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Starring With Stars’ Dishes

By Barry Dougherty

            In 1994 I renovated my kitchen, so when The Sinatra Celebrity Cookbook: Barbara, Frank & Friends (Wimmer, $24.95) came out last year I was delighted to finally be able to use it. The kitchen is not my home away from home. It is more like a vacation adventure I muster up the courage to take every few years–some people travel down the Grand Canyon on burros, I attempt Sloppy Joes. Putting my fears aside, I decided to bite the bullet, peruse the book and discover some gastronomical wonders that I could share with a few friends.
            My research ran the gamut from Frank Sinatra eggplant parmigiana (where I’d have to peel and cut an eggplant crosswise in 1/2-inch slices–does that require a slide rule?) and Pevronatta a la Borgnine (Pevro... huh?) to Buddy Hackett’s Chinese chili (which includes 1 cup of bamboo shoots–isn’t bamboo like wicker?). After poring over these delights, I settled on Phyllis Diller’s tropical chicken, Hal Linden’s rice casserole and Eydie Gorme and Steve Lawrence’s string beans and olive oil, topped off by pianist/composer George Shearing’s poppy seed cake for dessert.
            I invited five friends to join me on my culinary adventure, an act I instantly regretted. When I revealed the menu to Bill, a graduate of the French Culinary Institute, he was aghast that I was serving Phyllis with the Lawrence’s and questioned if closing with George Shearing was a wise move. Everybody’s in show business!
            The morning of my dinner I tackled the cake first. I beat eggs, added cups of this and teaspoons of that, ignoring directions that were meaningless to a neophyte gourmet. I mean, what’s the difference between sifting and not sifting? And what’s with evaporated milk? Can’t I just use half and half? Yet, within an hour or so I had actually created an honest-to-goodness, nothing-stuck-to-the pan, cake!
            Next, I focused on Hal’s casserole as if I’d been working the dinner shift at Le Cirque all my life. I had “finely chopped” the celery and parsley before I realized that my new kitchen included a food processor. So that’s what that thing does–finely chops things. Barring the liquid it turned the onions into, I’d say that thing is a godsend. (Mental note: Send Mr. Krups a Christmas card this year.)
            It was during the creation of Phyllis’ tropical chicken when I really hit my stride. I stuffed those little suckers with mangos, rolled them in flour, dipped them in egg then rolled them in coconut–oblivious to my flour-egg-coconut covered hands that looked as if I had been tarred and feathered. (Mental note: don’t answer phone during preparation of Phyllis Diller’s chicken.)
            Perhaps I was a bit overzealous in my efforts since the meal was ready to be served by 3:30 pm, even though I had told my guests to show up at 6. They arrived, eager to enjoy the fruits of my labor, just as I popped Sinatra’s Duets CD into the stereo. “So which celebrity hors d’oeuvres did you choose?” David asked. “Hors d’oeuvres?” I stammered, “I thought I’d let my own creation take up this portion of the evening–Doritos and salsa!” Not a terribly auspicious beginning, perhaps, but boy were they in for a treat. Seated around my borrowed 6-foot long folding table (which I adeptly fitted into my 7-foot long apartment), they waited with gleeful anticipation. “Did you choose a comedian’s recipe for the appetizer?” John piped up. Appetizer? People actually serve appetizers at home? Who knew?
            Lou, who works at Entertainment Weekly, noted that none of the dishes made the magazine’s “Power Issue.” Nevertheless, Phyllis, Hal, Steve and Eydie and George were a huge hit. No one even noticed that I left out the curry powder in the chicken. Thanks to the Sinatras and my new favorite celebs, I was an instant gourmand.
            While everyone loved all the dishes, Shearing’s poppy seed cake earned a special ovation. (Mental note: find out from Shearing what I’m supposed to do with a pound of leftover poppy seeds.)