The Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Sixties Cookbook

More than 100 Retro Recipes for the Modern Cook


By Rick Rodgers

By Heather Maclean

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As Don Draper famously said, “Nostalgia: a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone.” Nostalgia, of course, also calls to one’s appetite. Thanks in part to the popular series Mad Men, fans are discovering the classic cuisine of the 1960’s; whether to revisit the favorite recipes of their childhoods or to celebrate the comforting, sometimes kitschy, always-satisfying dishes of the era, including:
Waldorf Salad

Sweet and Sour Meatballs

Beef Stroganoff

Steakhouse Creamed Spinach

Buttermilk Dinner Rolls

Cherries Jubilee

Daiquiri Lime and Gelatin Mold

Classic cocktails such as Blue Hawaiians, Brandy Alexanders, and Manhattans

And many more!

Each recipe is adapted for the modern palate, with less fat and healthier ingredients than in the originals (no more bacon fat as a kitchen staple!). Full-color photographs showcase the food, proving that retro cuisine can be sophisticated and delicious. The Sensational Sixties Cookbook will also provide tips on hosting the ultimate sixties soiree, complete with menus, music playlists, and table decorations. So grab a swizzle stick, put Bobby Darin on the turntable, and get cooking — sixties style!




1946), proffered sumptuous recipes with simple instructions that anyone could follow. Julia illuminated the very modern idea that the journey of preparing food was as important and rewarding as eating it. The Sixties were actually the beginning of the gourmet movement in America.

In the Sixties, food wasn’t something to just grab and eat on the run. It was a central part of social interaction, of personal and business development. The most important events in life unfurled across the lunch or dinner table. Relationships were made, mended, and mangled over food. Important clients were wooed, soothed, and sometimes lost at restaurants. And enough cannot be said of the Three-Martini Lunch.

The Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Sixties Cookbook is here to joyously celebrate the decade’s food, from fish sticks to Nesselrode pie. We understand that there may be some of you who still look askance at Sixties cooking. Maybe you remember things floating in gelatin that just didn’t belong there. We promise you this: some of these recipes have kitsch value, but there is not one single thing in this book that we have not served to our friends and family with positive results. (Yes, even the canned soup recipes, which many people enjoyed as a walk down memory lane.)

With the recipes at hand, you will be serving supper like a Kennedy (Strawberries Romanoff), in a food coma thanks to childhood favorites (homemade Not-from-a-Box Macaroni and Cheese), and completely win over your aversion to aspic (well, maybe . . .). There are some dishes here that you will know already, but we strove to create recipes that are the very best versions you will ever have. And you will definitely know how to throw the best Sixties-themed party in your zip code. We promise.

In the interest of historical accuracy, we’ll share how the dishes were prepared in the Sixties (“Kitchen Time Machine”), but since we know now about the evils of too much processed food (Cheez Whiz, we’re looking at you . . .), we’ve elevated the recipes for the modern palate. Instead of just cracking open a can of tomato soup, we’ll show you how to make it from scratch. Although instant onion soup mix was a staple in Sixties recipes, we chop fresh onions for our onion dip, and choose reduced-sodium broth over salty bouillon cubes, and so on. These are minor tweaks that will let you enjoy your meal all the more. But if you want to whip out the margarine or canned cream of mushroom soup for era authenticity, we’ll tell you when, and how.

And true to the period, we’ll have fun along the way. Ever wonder about the stories behind TV mix or onion soup dip? What made Warhol want to paint Campbell’s soup cans? We’ll give you enough food history and trivia to dazzle your diners while they enjoy your midcentury feast.



ashtray, maybe two, on every table, chest, and sideboard—in fact, on every surface.”), and to dress in “a simple costume”—“nothing too tight.” Amen, Betty!

Here are some other suggestions . . . of our own:


For any Sixties meal, big or small, dress as if you were going to eat at a fine restaurant—because you are! Even the most humble apartment can sub for the Four Seasons if you bring the right amount of elegance, attitude, and dress the part. No hats at the table, costume jewelry (if not actual pearls) are a must, and we highly recommend you invest in a few flirty or “Kiss the Cook” aprons.


