Since I was a little girl, I have been collecting menus, first from my parents then later from my own adventures. If you have ever traveled with me you will know that I have so much fun in a new restaurant scoring the menu. I have met people from all over the world and shared common stories of food.

So what do I do with all these menus? I frame them and hang them in my home as a scrapbook of my life. Sometimes I try to duplicate the wonderful dishes, and sometimes they just bring back memories of a night well spent with family or friends.

My oldest menus are from New Orleans, the heart and soul of food. My parents brought them back to me from a trip they took in the early ’70s from all the big restaurants — Arnaud’s, Galatories, Commander’s Palace, The Court of Two Sisters, Antoine’s and Brennan’s. The names are like music to my ears.

So it was no great surprise that my first job was in a snack shack. I eventually made it to the dining room where I did learn more about the art of food service. I am largely a self-taught cook. I did spend several years working in the restaurant business in Mobile, Ala., a wonderful Southern city. First I was a waitress, for that is where you start.

Then I got a promotion to bartender, really one of the most coveted jobs in the business. I probably learned some of my greatest life lessons while bartending (which would require another column). The decision to become a restaurant manager came at a time in my life when I wanted to get closer to home. Nashville was where I landed, as the assistant manager of a Ruby Tuesday. It was there that I learned all the basics, first and foremost how to work hard. You gained no respect until you could pull a 14-hour kitchen shift and successfully run a full “wheel” expediting the guest’s food order. It is like watching a ballet and brings such gratification when the goal is mastered.

From there my life took a turn and I left the restaurant business behind, but I have never left my love of cooking and entertaining. I am happiest when my kitchen is full of family and friends.

I am engaged in food. I read cookbooks for fun and have files all over my house with favorite recipes, tips and entertaining ideas. I cook with my mom, I cook for my friends, I cook at my church and I have even taught my husband how to master a few dishes.

So this is where we will start. I will be sharing with you this month my adaptations of some iconic restaurant dishes for your enjoyment.

The year was 1937 and Bob Cobb, owner of the Brown Derby in Los Angeles was rummaging around in the kitchen trying to come up with an easy dinner. He found an array of leftovers and the Cobb salad was born.

Cobb salad                                                                                

4 cups of iceberg lettuce

2 ½ cups of Romaine lettuce

2 medium peeled tomatoes                                                                              

6 strips of crispy bacon                                                                                

2 cups of shredded chicken (I often use a rotisserie chicken)                                                        

3 hard-boiled eggs                                                                                      

1 avocado                                                                                        

½ cup crumbled Roquefort cheese

Cut the lettuces in fine pieces and arrange on a large platter. Dice tomatoes, crumble bacon, shred chicken (skin removed), dice eggs and avocado in small pieces and arrange along with the crumbled Roquefort cheese in strips over the greens.

Thousand Island dressing                                                                     

1 ¼ cups of mayonnaise ( I prefer Duke’s)                                                               

1/3 cup bottled chili sauce                                                                                 

¼ cup chopped drained pimiento                                                                        

1 large hard-boiled egg, shelled, finely chopped                                                               

3 tablespoons finely chopped dill pickle                                                                  

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard                                                                          

2 tablespoons drained capers                                                                          

2 tablespoons chopped green onion                                                                   

A few dashes of hot pepper sauce

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and whisk to blend.

The Red Cat in New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood eschewed the notion of concept with a down- to-earth setting with outstanding food and attitude free service. Jimmy Bradley opened the Red Cat in 1999 and this simple favorite has been on the menu from the beginning. A nice pre-fall appetizer or side dish and a great updated way to use your cast iron skillet.

Baked Fontina

Serves 4-6

1 ½ pounds of Italian Fontina cheese, rind removed and 1 inch-diced                                        

¼ cup good olive oil                                                                            

6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced 1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves                                         

1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary leaves

1 teaspoon kosher salt                                             

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper                                                            

1 crusty French baguette                                                                         

2 apples, cored and sliced                                                                       

2 pears, cored and sliced                                                                      

Distribute the cubes of Fontina evenly in a 12-inch cast iron skillet. Drizzle on the olive oil. Combine the garlic, thyme and rosemary and sprinkle it over the cheese and olive oil. Sprinkle with the salt and pepper and place the pan under the broiler for 6 minutes, until the cheese is melted and bubbling and starts to brown.

Serve the baked Fontina family style right out of the oven in the cast iron skillet with crusty chunks of bread, apples and pears for everyone to dip.

Few men have ever been more a part of the life and tradition of New Orleans than Owen Brennan. In July 1946, Owen Brennan opened Owen Brennan’s French and Creole Restaurant. Brennan’s brunch is legendary, a must for any visit to New Orleans. In a town where time means nothing and there is a great tradition of leisurely gastronomy enjoyment, be prepared for a three-hour delight. I have prepared this dessert many times to rave reviews always.

Bread pudding

and whiskey sauce

15 to 18 servings

½ cup raisins                                                                                      

4 cups whole milk                                                                                  

1 cup heavy cream                                                                                  

4 large eggs                                                                                      

1 ½ cups sugar                                                                                

½ cup chopped pecans                                                                           

1 teaspoon cinnamon                                                                               

1 teaspoon nutmeg                                                                               

1 teaspoon vanilla                                                                                 

 1 stale loaf French bread about 14 oz                                                                  

6 tablespoons butter plus extra for buttering baking dish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit

Place the raisins in a small bowl and add warm water to cover. Soak for two hours and drain.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the milk, cream, eggs, sugar, raisins and pecans. Whisk the mixture until well-blended and then stir in the cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla. Break the bread into the bowl and fold the mixture until the bread is soggy.

Butter a 13x9x2-inch baking dish and pour in the bread mixture. Push 6 tablespoons of butter into the top of the loaf and set the pan in a larger pan filled with about ½ inch of water. Bake the bread pudding in the water bath for 30 minutes, then remove the larger pan from the oven, bake the bread pudding for another 45 minutes.

Slice the bread pudding and serve warm topped with whiskey sauce.

Whiskey sauce

3 large eggs                                                                                      

1 cup sugar                                                                                       

1 teaspoon vanilla                                                                                    

½ cup milk                                                                                       

1 tablespoon cornstarch                                                                          

¼ cup cold water                                                                                   

3 tablespoons Canadian whiskey

Place the eggs in a large saucepan and whisk over medium heat until slightly thickened. Add the sugar, vanilla and milk and cook until hot: do not let the mixture come to a boil.

In a small bowl, blend the cornstarch onto ¼ cup of cold water. Stir the cornstarch into the egg mixture, stirring constantly. Add the whiskey and cook the sauce over medium heat until smooth and thick enough to cover the back of a spoon, about 15 minutes, stir frequently.

Serve the whiskey sauce warm.

Margaret Prim runs her own clothing business and enjoys entertaining for friends and family. Her column runs the first Wednesday of every month. If you have questions or comments about her column, email them to living@kentuckynewera.com.

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