If Walls Could Talk: Lake Chapala’s historic buildings and their former occupants

Now one of the most popular retirement area for Americans and Canadians, the Lake Chapala Region, nestled in a valley almost a mile high in Mexico’s Volcanic Axis,  has long been a draw for ex-pats and vacationers, lured by its almost perfect climate and beauty.

In his book If Walls Could Talk: Chapala’s historic buildings and their former occupants about Mexico‘s earliest international tourist destination (also available in Spanish), award-winning author Tony Burton shares his knowledge and interest in a region where he has spent more than two decades. Burton, a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society who was born and educated in the United Kingdom, first visited Mexico in 1977. That visit was obviously a big success as he returned and for almost 18 years lived and worked full-time in Mexico as a writer, educator and ecotourism specialist.

He met his wife, Gwen Chan Burton who was a teacher of the deaf and then director at the Lakeside School for the Deaf in Jocotepec, one of the three main towns lining the shores of Lake Chapala. Though they now reside on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, the Burtons continue to revisit Mexico regularly and he is currently editor-in-chief of MexConnect, Mexico’s top English-language online magazine.

The other two towns, each with its own distinctive vibe, are Ajijic and Chapala, native villages resettled by the Spanish Conquistadors in the 1500s. “This book looks at how Chapala, a small nondescript fishing village in Jalisco, suddenly shot to international prominence at the end of the nineteenth century as one of North America’s earliest tourist resorts,” writes Burton. “Within twenty years, Chapala, tucked up against the hills embracing the northern shore of Mexico’s largest natural lake, was attracting the cream of Mexican and foreign society. Thus began Lake Chapala’s astonishing transformation into the vibrant international community it is now, so beloved of authors, artists and retirees.”

The book, organized as a walking tour, covers not only existing buildings but also pinpoints the spots where significant early buildings no longer stand but their histories still weave a story of the town. It’s only a partial guide, explains Burton, noting that an inventory prepared by the National Institute of Anthropology and History identified more than eighty such buildings in Chapala including many not easily visible from the road but hidden behind high walls and better viewed from the lake.

Among the famous people who lived in Chapala at some point in their careers was author D.H. Lawrence, probably best remembered for his risqué (at the time) novel, Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

In 1923, Lawrence and his wife, Frieda, rented Casa de las Cuentas (House of Rosary Beads), a house that dates back to the 1800s. At the time, a one-story abode with a half-moon entrance and heavy wooden gates, it was located at 307 Calle Zaragoza, a street formerly known as Calle de la Pesquería (“Fishing street”) so named as it was where the local fishermen repaired their nets and hung them out to dry. It was while living on Calle Zaragoza that Lawrence wrote the first draft of The Plumed Serpent, published in 1926. The novel is described asthe story of a European woman’s self-annihilating plunge into the intrigues, passions, and pagan rituals of Mexico.”

Over the decades, after the Lawrences moved out, subsequent changes were made to Casa de las Cuentas including  the addition of a swimming pool in the mid-1950s when artist Roy MacNicol and his wife, Mary, owned the home.

While Lawrence’s writings were considered by some as scandalous, MacNicol’s life had its scandals as well. Burton describes him as “colorful” in that he was married multiple times and was involved in many escapades as well as lawsuits.

Mary, embracing the local culinary traditions including the use of flowers in cooking, authored Flower Cookery: The Art of Cooking With Flowers.

It wasn’t the work of a dilettante as reviews of her book such as this one on Amazon shows.

“Flower Cookery is recipes, but far more than recipes,” writes one reviewer. “The book is organized by the popular name of the flower in question. Each section is introduced with quotations from literature, philosophy, and poetry that feature the blossom. This is followed by the recipes, interwoven with mythology, stories, and aphorisms about the flower, the plant from which it grows, its symbolism, and the culture or society in which humans discovered the value of the plant or blossom. The recipes include original favorites as well as recipes collected from historical sources and contemporary sources around the world. Here is just the tiniest sampling of the riches in the book.”

Burton shares her Christmas Cheer recipe from when she lived at Casa de las Cuentas.

Christmas Cheer

10-12 squash blossoms with stems removed

2 eggs, beaten

2 to 3 tablespoons water

Flour, enough to thicken mixture about one tablespoon

Salt and pepper

1 cup neutral oil such as grapeseed, canola, or safflower

Wash and dry squash blossoms on paper towels, making sure to remove all the water. Mix remaining ingredients except oil to make a smooth batter. Place oil in a large, heavy skillet to 350-375°F. Dip blossoms in batter and fry in oil until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Serve hot.

As for the house, it was renovated again in the early 1980s and is now Quinta Quetzalcoatl, a lovely boutique hotel.

If Walls Could Talk is one of four books that Burton has written on the Lake Chapala region. The other three are Foreign Footprints in Ajijic: decades of change in a Mexican Village; Lake Chapala Through the Ages: an anthology of travelers’ tales  (2008), and the recent Lake Chapala: A Postcard history. All are available as print and ebooks on Amazon.

The above maps, both copyrighted, show Chapala 1915 [lower map] and 1951 [upper map].

In all, he’s planning on adding several more to what he currently calls the Lake Chapala Quartet, these focusing on the writers and artists associated with the area.  I asked him  to describe the region so readers who have never been there can get an idea of what it is like, but it turns out the Burton is NOT a traveler who meticulously plots every moment of a trip before he arrives. Instead, he tells me that part of the fun when traveling is to not know in advance what places are like and instead to see and experience them for yourself.

“That said,” he continues, “the various villages and towns on the shores of Lake Chapala are all quite different in character. The town of Chapala, specifically, is a pretty large and bustling town. It is growing quite rapidly and has added several small high end boutique hotels in recent years, as well as some fine dining options to complement the more traditional shoreline ‘fish’ restaurants. The many old–100 years plus–buildings in Chapala give the town a historic ‘air’ where it is relatively easy to conjure up images of what it was like decades ago. By comparison, Ajijic, now the center of the foreign community on Lake Chapala, has virtually no old buildings and more of a village and artsy feel to it, though it also has very high quality accommodations and more fine restaurants than you can count.”

Other structures still standing include the Villa Tlalocan, completed in 1896 and described by a contemporary journalist as “the largest, costliest and most complete in Chapala… a happy minglement of the Swiss chalet, the Southern verandahed house of a prosperous planter and withal having an Italian suggestion. It is tastefully planned and is set amid grounds cultivated and adorned with flowers so easily grown in this paradisiacal climate where Frost touches not with his withering finger…”

Also still part of the landscape is Villa Niza. One of many buildings designed by Guillermo de Alba, the house, according to Burton, was built in 1919 and looks more American than European in style. Located at Hidalgo 250, it takes advantage of its setting on Lake Chapala and has a mirador (look out) atop the central tower of the structure, which affords sweeping panoramic views over the gardens and lake. De Alba’s strong geometric design boasts only minimal exterior ornamentation.

Burton, who specializes in non-fiction about Mexico, related to geography, history, travel, economics, ecology and natural history, has written several fascinating books about the history of the Lake Chapala region.

In If Walls Could Talk, Burton invites you to walk with him through time as you explore the city.

