Cooking with the (Silent) Stars: William Gillette’s Southern Sweet Potatoes

Welcome back! I am cooking my way through the 1929 Photoplay cookbook (recipes of the stars!) and you are invited to tag along. (I have listed all the recipes I have tested on this dedicated page. Check back often.) Today, we will be testing a recipe from an actor who only made one movie but still changed to course of entertainment history.

Continue reading “Cooking with the (Silent) Stars: William Gillette’s Southern Sweet Potatoes”

Cooking with the (Silent) Stars: Norma Talmadge’s Vegetable Salad

Welcome back! I am cooking my way through the 1929 Photoplay cookbook (recipes of the stars!) and you are invited to tag along. (I have listed all the recipes I have tested on this dedicated page. Check back often.) Today, we will be testing a recipe from one of the biggest silent stars whose career has been almost forgotten.

Continue reading “Cooking with the (Silent) Stars: Norma Talmadge’s Vegetable Salad”

Photoplay Cookbook: Gwen Lee’s Potato Omelet

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Welcome back! I am cooking my way through the 1929 Photoplay cookbook (recipes of the stars!) and you are invited to tag along. (I have listed all the recipes I have tested on this dedicated page. Check back often.) Today, we will be testing a recipe from a starlet who supported many famous flappers in her day.

We’ve all heard of “that guy” actors: performers who don’t have name recognition but seem to show up everywhere. In the twenties, Gwen Lee was something of a “that gal” actress. She appeared in support of most of the big names at MGM, from Norma Shearer to Lon Chaney and also stepped out of the MGM ranks to appear alongside famed flappers Clara Bow and Colleen Moore.

gwen-lee

Gwen Lee was born Gwendolyn Lepinski in Nebraska but she was Gwen Lee of Hollywood by the time she was twenty. She specialized in playing world-weary girls, often from the wrong side of the tracks. You can spot her in Lady of the Night, The Plastic Age and Laugh Clown Laugh, just to name a few of her silent supporting roles. Everything seemed ducky and she was named a WAMPAS Baby Star in 1928 but her career never quite ignited.

Lee’s parts got steadily smaller as the thirties wore on but you can still see her in uncredited parts in films like A Night at the Opera and Libeled Lady. Her last credited role was in 1938’s Paroled from the Big House.

So, we know that Miss Lee was a charming actress who never quite cracked the upper ranks but how are her omelet-making skills?

Gwen-Lee-Potato-Omelet

Well, there’s not much that can go wrong with potatoes, eggs and onions. Whether or not this can be considered a proper omelet is another matter. Like the great chili debate (beans? no beans?), I think it is wise that I steer clear of the controversy.

Anyway, here is the result:

Bubble, bubble
Bubble, bubble
It's losing containment!
It’s losing containment!
My omelet broke
My omelet broke
Yes, I do put cheese and ketchup on my eggs. Don't judge.
Yes, I do put cheese and ketchup on my eggs. Don’t judge.

Excuse the paper plates. I have a cold.

The taste test video:

My rating: 3 out of 5. The recipe is easy and the ingredient combination is edible. (If you think that isn’t an accomplishment, you clearly have not seen Joan Crawford’s Banana Salad.) The flavor combination is basic, even simplistic but you can do a lot to juice it up with salsa, hot sauce or ketchup.

The whole thing fell apart even before I attempted to flip it. I think perhaps the potatoes are too heavy for the egg to hold together. This might have been more successful in a tiny pan.

Improve it: I took a peek at potato omelet and modified frittata recipes and discovered a pattern. Many of these recipes fell into two basic categories. The first type was cooked on the stove-top and used a much, much higher proportion of egg to potato, usually at least two to one. The second type used a similar egg-to-potato proportion to Miss Lee’s recipe but baked the concoction in an oven-safe skillet. So, if you decide to make this recipe, use a lot more eggs or opt for baking.

On the other hand, I may just have terrible potato-omelet-flipping skills. Such is life.

Photoplay Cookbook: Lupe Velez’s “Spanish Chowder”

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Welcome back! I am cooking my way through the 1929 Photoplay cookbook (recipes of the stars!) and you are invited to tag along. (I have listed all the recipes I have tested on this dedicated page. Check back often.) Today, we will be testing a recipe from one of the most vibrant personalities of the silent and sound eras.

Lupe Velez’s career has been overshadowed by her tragic death. No one can say for certain why she chose to take her own life and the record has been further muddied by cruel rumors regarding the exact circumstances. I will not dignify them by repeating them here.

Instead, we are going to talk about Velez’s career as one of the hottest starlets of the late silent era and her subsequent rebirth as a comedienne.

