Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Asparagus Champagne

What would you imagine if I suggested making a mimosa for brunch? If you're like me, you're thinking of sparkling wine and orange juice. That's why I was a bit taken aback when I found this in Mary Eckley's The New McCall's Cook Book (1973):

Much to my relief, it is not the asparagus and Champagne smoothie that I imagined. It's just a nice spring recipe: asparagus with a bit of butter and lemon, topped with hard-cooked egg.

So what makes this "mimosa"? And why the extra-fiddly instructions to chop egg white and yolk separately before sprinkling them on separately? They're all getting sprinkled in the same pile.

After a little research, I found my answers. "Mimosa" is sometimes used to refer to recipes that use hard-cooked eggs. (I had never heard of deviled eggs referred to as "eggs mimosa" before, but Wikipedia says it's a thing.)

So what do eggs and mimosa cocktails have in common? They're both bright orange/yellow, like the flowers after which they are named. Now the tedious instructions make sense too-- the egg yolks on top make the recipe extra bright.

When I saw the title I was ready to make fun of a scary recipe, but I learned something instead. This would be a fine dish to add to your brunch buffet. If I were you, though, I might call it "Sunshine Asparagus."

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Nursing Home Preview

Betty Crocker's New Dinner for Two Cook Book (1964) tries to make cooking for two seem fun and maybe romantic. The cover shows a table set with candles and flowers. Some sections (like the holiday cooking menus) live up to that promise.

Some parts are a little less... optimistic. The "So You're Back to Two" chapter, for example, has a menu that I will call the "Or You Could Just Tie a Couple of Nooses and Get It Over with Now" dinner.

There's nothing so terrible on the menu. It's just that, taken all together, it is so damn old. There's nothing to really hate here, but there is nothing to look forward to, either, except perhaps the sweet embrace of death now that the kids have left home and your reason for living is gone. Gone I tell you!


Well, now that you're "back to two" the opening of the chapter makes some promises this menu belies: "Unhurried, with more time to plan and prepare tempting dishes to suit your personal tastes, you may indulge in a few more luxuries of the table...." Let's see how this contrasts with actual recipes. First up, the perennial favorite of liver and onions:

If liver and onions are "luxuries," I would hate to find out what economy class looks like.

Maybe the starches will be better:

Okay, these sound like a good start, if a bit bland. At least they might be crisp and brown. Of course, they're soft, too. Easy to eat with dentures.

Next up, the aspic:

Do I even need a joke here? It's another recipe suffering from the delusion that putting vegetables in gelatin somehow makes something (The vegetables? The gelatin?) better. It only succeeds in making this look more and more like nursing home food.

The butter sticks might be what this menu needs:

Again, not terrible, but after Betty made all that noise about using the extra time "to plan and prepare tempting dishes," you'd think maybe the sticks would at least be homemade rather than out of a refrigerated can. Betty knows you'll be depressed and you won't want to bother with too much cooking. Maybe she pretended otherwise in the introduction to the chapter, but that was just for effect. She knows you'll be glad to have leftovers, and you'll probably just eat them cold. Giving instructions to wrap them in foil and reheat them for 20 minutes is her polite fiction because even she realizes just how sad this page is.

Dessert doesn't get a recipe because it is sherbet. If you're alive ten years from now, dessert will still be the same thing. It will just be a precisely-measured half-cup scoop in a paper or Styrofoam cup handed out by a dietary aide. You will get it with the rest of your dinner and it will melt while you eat your mashed potatoes. You will cry a little.

Or you could tie those nooses now. This chapter should have had a diagram at the end.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Have a slice of condiment!

I will openly admit my weirdly strong anti-condiment bias. Most people seem to think a sandwich or salad can't be complete without ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, relish, barbecue sauce, and/or salad dressing, but just the smell of them almost gags me. I know that is just an oddity on my part since everyone else seems to love the stuff. Still, I can't think that I'm the only one who would think eating a big old slab of condiment with dinner is at least as weird as wanting no condiments at all.

The Midwestern Junior League Cookbook (The best recipes from the Junior Leagues of America's Heartland) edited by Ann Seranne (1978) would beg to differ.

One recipe masquerades as a way to use up leftover hard-boiled eggs:

Aside from the hard-boiled eggs, this is mostly mayonnaise flavored with a little "catsup" and thickened into a mold with gelatin. The recipe must be for all the people who think "I could eat mayonnaise with a spoon!" but have the social graces to edit that comment before it comes out of their mouths. They can make "Ring of Eggs" and pretend it's not just an excuse to eat jellied mayo.

