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

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)
1 egg
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.

Chicken CordonBluegrass

Chicken CordonBluegrass

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

Pudding:

Bread Pudding with Bourbon Sauce

12 slices day old bread
1 quart milk
6 eggs
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

Sauce:

1 stick butter
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1 egg
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.

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While the Blueberries Bryan I made earlier this week makes an excellent breakfast or brunch, the other three brunch recipes I made from the Junior League of Las Vegas‘s Glitter to Gourmet are perhaps too savory – or too boozy – to be suitable for breakfast.  Happily, they are just fine any other time of day, as long as it’s after noon (or as long as it’s noon somewhere).

This batch of recipes could have been better, had I not been thwarted at the grocery store.  For each recipe, I was denied one crucial ingredient or utensil that would have made all the difference (or so I tell myself).

Italian Corn Muffins

Italian Corn Muffins

Italian Corn Muffins

1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 plum tomatoes, seeded, chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh oregano or basil
1 cup milk
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 egg, lightly beaten
12 (3/4-inch) cubes mozzarella cheese

Combine the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Add the tomatoes and oregano and toss to mix. Mix the milk, olive oil and egg in a medium bowl. Add to the flour mixture stirring just until moistened.

Spoon half the batter into nonstick muffin cups. Top each with 1 cheese cube. Cover with the remaining batter. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes or until the muffins test done. Let stand for 5 minutes. Serve warm.

Yield: 1 dozen

When I came upon this recipe in Glitter to Gourmet, I thought, “What a brilliant idea!” and was surprised that I hadn’t seen it anywhere else before.  What’s not to like about a tomato and herb corn muffin stuffed with cheese?  And no, it’s not as heavy as it sounds.  I would suggest adding a tad more salt than the recipe calls for, but otherwise, I wouldn’t change a thing.  I made this batch with fresh basil because the grocery store was out of fresh oregano, but I suspect the latter would have a more intense flavor.  Oh well, next time… and there will be a next time.

You’ll know what’s missing from this next recipe the second you see the picture. And no, it’s not the asparagus (it’s hiding under the egg and cheese).

Asparagus Tart

Asparagus Tart

Asparagus Tart

1 tablespoon flour
1 unbaked (10-inch) pie pastry
14 ounces asparagus, cut into 3-inch spears
Salt to taste
2/3 cup half-and-half
2 eggs
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon, or 1 teaspoon dried tarragon
1/2 teaspoon salt
Pepper to taste

Rub the flour over 1 side of the pie pastry. Arrange the pastry floured side down in a 9-inch tart pan. Press the dough into the pan. Fold the excess dough at the top over 2 times to form a thick edge. Prick the bottom and side with a fork. Bake at 450 degrees for 15 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.

Cook the asparagus in boiling salted water in a saucepan for 4 minutes or until tender-crisp. Drain and pat dry. Arrange the spears in spoke-fashion on the bottom of the baked crust, with the tips at the outside.

Beat the half-and-half, eggs, Parmesan cheese, tarragon, 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper in a bowl. Pour over the asparagus. Bake at 375 degrees for 35 minutes or until puffed and golden brown. Place on a wire rack to cool slightly and set. Serve warm.

Yield:  4 servings

Yeah, that’s a pretty awful-looking crust.  And no, I do not have a tart pan.  I tried to improvise by folding the pie crust down to about 2/3 of the way up the side of a pie pan.  This might be an acceptable fix, but I folded over too much excess dough, and would up with an edge that was just way too thick.

Now, aside from the edge of the crust, the rest of the asparagus tart tasted quite good.  The egg and Parmesan mixture is fluffy and creamy, the asparagus firm and tender, and the tarragon adds a nice anise-y note.  But since I can usually crank out a good pie crust in a few minutes (and am perhaps a little excessively proud of it), I was appropriately shamed by my tart’s clumsy appearance.

And for a light summer dessert with a little kick (kick optional), I made this.  Because, as it’s well known, brunch comes with a slice of cantaloupe at the end.

Melon in Rum Lime Sauce

Melon in Rum Lime Sauce

Melon in Rum Lime Sauce

1 cantaloupe
1 small honeydew melon
1/8 of a small watermelon
1 cup fresh blueberries
2/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
1 teaspoon grated lime peel
6 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/2 cup light rum (optional)

Shape all the melons into balls using a melon ball scoop. Place in a bowl and add the blueberries. Cover and chill. Mix the sugar and water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 4 minutes. Stir in the lime peel, lime juice and rum. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly.

Pour the rum mixture over the chilled fruit and stir gently to mix. Cover and chill for several hours. Spoon into sherbet glasses and garnish with mint sprigs. Add a splash of rum.

Note:  This makes a refreshing, light dessert or first course.

Yield:  10 to 12 servings

Remember in college when somebody would get the brilliant idea to shove a bottle of vodka into a watermelon and bring it to a picnic?  This is a far more refined, grown-up approach to that general idea, using, you know, an appropriate amount of alcohol.

It’s yummy, refreshing, and would have been even better had my grocery store not failed me yet again by being out of blueberries.  I was annoyed, as they’d had them stocked not two days before.  But alas, I made do with red grapes.

And there ends this week’s salute to brunch with the Junior League of Las Vegas.  Next week, I’ll be cooking a meal from the Junior League of Phoenix’s lovely Pomegranates and Prickly Pears, but until then, I leave you with this strange relic from Vegas history.  The city’s marketing campaign used to be, well… different.

lasvegasbrochure