Sunday, 27 July 2014

Cooking With Benny

There was a time when celebrities attached their names to recipes that were dutifully printed in feature stories in newspapers or magazines. Whether they really had anything to do with the recipe in question really wasn’t all that relevant to the homemaker reading at home. If they liked Ann Sothern or creamed squash, they’d test out Ann Sothern’s recipe for creamed squash they had just read.

Jack Benny and Mary Livingstone weren’t immune to the here’s-my-favourite-recipe story. This one was clipped out of the Niagara Falls Gazette of March 11, 1970, though I found it in another paper the previous year. Much of what’s in the “news” part of the article was in other newspaper stories around that time. It’s a little stunning to read that Benny was incapable of making a cup of coffee until you realise he was in the kind of income bracket where he could hire anyone to do anything he wanted or get anything he needed (one of the Benny biographies stated he had no idea how to turn on the lights in his home).

Linda Chase’s book Pitching Las Vegas reveals Jack used to patronise Fong’s Garden in Sin City, and Broadway: An Encyclopedia by Ken Bloom tells how he liked Ruby Foo’s near Lindy’s in New York, so maybe he really did enjoy chop suey.

Chop Suey Is Jack Benny's Favorite Dish

NEW YORK - "I'll be a son of a gun, if you can get a hot cup of coffee in your room. It's not enough for the average person, but I kept telling the waiter, that it's not hot enough for me," a slightly irate comedian, one Jack Benny said recently over breakfast in his hotel room.
"Besides, we went through all this yesterday. If I want coffee, I have to go out and order it. Now if I wanted to put cream in this, which I would like to do, it would be too cold. And this is not a cheap hotel, right?" he said to the frenzied waiter. "Listen, they don't charge a nickel for a cup," he said, haughtily drawing his gray silk bathrobe around his spare frame. Jack's visitors sympathized with him. The comedian's exaggerated complaint, an example of his mock despair, appeared to dispel his stinging words.
In town to lampoon Milton Berle at the Friars' bash, his monologues naturally touched on his age, his cheapness, his violin and his taste in food, a less familiar subject.
"I don't really know how I stay this way, I feel fine," he said. His face was slightly tanned and unlined; Benny has been performing for more than 50 years.
JACK CLAIMS no secret for his ageless appearance. "I don't drink too much. I don't drink at all when you come right down to it. I don't know what it is. Maybe it's because I work a lot." His television special, "Jack Benny's New Look," will be seen on NBC-TV Dec. 3. He and a slightly "younger generation" (gravely-voiced crony George Burns and Gregory Peck) will go mod.
Like Frank Sinatra, Jack Benny says he has a gang. "Only, in our gang, we have Edward Everett Horton, Spring Byington, Walter Brennen and myself. We call our gang Ovaltine a-go-go. We sing and play Lawrence Welk records. Sometimes we get highland speed them up a little. Sinatra takes his gang on a yacht. I take mine on a bus — to the Mayo clinic!" Jack has a mild case of diabetes. "I used to carry around special diabetic cookies. But my diabetes is so slight I don't really have to. I don't have to take insulin, I take a pill, and it's not that bad that I have to carry them now. Besides, I can cheat with food and it's ail right, as long as I don't cheat too much."
Benny is a lover of parties. "The best publicity gag and most fun party we ever had was one at the Automat. Before a season of television or before a special, we'd have a publicity stunt in New York. I've turned everyone down since because nothing could come close to that. Imagine inviting people, most of them pretty rich, to the Automat! They would come there in Rolls Royces and other beautiful cars with chauffers. I'd give them two dollars worth of nickels for them to get the food out. We kept a little hot food on the side where they could hardly see it so as not to spoil the effect of the whole thing. But it was a great stunt. It caused an awful lot of talk and it fit, you now. It was a natural situation for me."
• • •
JACK HAS BEEN paying the high cost of being a tightwad for years.
"Last night there were six of us at 21. I worry about tipping a lot. I must tip an awful lot because of the character, and everybody hollers at me, 'You're overdoing it' or 'You're doing too much.' But I know this situation. I'm supposed to tip taxi drivers a lot, too. Actually, my wife and I are very big spenders. I've been able to make this penurious character pay off because if I were really stingy — really stingy — I don't think I could have started a character like that. My problem wouldn't have been funny to me."
The Bennys entertain often these days, particularly since they moved into their new house in Holmby Hills. "Everybody wants to see the new house."
He recalled the meals his mother, Emma Kubelsky, used to prepare in Waukegan, his home town. "My mother prepared real Jewish food, gefilte fish and all of those kinds of things. She died when I was about 18. She never lived to see a good thing happen to me. She wanted me to be a musician. My father lived to see me become a radio star. They both would have been very happy to know that I give concerts, even though in a humorous way."
These days Jack practices from one to three hours each day. Does he fiddle in the kitchen, he was asked. "No, I have such a nice large closet for clothes and its acoustically good and large enough to practice in, so my wife can't hear me.
As for cooking, Jack said, "I couldn't prepare a cup of coffee, if you want to know. I never tried in my life. I would have to go into our kitchen and ask our cook, 'Will you show me how to make a cup of coffee, because I might want some tonight when I come home?"' His favorite food is Chinese, he said.
• • •
"OUR COOK hasn't been with us very long. We did have one woman who was great too. She was with us many many years, and then she got pretty old, She lives in Czechoslovakia now. The one we have now is equally good. She can make practically anything you want, nothing is an effort for her.
We could say to her, 'We have about eight people we'd love to have to dinner tonight,' and she'd say, 'Good.'. Nothing bothers her."
One of his favorite foods is steak tartar. "But I only like it when they don't make it too gummy. My wife, Mary, makes it very well," he said.
"New York is probably the best-eating city in the world, if you go to good places. I could name 20, all good."
Asked if there was anything else he'd like to do, the 75-year-old comedian said, "There was for a while, and now I don't think I'd like to do it. I would have liked to have done a real good comedy on Broadway. It would frighten me now to know that I would have to remember all that dialogue." Recipes from the famous fiddler and his wife, Mary, follow:

