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Recipes of the Damned

cookbooks from the Recipes of the Damned portion of the collection

Easing back into the kitchen

I’ve been extremely busy over the past year, and so have been cooking less. This is bad. There are a lot of reasons; travel is a big one, since the nice folks at the Hilton would not have appreciated it if I’d tried to find a way to cook in the room. Travel can lead to bad choices. The breakfast buffet. The endless happy hour. Anything offered at the Cheesecake Factory, where I think the unsweetened iced tea MIGHT be under 700 calories but nothing else is.

So I’m trying to get back into the habit. It’s better for my health when I cook. Also I’ve bought some cool stuff for the kitchen during the past year and I don’t really appreciate the irony of not using it.

As part of this reboot I’m trying to make more sense of my various blogs. I have four: this one, Recipes of the Yum, Recipes of the Damned, and AmyDStephenson.com.

  • 107 Cookbooks will continue to be about trying new recipes from my collection, as well as from new sources like magazines, the Internet, and new cookbooks I’ve acquired. (You thought I was done buying cookbooks? You are HILARIOUS.)
  • Recipes of the ¬†Yum will be about cooking pretty food, or trying pretty food when I’m out. There is potential overlap with 107 Cookbooks but the basic idea will be that old favorites go on RotY and new efforts go on 107 Cookbooks.
  • Recipes of the Damned will be about scary old recipes, or just plain problematic recipes, as well as about food issues in the news and scary items on the market. I’ll be revising and re-posting some of the old material I had up years ago, which is no longer online due to Internet infrastructure issues that are too stupid and tedious to get into.
  • AmyDStephenson.com will have original writing about whatever strikes my fancy. It will probably be updated the least often, but I’m trying.

As I get things up and running, check out this RotY post about vegan chocolate chip cookies. I suppose I should have posted it here since it’s a new recipe to me, but I’m not OCD enough to change it now. You see what I mean about overlap.

CookiesCoolingCloseup
See? Pretty.

Also, I’ve started a Zazzle store, Little Shop of the Yum, which will offer merchandise using photos from my blogs. If there’s anything you’d like to be able to get in greeting card or coffee mug format, let me know.

More soon!

Is this the end of Twinkiehenge?

TwinkieHenge

Hostess has declared bankruptcy. It sounds like the company has been struggling with debt, but that in the short term this is not likely to result in any interruption to operations. So you’ll still be able to buy Twinkies, Wonder Bread and other highly processed foodstuffs, assuming you care for that sort of thing. The NYT article strongly hints that labor and pension costs are a big issue, but if you’re getting into debt to the tune of $860 million there’s a lot more wrong with your planning than just paying your workers too well, I think.

A lot of the coverage has been suggesting, possibly tongue in cheek, that consumers may want to stock up on Twinkies just in case the company ends up folding. I can’t get behind that, but use your own judgment. They don’t actually last forever — though I held onto the ones left over from my Twinkiehenge for over a year before finally discarding them and they didn’t look appreciably changed. But I didn’t taste them to find out.

12 Dozen Time-Saving Recipes: Pie, and Adjustments

plain pastry

SliceOfPieHello, strangers! I have been a dreadfully inconstant blogger. I could write it all off to an overcrowded schedule — and indeed, with two new volunteer commitments and the logistical adjustments that one has to make to daily life when the weather is bad, I have been really busy — but there’s been another factor at work too. I have been Apples3letting some of the remaining cookbooks get to me.

No doubt you remember the debacle of Miss Leslie’s Secrets, when the jelly puffs were rather short on puff. Two tomes from Victorian cookbook queen Isabella Beeton promised nothing but further defeat. I paged through the thick volumes, repeatedly, searching in vain for anything I SlicingApplesAction2might be able to do. Once I’d ruled out ingredients I didn’t think I could find (isinglass?), recipes that looked logistically impossible (fireplace-size roasts), and foods I was not going to abuse that badly even for the sake of morbid curiosity (good vegetables boiled to death), I was left with vague instructions and imprecise measurements. I fretted. I worried. And finally, I gave up. I SlicingApplesam removing the two Mrs. Beeton volumes from the project.

But as it happens, this does not make my project 105 Cookbooks now. I also found a folder in which I had saved several recipe booklets when I was working on a book proposal for Recipes of the Damned. The booklets, like the proposal, have languished on the sidelines, and they didn’t make it ApplesAndSpiceinto the census back in June 2009, but I am adding them to the project now. Macaroni, Minute Rice, baking soda, and Knox Unflavored Gelatine (assuming I can find it or an equivalent) all lie ahead. There’s also a glorious new cookbook I got for Christmas, Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home, and I am not going to be so unreasonable as to insist I must cook Jell-O and canned ScoopingCriscopineapple before I can start to play with it.

I have given up on the idea of a finishing date. I’m going to try to schedule these more often, but I’m also going to give myself a chance to try other recipes — for example, from my massive backlog of cooking magazines — and to work at my own pace. They’ll all get done, yes, but PieCrustLumpswithout the maddening effects of deadline pressure.

