Friday, June 24, 2016

"The Theater Lover's Cookbook" & "Eating Together - Recollections & Recipes by (playwright) Lillian Hellman and Peter Feibleman - Celebrating the Tony Awards with pasta two ways

Date I made these recipes:  June 12, 2016 – The Tony Awards

The Theatre Lover's Cookbook – Recipes from 60 Favorite Plays by Mollie Ann Meserve and Walter J. Meserve
Published by:  Feedback TheatreBooks & Prospero Press
Purchased at Kona Bay Books, Kona, Big Island, Hawaii
Recipe:  Jenny's Spaghetti with Fresh Basil Sauce, inspired by the 1977 play, Chapter Two by Neil Simon – p. 33-34.

Eating Together – Recollections & Recipes by (playwright) Lillian Hellman and Peter Feibleman
Published by:  Little, Brown and Company
Purchased at Kitchen Arts & Letters, NYC* There's a great backstory about the purchase of this book; see below. 
 Recipe:  Bolognese Sauce – p. 50-51.

In a previous life, I was a Broadway musical star, never mind Tony Award winner.  I love to sing, I can act, and with proper training, I can shuffle ball change with the best of them.  Never mind film or TV, this baby is Broadway-bound.

Not that this ever happened, nor will it, but a gal can dream.

This year's Tony Awards were timely because a) they were a respite from the terrible shootings that happened in Orlando and b) because I just bought The Theater Lover's Cookbook a couple of weeks earlier at a used book store while in Hawaii for my wedding anniversary.  I cannot tell you how many times the books I buy end up being "timely."

Also pertinent is the second cookbook I used – Eating Together – Recollections & Recipes by famed playwright Lillian Hellman (& Peter Feibleman).  This book has been sitting on my shelf for years now, just waiting for the right opportunity to shine and tonight is it!

Although much of the fun and focus of the Tony Awards is the musical, a goodly portion of awards and respect must be paid to the plays.  Remember, it was Shakespeare who said "The play's the thing" and on Tony night, it is indeed.

This year, it occurred to me that I really should tune in to this award show more often.  There's just something different about a Broadway actor or actress and not just because they perform in New York.  Plays and musicals are demanding on the actors and I think that we see the stuff that they are made of when they bring their A-game performance night after night, week after week, eight shows a week to a live audience.   It's hard to articulate why but to me, the caliber of the actor or actress is just a cut above their Hollywood counterparts.  That doesn't mean that Hollywood actors don't come to New York or vice versa because that happens quite frequently, but "Broadway Babies" generally stick to Broadway probably because it's fun, they have a posse of friends in that business and it demands so much more of them than a couple minute spot in a TV commercial, TV show or movie.

A great example of the do-si-do done by actors throughout their careers was when host James Corden pointed out a few actors in the audience who had appeared in that TV juggernaut, Law & Order (and all its spin-offs) over the years.  This "sketch" was one of the funniest moments of the night:

James Corden:  "Those of you watching at home who aren't theater buffs, don't worry.  You may not know some of these Broadway actors by name but you will recognize them from your favorite television shows."  And then he proceeded to call them out:  "Claire Danes is here and you'll recognize her as [character name] in Law & Order.  Billy Porter is here and you'll recognize him as [character name] in[brief pause] Law & Order.  Michael Shannon is best know to all of us as [character name] [brief pause] in Law & Order" and so on and so on ending with Danny Burstein who, it turns out, played several roles in Law & Order which James named off, ending with "And finally, who could forget his wonderful turn as [character name] [brief pause] in Law & Order.

I about busted a gut.  And speaking of Law & Order, and other TV shows, these Broadway stars also crossed over from the stage to TV screen:

  • Jerry Orbach was star of the Broadway production, The Fantastics (and was first to sing this incredible song, "Try to Remember" )long before he became know as the hilariously funny Detective Lennie Brisco in...brief pause...Law & Order.

  • Funny lady Elaine Stritch who most of you know as Jack's mother, Colleen, on 30 Rock, as well as a defense attorney on...brief pause...Law & Order, made a name for herself starring in many Broadway productions, and even a one-woman show, Elaine Stritch at Liberty in 2002.  Two songs for which she is/was known are "I'm Still Here" (from the Sondheim musical, Follies) and "Ladies Who Lunch" from the musical, Company.  The last refrain is my favorite:  "Let's hear it for the ladies who lunch.  Everybody rise!  Rise!  Rise!...."

  • Actress Beth Howland recently passed away and was best known for her role as the ditzy but delightful Vera Louise Gorman on the TV show Alice, but prior to that, she too, was a Broadway baby, originating the role of Amy in Stephen Sondheim's Company (same as Elaine Stritch).  One of the songs she sang in that production, "Getting Married Today," later resurfaced on the TV show, Glee.