Salamati: Hamed’s Persian Kitchen: Recipes and Stories from Iran to the Other Side of the World

for the adventuresome home chef, Allahyari offers a world of flavors.”

In mortal danger for his beliefs, Hamed Allahyari and his pregnant girlfriend fled their homeland of Iran, first spending two months in Indonesia and then, after grueling hours long by truck over badly paved back roads and then days crammed aboard a boat another five months on Christmas Island before being granted asylum by the Australian government. Once there, life remained extremely difficult for the young couple who were now parents of two young children, and though Allahyari had been a chef and restauranteur in Iran, no one was interested—or so it seemed—in Persian cuisine.

Unable to find work Allahyari began volunteering at the Resource Center, an organization that provides support, legal advice, and other assistance including meals to refugees and people seeking asylum.

“Every day they feed 250 people a free lunch,” Allahyari writes in the introduction to his cookbook Salamati: Hamed’s Persian Kitchen: Recipes and Stories from Iran to the Other Side of the World. “I started cooking there two days a week, making Persian food for people from all over the world: Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Miramar, Sierra Leone, all kinds of places, and most of them had never tried Persian food before. But when they tried it, they liked it. They talked to me about it, asked me about it, and it made me happy.”

Culinary Connections

At the recommendation of others, Allahyari also began teaching cooking classes, demonstrating how to make such dishes as Zeytoon Parvadrah (Olive and Walnuts Chunky Dip), Yogurt and Cucumber soup, Sabzi Pofow Ba Mahi (Fish with Herb Pilaf) Sabzi Pofow Ba Mahi (Fish with Herb Pilaf), and Persian Love Cake. Over the years, Allahyari taught more than 2500 people how to make Persian food. Now, he caters and is chef/owner of SalamiTea, a restaurant located in Sunshine, an ethnically diverse neighborhood in Melbourne. The name is a play on “salamati,” the Persian word meaning both “health” and “cheers.”

Salamati is more than just a cookbook, it’s also a memoir and homage to the country he had to flee. The introduction to the featured recipes in his book might offer a personal connection to the dish, a description of a unique ingredient that helps define it and bring out its best flavors—though he also offers a substitute for such items as Persian dried limes, which might be difficult to locate outside of a major city, and/or puts the food in context with the scenes to Iran.

This dish is traditionally served in Iranian shisha shops, the cafes where older men gather to smoke water pipes, drink tea and solve the problems of the world,” he writes about Ghahve Khunee Omelette (Street-Food Tomato Omelette). “Shisha shops don’t really serve food but inevitably people get hungry while they’re hanging around, so it’s become traditional for staff to whip up a quick tomato omelette for customers and serve it with bread, raw red onion, herbs and lemon. If you want one, all you ask for is ‘omelette.’ There’s no menu as such.”

Not all the recipes are easy but for those who don’t want to spend a lot of time in the kitchen, there are enough simple ones to get started. Full-color photos of each recipe show what the finished product will look like. And for the adventuresome home chef, Allahyari offers a world of flavors.

This review originally appeared in the New York Journal of Books.

Singapore Cooking: Fabulous Recipes from Asia’s Food Capital

“If you love to cook, are undaunted with unique ingredients, and want to capture the flavors of another land, accept the challenge and get cooking.”

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, chop suey houses were all the rage. Opening early and closing late, they were a place to get a good, cheap meal no matter what time of day or night. Over the following decades chop suey and chow mein remained the go-to dishes for those ordering Asian food. It wasn’t until the late 1960s that American diners discovered other regions of Chinese cuisine, Hunan and Szechuan being the first two major ones. For those who loved the flavors of Asia, Malaysian, Indian, Thai, Korean, and Vietnamese were also added to the selection of what to eat and cook. But Singapore gastronomic endeavors were often overlooked.

Not anymore.

To those in the know, Singapore cuisine has always been, as Terry Tan and Christopher Tan write in their introduction of the cookbook Singapore Cooking: Fabulous Recipes from Asia’s Food Capital (Tuttle Publishing), a topic of utmost importance.

“Some wag once said that the quickest way to start a debate in Singapore is to walk up to a random group of people and ask them “So where can I get the best chicken rice?” the two Tans write in the book’s foreword.

The great Anthony Bourdain also weighed in about the foods of this island nation saying, New York may be the city that never sleeps, but Singapore’s the city that never stops eating. For a gastro-tourist, somebody who travels to eat, any kind of serious eater, Singapore’s probably the best place you can go . . .”

Looking through this glossy paged book with its full-color photos and 100 recipes including those for such dishes as Ayam Tempra–Chicken Braised in Spicy Sweet Soy, Gulai Prawns with Pineapple, Nangka Lemak Young Jackfruit Coconut Curry, and Coconut Pancakes with Banana Sauce, it’s easy to agree that Singapore gastronomy is all “shiok” or in other words “sublime and unspeakably wonderful.”

But though it all sounds delicious, this isn’t necessarily an easily accessible cookbook. Ingredients such as dried prawns, pandanus leaves, and tamarind may mean for many not only a search or special trip to an Asian grocery store but also an added expense and one where they’ll wonder when they might use the product again. Despite this, for anyone who wants to explore a multicultural cuisine that encompasses influences from many of the surrounding countries as well, it is very much worth the effort.

To make it easier for the novice, the authors have organized their book into chapters such as “Marinades, Chutneys, Sambals and Achars” and “Breads, Rice and Noodles” and included a nice glossary of ingredients (with photos!) as well as a brief history of Singaporeans cuisine.

If you love to cook, are undaunted with unique ingredients, and want to capture the flavors of another land, accept the challenge and get cooking.

About the Authors and Photographer

Terry Tan is a distinguished cooking teacher, food consultant, food historian, and writer who has been dishing up Singaporean delights to people around the world for many years. He writes and broadcasts regularly on Asian and Oriental food and cookery from his base in London.

Christopher Tan is an award-winning writer, cooking instructor, and photographer who contributes articles, recipes and pictures to numerous magazines in Asia. Singaporean by birth, he grew up in London and now hangs out anywhere there is good food. You can find his work at www. foodfella.com.

Edmond Ho is a noted food, travel, and lifestyle photographer based in Singapore. In the late 1990s, he introduced a new style of food photography in Singapore using extreme close-ups and blurred backgrounds together with natural lighting. He has done shots for more than 25 cookbooks.

This review originally appeared in the New York Journal of Books.

Delicious Poke Cakes: 80 Super Simple Desserts with an Extra Flavor Punch in Each Bite

In their book, Delicious Poke Cakes: 80 Super Simple Desserts with an Extra Flavor Punch in Each Bite, authors Roxanne Wyss and Kathy Moore show us how easy it is to make poke cakes. And what is a poke cake? It’s basically a cake where you poke holes in the baked cake and add some extra ingredients.

How easy is that? Super easy.

About the Authors

Roxanne Wyss with Kathy Moore, The Electrified Cooks, are cookbook authors, food consultants, food writers, cooking teachers, and food bloggers, who share their test-kitchen expertise through creative recipes and tips that make cooking easier and more fun. This is their sixteenth cookbook, previous titles include Rice Cooker Revival and The Easy Air Fryer Cookbook for The American Diabetes AssociationThey teach cooking classes, consult with food and appliance companies, write feature articles and appear on television, including appearances on QVC. Their professional careers in food, spanning over thirty years, now include a popular blog, PluggedintoCooking.com.

