Saturday, July 22, 2017

Pucker up for chicken

Since my little sister has been reminiscing about good old 4-H microwaved lemon chicken (or more accurately, she remembered "gagg[ing] on the first bite and nobody else touched it"), I decided to post about lemon chicken today.

I honestly don't remember 4-H Lemon-Herb Chicken, but that may be because I didn't try it. Here's the original recipe from the Quick Meals project, since my sister so generously donated the project book to me. I don't have its date, but she took it in 1993.

I am not sure exactly what made this gag-worthy, but microwaving chicken as a primary cooking method is not generally a good move. Maybe the broccoli got overcooked too, with the "several extra minutes" to chicken required so it would not be raw?

The idea of lemon with chicken is a pretty popular one, but a lot of the other recipes I found also seem... well... a bit suspect.

I found another microwave version from Multi-Power Microwave Cooking from Sears (copyright 1975; mine is the ninth printing, 1978), but this one focuses on the wings rather than breasts:
Maybe cooking them in butter will help with the rubberiness (or at least make them tasty enough that texture is easier to overlook)? Limiting the lemon juice to a tablespoon might help as well, but nothing will change the fact that this is still microwaved chicken.

Weight Watchers International Cookbook (1977) offers its idea of a Chinese chicken with lemon recipe:

I'm a bit surprised this isn't labeled as Hawaiian since most older recipes with pineapple and green pepper were listed that way. I suspect the lemon might get lost among the soy sauce, garlic, canned pineapple, vinegar, carrot, and green pepper. Whether this makes it an improvement or a step down is your call.

Pillsbury's Barbecue Cookbook (copyright 1976; mine is second printing, 1978) likes the idea of lemon and chicken so much it lists two versions. One is named the more generic "citrus" rather than lemon:


So if you like your lemon chicken to also have orange and honey, this is the one to go with. (Basically, it's the chicken to eat if you want to eat chicken marinated in something you'd drink if you had a cold.) (Well, minus the oil, mustard, and herbs, unless you like really weird beverages when you're sick.)

The other is Lemon Grilled Chicken:

With lemon, tarragon, and paprika, this one seems the most similar to the original recipe, but grilling rather than microwaving is pretty likely to help the flavor substantially.

Finally, if you are really serious about lemon and cooking for a crowd, The Good Housekeeping Cookbook (ed. Dorothy B. Marsh, 1963) offers Lemon-Barbecued Chicken:
The chicken is fried, then baked in three cups of lemon juice. (Of course, it uses six to seven chickens, too.) This recipe better be the best of the lot because if it's not, that's a LOT of gag-worthy chicken to throw away.

Unsurprisingly, these recipes are not enough to make this veg-head long for chicken. I'll leave my sister to hypothesize whether the 4-H recipe is the worst of the lot. (My vote of no-confidence is on the Weight Watchers version.)

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Veggies that make me ask the big, existential question

I visited friends with a lovely vegetable garden a couple weeks ago and came home with delicious fresh parsley, lettuce, basil, and cucumbers. Since that gave me veggies on the brain, today we're looking at Favorite Recipes of America: Vegetables Including Fruits (Favorite Recipes Press, 1968).

Apparently it's a pretty good book, as something chewed up the top edge of the cover. Will the recipes inside be as appetizing as the cover?

The picture has a nice assortment of veggies, but to me something seems weird about the only ones that are part of a recipe. There's just an awkward family photos vibe about the peppers trying to stand tall in the tomato sauce. It's like dad is in the back, standing tall, while mom, off to the left, is starting to lose her balance (Maybe had an extra glass of wine before the photo shoot?) and little sis, off to the right, is about to go under. Big brother is front and center, trying to hog the camera, and NOBODY seems to realize their crumb topping isn't all that brown. (Is that the stuffed pepper equivalent of forgetting to comb one's hair?) So many questions....

The book itself has plenty of tried-and-true veggie recipes, but you're not here to see how to make baked potatoes or fried green tomatoes. Today we're looking at recipes that made me say, "You could do that, but why?"

