Everyone has their vices in life. Some folks drink, some folks smoke, and I, JeriLynne Clifford, am addicted to cookbooks.
I’m going to review some of my favorite cookbooks that have not only changed the way I cook but also, over the years, changed my perspective on food. As a girl from South Dakota, the only cookbooks I was exposed to were from the Lutheran churches, and man do they love their hot dishes… The other recipe keeper I knew was my Granny whose recipes primarily included some sort of crab. My mother also had some recipe cards but I don’t really remember her ever using cookbooks or keeping them on any shelves in our home.
In 1992, I was at a playgroup with my sons and I overheard a friend talking about “Chicken Marbella”. I had never heard of this dish before. My friend got up to grab The Silver Palate cookbook to show me what she was talking about and I immediately fell in love.
It’s only fitting that the first group of books I share with you are The Silver Palate cookbooks written by Sheila Lukins and Julee Rosso.
When I first discovered The Silver Palate cookbooks in the 90’s, you have to remember there was no internet where a slew of recipes lived at our finger tips, owning this book was like striking gold. Unless you had subscriptions to magazines like Bon Appétit, Gourmet, or Food and Wine, access to food writing was pretty narrow. I found my copy of The Silver Palate at my neighborhood bookstore and bought it on sale for $9.95. It was the birthday issue because it had been out for 10 years at this point.
I would come to learn that Sheila Lukins and Julee Russo opened up a gourmet food shop in New York together in the 80’s called The Silver Palate. They offered food of new varieties for the masses and were really the first of their kind to make upscale foods popular. They also did a lot of catering for picnics, brunches, cocktail parties, weddings, etc. When they sold their business, Julee went back to her home state of Michigan and opened the Wickwood Inn in Saugatuck, which is definitely on my bucket list to visit. Inspiring women to say the least. Sheila continued to create more cookbooks, eventually passing away in 2009.
The Silver Palate cookbook is the most used cookbook in my kitchen. As you can see by the pictures, it’s had a lot of love. So let’s start with “Chicken Marbella”. I have made this dish so many times that I’ve lost count. I’ve made it for all different kinds of events from bridal showers, to dinner parties, to my daughter’s high school graduation party. I’ve made it with chicken tenders, bite sized pieces of chicken, chicken cut into pieces with the bone, etc. I have perfected this recipe to the point that I changed the beloved prunes to dried apricots, to make it my signature dish. The amount of garlic that is it listed in this recipe should be a sin but it mellows out the white wine and the brown sugar.
Another recipe that I fell in love with immediately was the “Chili for a Crowd”. This recipe makes 35 to 40 portions and as you can see by the photo, I have cut it down into much smaller portions for an intimate dinner party or just for family. This chili is very different than what we call chili here in Texas, don’t come at me about the chili! I understand here in Texas, beans aren’t in chili but in The Silver Palate, there are beans folks, there are lots of beans. The first thing I noticed when I made this recipe was that it included sausage meat along with beef chuck. The surprising ingredient of Dijon mustard, and I don’t mean just a teaspoon of it but actually a whole half cup of mustard, astounded me. It includes Burgundy wine, which I had to have a grocery clerk rapid fire educate me on because I had no clue what it was. And dill? Fresh dill?? It’s just not the same without it. Add in my beloved pitted black olives, not chopped but whole, and it’s an incredible dish for conversation and yes, even Texans love it.
Another dish I loved making from this cookbook was the variety of mousses. Realize, my father was in the food service industry and possessed many a mousse mix, so I knew what it was but I had never made it from scratch. The “Lime Mousse” is heavenly. It is light and creamy and the zest you get from the fresh limes is incredible. The “Strawberry Mousse” is probably my favorite which adds in just a touch of Cointreau to round out the flavors. The “Amaretto Mousse” is not the greatest, but I also I don’t think I followed the recipe 100%, so that’s on me.
The next Silver Palate cookbook that I fell in love with was the Good Times edition. The memory that stands out from this book was in 1994, when my sister was expecting her first child. At her baby shower, her mother-in-law Sandy who is a lovely cook, made the “Apricot Almond Wedding Cake”. This was the most luxurious cake I had ever tasted. The glaze on it was made with apricot jam and cognac and the buttercream frosting was something out of my imagination. As you can see in the first picture, my dog got a hold of this and was apparently inspired by the recipe too. This recipe doesn’t have to be a big wedding cake, you can half it and bake it for something special like a birthday, anniversary, or just because it’s Friday. This is definitely worth trying.
My other go to in this cookbook is the “Brussels Sprouts with Maple and Walnut Vinaigrette”. This became a standard on my Thanksgiving table starting in 1995, after searching high and low for walnut oil, although now it’s pretty widely available. The combination of the sherry vinegar, the maple syrup, Dijon mustard, and the walnut oil makes this Brussels sprout dish something unique but also an authentic Thanksgiving requirement.
At that time, now with three small children, throwing a fancy dinner party was not in my wheel house, but we were hosting and I wanted to try to make my own salad dressing. The Luxembourg Salad includes a recipe for dressing which was one of my first attempts of many. Now, salad dressing is something that I whip up almost on a daily basis. This dressing combines cloves of garlic, balsamic vinegar, and mixed herbs finished with blue cheese and bacon on top of the salad. It is still one of my favorite salads to serve at dinner parties.
It was not long after devouring Good Times that I had to spring for The New Basics edition. The New Basics cookbook is quite simply a bible for foodies. It has so many charts, comparisons, and replacements, it was mind blowing. I remember reading this book over a few weeks and highlighting things, putting stickers and notes and dog-earing all the recipes I wanted to try that were very new to this Midwestern girl. If I had an all-time favorite chart, it would be The New Basics spice chart. It lists the spice, the best use, how it is usually available like in cold berries or ground, and if you can grow the spice in your garden indoors, outdoors, or not at all. I learned so much about so many herbs that I had never heard of before. I had no clue that cilantro and coriander were from the same plant. This was back during a time where you couldn’t get cilantro at the grocery store. I learned so much from this cookbook and still use it as a reference today.
I remember my first time making fajitas was from a recipe in The New Basics cookbook. I made black bean pesto and I was so proud of myself. I couldn’t find any cilantro in stores so I had to use parsley but the fajitas came out fantastic.
By the time I had four kids, we had to find something to do on summer nights to entertain them. So we would go to the Town Common on Thursday nights and listen to music and let the kids dance. I always had to pack dinner to bring with us and some of the dishes I would make were from The New Basics cookbook. My kids loved the “Hot Crunchy Chicken” that had a cornmeal and pecan crust that gave a really yummy crunch. The “Lemon Ginger Chicken” was also good at room temperature which was always the goal. The flavor of the ginger and the garlic played so well together and were even better the next day.
Growing up in the Midwest, pasta was not something we have outside of macaroni and cheese or maybe spaghetti and meatballs. There was so many recipes I wanted to dive into and try from The New Basics cookbook. The first time I ever made a Bolognese sauce was from a recipe in this book and it took me hours but it was so worth it. The “Puttanesca Sauce” is something that I make almost every other week and I don’t even have to open the cookbook anymore, I know it by memory. The “Pasta Sauce Rafael” is still one of my favorite combinations that brings together marinated artichoke hearts, garlic, and red pepper flakes… I mean how can you go wrong?
The “New Wave Salad” was something that I would make in the summer to bring to potlucks. It was a beautiful stacked salad that I would set in a tall glass dish, usually my trifle bowl.
Thanks for letting me reminisce about my early days as a cook when I was learning to expand my horizons, experiment with new flavors, and watch my children lick their fingers while music played and the sun faded.