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Best from Helen Corbitt's Kitchens

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Helen Corbitt is to American cuisine what Julia Child is to French. Stanley Marcus declared Helen Corbitt "the Balenciaga of Food." Earl Wilson described her simply as "the best cook in Texas." Lyndon B. Johnson loved her stroganoff and wished she would accompany him--and Lady Bird--to the White House to run the dining room. As Director of Food Services for Neiman Marcus, she traveled widely, bringing recipes back to tantalize Texans’ tastebuds. She dazzled celebrities and dignitaries who flocked to the famed Zodiac Room at Neiman Marcus for delicious cuisine. The Best from Helen Corbitt's Kitchen selects more than five hundred recipes from her cookbooks as well as including previously unpublished recipes from her cooking school.

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Helen Corbitt ’s Story


Helen Corbitt’s Story


ith little more than soufflés and sass, Helen Corbitt became a food legend. This brash transplanted Yankee firebrand waged her own revolution on the naive palates of hungry Texans.

She once claimed to have brought elegance to the Lone Star State, an imagined slur that caused the Texas food writers to rise up in wrath. “I couldn’t believe the food they were eating,” she said about her early days in Texas. “Chicken fried steak, I couldn’t eat one yet. Everything overcooked, salads over-dressed.”1 Inevitably, her innovations came to define our culinary standards and this outlander, hatched in the northern woods, was eventually named one of the ten most influential women in Texas.

Stanley Marcus, scion of the famous Dallas mercantile family and a renowned taste-maker himself, declared Helen “the Balenciaga of Food,”2 referring to the great post-war Spanish fashion designer known for classic lines and elegance. Earl Wilson described her simply as “the best cook in Texas.”3 She was the 1968 recipient of the solid gold Escoffier plaque from the Confrérie de la Chaîne des Rôtisseurs, the world’s oldest gourmet society, founded in 1248. It is unclear how she managed to keep their requisite ancient vow “never to desecrate a roast by cooking it in any other way than on a turning spit.”4 She was also an honorary member of the exclusive gourmet society Confrérie des Chevaliers du







The cocktail party has become the American way of turning everyone into a “Blithe Spirit.” How we do it depends entirely on the host—or hostess. Informality is its purpose, as munching on such oddments before or in place of a meal should keep conversation on the lighter and brighter things of the day.

Where to serve? Anywhere—the living room, the back porch, the kitchen; anywhere your guests or family choose to light.

If you are interested in its family tree, go to the Russian Zakouska.

Being a hearty race, before dinner the Russians gather around a sideboard in a room adjoining the dining room and partake of all kinds of special pastries, smoked fish and such, with much conversation and strong drink. The French Hors d’oeuvre, the Scandinavian

Smörgåsbord, the Italian Antipasto, all are offshoots of the Zakouska.

. . . I like to keep [the cocktail tidbit] as uncomplicated in flavor as possible, freshly made, cold and crisp—or hot—as the case may be. . . .

These few ideas, I think, will answer for all kinds of tastes, for the hostess who has time, or not much time; an unlimited budget, or just a few spare dimes. I think you should let guests pile as high and wide as they like, so very few of these ideas are to be spread on silly little squares of this and that by the hostess beforehand.







For 20

⅔ cup cocoa

¾ cup sugar

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup water

3 quarts scalded milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup cream, whipped

[Ground cinnamon (optional)]

Mix cocoa, sugar, salt and water. Add to the scalded milk and beat with a rotary or wire whip. Return to heat and bring to a boil.

Remove; add vanilla and pour into warm cups. Put a teaspoon of whipped cream on top. A touch of cinnamon in the cream for grownups who indulge.

Eggnog is as personal as you make it. This one is mine. I remember the first time I made it, for the Houston Country Club Woman’s Golf

Association Christmas party. They were sure a Yankee couldn’t, but afterwards this recipe was always used.


