in Portugal and Spain.  It really is a European classic at this point.  I make one version or another of this dish every winter (along with another favorite cod recipe, a Cod Cassoulet with fish sausage and mussels in a heavenly cream).

You too can sacrifice for your spirit on Christmas Eve with rich cod cream, straight from Norway to Venice with a small, olive oil detour –– may all punishments be so rich and delicious.

Don't stop there. Sasha at Global Table Adventure has enlisted a few other bloggers to share 7  Fishes dishes with you.  You will want to start your own Feast of 7 Fishes tradition.  Do stop by and cruise their virtual 7 Feast tables, won't you?

Salt Cod Tomato Sauce with Linguine by Sasha Martin, Global Table Adventure.
Sicilian Citrus Shark Filets by Amanda Mouttaki, MarocMama.
Sweet and Savory Eel by Laura Kelley at Silk Road Gourmet

Baccalà Mantecato

1 piece of salt cod, 12-16 oz.
*1 c milk
*¼ c cream, optional
1 bay leaf
1c to 2c olive oil (use a fine quality for this as the taste will be very noticeable)
salt and pepper to taste
1 large clove garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste

fried polenta*

Soak the cod in a few changes of water for 1 or 2 days -- at least overnight.

Remove from the water and rinse. Cut into pieces big enough to fit easily in a saucepan. Put in water to cover and add the bay leaf and ½ c of the milk. Bring to a boil then cover and turn off the heat. Allow to sit, covered, for 20 minutes or so. The fish should be flaky. Reserve some of the cooking water.

Remove the fish and dry a bit. Crumble into processor. Add the oil slowly in a stream with the processor running. Add the garlic.  At this point add the milk/cream or more olive oil, checking for texture. It should appear whipped like heavy cream and smooth. Add extra cooking water if it is too dry and add salt and pepper to taste. It will need salt unless you didn’t soak it for very long. Serve at room temperature with parsley on fried polenta.

*Fried Polenta

For every 1/3 c polenta –– 1 cup water.
I would say every 1/3rd cup makes 3 large rounds or 6 smaller shapes like diamonds.
1 2/3 c should be enough for pound of fish.

Boil water. Add the polenta in a stream while stirring. Stir for 4 minutes at a good high heat. Remove from heat and spread in large oiled sheet pan. Chill for 20 minutes.

Remove and cut into shapes and fry in olive oil.

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