I'm not confused about why people deep fry veggies. French fries are awesome. Batter-dipped fried mushroom or cauliflower? A fine way convince yourself that you had something healthy at the fair. Ever tried crispy Brussels sprouts generously sprinkled with salt? Amazing! My point is, I do not necessarily object to frying veggies. This, however...


You could french-fry celery, but why? Frying is a lot of work and a big mess. Why waste the effort on something that will just be a hot stringy mess?

I mentioned that I liked Brussels sprouts. They can be great fried and salted, or coated with a delicious sun dried tomato sauce like my husband makes once a year or so.... whenever I can coax him. I haven't had the sprouts with slivered almonds and mushrooms in a sour cream sauce, but I imagine that would be pretty tasty.


Of course, you could throw in white grapes and American cheese too, but why? This dish, as they say on Chopped, could use a little editing. (Or maybe a lot.)

I have no objections to a fluffy, creamy plate of scrambled eggs. Bring some mix-ins to the party, like cheese and broccoli, and so much the better.


You could add "bite-sized chunks" of head lettuce cooked with onion juice to what would otherwise be a nice skillet of scrambled eggs, but (Say it with me, girls and boys!) why?

Maybe we should just tie this all up with some nice dumplings. (Full disclosure: The dumplings I've tried always seem bland and gummy and I don't understand why people don't just serve a stew with some nice crusty rolls or biscuits instead. I'm going to play along with the idea that dumplings are delicious comfort food for the sake of this bit.)

What do you like with your dumplings? Chicken with plenty of peas and carrots? Maybe chickpeas and dumplings or corn with cornmeal dumplings since this is a book about veggies? How about...


You could boil biscuit mix dumplings in salted water and then dump in a  bunch of sliced cucumbers, but why? Why? Why?

The recipes may not be great, but they do make me more philosophical and ready to ask the big question in life: Why?

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Quick & easy dishes for an uneasy week

This week I just about panicked when I went to the basement and saw a puddle under my upright freezer. Then I opened the door and my potato puffs and veggie burgers were still frozen solid, so I looked around and realized the water was along the whole wall. I'd just noticed it by the freezer first. So I basically got to panic again, but for a totally different reason. My freezer wasn't dead; my basement was flooding. I'm smart enough to use plastic bins rather than cardboard boxes on the floor, but I'm currently imagining everything in the boxes cheerfully sprouting mountains of mold-- enough to blow those nice plastic lids right off. Yay for torrential downpours.

Seems like now is a good time to take it easy. Today we're dipping into Quick & Easy Dishes (Favorite Recipes of Home Economics Teachers, 1968) for some chilly summer salads.

How about I start with a classic Jell-O salad?


This takes the classic lime-Jell-O-and-pineapple formula and gives it a twist: celery and American cheese! That not-so-dynamic-duo seems to be thrown into nearly every mushroom-soup-laden casserole, so why not toss it into the refrigerated equivalent, the Jell-O salad? 

If you want something a bit simpler, this looks like it might fit the bill:



I'm going to go ahead and pretend I buy the premise on this one. Okay, fine, people genuinely want to eat slices of frozen fruit cocktail on a bed of lettuce drizzled with whipped cream or salad dressing. Of course they do. That firmly squares with my knowledge of human desires and taste buds. 

Something tells me that the difficulty of sliding frozen fruit cocktail out of the can and slicing it into reasonable servings is seriously understated here. Considering I managed to injure myself trying to scoop an airy frozen dessert full of whipped cream last week, I can't imagine making this recipe will be either as quick or easy as the instruction to "Open both ends of the can and push the contents out. Slice" suggests. 

Let's just forget about all of this and go to a carnival:


It's a cottage cheese carnival! Yay. Once again we get the wonders of pineapple, celery, gelatin, and cheese, but this time the gelatin is plain and the cheese is cottage. (Plus minced onion! Whee!) Once again, we get the whole mess served on lettuce, but this time instead of whipped cream, it's garnished with carrot sticks and that most mouthwatering cracker of all, the saltine.