And look, here’s one now. Sunday was National Pie Day (not to be confused with Pi Day, which is of course on 3/14). A made-up holiday, yes, but one after my own heart, and why not make pie? I wanted to improvise the filling, but decided to try a Crisco-based crust from the RollingPiecrustpamphlet 12 Dozen Time-Saving Recipes. This slim 1927 booklet from Procter & Gamble has a lot of offerings that don’t seem all that speedy, but the pie crust turned out to be nearly as easy as shooting fish in a barrel. I combined 2 cups of flour, 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt (aka half a tablespoon), and 3/4 cup of Crisco, and stirred with a fork until the mixture was crumbly and PieCrustInPanmealy. Then I added just enough ice water to hold it together in a dough, divided it in two, and shaped each half into a ball to roll flat. The rolling went easily enough but I kept tearing the rolled crust, so finally I rolled the dough between two pieces of waxed paper so I could lay the crust in place and then peel off the paper.

CaramelInPieI filled the pie with apple slices — Granny Smiths that I had tossed with sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and a bit of flour. I then drizzled on some salted caramel bourbon sauce that I’d picked up at a craft show, and dotted on some butter. I was hoping for an effect similar to that of the salted caramel apple pie at Four and Twenty Blackbirds in Brooklyn, which is a glorious thing. I laid on the top ToppingThePiecrust, pinched it closed as best I could, cut vents, and put it into the oven. The baked pie was a beauty; as it happened, we were too full from dinner to have dessert that night so the pie had plenty of time to cool, which meant that when I sliced into it the next night it didn’t collapse into a heap of apple slices.

The pie was tasty. The crust was PieBaked2flaky and light, and while it wasn’t at all buttery it provided a good neutral foundation for the more distinctively flavored elements. The salt and apple flavors balanced well. The apples were a bit more tart than I had expected, though I should have realized that in winter they might be; I could have added more sugar to the filling, but it would also work to add a dollop of whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream to add the necessary complementary taste. Which I may do shortly. We have lots of pie left.

Verdict: Success. Good crust, good pie, and one more down.

The Cutco Cookbook, Meat and Poultry Cookery: Comfort Food

beef stew

StewInBowl2I made this recipe a few weeks ago, but have been too distracted by other things to get the post written and published. Nothing big, you understand, nothing dramatic. Just the effluvia of holidays and working and trying (and failing) to catch up with the million other things I have going on.

I had a day free enough that I StewBeefMoreChoppedwas able to go to Whole Foods to look for meat. (Whole Foods is a bit of a trek for me to get to, and it’s usually full of crazed people so I really have to psych myself up for the trip.) I was originally hoping for something to roast, but I saw that stew meat was on sale and I thought I’d make beef stew. So after I got home I paged through the remaining cookbooks for promising recipes. There were BrowningBeef2a few for beef carbonnade that looked good, but I opted for a more basic hearty beef stew with potatoes and carrots, and found a good recipe for that in the Cutco Cookbook.

Cutco is a knife manufacturer based in Olean, NY; it’s been in business for about 50 years. The cookbook I have was published in 1956, and offers a lot of StartingToStewclassically middle-American meat dishes: roasts, chops, stews, braises, grilled cuts, and “variety meats.” There are also illustrated guides for using the full range of Cutco knives — clear, professional illustrations — and then odd little cartoons throughout the recipes. I got this book for Recipes of the Damned and wrote about brains, but many of the recipes outside the “variety meats” chapter seem RedPotatoesfairly reasonable.

The beef stew was a straightforward affair. I cut the stew beef into smaller chunks, tossed it with some seasoned flour to coat, and browned it in hot vegetable oil. I then added some diced onion and garlic, sauteed that for a few minutes, and then poured in some boiling water and a can of diced Carrotstomatoes, plus a bit of salt and about half a teaspoon of worcestershire sauce. I covered the pot, brought the contents to a simmer, lowered the heat, and let it cook for about an hour and a half. While it cooked I halved some small boiling potatoes, chopped some carrots into chunks, and peeled a dozen white pearl onions. When the timer went off I added those vegetables AddingVegsto the pot, covered it again, and let them cook 20 minutes; then I added 1 cup of frozen peas and let it cook another 15 minutes. And that was it.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the stew tasted great: very hearty and simple, and the flavor of the beef was good. It was a nice meal for a chilly winter BeefStewevening, and the leftovers were terrific reheated.

Verdict: Success. So that’s one more cookbook off the list. I’m going to have to bite the bullet and make some scary recipes in the coming weeks, if only so I can start trying other new recipes without feeling guilt about the project. In the meantime, I may have to make some more of the beef stew.

The Classic Carrot Cookbook: Cake Wrecks Edition

sour cream carrot cake

CakeWreckThe Classic Carrot Cookbook is a 1982 production of the Arizona Federation of Garden Clubs. It’s plastic-comb bound (orange comb and cover, of course) and set in Courier type that may have been printed from a word processor, but may have been produced on the small-type ball of an IBM Selectric. The copy I have was sent by a friend; it’s a thrift-store find and she sent it for my GratingCarrotsRecipes of the Damned collection, largely because of recipes like ‘Nana Salad (colby cheese, canned pineapple, carrots, gelatin and bananas, to name but a few ingredients) and Bugs Bunny Bake (carrots and Velveeta).

