I don’t know if I’ve mentioned before that, if you’re setting out to curate your own cookbook collection, it is incredibly economical to collect Junior League cookbooks. I’ve never paid more than $20 for a used copy, including some rather old ones, and most I’m able to get in good condition for less than $10 (and that’s with shipping). And while I avoid copies that have, you know, visible food stains on them, I love to get a Junior League cookbook that someone has written in. One of my best finds was my copy of Women of Great Taste from the Junior League of Wichita, where the previous owner had written a one-word review of at least half the recipes. That saved me a lot of time.
This week’s cookbook, the excellently titled Cordonbluegrass, from the Junior League of Louisville (1988) was a bargain, and nearly in mint condition. It includes a selection of classic and elegant southern fare, as well as an array of hearty dishes and potent potables suitable for Derby Day entertaining. So treat yourself to a nice fifth of Kentucky bourbon (may I suggest Woodford Reserve?), and dive in.
To greet the day, I whipped up a batch of cheese grits from the Derby Menus section of Cordonbluegrass:
Derby Cheese Grits
1 cup quick grits
4 cups boiling water
1 t. salt
1/4 pound butter
6 ounce roll garlic cheese (NOTE FROM MARY: I used Boursin Garlic with Fine Herbs, which comes in a 5.2 ounce package, but close enough for our purposes)
3/4 cup milk
dash cayenne pepper
1 cup grated sharp cheese
Cook grits in boiling salted water until thick. Remove from heat. Stir in butter and cheese until melted. Mix egg, milk and pepper, then add to grits. Pour into buttered 2 quart casserole. Top with cheese. Bake 1 hour at 350 degrees.
Preparation time: 15 minutes + baking
Yield: 6 servings (NOTE FROM MARY: If they are lumberjacks.)
A classic from The Cooking Book (the Junior League of Kentucky’s first cookbook, published in the 1970s).
While these are a little different than some other cheese grits I’ve prepared in the past, to paraphrase Vincent Vega, “Cheese tastes good. Grits taste good.” It’s a surefire winner. However, the copious amounts of butter, plus the garlic cheese melted right into the grits yields a particularly creamy cheese grits casserole. It’s bad for you, but it’s worth it.
In as many cases as possible, I’ve tried to cook the most regionally distinctive recipes in each Junior League cookbook I’ve come across. This one is not particularly native to Kentucky, but when the cookbook draws its name from a single recipe, I figure I had better at least make that recipe.
4 whole chicken breasts, skinned, boned, and split
4 slices Swiss cheese
4 slices country ham
2 T. olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 T. butter
1-1 1/2 cups dry white wine
chopped parsley for garnish
Pound breasts until thin (NOTE FROM MARY: the chicken’s, not your own). Roll 1/2 slice cheese in 1/2 slice ham. Place a roll in each chicken breast; fold over and secure with a toothpick. Bring almost to room temperature before cooking. Saute breasts in olive oil with garlic and butter. When cheese begins to melt from the center, add wine and simmer until done (about 30 minutes). Garnish with parsley before serving.
Preparation time: 15 minutes + cooking
Yield: 8 servings
A classic from The Cooking Book. Double the recipe and freeze half for a busy day.
So, as it turns out, it is really hard to pound a chicken breast thin without just tearing it all to hell. I made a bad job of it, and didn’t get my chicken breasts as thin as they needed to be. In some recipes for this dish, you roll the chicken, ham, and cheese up together, bread it, bread it, saute it, then bake it, so this one was a little different. Reviews on this dish were mixed. Brady liked it a lot, while I thought it palatable, but not great. However, I will say that the bites with lots of ham and cheese in them were quite good.
Finally, I felt I needed to end the meal with a boozy dessert. I was torn between the Bourbon Apple Pie and the Bread Pudding with Bourbon Sauce, but Brady was subject to no such internal conflict:
“Ooo! THAT one!”
So, I obliged.
Bread Pudding with Bourbon Sauce
12 slices day old bread
1 quart milk
2 cups sugar
2 T. vanilla
1/8 t. cinnamon
1/8 t. nutmeg
1/4 cup raisins, soaked in 2 T. bourbon
2 T. butter, melted
1 stick butter
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1/3 cup bourbon
Pudding: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Break up bread; put in large bowl. Add milk and soak 5 minutes. Beat eggs, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg; stir in raisins. Add to bread. Pour melted butter into a 2 1/2 quart baking dish. Add bread mixture. Bake for 1 hour.
Sauce: Melt butter in saucepan. Add sugar and water. Cook on medium heat for 5 minutes. Beat egg in separate bowl. Gradually add butter mixture to egg, stirring constantly. Slowly add bourbon while stirring.
To serve: Fill individual bowls with bread pudding and top with bourbon sauce.
Preparation time: 20 minutes + baking
Yield: 4-6 servings (NOTE FROM MARY: If they are lumberjacks.)
Serve this dessert on a cold winter night for a warm and cozy feeling!
— Peg Chumley
This bread pudding was the belle of the ball, and did indeed give us a warm and cozy feeling. It is delicious, the bourbon-soaked raisins are plump and tender, and the sauce is potent but smooth. The only tricky part is adding the butter mixture to the raw egg, as your egg might try to cook. It’s not a bad idea to let the hot mixture sit for a minute or two before stirring it in; however, if you do wind up with a few cooked egg bits in your sauce, never fear. It doesn’t taste the slightest bit eggey. As for the bourbon, it isn’t cooked at all, so perhaps not a good choice for a children’s party.
All in all, a quick and easy, yet tasty menu from the Junior League of Louisville. I was going to head for West Virginia next week, but some of the truly tasty recipes require extra prep time… like, a few weeks extra prep time. So I may have to look elsewhere first while I string green beans on twine and set them out to dry, and find a store that stocks compressed yeast and root beer extract.
In the meantime, Brady and I did a test run on home-brewed ginger ale, and it is both easy and delicious.