Tequila Sunrise Poke Cake

Sunrise paints a graduated array of colors as the deep orange and red fade into yellow. That beautiful view is what gave this historic drink its name. While the drink is as old as the Prohibition era, it became popular in the 1970s when a bar in Sausalito, near San Francisco, reinvented it and traveling musicians from famous rock bands tasted it and helped seal its place in pop culture. The current drink is made of orange juice, grenadine, and tequila—and this cake captures those wonder[1]ful flavors and the striking colors.

  • Non-stick cooking spray
  • 1 (15.25- to 18-ounce) box yellow cake mix
  • Eggs, oil, and water as directed on the cake mix
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 (3-ounce) box orange gelatin
  • ¼ cup tequila
  • 3 tablespoons grenadine syrup
  • 1 (8-ounce) tub frozen whipped topping, thawed

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Spray a 9 x 13-inch baking dish

with nonstick cooking spray.

Prepare and bake the cake according to the package directions for a 9 x 13-inch cake. Place cake on a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes.

Poke holes evenly over the baked cake using the tines of a fork.

Place the water in a 4-cup microwave-safe glass bowl. Microwave on High (100%) power for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the water comes to a boil. Stir the gelatin into the water until it is dissolved. Stir in the tequila. Pour the gelatin mixture evenly over the cake.

Slowly and evenly drizzle the cake with the grenadine, making a striped design across the cake. Cover and refrigerate the cake for 1 hour. Frost the cake with the whipped topping. Cover and refrigerate the cake for at least 1 hour or up overnight before serving.

Variations

If you prefer to omit the tequila, prepare the gelatin as directed. Stir in ¼ cup cold water and proceed as the recipe directs. If desired, instead of using all water to prepare the cake mix, substitute ¼ cup tequila and ½ cup orange juice for part of the water. Add water, as needed, to equal the required amount of liquid specified on the cake mix box. Proceed as the recipe directs.

Tips

Grenadine is a sweet, red syrup that is often used to flavor cocktails. While it is not a liquor, you will often find it in the grocery store shelved with mixers and supplies for cocktails.

Chocolate and Vanilla Poke ’n’ Tote Cakes

Neat and portable, these luscious chocolate cakes are ready to take to the park, soccer field, or office, or any time you want a dessert to go. They are a winner, and the chocolate cake, topped with a creamy vanilla pudding and then a chocolate glaze, just may remind you of a cream-filled snack cake!

  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • ½ cup boiling water
  • 1⁄3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ¾ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1⁄8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 2½ cups whole milk
  • 1⁄3 cup canola or vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 (3.4-ounce) box vanilla instant pudding mix

CHOCOLATE GLAZE

  • 4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 1⁄3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 2½ tablespoons whole milk
  • ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350ºF.

Spray 12 (8-ounce) canning jars with nonstick cooking spray. Set the lids and rings aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together the boiling water and cocoa powder until smooth; set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking pow[1]der, baking soda, and salt. Using a handheld mixer on low speed, beat in the egg, ½ cup of the milk, the oil, vanilla, and cocoa mixture.

Scrape down the sides of the bowl well and beat for 2 minutes on medium speed. Spoon about ¼ cup of the batter into each prepared jar. Do not cover.

Arrange the jars in a shallow baking pan, leaving about 1 inch between the jars.

Bake for 24 to 28 minutes, or until a wooden pick inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean. (Do not overbake.)

Place the baking pan with the jars in it on a wire rack and let the cakes cool completely. Poke holes evenly over the baked cakes in the jars using a drinking straw.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the pudding mix and the remaining 2 cups of milk until the pudding is blended. Spoon about 2 tablespoons of the pudding over each cake.

Seal each jar with its lid and ring and refrigerate the cakes for 1 hour.

MAKE THE CHOCOLATE GLAZE: In a small saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Stir in the cocoa powder. Remove from the heat.

Stir in the confectioners’ sugar until smooth. Add the milk and vanilla and stir until smooth. The glaze should be thin enough to drizzle off the tip of a spoon.

Spoon about 1 tablespoon of the Chocolate Glaze over the pudding in each jar. Gently, using the back of a spoon, spread the glaze to cover the pudding completely.

Seal each jar again and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to overnight before serving.

Variations

Poke Cupcakes: Line muffin pans with paper liners. Prepare the batter as directed and spoon it into the pre[1]pared pan, filling each cup about halfway full. Bake 15 to 18 minutes, or until a wooden pick inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean.

Proceed as the recipe di[1]rects, poking the cakes with a drinking straw, topping with pudding, and spreading the pudding to the edge of the cupcakes. Top with the glaze, gently covering the pudding. Individual Poke Cakes: Instead of canning jars, prepare the individual poke cakes in 8-ounce ovenproof ramekins. Spray the ramekins with nonstick cooking spray, then spoon in the batter, filling ramekins about halfway. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, or until a wooden pick inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean. Proceed as the recipe di[1]rects, poking the cakes with a drinking straw, topping with pudding, and spreading the pudding to the edge of the cakes. Top with the glaze, gently covering the pudding.

Crunchy Toffee Poke Cake

Do you need to bring a dessert to the office party, potluck, or bunko night? No wor[1]ries! Bake Crunchy Toffee Poke Cake the day ahead, and you’ve got it covered. This will make the gathering memorable to many, and there won’t be one piece left to carry home. That’s a good thing, right?

  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • 1 (15.25- to 18-ounce) German chocolate cake mix
  • 1 (3.9-ounce) box chocolate pudding mix
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 2⁄3 cup water
  • ½ cup vegetable or canola oil
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 (12.25-ounce) jar caramel ice cream topping
  • 1 (8-ounce) tub frozen whipped topping, thawed
  • 4 (1.4-ounce) milk chocolate English toffee candy bars

      Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Spray a 9 x 13-inch baking dish  with nonstick cooking spray.

In a large bowl using a handheld mixer on low speed, beat together the cake mix, pudding mix, sour cream, water, oil, eggs, and vanilla. Scrape down the sides of the bowl well and beat for 2 minutes on medium speed.

Pour the batter into the prepared baking dish. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a wooden pick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

Place the cake on a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes. Poke holes evenly over the baked cake using the handle of a wooden spoon. Let the cake cool completely.

Drizzle three-quarters of the caramel topping into the holes on the cake.

Frost the cake with the whipped topping.

Place the candy bars in a zip-top bag and coarsely crush with a rolling pin or mallet. Sprinkle the candy bars evenly over the cake.

Refrigerate until ready to serve. Just before serving, drizzle the top of the cake with the remaining caramel topping.

Variations

You can substitute caramels and milk for the caramel ice-cream topping.

Combine 1 (14-ounce) package caramels, unwrapped, and ¼ cup whole milk in a microwave-safe glass bowl. Microwave on High (100%) power in 30-second intervals, stirring well after each, until the caramels are melted and the mixture is smooth, making sure not to overcook the caramels.

Pour three-quarters of the caramel mixture into the poked holes in the cake.

Warm the remaining caramel mixture in the microwave on high power for 10 to 15 seconds or until warm.

Drizzle over the cake just before serving.

