Saturday, March 29, 2014

You're gonna need a bigger bowl (for all the leftovers)

It's almost April 1, so it's time to start thinking about tricks for April Fools' Day. Courtesy of the "Hamilton Beach Electric Fry Pan Recipe Book" (undated; I have seen estimates for everything from 1946 to the early '60s), I have a fun idea.

Invite some people over for a movie night. Pick a horror movie with an aquatic theme, like Jaws, Sharknado, the MST3K screening of Devil Fish, or Killer Octopus Vs. Feral Bikini Babes in 3-D. (I will make no judgments about your taste in movies if you will extend me the same courtesy....)

The trick is that you provide the movie-appropriate popcorn:

You may want to play the Jaws theme as you bring out the snack to distract your guests from asking what smells so funny. Then enjoy the show with the knowledge that anyone bold (or stupid) enough to try the popcorn now smells like shark bait.

Just in case you really do want to know how to make popcorn in your electric skillet:

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

So retro I may have to chant

With a blog like this, I don't really have to tell you that I love retro stuff. That's why it's no surprise that finding this recipe in Good Housekeeping's Show-You-How Cook Book (1971) made me clap my hands just a little. (Yes, I lead my private life as if I'm in a studio audience. Luckily, my loved ones find it adorable rather than creepy to occasionally hear unexpected and unexplained clapping and/or cheering.) I love this recipe because it's about as retro as a recipe can get without involving some type of Jell-O.

It starts with disembodied but well-manicured hands demonstrating how to make a rice ring!

I am not sure why cooks used to be obsessed with making carb-centric rings, but the noodle ring and the rice ring were HUGE for a while. I like the colorful addition of tomatoes to this one.

What did cooks then do with the lovely ring? Fill it with some sort of sauce or gravy, lovingly prepared on a brown stovetop in a Corning Ware blue cornflower dish (with removable handle)!

And not just any saucy filling-- vintage saucy filling:

Hamburger Stroganoff! With ground chuck, MSG, condensed cream-of-chicken soup, and sour cream! Serve with head-lettuce wedges in Russian dressing (as suggested) and canned fruit cocktail suspended in Jell-O (I know the suggested chocolate cake would be WAY better, but humor me!) in a room with rust-colored shag carpeting and I will applaud wildly.

If I get really excited, I might start chanting "Ste-phen! Ste-phen!" because many hours of watching The Colbert Report have taught me that this is the most exciting thing to chant. You can ignore me and enjoy your dinner, or perhaps "enjoy" it, as the case may be....

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Tricky Titles and Odd-o-meters

I love looking at old vegetarian recipes because they are so earnest-- like sad-eyed puppies in the pet shop window. The writers knew vegetarianism was not a popular option, and the heavy, "earthy" (as in tastes like dirt) recipes the cookbooks usually contained did not help the cause. When I was paging through Family Circle Vegetables and Meatless Meals Cookbook (1978), though, I noticed something unusual. What do you notice about the spread of bean dishes?

If you noticed meatballs in the middle casserole and sausage slices in the bottom one, well before vegetarian substitutes were readily available, then you too might wonder about the title. Is this really a meatless meal?

That bottom one is Basque Garbanzo Casserole, so let's check it out:

Besides the easily-spotted pepperoni slices, it also contains a whole chicken breast. Hmmm. Is this a fluke? Let's check the recipe for the middle casserole, an Indiana Bean Bake:

Unless you don't count a pound of ground chuck as meat, then this too doesn't seem to live up to the cookbook's title. Well, what about that top recipe, Mexican Pinto Bean Pot, which is red and shiny enough that I'm not sure what's in it:

The pound of Italian sausages may be a bit hidden, but this too is full of meat! So what's going on?

The secret is the "and" in the title. This is actually more like two cookbooks: the front has recipes for vegetables and the back has recipes for meatless meals. (Well, "meatless" if one doesn't consider seafood to be meat... but that's another conversation!)

In all, 12 of the 18 bean recipes in the "vegetables" section are actually loaded with meat, which is odd since beans are one of the few vegetables already high in protein. I guess the authors liked overkill.

The other thing that amuses me about these recipes is the way editors label dishes as having a particular ethnic origin that doesn't seem to have any relationship to the actual ingredients. Who would think of pepperoni as a traditional Basque treat? What makes Italian sausage part of a "Mexican" bean pot?

