Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Cook Now, Serve Later

My friend Andrew with the eagle eye spotted the dreaded "carrot ring with peas" lurking in the corner of another cookbook called Cook Now, Serve Later (1990). The book is filled with LOTS of lovely color pictures and despite the obvious mid-centuryness of the recipes, the photos clearly have an early 80s healthy food vibe. That's why this carrot ring is such a mystery.

There are many mysterious things about this book. First of all despite the fresh photos, the recipes seem REALLY old. Take "Gazpacho Aspic" and the notorious "Carrot Ring with Peas" for example. But this book is from the editor's of Reader's Digest a magazine actually predicated on the notion of reprinting--an early re-blog, if you will. Right this minute I even have a stack of Reader's Digest Condensed books from 1963 and 1964. As far as I can tell the last reprint of the Culinary Arts Institute Encyclopedic Cookbook was released in 1989 (which still contained the recipe for "Picaninny Creole" by the way) and this book came out in 1990. Hard to believe anyone thought this kind of food would go over well in the 90s.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Dessert: Dominic Molon and Lara Hayes

La and Dom's Ball Blog (with Tomato Soup Cake rising)

We began the morning with the Tomato Soup Cake, chosen, naturally, because it sounded so exotic, so strange, and, well, so positively sketchy. Chef Dominic sifted the dry ingredients (nutmeg, cinnamon, flour, baking soda and powder, and ground cloves.) Chef La creamed the sugar and butter (rather than shortening) to the melodic sounds of the '70s (Vicki Lawrence, Harry Chapin, The Hollies ...) Butter was chosen over shortening. Why? We didn't have shortening and who doesn't love butter? Midway through, we stopped to assess and photographically document the proceedings. The mix at this point (with Tomato Soup yet unblended in) looked disturbingly similar to refried beans and bland salsa (Chi Chi's anyone?) Chef La then mixed the walnuts and raisins in to the tune of Rufus with Chaka Khan's "Tell Me Something Good." Alas, the report was not good from the kitchen island as the cake's current status was described as "something you'd totally make in pre-school." 10 AM saw the cake go into the oven, the feeling of expectation palpable and heightened somewhat by the eruption of Styx's "Lady" from the Ipod. The necessity of the cake being left to rest for 24 hours be-damned, we thought, as the loaf pan was quickly chucked in. Linda Ronstadt seemed to echo our olafactory senses' response to the odor emanating from the oven as she repeatedly bleated "you're no good, you're no good. you're no good, baby, you're no good."

Chef Dominic had the Manchester United v Spurs match to attend (and organic produce to secure), which meant that Rum Truffle Ball preparation would have to wait until the afternoon. Presentational strategy was discussed and agreed upon, while hope was held for the cream cheese frosting intended to adorn the cake.

Hours later, after a nap necessitated by United's thrilling come-from-behind 5-2 victory over Spurs, Rum Truffle Ball production began. The dessert, incidentally, was chosen because ... they are balls and we felt it necessary to ensure that the evening's menu had balls. Milk chocolate was melted and shaved and rum added. Into the freezer it went as conversation turned to the proper dress code for both Culinary Arts Institute dinner party and witnessing the return of industrial sonic transgressors, Throbbing Gristle. Chef La then formed the balls, dipping them into the shaved chocolate, then marveled at her chocolate smeared hands and, upon tasting one, declared "these are quite good!" The delectables were then packed and plans were made to depart.

(editor's note: Dom and Lara used 250 Classic Cake Recipes (1940) for their "Tomato Soup Cake" recipe. Interestingly, this cake was left out of the final 1975 edition called 200 Cakes. )

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Meat: Terri Griffith

I knew there was going to be a hungry crowd for this party and I wanted to fix something that was both out-of-the-ordinary yet still edible. 250 Ways to Prepare Meat (1940) was there for me with “Pot Roast with Prunes.” My first reaction to this was, Yuck! But the more I thought about it, the better it sounded.

I followed the recipe pretty precisely. The only real difference is that I used my new bible, The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook. It gives lots of pointers for pot roast, things none of the CAI cookbooklets do. My guess is that in 1940 when this book was published women knew the basics of preparing a pot roast. Well, it’s not 1940 anymore and we have other skills now. Which is precisely why I rely on The Test Kitchen to let me in on the details. I patted it dry and tied it up before browning, then let it rest twenty minutes before serving. I really believe that all these little things really make a difference.

