Tuesday, February 25, 2014

You will enjoy this effective post because it is very nearly real.

I often pick recipes because I personally have doubts about them, but at least the cookbooks' authors and editors seem to have confidence in them. Even the caption writers for 1953's 500 Delicious Dishes from Leftovers (edited by Ruth Berolzheimer) seemed to wonder about the recipes I have chosen for today, though.

Here is the picture of carrot croquettes:

Arranged in a flower pattern with green bean bundles around a dip of some sort, they look like a '50s housewife's idea of fancy. The caption had me scratching my head for a minute, though:

They're "very nearly real"? It looks to me as if they ARE real. They're on the platter, right? Viewers haven't been somehow hypnotized to believe that there is something beyond a plate in the picture, have we? I finally figured out that the copywriter probably meant that the croquettes' cone shapes and parsley tops almost made them look like real raw carrots (which they most certainly do not).

Just in case you want to make your own carrot croquettes:

They're basically carrot baby food mixed with fat, egg yolk, and breadcrumbs before being deep fried. (I have serious doubts about how well this mixture could be made into "carrot-shaped pyramids" or anything other than a carroty puddle, but "carrot-shaped pyramids" is my new favorite descriptive phrase.)

I think I will keep my preparation of this recipe in the realm of the "very nearly real."
Next up, we have a casserole. What kinds of adjectives might you use to describe your favorite casserole? I usually like something creamy and/or cheesy with a crispy crust on top. Many would call a casserole comforting, and of course nearly everyone would consider a favorite casserole to be delicious. I doubt anyone would have thought of the adjective this caption uses, though:

What makes an "effective" casserole? Is it the ability to be ingested? That's not particularly encouraging if this is the only claim a recipe can make. Hey, you CAN eat it! If you really want to... And your stomach will probably be full afterwards, providing, of course, that you can keep the casserole down.

So what goes into a casserole of sausage and corn?

If you guessed sausage and corn, you are very perceptive. Canned Vienna sausages (yum!) with corn, green pepper, and white sauce. Sounds pretty effective.

I admit, I probably would have read this final caption without a second thought if I hadn't already noticed the other weird captions. However, after reading those, this one takes on a more ominous tone:

I envision the line being spoken by a mad scientist to a woman chained to an operating table in an old Universal horror movie: "You WILL enjoy sour cream potato salad served on cold cuts for the evening snack. We must keep your strength up for the brain transplant."

If you need to feed your own captives some sour cream potato salad, here's the recipe. Just be sure to order everyone to enjoy it and it should be a fine bedtime snack, especially for those who enjoy nightmares.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Easy modern electric fantasies

Prepare yourself for another post that won't sound too bad (to most of you, anyway): roast duck with orange sweet potato stuffing, creamed onions au gratin, a lattice-topped apple pie. Today's menu is brought to you from "Carefree Cooking...Electrically," a 1950 booklet from the Edison Electric Institute.

Edison presents a lovely picture of what the kitchen will look like as readers find "new zest and fascination in cooking the easy modern electric way." Just look at the bounty the oven will hold:

For extra convenience, the cookbook includes four "Oven Meals" consisting of several dishes to put into the oven at once that will be ready for dinner together. Here's what you get with "Oven Meal No. 4" (which I chose because it's the only one with a photo):

At first it sounds like a wonderful idea: just put everything in the oven, wait a little under two hours, and ta-da! Dinner for six is served.

Of course, that's not taking into account that if you make this dinner, you will have to singe, clean, wash, and dry the duck , make the stuffing, and get the duck stuffed and ready to bake while you're also grating cheese and making a medium white sauce to put over the onions you've sliced and arranged in a baking dish. Plus you will still have the carrots to pare and quarter along with the celery to cut up. And once that's all done, there is still the simple matter of making and rolling pastry, paring, coring, and slicing apples, mixing the pie filling and making the lattice crust. In short, this seems easy only if you don't consider anything before putting it all in the oven as part of the preparation.

Of course, putting it all in the oven looks pretty easy in the picture, but anytime I try to cram that much stuff into an oven at once, it is a disaster. The pans don't all fit. The oven door won't shut all the way without my rearranging the pans 13 different ways, spilling something, and letting all the heat out of the preheated oven. The onions would still be unpleasantly crunchy because the oven was too full, and the pie crust would burn from being too close to the heating element because the racks have to be in odd spots to accommodate all that food. We all know this will end with the pie bubbling over and burning onto the duck below.