Maybe people's odd-o-meters were so skewed by things like disco and shag carpeting that recipes like these wouldn't even register until the odd-o-meters were re-calibrated.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

One-can magic trick

I'm feeling a little less curmudgeonly since spring officially starts this week! In its honor, I am posting a recipe (or series of recipes, depending on how one thinks of it) because I like the concept.

When I cook, sometimes I think it's fun to take an ingredient and see how many different variations I can make for a meal using that ingredient.If I have a big batch of chickpeas, some of them might go into a pilaf with rice and orzo, some might go into a tomatoey soup with gnocchi on top, and some might be mashed with a few other ingredients and made into veggie burgers. The writers of Good Housekeeping's Casserole Cookery (1971) might have had cooks like me in mind when they created this spread:

The variety is pretty impressive. One bowl looks like a flower with its petals of swirled dough; another boasts a cheese-topped peak; a third sports a ring of mushrooms and a sprig of greenery. (Okay, maybe the ones with the beans dumped on top or the slimy-looking tomato slick are less exciting, but they still lend variety.) So what do all these dinners have in common besides the brown ramekins?

They all start with a can of beef stew. Each dinner has a different seasoning and topper, but they all have the same starting point. That totally appeals to my appreciation for a bit of creativity with a common ingredient.

If you had to pick one variation, which would you go for? I'm a muffin topknot kind of person because I love the combo of chili powder, corn muffin, and melty cheese!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Alpo with olive eyes

I'm not usually much for celebrating St. Patrick's Day. I do have a little bit of an Irish heritage, and it makes me no more appreciative of beer (green or otherwise) than the larger chunk of German heritage makes me appreciative of sauerkraut (or beer, for that matter). Plus, my introversion makes me want to stay away from any celebration that involves drunken strangers, many of whom may demand kisses for their questionably Irish roots. (And we won't even consider how many of them may have barfed up green beer prior to their requests...)

I came across a selection of interesting corned beef hash recipes in Good Housekeeping's Clock-Watchers' Cook Book (1967), though, and St. Patrick's day seems as good a time as any to write about them. So here is the entirety of my St. Patrick's Day celebration.

First up, we have "Pantry Shelf Broiler Supper":

I'm sure I'm not the only one who sees stuffed olives garnish and can't help feeling like dinner is returning my gaze. I half-expect it to leap off the platter and try to eat me, just as Calvin's mom's cooking sometimes tried to turn the tables in Calvin and Hobbes. At least this looks less blob-like than those meals did, so I'm not sure what it could use to form a mouth. This dinner's attempt at self-preservation may be limited to its soulless gaze.

If the recipe's main claim to fame is that the ingredients are all already on the pantry shelf, I wonder how it would actually taste. 

Hash cylinders on canned pineapple rings, sweet potatoes, and green beans broiled together with some butter. I'm sure the sweet-and-savory devotees would say there are worse pantry dinner recipes.

Next up is something that either doesn't seem very Irish OR seems a little Irish, a little Indian, and a little French.

Corned beef hash seasoned with curry powder and cooked au gratin style. It's an unlikely and perhaps disagreeable mixture, just like me!

Finally, and most Irish of all:

Corned beef hash balls over a bed of cabbage.

Here's hoping you enjoy St. Patrick's Day in whatever way you see fit.

I'll be remembering how my sister and I used to make fun of dad for occasionally eating canned hash. We called it Alpo so often that once he almost bought a can of Alpo by mistake. My life would feel just a little more complete if I could write that sentence without the "almost."

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Spicy erotic appetizer

Have you ever wondered what a breast would look like if you painted it up to look like a target? I never did either. At least not until I looked in the Better Homes & Gardens Make-Ahead Cook Book (1971). There, whether you want it or not, you will find an answer:

Well, at least it's an answer if the breast is really pale and, for some reason, surrounded by crackers.

Okay, maybe I'm the only person who looks at the appetizer cheesecake and sees a giant, target-patterned, cracker-covered boob.

It's basically a sour cream dip molded in a bowl with layers of cracker crumbs. I can't decide whether it sounds pretty good or whether the layers of cracker crumbs would be unpleasantly soggy and mushy. I just know that with those FIVE DROPS of hot sauce to two cups of sour cream plus assorted veggies, my mom would have thought this was a super-spicy recipe, so she never would have made it and I never would have gotten to giggle about it....