For 30

24 eggs, separated

2 cups sugar

1 quart bourbon

1 pint brandy

1 quart heavy cream

2 quarts milk

1 quart vanilla ice cream


Beat the egg yolks and sugar until thick. Add the bourbon and brandy and stir thoroughly. . . . Add the cream and milk and continue whipping. Break up the ice cream and add. Beat the egg whites until stiff and fold in. Refrigerate if possible for 30 minutes before serving.


Soups and Stews



The Best From Helen Corbitt’s Kitchens


A demitasse cup of this flavorful steaming broth was served to every diner in the Zodiac Room. It put the customers in the right frame of mind and quickly became our trademark. The broth was prepared when we simmered hens as a first step to other preparations.

[“Another Corbitt item was her absolute insistence that every lunch or dinner begin with a cup of steaming hot chicken broth, and woe to the person who did not relish and consume his chicken soup. Such a person absolutely did not belong in the Zodiac level of society.”

—Evelyn Oppenheimer, an old friend of Corbitt’s and, as a great supporter of letters, one for whom the University of North Texas

Press’ book series is named. She was delighted to learn that Corbitt’s book would be the first book in the Evelyn Oppenheimer Series.]

[For complete directions, see page 128; proceed to the point where you remove the chicken, strain the broth and serve.—Editor]

For a clearer broth, break two eggs into the pot of broth. Bring to a fast boil. Set aside until eggs float to the top. Strain through a fine sieve or through cheese cloth.





The Best From Helen Corbitt’s Kitchens

allow it to come to room temperature—about 1 to 3 hours—before shaping. Then let the shaped dough rise again before baking at the required time and temperature.

When baking bread, if you like a hard crust, set a pan of warm water in the bottom of the oven while baking, and brush the crust when partially baked with ½ cup of water mixed with 1 teaspoon of salt. For a soft crust, brush with melted butter before and after baking.

[A loaf of yeast bread is done when it slides easily from the pan and gives off a hollow sound when you thump the bottom. For information about flour, see Preface, page xiii.—Editor]


Reader’s Request


2 1-pound loaves or 1 2-pound loaf

5½ to 6 cups flour [divided use]

2 packages dry yeast

1 cup milk

1 cup water

2 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons oil

2 teaspoons salt


Stir together 2 cups flour and yeast. Heat milk, water, sugar, 2 tablespoons oil and salt over low heat until warm (120° to 130°). Add liquid ingredients to flour-yeast mixture and beat until smooth, about





The Best From Helen Corbitt’s Kitchens


[All-purpose flour should be used in all these quick bread recipes except crêpes. See page xiii for further information.—Editor]

Reader’s Request


10 to 12

1 cup sifted all-purpose flour

¼ teaspoon salt

2 eggs

⅞ cup milk [1 cup less 2 tablespoons]

1 tablespoon melted butter

[Preheat oven to 450°.] Heavily butter muffin tins or custard cups and put in the oven to get hot. Mix the flour and salt. Beat eggs until light, add milk and butter and add slowly to the flour. Stir until well blended. Beat 2 minutes with rotary beater if by hand, or 1 minute with an electric beater. Fill the cups one-third full. Bake 20 minutes, then reduce heat to 350º and bake 15 minutes more. Don’t peek!

Serve hot with marmalade.

A standard muffin recipe serves the same purpose as your basic roll or biscuit recipes.


12 medium or 24 minis

2 cups sifted flour

4 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons sugar

2 eggs, well beaten

1 cup milk


Salads and Dressings



Salads and Dressings

A few things to remember:

Before unmolding, moisten both the plate and the molded salad with wet fingers. The moist surfaces make it easy to slide the mold into the center of the plate after unmolding.

To unmold salads quickly, dip the molds in hot water, then loosen sides with a silver knife. Tap it with your hand and the salad will come out easily.

Remember that everything shows in a molded salad, so when adding fruit, bear in mind that:

These Fruits Sink: Canned apricots, Royal Anne cherries, canned peaches and pears, whole strawberries, prunes and plums, fresh orange sections, grapes.

These Fruits Float: Fresh apple cubes, banana slices, grapefruit sections, fresh peach or pear slices, raspberries, strawberry halves, marshmallows, broken nutmeats.