TIP

If you want to reduce the amount of chocolate, use a white or yellow cake mix in place of the German chocolate cake mix.

Learning Korean: Recipes for Home Cooking

Returning to the flavors of his very earliest years, chef Peter Serpico was born in Seoul, Korea and adopted when he was two. Raised in Maryland, he graduated from the Baltimore International Culinary School and cooked professionally at such well-known restaurants as Momofuku Noodle Bar in New York City’s East Village. Serpico worked with David Chang, who founded the Momofuku chain, in opening two new restaurants. His job as director of culinary operations for Momofuku, Serpico garnered three stars from the New York Times, two Michelin stars and a James Beard Award. He currently owns KPOD, a contemporary Korean-American concept in Philadelphia’s University City.

Serpico was already an award winning chef when a taste of marinated short ribs and black bean noodles reeled him back through the years, giving him a taste of his original home. Now that reckoning, exploration, and elevation of the foods of his past has resulted in his debut cookbook, Learning Korean: Recipes for Home Cooking (Norton), Serpico has long been recognized as a virtuoso with ingredients but his lesser known talent becomes apparent in this book. He makes Korean home cooking easy. For anyone who has tried to master this intricate and delicious cuisine, it’s a relief to be able to easily cook Korean cuisine in a home kitchen using everyday home equipment.

Serpico starts with kimchi, that Korean staple often served in some guise or other, at every meal (and yes, that includes breakfast) with a recipe for Countertop Kimchi and then quickly segues into a master recipe that can be used to make a plethora of the fermented vegetable dishes.

“I also wanted to develop an easy ‘master’ method that could be applied to any vegetable, regardless of its texture, density, surface area, or water content,” writes Serpico before giving us the way to make Apple Kimchi, Carrot Kimchi, and Potato Kimchi, among others.

He continues with the simplification. Sure, there are some complicated recipes for those who already have or want to advance their skills with such dishes as Crispy Fried Rice–a recipe that’s a full page long. Add to that the ancillary recipes needed to complete the dish–Korean Chili Sauce, Marinated Spinach, Marinated Bean Sprouts, and Rolled Omelette which are all on different pages. But for those not up to or interested in the challenge, just flip to the recipes for such dishes as Easy Pork Shoulder Stew, Soy-Braised Beef, Battered Zucchini, Potato Salad, Chocolate Rice Pudding, and Jujube Tea as well as many others.

From the New York Times.

And while anyone experimenting with the cuisine of another country understands that they’ll need to purchase some unique ingredients, these are not budget breakers or, in many instances, so esoteric that after one use they’ll sit unused in your cabinet for an eternity. For example Serpico’s recipe for potato salad calls for Kewpie Mayonnaise instead of the mayo we typically have in our refrigerator. The latter uses whole eggs and white vinegar while Kewpie is made from just egg yolks and rice or apple cider vinegar. But the cost difference is definitely reasonable and a home chef might just find the extra richness translates to other recipes as well whether they’re Korean or not.

About the Author

Born in Seoul, South Korea, Peter Serpico was adopted when he was two years old, and was raised in Laurel, Maryland. Serpico graduated from the Baltimore International College Culinary School and his first cook job was at the Belmont Conference Center, where he worked under chef Rob Dunn. In 2006, Peter began as sous chef at the original Momofuku Noodle Bar in the East Village. For the next six years, Serpico worked with David Chang to open Momofuku Ssäm Bar and Momofuku Ko. As director of culinary operations, Serpico earned three stars from the New York Times, a James Beard Award, and two Michelin Stars, among other accolades. Serpico’s highly praised eponymous restaurant on South Street in Philadelphia opened in 2013.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Serpico was reimagined as Pete’s Place. In 2022, Serpico and restaurant-partner Stephen Starr launched a revamp of Pod, a long-standing Philadelphia pan-Asian restaurant, as KPod, with a menu inspired by Serpico’s native South Korea. Serpico lives with his family in Philadelphia.

This article ran previously ran in the New York Journal of Books.

Plant Powered Mexican: Fasy, Fresh Recipes from a Mexican-American Kitchen

Unless you’re deeply committed to a life of vegetables, words like plant-based can be a turnoff when it comes to menus and cookbooks. Sure, many of us, myself included, want to expand our vegetable repertoire but still need to indulge their inner carnivore—particularly when we think of a bleak future with nothing but quinoa and steamed broccoli. But Kate Ramos, who created the blog ¡Hola! Jalapeño! with the goal of merging authentic ingredients and flavors with modern preparations, has our back. Taking that philosophy, Ramos has written her Plant Powered Mexican: Fast, Fresh Recipes from a Mexican-American Kitchen , published by Harvard Common Press, it’s a lushly photographer book with recipes that are so wonderful it’s easy to forget there’s nary an animal protein anywhere in her book.

Instead, Ramos offers us such dishes as Chileatole (a thick soup) with Masa Dumplings and Lime Crema, Potato and Collard Greens, Crispy Tacos with Ancho Chile Crema, and my personal favorite–One-Pan Cheesy Rice Chile Relleno Casserole.

In her first chapter, Ramos tells us what’s in her pantry, providing us with an entrée into the world of chiles, peppers, oils, spices, herbs, and Mexican cheeses as well as the equipment she relies upon. The latter are simple enough. Just a comal (but she notes you can use a cast iron skillet instead) and a molcajete and tejolote, a volcanic stone mortar and pestle for grinding spices and making chunky salsas. As for the ingredients she commonly uses, I’d be willing to bet that many of us have such items as black pepper, smoked paprika, garlic powder, kosher salt, and coriander in our spice drawer already. That just leaves a variety of dried chile powders—ancho, guajillo, arbol, and habanero as well as a few other ingredients that can be bought as needed. Unlike many entrees into a new cuisine, Ramos keeps it simple and inexpensive.

Six of the remaining chapters are divided into cooking methods—slow cookers, stovetop, grills, and oven. Instant Pot aficionados will be very happy to hear that there’s an entire chapter devoted to recipes using the beyond popular small kitchen appliance. Ramos cooks out of a small kitchen and says she’s never been enamored of kitchen equipment until, that is, she fell in love with her Instant Pot. Besides, its ability to cook beans—a common ingredient in Mexican cookery–quickly, Ramos offers a selection of recipes she’s developed for quick dinners for busy home cooks like Black Bean Enchilada Casserole, Smoky Tomato Tortilla Soup, and her Loaded Sweet Potatoes with Lime Crema, Sofrito Beans, Roasted Kale, and Chives.

The recipes I made all worked without me having to make tweaks to salvage them. That’s a plus because I have encountered recipes that haven’t been tested or at least not well evaluated before being included in a cookbook. If I have one complaint about Plant Powered Mexican it’s that the font is small so instead of just glancing at the recipe while cooking, I often had to pick up the book to be able to read the directions. It’s a small complaint and shouldn’t stop anyone who is interested in plant-based cooking from purchasing this well-written cookbook.

