Vintage Entertaining Ideas


In honor of this week’s Great American Thursday Dinner Party AKA Thanksgiving, here are some decorating ideas a la Betty Crocker. I really wouldn’t use anything verbatim, but the fabrics do have their own charm decades later.

–From Betty Crocker’s Hostess Handbook, Published 1967




Pumpkin Pie with Ginger Streusel

Yes, it is impossible to hide: I have a strong and obvious obsession with pumpkin pie. Yes, this is my second pumpkin pie recipe I’ve written about in a month. My main excuse is that Thanksgiving is around the corner. Also, I think when you love something as much as I love this dessert, you should have a couple of versions on hand. This is an old favorite that I tend to come back to from time to time.

This pie tends to impress people thanks to a killer trio of layers: a decadent spiced bottom crust, a very creamy and soft center, and an overly generous streusel topping. It is especially appealing to anyone who is a fan of ginger. It’s what you make to rope in the pumpkin pie haters wandering your dinner crowd, the one that occasionally creates a convert.

I think the crust recipe is both amazing and frustrating at once. Amazing because the addition of fresh ginger and ground cloves are everything to this recipe; frustrating because the crust tends to quickly shrink and then burn by the end of the lengthy baking time. The flavor is there, but there’s something a little off with the overall ratio and baking times. I would try to cover the crust with foil during much of the baking time. Also, if you have your own favorite crust recipe I’d suggest using it here. Perhaps adding ginger and some cloves to a tried-and-true crust will be sufficient.

The interior custard is softer than other versions of squash pie, yet I tend to only let it cook the suggested 50 minutes before adding the streusel.  Any longer and the whole pie starts to overcook. The streusel topping is finished by 25 minutes at the most- I would check on it after 20 minutes to be sure. I think the overall spice of the pie is best after resting at least 12 hours, so be sure to give yourself plenty of time to make this before serving.

The pie is very sweet- maybe overly so- and hardly needs any accompaniments. The end result is also messy, even bordering on ugly once you slice it up. Exactly why I went the dark-and-mysterious-photo-route instead of showing it off. Some things are better off being consumed than incessantly styled.

Sliced and over being photographed. Waiting for a fork.

Recipe Credit: Bon Appetit

Kitchen Mess: 2 out of 4. Not too bad, though watch out for streusel crumbs on your counter.

Recommended For: Ginger Fanatics, Thanksgiving, Pre-Thanksgiving, Thanksgiving Nostalgia in January

Not Recommended For: Trying to Use Less Heavy Cream, The Only Dessert Amongst Friends Who Hate Ginger



Pear Upside-Down Cake

Pear Upside Down CakeI was really craving a homemade dessert. Cake, ideally. Something with a seasonal flavor, but definitely not one of my standby apple or pumpkin-flavored sweets. A more unique choice.

Luckily I came across a newish issue of Bon Appetit in the house that had just the thing: a luxurious walnut-and-olive-oil-based cake topped with pears resting in a caramel-y pomegranate syrup. Perfect! Pears aren’t as ubiquitous at my house as, say, bananas are, but they are easy enough to find at the market. Plus I feel like pears are often underrated as a dessert. This was definitely going in the right direction as far as uniqueness.

The recipe begins with making a syrup that lines the base of the pan, AKA cooled caramel that eventually ends up being the top of the cake once the pan is turned rightside up. No problems there. It consists of pomegranate syrup and orange juice that is combined with sugar and butter then reduced. Soon after the pears are added to the pan in order to soften the fruit and release some juice. They seemed to need a little more cooking time than listed in the recipe, but this was easily remedied. After a second round of syrup reduction I was able to pour the caramel over the pears and add them to the only spot in my freezer available for the cooling period. On to the cake portion!

The cake batter is created by using both a food processor and an upright mixer.  It seems excessive at first but makes sense: first of all, the processor is needed to grind the walnuts into a flour, and secondly, there is very little chance of beating 4 eggs without a mixer. So in the end I had a lot of dishes to do, but no biggie- this is what I get for making something besides brownies!

The olive oil/egg/ground walnut/all-purpose flour batter is then poured over the cooling-in-the-freezer pear/caramel mix and ready for the oven. The baking times listed seemed too short in my opinion. I definitely had to go past the suggested 50-60 minutes when the middle seemed raw after an hour. A few minutes later and all was ready for cooling.

I thought the end result was lovely, if not slightly misrepresented in the title. The idea that this is a “spiced” cake is going a bit too far, in my opinion. The bosc pears match wonderfully with the tartness of the caramel syrup. The cake itself is rich and slightly nutty, a great base element for the sweet-yet-tart top. Why so little spice flavor?  The recipe calls for a 1/4 tsp of cardamom, which to me wasn’t enough to register in the final baked product. So overall a spice fail, but really the cake is too beautiful to complain too much.

Pear Upside Down Cake

Recipe Credit: Bon Appetit

Kitchen Mess: 3 out of 4 starts. Not too terrible considering the steps involved. I feel the need to warn everyone that this contains a bunch of sticky ingredients.

Recommended For: Upside Down Cake Enthusiasts, People Looking for Recipes that Use up Pomegranate Syrup, Something to do with Extra Bosc Pears.

Not Recommended For: Anyone looking for a traditional spiced cake.

Grandma Style Pizza

I’m a coal-oven pizza loving person but I also want to occasionally make a pie at home. Yes, even if it will be cooked in my conventional, not-hitting-crazy-high-temperatures home oven. Ever since I was young I looked forward to homemade pizza nights. As an adult I realized there was a good reason for why those nights were so rare as a child: there are many little steps to homemade pizza night. Pizza delivery night, on the other hand, can be as spontaneous as needed. You have to really be into cooking to not just call in an order. Even if homemade pizza has a certain happy, soothing quality that can’t be replicated in a cardboard box delivery.

So in lieu of “professional” pizza cooked in large commercial ovens, this homemade grandma pizza recipe is easy to create at home. It is also great for a small crowd or simply for leftovers (my personal favorite).

Despite the prep time, I enjoy how this pizza recipe can be put together in piecemeal. The most important step to to make the dough 24 hours in advance so it will properly rise. The other steps involved, like making the sauce, can be done anytime within that time period, technically anytime before you are ready to roll out the dough on the sheet. You’ll also likely need to purchase mozzarella and toppings, unless you are really, really prepared for pizza at all times.

The sauce has a mild complexity to it and doesn’t need much tweaking. I do tend to throw in an extra anchovy or two because, well, umami is my favorite.

Overall the dough is forgiving, although I always have trouble stretching it out to reach the edges of my pan.  The recipe suggests that you wait a short amount of time after you take the dough out of the fridge to start stretching it, which I would also stress. Despite waiting I still have trouble. Luckily the finished product has yet to taste tough and overworked. The cooking times have been spot-on in my oven so far. When you take the first bite you’ll likely want to make a second pie for breakfast, lunch and dinner the following day. Luckily the 24-hour dough rise will deter this from happening, keeping you from becoming a constant-pizza-making-glutton after all.

Fresh from the over
Fresh from the oven

Recipe Credit: Bon Appetit- Dough here, Pizza here

Kitchen Mess: 2 out of 4. Relatively clean despite being a messy sort of meal. Not so clean if you double the recipe and add new toppings.

Recommended For: Sunday Football Parties, Weekends, Winter Meals

Not Recommended For: Pan Pizza Snobs, Events on Short Notice, Summertime