Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Low-cal recipes that will make mom slowly lose her mind

Are you ready for some temptation? You know, something delicious yet healthy-ish enough to counterbalance those piles of Christmas cookies you've been putting away?

Tempting Low-Calorie Recipes (Melanie de Proft, 1956) promises temptation right in the title, but the plate full of green gelatin on the cover suggests this is exactly the low-cal cookbook you think it is.

Some recipes do look surprisingly edible, though. This platter full of bacon-topped meat and whipped potatoes doesn't look to diet-foody:


There's a reason for that.


Dieters are permitted "just one onion, one tomato half, and no potatoes with [their] serving of meat." Mom may look happy now, but her smile will fade when she realizes she's not allowed to eat everything she made. She can't even have a whole tomato, and it's just a non-starchy vegetable!

Cook for everyone, but you don't get what everyone else gets is a pretty common tactic in this book.

The book concedes that dieters might eat the stuffing in Special Stuffed Fish, listing the calories for a whole serving. However, the writers will clearly be disappointed in the weight-watchers' lack of commitment if they go crazy and eat the few tablespoons of bread crumbs stuffed into the fish. After all, "The calorie-watchers need not eat the stuffing," and leaving it out will save 86 calories. (Maybe they're calories best saved, though. Why waste them on bread crumbs steeped in fish juice and minced sweet pickle?)

Of course, there are plenty of recipes that don't require holding back. One recipe offers a whole luncheon platter, for example. Six dieting friends would need to share it, but they'd have full access to the bountiful platter. Let's take a look:


Wait. Is the platter just a bunch of hard-cooked eggs and cottage cheese paired with a godawful aspic?

Yep! Eat up! Everybody gets their own jiggly mold of tomato juice with celery leaves and onion floating in it, PLUS half a hard-cooked egg and a half-cup of cottage cheese. Oh boy.

If you think the creativity slips a few notches for the fully diet-friendly recipes, you are quite right. Take a look at this appetizer:


The Chilled Melon Appetizer is a chilled melon half topped with... a few melon balls. They're not even melon balls of a contrasting type of melon-- just cantaloupe on cantaloupe. If you're super-lucky, maybe the balls are brushed with a nearly imperceptible trace of Cointreau.

Even if the recipes are a bust, I love C. C. Cooper's illustrations in this book. The opening pages offer a tableau that I could not quite figure out:


Why is mom mending Junior's shorts while he's still wearing them? That can't be easy! Is she not concerned that she will accidentally stab him or sew his underwear to his shorts? And why are brother and sister standing there watching this whole thing with an air of quiet alarm? Why is brother leaning over as if he wants a better view? It looks as if mom has become deranged from eating too much aspic and cottage cheese while everyone else gets mashed potatoes, and she's taking it out on the family. Rip your shorts? Well, mom might just sew them directly to your butt, while your siblings watch, lips tightly pursed to avoid letting slip a protest that might turn her wrath in their direction.

But don't worry; mom's not a monster. She'll let you all go with some cookies moments later.


Yes, pretend this is all perfectly normal, and run away with the cookies before mom realizes that she's stuck with prune whip for her own dessert again....

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Funny Name: The Dog Might Be Dehydrated Edition

I know you're not supposed to eat the yellow snow, but The Best of Home Economics Teachers Bicentennial Cookbook (Favorite Recipes of Home Economics Teachers, 1975) suggests it's fine to eat these:


I'd suggest avoiding the orange snow too. Maybe the dog just isn't getting enough water.


Wednesday, December 6, 2017

This might be a mixtake!

Cooks in the '70s loved their prepackaged food. They also knew that prepackaged was more expensive than homemade-- but they didn't always have time for homemade... That conundrum led to books like this:

Make-a-Mix Cookery (Karine Eliason, Nevada Harwood, and Madeline Westover, 1978) promises to save both time and money by helping home cooks make mixes in their spare time to use later on busy nights. It's a pretty good premise, though I'm not always sure I buy it.


