Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Cooking High and Low in Michigan

 When I picked up Tested, Tried, and True (Junior League of Flint, Michigan, Incorporated, second printing, April 1976), I wasn't sure what to expect. Michigan tends to be a working-class state, but the Junior League can be just a little bit hoity-toity. So was this going to feature humble dinners of modest families or shmancy fare for families where mom can spend a chunk of the family budget on club fees and annual dues? 

As is often the case when one is presented with two options, the correct answer is "both." Let's see what I mean with a little high-low dinner menu. We'll start out with an appetizer.

Caviar is about as fancy as we can get! Of course, it's served up on a mold of gelatin and cottage cheese to make it stretch, so it's a pretty good high-low blend. 

I also love the way this recipe depends on readers reading it all the way through to fully understand the directions before starting. When I was just starting to cook, I often read each step right before I performed it. My experience with this recipe would have been to see the first step of "Blend all ingredients well in a blender until smooth" and to do just that. Then when I got to the second step-- softening the gelatin in the sherry-- I would have realized that neither the gelatin nor the sherry were meant to be included in "all ingredients." By the time I got to the "top with caviar" step, I would have been in despair that all the caviar had already been pulverized with everything else.... Too late to impress anyone with a fancy caviar-topped appetizer! Good thing no one would have entrusted me with sherry or caviar when I was learning to cook.

If you want something more high-end for the main dish (to make up for having to dilute the caviar with other ingredients in the appetizer), try stuffing one expensive protein with another expensive protein for the main course.

I did not anticipate finding lobster-stuffed tenderloin in a Michigan cookbook. I imagine Margo Blazak contributing the recipe to show off just how wealthy her family was-- and the rest of the Junior League whispering behind her back about how she's a little snobby even for them.

Okay, we've got to balance this really high-end dish out with some much more down-to-earth sides.

How about Bisquick mixed with a can of beer? (Have to admit, this is exactly what I was expecting from Michigan, although I imagine at least a few Junior League members being miffed by Gwynn Falk's lower-class contribution, and maybe even a brief debate about whether they should let this recipe into the collection at all.)

And how about a salad?

It's not just any coleslaw-- It's a Coleslaw Soufflé! All the extra time it takes to make it a "soufflé" shows that you've got some free time to spend trying to make the slaw fluffy, but all the extra work is mitigated by the fact that the fluffiness is achieved via lemon Jell-O. It all balances out to being neither too high- nor too low-end.

Now for my favorite part: Dessert! Let's get a little fancy and have a torte. But not too fancy... We don't want people to start talking behind our backs like they do to Margo.

Yep-- The fancy torte is balanced out with a Milk Dud sauce! I can't think of a better representation of this book to end the post.

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Funny Name: What Kind of Cheese, Now?

Chicken and Artichoke Casserole doesn't sound too crazy, right? Why would I choose this recipe from Cotton Country Collection (The Junior Charity League of Monroe, Louisiana, copyright 1972, but mine is from the 1979 ninth printing) for a funny name post? Well, check out the ingredients.

What's that after the Gruyère or Swiss cheese? Is rat cheese made from rat milk? Is it uneaten cheese recovered from rat traps? Is it cheese that has been laboriously crafted into a rat shape and then disassembled for use in this recipe?

Of course it's nothing that interesting. It's just a name for cheap cheese, especially domestic cheddar if knows what it's talking about. I'm bummed that rat cheese is not nearly as entertaining as I thought, but I'm still happy to know the term.

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Cooking with Pooh. (Yes, there's an "H" on the end!)

My sister knows I've always been a fan of Eeyore. (There's a shock, right? Who would ever guess that this grump would love another famous grump?) I imagine that's why she sent The Pooh Cook Book (Virginia H. Ellison, 5th printing, August 1976), even though there's no need to bother on my account.

As Eeyore would say, that cover "sure is a cheerful color. Guess I'll have to get used to it."

Of course I was excited to see recipes that referenced the original stories, like this recipe for Haycorn Squash (named after Piglet's love for "haycorns").

