Thursday, October 25, 2012

Cooking with Count Yorga

Halloween is almost upon us once more! Time to try for at least one scary post. This year, the Siren thinks she has a pretty hot entry.

It's Count Yorga's cookbook.

Or rather, the cookbook of the late Robert Quarry, the handsome star who played Count Yorga so well in two movies that the Siren saw as late shows on long-ago insomniac nights. Years ago the Siren acquired this off the freebie table in her apartment building. It has a price stamp of $5.95, and the Siren doesn't know how it was originally distributed, although the oddball punctuation and "Bulk Mail" address label on the back give her something of an idea.

Here's Quarry's presumably self-penned biography from the 1988 "Simply Wonderful Recipes for Wonderfully Simple Foods". This excellent, touching essay about Quarry at Cinefantastique depicts him as a wonderful raconteur with a great deal of charm, and that does show in the book.

Robert Quarry was born and raised in Santa Rosa, Calif., where, he says, his early culinary influences were a marvelous mixture of Italian, French, Spanish and Chinese cooking; influences that led his avocation as a chef.

His vocation, however, is as an actor, a career of some forty years. He began his career in radio during World War II appearing on many of the top shows of the time, including Lux Radio Theater where he was a member of that famed show's stock company.

After serving in the Army for two years he moved to New York and began a successful career during the early days of television, appearing on such memorable shows as Studio One, Philco Playhouse, Kraft Theater, Hallmark Hall of Fame and Playhouse 90.

He made his Broadway debut co-starring with Katharine Hepburn in "As You Like It," and after several successful plays was brought to Hollywood to appear with Joanne Woodward in "A Kiss Before Dying."

He has guest-starred on most of the top-rated dramatic series on television, but is probably best remembered for a series of horror films made while under contract to American International Pictures, most notably the "Count Yorga, Vampire" films and "Dr. Phibes Rises Again," co-starring with Vincent Price.

His cookbook, "You Can't Barbecue a Taco", will be published in the fall of '89.

Try as she might, the Siren has found no trace of "You Can't Barbecue a Taco." And try she has, mightily. However, she does have a theory as to why the bigger book never happened.

These "Simply Wonderful Recipes"? Are terrible.

Worse than Katharine Hepburn's brownies, worse than Bette Davis' baked chicken that involves a can of condensed cream of mushroom soup and crumbled Saltine crackers.

This cookbook came into the Siren's life when she was single and trying to learn to cook, and...put it this way, to this day the Siren's family is neither starving nor constantly pleading for take-out, but even the Siren's best friend would admit that her prose outranks her dinners. But she does all right these days.

Even back then, the Siren was not completely clueless. She knew enough to steer clear of anything called "Ham Croquettes" or "Avocado Mold With Crab Dressing," which begins with "1 6-oz. package lime gelatin" and ends with a crab dressing made with a full cup of sour cream, on top of the half-cup of sour cream that's already in the avocado mold.

Still, many other entries seemed pleasingly retro, the kind of thing that would make a lady seem like a Siren who could be dazzlingly domestic any old time she felt like it. The Siren loved the idea of cooking the recipes of Count Yorga, delightfully--no, wonderfully simple concoctions that would make men her neck-nuzzling slaves.

Yeah, OK, maybe the Siren should give her retro fetish a rest every once in a while. But looky here, look at the preface:

I realize that most people never read prefaces to books, but I hope you will give just a few seconds to reading this one.

Not that you will find deathless prose in the next few paragraphs. It is only that I feel compelled to explain my reasoning in putting this cookbook together.

You will not find anything resembling "Haute Cuisine", "Nouvelle Cuisine" or any other "Cuisine of the moment" recipes in this little book. A stew will be called a stew, not a "Ragout." A pork roast will not masquerade as "Roti du Porc", nor will eggs be referred to as "Oeufs."

There will be no mention of Quiche, Sushi or Thai recipes requiring Lemon Grass.

I had originally planned to title this book "The Little Bit of Difference Cookbook" because it seemed to say exactly what the content (and intent) would be.

The recipes presented here will, I hope, not be too mind-boggling. They do have different degrees of difficulty; but I think I have laid them out in clear and easy steps. They are, basically, recipes for foods we all know, but ones that with a few adjustments, take on a more intriguing "attitude".