Is it making your own mix if you have to make your mix by mixing two other mixes? (Ask that five times fast!) I'm also not sure how orange and lemon drink mixes + sugar and spices= tea, even if you're supposed to add a tablespoon of this to hot (rather than cold) water.

In contrast to Russian Refresher, most of the recipes are genuinely mixes of ingredients you can buy in bulk rather than mixes of other mixes. I'm just not always sure the title matches the mix. If I were just to look at the ingredients of Mexican Rice Mix without seeing the title, I don't think I would ever guess it was supposed to be Mexican.


Basil and parsley don't exactly scream "Mexico." You might argue that this is just the mix, and the finished Mexican Rice recipe might add some salsa and/or refried beans, for example.


You would be optimistic, but wrong.

Luckily, a lot of the mixes are put to more imaginative use than "Mexican" rice. Here's one of the more imaginative spreads:

I love the little bowls full of garnishes. I'd be happy if I had a little bowl full of shredded cheese and another of green peppers to sprinkle on pretty much any main dish...

But if you look at the mound-o-food in the foreground, you start to realize it's a mishmash of celery, pineapple, tomatoes, coconut, green onions, chow mein noodles, and ... is that cream of chicken soup oozing over the rice?


Hawaiian Haystack may sound like a made-up sex position, but it's really just an orgy of all the misbegotten '60s and '70s casserole ingredients.

If you want a much simpler ill-conceived dinner, there's always this:


Busy Day Casserole also leads to the question "Why bother making my own mixes if I'm just going to resort to cans of spaghetti mixed with pork and beans and ketchup anyway?"

Why? Because it makes you feel like you're saving money. Or caring for your family. Or something. Look, I don't know. The point is, you're doing something, and that's an illusion we all need sometimes. It's just unfortunate your illusion of doing something important involves a freezer full of crumbled pre-cooked hamburger and a can of spaghetti.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Funny Name: But Seriously, Folks

I don't think Robert S. Pile would be too upset about me featuring his recipe from Bach's Lunch: Picnic & Patio Classics (by the Junior Committee in Cleveland's Severance Hall to benefit the Cleveland Orchestra, fifth printing, October 1974) on Funny Name Saturday.


He doesn't seem to take the title too seriously either.


Wednesday, November 29, 2017

An Alcoa Christmas

Ready to cap off a year of highly reflective celebrations? That's right: Let's dip into 401 Party and Holiday Ideas from Alcoa (Conny Von Hagen, 1971) for Christmas.

Of course, there are gift-wrapping ideas that will only take 27 hours to execute in a month already filled with carol singing, cookie baking, egg nog making, last-minute shopping, present hiding, tantrum throwing, repeated "Santa is watching" warning, office party avoiding, and hurried "some assembly required" assembling.

I'm sure making a regally crowned swan laden with flowers or a dollhouse with windows, garden, and functional door as wrapping for another gift is on the agenda too.


The book also suggests ways to incorporate other cultures' Christmas traditions through creative use of foil. Do you like pinatas?

Well, it's nothing like the tissue-covered papier mâché form, but this chicken made out of a foil-covered bowl is pretty cute, and it will clearly only take one moderately gentle tap to dump the presents, rather than 20 minutes of increasingly frantic whacks with a baseball bat.

If you want something a little colder for Christmas, you can always go with the Polish decorations instead:
I'm pretty sure the kids won't go to bed dreaming of sugarplums. Babouschka will hunt them down in their nightmares as she holds her candle aloft, angry-villager-with-a-torch-style.

Speaking of torches, my favorite Christmas decorations are the ones that seem to suggest this is a fine time of year to burn your house to the ground.

Cover a bunch of paper towel tubes with foil, then top with Christmas ornaments and surround with lit candles. When the kids come through (or maybe when someone opens the door and a stiff breeze blows in), you will have broken glass and blazing cardboard in no time!

Even better: Hang candles from the ceiling, right where an unfortunate tall person might run into them.

