Saturday, October 31, 2015

Alien-infested cats and sad pumpkins

Happy Halloween! It's my favorite holiday... I'm not coerced into spending time with family. I have a good excuse to watch all the horror movies I want. (Not that I don't already, but they're even more fun this time of year.) I can put out skull and spider decorations without seeming too weird and read endless articles on Dinosaur Dracula reminding me that a low-stakes holiday like this has the potential to make every day for at least a couple months seem a little more magical if I take a minute to make it secretly spooky.

Besides, when else can I dust off pictures of neck-less black cat cookies from "Good Housekeeping's Book of Cookies" (1958)?

Not only neck-less, but also with a tentacled alien bursting out of the area where the neck should be! (Okay, those are supposed to be coconut whiskers, but I have never seen such wildly splayed and apparently writhing whiskers.)

But to be honest, the arrival of Halloween Proper makes me feel kind of like this little guy:

The saddest cookie jack-o-lantern ever! Look at those blank eyes and drooping mouth. The season is almost over. The orange and yellow leaves will blow away. I'll still watch horror movies, but the sounds of chainsaws and screaming carry best in the October air. Jack-o-lanterns will turn back into ... well ... pumpkins.

I can feel your pain, jack-o-lantern cookie, especially since I'll have to spend a big chunk of my high holy day grading papers.

If you have time for one last October adventure, here's Good Housekeeping's recipe to make your own cutout cookies:

For chocolate cats, add four squares of melted unsweetened chocolate to the shortening mixture.

Then whisper an ancient incantation to awaken the spirit of the essay so maybe it will come over and give me a hand with grading so I can get out and enjoy the last few fleeting hours of Halloween.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Cooking with Vincent Price

Surprise quickie post! I love doing the Pieathalon in the summer because I don't have many classes so there is time to invest in cooking. When I saw that Jenny at Silver Screen Suppers was doing a Vincent Price Cookalong, though, I wanted to get in on it because I LOVE Vincent Price. One of my great thrills was to see a Vincent Price Super-8 Film Festival at a horror convention.

The problem is that in the fall I am constantly grading papers, so I don't get to give Mr. Price the time that his recipe deserves. So here is a quickie post because it's this or nothing...

From the selection of recipes, I chose The Muffins – Blueberry Muffins a la Postada.

The recipe:

Vincent Price’s Blueberry Muffins La Posada

2/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup softened butter
2 eggs, well beaten
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons double-acting baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
2/3 cup of milk
1 cup blueberries

Preheat oven to hot (400 degrees F /200 degrees C).
Cream together the sugar and butter.  Add eggs and mix thoroughly.
Sift and measure 2 cups flour.  Sift again with the baking powder and salt.  Add the flour mixture alternately, little by little, with the milk to the creamed ingredients.
Carefully fold in the blueberries.
Grease muffin pans with butter, fill half full and bake in the oven for 20 minutes.

The ingredients:

For some reason, I was convinced there was vanilla in this recipe when I took the picture. As I put the muffins together, I realized that there was not. You can ignore the big bottle of vanilla front and center because all it did was pose for the picture. (I only made a half-batch, too, so that's why there's only a single egg.)

The muffins were not really brown at 20 minutes, so I left them in a few minutes extra. Here's the final result (with a bat, in honor of The Bat):

The muffins were pretty with the blueberries bleeding through the tops. They honestly taste pretty boring, though. They're not very sweet, and I kind of wish I had added some vanilla to give them a bit more depth and complexity. The butter added a nice dairy note that muffins made with oil lack, so that was nice.

If my little friend is a vampire bat, I'm sure the muffins are perfectly safe. If he prefers to eat fruit, those muffins better watch out!

Thanks to Jenny at Silver Screen Suppers for hosting! If you want to get in on the action, she is accepting posts until midnight November 7 (Great Britain time).

Vincent Price Treasury Cookalong with Silver Screen Suppers
Cooking With Vincent Website – for details of celebratory events in the USA 
Vincent Price Legacy Tour – for details of celebratory events in the UK
Amazon Page for the 50th Edition of A Treasury of Great Recipes

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Stretching with an Automatic Fry Pan

No vintage Halloween-themed cookbooks for my feature today, so here's a woman proudly displaying an electric skillet full of mini Frankenstein's monster heads with their brains exposed for easy scooping:

Fine, she's really showing off stuffed peppers on the cover of "Hamilton Beach Automatic Fry Pan Recipe Book" (undated, but probably from the 1950s). That's not nearly as fun as my description, though.

In case you didn't know you could cook stuffed peppers-- a staple mid-century dinner-- in the electric skillet-- a staple mid-century gadget-- now your life is complete.