You know what? Let's not go to the carnival. It might be more fun to go back to squeegeeing my basement.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Raw power!

I love raw snap peas. I like carrots better raw than cooked. I generally (with a few minor exceptions) only like fruit if it's raw. But am I ready for everything to be raw?

Jennie Reekie's Everything Raw: The No-Cooking Cookbook (1977) at least pretends we should be pumped to eat not only raw apples, oranges, nuts, and avocados, but also whole fish and squid! Yum.

The truth is that the book is not, as the author acknowledges, "fanatical" about raw food. If you look carefully, a few recipes call for cooked ingredients: cans of consommé, bread or graham cracker crumbs, and that eternal retro favorite, gelatin, which is pretty lucky for me. People loooove nasty-ass gelatin:


Like German Herring Salad! It's one of the limited number of "raw" recipes that calls for boiling water uses it for the glorious purpose of ... well ... floating pickled herring, carrots, tomatoes, and dill pickles in onion-and-bay-leaf flavored gelatin.

The nice thing is that Yvonne Skargon provided illustrations to make the ingredients seem whimsical and appealing. Swim into that dill, little guys!


Reekie also insists this is not a diet book, but it's packed pretty full of diet or diet-adjacent recipes, like this alternative to Slim-Fast:


A little orange juice mixed with raw eggs, vegetable oil, and a bunch of milk? Living on this for three days would make those little refrigerated shakes from the grocery store seem downright decadent.

The cat perched above the recipe seems to think living on the milk might be all right...


...but my own experiences with my cats and dairy suggest the rug will need cleaning before too long.

There's also a classic dieter's "lunch":


Cottage Cheese Grapefruit Cups! The surprise ingredient is the cucumber. Yippee.

My favorite recipe, though, might be the one for something I usually love: strawberry yogurt.


Have you ever been enjoying a nice bowl of strawberry yogurt and thought, "You know what this could use? Some crushed garlic!"

Well, apparently Jennie Reekie thought that, and assumed that somebody would agree with her.

I will agree on one thing: anyone who gets a bowl of this is also getting a raw deal.

Friday, July 7, 2017

In which your humble writer accidentally weaponizes a spoon

It's that time of year again-- time for me to actually cook something vintage. That's right: Pieathalon!



I sent in a recipe for Waffle Pie from Who'll Do the Dishes (1960) and waited to see what would come in for me. I got my recipe from the always-entertaining Yinzerella at Dinner Is Served.


This recipe is from Anne Marshall's Australian Cooking for Today (1973). If you're having trouble reading the recipe, here are the directions:

Nutty Caramel Pies
Serves 4

90 g. (4 tablespoons) caster sugar
150 ml. (5/8 cup) milk
1 egg
1 egg yolk
150 ml. (5/8 cup) cream, lightly whipped

For base:
90 g. (3/4 cup) plain flour
60 g. (1/4 cup) butter
1 tablespoon sugar
60 g. (2 oz.) plain chocolate

For decoration: 
150 ml. (5/8 cup) honey sauce
60 g. (1/2 cup) broken walnuts

Dissolve 2 tablespoons sugar in a heavy pan and allow to caramelize to a pale golden brown. Remove from heat and pour on 3 tablespoons of boiling water, very slowly. Return to heat, simmer to dissolve caramel, add the milk and stir.

Beat the egg and yolk with 1 tablespoon sugar, add caramel-milk and strain back into the saucepan. Cook very gently until the custard coats the back of a spoon. Pour into a bowl and allow to cool. When it is cold, transfer custard to a freezer tray and freeze till mushy in the freezer. Beat well, and fold in the cream. Return to the tray and freeze until firm. 

Knead the flour, butter, and 1 tablespoon sugar to a manageable dough. Chill well then roll out thinly and line 4 9-cm. (3-1/2 inch) tartlet tins. Bake blind for 15 minutes at 190 C (375 F) until light golden brown. Allow to cool. 