The pot roast itself was extraordinary. It was moist, flavorful, a lovely color. I’m not sure you’re supposed to say this sort of thing, but it was the best pot roast I’ve ever had. I highly recommend this recipe to anyone inclined. (I scanned it high resolution so you can follow the recipe and see the delightful photo.) Next time, I would turn that beefy prune sauce into a gravy and serve it with mashed potatoes. This recipe is super good. Trust me.

("Prunes and apricots with pot roast add glamour to the meat and flavor to the gravy.")

Friday, May 8, 2009

Potatoes: Steaphanie Crain


I chose the 250 Ways of Serving Potatoes (1940) cookbook because I love potatoes, I love that there was an entire cookbook devoted to it, and I thought this book held my best chance to quickly find a recipe that was easy and goof-proof. I was wrong.

Housewives in the 1950’s took their potatoes seriously. The booklet is divided into more categories (with sufficient recipes for each category to warrant their own category) than I consciously knew existed for potatoes. Baked, boiled, soups/chowders, creamed and scalloped, mashed, fried, salads, sweet potatoes listed separately…these ladies knew their potatoes. And now I know how American families could have potatoes with every meal.

I quickly dismissed all potatoes sweet and anything that involved multiple steps, such as fried potato cups filled with hotdogs. And then I landed on the Potato with Bacon recipe and looked no further. How can you possibly make a potato better? Bacon.

The ingredient list was very common:

1 lb. of bacon
6 medium potatoes
2 tbs. flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
2 cups milk

I assumed that the bacon measurements were for cooked weight. Since I don’t have a kitchen scale, and am a firm believer that more bacon always makes things more better, I cooked an entire one pound package, after trimming the most visible fat and dicing the remaining bacon (which was kind of difficult but made me feel chef-y).

I also assumed that they didn’t mean skim or soy milk, so I used full-fat milk, and I tripled the pepper amount.

I layered the sliced potatoes, topped with the flour, salt and pepper and the bacon, repeated the layers, and poured milk over the whole thing.

It looked disgusting:
My greatest fear was that it would come out of the oven as nothing more than clumps of raw flour with bits of greasy bacon gristle-studded potatoes floating in curdled milk.

I popped it into a moderate oven (thankfully, they defined “moderate” as 350ยบ), covered, for 45 minutes. When I took the pan out to uncover for the remaining 15 minutes in a desperate attempt to brown the top and make it look a little less like something they serve at Shady Pines retirement home on Wednesday nights, I was saddened to see that a milky skin had formed on the top of the potatoes, and there was a LOT of milk still swishing around. Happily, though, it looked like the flour islands had melted and incorporated themselves into the dish. Things were looking up for this dish!

And then down. The top didn’t brown, but the potatoes were soft, and I didn’t want to add insult to injury and overcook them. So I took them to the party with the attitude that this was an exercise in culinary experimentation, and not all experiments succeed. Clearly.

The potatoes were served about an hour into the party, and I am thrilled to report that they didn’t suck! They had been warming in the oven, and I’m not sure if it was the extra heat that thickened the milk into a sauce, or if it was just the resting period. The potatoes were tender, the bacon was semi-crunchy, and the milk sauce was a nice consistency. I was surprised that the dish was more sweet than savory, and if I made it again, I would up the salt and pepper. And maybe add some cheese.

I was told the potatoes were great the next day for breakfast, which made me very happy. And validated my earlier hypothesis that 1950’s housewives really knew their potatoes.

(editor's note: This was so fantastic the next morning, you can't even know. A big ole' platefull and a cup 0' joe. Awsome.)

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Vegetable: Terri Griffith

When trying any new recipe a cook can expect a failure or two. So throwing a potluck where every single person was trying a new recipe, I figured I'd better err on the side of caution an make an extra dish just so that no one went away hungry. Well imagine my embarrassment that my dish was the one that tanked. It looked pretty cute, but was a total failure—or should I say gross.

I selected “Carrot Ring” from the Culinary Arts Institute Encyclopedic Cookbook (1965). It looked simple enough (it was) and appealing. The recipe was really straightforward calling for 2 cups cooked carrots, onion, salt pepper, 3 eggs and 1 cup milk. Bake all this together and fill with peas. How great is that? Two vegetables in one dish. But it was gross. It came out like scrambled eggs with carrots in it. Yuck! The picture that accompanied the recipe looked kind of good. After considering each ingredient and step, I think I know what went wrong. Perhaps it was the interpretation of the phrase “cooked carrots.” The carrots in the picture look WAY mushier. I even cooked my carrot ring and extra 20 minutes and they still were too firm.