The exciting thing about this recipe is that it's all in one pan-- fry the onion and beef with the rice, add soup and corn, stuff the mixture into the peppers, and stick 'em right back in the pan with some carrots! Carrots-n-pepper-brains have never been so easy!

If you'd prefer your ground meat and green food in another form, there's always this:

Normally the kids would rather have meatballs with delicious pasta, but maybe Halloween is a good excuse to serve meatballs with Lima bean zombie toes covered in sour cream pus?

Okay, my attempts to make this booklet Halloweeny are a stretch, but to be fair, a lot of their recipes are a bit of a stretch too:

Why "bake" a frozen pizza in an electric skillet? It's not as if frozen pizzas are known for being top quality anyway, and when we take into account that there will be no divinely browned crispy-chewy cheese on top, well... the sad gets even sadder.

Need a dessert to distract from a disappointing dinner? Bust out the cake mix:

Then bake that prepared cake mix in your Hamilton Beach Fry Pan, though even the booklet feels duty-bound to note that while the top will eventually dry, "It will not be brown."

Note that while the family above seems excited about the cake, the round layer cake mom is serving does not appear to have been plopped out of an electric frying pan. She knows when to use an oven.

Happy Wednesday! Stretch to make something spooky today, even if it's not really. I'm going to pretend my oatmeal is haunted.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Murder for the kiddies from Betty Crocker

I'm going to kind of cheat today because I want to do a Halloween post and I've already hit up my obvious Halloween choices in the cookbook department (and a lot of older cookbooks don't consider Halloween a proper food holiday at all-- those are Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter). Today we're dipping into Betty Crocker's Parties for Children (1964), which admittedly only has a few recipes in it.

Here's Betty's plan for a Halloween party:

I guess the girl is dressed as a witch, although only the mask and broom make me sure it's a witch. Her hat doesn't have the classic witch brim and her dress is pink, so this could easily pass as a princess costume with slightly different accessories. The black cat is quietly weighing its options and deciding it might want to spend Halloween night hunkered down under the porch rather than accompanying this sad witch.

I was briefly excited that the cat seemed to have a dragonfly friend, but then I realized the "dragonfly" was supposed to be a bit of grass. So much for the dragon. Even a stretch to make this slightly creepier turns up nothing.

The menu is pretty simple: Witches' Cauldron Soup (any old soup you want served from a kettle), Goblin Franks, Vegetable Relishes (because the kids need something to ignore), Ice Cream Jack-O'-Lanterns, Milk, and Halloween Cookies (because if any day calls for TWO desserts, it's Halloween. There may not be enough sugar in all the candy!).

What are Goblin Franks? I thought they might be similar to the crescent roll mummies so popular today, but not quite:

With a cornmeal/ flour crust, these are more baked corn dog than monster. I'm not sure what part of these is "goblin." At least throw some parsley in to make them green or something....

The last recipe is for Ice Cream Jack-O'-Lanterns:
These are pretty cute: scoops of ice cream (although I'd use orange sherbet to make them, you know, orange!) with chocolate chip and cherry faces. Nothing revolutionary, but certainly appropriate....

The real draw is the list of recommended party games. 

The first Halloween game is "Murder!"

The book even includes a picture of the murder-- not something I'd expect from Betty Crocker! Apparently this little girl picked the hammiest boy in class to kill.

And how would you play "Murder!" besides by making Donald dramatically clutch at his heart?

Well, the Murderer and Detectives are all drawn from a deck of cards. The detectives are exiled, the Murderer gets to pick a victim, and then the Detectives have to return to figure out whodunit.

My favorite bit of advice is that the suspects should be instructed to give out alibis like "I was swimming in the goldfish bowl" or "I was eating electric light bulbs." The trick is that "The Murderer's alibi should always be false." So apparently, the kids who weren't the Murderer should be permitted to swim freely in the goldfish bowl or eat the light bulbs so their alibis can be true. It's just the kid who got picked as the Murderer who has to boringly refrain...

The next Halloween game is "Under the Broom":

This is a pretty standard limbo, but there are a couple of things I like about it.

  1. The game requires two piles of books, each about four feet high. I imagine that might be a challenge in a lot of households, but I could definitely stage this one with no problem! In fact, I could probably run five or six simultaneous rounds of "Under the Broom" if I had more brooms. (For me the cleaning products, not the books, are the limiting factors. That gives  you a pretty good insight into what my apartment looks like...)
  2. I love that "Pony tails, sashes, and stiff petticoats do not count" if they touch the broom. Imagine stiff petticoats at a children's party!
The third game is "Ghost." 