Jello and gelatin are not the same, so watch your recipes and use whichever is called for.

Add whatever you are adding to the gelatin mix ONLY when the mixture is thoroughly chilled or even partly congealed. If you are making a pattern, allow a thin layer of gelatin to “set” before you begin.


Poultry and Stuffings



The Best From Helen Corbitt’s Kitchens

To cook a chicken (or turkey) to use either for fricasseeing or for salads, creaming, and such, you must remember to cook at low heat. A good rule to follow for:









4½- to 5-pound fowl, whole or cut up quart hot water piece celery slice of onion sprig of parsley whole carrot tablespoon salt

Clean the fowl and place in a kettle; add the hot water and other ingredients, bring to boiling point, cover tightly and let simmer over low heat until tender, about 1 ½ to 2½ hours, depending on the age of the fowl. Anyhow, cook it until it is tender, and all the time at low heat; turning up the gas won’t help. Let the meat of the chicken cool in the liquid. And when you remove the bird, use the stock left (you should have at least 2 cups) for Fricassee or for soup.

Fricassee Sauce for chicken is so easy; why do so many people try to make it difficult?


For 4

3 tablespoons butter

4 tablespoons flour

2 cups chicken stock

½ cup cream (you may omit and use ½ cup more of the chicken stock)







Previously Unpublished

[After you’ve cut beef tournedos or filet mignons from the larger part of a beef tender, what can you do with the smaller end?] At the Zodiac

Room this dish was prepared and served in individual small sauté pans.


For 4

Cut 1 pound of 1-inch cubes from the small end of a beef tenderloin and flatten each with the heel of your hand.

½ cup flour

1 tablespoon paprika

1 tablespoon butter

¾ teaspoon salt

¼ cup brandy

1 cup heavy cream

Lightly dredge the meat in a mixture of flour and paprika. Melt butter in a sauté pan and quickly sear the meat. Remove the grenadins to a warm platter and sprinkle with salt. Add brandy to the skillet, allowing it to warm, and then light it to burn off the raw alcohol taste.

Scrape the browned bits from the bottom and sides of the pan as you add the cream. Continue cooking over medium heat until it reduces to a rich smooth sauce, but do not boil. Return the grenadins to the sauce to reheat for a moment and serve with boiled noodles or rice.






off all excess flour. Heat the butter and oil and sauté the veal about 5 minutes over medium heat, turning the meat only once. If skillet is not large enough, as soon as first slices are done, pile on a plate and keep warm. Then return all veal to the skillet, add the chicken broth.

Simmer until the liquid is reduced by one-half. Add the lemon juice and the thin slices of lemon. Heat only until lemons are hot. Correct seasonings. Add parsley at the last minute. Serve with the sauce poured over and garnish with the hot lemon slices.

Reader’s Request

One gets a feeling the French see Americans coming and say, “Give them the sauce.” However, the French sauces are delicious, and all generously doused with wine. I must say I think veal dishes are better with a spot of wine added.


For 6 or 8

1 teaspoon sugar

¼ cup thinly sliced onion

3 pounds lean veal stew meat

1½ cups chicken stock or water

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons flour

½ cup dry white wine

½ cup whipping cream

Salt and white pepper





The Best From Helen Corbitt’s Kitchens


The “little pig who goes to market” saw America first some 400 years ago with the Spanish explorer, De Soto. Since then there has been more controversy over how to cook it; when, or IF you should eat it, than time allows to tell. By all means eat it.


For 10 or 12

5 pound boneless pork loin

2 cups dry white wine

Fresh thyme, rosemary and tarragon

2 tablespoons salt

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

4 tablespoons brown sugar

Garlic clove, crushed

Celery stalk, sliced



Marinate a boned pork loin in wine mixed with fresh herbs overnight in the refrigerator. I like a bit of thyme, rosemary and tarragon.

Remove the herbs, save marinade. [Preheat oven to 450º.] Rub pork on either side with salt, mustard, brown sugar. Place in roasting pan with garlic, and celery, onion, carrot. Bake covered for 30 minutes.