So much for the Preface.

Bon Appetit (OOPS!)…I mean eat and enjoy!

Robert Quarry
Los Angeles -- 1988

He wasn't using fancy foreign terms! These were familiar recipes with intriguing "attitude"!

So here's a couple that the Siren tried. Maybe you're going to pop up and chirp that these seem perfectly all right to you. Maybe, you say, the little bit of difference was that Quarry was cooking this stuff, and not the Siren.

Fair enough. All the Siren can say is that she followed these to the letter, and with "Simply Wonderful Recipes," that's not such a hot idea.

Behold "Hawaiian Pork Stew."

2 pounds boneless pork shoulder
1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 tablespoons oil
1 (8-ounce) can pineapple chunks in juice
1/3 cup bottled teriyaki sauce
1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled
1 large onion, cut into eighths

Step 1: Cut pork into 1 1/2-inch cubes. Combine flour and ginger and use to coat pork. Reserve 2 tablespoons flour mixture.
Step 2: Brown pork on all side in hot oil in Dutch oven.
Step 3: Drain pineapple and reserve juice. Add reserved juice, teriyaki sauce and 1 cup water to pork. Bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, 1 hour, stirring occasionally.
Step 4: Cut sweet potatoes into 2-inch chunks. Add to pork and simmer, covered, 10 minutes. Stir in onion and simmer, covered, 20 minutes longer or until pork and yams are tender.
Step 5: Meanwhile combine reserved flour mixture and 3/4 cup water. Stir into pork mixture and cook until slightly thickened. Stir in pineapple and heat through.

This produces a big old gummy mass of sweetness, and the Siren learned the hard way, via the Irish writer she was trying to entertain, that the old canard about Irish culinary standards is just that. She wonders what became of him.

Disaster followed disaster. What Quarry assured readers was Burt Lancaster's favorite Lemon Cheesecake must have been a recipe the Bird Man picked up at Alcatraz. The bran muffins were leaden, the "Chicken Louisette" was a gooey mess, the Irish stew (which the Siren wisely did not serve to the Irishman) involved pickling spices that were hard to find for reasons that became crystal-clear once the stew was served.

Clearly the Siren should have cut her losses, but she is a stubborn little mortal.

So with a new, non-Irish dinner guest, against all common sense, she decided to tackle "Luxembourg Stew." Here's how Quarry lured her in:

Good veal is so expensive these days I'm giving you only one recipe…but it is terrific! The veal must be white, but the cut less expensive than other cuts, and I promise you a real lip-smacker! [Yeah, like that still up above, Count Yorga. -T.S.]

I found this recipe when I was in Luxembourg several years ago. There isn't a more gracious country in Europe (or, I should say 'Duchy') so it's no wonder that this stew is practically their national's as wonderful as the country and the people who live there.

The Siren has some in-laws who've lived in Luxembourg for many years, by the by, and when she ran a rough description of this dish past them they denied all knowledge of it. But maybe they've just been lucky. Here 'tis.

2 lbs. veal shoulder
3 tbsp butter
1 large onion, sliced
3 tomatoes, peeled and seeded
1 bay leaf
5 whole cloves
Pinch each of thyme and marjoram
Dash of cayenne
2 1/2 cups light beer
5 gingersnaps
Juice of half a lemon

Step 1: Cut veal into 1-inch cubes, roll them in flour and saute lightly in butter. Remove from pan and put aside for a moment.
Step 2: Saute sliced onion in same butter until golden.
Step 3: Put the meat and onion in a stewpan, add tomatoes (quartered) and all the seasoning. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Step 4: Add light beer, cover the pan tightly, and cook very slowly for 1 1/2 hours.
Step 5: Moisten gingersnaps (I add two more than the recipe calls for) with water, crush into paste and add to the contents of the pan. Put the lid back on and continue cooking slowly for 30 minutes more.
Step 6: Just before serving add the lemon juice. Serve with mashed potatoes.

The stew, as you may or may not be able to tell from the instructions, was a calamity, but here Count Yorga showed some mercy in the form of the beer. It tasted terrible in the dish, but the Siren and her guest drank the rest of the six-pack and along with the mashed potatoes it kept the man reasonably content.

