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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

Never underestimate a man in a sequined apron. That's the first line of a new cookbook called "Joy of Liberace: Retro Recipes from America's Kitschiest Kitchen."

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ELLIOTT: Sure, you may remember Liberace as an over-the-top rhinestone-encrusted piano man, but he was also a whiz in the kitchen. He loved to cook for his friends and his mother, and at one point, even on the restaurant.

Authors Michael and Karan Feder have compiled some of his favorite recipes in their new book. They join me now from - where else? - Las Vegas, where they work for the Liberace Foundation. Hello. Welcome to the program.

Mr. MICHAEL FEDER (Co-Author, "Joy of Liberace: Retro Recipes from America's Kitschiest Kitchen"): Thank you for very much.

Ms. KARAN FEDER (Co-Author, "Joy of Liberace: Retro Recipes from America's Kitschiest Kitchen"): Hello.

Mr. FEDER: Pleasure to be here.

ELLIOTT: Did he really wear a sequined apron?

Ms. FEDER: I have seen a sequined apron. I'm working also at the museum with the costume collection, and in fact, I had personally seen Liberace's sequined apron.

ELLIOTT: Well, do me a favor and take me to dinner at Liberace's house. What am I going to see? I'm imagining there are definitely going to be candelabras on the table.

Mr. FEDER: Oh, absolutely, candelabras on the table and bling everywhere the eye could see. You'll see that he's got crystal that has been modeled after the queen's crystal set, and he has everything set just so and to abundance.

Ms. FEDER: Yeah, his table settings are really flamboyant and outrageous. It seemed like mostly everything had an L encrusted on it.

ELLIOTT: Well, what would have been on the menu? Who would have been the other guests?

Ms. FEDER: Well, the recipe that I always remember from the cookbook is the Braised Ox Tail recipe, which is something, you know, we don't eat a lot today. But, you know, in the '50s, I mean that's why we call it "Retro Recipes from America's Kitschiest Kitchen" because there is a quality of kitsch to these recipes.

Mr. KEDER: Occasionally, it would go wrong. He had Michael Jackson as a guest to his home and he was very proud. He had prepared a wonderful dish of chicken.

Ms. FEDER: A southern - a down home southern meal.

Mr. FEDER: Down home southern thing. And, of course, it became immediately obvious that Michael Jackson is a vegetarian and he wasn't going to be able to eat any of it, but it looked great nonetheless.

Ms. FEDER: He was - he really was an excellent chef and he loved to cook. He would cook on the road. He would take his own utensils on the road, so that he could cook for friends.

Mr. FEDER: Oh, he had the frying pan. He had portable burners. I mean, he really would set up a little kitchen right in his...

Ms. FEDER: He would set it on top of the bathtub.

Mr. FEDER: And his cooking kit was made by Halliburton. So it - evidently was a battle tested.

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Mr. FEDER: What's fascinating is that when you talked about mid-century modern, which was, sort of, where Liberace was really doing his thing, you'd think about an aesthetic that's very simple and very unadorned. At the same time, the food that was going on at that time was quite the opposite. People ate very large meals. They ate a lot of meat and they cooked it in the ways that, well, we remember grandma cooking, and so what we have with Liberace is the perfect representation of this mid-century modern culture ethic of food.

ELLIOTT: What are some of the recipes that are good examples of that mid-century aesthetic?

Mr. FEDER: Well, he has a wonderful Salami-Yummy Bouquet.

ELLIOTT: A Salami-Yummy - say that again.

Mr. FEDER: Salami-Yummy Bouquet.

Ms. FEDER: It's an hors d'oeuvre...

Mr. FEDER: It's an hors d'oeuvre, and it's deceivingly simple. You, basically, take sliced salami and put into it cream cheese. But the cream cheese is all dyed different colors with food coloring and then made into a very large and wonderful bouquet. And...

ELLIOTT: I see the picture now here. You have...

Ms. FEDER: Yeah.

ELLIOTT: ...greenery hanging down and these salami flowers poking up.

Ms. FEDER: Exactly.

ELLIOTT: Did he have a certain specialty, anything, that truly reflected his over-the-top personality?

Ms. FEDER: Well, I think his favorite recipes are the ones that were made most often, well, probably the Italian - the spaghetti with meat sauce.

Mr. FEDER: Spaghetti.

Ms. FEDER: We have pictures of him making the spaghetti with meat sauce.

Mr. FEDER: And meatloaf...

Ms. FEDER: Yeah.

Mr. FEDER: ...and, sort of, a down...

Ms. FEDER: Meatballs. He loves meatballs.

Mr. FEDER: The down home things that we would, sort of, call basics at, you know, nowadays. The key here is the execution of them to include exuberance, so that, you know, you have the maximum fun with the dishes what we've now called in the, sort of, modern way bling cooking.

And the concept of bling cooking is really all about food where, of course, there is a substance to it just as Liberace was an incredibly well-skilled performer on the piano, and that was the base on which he built the exuberance, so it's the same with his cooking. It has that wonderful base of a staple but then can be executed in a blingiest(ph) way possible.

ELLIOTT: Michael and Karan Feder are the authors of "Joy of Liberace: Retro Recipes from America's Kitschiest Kitchen." To see more of Liberace's favorite dishes, visit our Web site, npr.org. Thanks for joining us.

Mr. FEDER: Thanks so much for having us.

Ms. FEDER: My pleasure.

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ELLIOTT: That's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Debbie Elliott.

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