Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A Nightmare on Pig's Feet

As October draws to a close, the creepy-crawlies come out to make even our favorite things scary:

Ahh! Bacon 'n slime! There's a Halloween breakfast that DARES you to try to eat it. (I think Craig Claiborne may have thought the mustard-dill sauce looked better in this photo for the 1976 Benson & Hedges 100's Presents 100 of the World's Greatest Recipes than it really did.... or maybe he just figured smokers wouldn't mind phlegm-topped bacon?)

The sad thing is that this barely registers on the scary pork scale. (The scary pork scale may not be one of the more useful units of measurement, but it is definitely one of the more interesting.) No, the prize for scariest costume will make dinner a real scream:

I don't know where to begin with this one! The dead, staring "eye"? The decorative citrus peel mockingly laced around piggy's throat? The way his little feet are curled up beneath him? The fruit cup full of an unidentified blood-red, jiggly mass? The crispy little upturned tail-- so simultaneously cute and sad-- that also makes me suspect the piggy might start shitting stuffing all over the platter at any second?

Should you want to permanently traumatize friends and/or enemies, here is the recipe:

Pleasant dreams!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Tapeworm Delight!

Today is short but ... interesting ... so I can get back to grading several kajillion essays.

In this weekend's post, Graham Kerr (in The Graham Kerr Cookbook, 1969) angrily removes an intact tapeworm using a method I would not care to repeat:

Okay, maybe he's just testing to see if his pasta is al dente, but he still seems pretty upset about it for some reason.

Here's hoping you're having more fun this weekend than Mr. Kerr and I are!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A recipe to bring out my inner hypochondriac

Okay, maybe I'm not adventurous, but I never claimed to be adventurous. If I had to choose between something delectable (and anyone who would use that word almost certainly does NOT have the same idea of what is good as I do!) but iffy as far as food safety goes and something that tastes just okay but is far less likely to leave me spending hours in the bathroom ruing the day I was born, I would happily pick "okay" every time.

So when I saw this in Barbara Swain's Cookery for 1 or 2 (1978), my first thought was, "Why surround a meat loaf with lettuce leaves before baking it? They'll just get all limp and nasty."

And then I felt a sliver of ice in my stomach as I started to understand. This is steak tartare, one of my biggest nightmares! It is meant to be eaten raw.

Reading the recipe made me even queasier:

This gives diners an opportunity to not only get E. coli from the raw meat, but also salmonella from the raw egg yolk. The entree variation revels in its potential infectiousness, requiring cooks to "insert raw yolk" into the raw beef patty so the diners can mix it in themselves, presumably not, with every motion of the fork, trying to figure out how they could get out of eating this mess without hurting the cook's feelings and perhaps preemptively envisioning hours spent messily writhing in pain when they realize there is no easy way out and they might have to eat the damn thing.

I'm feeling shaky and sweaty just looking at this concoction. I may have to lie down. Can I get food poisoning from just looking at a picture?

Saturday, October 18, 2014

More Microwave Madness, Step by (Unexplained) Step

Now that I know about canned crab apples, this picture jumped out at me as I was perusing the Amana Radarange New Microwave Oven Cooking Guide (1972).

Is that a canned crab apple as a garnish? I think so: same smallish size, same too-bright red color and extra-glossy exterior, same stem resolutely warning that things could easily get ugly if you actually try to eat it. And what delight might this garnish be brightening? It's clearly something with LOTS of celery and cubes of a weird-looking meat, the color and texture of which remind me of the discount two-by-fours my dad very classily stacked in our carport when I was a kid.

Brace yourself! It's

Yes, Chow Mein Beef Heart! This was back in the day when people apparently might actually PREPARE Chinese-ish food in the microwave rather than simply using it to reheat takeout.

Of course, there is no sizzle of oil or seared flavor from the stir-fry heat. No whiff of sesame oil or garlic. Here we have beef heart, onions, and celery all microwave-boiled together in meat stock finished with a little soy sauce.

Those reheated leftovers are probably looking better all the time....

Bonus: another microwaved "Chinese" dinner, this time in casserole form and with unexplained step-by-step pictures.