(Each recipe includes a relevant quote, too!)

...or the Mastershalum Leaf Sandwiches.

Luckily, thinly sliced cucumbers are an acceptable substitute for those who don't live in the country and have nasturtiums/ mastershalums that their moms will let them decimate. (I imagine most kids being pretty disappointed by nasturtium flavor, too, though I have no actual experience with nasturtiums, mastershalums, or even kids, for that matter.)

The recipes also invite kids to do things the old-fashioned way. I was surprised that one recipe invited children to make butter from scratch.

Then I was even more surprised to see that the kiddos could make not just butter from scratch, but a compound butter! Of course, you always need to find ways to incorporate hunny/ honey into a Winnie the Pooh cookbook.

And if it looks as if the book puts a little more trust in young cooks' interests and abilities than most children's cookbooks do (like the ones that, say, mostly give instructions for elaborately-constructed salads from canned fruit and cottage cheese). A few recipes, like this Pea-Bean Alphabet Soup, take hours.

Granted, several hours of the time are just soaking the beans and peas in water, but the book trusts the kids not to lose interest and forget about the project altogether by the time the beans are presoaked. Then the recipe trusts the kids not only with simmering, but simmering for two hours! And remembering to add the alphabet noodles in the last ten minutes! And to pull out the soup bones, remove any mean on them, and return it to the soup! Virginia H. Ellison really trusts kids' patience and ability to avoid burning themselves/ spilling a half gallon of soup all over the kitchen.

She even trusts them to make a two-crust pie!

And not only is the top crust expected to fit, but it should be decorated too, with Woozle and Wizzle tracks! I, a grown adult woman, cannot make even a presentable bottom crust, as evidenced by the Pieathalon. (Or a passable filling, for that matter, as evidenced by the same recipe, but I'm choosing to focus on the crust.) In short, Virginia H. Ellison has a lot of confidence in kids, which probably seems nice to some people and overly optimistic to us grumps. After all, as Eeyore says, "We can't all, and some of us don't. That's all there is to it." Thanks anyway to my sister, for amusing this grump.

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Somewhere over the Jell-O

It's June-- Pride month! You know what that means, right? It's a rainbow of gelatin from your favorite bisexual vintage cookbook blogger! (Okay, maybe not favorite? I hope I'm in at least the top five. Top ten?)

This year, I found a rainbow in Cotton Country Collection (The Junior Charity League of Monroe, Louisiana, copyright 1972, but mine is from a 1979 printing). Part of me imagines those old southern ladies taking to their fainting couches at the thought of their treasured recipes being part of a Pride month celebration, but another part of me thinks they might be a little less judgmental since they're from Louisiana. Who knows what they saw (and did!) in their lifetimes?

Let's start out with red. Usually I post something bright and full of berries that sounds yummy, but this year, our red is from tomato puree or paste.

Instead of being a mold, this is frozen as well. If you've ever wondered what it would be like to scoop a frozen gelatin flavored with tomatoes, cheeses (Roquefort and cream), and mayo onto an avocado half but hesitated since you didn't have official instructions on construction, well, you're in luck! This year's red offering is like me-- quite the little weirdo.

Next up is orange. This year, I'm going with Apricot Salad.

The interesting thing about Apricot Salad is that it has no apricots-- just apricot-flavored gelatin with enough orange juice in it that it will probably taste like orange anyway.

Those Louisiana Ladies must have really loved their apricots because yellow is represented by an apricotty dish too.

I'm not sure exactly how yellow this would be, but the apricot color will be muted by the whipped cream and yellowed-up by the mustard. (Besides, there is NO WAY I could resist posting a recipe that calls for apricots, pecans, whipped cream, and a pound of miniature marshmallows along with vinegar, mustard, and Tabasco sauce! As if that's not enough, diners are invited to drown that shit in a Puffed Dressing made of vinegar and eggs with still more mustard and whipped cream! I hit the jackpot with this one.)

