Saturday, November 30, 2013

Showing Ted some love

You know the feeling you get from a happy surprise? Maybe you're going through the pockets in a coat you haven't worn in months and find money you don't remember leaving there. Maybe you discover a playful friend hid a toy skull to stare at you as you wash dishes. (I'm guessing more of you can identify with the first scenario....)

Sometimes just such a happy surprise ensures I will have to buy a vintage cookbook before I've even bothered to look at the recipes. Marion Howells' 1972 Popular Italian Cookery got swept out of the thrift shop based on the inscription alone:

Okay, I know it's the wrong holiday for this time of year, but I didn't want to wait until Valentine's day and risk losing this in the stack....

Ted seems like such a thoughtful guy. Whoever received this could be in for some embarrassment when friends, parents, children, or (significant?) others wanted to try out a recipe. Plus, I feel a hint of "now you can fix me something decent when I come over" in this gift. Getting a gift that Ted actually bought for himself must have been a real thrill.

With the right recipe selecting skills, however, one could quite properly thank Ted. I think I would make pizza.

If you like the more genuinely Italian no-cheese-and-plenty-of-anchovies style, then this may not look too bad. I would warn you to look in the background, though.

The pizza topping recipe starts with frying onions and dessert pears in the oil drained from canned tuna. Just in case the gravity of this situation is lost on you: The pizza topping recipe starts with frying onions and dessert pears in the oil drained from canned tuna.

Then add the canned tuna, tomatoes, and seasoning. Put on top of the crust with anchovies and black olives or pickled walnuts. Prove, bake, and serve hot to Ted in the hopes that he will think more carefully about his gift choices in the future.

Bonus: If you are interested in the basic pizza dough recipe, here it is:

There are no baking directions because they are included at the end of the recipe above.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving! Break out the egg molds!

As I noted at Halloween, Wilton saw holidays as a good opportunity to sell people on specialized equipment, even if it didn't necessarily match up to the holiday in question. Thus, maybe you too will get a hint of Easter from this Thanksgiving display from The 1974 Wilton Yearbook of Cake Decorating:

At least fans of giant chocolate eggs will have an excuse to make them more than once a year. I am a bit perplexed by the odd-shaped heads tipped waaaaay back. It's as if a turkey with an unusually small head and flat neck got stuck trying to climb out of a football. These turkeys look so stuck up they would drown if it rained.

Okay, maybe you can't be talked into eggs for Thanksgiving. There is always the traditional Pilgrims and Indians pattern (from the 1970-'71 Wilton yearbook, maybe? The cover is missing):

If you're not sure what to give thanks for, the correct answers are the warm relationship between Pilgrims and Indians (so lucky that the invaders and natives were such good friends) and of course, Wilton's magic Color-Flow! No holiday is complete without it.

If all of this seems a little too festive to belong here and you really just want one last scary dessert, though, I don't want to leave you feeling less-than-thankful. If you need a "healthy" "dessert" packed full of nonfat milk powder and tofu before it will feel like a real Grannie Pantries Thanksgiving, then you can give thanks for Gary Landgrebe's 1978 classic Tofu Goes West:

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Floss at the table!

Okay, so I've been less than charitable in my Thanksgiving-themed posts. Maybe your goal isn't to make sure you don't have to host again. Maybe you just want to make sure your misanthropic friend doesn't come back again. If so, you're in luck. I noticed a trend in sides that would keep me away: celery as star!

I can't say I hate celery. It's fine to add a little texture to a bread stuffing. I don't mind it cut into tiny pieces and used to bulk up a soup or stir-fry. I mean, I won't pick it out and fling it at the wall or anything. I just don't see much point in it, and big hunks of it kind of gross me out. Celery is like taking a carrot, draining all the lovely color and flavor out of it, and threading it with several yards of dental floss so every bite is a crunchy but bland, stringy mess.

Since I see celery as a bit player at best, I was surprised to see some holiday cookbooks base entire side dishes around it for Thanksgiving. I'm always suspicious of home ec teachers, but the Favorite Recipes of Home Economics Teachers New Holiday Cookbook (1974) at least seemed to recognize that celery would need a lot of help:

With all the half and half, cheddar, and toasty breadcrumbs, it might be easier to overlook that this recipe is, at heart, a casserole dish full of celery.

Okay, maybe that side wouldn't completely scare me away. If you don't want to leave it to chance, consult Better Homes & Gardens Holiday Cookbook (1959) instead:

A few sauteed mushrooms and toasted almonds are not enough to hide the shame that is a serving dish full of boiled celery. If Neiman-Marcus could pull it off, it is only because Neiman-Marcus had a fancy enough name that they could intimidate others into believing it was good. People in the '50s were just lucky Neiman-Marcus didn't decide to make a side dish out of cigarette butts and coffee grounds, or they would have had to pretend the bitter, ashy flavor and gritty texture were exquisite.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Scary turkey alternatives, part the second

In our last installment, we learned how to scare guests away with disgusting meat-based non-turkey recipes. What if you want to scare guests away with a vegetarian spread, though? New Age Vegetarian Cookbook (1968) can provide the perfect menu.

