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Honoring the Elegant but Easy Cookbook

Ellen Shapiro

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The Elegant but Easy cookbook, by Marian Burros (who has been a special guest here) and Lois Levine, was arguably one of the most impactful cookbooks for the baby boom generation. Orignally published as Elegant but Easy in 1960 and Second Helpings in 1963, the two were I think consolidated into the Elegant but Easy Cookbook in 1967. The revised edition I have comes from Macmillan and bears a 1984 copyright. It says on the cover 365,000 sold. Later editions also happened, including the New Elegant but Easy Cookbook in 1998.

I thought I could start a tribute to Elegant but Easy here by pointing to my family's favorite dish from the book. We disregard most every step of the recipe, including calling it by a different name, but we owe the debt of gratitude to Burros and Levine for many a happy family hors d'oeuvre. Not that many of these ever made it out of the kitchen in my childhood home. People would gather around the stove and eat most of them before they were served.

We called (and still do call) the dish "hot dogs in mustard sauce." EE calls it (I will refer to the book as EE for short) "sweet-and-sour franks." The basic proportions are 2 lbs. sliced frankfurters, 1 cup currant jelly, and 3/4 cup prepared mustard. Here's the way we did it this morning:

EE recommends cutting the hot dogs "diagonally, 1/2" thick" by which EE means a bias cut. We cut each hot dog (6 per pound) into 6 pieces probably more like 1" (2 lbs. total as recommended).


EE recommends currant jelly but over the years I've used many kinds of jelly and preserves. Today we used blueberry (1 cup as recommended).


For the 3/4 cup mustard, we used half Zatarain's Creole Mustard and half Maille Dijon Originale. If you don't use a strongly flavored mustard with some heat to it, the end result will be too sweet.


The book then recommends heating on top of a double boiler for 5 minutes, refrigerating, and then reheating and serving in a chafing dish. This system is cumbersome and doesn't work as well as simple heating in a pan. It looks kind of gross at first.


Five minutes as recommended by EE is not enough. You need about 20 minutes to get everything up to temperature and thicken the sauce. A little water, about a quarter cup, should also be added at the beginning.

Eventually the sauce thickens and changes to a more pleasant color. If you serve this in a nice dish it's elegant enough. We served it right out of the pot, though.


Served with Champagne of course (Piper-Heidsieck Brut).

The two guests we had over both remembered their parents cooking this dish. Each had variants. One family used cocktail-size franks, the other used grape jelly. The dish looks better if you use jelly and smooth mustard, however it tastes better to me when made with a higher level of preserves and some grainy mustard.

The 1998 new EE edition doesn't seem to have this recipe in it and generally seems more modern and upscale which I think misses the point. If you see an older copy around you should try to get one. This style of food became passe in the 1980s and 1990s but is now retro chic and, of course, so elegant (but easy).

Anybody else have EE memories, adaptations, anything? Tell all!

Ellen Shapiro


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Months ago I bought all the ingredients for this dish or one very similar to it - grape jelly and cocktail weiners but have not yet got around to making it - snob factor? Not sure-- but you had now forced my hand. :biggrin: Soon it will appear as an appetizer around here.

Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

...I just let people know about something I made for supper that they might enjoy, too. That's all it is. (Nigel Slater)

"Cooking is about doing the best with what you have . . . and succeeding." John Thorne

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I must admit, I relate to the "snob factor." After all, these are hot dogs we're talking about. To me, this dish goes hand in hand with the Campbell's mushroom soup casseroles (don't forget the Durkee fried onions on top), hot spinach artichoke dip and all of those other 1970s favorites. But boy, are these hot dogs good—and I don’t even like hot dogs!

Ellen Shapiro


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This was my mothers first cookbook and we reaped the benefit of having Marion's Noodle Pudding our Shavuot family dish. It is rich and creamy and yummy.

She also used to make the Vienna Torte. I remember it also being very rich, but delicious.

She still has the cookbook and I debated whether I should nick it or not when I visited my parents in December. I decided to leave it.

Edited by Swisskaese (log)
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I have never made the kugel from EBE cookbook but I've been on a bit of a kugel kick lately because my son really likes it and I've decided that for a child, it's the perfect food. It's very nutritious and filling, it's totally portable and it tastes good at any temperature.

The recipe I have, I got from my mother-in-law who got it from a friend. I'm guessing it's a spin-off from the EBE cookbook because it's almost exactly the same (this recipe calls for apricot jam as a topping rather than Corn Flakes). As a variant, I add raisins but don't do the jam. He gets the recipe as is--all whole milk products but when I make it for other occasions, I make it with skim milk and it's not quite so rich but tastes equally as good.

Ellen Shapiro


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