Yes, one of the things I love most about the Amana cookbook is the pictures that are supposed to be helpful, but always leave me feeling more confused, rather than less. Try opening a page to see a series of pictures like this:

No caption. No references. Not even the title of the recipe they're supposed to supplement. Just some pictures with numbers.

My guess is that these are not meant to illustrate the process of making Oven-Barbecued Frankfurters or Ham and Eggs (the other recipes on the page). They must belong to this gem:

The Pork Chop Suey Bake! Even more "authentic" than the first recipe (and chop suey recipes are nothing if not authentic), this cooks the vegetables and instant rice in a casserole with milk and cream of mushroom soup. At least it still leaves in a little soy sauce.

And what role are the pictures supposed to play? Your guess is as good as mine, since there are no references to them anywhere. Apparently it is just somehow helpful to have pictures of various ingredients on cutting boards or in bowls to show readers that... they can cut the ingredients on cutting boards and put them in bowls?

It's a good thing I didn't work on this book because I would be far too tempted to start including more and more random pictures with numbers on them. By the time we got to the last chapter (Vegetables!), my step-by-step pictures for Cawliflower Oriental would look something like this:

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

It came from the cupboard shelf!

It's 1967, an hour before dinner, and your husband unexpectedly drags home a couple of old school buddies for dinner. What do you do? Your threat to run away and join the circus is not being taken very seriously (perhaps because you would survive one try on the flying trapeze in the best-case scenario).

 The minutes are flying by.

Quick, see what Betty Crocker's Hostess Cookbook has to say.

I hope you like cans.

Or, if we're being honest, maybe you hope your guests DON'T like cans. That will make it a short visit.

Let's start out with some nice spiced soup. Any guesses as to what that might entail?

If you guessed a can of condensed pea soup with a quarter teaspoon of nutmeg and a few random olives dumped in, great guess! You understand how these cookbooks work. (And if you really want to get rid of your guests early, I will break the laws of time and space to ship little Linda Blair back to 1967 to serve the pea soup for you.)

Soup is not enough, though. What about the main course?

Try some pork and peanuts! The "pork" in question is a can of luncheon meat doctored up with sweet potatoes, corn syrup (quite a bit of it, too!), peanut butter, orange juice, and a big jar of spiced crab apples.

I'm so busy imagining how cloyingly sweet this dish will be that I almost skip right over that last item. Canned spiced crab apples? I didn't even realize that was a thing, much less a thing that you as a '60s homemaker might be expected to have sitting around on a cupboard shelf waiting for some unexpected-and-barely-tolerated company. But if you do have them, why not throw them on top of canned meat with seriously sweet peanut butter?

What would canned spiced crab apples even look like? We are in luck:

Apparently they're whole apples-- stems on and everything so they will be extra tricky to eat. Pair 'em with canned green beans and the aforementioned slime-green soup garnished with floating eyeballs, and you have a meal fit for unexpected company!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Make mine mild!

It's always fun to come across a recipe that's obviously been made before. Maybe the book falls right open to a specific page that is covered in splatters. My favorites have little notes to go with them, though. Many are pretty straightforward-- a little star or the word "good" in the margin to suggest it's a good recipe, maybe an instruction or two like "omit onion" or "needs more pepper." And then there are notes that make me go "Huh?"

Today's huh-inspiring note from a home cook is courtesy of Better Homes and Gardens All-Time Favorite Casserole Recipes (1977, but mine is a 1980 printing). This is not a fancy recipe by any means. (That's probably why the home cook made it! Who doesn't love mac & cheese?) It's the note scrawled in pen that makes me wonder:


1. There is (or was?) such a thing as sharp American cheese? I thought all American cheese was just American cheese, pretty bland and homogeneous. Isn't that kind of the point of American cheese? It won't stand out, but it melts well.

2. What happened with the sharp cheese that made the home cook say, "You know what? We better stick to the mild American cheese for this one"? Did lunch have just a little too much flavor?

"Ma, we better go back to the mild American cheese. Zebediah got a little too worked up by the sharp and went on one of his milking tears again. Bessie is all shook up."

"Alright. I'll put a note in my cookbook."

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

In which your humble writer goes (title) crazy...