Melt the chocolate in a bowl over hot water and dip the edges of the pies into soft chocolate.

To serve, pile ice cream into the pastry shells, and spoon honey sauce and walnuts over.

Here are all the filling ingredients. It's a pretty simple list:

I had to look up caster sugar, and apparently it's the same thing as superfine sugar, so I picked that up.

The first step was to caramelize the sugar. I wasn't sure about that, so I looked up a tutorial and saw that I should put the sugar in an even layer in a heavy pan, put the pan over medium heat, and watch for it to look like there was some water in the pan. I felt dumb staring at a pan of sugar, but then suddenly I saw "water" (melted sugar) at the edges and I started stirring like crazy. It started turning colors very quickly after that point and it was fully caramelized in maybe a minute. I stirred in the water while steamed and stuck to my spatula, but the caramel melted into the water once I set it back on the heat. I kept worrying that I had screwed something up, but it seemed to be working fine. 

Then I followed the directions to add the milk and eggs and cook to make a custard. Here's what it looked like before I set it in the freezer to get "mushy."


Then I whipped the cream, folded it into the re-beaten custard, and put it all in the freezer to get solid. 

I realized at this point that the recipe called for four tablespoons of sugar in the filling, but I had only used three: two for the caramel and one beaten into the egg and yolk. Did I miss something somewhere? Oh, well. This was made with three tablespoons of sugar, not four.

Then I worked some flour, butter, and sugar into a crust. I'm not going to lie: the recipe is hard af to work with. When it's cold, it's brittle and crumbly. When it warms up, it sticks to everything.

I had bought pot-pie-sized disposable tart pans, but I realized they were waaay too big. Then I remembered that I had two mini tart pans, so I ended up pulling those out and saving the other two balls of tart crust dough for later (if I ever get that ambitious). I managed to half-roll, half-pat the remaining two crust balls into barely-passable tart shells and bake them off.


There was obviously no way I could dip the shell edges into anything, so I messily painted them up with melted chocolate:


Go ahead and put them on a Pinterest fails board somewhere. I don't care.

So I finally assembled a crust with the caramel filling. Well, more accurately, I tried to assemble it. That filling was rock-hard. I left it on the counter for 15 minutes to soften, and it was still solid except at the edges, which were getting runny. I tried scooping it with an ice cream scoop, but it seemed too blunt. I tried scooping it with a serving spoon, but I managed to slip and slice my thumb open. Once I got bandaged up, I finally got a few scoops of filling into one of the shells and threw on a few walnuts. (Left off the honey since I'm not a big fan.) Then I brought in my special guest to look the pie over:


I'm not entirely sure how I was lucky enough to talk Cassidy from Preacher into showing up, but I think a big part of it was the case of single malt I promised him. He was... uh... not very enthusiastic about the pie. 

"This looks like shite!"

"Yeah, I know. Won't you try it anyway?"

"Actually, I'm more interested in your thumb. Gimme a look at it."


"Now that's more like it!"

Cassidy wasn't much help, so I tried the pie. How is it? It's mostly cream and sugar, so it would be hard to go too wrong.

I took a taste and it's fine. Dairy fat, caramelized sugar... there was no way I was going to hate it. If I'm being honest, though, I'd much rather get those kinds of calories from a slice of cheesecake or some Ben and Jerry's. The texture of the filling is icy and crumbly. It keeps breaking into weird little slivers that immediately melt. The flavor is pretty flat too. This would probably be better off if it weren't frozen and were just a traditional custard pie. It also needs some more flavors to balance it out-- definitely a little salt, maybe some more chocolate for a little more bitter. Pecans would be a way better choice for nuts than the walnuts. At least it didn't end up as soup like last year's pie. (If you're interested, here are the links for year 1 and year 2 too.)

