Archive for April, 2008

What the Fricassee?

Sunday, April 20th, 2008

If your first name is Lettice, your life’s plan is already mapped out for you. You will write a cookbook.

Mrs. Lettice Bryan wrote The Kentucky Housewife in 1839 with recipes adapted to the Southern climate. And for our family’s celebration of President’s Day, we had to fix Abe Lincoln’s fav, Chicken Fricassee from Lettice herself — the source that was probably kicking around Abe’s boyhood home back in the day.


When it all comes out on the dish, I really think that Fricassee is chicken-n-dumplin’s without the dumplin’s. My better half disagrees. And he would know since he grew up in Mona Faye’s Kitchen where chicken-n-dumplin’s are the comfort food of choice. I’ve yet to corner Mona Faye for her recipe, but I’ve concluded that the exact recipe is a bit of a secret (although I do know that it decisively contains no eggs).

Everybody has a Fricasee. The Italians have Fricassea di Pollastri with basil and prosciutto. The Germans have Huhnerfrikassee with nutmeg and Worcestershire. The Cubans have Fricasé de Pollo with lime and cumin. And the French have . . . well, Fricassee.

So we made our homage to Lincoln and Lettice and discovered a new family favorite. I adapted the “how to fricassee a chicken white” up above (the main difference between “white” and “brown” is the former is cooked with no skin). This dish is good enough to satisfy both Mona Faye’s son and grandsons although the younger you are the more ketchup you prefer.

Lincoln & Lettice Chicken Fricassee


1 chicken cut-up
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon paprika
3 tablespoons all purpose flour
2 cups water
3 tablespoons butter
1 onion, chopped
5-6 carrots, sliced
2 stalks celery, sliced
2 cups fresh small mushrooms
1 tablespoon sage
1 tablespoon parsley
1 cup milk

1 tablespoon of flour


Wash and dry the chicken pieces. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, nutmeg and paprika.

Brown the chicken in hot oil over high heat in a Dutch oven turning once. Add water and cover, simmering until chicken is cooked — 20-30 minutes.

Remove chicken. When cool enough, pick chicken off the bones and set meat aside.

Add onions back into the pot and cook until translucent. Add carrots and celery. Add mushrooms, sage and parsley. Whisk together milk and flour and add to the pot. Add chicken. Cook over medium heat, stirring until thoroughly heated.

Rice or noodles are optional but yummy.

[tags]Abraham Lincoln, Chicken Fricassee, Vintage Recipes, The Kentucky Housewife, Lettice Bryan, President’s Day[/tags]

When the Moon Hits Your Eye like a Big Meat-za Pie

Sunday, April 13th, 2008


Pizza didn’t really get any attention outside the Italian-American communities until our soldiers came home from WW2. Oh sure, in the late 19th-century you could find a street vendor in Chicago on Taylor street who’d sell you a slice. The original version was a “tomato pie” which is the opposite of what we know as pizza — first cheese, then toppings, then sauce.

Naples is really the birthplace of pizza. In the 16th century, those poor commoners were the rapscallions who risked life and limb by topping their yeast-bread with those assumed-to-be-poisonous fruit of the nightshades (a.k.a. tomatoes). The Neapolitans now are purists about their pies. There are only two they accept within the family: the “Marinara” and the “Margherita.” The former is what the fisherman liked to eat — toppings of tomato, oregano, garlic, extra virgin olive oil and usually basil. The latter adds mozzarella cheese. That’s Amore!

But nobody — not one soul in Italy, Chicago, New Jersey, or New York — ever imagined this.


Not even Robert Atkins could fathom something so hideous as Meat-za.

But now that I look closer at the picture, I do think I remember seeing something like this in Chicago. But not on Taylor Street. This was at the Museum of Science and Industry. You know. . . . the Body Slices.