The next recipe is for those who can't even be bothered to pretend they're not condiment freaks:

Mustard ring! For anyone who has ever wanted a slab of gelatinized mustard with a bit of chopped celery for texture.

I like watching horror movies before I go to bed. If Freddy shows up in my dreams, we will be pals. What will keep me up at night is knowing I live in a world where people apparently want to eat big bowls full of mustard and mayonnaise....

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Invasion of the Pod Chicks

I'm not a big fan of Easter-- all pastels and lilies and lambs-- too innocuous for my taste. Give me weird and creepy any day.

Perhaps the home economics teachers who contributed to the New Holiday Cookbook (1974) had to try to get their similarly jaded students interested in holiday prep. How could they do it? Maybe take something traditional (Cute fuzzy chicks!) and make it, well....

Weird. Apparently these long-necked, dead-eyed creatures are emerging from pods like the one in the background. Perhaps they will peck us bloody with their out-of-season candy corn beaks, or maybe they will sneakily infiltrate our homes, biding their time under our beds and in cobwebby corners until they get the signal from their leader.... Or maybe they will just sit in the coconut and candied almonds, immobilized because their heads are the same size as their bodies and they have no legs or wings.

In the days when only the most privileged had microwaves so they could give marshmallow Peeps toothpick swords and force the sugary confections to fight to the death, making scary "chicks" was about as much of a thrill as budding juvenile delinquent could hope for in home ec.

Hey, it was something.

If you'd like to make your own creepy chicks now, you're out of luck if you want them to be authentic:

The Fancy Crest Cakes are no more. Maybe you could experiment with Nilla wafers. Or maybe you'd be better off with the Peeps and toothpicks. Your '70s counterpart would be soooooooo jealous.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Fiesta-ish, at best

When I say "fiesta," what do you imagine? I think of some chips with creamy yet piquant guacamole and fiery salsa, a build-your-own burrito or taco bar, and some sugar and cinnamon dusted churros to round out the meal.

This is decidedly NOT what Jean Hewitt, author of the Family Circle Quick Menu Cookbook (1978), has in mind. I could be generous and suggest that Hewitt would find my dreamy imaginings of a fiesta to be an offensively stereotypical and narrow view of the types of foods served in the Spanish-speaking world, or I could be cynical and suggest that Hewitt has no idea what type of cuisine the word "fiesta" is supposed to evoke.

I'll let you be the judge:

Are you thinking "fiesta"? No? Well, maybe looking at the individual recipes will help. The appetizer:

Broiled mushrooms stuffed with beer cheese? This doesn't necessarily sound bad, but I'd guess the menu theme was "Wisconsin" rather than "fiesta" based on this recipe.

Let's try the main dish:

Ummm... I'd think the word "Kiev" right in the title might tip Ms. Hewitt off to the fact that this recipe isn't exactly fiesta-ready, but at least it's fiesta-fied. There's a little canned green chili in the filling and a bit of taco seasoning (that most authentic of all Hispanic-style ingredients!) in the cheese cracker crumbs used to coat the cutlets. Yes, slightly modified chicken Kiev might be the most appropriate food on the whole menu.

Now what would be an appropriate side?

Ratatouille? Oh, for the love of... Ratatouille? The notes even straight-up acknowledge that this is French! And what makes it go with Wisconsin-style cheese-beer mushrooms and the unholy chicken Kiev-taco seasoning alliance is anyone's guess....

And finally:

This farm recipe might not be too out of place. At least it's got the cinnamon I was hoping for in the churros.

So there you have it: a good old-fashioned Francowisconsikranian farm fiesta!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Some dumplings that should go with fava beans and maybe a nice chianti...

I like the idea of dumplings in theory. They look puffy and delicious floating at the top of a steamy bowl of soup. I am almost always disappointed by them-- gluey, bland, pasty bits of sadness waterlogged and sucking the flavor out of an otherwise agreeable meal. Of course, there are exceptions, like the tiny, satisfyingly chewy rivels we used to have in homemade soup when I was little. For the most part, though, I'd rather do without.

I discovered a new type of dumpling in the "Cooking with Imagination on Your Presteline Electric Range" manual (1946). I have a feeling these would not improve my overall impression of dumplings, though:

Yes, the dumplings are made from finely chopped chicken livers with egg, butter, parsley, flour, and bread crumbs. This is another recipe that takes two bad things and presumably makes them worse together.