If I had to reinterpret this recipe I would write, Cook carrots to a paste. That should do it.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Rolls: Serena Worthington

(editor's note: Serena used Dishes Mother Used to Make (1942). This was from a series of thematically linked cookbooklets published in the 40s.)

For the dinner, I was assigned bread. My girlfriend says it because I’m a baker but I really don’t feel like one. I can’t even say that I enjoy baking because usually it stresses me out. I think I just like foods that fall under the category, baking.

So with my limited baking skills, I embarked on Parker House Rolls from Dishes Mother Used to Make. I picked them because no one I asked had made them and I thought it would be funny.

I ran into trouble right away when the recipe asked me to stir the yeast, salt, sugar and shortening in warm water until the shortening melted. I don’t know a ton about baking but I do know that water the called for lukewarm would not melt the shortening and water hot enough to melt shortening would certainly kill the yeast. Perhaps this would have worked with cake yeast but I was using packaged yeast. I doubt it though. So I melted the shortening in the microwave on low and set it aside to cool a bit. I rebelled a bit here and mixed up the water, sugar and yeast and waited for the yeast to bloom. Them I added the shortening and salt and finally the flour. I viewed the result with great skepticism. It was really, really wet and didn’t resemble anything I would call dough. With a shrug I covered it and waited for it to double in bulk. This brings me to the weirdest part of this recipe; I was to add an egg after this first rise. So, I have a big, wet yeasty mass and I am supposed to stir an egg in? Whatever. I stirred in the egg, complained to Terri and left the thing to double again.

I spent the rising time wondering what I was going to make when the rolls inevitably failed. After the second rise, the mixture was only slightly less wet and I had to shrug both shoulders when I dumped this soupy mixture on the counter to “knead” it. By “knead” they must have meant, “add tons and tons of flour until soupy mixture become something resembling dough.” So “knead” I did. With lots of swearing and expressing of disgust and indignation. WTF, was, I believe, heavily featured as in, “WTF is this?” “WTF am I supposed to do with this mess?” Purely rhetorical questions since Terri was no longer answering me at this point.

Here was my second bit of trouble. The instructions were not clear about how to turn the dough into a “pocketbook.” What did this mean exactly? After parsing each word of the recipe and staring at the picture I decided to cut the dough into squares and fold it to form a pocketbook. No way was I going to try a biscuit cutter on that mess. I went ahead with pressing a dull knife into the middle of each one although I was really just going through the motions. The knife depression disappeared almost as soon as I made it. I brushed the dough with butter (the saving grace as it turns out) and folded them in half onto their sides and then I “pinched” the sides. By “pinched” they must have meant, “push the sloppy wet sides of the roll together until the melted butter nearly stops leaking out.” Then I put some more butter on them as instructed. Here again there was not actually quantity of butter listed so I used my judgment.

I let them rise again. I really wish I had some guidance from the recipe about how long to let them rise. Without this information, I just called them good when they had puffed up a bit.

I put them in a preheated 400 degree oven and baked them until they had some color, about 20 minutes. I was enormously relieved when I took them out and they resembled a bread product. I served them at room temperature. They got good reviews at the dinner, which was a surprise. I have to say it must have been the butter.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Salad: Nicholas Alexander Hayes and Andrew Breen

1. After browsing through several, CAI booklets, we settled on the Pear-Ginger Jello Salad because of the yummy flavor combination (Actually, it was an excuse to finally buy little Jello molds and create beautifully suspended fruit in a vibrant yellow membrane).

2. Prep: We sprayed the copper molds with cooking oil to help with the mold release. We also put the plates in the fridge so the 8 Jello molds would hold up during transportation.

3. Changing the Ratio: Based on “Breen/Hayes Test Kitchen,” Jello seems to conform better to the mold when you use less water. So, we didn’t go by the water/jello ratio that the recipe called for. The box says 1 pk to 1 cup of boiling water, but we halved the water to ½ cup (3 pkts + 1½ water). We brought the Jello to room temperature before adding the 1½ cups of ginger ale. We ladled the tepid Jello into the molds, leaving about ½ cm from the top for the fruit. Because our molds were smaller, we diced the canned pears instead of using pear halves.

4. We left the molds in the fridge for 5 hours and released the Jello by pouring hot water on the back of the mold, and placed them on iceberg lettuce. If we could change anything, we would let the Jello cool longer before pouring in the ginger ale (to maintain the bubbliness).