And what will an apple pie taste like after it's spent nearly two hours in an oven with a duck and onions au gratin? They're a nice fantasy, Edison Electric, but the "Oven Meals" are fantasies best left in the pamphlet.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

And now for something completely different: A nice surprise

Snow, ice, cold. We're far enough from the Christmas/ New Years celebrations for them to have completely worn off, and far enough into a new semester for the grading to start piling up again. One of my colleagues wants to get a gun just to shoot it at the weather, and that is starting to sound unreasonably reasonable to me. No unpleasant surprises today-- no kidney bean pizzas or cauliflower pancakes. I just don't think I could take it.

Today's surprise will actually be quite pleasant:

And no, the cake isn't stuffed with Lima beans or sauerkraut. It's a delectable devil's food cake decorated with flowers and seven minute frosting!

So what surprise makes this cake from the 1962 pamphlet "Miracle Maid: A Treasure of Beauty and Convenience" worth posting about?

It's the make-do ingenuity that I admire in some of the older cookbooks, coupled with the brazen "buy our products because you can use them for ANYTHING" promises that amuse me.

Look at the cake pans the recipe calls for, and you will see my point. The tiers are made in a chicken fryer, a one-quart saucepan, and a two-quart saucepan!

I'd be tempted to call a cake baked in a chicken fryer my "Famous Fried Chicken Cake" just to make people wonder (and maybe leave a few extra slices for me)....

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Eat! More or less....

The friend who gave me the lovely Tupperware cookbook had two nice surprises for me. The second was Family Fare: A Guide to Good Nutrition. It is the U.S. Department of Agriculture Home and Garden Bulletin No. 1 Nov. 1971 revision.

The Department of Agriculture has always had a difficult time providing sound nutritional advice because it is also supposed to encourage Americans to consume plenty of the very products we should be cutting back on, like meat and cheese. The Department can't say to eat more and eat less at the same time. Judging from a few recipes in this pamphlet, the USDA historically dealt with the contradictory mission by encouraging people to eat meat in recipes so disgusting that they wouldn't be tempted to eat more than they needed.

Exhibit 1:

Souffle meat salad.

Lemon gelatin and salad dressing, whipped until fluffy, then mixed with celery, onion, and your choice of chopped cooked meat, poultry, or canned or cooked fish.

If there is anything to encourage you to load up on the broiled tomatoes and asparagus as sides, this is it. No one will go over the recommended meat serving on this!

Exhibit 2:

Sardine puff.

This is basically a fishy version of bread pudding because everybody knows the one thing that could make bread pudding more delicious is a couple cans of Maine sardines.

Exhibit 3:

Saucy luncheon meat.

A pound of bologna or other finely diced luncheon meat, mixed with olives, mustard, and cream of mushroom soup and served over biscuits, rice, or noodles. You know, for times when shit on a shingle might seem just a little too upscale.

The USDA: Passive-aggressively serving self-contradictory functions since 1971!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Zombie Hearts

I'm not normally all that excited about Valentine's day. It makes a lot of perfectly nice people feel as if they're missing out on something. Plus there aren't nearly enough chainsaws in Valentine movies. (There are plenty of horror movies I can watch over and over, but My Bloody Valentine, while fine, is not such a classic.)

I happened across this picture in Favorite Recipes of Home Economics Teachers: New Holiday Cookbook (1974), though, and decided to make a Valentine's post:

If you thought these looked like meringue hearts, you were right. If you thought they were probably filled with a pink, berry-laden fluff and maybe some nice jam on top, you are only half right.

The filling is actually green because they're made with avocado! Top it with some red raspberry preserves, and you've got zombie hearts for Valentine's day. That is more my style.

I was especially surprised because I thought of avocado sweets as a  recent trend, but they were clearly around 40 years ago. Meringue zombie hearts weren't even the only avocado desserts in the Valentine's day section. There is also the little gem that is "Avocado Coeur a la Creme," a mix of pineapple juice, gelatin, avocados, cream cheese, cottage cheese, and cream poured in heart-shaped molds and topped with grenadine-marinated grapefruit.

Maybe the real surprise is finding red and green desserts that aren't in the Christmas section. Zombies have been known to wander.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Moldy Fun

A good friend recently gave me the special 30th anniversary edition of Tupperware's Homemade is Better (1981). Of course it finds a way to incorporate Tupperware containers into all the recipes, but some of my favorites are for the Tupperware mold.