This recipe is also interesting because it is a story. It's not just a recipe for liver dumpling soup; it is actually a narrative of the thrifty Jane, who "saves out all the bony pieces" ("even the feet if she gets her chickens from the country"!) when she makes fried chicken and uses them to make broth. She can save the little bits of meat from the bones by refrigerating them in the broth and using that the next day to make her soup. I'm not sure how to feel about Jane. I wonder how she feels about spending her days thinking of ways to thoroughly use up a chicken carcass, but I'm also a little jealous of her having one of the old stoves with a deep-well cooker.... There's a charm and practicality to the old-fashioned ranges.

If you want to try this recipe and don't want to go to all the trouble that Jane does, remember that "When Jane has left-over rice, she uses canned bouillon and calf's liver for a soup that is almost as good as the chicken version and much easier to prepare." I'm sure you'll start that project just as soon as I do.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Open auditions for husbands

I'm pretty accustomed to the questionable-at-best sexual politics of the old cookbooks. Of course women were the only ones who could cook, and of course, they had to eat daintier foods than men, and of course they were all obsessed with using cooking to catch husbands. (And of course catching husbands was the only thing single women ever thought about!)

So I wasn't terribly surprised by this recipe title in 1966's "The New Karo All American Cook Book":

The recipe doesn't sound bad, especially with butter instead of the margarine. Toast broiled with crispy cereal, crunchy nuts, and a sweet glaze sounds pretty tasty. Someone intent on catching a beau could do worse than this....

If this recipe is a intended as help in the quest to catch a mate, though, I might expect the serving size to be an intimate two. Look at the serving size.

Apparently this is for beau casting calls.

Open auditions tonight! Gentlemen, even if you aren't chosen, you'll at least get a sweet slice of toast. (And no, that is not a euphemism.)

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Aunt Jenny's Nutrition Lessons

Today's treat is commonly discussed in the bizarre cookbook circles, but it is a favorite for a reason. "Aunt Jenny's Favorite Recipes," a pamphlet of recipes for Spry shortening (from the 1940s or so?), is packed with folksy, -g droppin' cartoons and some interesting ideas about how women should take care of their husbands. (At one point, Aunt Jenny is "makin' frostin'" so her husband Calvin can "lick the spoon" (apparently not a euphemism) and asks, "Husbands aren't much different from little boys, are they, ladies?")

I want to look at the pamphlet's ideas of what is nutritious. They are questionable at best, just like my mom's conviction that the whole family would immediately die of a protein shortage if we didn't have meat at least twice a day, and preferably at least one of those times should be beef.

So what does Aunt Jenny think about nutrition? You'll see at the bottom of this page:

All those dinners of French fries, fried chicken, and doughnuts are not just good for Calvin, they're "so good for him...!" that the sentence actually needs an intensifier and an exclamation point to reinforce readers' understandin' of the foods' nutritional value. What Jenny thinks is nutritious about these foods, I can't say, but apparently she's a big fan of trans fat.

And what are her nutritious recipes? Here are a couple of her more unusual ones:

"Salmon Cutlets" are pretty clearly salmon patties deep fried in Spry. (Let the omega-3s and the trans fats fight it out!) I was a especially surprised by the "Macaroni Cheese Cutlets." I thought deep-fried macaroni and cheese was dreamed up fairly recently as a way to escalate the obesity epidemic, but Aunt Jenny was deep frying her mac and cheese 70 years ago.

My favorite claim of all is the way that Spry can coax picky kids to eat:

We all know how hard it is to get children to eat their damn doughnuts already. But Spry makes doughnuts "so light and digestible a child can eat 'em." Amazin'!

I'm all ready to run out to the grocer and ask for the 6-pound can.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Don't honor me with celery and mayo

It's April! Time again for Betty Crocker's Cooking Calendar (1962). I'm glad that we have some better produce for the month than onions, lemons, and grapefruit:

Carrots and pineapples! I like them alone or in combination, such as in carrot cake. When I saw the pairing, I was hoping that Betty would offer one of the Jell-O recipes that I secretly like (Don't tell anybody!) and used to make at least occasionally. You may know it from Joys of Jell-O (1963):

The chapter didn't disappoint; there WAS a carrot-and-pineapple gelatin salad recipe, but it was not quite the same:

The "Dinner for Honored Guests" sounds pleasant, if not particularly unique: steaks with mushrooms, potatoes, broccoli, rolls, and lemon meringue pie.

If guests couldn't feel genuinely honored without a molded salad, though, then this one should be memorable. Not only does it have the standard ingredients, but it also adds celery, cottage cheese, whipped cream, and mayonnaise.

While I have no objections to being honored with whipped cream(!), I'd rather be dishonored than made to contend with celery, cottage cheese, and mayo in my sweet salad mold. Perhaps I have insufficient respect for gelatin salad etiquette.