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Born in Mexico, Velez got her big break when she was cast as Douglas Fairbanks’ leading lady in The Gaucho. Fairbanks was energetic in the extreme but Velez was more than a match for him. She followed up this success with a loan-out to Cecil B. DeMille’s studio and was cast as Rod La Rocque’s lady love in Stand and Deliver. She also won a part opposite Lon Chaney in Where East is East.

Lady of the Pavements (1929) D.W. Griffith, Lupe Velez, Jetta Goudal, William Boyd
An on-set anecdote.

Velez was the lead in D.W. Griffith’s final silent film, Lady of the Pavements (originally entitled The Love Song), in which she wrested William Boyd from the clutches of Jetta Goudal. The behind-the-scenes story was much more interesting. Griffith liked to dominate and bully his actresses (the better to get them to hop, twirl about and kiss birds) but Velez refused to be dominated. Griffith tried to tire her out but ended up exhausted himself. Hurrah for Lupe! The film was not the blockbuster everyone had hoped it would be but Velez and her singing voice were widely praised.

velez-1

Velez made a successful transition to sound and after a career slump she was back on top with her zany Mexican Spitfire series. She made her final appearance as Carmelita Lindsay in 1943, one year before her death.

Miss Velez was a vibrant talent on the screen but how about her recipe?

Lupe-Velez-Spanish-Chowder

Hmm. It seems that according to Photoplay, Mexico does not exist. All Mexican and Tejano dishes are re-labeled as Spanish and “Spanish” recipes are invented out of whole cloth. I think the latter is true in this case. I am going to take a wild risk and wager that this recipe is 100% American.

Ben-Hur is just a brand name for black pepper. I am not sure why Miss Velez is so specific. The recipes says that the hamburger can be either raw or cooked. I opted for cooked as browning meat before adding it is almost always the right choice. I didn’t have a green pepper so I used a yellow one. They have a nicer flavor anyway.

As promised, the whole thing was ready in just a few minutes. Here’s what it looks like:

lupe-velez-recipe-1lupe-velez-recipe-2lupe-velez-recipe-3lupe-velez-recipe-4

And here is the taste test video:

My rating: 3 out of 5. This recipe is lighting fast but it is also not particularly interesting. It’s not bad, it’s actually pretty tasty. It’s just that you can taste the shortcuts. The vegetables and meat would have tasted much nicer if they had been allowed to simmer together or if more interesting spices were added. Still, if you have sudden company, this recipes uses staples and is not that bad. You could do worse.

Can it be improved? I think some time in the slow cooker could probably do wonders. It would allow the meat to stew in the tomatoes and really pick up some flavor. Adding the peppers near the end would preserve their flavor.

Cooking with the (Silent) Stars: Richard Dix’s “Toad in the Hole”

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Welcome back! I am cooking my way through the 1929 Photoplay cookbook (recipes of the stars!) and you are invited to tag along. (I have listed all the recipes I have tested on this dedicated page. Check back often.) Today, we will be testing a recipe from a versatile leading man.

Think silent leading men were all sheiks, comedians and male flappers? Richard Dix probably is not what you had in mind. With his craggy features and intense stare, he specialized in rugged adventures and dramas. Dix also made the jump to sound, starring in The Whistler movie series.

Richard Dix in all his glory.
Richard Dix in all his glory.

Dix’s silent work was diverse. He played one of the men vying for Eleanor Boardman’s love in Souls for Sale, the good son in the original version of The Ten Commandments and a Navajo man battling racism in the provocatively titled Redskin. As mentioned before, sound and Richard Dix got along just fine. He earned his only Oscar nod for the 1930 western, Cimmaron.

(You can read a lot more about Dix’s diverse career over at Immortal Ephemera, which has one of the largest selections of Dix movie reviews on the web.)

A rare shot of Dix's grin.
A rare shot of Dix’s grin.

So, we know that Mr. Dix could act but could he cook?

Like most of the male stars featured in the cookbook, Mr. Dix chose to stay in the meat category. His recipe is for Toad in the Hole, the English version. (Some parts of America use this name for the dish Eggs in the Basket but the recipes have nothing in common.)

Here is the original recipe:

Richard-Dix-Toad-in-the-Hole

This is where I noticed something odd. Toad in the Hole is generally reckoned to be a sausage dish but here were are with one of the leanest cuts of beef. Further, sausages would add their herbs and spices to the flavor of the dish but this recipe calls for nothing stronger than salt and pepper.

Oh well. Here goes nothing.

Bubble bubble
Bubble bubble
Done!
Done!
On the plate
On the plate
On the plate (slightly different angle)
On the plate (slightly different angle)
Hulk smash!
Hulk smash!

As you can see, this is a very plain dish. Classic Toad in the Hole is served with gravy but this is just plopped onto a plate, per recipe instructions.

So, how was it?

Surprisingly okay.

