Wednesday, February 5, 2014

"Liberace Cooks! Hundreds of delicious recipes for you from his seven dining rooms" - Liberace Special Sirloin Stew (made for The Grammy Awards)

Date I made this recipe:  January 26, 2014 (Grammy Awards)

Liberace Cooks!  Hundreds of delicious recipes for you from his seven dining rooms as told to Carol Truax
Published by:  Doubleday & Company, Inc.
© 1970
Recipe:  Liberace Special Sirloin Stew – p. 109

The Grammy Awards are on tonight and you know what this means, right?  Yup.  Time for a Liberace primer!

If not for the recent biopic, Behind the Candelabra, starring Michael Douglas and Matt Damon, sadly many of you would not know how the heck the man known as "Liberace" (full name:  Władziu Valentino Liberace) became a musical superstar and that would be a shame.

Little "Lee" Liberace was a piano prodigy and the man figured out how to turn that talent, plus an outrageous wardrobe, into a goldmine.   And when I say "outrageous" people, we're talking capes and sequins and rings and other gaudy jewels, not to mention his other well-known accessory, a candelabra that sat on top of his piano for every performance.  So it's not for nothing that Liberace was known as Mr. Showmanship (although he likely assigned himself that moniker to add to the allure).  Oddly enough, about the time I started seeing Liberace on various TV talk shows, along came an heir to the Mr. Showmanship title, Elton John.  Both men were gay, both were rather "out there" for the time and both liked to make a statement although whether it was a bona fide fashion statement is questionable.  When you have a second or two, Google both men and their outfits and then you tell me!

Liberace made old ladies swoon every time he swept (more like "swished") into a room and the public couldn't get enough of him.  But alas, whereas Elton John (and his wardrobe) went on to win several Grammy's, Liberace did not.  Not that he was a slouch in the award department – he had several gold records, as well as a TV show ("The Liberace Show," naturally) and that's something to write home to mother about.

Speaking of mother, Liberace (or "Lee" as he was known to friends) was born to an Italian father and Polish mother in—wait...what?  West Allis, Wisconsin?  I've been there.  Several times.  One of my former employers' HQ is there.  Well, whadaya know!  By age 18, he started to make a name for himself as a classical musician, even playing with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at age 20.  But being a classical pianist is a hard job so Liberace went in search of something else to do to showcase his talents et voila, in 1940, he started appearing in music videos (well, not our kind of music videos but...) and all of a sudden, the guy had himself an act, complete with candelabra, and the rest, as they say, was history.  Lee played every type of piano composition/song imaginable on his shows and on his records but Chopin's Polonaise in A-flat major (Chopin was Polish) is the one for which he is remembered.

Although his musical career (and scandalous affair with his chauffer...who later had plastic surgery to look like Liberace –yikes!) is well-documented, his leap to the kitchen is less so.  But as told to co-author, Carol Truax, "Food and music are the best things in life" so there it is! 

What absolutely made me hoot every time I look at this cookbook's cover was the fact that Liberace had seven dining rooms.  Seven.  Wow.  If you are an avid fan of the TV show, House Hunters, you'll know that today, most people want an open kitchen/dining area rather than a formal (or even informal) dining room and yet the man had seven.  This makes sense though, when you read the back cover:  "You don't have to duplicate Liberace's lavishly decorated Hollywood mansion to enjoy Liberace's special recipes...."   Outrageous outfits and lavishly decorated mansion with seven dining rooms—it all makes sense.

Now this cookbook is a little unclear about where these dining rooms are located but photos (OMG, they are so vintage, it's hilarious) give us some clues:  there appears to be a formal dining room; a photo of Lee and guests in an informal dining room; a dining terrace; a TV-watching dining room (I kid you not) and an bar (decorated in vintage aqua) in a [dining room] with a view.  If I had the right house, I would install this bar in a second as it is so kitsch, so vintage that I love it.  Love it.  This however, only makes for five dining rooms so that means we are missing two and this irks.  WHERE are they?!

I looked through the book again and cannot find a list (so harrumph—maybe the "seven" is just a tiny exaggeration which, given Lee's outrageous personality, would not be a big surprise) but here's the chapter listing that might give us some clue:  Chapter 1 – Indoor-Outdoor Eating; Chapter 2 – Do It Yourself and Eat It Yourself in the Kitchen; Chapter 3 – Beautiful Buffet by the Yard; Chapter 4 – TV Dinging; Chapter 5 – Cookout on the Loggia (a gallery or corridor); Chapter 6 – Room with a View and Chapter 7 – Seven Dinners in the Formal Dining Room.  So there you have it – seven chapters, seven eating areas. (Oh, and by the way, the cook-top hood in the loggia is patterned after a piano keyboard.)

Today's recipe selection – Liberace Special Sirloin Stew -  came from the Beautiful Buffet by the Yard chapter which made me hoot:  it is now winter in Minnesota, our yards are buried and the day I made this recipe, the temperature was hovering around -15.  Not only did we not do a buffet (for two whole people) but we skipped the entire "yard" part and just stayed indoors.  Sensibly stayed indoors.  But this delicious (and comforting) stew more than made up for the fact that we can't go outside right now without suffering frostbite.

Those that read last week's blog know that a chief complaint about Walt Disney's chili and beans recipe was that it didn't have much flavor.  Even the spices I added didn't do anything to kick it up.  But this recipe was more than flavorful and the only "spices" added were salt and pepper – go figure.  I think the vegetables had a lot to do with it – sweet carrots and sweet peas helped out quite a bit as did the onions which were sautéed in bacon fat – yum!  My husband and I enjoyed every last leftover morsel for almost a week and I would make this again in a heartbeat.  So kudos to Liberace and his special sirloin stew.

You'll note that this recipe serves 12 but as we are only two, we halved the recipe and that was fine as well as cost-saving:  sirloin ain't cheap!  The only thing I was lukewarm about was the addition of the dumplings but Andy liked them so I let him polish off the majority.

So now you know what you are going to do, right?  You're going to go to YouTube and listen/watch Liberace's recordings and then you are going to make this stew or find this cookbook and make something else and you will be happy.  And when you watch next year's Grammy's, think for just a second about Mr. Showmanship and what he did for the industry well before today's stars came along; today's stars have nothing on Lee Liberace and his outfits.  Nothing!


Liberace Special Sirloin Stew (serves 12)
3 thick or 6 thin slices bacon, diced
2 large onion, chopped
5 pounds sirloin steak, cut into 1 ½-inch cubes
6 carrots, cut up
5 potatoes, peeled and cut up
1 ½ pounds or 2 packages frozen green beans
2 packages frozen peas
12 Italian tomatoes, peeled, or 1 1-pound 13-ounce can
2 teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Bisquick dumplings (8-ounce package)  (Ann's Note:  I do not know if a Bisquick dumpling mix existed when this book was published but I do know I found several recipes online for dumplings made with Bisquick.  What you do is make up the recipe per package directions and then drop them into the stew.  To me, the dumplings were more like biscuits but that could just be me.  As mentioned above, Andy liked them so he ate them.  Case closed.)

Sauté the bacon in a heavy casserole.  (A note in the instructions says "Liberace liked Belgian ware."  Ha!)  When browned, remove and set aside.  Brown the onion in the drippings.  Add the beef and brown on all sides.  Add the vegetables, salt, pepper and bacon bits.  Simmer, covered for 20 minutes.  Drop in the Bisquick dumplings, following package directions.  (Ann's Note:  the dumplings take 20 minutes total to cook.)

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