For green, I'll move away from all those apricots and also make sure it will actually be the right color. It's "Green Dream" Congealed Salad!

The fun thing about this one is that it initially made me think of the Avocado Lime Pie I made for the Pieathalon last year. Lime Jell-O? Check. Avocado? Check. Cream cheese? Check. Then it goes totally off the rails with mayo, celery, bell pepper, and onion. So... probably best not to serve this one in a graham cracker crust.

For the blue/ purple end of the spectrum, I'll be nice and give you one that sounds like it would probably be pretty good: Blueberry Salad.

This is no naughty and all nice: blackberry Jell-O, blueberries, pineapple, and plenty of dairy fat. It's a nice sweet ending for the pride post.

If you'll feel cheated without the traditional semi-purplish beet mold to round things out, though, I won't leave you hanging.

This one is a little different in that it  uses plain (rather than lemon) gelatin and adds "India Relish" along with the usual veggies and horseradish.

Now I'm off to build a tiny pride float with a serving platter on rolling pin "wheels" so my rainbow of imaginary gelatins will have something to dance on. They sure can jiggle, so it will be interesting to watch! Happy Pride Month!

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Trying to savor June

Woo hoo! It's June! It is still June, right? The month always makes me I feel like it's already half over by the time we hit the first day, for some reason-- probably because it's usually the first month with consistently pretty nice weather. There's also the lingering memory of the sense of impending doom I always had at the beginning of summer vacation as a child, knowing that it would be over and I'd be back at the mercy of the school bullies so soon that every minute of June seemed precious.... But I'm getting off topic here. The calendar says June is not, in fact, over, but just beginning, so that means it's time for The Chamberlain Calendar of American Cooking (Narcisse and Narcissa Chamberlain, 1957).

I have to admit that the recipes in this chapter do not help dispel the feeling that summer goes by too quickly. While many people think of lobster rolls in summer, this calendar goes a different direction with lobster.

To the Chamberlains, June calls for a big old pot of Lobster Stew! It's hard for me to think of summer weather as calling for steaming bowls full of dairy and seafood, so the recipe puts me more in mind of brisk fall days.

June is also traditionally wedding month, so maybe a wedding cake recipe will help June feel June-y.

Nope! Iris Morey's Wedding Cake is "the proper kind of wedding cake, an old-fashioned, 12-egg fruit cake." That means molasses, warm spices, pounds and pounds of dried and candied fruits, six hours of baking time (three with steam, and three without), plus a brandy soak. In short, it's going to taste like Christmas and heat up the house. (Plus, the cake is better when left to age for six weeks,  so if you wait until June to make it for a June wedding, you've waited too long! The month really is too short.)

At least June offers one recipe that feels suitably summery to me.

Open Blueberry Pie! The filling is super easy-- just fresh blueberries coated with raspberry jelly. I'm used to blueberry pies with well-cooked filling, but I can't imagine the berries get all that cooked in the brief five-minute warming before serving. The idea is intriguing to me since I prefer raw berries-- although I imagine the filling as being the type that just spills everywhere the second a slice is removed.

I guess that makes it a good symbol for the month-- once you've lost even a minute of June, it's a quick and chaotic slide to pie plate filled with nothing but berry smears and sweet memories.

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Getting ready to grill supremely

Happy almost-Memorial Day! I'm ready to kick off the unofficial beginning of summer (and prepare for Yinzerella's upcoming Wiener Wednesdays) with some hot dog recipes. 

The last time I looked at The New Hotdog Cookbook (Mettja C. Roate, copyright 1968, reprinted 1983) for Memorial Day, I focused on salads featuring hot dogs so cooks could get their gloppy, disgusting salads and cases full of discarded animal parts in the same place. This year, I'm going to be nice and focus on something people are more likely to actually want to do with their dogs. Let's look at the grilling chapter!

This section of the book mostly focuses on classing up the usual grilled dogs by flavoring them with something other than barbecue sauce. Want to go fancy and marinate in olive oil, wine, and herbs?