Here is my taste test video:

My rating: 3 out of 5. It’s basically just the sum of its parts, no more and no less. The biggest sin of the recipe is attempting to cut down on the fat. However, in a dish with limited ingredients, every single one counts and the biggest contributor of flavor in a meat dish is the fat. If Dix had opted for a fattier cut of meat or the traditional sausages, the recipe would have been far more successful. Photoplay’s twee proclamation of “yum, yum” seems a bit overstated.

That being said, if you cook meat, butter and batter in the oven, you are never going to end up with something inedible. That’s just how food works. So even though this recipe is as bland as they come, it is still not terrible and, anyway, isn’t this what the salt shaker was invented for?

Can it be improved: Yes. Either using a fattier beef cut or the traditional sausages would improve matters greatly. More spice and an onion gravy would take this into the realm of true comfort food. A vegetarian option could easily be obtained by substituting mushrooms for the beef and bumping up the fat content (either with butter or olive oil) to compensate. Alternately, soy sausage could be used but be sure to really oil the pan. Those little suckers are sticky!

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Photoplay Cookbook: Constance Talmadge’s Grape Nut Pudding

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Welcome back! I am cooking my way through the 1929 Photoplay cookbook (recipes of the stars!) and you are invited to tag along. (I have listed all the recipes I have tested on this dedicated page. Check back often.) Today, we will be testing a recipe from one of the major stars of the silent era and one half of the “other” acting sisters duo.

Constance and Norma. Constance is on the right.
Constance and Norma. Constance is on the right.

Constance Talmadge’s career is usually summed up as follows: While her sister, Norma, focused on dramas, Constance Talmadge was known for her light comedies. Of course, this doesn’t take into account that Norma did dabble in comedy and Constance’s most famous role, the Mountain Girl in Intolerance, was tragic in the extreme.

Constance reigns.
Constance reigns.

Constance specialized in romantic comedies, some of them co-starring a guy named Ronald Colman. Of all the major silent stars, the Talmadge’s are among the most forgotten. It is ironic that Natalie, the least famous sister in the silent era, is now the most viewed and discussed of the three due to her marriage to Buster Keaton and her starring role in one of his films.

Constance could do comedy but could she do dessert? That’s what we are going to find out.

CAR-N985

The curiously-named Grape Nut Pudding is just that. You make a pudding out of Grape Nuts cereal. If you are unfamiliar with it, it is basically hard little beads of whole wheat. It contains neither grapes nor nuts. It’s one of the oldest cold cereals on the market. I like whole grain cereals but this one looks and tastes like a building material.

Constance-Talmadge-Grape-Nut-Pudding

The recipe calls for you to soak the cereal in boiling water for quite a stretch. Either I mis-measured or too much water is called for because the resulting mush seemed entirely to wet. In any case, it took almost four times the allotted baking time. The edges crisped but the center remained raw and un-pudding-like. I kept stirring the cooked portion back in. Finally, it started to resemble a moist bread pudding.

Here it is plain. Didn’t look too promising but smelled good.

constance-talmadge-grape-nut-pudding2

And here it is with the whipped cream. A big improvement. Whipped cream makes most desserts better.

Big improvement.
Big improvement.

And here is the taste test video:

(Excuse any quality issues. It was late and I was tired.)

My rating: 3 out of 5. The pudding tasted like bread pudding made from very wheaty bread. In fact, it tasted so much like bread pudding that I failed to see the point in making it. Why take the extra step of soaking the cereal when I can just slice up a loaf and make a pudding that is just as good? Photoplay describes that as a “pantry” recipe, that is, a recipe you can make with ingredients found in any kitchen. Well, as I do not much care for Grape Nuts, I think I am not the intended audience for this.

If you love both bread pudding and Grape Nuts, I can see giving this a try. It’s tasty enough and the classic pudding spices are excellent. It just seemed like it was a lot more work than it should have been.

Make this instead: Your favorite bread pudding recipe.

Photoplay Cookbook: Pauline Starke’s “Pepper Eggs”

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Welcome back! I am cooking my way through the 1929 Photoplay cookbook (recipes of the stars!) and you are invited to tag along. (I have listed all the recipes I have tested on this dedicated page. Check back often.) Today, we will be testing a recipe from a relatively minor silent star who nevertheless enjoyed excellent company in her filmography.

Pauline Starke in a very perky hat.
Pauline Starke in a very perky hat.

Pauline Starke’s movie career started when she was just a teen. Supposedly, she was one of the many, many dance extras in Intolerance. (I always take those claims with a grain of salt. For a while, everyone in Hollywood claimed to have been discovered by D.W. Griffith.) Starke is probably best remembered for two films that bookended her silent career. She had a supporting role in Eyes of Youth, a 1919 Clara Kimball Young vehicle that also featured Milton Sills. It was one of the few times he would play an unrepentant jerk. Of course, Starke, Sills and Young were all overshadowed by a certain young Italian actor, who stole the show as a smooth gigolo.