The secret to staying slim back then was part girdle and part portion control. Since the Sixties, our standard serving size of everything from pasta to coffee has doubled, and our plates have kept pace. Dinnerware in the Sixties was 30 percent smaller than it is today. Like Volkswagen, think small.


When word gets out that you’re having a Sixties party, expect the uninvited. If you prepare a couple extra entrées, you’ll be sure to have enough for friends of friends who drop by unannounced.

filled to overflowing. Allowing for filling the glass about four-fifths full, no matter how you do the math, there is a lot more booze in today’s “up” drinks. And today’s on-the-rocks glasses are pretty spacious too.

Actor Jon Hamm recently told Conan O’Brien about the perils of being recognized as Mad Men’s Don Draper when he’s in a bar: “I get sent over bourbon in these tankers . . . human beings can’t drink that much bourbon! I don’t think they realize what I’m drinking on the show is not bourbon. It’s tea, or water with food coloring in it.”

Retro-sized Sixties barware will bring a big benefit to your cocktails: the smaller amount of liquid they hold is more likely to stay chilled while you drink it, which is how it was meant to be. In today’s goldfish bowl–sized glasses, your martini is warm by the time you finish it. Look for the smaller glasses online or on the top shelf of your grandfather’s bar in the rumpus room.


Don’t know what makes a platter pupu? Never heard of rumaki? No matter. Most Sixties hosts hadn’t either before they served them. Cooking in the Sixties meant taking risks and trying new things; mixing old and new. You may be a kitchen whiz and roll your own sushi, but you haven’t lived until you’ve made a quivering, shimmering aspic.


Of all the decades in the twentieth century, the Sixties—sandwiched between the kitschy Fifties and psychedelic Seventies—might be the easiest table to re-create. The look of Sixties serving ware was very clean. Solid colors were typically embellished with just circles, diamonds, or minimalist shapes. You will be able to pick up most of these items for a song at secondhand shops. Buying signed pieces at a reputable antiques dealer is another story, and a matter of personal taste. (We admit that we own some California Pottery pieces and a collection of Russel Wright dinnerware that set us back a bit.)

There are many places to find reasonably priced midcentury tableware. Secondhand shops, retro housewares shops, and online auction sites will offer a wide selection, and as long as you aren’t looking for rare name brands, you should be able to affordably decorate your dining room for the affair. Here are some ideas to bring the Sixties home:


Silver was a must for formal occasions. Most people began their collection as wedding presents. Dress up the table with shiny trays, buffets, and serving dishes. Of course, you don’t have to use real silver; once there’s food on top of them, your guests won’t notice if you use sterling, aluminum, or even those silver-colored plastic serving items from discount stores. But do look for serving ware with a pretty pattern or angular Scandinavian design. Silverware with teak handles was all the rage. (And because so few homes had dishwashers, and everything was hand-washed, no one had to worry about wear and tear.)


Brands like Lenox and Waterford still sell similar patterns today as they did in the midcentury. Look for intricate diamond cuts on crystal, and classic white china with subtle decoration.


Bright, solid-colored ceramic dishes were popular, and this brand of pottery from the West Coast set the standard. It can still be found online and at housewares stores specializing in retro fare. Sixties colors were vibrant: bright blue, green, orange, yellow, and gold. To this day, the sight of avocado green and harvest gold can conjure up memories of the era.


Solid-colored enamel or porcelain with striking contrasting shapes—usually leaves—can still be found in stores. If you come across anything vintage by Cathrineholm, snap it up! But be warned, their fabulous pieces are often called “the gateway drug” to midcentury collecting mania.


Since fresh flowers (called “greenhouse flowers” back then) weren’t available in every supermarket, and were considered a luxury purchase, most centerpieces revolved around tall candles. You can use either armed candelabras (a common wedding gift in the Sixties), or single stands.