Remove cover, baste with marinade, reduce heat to 350°. Roast uncovered, basting frequently, about 2 hours [or until meat thermometer shows 160° internal temperature]. Remove meat and pour off excess fat. Add:







Spring Lamb is an overworked expression, but if it makes everyone feel better, more power to the lamb. However, facts about lamb are good to know. The meat from lambs three to five months old is known as

“spring lamb,” and is in season from April through June. Because of the preference for the taste of lamb, rather than mutton, most of the sheep are killed before they are a year old, as the younger the animal, the more delicate the flavor. The flesh of both lamb and mutton should be fine-grained and smooth, the color of lamb should be deep pink, and of mutton a dark red. The fat of lamb should be white and firm, and of mutton the fat is pink and really hard. Lamb for the most part is cooked well done except for lamb chops, which are better if broiled until medium done. Of course, some strange characters like me like them burnt rare—burned black on the outside and rare on the inside.

When you feel adventurous sometime, try them.

My favorite lamb dish is


Have the butcher cut lamb chops thick—at least 2 inches. Split the lean part of the meat in half, cutting to the bone. [For each chop you will need]:


Fish and Seafood


Fish and Seafood


Fish and Seafood

I like fish. But when I suggest fish to housewives as a way to add variety to their menus, I usually am met with “I hate fish!” The Dutch theologian, Erasmus, said of fish on Fridays, “My heart is Catholic; my stomach is Lutheran.”

Delectable fish dishes can be served from the . . . kitchen—if the desire is great enough. But fish should be treated with respect; never overcooked, and always eaten when ready. It is not a “keep hot in the oven” dish.

And they say it is good food for thinking! Anyhow, catch (or buy) it and cook it; don’t keep it. Quick-frozen fish has the original flavor but as soon as it comes into the kitchen, cook it.

In buying fish, allow from ½ to ¾ pound per serving with the bone in—or ¼ pound boned. Wash it well inside and out and wipe dry.

When buying a whole fish in the market, be sure the fish looks you in the eye with a healthy stare. You cannot tell about one that has been skinned and boned, so smell it and cook as soon as possible after you buy or catch, or freeze it. Don’t overcook.


Entrée Sauces



The Best From Helen Corbitt’s Kitchens

Reader’s Request

A sauce to make a fish dish a delectable entrée any day, and especially for company.


2½ cups

2 tablespoons finely chopped onion

¼ cup finely diced mushrooms

1 tablespoon butter

1 cup Thick Cream Sauce [opposite page]

1 cup mayonnaise

1 teaspoon lemon juice

2 tablespoons finely chopped sweet mustard pickles

1 tablespoon finely chopped pimento

¼ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

[Preheat oven to 300º.] Sauté onion and mushrooms in butter; add cream sauce, mayonnaise, lemon juice, pickles, pimento, and

Worcestershire. Completely cover any boned fish like red snapper, sea trout, fillet of sole, and similar fish, and bake for 40 minutes. Part of the sauce cooks into the fish and part stays on top. I use it also combined with shrimp, lobster, and crabmeat, and baked in individual casseroles for a luncheon dish and find it popular as a hot hors d’oeuvre served with pastry scoops: pie crust molded on a tablespoon, placed close enough to touch on a baking sheet and baked at


Cheese and Eggs



The Best From Helen Corbitt’s Kitchens


For 8 to 10

[If you plan to serve this with Oriental Chicken [page 134], use American (Cheddar) cheese rather than Swiss and add ¼ teaspoon of White

Wine Worcestershire sauce.]

½ cup butter

6 tablespoons flour

2 cups milk

2 cups grated Swiss cheese

8 eggs, separated [at room temperature]

1½ teaspoons dry mustard or 1 tablespoon prepared Dijon mustard

⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon salt

Parmesan cheese (may be omitted)

[Preheat oven to 350°.] Melt the butter, add the flour and cook slowly until mixture foams. Do not brown. [Gradually] add the milk, [stirring constantly], and bring to a boil; use low heat to ensure the flour and milk being thoroughly cooked. The sauce should be smooth and thick. Remove from heat. Add the [Swiss] cheese and stir until blended. Cool slightly. Beat the egg yolks and add to the mixture.

Add the mustard, cayenne and salt. Let mixture cool until you can place your hand on the bottom of the container without feeling any heat. Beat the egg whites until stiff but not dry. (Tip the bowl and if the whites do not slide out, they are ready.) Stir gently about one third of the egg whites into the mixture, then fold in remaining egg whites until well distributed. Pour into a 2 ½- or 3-quart buttered soufflé dish sprinkled lightly with Parmesan cheese or into two 1½quart ones. Bake for 30 minutes if you are going to eat at once, or place in a pan of hot water and bake 1 hour, and it will hold awhile.


Vegetables and Cooked Fruits


Vegetables and

Cooked Fruits

One could spend a lifetime expounding on the vegetable kingdom.

Personally, I like to cook vegetables just underdone; the “dressing up” that follows finishes the cooking. I find vegetables take on a blissful state if they are made “interesting.” These recipes are my most popular and flavorsome attention-getters, especially with the male half of the hungry horde.

Just a foreword: In selecting your fresh vegetables you should look for, first, clean vegetables, free from decay or bruised spots. Generally speaking, depend on your eyes rather than your fingers in judging vegetables.

After you get them home, wash well, pare or shell, as the case may be, but never soak in water as vitamins and minerals will be lost.

Somewhere back in the days of the early Romans, recipe books advised cooks to add a dash of soda to green vegetables to keep them green, and unfortunately some people still think it necessary. It detracts from the flavor, changes the texture, and goodness knows what happens to the vitamins. Generally speaking, again, vegetables cooked in a small amount of water uncovered, turn out better, both in looks and taste—so don’t make vegetable cooking complicated.


And Then Potatoes, Grains,and Pasta



The Best From Helen Corbitt’s Kitchens

Reader’s Request

Hashed browned potatoes have always been a gastronomical delight for the man who eats away from home, because most housewives do not include them in their menu planning. . . . These potatoes were so popular at the Driskill Hotel in Austin, Texas, that I would be introduced as “The Hashed Browned Potatoes with Sour Cream Girl.”


For 6

6 baked potatoes (bake at least the day before and refrigerate)

2 tablespoons soft vegetable shortening

1 teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon pepper

2 tablespoons melted butter

¼ cup sour cream

Peel and grate the cold baked potatoes on the coarse side of a 4-sided grater. . . . Heat the shortening in a heavy griddle or frying pan.

Sprinkle potatoes lightly over the entire surface. Do not pack down.

Sprinkle with salt and pepper and the melted butter. Cook over low heat until brown underneath and loose from the pan. You can lift up the edge to see if they are ready without stirring them. When browned, turn once and cook until the second side is brown. Stack in layers on a hot serving dish with warmed sour cream spread between them. [“Mr. Stanley” Marcus is a fan of these special spuds.—Editor]





The Best From Helen Corbitt’s Kitchens

Reader’s Request

What is easier or more gracious than serving Pots de Crème for dessert in the living room with coffee after dinner. The crème pots are available all over the country in china shops—so invest! Good too for holding vitamin pills, cocktail picks or whatever.


For 8 except someone always wants two

3 cups half-and-half

9 egg yolks

¾ cup white sugar

¼ teaspoon salt

1½ teaspoons vanilla

Light brown sugar

[Preheat oven to 325°.] Heat the half-and-half. Beat egg yolks with sugar and salt. Beat in the hot half-and-half gradually with a French whip. Add vanilla. Strain and pour into pots de crème cups. Cover the pots and put in a pan of hot water 1-inch deep. Bake for 30 minutes or until a knife when inserted comes out clean. Remove pots and chill. Place a teaspoon of brown sugar on top of each dessert and run under the broiler to melt; cover and serve.

Use the same recipe but change the flavoring: omit the brown sugar

(brulée). Add 6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate to the hot milk for Pots de Crème au Chocolat.


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