Vegan Picadillo Tostadas with Rice and Peas

For the tostadas

12 6-inch corn tortillas

For the picadillo

  • 2 tablespoons avocado or sunflower oil
  • 1 medium white onion chopped
  • 2 medium carrots chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic chopped
  • 3 small Yukon gold potatoes peeled and diced
  • 1 pound plant-based beef
  • 1 recipe Magic Spice Mix see below
  • 1 ¼ cups Gluten-free beer or vegetable broth
  • ½ cup frozen peas no need to thaw
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh Italian parsley

For serving

  • 3 cups steamed rice
  • Lime wedges
  • 1 large avocado diced
  • 1-2 medium jalapeños thinly sliced
  • Green salsa

To make the tostadas: Heat the oven to 350°F. Once the oven is ready, lay the tortillas directly on the oven racks with plenty of room around them for air to circulate. (I put six on the top rack and six on the bottom in my oven.)

Bake for about 15 minutes, turning the tortillas halfway through, until they are very crisp and crack if you break them. Look for a light brown color, no darker than the shade of a roasted peanut. Remove the tortillas to a serving platter.

To make the picadillo: Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion, carrots, garlic, and potatoes. Cook until the garlic and onions start to brown, about 5 minutes.

Add the plant-based beef and spice mix, breaking up the meat with the back of a wooden spoon. Continue cooking until the beef is browned, about 3 minutes. Add the beer or broth, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cover. Simmer the picadillo for about 10 minutes or until the veggies are tender. Stir in the peas and parsley, and cook for about 1 minute.

To Serve: Spread ¼ cup of rice on a tostada, and top with ¼ cup picadillo. Pass the garnishes at the table.

Magic Spice Mix:

Mix 1 tablespoon guajillo chile powder, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, ½ teaspoon ground black pepper, ½ teaspoon smoked paprika, ½ teaspoon garlic powder, ½ teaspoon ground coriander, ½ teaspoon dried epazote or oregano (preferably Mexican) together in a small bowl until evenly combined. Use immediately or keep in a container for up to 1 month.

Chilled Avocado Soup

FOR THE SOUP:

  • 1 large ripe avocado, peeled and pitted
  • 2 cups cold water
  • 2 small Persian cucumbers
  • 2 scallions, trimmed and chopped
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice (from 2 limes)
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

FOR THE FAIRY DUST

  • 1/4 cup roasted, salted sunflower seeds
  • 1/4 cup white sesame seeds
  • 1/4 cup popped amaranth
  • 1/4 cup edible flower petals, such as nasturtium, pansies, marigolds, or cornflowers
  • 1 teaspoon toasted cumin seeds

To make the soup:

Blend soup ingredients. Add avocado, water, cucumbers, scallions, chile, lime juice, cilantro, oil, and salt to a blender. Blend until smooth.

Chill. Cover and chill in the refrigerator until completely cold, at least 2 hours.

To make the fairy dust:

Combine. Add the sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, amaranth, flowers, and cumin seeds to a small bowl. Mix gently.

Serve. Ladle the cold soup into bowls and sprinkle fairy dust over the top.

This review originally appeared in The New York Journal of Books.

Kentucky Trinity: Burgoo, Barbecue and Bourbon

Burgoo, barbecue and bourbon, historically acknowledged as the trinity of good taste in Kentucky, have traditional roots going back to the days of Daniel Boone. Albert W.A. Schmid, a chef and food historian, delves deep into the cultural heritage of these foods in his book, Burgoo, Barbecue, and Bourbon: A Kentucky Culinary Trinity (University Press of Kentucky 2021).

Known as “the gumbo of the Bluegrass,” burgoo is a meat stew consisting of a variety of meats that were often smoked as that’s one of the ways they preserved food back then. The list of ingredients included at least one “bird of the air” and at least one “beast of the field.” The latter could include squirrel, ground hog, lamb, pork jowl, and rabbit. Added to that were whatever vegetables (think corn, tomatoes, turnips, potatoes, carrots, onions, okra, and lima beans) were either in season or still stored and edible in the larder. Sometimes oysters, oatmeal and/or pearl barley were thrown in as well. Schmid also includes, among his many burgoo recipes, one that feeds 10,000 which calls for a ton and a half of beef (I’m not including it but if you’re expecting a huge crowd over email me and I’ll send it) and another that makes 1200 gallons.

“Often you’ll find this dish paired with one of the Commonwealth’s other favorite exports, bourbon, and the state’s distinctive barbecue,” writes Schmid, who immersed himself in archives of early cookbooks.

He takes us back to the days of Daniel Boone, uncovering forgotten recipes of regional dishes and such lost recipes as Mush Biscuits and Half Moon Fried Pies. There are numerous recipes for burgoo starting from early pioneer days, each unique depending on the region, food tastes, and what ingredients were easily sourced. Burgoo was an early community dish with people coming together to prepare it in vast amounts for celebrations.

Women would gather for peeling parties which meant endlessly peeling and dicing vegetables while men would stir the ingredients as they simmered in the huge pots throughout the night, most likely with sips of bourbon to keep them enthused about the task. Whether women got to sip bourbon too, we can only hope so. But in an age where water wasn’t safe to drink and even children were given wine, cider, small beer, and the dregs of their parents sweetened spirits to drink, I’m guessing so.

The Mysterious Name of Burgoo

As for the name burgoo, well, no one, not even Schmid is sure where it comes from.

“It may have described an oatmeal porridge that was served to English sailors in the mid-1700s, or it may have come from the small town of Bergoo, West Virginia,” Schmid hypothesized. The word might also be a slur of bird stew or perhaps bulger; it could also be a mispronunciation of barbecue, ragout, or an amalgam of the lot. If the oatmeal story is true, burgoo continued as a military staple as it became a hearty stew for soldiers who could travel light and hunt and gather ingredients ‘from wild things in the woods’ once they stopped moving for the day—so they did not have to move the supplies from one location to another.”

Of course, a hearty burgoo demands a great bourbon drink and Schmid offers quite a few of those as well. One name I’m particularly taken with is called Kentucky Fog, presumably because over-consumption left one in a fog. Other great names for bourbon drinks mentioned in the book are Moon Glow, Bourbaree, and the Hot Tom and Jerry.

The following recipes are from Burgoo, Barbecue, and Bourbon.

Kentucky Fog

12 servings

  • 1 quart Kentucky bourbon
  • 1 quart strong coffee
  • 1 quart vanilla ice cream

Combine the ingredients in a punch bowl and serve.

Moon Glow

  • Crushed ice
  • 1½ ounces bourbon
  • 2 ounces cranberry juice
  • 2 ounces orange juice
  • 2 teaspoons maraschino cherry juice

Pack a tall glass with crushed ice. Add the cranberry juice and the orange juice. Add the maraschino cherry juice. Then add the bourbon. Stir well with a bar spoon and garnish with 2 maraschino cherries and a straw.

Burgoo

This recipe is used at Keeneland, the famous racetrack in Lexington, Kentucky and dates back to 1939.

  • Oil
  • 3 pounds stew meat
  • 1 teaspoon ground thyme
  • 1 teaspoon sage
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon garlic, minced
  • 1 cup celery, diced
  • 1 cup carrot, diced
  • 1 cup onion, diced
  • 12-ounce can diced tomatoes in juice
  • 2 16-ounce cans mixed vegetables
  • 7-ounce can tomato purée
  • 2 pounds fresh okra, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon beef base
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 cup sherry
  • 3 pounds potatoes, peeled and diced
  • Cornstarch

Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven. Brown the stew meat with the herbs and garlic. Add the remaining ingredients, except the cornstarch, and cover with water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for at least 3 hours. Adjust seasonings to taste and thicken with cornstarch.