One of my virtues (and/or annoying features-- take your pick!) is that I am very easily amused. You know this to be true because I spend my spare time paging through old cookbooks. Sometimes just the title of a recipe is enough to make me giggle and say, "Was there a time when that sounded good?" or "I love it!" Of course, I'm alone when I say these things, so the spiders industriously spinning cobwebs near the ceiling just pause to reflect that their roommate is losing her mind. Then I tell them I'm not crazy and idly threaten to clean the house once in a while just so they don't get too high and mighty.

The latest series of titles to make my arachnid guests question my soundness of mind is from The Service Cook Book by Mrs. Ida Bailey Allen (1933).

In the "Was there a time when that sounded good?" corner:

I will admit that my taste buds do perk up whenever they hear "cream." (How they can hear, I have no idea. I'm pretty sure taste buds don't have ears.) But cabbage cream broth? The combination of those three words suddenly sends thoughts of ice cream and cream cheese running to another corner of the mind, fearful of contamination by association. A cream broth sounds like something to be made for an ailing relative, but who wants the stink of cabbage when they're already feeling sick? This might be another restorative for malingerers....

Another word that sounds pretty good on its own: frosted. Think of a luscious chocolate frosted birthday cake or angel food frosted with delicate whipped cream. Now feel those thoughts flee:

Frosted celery (the dental floss of the vegetable world) and radishes (globes of hot, damp dirt)! At least these don't have dessert-y frosting-- it's just seasoned cream cheese thinned with a little top-cream (Top-cream! From days of fresh, un-homogenized milk!)-- but the association with frosted desserts make this sound scary.

Lastly, the title I love beyond all reason:

Green peppered bouillon! It's green peppers! In bouillon! No twist here, unless one considers a little melted butter used to saute the peppers a big surprise. The thing that makes me want to do a happy little dance for my spidery audience is the use of "green peppered" as an adjective. I love green peppers, so I may start adding this as a prefix to a good chunk of what I eat. Maybe I'll have a green peppered salad followed by some green peppered pizza. I can make green peppered rice to go with a green peppered stir fry.

As long as I stay away from a frosted green peppered birthday cake, I should be okay....

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Let's carve some grapes!

A new month! The month of ghosts and corn mazes and enormous orange pumpkin faces smiling menacingly into the flame-leaved trees! Today we'll look at Betty Crocker's Cooking Calendar (1962) and its take on October.

First up: what's in season?

Okay, I'm a little sad it's not popcorn and pumpkins or something equally Halloween-y, but tomatoes, peppers, and grapes aren't bad. We could always try to carve scary faces into them, although it will be a real challenge with the grapes. Kind of hard to find a knife that small....

So what's our goody for the month? I'm not sure why October should make us want to go out west, but this month has a "Western Get-Together" party:

Well, I do see tomatoes and peppers, so I guess it does go with the month's produce. The picnic-style tablecloth suggests the southwest to me since picnic season is rapidly coming to an end in the more northern areas....

What goes into the dinner? Glad you asked, pardner:

It seems a bit odd that the "Burgers and Spaghetti, Barbecue Style" title doesn't even mention the peppers the spaghetti is stuffed into. The picture shows that peppers are a major component of the meal, and they don't get any space in the headline? That just seems like discrimination to me.

Maybe that's because the peppers are sadly misused. I love me a yummy, retro plate of stuffed peppers, but this recipe just seems to get stuffed peppers wrong. First of all, it takes a food that's hard to eat without causing a huge mess anyway (spaghetti) and stuffs it into peppers so it's even harder to handle. Plus, the pasta is put in plain and topped with sauce. That means diners somehow have to try to mix the sauce and the spaghetti together AND get the strands out of the damn pepper bowl, which just seems superfluous. There's no melding of the pepper and the stuffing, so they're just separate components that make each other all the more awkward.

This is a pretty looking meal, but it would turn ugly fast if I tried to eat it! From pretty pepper bowls to a straggly, potentially soupy mess in minutes.... Maybe it's a metaphor for October: the pretty, crisp, sunny days with brilliant leaves that turn into cold, dark nights hinting that hordes of ugly zombies are on the way. Hmmm.... Maybe putting it that way makes me appreciate the potential pepper menace just a bit more. A little ugliness can be fun.