Which is to say folks, that what goes around, comes around.  Books become musicals, plays become musicals, musicals become plays, actors and actresses do si do between Hollywood and New York and what we get is some great entertainment.  I have been lucky enough to see several productions – plays and musicals – on Broadway and have also been treated to some outstanding touring companies in Minneapolis.  And although my collection of musical theater CD's is not as vast as the cookbooks, it is also none too shabby and goes back to songs from musicals staged in the 1940's.  On my to-acquire CD list is Hamilton which will cost me far less than an airplane ride and tickets to the production in NYC to be sure.

And now, after that trip down memory Broadway lane, let's on with the cookbook show, starting with The Theatre Lover's Cookbook – Recipes from 60 Favorite Plays.  Here's a smattering of plays and musicals featured in this cookbook:
  • Arsenic and Old Lace by Joseph Kesselring (1941) – Old Lace Pot Roast
  • Blithe Spirit by Noel Coward (1941) – Hysterical Mousse
  • Chapter Two by Neil Simon (1977) * featured recipe – Jenny's Spaghetti with Fresh Basil Sauce
  • The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekov (1904) – Cherries Jubilee
  • The Comedy of Errors by William Shakespeare (1592-1593) – Creamed Capon
  • Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller (1949) – Boiled (Steamed) Lobster (I probably read this play at least twice in high school and who knows how many times in college and I cannot say the play, nor main character, Willy Loman, are my favorites.)
  • The Fantasticks by Tom Jones and Harvey L. Schmidt (1960) (Starring Jerry Orbach of Law & Order fame.) – Fantastick Bean Rolls with Cilantro
  • For the Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf by Notzake Shange (1976) – Fried Bananas (I read this book my last year in high school.  The title has always stuck with me even if the details of the book are now fuzzy.)
  • The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams (1945) – Ingenue Salmon Loaf (Yet another play that has been done to death.)
  • Harvey by Mary Ellen Chase (1944) Pooka Pot "Rabbit" (tofu) (Also a delightful movie starting Jimmy Stewart)
  • The King and I by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II (1951) – Anna's Rice (My parents had the 1956 movie soundtrack album and my third grade class performed many selections from it for a class production.)
  • The Little Foxes by Lillian Hellman (1939) – Addie's Frozen Fruit Cream (*Lillian's cookbook is our second featured cookbook today.)
  • The Miracle Worker by William Gibson (1959) – Breakfast Bisquits (Patty Duke, who played Helen Keller on stage and screen, passed away this year.)
  • The Odd Couple by Neil Simon (1965) – Felix Ungar's Linquine (Loved the TV show and especially love "The Oscar Song."  YouTube it!)
  • Our Town by Thornton Wilder (1938) – Mrs. Gibb's Wedding Day French Toast (Aaron Copland wrote the music for this play and the opening number is just haunting.  I love it.)
  • South Pacific by Joshua Logan, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II (1949) – Nellie's Normal Blueberry Pie (My parents loved this musical and film but I remain lukewarm.  That said, there has never been a time when I visited Hawaii when I haven't broken out into [the song] "Bali High."  Catchy song, that one!)
  • A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams (1947) – New Orleans Pork Chops (You know I have to say it:  "Stellllllllllaaaaaaaa")

And so on and so on.  Each  play comes with a little recap and a recipe.  Sometimes the recipe is something mentioned or featured in the play, sometimes not.  Overall, it's a fun read and for me – an English major and musician -  who "could have been a contender" (On the Waterfront) had things gone a little differently.  ("Here she is boys!  Here she is world!  Here's Rose Ann!  - Rose's Turn from the musical, Gypsy)

Anyway, the recipe I selected here is from Neil Simon's play Chapter TwoChapter Two is about second relationships and second chances.  The protagonist, a recently widowed George, meets a newly-divorced Jenny and they get married shortly thereafter.  The play is the tale of that second marriage.

According to this cookbook, in "Act I, Scene 1, she [Jenny] promises to make spaghetti with fresh basil sauce."  I thought the dish sounded good and so made it and it was very tasty and very simple to make. I was a tad worried about basil overkill (the full recipe requires 6 cups) but I worried for naught and in fact, liked it better than pesto, a dish I can take or leave. (My people do not "do" pesto.  We're straight-up red sauce, period.)

So that was one easy dish down with one to go from Eating Together – Recollections & Recipes by (famed playwright) Lillian Hellman and Peter Feibleman.

This book is divided into parts:  Part One:  Her Way and Part Two: His Way with each author telling stories and sharing recipes, most often of their travels together.  Mr. Feibleman was a close friend of Miss Hellman's and it sounds like they shared a love of writing, food and travel.  Since I don't know Mr. Feibleman though, I elected to cook something from Miss Hellman's "Her Way" section and don't you know, found several pasta sauce recipes from which I selected "Bolognese Sauce."