Spoonbread with Bourbon

  • 6 servings
  • 2 cups water, boiling
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 3 egg yolks, beaten
  • 3 egg whites, stiffly beaten
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 tablespoons lard
  • 1 tablespoon bourbon

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Boil the water; add the lard and butter; to this mixture add

the cornmeal, egg yolks, and baking soda. Stir in the buttermilk and stiffly beaten egg whites. Add the bourbon and pour into a buttered casserole dish. Bake for 35 minutes.

Original Kentucky Whiskey Cake

15–20 servings

  • 5 cups flour, sifted
  • 1 pound sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • ¾ pound butter
  • 6 eggs, separated and beaten
  • 1 pint Kentucky bourbon
  • 1 pound candied cherries, cut in pieces
  • 2 teaspoons nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 pound shelled pecans
  • ½ pound golden raisins, halved, or ½ pound dates, chopped

Soak cherries and raisins in bourbon overnight.

Preheat oven to 250–275 degrees F.

Cream the butter and sugars until fluffy. Add the egg yolks and beat well. To the butter and egg mixture, add the soaked fruit and the remaining liquid alternately with the flour. Reserve a small amount of flour for the nuts. Add the nutmeg and baking powder. Fold in the beaten egg whites. Add the lightly floured pecans last. Bake in a large, greased tube pan that has been lined with 3 layers of greased brown paper. Bake for 3–4 hours. Watch baking time carefully.

Store any leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Richard Hougen was the manager of the Boone Tavern Hotel of Hotel and Restaurant of Berea College and the author of several cookbooks, including Look No Further: A Cookbook of Favorite Recipes from Boone Tavern Hotel (Berea College, Kentucky), Hougen includes the recipe for Boone Tavern Cornsticks. He notes at the bottom of the recipe, adapted here, how important it is to “heat well-greased cornstick pan to smoking hot on top of the stove before pouring in your batter.

Boone Tavern Hotel Cornsticks

  • 2 cups white cornmeal
  • ½ cup flour
  • 2 eggs, well beaten
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons lard, melted

Preheat oven to 450–500 degrees F.

Sift the flour, cornmeal, salt, and baking powder together.

Mix the baking soda with the buttermilk, and then add to the dry ingredients; beat well. Add the eggs and beat. Add the lard. Mix well. Pour the batter into very hot well-greased cornstick pans on

top of stove, filling the pans to level.

Place pans on the lower shelf of the oven and bake for 8 minutes. Move the pans to the upper shelf and bake for an additional 5–10 minutes.

Sammy Hagar Cocktail Hits: 85 Personal Favorites from the Red Rocker

Making your holiday gift list or just plain thirsty? Consider this.

Rock & Roll Hall of Famer and #1 New York Times bestselling author Sammy Hagar recently released his first cocktail book – and it’s everything needed for a home bar. Sammy knows that some of life’s greatest memories are made over cocktails, and “Sammy Hagar’s Cocktail Hits: 85 Personal Favorites from the Red Rocker” chronicles Sammy’s storied life with drinks inspired by that journey – from the laidback beaches of Cabo and Hawaii to the dazzle of Hollywood and Las Vegas. Priced at $29.99 for hardcover and $19.99 on Kindle, this book covers everything from tools of the trade and glassware to bases and purees. And it has a forward written by Guy Fieri. For recipes from the book, see below.

The cocktails are made with Sammy’s award-winning spirits, Santo Tequila ReposadoSanto Tequila BlancoSanto Mezquila and Beach Bar Rum, which are available for purchase on each website or at local retailers – you can check each site for more info about where to buy each spirit.

Sammy’s Beach Bar Cocktail Co.

Hagar, who is not only a legendary rocker but also a spirits entrepreneur also has introduced Sammy’s Beach Bar Cocktail Co. with a line of ready-to-drink (RTD) top-shelf sparkling rum cocktails in a can. 

Hagar’s award-winning Puerto Rico-made Beach Bar Rum steeps island flavor into the cocktails, which come in four playful twists on classic flavors: Tangerine Dream, Pineapple Splash, Island Pop and Cherry Kola Chill. Made with all-natural ingredients and sweetened with agave, each flavor is under 130 calories and five grams of sugar per can. 

The four flavor profiles with Sammy’s descriptions are:

  • Tangerine Dream – A refreshing blend of tangerine and vanilla cream; the classic Creamsicle.
    • “There’s nothing better than a Creamsicle.” 
  • Pineapple Splash – The slight sweetness of pineapple, followed by the kick of jalapeño.
    • “I like it sweet, with some Jalapeño heat!” 
  • Island Pop – The fruity flavors of cherry, pineapple, and citrus, pack a Hawaiian punch.
    • “That classic Hawaiian style punch!”
  • Cherry Kola Chill – That classic soda fountain flavor of cherry cola with a hint of spice.
    • “My take on that classic Cherry Cola vibe.” 

A celebration of beach life, Sammy’s Beach Bar Cocktail Co. supports charities behind beach and ocean clean-up initiatives.

Sammy Hagar LIVE:  Check Sammy’s tour dates here – if your dad’s a mega fan you can give him tickets to any one of shows, all held in outdoor amphitheaters through the end of summer, and you can even ship him a four-pack of top-shelf sparking rum cocktails to take with him in a cooler. 

Buy online at http://sbbcco.com/ and at major retailers, grocers, big box stores, restaurants and bars in California, Nevada and Texas now; Florida in June; and additional states coming soon.  

Recipes

Santo Sunrise (featuring Santo Mezquila)

  • 1½ ounces Santo Mezquila
  • 4 ounces fresh orange juice
  • Splash of grenadine
  • Splash of Blue Curacao
  • Garnish: Half wheel orange slice

In a tall glass filled with ice, add the mezquila, orange juice, grenadine, and Blue Curaçao. Stir well and garnish with a fresh halved orange wheel.

Guava Martini (featuring Santo Blanco Tequila)

  • 1½ ounces Santo Blanco Tequila
  • 1 ounce fresh pineapple juice
  • 1 ounce guava juice
  • Garnish: Fresh lime wheel, dusted in Tajín

In a cocktail shaker, fill with ice and add the tequila, pineapple juice, and guava juice. Shake well and strain into a chilled martini or coupe glass. Garnish with a fresh lime wheel dusted in Tajín.

Kir Royale (featuring Sammy’s Red Head Rum)

  • 1 ounce Sammy’s Red Head Rum, divided
  • 4 ounces chilled champagne
  • Garnish: Fresh lemon twist

Add half the rum to a chilled champagne flute. Slowly add the chilled champagne until ½-inch from the top. Top with the remaining rum. Garnish with a fresh lemon twist.