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Yeah, spring will be soooo good

Maybe I'm super-cynical, but any time someone invites me to try a new dish by saying "It is so good," I immediately wonder how bad the food must be. If the eater (or especially the cook!) feels compelled to emphasize just how great that lump on the serving dish is supposed to be, I imagine their solicitousness means the cook just tried to wipe the dirt off after the platter fell on the floor or that the recipe was a handy way to use up a can of expired sauerkraut. Of course that means I am immediately suspicious of Better Homes & Gardens So-Good Meals (1963).

What might I add to a "so-good" meal as winter begins to hint at giving way to spring? Here is Better Homes & Gardens' helpful suggestion:

Winter Garden Loaf! Those are three words that I  honestly would not expect together.... Now I want to look for "Summer Maple Mold" or "Autumn Rhubarb Stir-Fry."

If a lemon gelatin and vinegar mold full of canned green beans and other assorted veggies (Cauliflower! Radishes! Green onions!) is meant to make one think of spring, then I can only think of the recipe as aversion therapy. Rather than making spring (and warmer temps and flowers and light) feel just a bit closer, the intent seems to be to make spring seem bad enough that it's not worth looking forward to anyway. Might as well resign oneself to winter and accept that soon enough we'll have 43-degree days of torrential downpours and rabbits eating the flowers before they can bloom.

Thanks for the reminder, Winter Garden Loaf. That was so good.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Saving money '70s style

Sometimes thinking about finances is enough to leave me staring at the ceiling half the night, trying to figure out whether pretending I'm falling asleep will be the most productive route to getting there or whether I should just give up for a while and find some old cookbooks to keep me company.

One book that gives me a sense that my worries are nothing new is the Better Homes and Gardens Meat Stretcher Cook Book (1974). I can spend a late night imagining '70s families in their harvest gold and avocado kitchens braving an energy crisis and crazy inflation with these "275 Money-Saving Recipes."

I think I like imagining them more than the real families might have liked these recipes, though. Most of us need to stretch our dollars, but who wants to try it with this recipe:

Maybe "Fruited Meat Pie" sounds acceptable or even good to those of you who actually like the fruit and meat combination. If you were dreaming of classic pork with apples, turkey with cranberries, or steak with a dark cherry sauce, though, your dreams were not "budget" enough. The fruit in question is a can of fruit cocktail and the meat is a can of "luncheon meat."

At least I know anyone who made this was in far more desperate straits than I!

Oddly comforted by the thought that I will never have to eat a Spam and fruit cocktail pie, I continue thumbing through until I find a sign that I should go back to trying to sleep. After all, I don't want to spend the next day with

Saturday, March 1, 2014

March beach party! Or maybe it's just Lengthentide...

It's a new month! I am soooo ready for February to be over. Not sure how 28 days can feel like 735, but February manages it somehow. Let's consult Betty Crocker's Cooking Calendar (1962) to find out about our "Red-Letter Foods" for the month now that cabbage and bananas are passe:

Ah, March. The month of onions, lemons, and grapefruit.

I keep wanting to skip ahead to June, but it will still be a while before sweet, tender strawberries will be in season and I just have to accept it and move on.

Let's see if we can find something more interesting than onions, lemons, and grapefruit, though.

This looks more exciting:

I have to admit, I kind of thought I was in the wrong section of the book when I saw this picture. Doesn't this belong in the summer section, all dressed up with a fishing net background and a bed of lettuce leaves? It seems to say "Beach party!" more than "Maybe if you're lucky, some of the snow will melt."

Does the recipe fit the month's themes? With a tablespoon of finely chopped onion and lemons as a garnish in the picture (though lime is suggested in the recipe), I guess it barely fits the bill.

Then I spotted this:

That explains it! Lent is usually in March, so this must be a nod to the Catholics who eschew meat on Fridays. I thought the theme was supposed to be more suffering and deprivation and less island party, but theology is not really one of my strong points.

Besides, Betty had recommendations for those who wanted to suffer, too. They have their choice of these beauties:


Hard cooked eggs with canned mushrooms, condensed cream of celery soup, and curry powder OR canned salmon with pineapple, celery, pickle relish, and bananas! Now that's what I call Lent.