(editor's note: Andrew and Nicholas used the special Shop-Rite edition of Entertaining Six or Eight. Oddly, there was no publication date, but based on the other books this appears to be from the early to mid 1950s. This was a special series with lovely illustrations by Paul Hamlin and the Shop-Rite logo right on the cover. Also, Ruth Berlozheimer is not credited. Instead, Melanie De Proft is listed as director.)

Friday, May 1, 2009

Soup: Martha Bayne

Picking one soup from 250 Delicious Soup Recipes (1950) was thoroughly overwhelming. So I went about it scientifically. Too expensive? Cut. Sorry, Creole Bouillabaise, which needed not only a pound of fresh shrimp but also two pounds of snapper.

I was also feeling tired and lazy so anything too complicated was out as well. This eliminated intriguing contenders like Mock Turtle Soup (“Cover calf’s head with cold water …”).

But, despite my sloth, I felt duty bound to at least try to cook something. This inconvenient surge of work ethic knocked out the entire section on Jiffy Soups, which offers a conceptual framework for proportionally blending various cans of condensed soups to create new and exciting taste sensations such as Cream of Corn and Mushroom, and the discreetly named Triangle (“1 can condensed tomato soup, 1 can condensed bean-with-bacon soup, 3 cans water”).*

Lastly, I wanted it to have a shot at being vaguely edible. I remain to this day strangely drawn to Ripe Olive Soup but I didn’t think it would be very hospitable to inflict it on a bunch of strangers. So, after a brief flirtation with something jelled and chilled – which just seemed like it would be classy – I settled on Tuna and Tomato Bisque.

I like tuna, I like tomatoes. They go together well in a nice nicoise salad. Why not a soup? Also: they both come in cans, and see above in re. laziness.

Here is the recipe:

Tuna and Tomato Bisque

1 (7-ounce) can tuna
2 tablespoons minced parsely
1/4 cup diced onion
1 cup cooked tomatoes
2 cups water
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
dash cayenne
3 cups milk

Shred tuna, add oil from tuna, parsley, onion, tomatoes and water. Heat to boiling and simmer 20 minutes. Strain. Blend butter, flour, salt and cayenne’ add milk, gradually stirring constantly and cook until smooth and thickened. Add tuna mixture, blend and serve at once. Serves 4.

I doubled the recipe and ballparked the quantities, with two 5-ounce cans of Bumblebee Solid White Albacore Tuna in Oil and one 28-ounce can of Dominick’s-brand Organic Whole Peeled Tomatoes.

I drained off the oil from the fish and ran into trouble right off the bat. Am I supposed to add the fish to the soup base? What is this “tuna mixture” mentioned at the end of the recipe? The tuna? ” Mixed with … other tuna?

Anyway. I wound up just throwing the oil in with the tomatoes, onion, and parsley and alliteratively decanting the tuna into a Tupperware to take up to Terri’s. Then I gave the cans to the cat. He was psyched.

Simmered oil, tomatoes, onion, and parsley for 20 minutes – it actually smelled pretty good – and then strained it. I don’t have a chinois so I just pushed it through a colander.

This resulted in a lovely clear tomato bouillon.

And some tomato/onion/parsley mash.

Whisked in the butter, flour, salt, and cayenne, and then the milk. After blending in six cups of a possible eight it was a very pale pink, so I just stopped there. Which was probably good because it wound up having a very “subtle” flavor. Any more dairy and it would have been just Milk Soup With Tomato Essence.

Anyhow. That was basically it. Once I got to Terri and Serena’s I heated it back up and then mixed in the reserved tuna “mixture, “garnished the bowls with parsley, and served.

I also made some cayenne croutons to accompany the soup. Actually, they were supposed to be these elaborate bits of toasted bread sculpture involving cutting bread into doughnut sized rings, and cutting some more bread into long fingers and then threading the whole ring-and-spear unit together and garnishing each bowl with one. But that quickly proved too much work, not to mention a massive waste of perfectly good bread. So I just cut the bread into toast points, dipped them in butter, dusted them with salt and cayenne, and then promptly burned them in the oven.


I brought them along anyway and everyone seemed to think the charred, peppery bread added a certain textural something, but maybe they were just being nice.

Would I make Tuna and Tomato Bisque again? Probably not. It wasn’t bad but it was, as I said, quite milky. By which I mean, “bland.”

But now, at least, I can say that I’ve tried tuna soup.

*Why “Triangle”? Is this meant to evoke some illicit three-way between the tomato, the bean, and the bacon?