Da Kari (featuring Sammy’s Beach Bar Platinum Rum)

  • 1 large piece fresh pineapple, rind removed
  • 2 ounces Sammy’s Beach Bar Platinum Rum
  • ½ fresh lime, squeezed
  • 1 ounce Simple Syrup
  • Rim: Lime and cane sugar
  • Garnish: Fresh lime wedge

Run a fresh lime wedge around the rim of a chilled martini glass. Then roll the moistened rim in cane sugar and set the glass aside. In a cocktail shaker, add the pineapple. Using a muddler, gently (yet firmly) muddle the pineapple. Then add the rum, lime juice, and simple syrup. Fill the shaker with ice and shake well. Strain into the prepared martini glass. Garnish with a fresh lime wedge.

Specifications:

  • Sold in four-packs
  • 12 oz/355 ml
  • 5.5% ABV
  • A QR code on every can reveals a special video message from Hagar, himself. 

Straight Bourbon: Distilling the Industry’s Heritage by Carol Peachee

“Bourbon is a legacy of blue grass, water and Kentucky limestone,” Carol Peachee tells me when I ask what makes Kentucky bourbon so prized.

Limestone? Water? Bluegrass? What’s that have to do with fine bourbon?

Turns out it’s quite simple. According to Peachee, the limestone filters the iron out of the water as it flows through the rock, producing a sweet-tasting mineral water perfect for making the greatest tasting liquor. Limestone, with its heavy calcium deposits, also is credited with the lush blue grass the state’s prize-winning horses gaze upon — making their bones strong.

It’s been a long time since I took geology in college, but I do like the taste of good bourbon and the sight of stately horses grazing in beautiful pastures and the more I can learn about it all, the better. Which is why I love Peachee’s entrancing photographs.

Carol Peachee

I first met Peachee, an award-winning professional photographer, when she was autographing copies of her latest book, Straight Bourbon: Distilling the Industry’s Heritage (Indiana University Press 2017; $28). Creating beauty as well as a sense of yearning, her books, including The Birth of Bourbon: A Photographic Tour of Early Distilleries, take us on a wanderlust journey of lost distilleries and those now re-emerging from the wreckage of Prohibition. At one time, Kentucky had over two hundred commercial distilleries, but only sixty-one reopened after the repeal of Prohibition in 1933. Now, as Kentucky bourbon becomes a driving force throughout the world, once barely remembered and long closed distilleries are being restored and revamped and are opening again for business.

Using a photographic technique known as high-dynamic-range imaging ― a process that produces rich saturation, intensely clarified details, and a full spectrum of light ― Peachee hauntingly showcases the vibrancy still lingering in artifacts such as antique tools, worn cypress fermenting tubs, ornate copper stills some turning slightly green with oxidation and age, gears and levers —things we would never typically think of as lovely and compelling.

Traveling with the Book

Keeping copies of her books in my car when I travel to Kentucky, I love visiting some of the places and sites she’s photographed.

Her passion for bourbon may also have come about, in part, because she lives in Lexington, Kentucky which is rich in the history of bourbon making (and, we should say, sipping).

To get a taste of how bourbon connects to the land, when in Lexington, Peachee suggests a stop at the Barrel House Distilling Co. including the Elkhorn Tavern located in the old James B. Pepper barrel plant. It’s part of Lexington’s happening Distillery District. But fine bourbon doesn’t just stop in Lexington.

“There are so many bourbon distilleries now,” she says, noting that the heritage of good bourbon making is more than the equipment and the water.

“The cultural heritage of distilling also lays in the human culture,” she writes in the Acknowledgements section of her latest book, “the people who learned the crafts of milling, copper welding and design, barrel making and warehouse construction and then passed them on through the generations down to today’s workers and owners.”

And now Peachee has passed them down to us so we can fully appreciate the art of distilling

Town Branch Bourbon Bramble

  • 2oz Bourbon
  • 3/4oz Fresh squeeze lemons
  • 3/4oz Simple syrup
  • 5 Fresh blackberries muddled

Shake with ice, strain and pour over fresh ice in rock glass with blackberry garnish.

Town Branch Bourbon Mint Julep

  • 2 oz Bourbon
  • 8 mint leaves
  • 1/4oz simple syrup
  • Dash of bitters

Muddle ingredients.

Add crushed ice with mint garnish and straw.

The above recipes are courtesy of the Lexington Brewing & Distilling Company.

Back From the Farm: Family Recipes and Memories of a Lifetime

Family memories, times together, food, family, and friends–all come together in Phil Potempa’s newest cookbook.

              My friend Phil Potempa writes these encyclopedia-sized cookbooks based upon growing up on a farm and his years—still counting—as a food and entertainment columnist, currently for the Chicago Tribune Media Co. Well, his latest, Back From the Farm: Family Recipes and Memories of a Lifetime Vol. 4, is no different. I didn’t weigh it but it’s hefty and thick with 576 pages. Chocked full of recipes, photos, and anecdotes, the book is a compilation of Phil’s food and entertainment columns that takes us from growing up on the family farm in La Pierre, Indiana to hanging out with celebrities and everything in between such as local baking contests, chef interviews, chili cook-offs, ethnic celebrations, and readers’ favorite recipes.

              “There are a lot of ways to read these books,” Phil tells me, noting that some people tell him they go straight to the index and look up the celebrity names while others leaf through the book, stopping at recipes that look interesting and still others are intrigued by stories of Potempa’s farm relatives.  After all, who could resist recipes with such names as “Granny Wojdula’s Nine-Day Sweet Pickles,” “Jim Nabors’ Mom’s Split Green Pea Soup,” “Bob Hope’s Favorite Chicken Hash,” or “Blondie Wappel’s Favorite Pink Champagne Cake,” which implies that Blondie must have had several recipes for cakes made with pink Champagne.  Now that’s really drilling down on an ingredient.

              San Pierre, for anyone—and that’s most of us—is a small dot on the map consisting of less than 200 people according to Wikipedia. It’s where the Potempa still spends time with his family (he also has a place in Chicago) and is the center of Indiana’s mint growing industry and where the North Judson Mint Festival is held every year. According to the National Agricultural Statistics Services third nationally for spearmint production and fourth for peppermint production. Much of their mint ends up as oil and is sold to Wrigley, Colgate Palmolive, and Proctor & Gamble for use in their products. In other words, when you brush your teeth with a spearmint flavored toothpaste it might have come from San Pierre which is some 50 miles away.

              Asked what his favorite story was, Potempa names Phyllis Diller, a housewife from Lima, Ohio who hit it big as a comedian in her late 30s and had a career that continued on until her death in 2012 at age 95. Her schtick included donning a fright wig for wild blonde hair, downplaying her good looks with bad make-up, and, with a cigarette in a long holder, cackling out jokes about her life including her poor domestic skills. She was considered the first woman stand-up comedian and like Joan Rivers, another first in the field, was expected to make fun of herself to be successful.

              “One of her lines was that she used a smoke detector as a way of timing her dinners, when it went off, she knew the food was ready,” recalls Potempa. “In actuality, she was a great cook.”

              Indeed, Diller opened a food production business, though as far as I can figure she only sold cans of her chili which came in three varieties—beef, chicken, and vegetarian. But don’t look for it in the grocery store and even Amazon doesn’t carry it as her food company is closed now. But the recipe for her chili is a popular search item on Google and is included in Potempa’s book.

Celebrate family ties, Hollywood friends, and recipes from the farm in Phil Potempa's newest cookbook.

              The two both shared a love of cooking and Diller helped Phil with his first From the Farm cookbook.

