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 gives 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 udder 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!
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 dish...it'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
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.
PRICELESS BREAD PUDDING
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)
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.