The picture makes it look WAY scarier than it really is, as this is just a spelling game. It's one I would have hated, too. The object is to add a letter to a string of letters without completing an actual word. I'd hear the kids in front of me pick letters like "D" and "I" and I would think of something like "dinosaur," so I'd pick "N." Then I would have been out because "din" is actually a word, and I would have been pissed off because "din" wasn't MY word. My word was "dinosaur" and we would not have been even CLOSE to finishing that one. I would have sulked for the rest of the party that the cruel world just didn't understand me (while the other kids just got progressively more bored by having to sit around spelling words on what was supposed to be a day off from school).

Finally, Betty recommends a rousing game of "Fortunes."

The planner will hate this one, as it starts with a typewriter and carbon paper. Prepare for a kids' party by typing out enough fortune sheets for everyone in the class! How fun!

Then the children have to fill out the forms: names (of opposite-sex children who are not one's sibling), years, numbers, colors, etc. Later it is revealed that these details are their fortunes: the name is the name of one's spouse, the year is the year of the wedding, the number is the number of kids, etc.

A game like this would have WRECKED child-me because it reinforced all of the things I was afraid of about being a grown-up. I wasn't 100% sure I wanted to get married, but apparently grown-ups had to. I was positive I didn't want to have kids, but apparently grown-ups had to. Even though I would have realized the chances I would have 42 kids with purple eyes and green hair were pretty slim, the premise of the game alone would have been the scary thing-- way worse than the scare of sticking my hands into grape "eyeballs" would have been. Why didn't Betty recommend that instead?

All right-- I know I'm in too-long territory by this point, so have a spooky late-October weekend! Just don't listen to any fortune-tellers.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Recipes from Baker's Dot Chocolate (not bakers.chocolate)

With Halloween coming, my thoughts turn to candy. Candy, candy, candy, candy, candy, candy, candy! That means I'm dragging out this pamphlet:

From 1950, it's a pamphlet for "9 easy recipes for delicious homemade candy" using Baker's Dot Chocolate!

A lot of these recipes are as straightforward as the sentence I've just written. (<-- That sentence! There!)

Melt chocolate. Mix stuff in. Drop and cool. Not too difficult. Still, if you make the peanut version, I am THERE. Peanuts and chocolate are awesome!

If you make the raisin version, I will retreat to a parallel universe where raisins don't exist.

If you make the Chocolate Ting-a-lings, I will stop by to laugh at the name. Maybe I'll try one and be secretly disappointed that it's got cornflakes instead of peanuts, or maybe I'll just look at them and imagine myself trying one and being disappointed that it's got cornflakes instead of peanuts. I'm so unpredictable.

I'm not sure how other recipes are supposed to be an improvement over just eating the chocolate by itself:

The chocolate is clearly already sweetened if it's ready to mix with peanuts, so adding another cup of sugar would make it cloyingly sweet and less chocolaty. Adding the egg just gives you a chance to get salmonella from candy. In short, I do not get the point of this recipe at all!

A candy I DO get-- and the real reason I picked this pamphlet-- is these babies:

Hallowe'en (with the apostrophe!) Cat Faces! They are easy and so cute! The Nut Bars recipe these are based on is not given, but it's basically a package of Baker's Dot Chocolate melted and poured into a loaf pan lined with waxed paper topped with a cup of nuts. Once the chocolate cools, it's pulled out and cut into bars-- or in this case, triangles that get candy corn eyes and nose and coconut whiskers (both of which are best removed before actually eating, but they make good garnishes).

Halloween is my favorite holiday, so these little guys made my day. I hope they make your late-October Wednesday just a little more magical.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Telephone sandwiches and the waffle of Monte Cristo

Now that we're burrowed deeply into the dead-leafy heart of fall like some foliage-decomposing worms, I'm celebrating the weekend with some toasty hot sandwich recipes from "Good Housekeeping's Book of Breads and Sandwiches" (from the 1958 collection Good Housekeeping's Cook Books).

I picked this one because I loved the title: Italian Telephones! So what should you expect in one of these? Marinated pigs' ears? Cow tongue? (A tongue phone before it could be a Nightmare on Elm Street reference! That would be exciting.)

No, though. The telephone theme is not from the ingredients themselves, but because of "their resemblance to Italian telephone receivers." Apparently Italian telephones looked like French bread slices stacked with melty cheese and anchovy fillets. (I was trying to think of a food product that would resemble a phone now, and the closest I could come was a Hershey bar still in the foil.... Maybe I'll start calling those "American telephones" and see how long it takes for people to start avoiding me.) (That's a joke because the smart ones already do...)

