Cooking With the Stars — Vera Miles’ Mexican Casserole

Hey, fellow classic film fans! I’m back with my second installment of Cooking With the Stars, a series of posts in which I whip up and review a delicious recipe that was cooked or eaten by a classic film star. More often than not it will even be their own personal recipe! Most of the recipes that I’ll be posting in this series will be courtesy of one of my favorite bloggers, Jenny of Silver Screen Suppers. If you’ve ever wanted to try vintage cooking or the favorite foods of your favorite icons, her blog is the place to go! I’m fortunate enough to be one of the lucky test cooks for her upcoming Columbo Cookbook, a compilation of recipes that were either featured on the hit television show or cooked by one of its stars. Today I’ll be bringing you the second of three recipes that I plan to blog about for the book, Vera Miles’ Mexican Casserole, courtesy of the author of the upcoming book herself. Thank you so much once again, Jenny!

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Vera Miles was born on August 23, 1929 in Boise City, Oklahoma, but soon after her birth her family relocated to Kansas, where she attended school in both Pratt and Wichita. After graduating from high school, Vera worked nights as a typist and operator for Western Union, but her first real taste of fame came in 1948 when she won the coveted title of Miss Wichita, and went on to win Miss Kansas and compete in the Miss America pageant. Vera excelled in the pageant circuit, snagging the titles of Miss Chamber of Commerce, Miss New Maid Margarine, and Miss Texas Grapefruit on top of that before 1951 came to an end. Her many titles as a beauty queen caught Hollywood’s eye, and Vera Miles moved to Los Angeles in 1950, landing bit parts in both film and television. It was the legendary director John Ford who gave Vera her first starring role in the classic western The Searchers (1956), opposite John Wayne. The very next year she began a five-year personal contract with another iconic filmmaker and the one with whom she’s most closely associated: none other than Alfred Hitchcock, who added Vera to the long list of delicate blondes who he hoped would serve as replacements for his muse, Grace Kelly, who had just retired from Hollywood in order to marry Prince Rainier of Monaco.

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Her first job for Hitchcock came when she starred in the pilot episode of Hitchcock Presents (1955-1962), titled “Revenge”, in which she played the dramatic leading role of Elsa Spann, a woman assaulted by an unkown attacker. The master of suspense admired her performance so much that he instantly cast her in The Wrong Man (1957) with Henry Fonda, a film that proved to be yet another success in their partnership. Hitchcock put in motion a third thrilling production for his newest leading lady, but when Miles became pregnant with her third child, the director was forced to replace her with Kim Novak in what would eventually become one of his best known classics, Vertigo (1958). During and after her pregnancy Vera remained a constant in Hollywood, appearing in well-received films like The FBI Story (1959) with James Stewart and continuing to make numerous television appearances, which she would go on to do even after she stopped making films. Notwithstanding the gap between collaborations, Hitchcock was still determined to make Vera Miles his biggest star, and to do that he put her in her biggest role to date, that of Lila Crane in Psycho (1960). The film was a smash, yet Vera would only go on to appear in one more critically acclaimed film, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962). Despite her roles in so many iconic films and television shows (The Twilight Zone, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Columbo, and The Outer Limits, to name a few), sadly Vera hasn’t received the fame and notoriety that she deserves. Though she retired from acting in 1995 and has declined public appearances and interviews, she is fortunately still with us at age 87 and still graciously responds to her fan mail.

I was warned that this dish is very cheesy, but decided to go ahead and give it a try anyway, and I’m glad that I did! Luckily I’ve been watching The Twilight Zone (1959-1964) in order and was able to watch her episode, “Mirror Image”, while I was cooking. It was incredibly well-acted, and the special effects and camera tricks were phenomenal! If you want a delicious and versatile meal to munch on while you watch this lovely Hitchcock blonde in action, here’s how you can make this recipe:

Vera Miles’ Mexican Casserole

  • 2 pounds / 900 grams Cheddar Jack cheese
  • 6 eggs, separated
  • 1 ½ tablespoons flour
  • Dash of salt to taste
  • 2 small cans of green chilli peppers
  • 1 fresh tomato, sliced
  • Dash of oregano
  1. Grate the two cheeses and mix together.
  2. Separate egg whites and beat until stiff, adding the flour for added body.
  3. Beat egg yolks until fluffy and gently fold into egg white mixture.
  4. Take chilli peppers and chop. If you desire less of a hot taste, remove some of the chilli seeds as they contain the hot flavor.
  5. Grease a large casserole dish that would serve about five people and layer a portion of the egg mixture into the dish.
  6. Layer part of the chopped chilli pepper, ending with a portion of the cheese. Repeat until ingredients are used up.
  7. Slice the fresh tomato over the top and and add a sprinkling of oregano.
  8. Bake at 375 degrees F / 190 degrees C / Gas Mark 5 for 30 minutes, or until mixture is set.
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My casserole just before it went into the oven!
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My finished casserole!
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A serving of the casserole! This one looks much prettier than my serving of the first Cooking with the Stars dish!