That candle can look pretty lonely all by itself, so wreath it with an arrangement of plastic flowers. Don’t feel restricted by the natural (more or less) colors of the flora. A secret weapon for midcentury decorators? Spray! Dull centerpieces were not tolerated. Fake frost was sprayed over winter items. Metallic spray paint was used to make food displays pop (gold pineapples, silver artichokes . . .). And clear spray just gave a nice sheen to otherwise dull walnuts or artificial daisies. Look for the various sprays at hobby supply shops.


Party linens, both tablecloth and linen napkins, were required for any social gathering. Depending on your menu, choose either a solid color matte tablecloth, or a retro pattern. A cut of fabric will also suffice; just don’t use anything satiny or embroidered.


No fair using a slow cooker—even the adorable little ones—to keep your food or sauces warm; they weren’t invented until 1971. A chafing dish is the Sixties serving utensil of choice to keep your cocktail meatballs warm. It also acts as a cooking vessel for those flambé dishes that we promise to teach you how to make. You may find a simple inexpensive metal chafing dish or an elaborately stamped silver server that looks like something off King Louis XIV’s table. Regardless of the style, you may have to do a bit of polishing to get your purchase up to snuff. Once you establish the kind of fuel it uses, buy plenty of it so you don’t run out mid-cherries jubilee.


A Sixties party can attain pitch-perfect authenticity with just one item—a sleek chip-and-dip set. There are two styles. The first is a glass combination set, with a larger bowl for the chips, and a smaller container that hooks on the bowl’s lip for the dip. They are easier to find than you might think, and because of their former ubiquity, reasonably priced. Or, go ceramic. If you can locate one, invest in a Brad Keeler chip-and-dip set. His shiny designs, mostly lettuce leaves with tomatoes or lobsters, are colorful conversation pieces that just might steal the show. If you have one, we’re jealous. If you don’t, good luck winning one on eBay! They are hot collectors’ items.


Retro-style paper cocktail napkins are another easy way to set the tone for your party. Buy some to place at the bar area and near the food. Plan on having at least three cocktail napkins per person per hour of your party. If you are feeling flush, provide each guest with their own cloth cocktail napkin, a nicety that the toniest hostesses would employ. They are reusable too.


There’s nothing worse than not having a place to dispose of your used cocktail napkins. Placing them anywhere but a garbage can is completely unacceptable, unsanitary, and uncool. You don’t have to drag your giant kitchen trash can into your party area. Just get a couple of bathroom-sized cans—in retro patterns if you can find them, if not, solid Sixties colors—and place a couple on the floor discreetly near the food.


Nothing says Sixties party like toothpicks with frilly, colored cellophane tips. Thankfully, they’re still available at most grocery stores or easily found online. If you can find a vintage toothpick holder—usually a ceramic animal of some kind like a bunny hiding behind a tree stump or a piggy with an open back—definitely use it to present your toothpicks. If not, a small, plain shot glass will do.


Even for modern nonsmokers, vintage ashtrays are great decoration. But during cocktail hour, they provide another use: a convenient receptacle for used toothpicks. Before the party starts, place a few toothpicks in each ashtray, and people will get the idea.


Back in the Sixties, about the best one could do was to stack a couple of records in the hi-fi changer and let them play in order. Now, thanks to the technology of CD and MP3 players, you can mix your party’s background music with the push of a button or two, and have it play for hours and hours (or until the neighbors call the cops). With the reemergence of cocktail lounge music, the music selection is wide, varied, and readily available for purchase. We’ve provided some ideas for each of the party menus. We often prefer compilation CDs because they already offer a buffet of music with various talents to keep things lively.

You may not have to download and purchase your Esquivel or Yma Sumac. Check out the music channels on your cable TV or look for an online radio station that features midcentury music, and you just might find free tunes.

