Saturday, August 8, 2009

Cookbook Review: The Berghoff Family Cookbook

For me, and I suspect the same holds true for most foodies, there is great pleasure to be had in leafing through the pages of a brand new cookbook, especially if it is a really good one, chock full of page after page of delicious sounding new recipes to try. There are so many cookbooks on the market, it is difficult to find a real treasure, one that you will find yourself turning to over and over. Many cookbooks have some great recipes hiding inside them, but it is rare to find one that makes me want to cook nearly every single recipe. I am talking about a keeper - the sort of book you never want to lend to anyone, even your family, for fear of not getting it back and being deprived of its wonderful recipes. The sort of cookbook you like so much, you buy several copies as gifts for all of your closest foodie friends.

I knew I was going to enjoy The Berghoff Family Cookbook (by Carlyn Berghoff and Jan Berghoff with Nancy Ross Ryan) from the moment I first read its description. It is just the sort of cookbook I typically enjoy, with well presented and beautifully photographed homestyle recipes that have been treasured, honed, and shared through generations, representing the cultural influences of the authors' heritage. The Berghoff Restaurant was a Chicago institution for 107 years, serving many classic German and Italian specialties. The cookbook contains many of the restaurant's most requested recipes, including several that had been kept secret for years. The book also includes many of the popular recipes from Carlyn Berghoff's catering business and even some personal family recipes.

There are so many recipes in this book that I want to try. The very first recipe in the book made me smile, as it is for Chef Matt's Spinach Dip and not only do I love dips, but spinach dip in particular is a personal favorite. Their version contains some unique and unusual seasonings that make it stand out from the ordinary, so I am really looking forward to tasting it. Also a must for me is the Creamed Spinach, a Berghoff specialty, which was one of their most popular recipes of all. Any restaurant that can manage to make the general public crave its spinach dishes has to have been doing something right. Authentic versions of Red Cabbage, Sauerkraut, and Potato Pancakes are also recipes that stood out immediately to me. Other tempting traditional dishes such as Pork Jaeger Schnitzel (pork in a rich mushroom sauce), Schlacht Platte (German sausages with sauerkraut), Sauerbraten (beef marinated for several days and served with a rich wine based gravy) are all on my "must try soon" short list. I can't wait to get my baking supplies so that I can give their amazing looking Black Forest Cake (a unique version with both chocolate and vanilla cake layers) and Apple Strudel a try.

Deciding on which main dish to test first was a very simple choice for me. I absolutely had to try out their classic Wiener Schnitzel, (page 130) with German Potato Salad (page 31) on the side. Not only are these two dishes I have always enjoyed, but they were also two of the most requested recipes and most ordered at the Berghoff restaurant.

The Wiener Schnitzel (crispy breaded veal cutlets) was so very easy to prepare and came out very light and crisp. I can't recall having such delicious Schnitzel outside of Germany. In fact, this was even better than the best I had eaten while living in Germany. I was able to prep the veal cutlets earlier in the day, breading them and then popping them into the fridge to chill as directed. They cooked in only a few minutes once I was ready to serve them. I only wished I had made more, as this was definitely something you want seconds of.

The German Potato Salad was a bit different from the types I have had before, most notably in the use of oil instead of bacon drippings, as well as far less sugar, making this version a bit healthier. I served this two ways: warm the first night, to accompany the veal, and then cold the next day. I used red skinned potatoes and left the skins on. The authors recommend letting this salad marinate overnight, and I wholeheartedly agree. While it tasted good the first night, it was far more flavorful and tender the next day. My one criticism was the amount of vinegar, which seemed a bit too strong. I would use less next time, although it did tone down considerably by the second day.

For lunch, I decided to try the interesting sounding Brie and Raspberry Grilled Cheese Sandwich (page 117), one of Carlyn's own recipes. I used homemade rye bread; a teaser actually, as I used a recipe from Carlyn's next book, The Berghoff Cafe Cookbook, which I will be trying out next, so keep posted. This was such a simple sandwich - just crusty bread, butter, raspberry jam, and brie cheese- but it was oh so decadent. If you are a brie fan, this is a great twist on the old grilled cheese.

Overall, The Berghoff Family Cookbook is a really great find, and I am so glad I had to opportunity to try it out. This exceeded my expectations by a mile, and I really am looking forward to trying out more of their recipes. If the rest of the recipes are as enjoyable and authentic as those I have tried so far, then this will be a serious contender for my keeper shelf for sure. Highly recommended.


  1. Lovely to see you posting again Heather. I hope you are settling in now you have had a chance to catch your breath.
    Your veal cutlets look yummy.

  2. Thank you. Still waiting for most of my stuff to arrive and then I will get to unpack. The veal was very yummy, I am going to try it with turkey cutlets next time (cheaper and easier to get locally for me).