The last sentence on the first page of this cookbook states: “Texans are easily recognized by their genuine smiles and cheerful greetings!” What about their cooking? Well, as the book’s author, Jeanne Kennedy, points out, Texans are diversified. The same can be said about the cuisine in Texas, which has absorbed the influences and cultures from its many inhabitants–Spanish, Mexican, German, Italian, Irish, and the list goes on.
Black Tie and Blue Jeans begins with appetizers such as Prosciutto Wraps, includes a chapter on soups (Tortilla and Spicy African Peanut to name a few), and concludes with cookies, candies, and beverages. Oh, and don’t forget the chapter on sauces–everything from Orange-Cranberry Sauce to Barbecue Sauce #1 and Barbecue Sauce #2 and Barbecue Sauce #3.
We were curious to find out how Kennedy first became interested in cooking–she now belongs to a gourmet club that meets six times a year–and how in the world she came up with the idea for the book’s title. What follows is a Q&A with Jeanne Kennedy.
texasmonthly.com: Do you remember the first meal you ever prepared? If so, what was it and how did it turn out?
JK: During our first year of marriage, Don purchased half a beef. I really didn’t know what to do with it, so we had beef, beef, and more beef! I was only twenty years old at the time, so I will use that as an excuse. I had thawed beef for chicken-fried steak, then Mother invited us to dinner with she and Dad, so I didn’t cook. I knew for sure that the meat would ruin, so I set my alarm clock for four-thirty in the morning to get up and cook Don a nice steak breakfast. I thought this was a good thing, for I had heard men enjoy steak for breakfast! I pounced into our bedroom at six o’clock to present him breakfast in bed and thought he was going to die when he opened his eyes and saw chicken-fried steak, creamed potatoes, gravy, black-eyed peas, and corn on the cob, with hot biscuits on the side. Needless to say, I never did that again, and we have had many laughs through the years remembering that morning. After that, Don began tearing out magazine recipes he thought we would enjoy, and that’s when I began to think about what was going on in the food world. By the way, that meal did turn out good . . . for our evening meal.
texasmonthly.com: Why and how did you get seriously interested in cooking?
JK: When I married Don I knew I wanted my family to cherish memories focused around food, just as my parents had provided for us. That is when I became serious about cooking, but I’m not sure I understood “interested in cooking” at that time. Our evening meal had always been our family time, so naturally that was the thing to do. I wanted every meal to be enjoyed, so presentation was important to me. I became more interested in cooking through the years when various entertaining opportunities arose, such as celebrations for newcomers to our area, wedding showers, baby showers, birthdays, anniversaries.
texasmonthly.com: Are there other gourmet clubs? Can you give me a brief history?
JK: No other gourmet clubs are connected with our group, and I’m unaware of any others such as we have. I owned and operated a small restaurant in the early eighties named Take 5. When friends came in, we would chat a bit about cuisine and most always ended our conversations saying, “We should start a cooking club.” After several years I decided to just do it, so I gave them a call. We met in my home and planned how we could make such a commitment without interrupting our other family and community obligations. We tried to cover all pros and cons, from our expectations on menus and attendance to how our new group could affect our relationships with other friends that weren’t in the club. We were careful to focus on our purpose, which was our joy of cooking. We are now into our sixteenth year together. The best of all was the unplanned, cherished friendship we share as a group.
texasmonthly.com: Why did you decide to write Black Tie and Blue Jeans?
JK: The recipes are great, and I enjoy using them often. However, over a fifteen-year period, six times a year, I had a lot of menus to go through as I searched for a particular recipe. I decided to put our recipes in book form. In the process of doing this, I realized that we really had quite a collection of fine recipes that I thought others would enjoy preparing. So I approached our gourmet club to see if they wanted to participate in doing this. They gave me permission to use their recipes and their blessings to just go it alone. So I did.
texasmonthly.com: What is your favorite recipe in the book?
JK: I have many recipes I enjoy cooking, but I would have to say the Cranberry Cake With Hot Butter Sauce is one of my favorites. It is quick and easy, and is a family tradition for our Christmas Eve dessert.
texasmonthly.com: How did you come up with the title?
JK: Originally, it is how I’ve always compared the difference in personalities between Don and myself! One day in thinking about that, I thought it was a good description for formal and informal dining, using the same recipes but presenting them differently. I also feel it reflects the spirit of our club, as well as the diversity of Texas.