All you Need Is Love

Besides displaying your love for plastic daisies or pillbox hats with veils, weddings in the Sixties were also an important start to your collection of housewares. A few of the likely wedding gifts you wouldn’t find on today’s registries include:



Put Your Right Hand Out



Blini and caviar, popularized by their appearance at Russian-esque upscale restaurants like New York’s Russian Tea Room, were the ultimate indicator of midcentury luxury. The little pancakes are simple to make at home. You can serve them with caviar or smoked salmon. And, as a boon to the busy party giver, they should not be hot–that would only warm the caviar.

¾ cup all-purpose flour

⅔ cup buckwheat flour

¼ teaspoon salt

1¼ cups whole milk

½ cup full-fat sour cream, plus more for serving

2 large eggs

4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled

Vegetable oil, for cooking

2 ounces caviar

Minced onion, minced hard-boiled egg yolk, and minced fresh chives, for serving

1.Sift the fl our, buckwheat fl our, and salt together into a medium bowl. Whisk the milk, sour cream, eggs, and butter together in another bowl. Add to the fl our mixture and whisk just until smooth. Do not overmix.

2.Heat a griddle or large skillet over medium heat until a splash of water forms tiny bubbles that dance on the griddle surface. Lightly oil the griddle. Using a tablespoon for each, spoon the batter onto the griddle. Cook until the underside is golden brown, about 1 minute. Turn and cook until the other sides are browned, about 1 minute more. Transfer to a plate. (The blini can be prepared, cooled, covered, and stored at room temperature, for 8 hours before serving.)

3.Place the caviar in a small serving bowl and nestle in a larger bowl of ice. (Or, if you have a caviar server, use it.) Serve the blini with the caviar and the sour cream, onion, egg yolk, and chives.



Onion dip was king of the chip-and-dip set, but clam dip also had plenty of supporters. Our version is dressed up with the flavors of another Sixties fave: clams casino–baked clams seasoned with red peppers and bacon. Like many midcentury classics, it relies on canned food. If you have fond memories of Mom’s clam dip, we provide the recipe in the “Kitchen Time Machine.”

1 large red pepper

2 (6.5-ounce) cans minced clams

8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature

1 teaspoon dried oregano

½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

Hot red pepper sauce

2 strips bacon, cooked until crisp, drained and finely chopped

Potato chips, preferably ridged, for serving

1.Position a broiler rack about 8 inches from the source of heat and preheat the broiler. Broil the pepper, turning occasionally, until the skin is blackened and blistered, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and let cool. Remove and discard the skin. Chop into 1/4-inch dice. Measure ½ cup and set aside. Reserve the remaining red pepper for another use.

2.Drain the clams and reserve 2 tablespoons of the juice. Using a rubber spatula, mash the cream cheese with the juice in a medium bowl. Stir in the drained clams, red pepper, oregano, and Worcestershire sauce. Season with the hot red pepper sauce. Cover and refrigerate until chilled, at least 2 hours and up to 1 day.

3.Transfer to a serving bowl and sprinkle with the bacon. Serve chilled, with the chips for dipping.


For Classic Clam Dip, drain 2 (6.5-ounce) cans minced clams, and reserve 2 tablespoons of the clam juice. Mash 8 ounces softened cream cheese, with the juice, 1 small minced garlic clove, 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce, and 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice, and season with hot red pepper sauce. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 1 day.



Although invented at Antoine’s Restaurant in New Orleans in the late 1800s, we include these rich, hot oysters because of Nelson Rockefeller’s influence on New York life in the Sixties, and they were a popular way to start a meal during the decade. We warn you—they are as rich as Rockefeller, which is how they got their name. How many is too many? Three of these luscious oysters is enough for most people, especially as a first course, but many restaurants serve six to twelve per plate.

1 (10-ounce) box frozen chopped spinach, thawed

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided

1 medium celery rib, very finely minced

4 scallions, white and green parts, very finely minced

2 tablespoons anise-flavored liqueur, such as Herbsaint or Pernod (but not anisette)

½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

¼ cup Italian-seasoned dried bread crumbs

Hot red pepper sauce

24 oysters, shucked, curved shells served

1.A handful at a time, squeeze the excess water from the spinach. Set the spinach aside.