Besides her play, The Little Foxes, Miss Hellman also wrote the play, The Children's Hour which was made also into a movie staring Audrey Hepburn, Shirley MacLaine and James Garner.  I've seen this movie, as well as The Little Foxes with Bette Davis, but I didn't know much about Miss Hellman until I saw the movie, Julia, with Jane Fonda and Vanessa Redgrave.  

The movie, Julia, is a story excerpted from Miss Hellman's play, Pentimento, and tells the story of a friendship between "Julia," a Nazi-resistance fighter, played by Vanessa Redgrave, and Lillian (as in Hellman), a budding playwright, played by Jane Fonda.  Both women end up in dire situations as Lillian is convinced by Julia to smuggle money into Nazi Germany to help the resistance movement.  This is a dangerous task for Lillian who is Jewish.

The movie then, is rather tense as we wait to find out the friend's fate but it was beautifully acted and the costumes made me just drool; the late 1930's and early 40's yielded some unbelievable dress designs.    The movie itself was nominated for 11 Academy Awards.  And now that I've talked about it, I'm thinking I'm going to purchase this DVD and re-watch it.  (Besides, there are scenes involving cocktails of the martini kind so...)

So that's the background on Miss Hellman. And although both co-authors provided some yummy-sounding recipes, since I was making Jenny's Spaghetti with Fresh Basil Sauce from the theater cookbook, I went all in and made half the "Bolognese Sauce" recipe from this book and we were good to go.   The recipe takes a little longer than the fresh basil sauce but it was worth it.  Plus, I liked having two sauces for dinner instead of one.

And so that's my very long, long....long Tony Award show blogpost, featuring anecdotes about things Law & Order and other fun factoids to amuse and enlighten.

Curtain up!

Jenny's Spaghetti with Fresh Basil Sauce – For a party of 6 – from TheTheatre Lover's Cookbook
¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
2-3 cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
6 cups coarsely chopped fresh basil leaves
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 pound uncooked spaghetti
Romano or Parmesan cheese, freshly grated, for topping

Heat a large skillet over low heat and add the oil.  When the oil is hot, add the garlic and sauté about 2 minutes.  Add the basil, salt and pepper.  Sauté about 15 minutes.

While the sauce cooks, cook the spaghetti one minute less than called for on package directions and drain.  Add the spaghetti to the skillet, increase heat to medium and cook, carefully tossing continuously until the spaghetti is cooked al dente, about 1 minute.  Test the spaghetti for doneness by tasting.  Transfer to a warm serving platter or individual plates.  Top with the grated cheese and serve immediately with crusty Italian bread.

Bolognese Sauce – Serves 12 – from Eating Together – Recollections & Recipes
¼ cup olive oil
1 pound ground beef
2 onions, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 10-ounce can plum tomatoes *See Ann's Note below
2 6-ounce cans tomato paste
2 cups water or meat broth
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon oregano
1 tablespoon basil
1 teaspoon thyme
Dash of Tabasco sauce
Pepperoni sausage (optional)

Ann's Note:  I made half this recipe which meant that I only needed a 5-ounce can plum tomatoes, something that really doesn't exist.  But while I was in Target looking at canned tomatoes, I noticed they had a can (still too large) of fire-roasted tomatoes and thought "Ah ha!"  So at my next shopping stop – Trader Joe's – I purchased a small bag of small Roma tomatoes and roasted them using a variation of Ina Garten's directions:  slather the tomatoes with a generous amount of olive oil.  Sprinkle with Kosher salt.  Roast on a cookie sheet or roasting pan at 450F for 15-20 minutes (depending on size).  Let cool.  And then after they cooled, I pulsed them in the food processor and added them to the rest of the sauce – delicious!!

Put a small amount of olive oil in a large pan and sauté the meat, turning it until it browns.  Add the onions and garlic, the tomatoes and the tomato paste.  When you have removed the paste from the can, add 2 cups of water (or broth), scraping the remaining paste from the sides of the tin.  Season the sauce with salt, pepper, oregano, basil, thyme and Tabasco.  Simmer for 2 ½ hours.  It is often very nice to add to this sauce a small amount of very finely chopped pepperoni sausage.

*This cookbook, Lillian Hellman's Eating Together, was sourced for me by my friend and (used) cookbook store owner, Bonnie Slotnick, who, at the time, was finding and filling requests for out-of-print books from people like me at Kitchen Arts & Letters (NYC).  This was the very first "official" cookbook I collected after seeing mention of it in a food magazine (can't recall if it was in Bon Appetite or Gourmet.)  When Bonnie moved on, I thought all was lost but managed to find her, first in the West Village and now in her new home in the East Village.  Her used and out-of-print cookbook stock is not available for online viewing but if you can't make it to NYC, call or email her and she will try to track down your desired book and/or make recommendations.  And PS—she ships!  My only request:  please leave some books for me!

Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks
28 East Second Street
New York, NY 10003

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