Thursday, September 10, 2009

Cookbook Review: "The Berghoff Cafe Cookbook"

Note: If you are a regular reader you might be wondering where my Barefoot Bloggers post is this week and well, I have decided to take a bit of a BB break. I have been cooking Ina Garten's recipes and posting them with the group since the beginning and have not missed a recipe or Thursday BB posting yet--not even an optional one. (Kinda proud of that!). Since I switched to a (mostly) healthier focus in January, cooking Ina's recipes has not been easy and I have modified a lot of them. This month it was two cakes with lots of butter and sugar; not the easiest thing to modify and so it seemed like a message to me to bow out now rather than skip them and break my perfect record. ;-) I have enjoyed the Barefoot Bloggers, especially all the wonderful bloggers I have been able to get to know and who knows, I may step back in at some point, or check and see what they are doing and cook along with them. 

It's always nice when my postal person comes to the door and hands me an unexpected package, particularly when it contains a new cookbook to review. In this case it was "The Berghoff Cafe Cookbook" by Carlyn Berghoff with Nancy Ross Ryan. A Chicago staple since the first cafe was founded in 1898, The Berghoff Cafe's food is "simple and satisfying, nothing fancy, and not at all fussy", Carlyn Bergoff captures that in this book which is about simple food from the restaurant that can be prepared easily at home. The cafe builds its menu based on three principles; "Reuse, Recycle, Reinvent". Reusing is taking basic ingredients like potatoes and making them into a variety of recipes, while recycling is taking a menu item like their Herb-Marinated Turkey Breast and using the meat in sandwiches, soups and many other dishes. Finally reinvention revolves around changing around familiar dishes so the customers, (or your family), don't get tired of them. 

I tabbed quite a few recipes to make and ended up with six.

First up, the Chili Con Carne, which has been on the Berghoff Cafe menu at least since their earliest surviving printed menu from 1914. It is a year round favorite at the cafe and appears on the nachos that are served at the bar. It's a simple recipe; ground chuck, onions, kidney beans, chili seasoning and a bottle of lager (Berghoff has their own). I topped mine with cheddar cheese and some cilantro and enjoyed it both as chili, and as Nachos.

You can't expect me not to have tried the chili on the Berghoff Nachos can you?! After all, it is "recycling" at its best! Piping hot chili is layered on top of tortilla chips, sprinkled with shredded cheddar cheese, guacamole, sour cream and other toppings of your choice. A tasty guilty pleasure for a movie night. 

A friend of mine had surgery on her shoulder so I thought it would be nice to take them a meal and the Turkey Meatloaf seemed perfect for the main course. Carlyn Berghoff says this is a family favorite and after tasting it I can see why. Seasoning the meatloaf with barbecue sauce gives it good flavor and finely chopped mushroom, pepper and onions keep it nice and moist. I made a large one to take to my friends (and a mini one for me to try), and it got the thumbs up from all of us. 

I was attracted to the Berghoff Buffalo Cobb salad because the ingredients reminded me of a favorite Barbecue Chop Salad from California Pizza Kitchen. I also liked how the fresh corn kernels are grilled or broiled, making it extra sweet. Combined with romaine, kidney beans, cucumber, and tomato and tossed (lightly) with ranch dressing, it is then topped with grilled chicken breast that has been tossed in barbecue sauce and finally some diced avocado and canned fried onions. The flavors all work well together and I can see why this main dish salad is one of the cafe's most popular. 

Since I was making the salad, I thought I should try the Ranch in a Jar, the favorite ranch dressing of the author's children. Made in a mason jar with butter milk, light mayo and light sour cream and spices, it is good. There was a time when I drowned everything in ranch dressing (especially french fries!), so this dressing was a nice flashback to those long ago days. 

Finally, I had to pick something sweet to make and although recipes for Brownies, The Chip Cookie, Lemon Squares and Bread Pudding looked enticing it was the Cream Cheese-Almond Coffee Cake that drew me in with its streusel topping and dried cherries inside. It was perfectly moist and very good with the cinnamon, vanilla, almonds, and the cherries all complimenting each other. (Probably my favorite recipe from the book, here is a link to the recipe it is well worth a try!)

With 80 recipes and a busy couple of weeks, there was plenty I didn't get to try but would have liked to. The pizzas look delicious, there are some wonderful-sounding soups (Beer-Cheese Soup--with popcorn on top, Turkey, Okra and Rice for example). The sandwiches look really good, there are plenty of main dishes and sides to choose from and the Fresh Baked Pretzels seem like a little piece of heaven. This is simple, homey, family-friendly food with little twists here and there to keep it interesting. A fun book to review it is perfect for anyone who likes the classics but wants to try some good variations, has a picky family or friends to feed, or likes the nostalgia that cafe food like this brings. 


  1. drooling over everything you made! CPK's BBQ chicken salad is one of my favs too. Sounds like a great book!

  2. I really love the recipes you chose to make, especially the chili/nachos and the cake! Your cake looks better than the one in the professional picture. I am adding this book to the want list on amazon.

  3. Yum, what a fabulous review...I'll try everything!! No wonder you receive surprise books in the mail to do such a thorough job, it's an honor for the author :) I'm hungry for breakfast now.

  4. Looks like a great batch of recipes. I got my Frugal Foodie book in the mail yesterday...can't wait to start creating.

  5. Deb, I am really sad you are leaving BB. I always looked forward to how you tweaked the recipes and lightened them up... but your workload between the reviews and everything else you are doing must be enormous. I'll still see you at Souper Sundays from time to time and Cook the Books. Take care. XX

  6. I'm so excited that you reviewed this book. I keep seeing it in my Good Cooks newsletter and I was curious about it. It sounds like a good cookbook overall. Great pictures, especially the one of the chili, it's so colorful and vibrant. Yum- nachos are truly a guilty pleasure of mine too!

  7. Real family tavern fare, sounds delish! I should get this book for my home bar, they sound like the perfect comfort foods.

  8. Great review and all the dishes look excellent!

  9. I had to give up BB as well although I love Ina's recipes. This cookbook sounds promising and you have chosen well. It all looks delicious!!

  10. I'm loving the idea of chili nacho's! I'll have to spring that one of my family in the coming months for sure. and the CPK Chopped BBQ Chicken salad is one of my all time favorite recipes! Yummy stuff you got going here :)

  11. I admire you willpower by bowing out of the cake marathon with the BB's. I just started, so I'm going to give away my cakes.

    All of these recipes look like ones I would bookmark, too.

    See you on Souper Sunday!

  12. Deb, I read this Thursday morning, just didn't have time to comment until now, I'm so sad you're leaving BB but completely understand. I have to tell you that you are the first BB blog (sometimes only) I look to every Thursday (if I was able to participate or not) and check-out your wonderful take on the BB recipe. I will really miss you in this group! I'm going to try to do both cakes this month but really miss 'savory Ina' as opposed to sweet :)

    Your book review is great, I love all of the recipes you tried, how delicous! The ranch in a jar is a neat idea and the cream cheese almond coffee cake sounds like my favorite kind of sweet treat.

  13. Sounds like a really great book - the cream cheese almond cake looks like just my sort of thing!


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