              Describing her as his first celebrity interview, Potempa says that over the years when she was performing in Northwest Indiana or the Chicago area she would invite he and his family to attend her shows and then visit her backstage afterwards.

              “She was really a friend, I’ve been to her home and it was so wonderful to see my cookbooks in her fire red kitchen,” says Potempa about one of his visits to her home in the tony Brentwood, California city near Los Angeles.

              Another fav story was told to him by his good friend Russ Adams, a 1978 graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in New York, who worked at the Strongbow Inn, a Valparaiso Restaurant that was started by Adams’s grandparents on the site of their turkey farm and for more than 75 years was a favorite stopping point for dinner no matter what time of year. Adams recalled when Los Angeles Dodgers Manager Tommy Lasorda came into the kitchen to see what was going on. He’d ordered a turkey sandwich and told Russ to “load it up! And make it like you’re making it for your brother.”

              Russ also told him about the time his Grandma Bess was at the hostess stand sometime in the late 1950s and came face-to-face with a portly man waiting to be seated, who looked very much like Oscar winning actor Charles Laughton. When Bess mentioned how much he resembled the famous actor, he told her, in a very cold and stiff English accent: “Madam, THAT is because…I AM CHARLES LAUGHTON.”

              Interestingly, Colonel Harlan Sanders, founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken, frequented the Strongbow Inn whenever he was in Northwest Indiana visiting his key local fast-food franchises says Potempa. Popcorn King Orville Redenbacher of the popcorn powerhouse ate there every year when he’d return home. In all, the restaurant served more than 250,000 pounds of turkey a year but one of the most requested recipes from the place that Phil received was for their Blue Cheese Dressing.

              Phil wrote in one of his columns that he never expected to get the dressing recipe with its secret combination of ingredients because the Strongbow Inn restaurant used to bottle and sell their dressing in their lobby waiting area, displayed on a rack near a small freezer where a frozen version of their signature turkey pot-pies and gravy could also be purchased. But with its closing that changed and the recipe is below as are several others.

Phyllis Diller’s Chili

Serves six

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable or canola oil
  • 1 pound ground beef (chuck is good)
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 medium bell pepper, chopped (see note)
  • 10 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon Lawry’s Seasoning Salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion salt
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 2 or 3 dashes tabasco sauce or to taste
  • 1 (28 oz) can chopped tomatoes
  • 2 (15 oz) cans s & w kidney beans, undrained
  • Garnishing – if desired
  • 1 white onion, chopped
  • 2 cups mild cheddar cheese, shredded

In a large, heavy-bottomed pan, warm oil over medium-high heat. Add the ground beef, breaking it up, and cook, stirring occasionally, until beef is cooked through, about 10 minutes.

While the beef is cooking, peel and chop onion. Set aside. Core and chop bell pepper. Set aside. Peel and mince garlic cloves. Set aside.

Once the beef is cooked through, add the onions, bell pepper and garlic. Cook until vegetables are softened, about 3 or 4 minutes.

Stir in the seasonings and tomatoes. Reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer the chili until it begins to thicken slightly, about 20 to 30 minutes.

Stir in the kidney beans with their juices. Simmer an additional 10 minutes or until heated through.

Adjust to taste.

Peggy’s Easy Beef and Noodles Supper

  • 2 tablespoons cooking oil
  • 1 1/2 pounds cubed beef stew meat
  • 2 quarts water (divided use)
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 cups sliced carrots
  • 2 cups chopped celery
  • 2 teaspoons mixed seasoning blend, like Mrs. Dash
  • 6 teaspoons beef bouillon paste (or equivalent using cubes)
  • 1 (16-ounce) bag of Amish egg noodles (grocery shelf variety, not frozen)

Heat oil in bottom of a large soup pot and lightly brown beef and onion. Add 1 quart of water and simmer for 1 hour. Add carrots and celery, beef base and seasoning blend and add remaining 1 quart of water and simmer 1/2 hour. Finally add dry noodles and cook according to instructions, about 1/2 hour. More water can be added as needed during cooking time.

Makes 10 servings.

Blondie Wappel’s Favorite Pink Champagne Cake

Makes 18 servings.

Cake:

  • 1 (16.25-ounce) package white cake mix
  • 1-1/4 cups pink champagne
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 egg whites
  • 3 or 4 drops red food color

Pink Champagne Frosting:

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter or margarine, softened
  • 3-3/4 to 4 cups sifted powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup pink champagne
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 or 4 drops red food color

For the cake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix together dry cake mix and champagne in a large bowl; add oil, egg whites and food color and beat with an electric mixer on medium speed for 2 minutes. Lightly grease and flour the bottom of a 13-inch by 9-inch shiny aluminum pan. Note: The baking temp has to be adjusted for glass, dark or nonstick pans or alter baking times and pan prep according to the directions on the cake mix package.

Pour cake batter into pan and spread evenly. Bake for 25 to 29 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. Allow cake to cool completely before frosting.

To make frosting, cream butter with an electric mixer in a medium bowl and gradually add the rest of the frosting ingredients, beating at medium speed until the frosting is of a smooth consistency. Spread frosting evenly over cooled cake.

Decorate as desired, including possible garnish with pink and white sugar crystals.

Forbidden Apple Cake

  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 sticks Imperial margarine, softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 3 cups unpeeled apples, cored and diced (a firm, slightly tart baking apple is best)
  • 1 cup walnuts or pecans, chopped (optional)
  • 1 cup golden raisins (can be soaked in 1/2 cup good rum for one week for a “sinful” addition)
  • Powdered sugar for dusting.

Note: Seal rum-soaked raisins in a glass container at room temperature for one week, ahead of time. If using the rum version, omit cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Spray 10-inch bundt or tube pan with non-stick cooking spray. Beat oil with margarine. Add sugar, eggs and vanilla. Sift together flour, baking soda, cinnamon and nutmeg. Add apples to flour mixture and stir a few times to coat. Add raisins and nuts, if using, to egg/oil mixture. Stir flour/apple mixture into egg/oil mixture until well blended. Pour into prepared pan. Bake 75 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean. Cool 30 minutes, invert onto cake plate. When completely cooled, dust with powdered sugar. Makes 10 slices.

Strongbow Inn Bleu Cheese and Garlic Dressing

Makes 5 cups

  • 1 cup cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon oregano
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 3 cups vegetable oil
  • Cheesecloth and string
  • 1 cup crumbled bleu cheese

Prepare a piece of cheesecloth cut into a small square.

Combine salt, pepper, sugar, oregano and garlic, wrap in cheesecloth, fasten, and tie. Use a mallet or rolling pin to slightly pound the contents of the tied cheesecloth.

Place the cheesecloth bundle in a large quart-canning jar. Pour 1 cup of the cider vinegar over the spice bundle, seal jar and allow spices to steep overnight on kitchen counter.

Remove spice bundle, squeezing out excess liquid before discarding bundle.

Add three cups vegetable oil to vinegar mixture to fill jar and drop in the crumbled bleu cheese.

Store dressing in refrigerator and stir well before serving.

Philip Potempa can be reached at pmpotempa@comhs.org or mail your questions: From the Farm, PO Box 68, San Pierre, Ind. 46374.

%d bloggers like this: