Medium 9781574414929

The Best from Helen Corbitt’s Kitchens

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Helen Corbitt is to
American cuisine what Julia Child is to French. Corbitt'­s genius was in
presentations of new and unusual flavor combinations, colors, and even
serving temperatures. She insisted on the finest, freshest ingredients,
served with impeccable style. As Director of Food Services for Neiman Marcus,
she traveled widely, bringing recipes back to tantalize Texans'­ tastebuds.

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Helen Corbitt’s Story

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Helen Corbitt’s Story

With 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 Tastevin,5 which resulted in her assessment “the Châine has more fun.”6

 

Appetizers

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Appetizers

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.

 

Beverages

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Beverages

The cup that cheers, be it made with spirits or not, has its place in every home. For graduation parties, large get-togethers, lounging on the back porch or terrace, after football games, any time more than two people get together.

MINT PUNCH

For 12

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup water

Juice of 6 oranges

1/2 cup grapefruit juice

Juice of 6 lemons

1/2 cup crème de menthe

Rind of 1/2 cucumber

Rind of 1/2 orange

1 quart ginger ale

1/4 cup grated fresh pineapple

Boil the sugar and water, cool and add the juice of oranges, grapefruit, lemons and crème de menthe, cucumber rind and the rind of 1/2 an orange. Chill several hours, remove cucumber and orange rinds, add the ginger ale and fresh pineapple and pour over the ice cubes.

CRANBERRY ORANGE PUNCH

For 12

6 cups cranberry juice cocktail

1 cup orange juice

3 tablespoons lemon juice

1-1/4 cups pineapple juice

 

Soups and Stews

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Soups and Stews

A good soup does fine things for the soul at times, so give them a try. These have always been popular.

Cream of Corn Soup is my favorite of all soups.

CREAM OF CORN SOUP

For 6

2 strips of finely chopped bacon

2 tablespoons finely chopped onion

2 cups frozen or fresh corn

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons flour

2 cups milk

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

2 cups light cream [or half-and-half]

Fry finely diced bacon until crisp; add onion and sauté until soft. Put corn through a food chopper [or food processor, using the steel blade], add to onion and bacon, and cook until it begins to brown. Add butter and then the flour. Cook slowly for 3 minutes. Add milk, salt, and pepper and cook until thickened, then add cream and heat until smooth. Serve with hot crackers.

Reader’s Request

Chicken Velvet Soup. . . . tastes the way it sounds.

 

Breads

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Yeast Breads and Quick Breads

Did you know that white bread was made only for royalty in Roman times? (Now royalty is looking for some good whole-wheat or rye bread.)

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Your bread recipe reads: “knead until smooth and satiny.” How long is that? You’ve never made bread before! Most doughs require from 8 to 10 minutes of kneading before you recognize a smooth and satiny surface. After 10 minutes, grasp the dough in one hand, squeezing it slightly with your fingers. If fully developed, the opposite side of the dough ball should feel smoothly taut; you will see bubbly blisters under the surface.

Yeast bread likes a warm draft-free and moist place for rising. If you don’t have a cozy, private nook for “proofing” (raising) dough, make a “mini sauna” in your oven. Turn your oven to 400° for one minute only and then turn it off. It should have reached a temperature between 80° and 100°—just what the dough likes. Situate your dough in the warm oven so it has plenty of room to rise. Place a pan of hot water on the oven floor before closing the door. Or place dough in bowl beside your stove, turn one burner on to low. Be sure to cover the bread with a towel or napkin if proofing outside the oven. [Before putting yeast bread dough aside to rise, roll the ball of dough inside a heavily greased bowl to coat all sides and prevent it from drying out while it rises.—Editor]

 

Salads and Dressings

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Salads and Dressings

There is nothing quite as cool as a shimmering molded salad. Every kitchen, regardless of size, should support a few molds of various shapes, inexpensive or otherwise, but decorative. You may turn out some works of art as your imagination runs riot. Just give everything enough time: allow at least 3 hours for gelatin to “set”—six hours is better—and when making a large mold for a summertime meal, make the day before you use it.

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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.

 

Poultry and Stuffings

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Poultry and Stuffings

“Pot Luck” has become associated with me any place I work. It is a means of using experimental dishes not on the menu, and an intelligent use of leftovers. One of the most popular Pot Lucks has been Broiled Chicken Smothered in Fresh Crab or Lobster Bisque—with usually a dash of sherry added before placing it in the oven.

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:

SIMMERING A CHICKEN

1 4-1/2- to 5-pound fowl, whole or cut up

1 quart hot water

1 piece celery

1 slice of onion

1 sprig of parsley

1 whole carrot

1 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 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 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.

 

Meats

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Meats

Roast beef is a word thrown about loosely. To me it means Prime Ribs, to others just a piece of meat, but when roasting beef you should insist on a rib, top sirloin or top round. . . . The tenderloin, which is smaller and expensive, may also be used for roasting. The best quality you can find in your local market should be used for roasting. . . . Roasted beef can never be any better than the grade of beef you start out with.

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A barbecue originally referred to a whole animal roasted or broiled for a feast. Derived from the French “barbe-a-gueve,” meaning from snout to tail, the popular version of the word barbecue or cook-out was first known in Virginia before 1700.

Don’t forget the secret of barbecuing is a solid bed of glowing coals. Whether charcoal, wood or other fuel is used, light the fire at least 30 minutes ahead of time so that it will burn down to ash-gray coals before cooking starts.

Rub the outsides of pots and pans with soap before using over an open fire. They will be much easier to clean afterward.

 

Fish and Seafoods

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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 1/2 to 3/4 pound per serving with the bone in—or 1/4 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

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Entrée Sauces

The sauce to meat is ceremony, according to Lady Macbeth. But what would the ceremony be without the sauce? I’m sure the hostess who serves a really superb sauce feels at times that she is playing god to the mortals who partake of it. And why not? It takes patience to make a sauce that will enhance, not disguise.

Any sauce, whether simple or complex, takes time—to blend the proper proportions of fat, flour or egg yolks, and whatever liquid goes into it. A good rule in blending is to follow your sauce recipe, and carefully; but let your imagination inspire your seasoning.

Reader’s Request

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

IMPERIAL SAUCE

2-1/2 cups

2 tablespoons finely chopped onion

1/4 cup finely diced mushrooms

1 tablespoon butter

1 cup Thick Cream Sauce [opposite page]

1 cup mayonnaise

1 teaspoon lemon juice

 

Cheese and Eggs

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Cheese and Eggs

In the sixteenth century a Bishop of Paris was authorized by a bull from Pope Julius III to permit the use of eggs during Lent. The Parliament took offense and prevented the execution of the mandate. From this severe abstinence from eggs during Lent arose the custom of having a great number of them blessed on Easter Eve, to be distributed among friends on Easter Sunday.

SWISS CHEESE SOUFFLÉ

For 8 to 10

[If you plan to serve this with Oriental Chicken [page 134], use American (Cheddar) cheese rather than Swiss and add 1/4 teaspoon of White Wine Worcestershire sauce.]

1/2 cup butter

6 tablespoons flour

2 cups milk

2 cups grated Swiss cheese

8 eggs, separated [at room temperature]

1-1/2 teaspoons dry mustard or 1 tablespoon prepared Dijon mustard

1/8 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 2-1/2- or 3-quart buttered soufflé dish sprinkled lightly with Parmesan cheese or into two 1-1/2- quart 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

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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.

 

Potatoes, Grains and Pasta

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And Then Potatoes, Grains, and Pasta

There is nothing that smells better than potatoes baking. Idaho potatoes are the popularized ones, but California and Maine produce a fine type for baking or any other style of cooking. For me, Idaho takes the lead for baking because of its shape—long, flat, quicker cooking than the round kind. Just scrubbed and placed in a 350° oven and baked until done, about 1 hour, but timed to come out when you are ready to sit down; or rubbed in vegetable oil and salt; or wrapped in brown paper or aluminum foil to keep them from cooling off. Just bake them, and the whole family will succumb—even the curvaceous ones. Serve with sweet butter or sour cream, chopped chives, grated cheese, crisped salt pork—or all of them.

POTATOES ON THE HALF SHELL

For 6

6 Idaho potatoes

1/4 cup milk or cream

1 egg

4 tablespoons butter

Salt and pepper

1 tablespoon chopped green onions [optional]

[Preheat oven to 350°.] Bake the potatoes, cut in half lengthwise and scoop out the potato. Mash, while hot, with the milk, beaten egg, and butter and beat until fluffy. Season with salt and pepper, and onion if you wish. Spread the shell with [additional] butter and pile lightly and high into it. Sprinkle with a smidgen of nutmeg or paprika or grated Parmesan cheese.* Bake until brown on top.

 

Desserts

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Desserts

The men of my life like desserts. Ask them, and they will deny it, but all these many years the “gooier,” the prettier, the bigger the desserts, the more the men eat of them. Dan Moody, one of Texas’ most colorful governors, would go to court any day to take exception to the fact that he never liked cake without thick icing and ice cream on top of it. William A. Smith, one of the master builders of Houston, “a simple man” by his own words, would say, “Honey, they kill me!” but lap them up. Herman Brown, silent strong boss of many projects—and of me at the Driskill Hotel—always looked a little sheepish as he guiltily put them away.

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.

POTS DE CRÈME

 

Dessert Sauces

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Dessert Sauces

I like my grandmother’s hard sauce recipe the best, and break the rule of never serving two sauces for the same dish at one time. Rum Sauce hot and Hard Sauce cold over plum pudding is a delectable experience.

Reader’s Request

LEMON HARD SAUCE

1 cup

1/2 cup butter

1 cup granulated or 1-1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon grated lemon rind

Cream butter, beat in sugar and flavorings.

HARD SAUCE

1 cup

1/4 cup butter

1 cup fine granulated sugar

2 tablespoons brandy

A few grains of nutmeg

Cream butter in electric mixer until soft and fluffy. Gradually add sugar, beating continually. Add brandy and continue beating until light. Remove to a glass bowl or jar, sprinkle with nutmeg, and keep in a cool place for several hours before serving. Serve on hot puddings and pies.

SAUCE LAWRENCE

1-1/4 cups

1 cup Fudge Sauce [next page]

 

Ice Creams, Ices and Frozen Desserts

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Ices, Ice Cream, and Frozen Desserts

Unless you live where you can obtain really good commercial ice cream, hand packed and cared for, it would be smart to invest in an electric ice-cream freezer. You can whip up your favorite flavor with very little trouble and deep-freeze the leftovers.

This was part of my childhood.

THREE FRUIT SHERBET

2 quarts

1-1/2 cups orange juice

3/4 cup lemon juice

1-1/2 cups mashed bananas (about 3)

3 cups water

2 cups skim milk

Sugar or artificial sweetener to taste

Mix all the ingredients and freeze in crank freezer or in refrigerator tray in your deep freeze. I like to take it out of the deep freeze when partially frozen and whip by hand or with an electric mixer. The sherbet can be frozen in a mold to be more decorative. Unmold on a silver tray and decorate with orange sections and green leaves.

BUTTERMILK SHERBET

2-1/3 quarts

4 cups buttermilk

 

Cakes and Icings

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Cakes and Icings

Place baking pans in the center of the oven to permit free circulation of air and heat evenly on all sides. When putting two or more pans in the oven at the same time, stagger them on different shelves, so that one is not directly above the other. There should be at least one inch between two pans on the same shelf; otherwise the trapped heat will cause a “hot spot.”

Reader’s Request

WHITE CHOCOLATE CAKE

2 layers

1 cup butter

2 cups sugar

4 eggs

1/4 pound white chocolate melted in 1/2 cup boiling water

2-1/2 cups cake flour

1 teaspoon soda

1 cup buttermilk

1 teaspoon vanilla

[Preheat oven to 350°.] Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Cool the chocolate melted in the water and add to the egg mixture. [Sift the flour and soda together. Beginning with the flour mixture] add the dry ingredients and buttermilk alternately to the chocolate mixture. Stir in the vanilla. Pour into well-buttered layer cake pans and bake 40 minutes or until done.

 

Pies and Pastries

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Pies and Pastries

Next time you make a cream pie, any kind, put a layer of whipped cream on top, then the meringue and you have three textures to savor. Or you may substitute ice cream for the whipped cream.

BLACK BOTTOM PIE

Prepare and bake a 9-inch Gingersnap Crust [page 359].

1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin

4 tablespoons cold water

2 cups milk

1/2 cup sugar

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1/4 teaspoon salt

4 eggs, separated

2 ounces (2 squares) unsweetened chocolate, melted

1 teaspoon vanilla

Soften gelatin in cold water. Scald milk in double boiler. Mix sugar, cornstarch and salt together, stir slowly into milk and cook until thick. Add gradually to beaten egg yolks. Return to double boiler and cook 3 minutes longer. Stir in gelatin to dissolve. Divide in half; add melted chocolate and vanilla to one half of the mixture to make chocolate layer. Pour carefully into Gingersnap Crust.

CREAM LAYER

 

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