Thus endeth the Siren's attempt to cook with Count Yorga. Whatever gourmet secrets the Count was keeping (ground wolf bone? the blood of a virgin bat?) were never vouchsafed to the Siren.

But in fairness, and because she remains kindly disposed toward Quarry despite all he did to her, the Siren is including what he claims is Vincent Price's recipe for bread pudding. If anyone is feeling adventurous and wants to try this (Tinky? you game?) do report back. Only, if you are single and trying for a romantic evening, take the Siren's advice and order Chinese as a backup.

This recipe was given to me by Vincent Price, but, in keeping with his evil movie persona, he left out one very important step in the cooking process. Fortunately I figured out how to beat the fiend at his devilish game.


1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
3 slices bread (I prefer egg bread, but it isn't the least necessary)
2 tbsp softened butter
1 scant cup raisins or currants (the amount is optional--I prefer a little less)
3 eggs
2 cups milk
1/8 tsp salt
1 1/2 tbsp white sugar
1 tsp vanilla

Step 1: Loosely pack brown sugar in top of double boiler.
Step 2: Butter three slices of bread with softened butter, and then dice bread. Sprinkle over brown sugar. Add raisins or currants, scattering them over the bread.
Step 3: Beat eggs, milk, salt, vanilla and white sugar together.
Step 4: Pour egg mixture over bread cubes but DO NOT STIR.
Step 5: Place over simmering water, cover (that's the part Vincent neglected to tell me) and cook 1 hour.
Serve cold or at room temperature. Turn out onto serving plate (preferably one with raised sides to catch the sauce). The brown sugar has by this time developed into the most delicious sauce.

According to Cinemafantastique, Price and Quarry didn't get along during Dr. Phibes, largely due to machinations by the producer, which is a shame. Price himself was a famous gourmet chef.

We'll close with one more quote from Quarry (the boldface is his):

And now we come to the more difficult part of dinner: THE MAIN COURSE!! This is the time that one does a lot of praying in the kitchen, comes to the table and waits for the first guest to say "Marvelous". If no one says anything, pretend to have a fainting spell and ask to be taken to the nearest emergency hospital. This will generate a lot of sympathy, and everything that went wrong can be blamed on poor health.

If the Siren ever cooks another "Simply Wonderful" recipe, she may have to give that suggestion a whirl.


Tony Dayoub said...

Readers, I can personally attest to the fact that our gracious hostess is a far better cook than she lets on... which only makes her prose that much better.

The Siren said...

Ha, thank you very much Tony! Next time you visit I'll make Luxembourg Stew.

StephenWhitty said...

Lovely, Siren! How did this not make Frank DeCaro's Dead Celebrity Cookbook?

Always enjoyed Quarry, even when he hit the bottom with those Fred Olen Ray movies.

There's a great story about "Dr Phibes Rises Again." By that point, Vincent Price disliked Quarry intensely, as you point out, because Sam Arkoff hadn't been subtle about grooming him to take over as horror king at AIP.

Anyway, it was downtime between takes and Quarry was amusing himself by vocalizing in his dressing room when he saw Price stop in the doorway.

"I bet you didn't know I was a singer, Vincent," he said.

"Well," Price replied, "I sure as hell knew you weren't an actor."

Have heard that several times, with different obscenities attached, and can only hope it's true. It has a certain Davis/Hopkins snap to it.

WelcometoLA said...

"You Can't Barbecue A Taco" sounds like a lost song from ISHTAR.

The Siren said...

HA! Yes, I heard that one too. I tried to be as nice as possible in this post, because Quarry seems to have been a gent, and his life took some hard turns.

I am sure that Quarry must have heard about the legendary exchange between Vincent Price and his director on "Witchfinder General," the ill-fated Michael Reeves. Price snapped, "I've made 87 films, what have YOU done?" and Reeves retorted, "I've made three good ones." Not at all fair to Vincent's career of course, but funny, and maybe recalling the line gave Quarry some comfort.

The Siren said...

Larry, it does at that.

Yojimboen said...

Tempted once to write a cookbook, containing favorite dishes of sundry foreign actors and crew members within my ken (okay, if you insist, "The Hollwood Exiles Cookbook"); it screeched to a halt when my Ukrainian cameraman pal handed me his favorite recipe for Chicken Kiev…
It began (and ended) “First, steal one chicken…”

The Siren said...