1 bunch Chinese cabbage
1 10-oz. can bean sprouts
6 spring onions
3 large celery stalks
1 cup green peas (fresh or frozen or 1/2 pkg. frozen Chinese peapods)
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups cooked chicken (or turkey, veal, beef or ham), cut in thin slices
1 teaspoon salt
few gratings freshly ground pepper
2 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon corn starch pinch sugar
1/2 cup clear chicken stock (beef broth or water)
cooked rice (or Chinese noodles)
1. Prepare vegetables as follows: Chop Chinese cabbage coarsely; drain bean sprouts well; rinse well under running water and dry. Chop onions coarsely; cut celery in 14-inch slices diagonally.
2. Saute onion and celery in vegetable oil in Chinese wok (or-heavy skillet) about 2 minutes. Add chicken, salt and pepper. Stir-fry over medium heat, adding vegetables one at a time, set aside.
3. In a small bowl, mix soy sauce with "corn starch, sugar and two tablespoons chicken stock and blend well. Slowly pour thickened soy sauce mixture over vegetables in wok (or skillet). Slowly add remaining chicken stock (beef broth or water). Bring to a quick boil. Cook few minutes, stirring constantly. Serve at once over cooked rice or Chinese noodles. Serves 4.
AFTERTHOUGHTS: Never overcook chop suey. Actual preparation should take no longer than 5-7 minutes. If desired, start with paper-thin sliced raw meat, cooking quickly in vegetable oil until it begins to turn color. Then proceed as directed above, sauteeing vegetables. For a change of pace, vary the vegetables substituting Chinese vegetables, water chestnuts (cut in thin slices) or Chinese mushrooms. Jack's choice is an excellent offering for weight-watchers as well as penny-pinching cooks!

1 lb. top grade beef filet
1/2 cup minced onion
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 or 2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons capers
garnishings: capers, chopped onion, minced fresh parsley
1. Trim off any sinewy material or excess fat. Put meat through meat grinder three times (or have butcher grind meat just before serving).
2. Mix in onion, salt, pepper; shape meat into round or oval 1-inch thick patty. Score the top crosswise with knife. Make indentation in center of meat. Break eggs carefully, discarding whites. Place yokes in indentation in center of meat. Garnish with capers, chopped onion and parsley. At the table, the trimmings are removed and yolks mixed into the meat with additional seasonings added to taste. Serve with butterfried toast rounds and sliced tomatoes. Serves 2.
AFTERTHOUGHTS: For more highly-seasoned tartar; add Worcestershire sauce, bottled Escoffier or A-l sauce. Vary the trimmings, using caviar, lemon wedges and grated hard-cooked egg yolk or thin. sliced salmon and sliced lemon or filets of anchovy, pickles and pickled beet-slices.

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