The section on molded meat loaves initially freaked me out:

I saw raw meat going into a plastic Jel-N-Serve mold and knew that wouldn't be oven-safe, so my immediate thought was that this was for some kind of raw meat loaf for people who want to give their families food poisoning. Tell me that the image of a perfectly molded pink loaf doesn't make you think that for a second too.

That's only the first part of the recipe, though! The loaf is actually baked after coming out of the mold, and it looks as if the orange ham ring holds its shape pretty well:

It's kind of pretty in an abstract art way, although orange slices on a shiny pink meat slab don't seem inherently appetizing to me...

The real show-stopper, though, comes in the salad section:

And what is this sludgy pink concoction with radish roses on the side and a pimento tulip on top?

Why it is tomato soup mold, of course! Condensed tomato soup with gelatin, cottage cheese, mayonnaise, and assorted chopped veggies. Yum! It won't look much different coming up than it did going down (although the nice molded effect will be lost).

And as a special treat, I've included the bean salad aspic recipe just in case you have ever wondered about the best way to suspend canned beans and mushrooms in lemon Jell-O. (Well, second-best. The best way, of course, is not to do it at all.)

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Congratulations on the new microwave, moron!

I was heartily sick of winter a full month ago, and the winter storm forecast for tonight is NOT HELPING that feeling to go away. It's time for another tropical holiday! Today's vacation is courtesy of the Amana Radarange New Microwave Oven Cooking Guide (1972).

Let's get some nice colors to brighten up a dreary day:

How about some beautiful pineapple chunks with a parsley topknot? Still okay if they're in a sea of meat balls and suspiciously orange cocktail franks? If your answer is, "Winter can make anything look okay by comparison," then you're ready for Polynesian Medley.

Okay, it's a safe bet that I am not one for chicken livers, meat balls, and cocktail franks cooked in brown sugar, pineapple, and vinegar (in the microwave, no less!), but the thing that really kills me about this recipe is the series of black and white photos to go with it. I think they're meant to be helpful step-by-step instructions, but they seem vague and puzzling at best, insulting at worst.

The pictures are numbered, but there are no corresponding numbers in the recipe. Nor are there any captions to explain the pictures. They are just sharing the page with the recipe rather than integrated in any meaningful way.

What is step 1 supposed to represent? My best guess is that it's supposed to show how to move the cooked chicken livers from the baking dish to the glass casserole. Why was this step considered such a challenge that we'd need a picture to illustrate it, but not challenging enough that we would need text to describe the picture? I feel my abilities are simultaneously under- and over-estimated, but maybe I'm just weird.

What about step 2? Maybe it's supposed to illustrate how to arrange the pineapple and franks around the meat balls and chicken livers, but it's kind of hard to tell where anything is in the tiny black and white photo. It just looks like a big jumble of stuff. If this is supposed to clarify, the color picture on the opposing page (the one I put at the top) does a much better job.

I suppose the last picture shows to cook the sauce in the baking dish while everything else is in the glass casserole, but this has the same shortcomings as picture 1. Why do the writers assume I need to have the concept of using two dishes illustrated? If I'm that recipe challenged, might I need a photo to illustrate how to pour the sauce onto the assembled food, and/or how to put a dish into/ take a dish out of the microwave?

After staring at the pictures for a while, I can't help feeling that they're a passive-aggressive message that Amana thinks that people who own their microwaves are idiots.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Cabbage and banana month!

Happy February! It's a new month, so it is once again time for Betty Crocker's Cooking Calendar (1962). First off, what are this month's "red-letter foods"?

Cabbage and bananas! Bananas are fine if they're fresh, but I agree with my cake-baking grandma that trying to eat a brown one is about as agreeable as trying to eat a skunk. As for cabbage, I prefer to leave it to Ralphie and Randy in A Christmas Story, but a few shreds of red cabbage in a salad or of Chinese cabbage in a stir-fry are okay.

I am not convinced, though, that using the word "jubilee" will make the cabbage in our recipe for the month better:

I'm not sure anything could make this "pennywise" recipe a celebration, so I would probably try to go for humor in the name instead. How about "Cabbage Wienie Casserole"? I need a laugh in February.

(Is anybody else wondering what cabbage wienies would look like now? Maybe what some hot cabbage on banana action might look like? No? Fine, then I won't even say anything about what gingerbread is doing with the hot applesauce.)