Then the Oregano Hot Dog Grill is perfect! You just have to plan ahead to start the marinating process at least three hours before you want to start grilling (and have a red wine you don't mind wasting on hot dogs).

If you'd like something a little sweeter (Maybe you're the sausage-n-syrup type. Shudder.), there's the Hot Dog and Spiced Crab Apple Grill.

I'm always kind of shocked that canned crab apples seem like they used to be a common enough thing, and here they're threaded on a skewer with hot dogs, then basted with honey, spices, and just a tiny amount of brandy so you're not wasting too much booze on them. There's your salty-sweet combination if you're a fan.

If you're like me and love both adverbs AND weirdo old sandwich combinations that make you wonder if people used to just slap anything on bread and declare it a sandwich, there's always Dogs Grilled Supremely.

They're easy! Cut the franks into quarters (lengthwise and widthwise), arrange beautifully on white bread, and then splop on a tomato sauce/ cheese/ onion/ oil/ olive/ seasoning mixture. This is broiled, so I'm not really sure why it's in the grilling chapter, but it's here for when you can't decide whether you want chopped-up hot dogs or a substandard pizza and decide to split the difference.

Have a not-too-substandard holiday weekend (if you are lucky enough to have one), and don't let the wieners take all the alcohol!

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Potpourri with Potatoes, Mariana, and More!

 I can't say that I'm super-tempted by the title of Police Potpourri (Iowa State Policeman's Association Auxiliary, 1977). (Interesting that their association is apparently for only one policeman, by the way.)

I imagine police potpourri smells like gunpowder and bullshit... Not too enticing. But let's take a look at their recipes.

I like that many of the recipes are so straightforward. I often joke about recipes calling for "cream of something" soup since so many casseroles required cans of cream of chicken, mushroom, and/or celery soup as a flavoring/ binding agent. They usually actually call for specific varieties, but Easy Casserole just cuts to the chase. 

Yes, this recipe actually calls for a can of "cream of something soup" (though tomato soup is an acceptable alternative)! Anything will do since the soups mostly taste pretty similar and have minimal amounts of the chicken/ mushroom/ celery add-in.

The Italian Cartwheel casserole recipe is also interesting-- only in part for its sauce.

I'm not how/ sure why Minute Rice baked in "Mariana sauce" and topped with relish-and-mustard-stuffed wieners is Italian. The Mariana sauce makes me think more of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre than of Italy, and why it should be topped with an Independence Day picnic is anyone's guess.

The book also offers a variation on Tater Tot Casserole (a recipe that I am secretly obsessed with!) that I hadn't seen before.

It looks pretty standard: hamburger, onion, tots, veggies. (I'm pretty sure cream-of-something is also supposed to be involved! It's usually part of this recipe and the instructions mention adding "soup," but the ingredients don't actually include it.) The part that surprised me the most, though, was the type of veggies to add. Sure, you could add a can of peas or corn, but look at the third option.

That's right! Potatoes! This is the only version of the recipe I've ever seen that suggests topping potatoes with tater tots. Yvette Sawyer's family must really have loved their potatoes.

If topping potatoes with more potatoes isn't your thing, Gail Brown has a different potato-based recommendation.

Take those frozen fries from boring to crisp and seasoned with a soak in a little vegetable oil with Tabasco, followed by a coating in Shake 'n Bake with Parm. (I have to admit that this sounds pretty good, even if it does remind me how much I hate the "And I helped!" girl in those old commercials.)

I'll end by saying that the book did make me question what constitutes a carnival in Iowa.

With a name like Carnival Cookies, they should be loaded up with colorful sprinkles like the flashing lights on a midway, and/or maybe deep fried like at least two thirds of the food offerings, right? But according to this recipe, carnival food is just full of raisin bran and oatmeal.... Not exactly what I was expecting. I don't think Iowa carnivals are really that health-conscious.

What I like most about this book is those little touches that I was just not expecting! Thanks to my sister for sending it, and if you want to see someone actually cook a different recipe from this book, check out the post at A Book of Cookrye.