At first, I was at a loss for the main dish. The "Entrees" chapter has a seemingly endless list of veggie loaves that sound bland, heavy, and nearly identical except for minor variations in ingredients. I didn't know how I would choose, but luckily, they picked for me:

I'm not sure what makes this the Thanksgiving roast. My guess is the sage, a half teaspoon of which is surely plenty to season cups of boiled lentils, bread crumbs, and nuts. I don't really see olives in many of the other loaves either, so maybe those are supposed to make this extra festive.

The loaf is to be served with brown gravy, perhaps to help makeit seem more festive and less like a pile of bland mush.

I'm not convinced this will help much, especially since I've never liked the sweet and savory combination. That's okay, since our goal is not to have to host again. We don't want the "vegetable liquid" and "vegetable flakes" thickened with flour and margarine and sweetened with brown sugar to work too many wonders.

Most Thanksgiving tables also include some kind of stuffing. We want to seem hospitable enough that guests won't suspect our less charitable notions, so let's find some stuffing.

I really have no idea what makes this stuffing! Baking canned soybeans with diced celery and eggs sounds like it could be another loaf? Or maybe stew-ish? I'm not sure what the texture of this might be, but I don't know how this fits the legal definition of stuffing.

Oh, right. There is no standard of identity for stuffing. That must be how this one slipped through.

If all of this isn't enough to make sure Thanksgiving is at Uncle Joe's house next year, dessert should do the trick:

If you feel like being nice, go with the "Very Mild" formulation. If subtlety is lost on your family, "Not So Mild" is probably your best bet.

And hope dessert doesn't kick in until they're on the way home!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Scary turkey alternatives

Thanksgiving is coming in just over a week, so food writers are all gearing up for the big feast. Turkey is the star of the show for most people, but it's not foremost among my own ideas of Thanksgiving. When I was a child, we usually went to Grandma's and she didn't like turkey, so she usually made several chickens and a ham. When I grew up and became mostly vegetarian, I learned to make a tofu-based roll full of homemade stuffing and that became the centerpiece. This week I'm examining what vintage cooks could  make in place of a turkey.

Today I'm looking to Good Housekeeping's Cooking for Company (1971) for some ideas of meat-based non-turkey "company" food. I'm not as hospitable as my grandma, though, so these recipes assume that the cook doesn't want to be in charge of Thanksgiving again!

And what could make your guests say "How about we go somewhere else next year?" faster than "Company Tuna-Rice Cones"?

Yes, a ring of gigantic popped zits spewing pus around a bed of overcooked broccoli should work quite nicely at suggesting you'd rather not be subjected to Uncle Joe's political opinions for five hours only to be rewarded with a messed-up house and a pile of dirty dishes afterwards.

These look like real treats, too: tuna and rice glued together, rolled in corn flakes, and deep fried, served over broiled canned pineapple and topped with condensed cream of mushroom soup. I think the fact that these are actually called "Company Tuna-Rice Cones" suggests the editors had the same attitude toward company as I do.

Okay, maybe you don't want to be quite as overtly hostile. Maybe you'd rather have something that seems a bit more Thanksgiving-ish. Maybe if you're really lucky, some of your guests have coulrophobia and you can conveniently "forget" this when you decide to make the innocuous-sounding "Chicken, Danish Style."

Turn a roasted chicken into a horror by painting it white and using pickle and carrot chips to give it a clown outfit. If you're really lucky, the kids will refuse to be in the same house with the thing and will insist on staying in the car!

All it takes is chicken, some veggies, horseradish-mustard sauce, a few toothpicks, and the will to overcome any lingering traces of hospitality or human decency.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

On being easily amused....

I am easily amused. I can happily spend an afternoon finding wooly bear caterpillars and chuckling at their divergent predictions about how harsh the winter will be. I can have fun rearranging the dinosaurs that look down from the top of my desk as I type. (They need to be fairly balanced, too-- no letting the carnivores sneak up on the herbivores without a fight!) And of course, I love spending an afternoon thumbing through some old cookbooks.

In short, I'm pretty boring by most adults' standards. But the beauty of being easily amused is that a few pages from McCall's Family-Style Cook Book (1974) can make my day.

If you can look at those pictures and honestly say that they don't make your day just a little weirder (in a good way!), then I should be the one feeling sorry for you!