It’s that easy! This wasn’t the healthiest meal that I’ve ever made (all that cheese meant a lot of grease!), but it tasted great! The egg and tomato made this a recipe that could be a perfect addition to a breakfast, lunch, or dinner. The recipe is wonderful as it is, but I could see more of the chilis or some fresh green bell pepper, spinach, or mushrooms making this a healthier and more complex brunch staple. I would also recommend dividing this recipe up if you’re just cooking for yourself and don’t want leftovers for days and days (mine lasted three!). I hope that you all get to try this for yourselves! You could even write to Vera if you love it! Stay tuned until my next review, where I’ll be trying out a dish from another Pyscho (1960) star!

Cooking With the Stars — Jackie Cooper’s Curried Eggs and Macaroni

Hey, everyone! Today I’m bringing you the first of what I hope will be a series of posts in which I whip up and review a scrumptious dish that was cooked or eaten by a classic film star. More often than not it will even be their own personal recipe! All of the recipes that I’ll be posting in this series will be courtesy of one of my favorite bloggers, Jenny of Silver Screen Suppers. If you’ve ever wanted to try vintage cooking or the favorite foods of your favorite icons, her blog is the place to go! I’m fortunate enough to be one of the lucky test cooks for her upcoming Columbo Cookbook, a compilation of recipes that were either featured on the hit television show or cooked by one of its stars. Today I’ll be bringing you the first of three recipes that I plan to blog about for the book, Jackie Cooper’s Curried Eggs and Macaroni, courtesy of the author of the upcoming book herself. Thanks, Jenny!

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Jackie Cooper at the age of nine in a publicity still for Skippy (1931).

Jackie Cooper, born on September 15, 1922, was a much beloved child star of the 1930s, and the first child actor to be nominated for an Academy Award. In 1931 he went on to break yet another barrier, for at age nine he became the youngest actor to be nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role for his smash hit, Skippy (1931). He did not win, but Cooper still holds the record for the youngest person to be nominated in the category. Unlike many of his peers, he went on to achieve success in films and television as an adult, starring in Ziegfeld Girl (1941) and The Twilight Zone in 1964, even receiving the leading role in multiple television shows throughout the 1950s before snagging a supporting part in Superman (1978) as Perry White and returning for its three sequels. My personal favorite of Cooper’s appearances was his stint as a celebrity panelist on To Tell the Truth (1956-1968), a television game show that was wildly popular at the time. Cooper continued to have a stellar career in television before his reitrement in 1990, and passed away more than two decades later on May 3, 2011 at the age of 88.

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Jackie Cooper as an adult, at the height of his second career in television.

The recipe that I’ll be reviewing today is from the height of his fame as a child star in the 1930s, when he told the author of a vintage recipe book that this was a favorite of his that was often prepared for him by his mother. Cooper was quoted as saying, “Whenever my mother wants me to have a dish that contains all the vitamins that are necessary for a young chap who is growing by leaps and bounds, this is what she serves me and boy, is it good.” If you’re from the US like me, this recipe may come as quite a shock to you. At first it appears to be a typical recipe for homemade macaroni and cheese, topped with breadcrumbs and all, but if you look closely you’ll see one key missing ingredient: the cheese! What this dish lacks in cheesy goodness it makes up for in sliced hardboiled eggs and curry powder, of all things. I’ll admit that these changes made me a little hesitant to cook the recipe at first, but I decided to try something new and it certainly paid off. If you’d like to try this recipe for yourself, here it is:

Jackie Cooper’s Curried Eggs and Macaroni

  • 1/2 lb / 225g macaroni
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 4 tablespoons flour
  • 1/2 to 1 tablespoon curry powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups  / 475 ml milk
  • 6 hard-boiled eggs
  • Buttered bread crumbs
  1. Bring a pan of water to boil, salt and place macaroni in and let cook until tender, drain and wash under hot water until all the starch is removed.
  2. Next make a cream sauce – first melt butter and add flour, curry powder, salt and milk — cook until thickened and add to the macaroni.
  3. Place macaroni in baking dish, alternating layers of macaroni with layers of hard boiled eggs, ending with the macaroni on top.  Sprinkle with buttered bread crumbs and brown under the broiler/grill.

I cooked the recipe accordingly, and here are my results:

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A hearty serving of the dish, though it doesn’t get many points for presentation.
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A bonus picture of my puppy Mozart waiting for the macaroni to come out of the oven! He gobbled up a little bit that fell on the floor and gave it two paws up!

I made this for dinner when my sister stopped by for the weekend and she tried it along with my husband. He said, “I was thrown off because I don’t like the texture of eggs, but in this the texture of the pasta balances out the eggs. There was no aftertaste, and I liked it and I ate more than I expected. If I could improve it I would add some cheese like Parmesan or Mozzarella. Another downside is that once it went in the fridge, the leftovers crumbled quite a bit and wouldn’t hold their shape.” My sister said, “It tastes like ramen, with similar seasonings. The curry kind of overpowers everything and if I were cooking it I would use less, but I like that the egg adds some texture, and I also think it would better with cheese.” I tend to agree with them both to an extent. The taste of the curry was pretty strong fresh out of the oven, but once I had some leftovers the flavors all blended together better and I really fell in love with this dish! If I did it again, all that I would change is that I’d add a ton of cheddar cheese to the sauce to make a scrumptious cheese sauce before mixing it with the macaroni.

I hope that you all get to make and try out one of Jackie Cooper’s specialties, and hold on to your seats until I come back with my next recipe and review!