The other famous Starke title is the 1928 MGM color film, The Viking. It was about vikings.

Starke carried on in sound films in progressively smaller roles (a familiar story for mid-level silent performers) and made her last screen appearance in 1943.

For her recipe, Miss Starke chose to go for a breakfast/brunch/luncheon dish. The name is not promising, you must agree.

Pauline-Starke-Pepper-Eggs

I followed the recipe exactly with one exception: I substituted a yellow bell pepper for a green one. I prefer yellow, orange or red to the green, especially in cooking. For toast, I used some whole grain honey wheat bread. This had less to do with taste and more to do with the fact that I forgot to buy sourdough or potato bread, either of which would have probably worked better. (White breads generally work better as the toast for this sort of recipe, at least in my experience.)

The recipe was extremely easy and fast. The pepper, catsup and cheese did not look very pretty but they smelled promising as they cooked. Once added, the eggs scrambled up nicely and had a fluffy texture. Onto the toast they went. Here is the result:

The whole shebang.
The whole shebang.
Up close.
Up close.
An unpromising beginning.
An unpromising beginning.
But it smelled yummy...
But it smelled yummy…

And here is the taste test video:

My rating: 3 out of 5. While it’s not exactly gourmet dining (despite what the recipe description may say) Miss Starke’s recipe is fast, tasty and filling. It’s a nice little lacto-ovo vegetarian breakfast dish (a meal that tends to be quite meat-centric if you don’t count pancakes) and is a great way to use leftover bits of vegetable. I could definitely see myself making this again.

Variations: The addition of some finely chopped onions would add a bit of zing, as would some jalapenos, if you like that sort of thing. If you have hardcore carnivores about, some shredded ham or diced bacon would probably be a welcome addition. I would suggest draining any fatty meats before adding them in.

Photoplay Cookbook: Frances Marion’s “Tomato Nut Salad”

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Welcome back! I am cooking my way through the 1929 Photoplay cookbook (recipes of the stars!) and you are invited to tag along. (I have listed all the recipes I have tested on this dedicated page. Check back often.) Today, we are going to be trying out a recipe from pioneering screenwriter and director Frances Marion.

marion 2

Marion may be well-remembered today for her witty scripts (Dinner at Eight, for example) but she also tried her hand at directing. Getting conked on the head with a light on the set of Song of Love turned her off to the idea of holding the megaphone (not sure I blame her) but she continued her wildly successful writing career for many years after.

I have to give Marion credit. You have to respect her for absolutely not taking her cookbook assignment seriously. She’s a busy woman! She’s churning out scripts in both quantity and quality and now they want a recipe too? Okay, buddy, here’s your recipe. Tomato Nut Salad. You take tomatoes. You take nuts. You have a salad.

I can respect this. But let’s see how good the recipe is.

The original recipe:

Frances-Marion-Tomato-Salad

“Sour cream dressing can also be used for other kinds of salads.” Really? This exotic “sour” cream has other uses? I am so happy they told me this, I never would have figured it out on my own.

I did not make my own sour cream. Out of respect for Frances Marion’s legacy of laziness (in the best way possible) I just went to the dairy case and bought the stuff ready-made. Ha! Take that, Photoplay! I also did not garnish it with parsley because I forgot. I used good cherry tomatoes as the larger varieties looked vaguely anemic. I sliced them in half as I did not relish the idea of chasing rolling little spheres around a plate with my fork.

It came out looking pretty nice, I must say.

frances-marion-tomato-nut-salad3

frances-marion-tomato-nut-salad2

frances-marion-tomato-nut-salad1

Here is my taste test video:

My Rating: 3 out of 5. With such a simple recipe, it all comes down to your ingredients. Good tomatoes and fresh walnuts? It should be okay.  I have to say, though, I did not really care for the tomato-walnut combination. I didn’t hate it, it just wasn’t a pairing I ever would have made on my own. I think the astringent quality of the walnuts fights with the acid of the tomatoes.

This recipe garners a solid so-so from me. It’s not amazing in a bad or good way. Just okay.

Can it be improved? Yes! I substituted a Pink Lady apple for the tomato and thought it was absolutely killer. Kind of a deconstructed Waldorf Salad. I have actually been eating this for breakfast lately. Any crunchy, tangy apple will do. I can see it working with Fuji, Jazz, Honeycrisp or any other tasty little apple the stores might carry. This would have been a 5 star recipe if Marion had called for an apple.

I love tomatoes (they are my favorite produce-of-questionable-botanical-category-due-to-old-tariff-laws) but this recipe was made for apples.

Variations: If you or someone you want to prepare vintage salads for are unable to eat dairy, you can try this recipe with vegan sour cream. (This recipe contains soy. Just saying.)

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