[tags]Pizza, Meatza, Robert Atkins, Museum of Science and Industry, Campbell’s Soup[/tags]

Red (Velvet) No. 2

Saturday, April 5th, 2008

Mona Faye, as you who love her know very well, winters in the sunny tropical South. So while the rest of the country is shoveling and shivering, her leisure time is spent sans WiFi, basking poolside in her chrysanthemum bathing cap and reading trashy novels while sipping umbrella drinks and evening out her golden glow.

Well. . . . not really. But, at the very least, it’s been awhile since this blogger has added anything to the menu. But I have been stewing.

This week was our littlest family member’s second birthday. And while the adults clamor for waist-shaping sugar-free desserts and the tweens insist on nouveau cookie cakes, my little guys have pretty old-fashioned tastes when it comes to birthdays. They like the same thing I liked when my dear ol’ Mom baked my birthday cake.

They like red.

You who are nearing or have well past your fourth decade remember the Red (No. 2) Scare of the 70s. In 1976, while our older brothers tortured us with Logan’s Run-esque threats, those grown-ups destroyed our red M&Ms, dumped our orange drink from those pre-happy Burger Chef Fun Meals, and yanked all things cherried right from our Kool-Aid smiles simply because the FDA found Amaranth (dye) (a.k.a. E123) to be a carcinogen. Bullies!


Now, don’t confuse this with the Red No. 3 Scare of 1990 which also happens to cause cancer, but not enough cancer to upset the producers and consumers of strawberry Slim-fast and McCormick’s Salad Toppins’.

You can still get your red from No. 40 here in the good ol’ U. S. of A, but Denmark, Belgium, France, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, and Austria have banned it. Killjoys! It’s only made from coal tar, and when you compare #40’s troubles to #2 and #3’s, there’s hardly any problems to speak of.

If you want to be really old-fashioned about your red — and we here at Mona Faye’s Kitchen are nothing if not old-fashioned — you get your crimson the way the Azteks and the Mayans did. From bugs. Yes, the E120 in your Jello or Doritos is nothing more than smashed-up South American beetlejuice. And while it’s not Kosher and it doesn’t cause cancer, it is very, very red.

In my memory, Red Velvet Cake disappeared for a few years after 1976. Shame really. When our grandmothers passed around the recipe in the 1940s (thinking they were stickin’ it to the Man known as the Waldorf Astoria for over-charging a patron for a copy of the recipe. Just like we did with the Neiman Marcus Cookie Recipe.), they used beets! They didn’t even need the two bottles of red food dye that the recipe called for later. In fact, the baking soda and vinegar mixture that gives Red Velvet Cake its characteristic lift and flavor actually reacts with the (non-Dutch-processed) cocoa in the batter to give it a red twinge. So you really don’t even need any additives.

But how can you resist something so beautifully red! It just oozes that healthy, rosy glow, doesn’t it?

So here’s my recipe that I’ve tweaked until it resembles how my mom made it way back when. Some people prefer the cream cheese frosting, but I don’t think anything compares to the honest-to-goodness buttercream icing I have below here. Our version for the party today will be in cupcake form with Blue sugar sprinkles. Blue No. 1, that is.

Red Velvet Cake


  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 ounces red food coloring
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup oil
  • 1 1/2 cups white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon white vinegar
  • 1 cup milk
  • 5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract


  1. Grease two 9 inch round pans. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Make a paste of cocoa and food coloring. Set aside.
  2. Combine the buttermilk, salt and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Set aside. In a large bowl, cream together the oil and 1 1/2 cups sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then stir in the cocoa mixture. Beat in the buttermilk mixture alternately with the flour, mixing just until incorporated. Stir together baking soda and vinegar, then gently fold into the cake batter.
  3. Pour batter into prepared pans. Bake in the preheated 350-degree oven for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Allow to cool completely before frosting. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
  4. To Make Icing: In a saucepan, combine the milk and 5 tablespoons flour. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens. Set aside to cool completely. Cream together butter, 1 cup sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla until light and fluffy, then stir in the cooled milk and flour mixture, beating until icing reaches spreading consistency.

[tags]Red Velvet Cake, Vintage Recipes[/tags]