Real vegetarian food, served in an imaginary world...

Friday 7 April 2017

CANDIDATE FOR CRIME - A meal for Jackie Cooper

Again, Zelda is happy to digress, especially as Jenny at Silver Screen Suppers has yet another remarkable project on the go. This time she is attempting to compile the definitive collection of recipes related to the ever-popular Columbo TV series. As well as the meals which the Lieutenant cooks himself in the show, Jenny has also tracked down recipes listed at various times throughout their careers by the numerous co-stars who appear. 
Zelda has agreed to be a tester and will try out three of the dishes.

The first of these is Jackie Cooper’s Curried Eggs and Macaroni (Don’t change channel – it is better than it sounds).

Jackie Cooper’s original recipe, as discovered and cooked by Jenny, can be found here on the SilverScreen Suppers website. It was my job to take it, try it and make it work for today.

The Context
Jackie Cooper, born in 1922, was a child star, famous for his role in Skippy and for receiving an Oscar nomination at age 9. He died in 2011 at age 88. He appeared in the 1973 Columbo episode Candidate for Crime where he played very much against type as a cold blooded adult killer, who murders for political gain and personal convenience.
According to Jenny’s research, he told recipe compilers in the 1930s that this was his favourite dish.

In order to test it properly, Dave and I had a 'Columbo Evening' so that we could watch the episode as well as tasting the dish.
While I cooked, Dave checked out the notes on the inside of the DVD box.

The Recipe and my Variations
One immediate change I made was to convert the measurements and, therefore, tweak the amounts.  This was purely for my convenience but those making the dish in the UK may also prefer to dispense with ‘cups’ in favour of metric or imperial measures. I used equal amounts of butter and flour for the sauce although four tablespoons of butter actually equates to about 57g. It also seemed a bit thick so I added milk to make the total up to 500ml.

Next, I looked at the cooking order and found that some items were assumed to have been ready prepared, so I have incorporated them into the method to make it is easier to follow the recipe from beginning to end. This also meant a change to the ingredient list as I reverted all elements back to their ‘most basic form’. Because of this I had to increase the total amount of butter used, even though I reduced the amount in the sauce.
These alterations also necessitated some change in the order of preparation and a major alteration at the end to ensure that the dish was served piping hot.

Jackie Cooper (or his ‘Mom’) also assumed a certain level of cooking skill. For example, he gives no indication of timing or temperatures, so I have added the ones that worked for me. He does say to rinse the pasta after cooking, which we do not always do these days, but I have stayed true to him here.
I made an executive decision about some items in the ingredients list but tried to keep as close as possible to what would have been to hand in 1930s America.

½ lb/ 225g dried macaroni
75g butter
50g plain flour
½ to 1tbsp curry powder
½ tsp salt
2 cups/ 475ml milk
6 hard-boiled eggs
3 slices of stale or toasted sliced bread.

Prepare the ingredients
Cut the butter into pieces and divide into two (25g and 50g)
Mix the curry powder with the flour

Make the buttered breadcrumbs for the topping
If you don’t have stale bread, toast fresh or frozen bread on both sides and allowed to cool. Then put into the blender and whizz until the crumbs are of the required size. (I like mine to look a bit ‘rustic’.)
Heat 25g of the butter in a pan and when liquid, add the breadcrumbs. Stir well until all the butter has been absorbed. Then turn out onto a tray and allow to cool again. (This will give you the buttered breadcrumbs listed in the original recipe.)

Start boiling
Bring 2 pans of water to the boil.
Salt one and when boiling, add the macaroni.
Put 6 eggs in the other and cover.
Reduce heat and allow to simmer at the boil until each are cooked.
Set the timer at 10 minutes for the eggs and then add an extra 3-5 minutes for the macaroni (or cook according to packet instructions).

Boil the kettle when the eggs are cooked, ready to rinse the macaroni later.
Heat the oven to Gas 7/ 220˚C.

Prepare the eggs
Place pan under the cold tap and when cool, tap and peel each egg. Place on a board and slice. Set to one side.
Prepare the macaroni
Drain and wash under hot water until all the starch is removed. Set to one side.

Make the sauce
Melt 50g of the butter in a medium pan and then add the flour/ curry powder mixture. Stir until it resembles dry breadcrumbs.
Add a splash of milk and mix well, then repeat.
Gradually add all the milk and stir until sauce thickens.
Season at this point.

Mix and assemble
As all celebrity chefs will tell you, add the pasta to the sauce (even though Jackie’s method added the sauce to the macaroni). Mix well to create a lovely gloopy macaroni delight
Take a suitable bowl. (I used a 9 x 6 inch/ 23 x 15 cm rectangular one, nothing fancy, just the first one that came to hand but it turned out to be the right size.)
Place a layer of the macaroni sauce in the bottom of the bowl, then cover with slices of the egg. Repeat and end with macaroni on the top (three layers of macaroni and two of egg).
Then cover with the buttered breadcrumbs.

Place in the oven for 10-15 minutes until everything is piping hot and the breadcrumbs are golden brown. (This is a change from the original recipe which just grilled the topping but I wanted it all to be hot.)

I served it with freshly cooked bread. It needs something. Another time I would serve smaller portions and accompany it with salad, or at least baked beans.
The Verdict
Although it creates a lot of volume, you do need something to cut through the ‘stodge’. I initially thought it would serve 2-3 but it would certainly stretch to 4 people – if not 6 – as a main dish. Even with Dave’s huge portion size, there was plenty left. It was also
quite ‘heavy’. It may have given Jackie Cooper all that is needed for “a young chap who is growing by leaps and bounds”, but I feel it would be better as a smaller element of a more balanced meal.
Dave thought it was real ‘comfort food’. He said that if he got a flat tyre, the rising damp reached the attic and armed police closed the local pub, this would be what he would like for dinner.

I must say that the title of this dish is a bit misleading. The eggs themselves are not curried, yet the macaroni is steeped in the curry sauce. So maybe it should be called Eggs and Curried Macaroni. The ‘curry’ label is also a little ambiguous. I used a medium strength generic powder from a supermarket as I thought this would be the closest to the original. If I am honest, it gave a ‘Chip-Shop-curry-sauce’ taste rather than what we now know to be a more authentic experience from the Sub-continent, but I suspect that this would be fairly true to 1930s America and Dave loved it because it reminded him of late night suppers after more than a few pints.

The Experience
We did actually eat this at the table but it would have been just as suitable on trays in front of the TV watching the appropriate episode. We ate first and watched it directly after.  We loved the episode, even more so because we knew we had just enjoyed the co-star’s recommended dish.

Would we eat it again? Well, opinion was mixed. Dave said he loved it, but when I asked if he would rather have this or a normal macaroni cheese or a pasta bake, he became less keen.

Jackie Cooper provided this recipe in the 1930s and it’s a real ‘Depression Era’ dish. It is full of calories and flavour at very little cost. These days we look for something a bit more refined. It was, however, great fun to cook and eat.

More of Zelda's test recipes from the Columbo Cookbook will be coming soon. Or, if you fancy having a look at some for yourself, check out Jenny's page here.


  1. THANK YOU SO MUCH for test cooking this Zelda. You totally went above and beyond the call of duty! I may use this quote in the cookbook:"Dave thought it was real ‘comfort food’. He said that if he got a flat tyre, the rising damp reached the attic and armed police closed the local pub, this would be what he would like for dinner." PERFECT! Jenny from Silver Screen Suppers xx

    1. You are welcome to use the quote and it was a joy to test this. Such fun!