I don't think I can express how much I love these. The crazy overstuffed absurdity of the poodle and the sheep! The comically over-sized elephant ears! The spiky lion looking like a child's picture of the sun! The ludicrously long giraffe's neck and dachshund's body! The hungry hippo! The minimalist birds! I can understand someone whose idea of a fun time is gluing marshmallows together, especially if the end result is a whimsical marshmallow zoo.

Should you want to make your own, here's how they did it:

I have a secret obsession with lime flavored marshmallows. The little turtle would work pretty well in lime, but I wish they would have made an alligator. Then the zoo would have been complete.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Those crazy epicures....

Today's recipe itself showcases a lot of things that were common in recipes from the '50s to the '70s: questionable use of gelatin, loads of cream (both light and heavy!), blatant disregard for the possibility of salmonella contamination. The recipe itself is not a surprise:

I was surprised, however, by where I found the recipe. It's from Anna Thomas's 1972 The Vegetarian Epicure.

I guess she used the word "epicure" to suggest that this would not be one of those health-obsessed guides that were popular in the 1970s. The recipes would not taste the way a health food store smells or be laden with carob and soy curls, even if it meant negating the potential health benefits of vegetarianism in the process.

Even the disregard of healthfulness isn't really what surprises me, though. It's the gelatin. The real vegetarians I know (as opposed to my mostly vegetarian, but not terribly strict about it approach) will not eat anything with gelatin. It's not meat per se, but it is made from skin, bones, and connective tissue. Calling this a vegetarian recipe seems a bit of a stretch, especially since this isn't a cookbook of the Catholic "no meat on Fridays (and fish doesn't count as meat)" variety.

Now just because I'm amused by it, here is the back cover.

Who can resist a man who lies in a meadow casually nibbling what I assume is misshapen celery while holding a bouquet of carrots?

Ah, the '70s. They will always amuse me.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

False Idylls

For those who imagine the past as an idyllic food world in which people lived on the fresh produce they grew in their own back yards and perhaps some eggs and meat from the farmer up the road, I have a reminder from Better Homes and Gardens Fondue and Tabletop Cooking (1970):

Okay, the picture is black and white, so maybe it's not quite clear what we're looking at.

Crunchy ham sandwiches! Buttered white bread layered with ham and process cheese, dipped in eggs, rolled in crushed potato chips, and grilled. I'm half-surprised that no fast food restaurant is offering this on a limited-time basis right now. (Add bacon for 50 cents more!)

At least cooks in the '70s were supposed to serve these with "crisp relishes." (And dessert!)

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Clock watching from the freezer

Grumble grumble grumble grumble. And grumble a bit more.

I keep trying to be happy that I have an extra hour of weekend, but I hate the time change and see no reason why we can't be on Daylight Savings Time all year long. I don't do anything fun or interesting at 7 a.m., so why should it be light then, especially if it means I won't get to go for an evening stroll in the park because it's dark by 5:30?

In an attempt to lift my spirits, I got out Good Housekeeping's Clock-Watchers' Cook Book, hoping it would have some clock watching I can appreciate. (To be honest, the fact that they got their apostrophe right for the plural possessive "Clock-Watchers'" is already kind of making my day. That's how much of a nerd I am.)

Before long, I was intrigued by a picture of what is apparently an ice cube tray full of seasoned meat, with a backdrop of a skillet full of hash, black olives, and rolled-up lunch meat.

I love the old-fashioned metal ice cube trays loaded up with some weird orange-y concoction. The extra effort to remove the cubes could help prevent an interesting mistake if one were prone to grabbing a few ice cubes without looking. Even die-hard carnivores don't want lumps of meat in their drinks.

The cubes clearly have something to do with the skillet in the background since the color is so similar. And what is the pepper in the middle about?

The skillet is rice seasoned with "1 tray Magic Barbecue-Sauce Cubes," corn, green pepper, and tomato. The green pepper ring in the center holds extra canned corn. (Since I'm still getting over Halloween, I will imagine the green pepper to be Frankenstein's monster's head full of corn "brains." The olives are trying to keep him from escaping, but they are too edible to be of much use as guards. You are free to skip the step of imagining the picture as a Halloween tableau, particularly if you don't read this line.) (Ha!)

I'm most curious about the cheese, though. What I mistook as rolled lunch meat is actually rolled-up American cheese. Since it is one of the meltiest cheeses available, that means the skillet must have been stone-cold when the food stylist took this picture. I wouldn't even bother rolling the cheese up; it would be a series of cheese-colored puddles within seconds anyway.

So what are "Magic Barbecue-Sauce Cubes"? They're handy helpers for clock-watchers:

The cubes are indeed loaded full of meat, along with onion, celery, ketchup, and seasonings that you wouldn't want to find in your glass of Coke. Just in case you didn't realize that the freezer can help save time, the book thoughtfully includes a picture of Eskimos staring at a polar bear who has swallowed a clock.

Have to admit, that cheers me up a little.