I'd totally buy that, and I'd probably make at least 10 recipes from it, although I draw the line at stealing a chicken. Stinky, scratchy little creatures when they're alive.

Peter Nellhaus said...

". . . udder contract to American International Pictures"? Is this an "actors should be treated like cattle" joke?

pigoletto said...

I think a good rule of thumb is if upon reading the ingredients it looks like it may be dodgy, it probably will be. However, all those recipes might be a hoot at some retro themed dinner. Vincent Price's hot dog recipes spring to mind as well.

The Siren said...

Peter, that totally stopped me in my tracks too. "Under contract" in those years, and to AIP? But that's straight from the Quarry text and I don't know much about how that end of the business worked.

Pigoletto, yes indeed. Although my favorite cookbook is from the early 60s and everything I make from it is delicious, so retro doesn't have to be dodgy. More importantly, the "famous gourmet" Vincent Price also had hot dog recipes? Quarry remarks about how grateful guests are for anything home-cooked and I am beginning to see his point. Although they are not so grateful for Hawaiian Pork Stew, let me tell you.

mndean said...

This reminds me of a recent incident where I found a silent/early sound star's recipes in one fan magazine, and her admission she couldn't and didn't cook at all in another. Both magazines were from the same year.

Also, too, I wouldn't eat any star recipe of the past that I found. One reason is...suet. It shows up far too often, though even once is too often for me.

Trish said...

Ugh. I just finished my lunch, and it may come back up on me after reading Quarry's recipes. He certainly likes strong, heavy foods. At the very least, I like his chatty writing style. I'm really not certain if I've seen any of his films. I know I've seen Count Yorga trailers. Let's hope his acting is better than his cooking... ;)

The Siren said...

Mndean, on FB Stephen Whitty was talking about a book of "Dead Celebrity Recipes" that sounded pretty fascinating. Can you share which star, or is it a secret? I have Marlene Dietrich's ABC and she has a few recipes in there and I may yet try them, because A. everybody says she was a great cook and B. I never learn.

Trish, the movies are decidedly not great (as I recall from a fairly long time distance) but they were striking-looking, fun for a late night and I remember thinking that Quarry had a pretty good way with a dry line.

DavidEhrenstein said...

During an 11 p.m. "lunch break" on the set of Gods ad Monsters the cast and crew sat around "dishing" at will. Inevitably "Who's Gay?" came up and someone asked Was Vincent price gay?" to which Sir Ian McKellen loudly replied "Of course he was gay! He was married to Coral Browne wasn't he???!!!"

Kerri said...

You can probably find most of those recipes here:

Although the stew looks worth salvaging.

mndean said...

No secret, it was Mary Brian around 1930. (I didn't say it was a big star!)

I didn't think it important since I can probably find more like her if I looked for them. It was funny to see her freely admit that she was a rotten cook and ordered dinner from the restaurant on the ground floor of the building her family lived in, or hired caterers when guests came. The dish itself was simple and not as horrible as some of the others I've seen, but still nothing I would willingly eat. I just look at a recipe and decide, "hell no!"

Practically all of the old recipes I run into in the fan mags are laden with saturated fat in one form or another. It's a wonder heart attacks weren't even more common if they really ate like that.

The Siren said...

M., at least the portions were much smaller, for whatever that was worth. My 60s cookbook (The Spice Cookbook it's called) will tell me something yields eight portions when I can serve it comfortably to my 2-adult-3-kid family. Also I have to dial the salt way back purely as a matter of taste.

Trish said...

Ha ha, lovely anecdote, David Ehrenstein! I watched Vincent Price in "House of Wax" today. I was a high school student at the time of his marriage to Coral Browne, and well remember it. What puzzled me was why two elderly actors would marry one another...!

DavidEhrenstein said...

They obvioulsy enjoyed on another's company enormously. Have you see A Englishman Abroad?

Here it is!

mndean said...

You're right, Siren. The day of the all-you-can-eat restaurant and huge portions didn't happen until much later. Also, lots of the foods we take for granted as being cheap now weren't cheap then.

VP81955 said...

Here's Carole Lombard's recipe for chicken mousse, as well as links to several other recipes of hers (you will love the spinach soup):