2.Heat 1 tablespoon of butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the celery and cook until softened, about 1 minute. Add the scallions and cook, stirring often, until very tender but not browned, about 3 minutes. Add the liqueur and cook until it evaporates, about 15 seconds. Stir in the spinach and cook, stirring often, until the mixture is dry, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat. Cut the remaining butter into tablespoons, and add to the skillet. Stir until the butter is melted. Add the Worcestershire sauce, then the bread crumbs. Season with hot red pepper sauce. Set aside at room temperature. (The green butter can be made up to 1 day ahead, cooled, covered, and refrigerated. Remove from the refrigerator 1 hour before using.)

3.Position a broiler rack 6 inches from the source of heat and preheat the broiler. Crumple aluminum foil in a broiler pan to make a bed for the oysters. (You may need two broiler pans or rimmed baking sheets to hold all 24 oysters.)

4.Nestle the oysters, in their shells, in the foil. Spoon about 1 tablespoon of the butter mixture over each oyster. Broil until the butter is bubbling and the edges of the oysters are curling, about 3 minutes. Transfer the oysters to dinner plates and serve hot.



Surely nothing like crab Rangoon ever existed in Burma or even Polynesia. Once a mainstay of the pupu platter, crab Rangoon isn’t as popular as it used to be, perhaps because it must be deep-fried to appreciate it in its crispy-creamy-crabby glory. Newer, baked versions just aren’t the same.

4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature

2 teaspoons soy sauce

1 scallion, white and green parts, minced

1 garlic clove, minced

4 ounces crabmeat, picked over for cartilage

Hot red pepper sauce

Cornstarch, for dusting

24 wonton squares (from half a 12-ounce package)

1 large egg white, beaten with a pinch of salt until foamy, for sealing the wontons

Vegetable oil, for deep-frying

Hot Chinese Mustard (page 43) and duck sauce, for serving

1.Mash the cream cheese, soy sauce, scallion, and garlic together in a medium bowl with a rubber spatula. Stir in the crabmeat. Season with the hot red pepper sauce.

2.Line a baking sheet with waxed paper and dust it with cornstarch. Place a wonton in front of you, with the points facing north, south, east, and west. Brush the edges with a little egg white. Place a teaspoon of the filling in the lower half of the wonton. Fold the north tip over to meet the south tip, and press the open sides closed. Press the filling in the wonton to spread and flatten it slightly. Fold the east and west tips to meet in the center of the wonton and seal them together with a dab of egg white. Place on the baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining filling and wontons. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to cook, up to 2 hours.

3.Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 200°F. Line a baking sheet with a brown paper bag.

4.Pour enough oil into a deep, heavy saucepan to fill halfway up the sides. Heat over high heat to 350°F on a deep-frying thermometer. In batches without crowding, add the wontons and deep-fry, turning the wontons as needed, until golden brown, about 2 minutes. Using a wire spider or a slotted spoon, transfer the wontons to the brown paper-lined baking sheet and keep warm in the oven while frying the remaining wontons.

5.Transfer to a serving platter and serve warm with the hot mustard and duck sauce.

Talking Tiki

Tiki culture, a romanticized mix of Polynesian and Pacific Rim food and tropical décor took all of America by storm when soldiers stationed overseas returned from World War II. Spurred by the national success of tiki-themed restaurants Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic’s, by the time Hawaii became the fiftieth state in 1959, it was in full luau.


On Sale
Apr 24, 2012
Page Count
256 pages
Running Press

Rick Rodgers

About the Author

Rick Rodgers is the author of more than thirty-five cookbooks including Thanksgiving 101 and Fondue, and the IACP Cookbook Award nominees Kaffeehaus and The Carefree Cook. He is a frequent contributor to Bon Appét and He lives in Maplewood, NJ. Visit him at

Heather Maclean is the co-author of the New York Times bestsellers Skinny Italian and Fabulicious!, and has appeared on many national TV programs including Good Morning America and CBS Early Show. She lives near Detroit, Michigan. Visit her at

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