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    LaVerne Shirley’s Home Cooking

    By David Landis–The Gay Gourmet–

    Those of you who know The Gay Gourmet know that even though my parents passed away a long time ago, they had a big influence on me. I couldn’t have started my public relations business without the guidance of my dad, John Landis, who taught me finance and business. And my (sometimes) bubbly personality came from my mom, LaVerne Shirley Landis.

    Yup, that was her name: LaVerne Shirley Landis.

    She was exactly what you’d expect: the life of every party, the first to sit with me at the piano (yes, I was a piano major) and sing a showtune (“Sing out, Louise!”), and—most of all—one of the best cooks ever.

    LaVerne would never use the term “chef,” but that’s really what she was. Back in the 60s (in the Midwest, no less), she was reading Bon Appetit and Gourmet Magazine and cooking Chinese, Italian, French, German, and Lithuanian (our heritage) specialties. While we didn’t have a ton of money, she and Dad always took us to the most interesting restaurants—everything from Japanese to South American to Kosher delis and more.

    No wonder I grew up to be “The Gay Gourmet.”

    So, in the spirit of “sheltering in place,” I’m fondly remembering LaVerne by offering up some of my most favorite of her recipes. And, keeping up the family tradition, these recipes were compiled by my sister Kate Landis. If possible, she might even be giving LaVerne a run for her money in the cooking department. Enjoy!

    LaVerne Shirley’s Memorable Meat Loaf

    1 pound ground beef (the more fat, the better)
    1 can condensed vegetarian Campbell’s vegetable soup (yes, it has to be Campbell’s)
    2 eggs, beaten
    l/2 onion, diced
    l/4 or l/3 cup of Italian bread crumbs
    Salt and pepper to taste
    6 strips of bacon

    Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Beat eggs in a separate container. In a big bowl, combine the hamburger meat (add in spoonful by spoonful), diced onions, condensed soup, eggs, and bread crumbs. Mix until moist but solid. Form into a rectangular, oval loaf and place in an oven-friendly casserole dish. Cover the loaf with six bacon strips. Bake until meat is cooked through but still moist (about 30–40 minutes). Optional: broil the loaf for the last couple of minutes to make the bacon strips crispy.

    LaVerne Shirley’s Super Stuffed Mushrooms

    Large button mushrooms
    l/2 pound pork sausage
    2–3 tablespoons chopped water chestnuts
    2 tablespoons chopped green onion
    2 tablespoons soy sauce
    l/4 cup chicken stock
    2 teaspoons cornstarch

    Wash mushrooms in cool water. Drain on paper towels for 15 minutes—or in a colander. Remove stems. Set aside.

    Chop stems and set aside to add to filling. Parboil sausage. Mix with water chestnuts, cornstarch, green onion, chopped mushroom stems, and soy sauce. Mix thoroughly. Fill mushrooms with mixture.

    In a medium skillet, mix 2 tablespoons peanut oil and chicken stock. Add mushrooms, cover, and steam gently over medium flame for 15 minutes for medium mushrooms or 20 minutes for large mushrooms. Keep flame only high enough to produce steam. Add another l/4 cup of chicken stock if necessary.

    LaVerne Shirley’s Stupendous Stuffed Cabbage

    1 pound ground beef
    1 large cabbage
    l/2 large onion, chopped fine
    Garlic to taste
    1 and l/2 cups cooked white rice
    1 can tomato soup, diluted

    Steam cabbage until the leaves are tender and pliable. Remove leaves. Brown the meat. Add garlic to taste. Add onion, cook. Mix rice with the meat and onion combination. Place in a casserole dish and pour the soup over the top. Heat until bubbly (350 degrees, or you can microwave).

    Sister Kate’s version: Shred cabbage and stir into the mixture. Add two tomatoes, chopped fine. Top with shredded cheese, if desired.

    LaVerne Shirley’s Pineapple Upside Down Cake

    2 tablespoons butter
    l/2 cup brown sugar
    5 slices pineapple (LaVerne used canned pineapple, but we’d recommend fresh, if possible)
    9 maraschino cherries (again, that’s what LaVerne used, but we’d recommend the chichi ones from Bi-Rite)
    2 eggs
    l/2 cup hot milk
    2 cup sugar
    1 teaspoon vanilla
    1 cup flour
    l/4 teaspoon salt
    l and l/2 teaspoons baking powder

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt the 2 tablespoons of butter in an 8 x 8 x 2 pan. Add brown sugar and blend. Arrange pineapple slices and cherries at the bottom of the pan.

    In a separate bowl, add hot milk to butter. Beat eggs until thick and lemon colored. Add sugar. Gradually beat after each addition. Add vanilla, then add dry ingredients, alternating with hot milk. Pour over pineapple and cherries.

    Bake for 40 minutes, let stand in baking pan 10 minutes. Invert onto serving plate.

    While you’re enjoying your food, remember that LaVerne Shirley ate with gusto—so much so that it always dribbled down her blouse. Today, when that happens to me and my husband (which is often), we say, “LaVerne is visiting.”

    I hope she visits you often.

    David Landis, aka “The Gay Gourmet,” is a foodie, a freelance writer, and a PR executive. Follow him on Instagram @GayGourmetSF, on Twitter @david_landis, email him at: or visit him online at:

    Published on April 23, 2020