One thing I love about this recipe is that it tells what to substitute for mozzarella cheese if it's not available. Try imagining a time when it was easier to find Munster than mozzarella! Pizza was not a staple back then.

Here's another recipe that seems pretty dated:
What makes "Texas Frankwiches" Texan, exactly? They're kidney beans, chopped-up hot dogs, various relishes, sauerkraut, and cheese on hot dog buns.

Given Texans' love of meat and hatred of beans in their chili, it seems unlikely they'd be too excited about a recipe that spreads a half cup of hot dogs (not even beef!) amongst six sandwiches and fills it out with kidney beans. Plus sauerkraut? That seems more like a Pennsylvania or Indiana ingredient than a Texas one. Serving the mess on little hot dog buns also doesn't square with the bigger-is-better Texas mentality in things like Texas toast, so I really can't see this being passed off as a "Texas" sandwich today.

I did find one hot sandwich fitting a trend that is still with us: breakfast for dinner!

Of course, I'm not convinced I'd want Wafflewiches for breakfast, dinner, or anything in between. They're frozen waffles stuffed with ground ham and mustard, then dipped in an egg batter and fried like a Monte Cristo.

Fried frozen waffles? I think I'll pass...

Happy October weekend! Spend it with a toasty sandwich (just maybe not one from this book).

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Resistible Urges

I like shopping at Aldi. It's got cheap staples next to a changing series of specials that makes the whole trip feel like a treasure hunt. (Will the smoked pepperjack I bought once and never saw again make a return appearance? Will there be a bargain wine with an owl or some other cute critter on the bottle? Will they have veggie burgers this week? I am so boring that I think these are exciting mysteries...)

Aldi recently sold pressure cookers as a weekly special, and I had to dig out another old pressure cooker cookbook to remind myself that no, I do not need a pressure cooker. This time, the "Deluxe Mirro-Matic Pressure Pan" (1958) booklet did the honors.

Mostly, it reminded me that I'd have to make a hell of a lot of dried beans to break even on the cost of a pressure cooker, and I like canned beans-- which take even less effort than pressure cooked ones-- just fine.

The booklets always make it look as if pressure cookers are good for pretty much everything, though. They not only reduce cooking time on dried beans and dense vegetables, but they can do so much more! Did you know you could make fried chicken in one?

Well, fried chicken if your definition of fried chicken is pretty loose. The recipe shows you just brown the chicken in a little fat first, then basically steam it on a rack in the pressure cooker for 18-25 minutes. Then reduce the pressure, wait, and broil the chicken "to crisp" (because it must come out pretty soggy after all that steam).... Or you could just, you know, fry the chicken. It probably wouldn't even take as long since you wouldn't have to fire up the broiler to crisp it up when you were done. That method wouldn't require a pressure cooker, though, so it is right out!

Since I've been a bit obsessed lately, I noticed that this booklet has a recipe for pigs in a blanket too, and it's again, not like any of the others I've found so far:

Here, the "pigs" are slices of round steak and the "blankets" are bacon and onion. I'm starting to think the term "pigs in a blanket" has no meaning at all! The FDA should write some standards of identity for these things. (The cooking time of 25-30 minutes, plus cooling, does not strike me as being particularly short, either....)

My favorite recipe, though, might be this one:

How did this get named "hot tamales"? The ingredients are heated up, sure, but there is nothing else hot about them, unless people somehow thought green peppers, Worcestershire sauce, or pepper were "hot."

There's no tamale about these, either-- no masa, no corn husks. The tomato soup-y glop is supposed to be served on split buns. Might as well call this what it really is: slightly-less-sweet-than-usual sloppy joes, which you can make in about 20 minutes in a pressure cooker, or in about 20 minutes in a skillet.

In short, a lot of the time-saving bluster looks like it's bullshit. The number of times a pressure cooker will really come to the rescue is too short to fill out even a smallish booklet that comes with the pan.

In short, I triumphed over my impulse to buy a pressure cooker once again. Thanks Mirro-Matic!

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Puff, the magic fungus

Know what this is? Hint: Once in a while when I'm taking a fall walk in the woods, I come across one of them.

I leave them alone, but some of them edible.

Gertrude Park's Going Wild in the Kitchen (1965) has a few ideas for this little guy, though:

It's a puffball! They are a type of mushroom and apparently, they taste like it since the recommended recipes would work for more common mushrooms-- saute in butter, cook in cream, or add raw to a salad.

This is one odd delicacy that I have actually consumed, though I barely remember it since I was maybe five or six at the time. Someone found a puffball in my grandparents' woods and they decided to cook it. 