And hang them on bent-up coat hangers! Yes, bent-up coat hangers. What could be more stable than lit candles carefully balanced on bent coat hangers dangling from the ceiling?

Happy Holidays from Alcoa! Now, call the fire department.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Funny Name: Speaking in Code Edition

Let's kick off the holiday season with this nonsense sentence of a title from Catalina's Cactus Cuisine (Catalina Junior Woman's Club of Tucson, Arizona, 1968):


Innocent and Christmasy is medieval? It sounds like it should be some kind of a code one spy would whisper to another. The other would reply with something like "Experienced and jejune is cretaceous" and they would sneak out to assassinate the archduke or something.


Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Create a sensation!

When the title has an exclamation point, the writer must think she has to work extra hard to get readers to believe its assertion.

At least, that's my theory for Simply Delicious! (Gertrude Wright, 1976). Is this booklet really full of simply delicious recipes? Well, I imagine the chocolate cake on the cover is fine, but some of the other stuff, like that enormous platter of appetizers in the front, is pretty sketchy.

And that is why the apps are my favorite part of the book. Let's start out by looking a little closer at the contents of that platter:


Yes, the tray is crammed full of suspect tidbits. Since people love gelatin with olive eyeballs in it (or maybe nipples, the way these little blobs are paired up?), I'll start with them.

They are Paté 'n' Miniature-- all the beef consomme, liver paste, and deviled ham firmed up with gelatin you can stand! (I love the way the "n" makes it look as if the title is missing a word at the end. Paté 'n' Miniature what? Marshmallows? Dachshunds? Golf?)

The bacon spirals may look pretty innocent, but they're not exactly a thrill either:


The bacon hides prunes (stuffed with pecans if you're lucky, or water chestnuts if you're not). I'm sure the book is correct that "most [guests] will be surprised to find they're eating prunes" after picking up a bacon roll, but I'm not convinced they will be as pleased by the surprise as the book seems to suggest.

Now, you might think the strawberries around the edge are safe, but don't they look a bit misshapen? And isn't the greenery a little off? Well, there's a reason for that.


Those aren't strawberries! They're lumps of Velveeta shaped into a strawberry, then rolled in red sugar and topped with parsley. There's a surprise for you! (And if picking up a sugar-covered Velveeta strawberry isn't a weird enough surprise, please note that this also suggests making cheese pumpkins to top a pumpkin pie-- just in case you need a last-minute tip for your Thanksgiving dinner.)

Did you notice the weird-looking lump in the center of the plate? Take a closer look:


Is that some kind of a weird swamp-based flower, torn from the muck and flung on the plate? Well, in the belief that everything is better with gelatin, the recipe writers have even jellified the centerpiece:


Yep, even the rose has to be encased in a mold! I'm thinking that this is supposed to be purely decorative since the rose is secured with tape, but then again, the recipe also calls for sugar. Is anybody supposed to eat the rose jelly? I'm hoping not, but who the hell knows?

The appetizer weirdness is not confined to the platter from the cover, either. My favorite just might be this afternoon craft-project-turned-hors-d'oeuvre:


“When there is no room left in hell, the dead will walk the earth.”

Ahem. So where did this mangy chicken and her circle of ... pink nightmares... come from? In this case, the egg definitely came before the chicken:


The hen is basically an enormous glob of extra-gluey egg salad hand-molded into a shape vaguely resembling a hen, then covered with sieved yolk "to resemble feathers." (I'm not overly familiar with chickens up close, but I'm pretty sure they're not usually covered with yellow lumps unless something has gone very, very wrong.)

And what of the pink circle surrounding nightmare chicken?


They're small hens, of course! Shrimp balanced on a deviled egg and iced with pink cream cheese. The cookbook asks, "Notice how it resembles a hen in a nest?" I have to admit that I've been trying to notice for 20 minutes, and I still think they look more like convulsing scorpions or trained seals that are still performing even though they've been flayed.

"Guaranteed to create a sensation!" indeed. On this point, I am sure Simply Delicious! is correct.