A big thanks to Yinzerella of Dinner Is Served for organizing the Pieathalon! Be sure to visit the other entries. (They will be going live throughout the day, so if a link doesn't work now, try it later.)

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

In which a special guest barely bothers to tease the Pieathalon

Guess what's coming on Friday! It's the day we're posting for the fourth annual Pieathalon!

As I have in years past, I asked a special guest to help me sample the pie for that post, so as is my tradition, he gets to pick the recipe for the teaser post.

I shouldn't have been surprised he wasn't very cooperative.

"Why would you want me to help? You know what I consume isn't going to be in your silly little cookbooks, unless maybe they've got a recipe for single malt."

"Come on! Just help me pick something and you can get back on your road trip."

"You go ahead and pick something for me. Just don't be an arsehole and pick something flambéed or I will come back, and you will be sorry."

With that, he headed out to a Chevelle, and I got to work paging through my books. I thought about picking something Chinese, but it seemed too esoteric, and I'm not sure what he usually orders. I settled on something a little more on-the-nose. From Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker's Joy of Cooking (1975 edition), here are two recipes for my Friday guest star:

It's a little more processed than he is accustomed to, but I know he would approve of the ingredient list.

Of course he needs some liquor to go with the blood sausage, though this is a bit fancier than his usual straight-from-the-bottle preference:


Please note: Nothing that bursts into flame! I kept my word.

That's it for today! Mystery guest will be back for my Pieathalon post on Friday!

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

A sweet bicentennial feast, straight from the pantry

I'm posting a day early so we can celebrate Independence Day with The Best of Home Economics Teachers Bicentennial Cookbook (Favorite Recipes of Home Economics Teachers, 1975-- I guess they needed to start selling before the bicentennial actually hit!).

Don't you feel patriotic already, with all the stars and stripes? (Of course, a lot of the stripes are blue, and the stars are red and blue, so it's not exactly the flag, but a ribbon-and-applique version of patriotism, appropriate for home ec teachers.) (I'm serious! Look close. The white stripes are grosgrain ribbon.)

Today, I'm going to highlight just a few of the more "charming" trends I've noticed in old American recipes over the years.

Americans like their main dishes sweet:


It's not enough to have the classic (too-sweet-for-me-but-I'll-look-the-other-way-while-you-eat-it) apple and pork chop dinner. It's not enough to add sweet fall spices, or to dump a can of sweet potatoes in with it. No, you have to throw in a whole can of peaches too! Sweet on sweet on sweet.


At least a dinner of pork chops in syrup has a nice sheen to it.

If getting sweetness from fruit and sweet potatoes seems a little too subtle, there is always this approach:

I'll be honest, the stuffing of rice cooked in cream of mushroom soup sounds better to me than it reasonably should.

The recipes loses me at the point when it insists on brushing the chickens with orange juice mixed with corn syrup. Candied chicken is not my idea of a good time-- but it does seem quintessentially American to me.

Another fun American tradition: dumping every can from the pantry together, topping it with chow mein noodles, and calling it Chinese:

I somehow doubt the canned peas, mushroom soup, tuna, and oranges represent Chinese cooking much better than any other random assortment from the pantry shelves could. (How many times can I say that canned mushroom soup in a casserole does not equal Chinese?)

The added oranges make this unnecessarily sweet, too! Way to prove my previous point, home ec teachers.

And one more thing: Americans of the past did not always choose the most... er... sensitive names for recipe titles.

I'm sure the peppers and corn would have been familiar to native Americans, but I'm not so convinced about the olives or the "crushed Chip-O's." (Your guess is as good as mine on that last item. The name Chip-O's is too generic to get good results on a Google search. I'm going to make it interesting by saying that Chip-O's were potato chips flavored with cinnamon, onion, Cheddar cheese, and ginger.)

So happy Independence day (or happy Tuesday, if you're not from around here)! Make yourself a nice fruit cocktail, cream of mushroom soup, and chow mein noodle casserole. Give it a name I won't repeat.

That's right. Celebrate like a real American.