Two of my favorite decorating books
were published in the mid sixties by
Dorothy Rodgers. Wife of composer
Richard Rodgers (Rodgers & Hart -
Rodgers & Hammerstein) she was a
hobby interior decorator and at least
in her circle, an arbiter of taste. Her
initial tome "A Few of My Favorite
Things" advised one on how to live
in good taste. Her next, "The House
In My Head" recounted the saga of
building her dream home. One thing
is certain, Dorothy was quite the lady.
Ever the devoted spouse, Dorothy did
everything perfectly and tried to make
her husband happy even as he erred out
of sight. Yet it isn't her classic approach
to modernity that still appeals. Rather
it's her recipes buried in the back of her
books. During the Second World War
servant shortage, Dorothy took cooking
lessons from the famous Dione Lucas.
From then on she herself cooked up a
storm which explains why her menus
often include dishes easily served out
of a chafing dish from off a sideboard.
Easy does it
Even today her entertaining advice
makes sense. Days before, she (or
her staff) carefully prepared dishes
that could be reheated and served
sans any last minute fuss. Whereas
today it's fashionable to watch one's
host toil over an open kitchen hot
stove. Depending on who you are,
I don't mind sitting at your kitchen
island and nibbling upon your nuts.
However I prefer to not watch that
stack of dirty dishes grow as dinner
progresses. Is there an easier way?
In my opinion much of the graciousness
in life has all but disappeared. Divas like
Dorothy knew how to entertain subtly
and graciously. Even glamor girls such
as the Duchess of Windsor cooked for
their guests. A native of Baltimore, her
signature dish "Chicken Maryland" -
fried chicken drowned in white skillet
gravy with giblets. All of which happily
sat in a warming pan until dinner was
served. When the time came, a relaxed
Wallis regally sat and watched as you
ravenously nibbled upon her thighs.
I haven't been brave enough to try most
of Dorothy's recipes. Somehow Boeuf
a la Mode with Aspic Trick intimidates.
However amongst such French finery
lurks comfort food that those who dine
regularly at my table seem to enjoy. My
culinary repertoire is more than simple
yet hopefully easy. Hence just like Dot
I frequently serve Pot Roast, Meat Loaf,
Shepherd's Pie, Chicken Pot Pie, or just
about anything that's been braised for
hours. Oh and of course, often a soup
course, salad, dessert, AND WINE!
While most of us certainly don't want
to return to days of yore, we can make
our lives a bit easier. Inspired by such
ladies of leisure, why shouldn't we all
steal some of those old tricks they kept
up their Balenciaga swathed sleeves?
Entertaining properly always requires
more than a bit of extra effort. But the
secret to a spectacular dinner party is
making it all seem like pampering one's
guests requires absolutely NO effort at
all. So the next time your guests arrive,
be prepared, sit back, and ENJOY!
Wallis Simpson's Chicken Maryland
1 young chicken (about 3 pounds)
1 cup flour
3 tablespoons fat (preferably rendered chicken fat)
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup whipping cream
1 cup broth (from giblets)
Salt & pepper to taste
market, with wings, breast (cut in
half), back, thighs, and drumsticks
separated. Rub salt generously into
raw meat; roll pieces in flour.
Put chicken pieces in iron skillet
in hot fat. Add butter. Cover and
cook on hour, turning frequently
to brown slow on all sides.
When browned, add 2 tablespoons
water and place covered skillet in
oven. Bake at 300 degrees for 30
minutes or until chicken is tender.
pour off all but 2 tablespoons of drippings.
Stir in 2 tablespoons of flour.
Add cream, broth, salt and pepper to taste.
Stir constantly over low heat until thickened.
Add chopped giblets if desired.
Place chicken in silver chafing dish or casserole.
Generously cover with gravy.
Garnish with red pimento or light sprinkling of chopped parsley.
Makes 4 servings.
Dorothy Rodgers Hungarian Beef Stew
5 medium onions, chopped
4 tablespoons butter
2 pounds beef chuck, cut in 1/2 inch squares
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon marjoram
3 shallots finely chopped
3/4 cup white wine
1/4 pound sliced bacon
2 cups sour cream
Add chuck, salt, marjoram,
pepper, and shallots.
Stir in white wine and cover.
Simmer slowly for 45 minutes
or until meat is almost tender.
In a separate frying pan brown bacon.
Drain, break into pieces, add to meat.
Stir in sour cream.
Cover and simmer 30 more minutes.
Place in chafing dish.
Will only get better as it sits.
Serve atop al dente fettuccine.
Makes 6-8 servings