I can’t decide whether this is totally in bad taste or rather fun in a macabre sort of way. But someone sent me The Dead Celebrity Cookbook: A Resurrection of Recipes from More Than 145 Stars of Stage and Screen and its follow-up The Dead Celebrity Cookbook Presents Christmas in Tinseltown: Celebrity Recipes and Hollywood Memories from Six Feet Under the Mistletoe both by Frank DeCaro. The covers are rather maniacal with the Tinseltown book showing a vintage black and white photo of Joan Crawford, one of my favorite actresses, with a rather crazed smile holding a bright shiny carving knife as she dissects a roast turkey. Inside both books are less campy with the first offering vignettes of stars and their recipes such as Lucille Ball’s Persimmon Cake, Yvonne De Carlo’s Exotic Chicken Ecstasy, Alfred Hitchcock’s Quiche Lorraine, Frank Sinatra’s Barbecued Lamb and, fittingly enough, Dean Martin’s Burgers and Bourbon. The second is pretty much the same format but with actors and actresses who are often seen around Christmastime. For the Christmas classic, It’s a Wonderful Life we get Jimmy Stewart’s Spareribs with Barbecue Sauce and Donna Reed’s Lemon Bundt Cake, while in the chapter titled Miracle Whip on 34th Street there’s Natalie Wood’s Beef Stroganoff director Darryl F. Zanuck’s Chicken Curry.
DeCaro took his search for these vintage recipes seriously, spending a lot of time trying to hunt them down. Because many of the stars date back before the Internet, he couldn’t just Google a name and hit search but that didn’t detour him from his mission.
"I would buy everything, manuals that came with microwave ovens or flyers handed out in supermarkets in the 60s with recipes attributed to specific celebrities, eBay, old cookbooks,” says DeCaro who spent 15 years collecting recipes. “I like to believe that they were in fact truly their recipes.”
Of particular note was Lucille Ball of I Love Lucy fame. DeCaro devoted a whole chapter her because he found so many recipes attributed to her.
“It was amazing -- I found her recipes in all sorts of places including magazine articles, memoir kinds of things,” says DeCaro. “There was a Virginia Graham cookbook that I grabbed a couple from. It seemed odd because she was always saying that food was just--you ate and you're done with it and then she writes all these recipes. I thought it was important to have her because no one has been more trouble by food than Lucy on TV. I think any woman who is attacked by a 12-foot loaf of bread in their own kitchen deserves a chapter in the book.”
Asked about his favorite recipes, DeCaro is quick to respond listing Katherine Hepburn’s Brownies and
“I love Liberace's sticky buns,” he says. “I didn't realize store-bought Crescent Rolls could be so much fun, but they're awfully delicious. Sadly I made 24 of them when I made the batch to test it and I ate nine before they were cool enough to even touch because they were so good. I was like a kid getting locked in a Cinnabon overnight. As I like to say, I'm a good cook but a better eater.”
DeCaro, who besides collecting recipes belonging to deceased movie stars has a national radio program, The Frank DeCaro Show, on Sirius Satellite Radio, says part of why he put together the cookbooks is to help people remember these stars.
"I get very upset when people say 'Oh, it was before my time' or 'I wasn't born when it was on air',” he says. “If Lady Gaga can know who Liberace is, so can you. It's good to know what came before.”
Lucille Ball's Sunday Night Goulash
2 bunches green onions, chopped
2 large green peppers, chopped
½ clove garlic, chopped
2 pounds ground beef
1 large can solid packed tomatoes
½ pound small egg noodles
Sauté onions, green pepper, and garlic until tender. Brown meat in butter, then add sautéed ingredients. Add tomatoes with juice and simmer slowly. Add salt and pepper to taste. During last 30 minutes of cooking, add cooked, strained egg noodles.
Harriet Nelson's Favorite Chicken
6 to 8 chicken breasts
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 can cream of celery soup
½ cup light cream
½ stick butter, melted
1 ½ cups uncooked rice (not Minute Rice)
Salt and pepper
Combine soups, cream, melted butter, and rice. Pour into buttered baking dish. Lay chicken breasts on top. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper, and generously with paprika. Dot with butter. Bake covered for 1½ hours at 325°.
Liberace's Sticky Buns
Yield: Makes 2 dozen
1 cup white raisins
1/4 cup light rum
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
2 sticks unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon ginger
3 packages refrigerated unbaked crescent rolls
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup whole pecans
Non-stick baking spray with flour for greasing pan
Preheat oven to 325°. Spray two muffin pans with non-stick baking spray. Combine raisins and rum in a small bowl and warm in microwave on high for 45 seconds. Set aside. In a saucepan, melt butter and then stir in spices and brown sugar. Cook, stirring frequently, until it becomes a bubbling syrup. Put a teaspoon of syrup and a few whole pecans in each muffin cup. Unroll one package of crescent rolls on a piece of parchment paper. Pinch seams together to form one flat piece. Drizzle a quarter of the syrup over the dough. Sprinkle a third of the raisins and a third of the chopped pecans on it. Roll it jelly roll style. Cut into 1-inch thick pieces. Place one slice of dough, cut side up, in each muffin tin. Repeat with each package of crescent rolls. Bake 13-15 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and immediately flip the buns onto a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper. Replace any nuts that may have stuck to the pan and serve warm.
Katharine Hepburn's Brownies
2 (one-ounce) squares unsweetened baker's chocolate
1 stick unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla
¼ cup flour
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped walnuts
Melt chocolate and butter in heavy saucepan over low heat. Remove from heat and stir in sugar. Add eggs and vanilla and beat well. Stir in flour, salt and walnuts. Mix well. Pour into a buttered 8-ince square baking pan. Bake at 325 degrees F for 40 minutes. Cool and cut into squares.