I really wonder if I'm misremembering the details, though, because the way I think my grandma cooked it would totally NOT make sense for a mushroom. I think she sliced it up, dipped the pieces in flour, sauteed them, and then served them with maple syrup since the the flat, round slices resembled pancakes.

I love mushrooms, and I loved the maple syrup grandpa cooked down every spring from their own maple trees, but I can't really imagine mushrooms and maple as the best of friends.

That little memory, probably at least a bit faulty, pops up along with the puffballs this time of year. I'm glad to see it, even if it is more than a little confusing. Have a memorable fall weekend!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Fly killer, medical advice, more pigs in blankets, and cocoa sandwiches

Because I can't resist, here is another creature from the haunted antique shop grab bag:

It's "F. W. McNess' Cook Book" (undated; I've seen estimates from the mid-1920s to the mid-1930s). There are various versions of this booklet, but I have the one with a woman practically standing on top of a man while he tries to choose a biscuit from the giant carby pyramid she has constructed. They are also apparently having water in wine goblets and something so unappetizing-looking that she has hidden it in a covered tureen. Looks like an exciting dinner!

So who was F. W. McNess?

Apparently, McNess was a company that sold items door-to-door:

I would love to buy peppermint extract, grape nectar, and ginger from someone who also sells fly killer, sewing machine oil, and insect powder in remarkably similar containers! It makes grabbing for an ingredient without looking at it carefully so much more interesting....

The company didn't just sell various food products and household items, though. They also gave out advice:

Yep! Free medical advice AND veterinary advice, from the same company that sells "Vanilla, Vanillin and Coumarin" (a name for their naturally and artificially flavored extract). That does not sound at all shady. 

The booklet is not all ads, though. There are some actual recipes. Since I was recently discussing what properly constitutes a "Pigs in Blankets" recipe, here is another take: 

Here, it's bacon fried around oysters, then served on toast-- which is nothing like either of the two versions I discussed earlier! I'm not sure bacon would be a much better blanket than a cabbage leaf. (And why should it be the blanket when it's clearly from a pig? How are oysters the pigs?)

Since I love looking for vegetarian stuff, I was excited to find this:

Nut Roast is probably not all that exciting, with its "nut meats" and bread crumbs held together by eggs and milk, seasoned with a bit of sage. At least there's a tomato sauce to go with it.

Some recipes do suggest the age of this booklet:

It's winter ice cream for cooks who don't have freezers. I hate winter, but if it were the only time I could ever get ice cream-- well-- the promise of dessert could move winter to just-this-side-of-bearable. 

The recipe title that made me the most curious, though, proved to be pretty disappointing:

What is a cocoa sandwich? Is it bread with some kind of a cocoa-and-cream-cheese-based spread? Is it bread with peanut butter, banana, and cocoa? Is it some kind of a sandwich cookie? Maybe an ice cream sandwich?

Whatever it is, it's printed on the sheet of recipes on the McNess cocoa package, and they're not telling unless you buy the cocoa. I tried to find out, but while I could find some images of the cocoa containers and a full scan of the entire booklet (that is in much better shape than mine, if you're interested in seeing the whole thing), I couldn't find the cocoa sandwich recipe. 

In the meantime, feel free to make up your own! Happy Wednesday!

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Pommes de terror

After some (mostly bland and kind of sad) apple sweets, this week we're going scary with savory apples.

Okay, maybe more sweet-and-savory first.

Remember the psychology class lesson about how the sense of smell is a huge component of what we consider taste? The teacher would blindfold some poor unlucky sap, tell them to plug their nose, and then make them eat bites of apple and onion to prove that the two are indistinguishable without one's sense of smell. Well, the Junior League of Indianapolis (in The Midwestern Junior League Cookbook, 1978) got the wrong lesson from that experiment:

The experiment is not an invitation to add onions to apples and brown sugar! At least, that's not what I understood as the takeaway, which is that you should never volunteer as a subject for a psychology class demonstration. Some people totally miss the point.

Okay, for honest-to-god savory apple recipes, we're returning to Thomas Mario's The Playboy Gourmet. Maybe he saw the typical apple-and-pork chop pairing as too pedestrian, so he fixated on another apple-and-meat pairing:

Apples and fish! Because who hasn't wanted to add apples and halibut to a potato salad?

If halibut doesn't seem sufficiently fishy to compete with the apples, though, there is always this alternative:

Potato salad with diced canned beets, apples, and herring tidbits! Hooray!

Maybe Opus from Bloom County has enough of a herring addiction to be excited, so I will leave this to him. 

Happy Saturday! And try to enjoy your apples onion-and-herring-free!