Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Review: The Berghoff Café Cookbook

The Berghoff Café Cookbook: Berghoff Family Recipes for Simple, Satisfying Food. Carlyn Berghoff with Nancy Ross Ryan. Andrews McMeel Publishing, $24.99 (156p) ISBN-13: 978-0-7407-8514-6

Family food history. A slice of Americana. Useful cooking tips. The Berghoff Café Cookbook has it all -- and more. Chef, owner, and author Carlyn Berghoff had me at 'Deviled Eggs with Three Fillings' (page 3). The three fillings: Caper Deviled Eggs, Smoked Salmon Deviled Eggs, and Horseradish Deviled Eggs. These are deviled eggs redux.

This cookbook is full of recipes for things we all know well; food we have eaten with our families as children and as adults. Dishes that bring comfort and are 'simple and satisfying' like the cover promises. Ms. Berghoff starts off telling the reader how her great-grandfather came over from Germany in the late 1800s eventually opening the Berghoff Café in Chicago in 1898; and how it ended up in her hands several decades later. As she wends her way through the family history she throws in interesting historical tid bits about food, eating and dining from the early days. Like the story of a 'shot and a wash,' a riff on a boilermaker. A stein of favorite Berghoff beer with a shot of their seven-year old Berghoff bourbon thrown in. It started in previous centuries when water was impure giving whiskey a bad taste. The solution? Drop a shot glass of whiskey into a mug of beer; when drinking it the drinker caught the shot glass with their teeth, the beer masking the taste of the whiskey. The drink is still on the menu albeit updated.

When I first picked up the book I was a little unsure; I guess I am more of a food snob than I want to admit. The design, and the food and recipes inside are more traditional, more down home than where my tastes usually run in cookbooks. I've recently seen too many flashy books by well-known chefs. However, after reading through it, and trying several recipes -- the Potato Soup being a favorite -- I changed my tune. This books embodies the Midwestern lifestyle. It evokes what a downtown, local Chicago restaurant can be. It is warm and homey. Ms. Carlyn's maxim of 'reuse, recycle and reinvent' that she applies in the restaurant works perfectly in the home kitchen.

The Berghoff Café Cookbook offers recipes across the food gamut from bar snacks to paninis and pizzas to yummy desserts. Dishes like Alsatian Onion Soup, Apple Pie Squares with Cheddar Crust, and Westpahlian Ham Panini with Granny Smith Apple and Applesauce are a few of the standouts. Ms. Carlyn has updated the restaurant menu since her great-grandfather's day while also keeping his spirit and food very much alive. She calls it 'tradition with a twist,' and I'd say that is quite apt.

I'd recommend this book to anyone looking for straightforward, comfort food pure and simple. It's all there. Nothing fancy; nothing pretentious. The next meal I want to prepare is from the Daily Specials section: Classic Salisbury Steak with Mushroom Jus Lié and Spaetzle. Salisbury steak is a dish my Nebraska born grandmother made often when I was growing up. Comfort food.

My Status: Settling into fall, happily. New cookbooks to try, some to review; new kitchen equipment to try out. More cooking, eating, writing, blogging coming soon.

Upcoming Posts: 'gleaning,' or the act of gathering public produce, or leftover farmer's market produce, and giving it to the poor, needy and hungry. A history of the movement, and those that are involved with it. Reviews: Cooking Light, a review of the redesign of the Time Inc. magazine.

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  1. Great review - I am going to look into getting this for my mom's holiday gift!

  2. I was lucky to have tasted the Potato Leek Soup you made. It was delicious and the recipe was straight-forward. Thanks!

  3. Natasha - I do think she'll enjoy it. And it's a perfect holiday gift.

    Robert - it was good, wasn't it!? Will have to make it again soon.