I leafed through this book on several occasions, hoping I could find something I’d be willing to eat that I could cook in warmer PeelingBlanchedAlmondsweather (boeuf en daube was out), and wondering if I would be taking the easy way out by making carrot cake. No, I decided; I’ve never actually made carrot cake, so it’s not cheating to do what seems like the obvious thing.

Clearly I had no idea what I was in for.

GroundBlanchedAlmondsI bear some of the blame. I didn’t read the recipe through with complete attention before I began cooking, so I didn’t realize some of the problems until it was too late to choose something else. It seemed straightforward at a glance: divide 7 eggs, grate carrots, grind up some almonds, mix it all together with sugar and spice and lemon juice and flour. The sour cream would be part of CakeIngredsa cooked topping, a sort of sour cream custard that looked simple enough. So I went about my day and got caught up in various tasks, and finally started cooking, only to realize that I had some time-consuming things to do for this cake. If I had made the cake in the morning I could have dealt with some of this more smoothly; of course I also wouldn’t have gotten out of the apartment until EggSugarAt2Minsafter 2, so there are always tradeoffs.

The first time-suck was the almonds. I needed blanched ground almonds. Two and a half cups worth. Have you ever blanched almonds? It’s pretty simple: pour boiling water over your (shelled) almonds and let them sit for a few minutes, then drain, and slip off the skins, which EggsSugarAt4Minsshould come off easily when you rub the nuts in your fingers. There are a lot of almonds in enough to make two and a half cups of ground almonds, and slipping off the skins takes time, especially if it takes you a while to figure out that if a given almond is refusing to shed its skin you should set it aside to blanch again, not work hard at it. Finally I had the almonds peeled and AddedCarrotsput them into the food processor to grind. I pulsed repeatedly, anxious to get fine crumbs and not almond butter. After a bit, the food processor stopped working. I checked the plug; I checked the little lip on the container that needs to be engaged for the machine to run; I checked the toggle between high and low to make sure it wasn’t stuck in a AddedNutsnebulous middle. No; the machine was done. I don’t know if it’s just given up the ghost or if it’s simply thrown a belt, but since it’s a fairly cheap department-store brand that I think may have been a wedding present, it’s probably dead.

I had a bowl full of almond chunks the size of macadamia nuts, and was not sure what to AddedEggWhitesdo. The blender? Doubtful; I was sure the blender would turn it into almond butter instead of crumbs, and anyway I hadn’t checked it since I nearly burned it out on the failed Oaxacan pepian sauce. Then I remembered that my hand mixer has a little mini-food-processor attachment that I’ve never used. I assembled the pieces, and even though I had to do it in three batches, I very BatterInPansquickly had all the almonds nicely ground.

I readied my other ingredients, and came to the second puzzler. The recipe says to add sugar to the egg yolks and beat for 20 minutes. Really? I read it again. “Beat egg yolks and sugar for 20 minutes.” By hand or with a mixer? The recipe did not say. I began to read more carefully. The BatterInSecondPanrecipe was close-mouthed on other issues as well. What consistency should the egg yolks and sugar be after 20 minutes? What consistency after all the other ingredients go in, before adding the egg whites? What about the baking pans — should they be greased and floured, lined with parchment, anything? No guidance. I was out of parchment, but decided against using wax paper SourCreamAndSugar— I don’t really like that for oven baking. I decided to grease and flour the pans, hoping that would be enough to keep the cake from sticking.

As for the egg yolks and sugar, I decided that beating for 20 minutes probably meant by hand; I had a feeling 20 minutes with the hand mixer would only add to SourCreamAndSugarCookingmy appliance death tally. So I beat the egg yolks and sugar for 2 minutes, stopped and examined the consistency. Nicely blended and aerated, smooth. I had a hunch this was enough. Maybe 20 was a typo? I went ahead and beat the mixture 2 minutes more, saw no appreciable difference, and decided that I was going to move on with the recipe. I added grated carrots, then the almonds, SourCreamSauceFailthen some spices (cinnamon, nutmeg and clove), then some lemon zest and juice, and finally a small amount of flour. Now it was time to add the beaten egg whites; I folded them in carefully and divided the mixture between my baking pans. They were pretty full; belatedly I thought, are these 9-inch pans or 8-inch? I pressed on and put them in the oven.

DoneLayersWhile the cake baked, I began to work on the topping. When I was prepping my ingredients earlier I noticed that I had only enough fresh eggs for the cake, but still needed 3 yolks for the sour cream topping. Wait, I thought, I have egg yolks in the freezer! I’ll just rest the container on some warm water until they’re thawed enough to scoop out 3, then float that bowl on some warm water DoneLayerCloseUPuntil they’re thawed. Microwave thawing, I reasoned, might go too fast and cook them. Um, guess what: So can warm-water thawing. I returned to my resting yolks to find worryingly solid bits at the edges. Well, I thought, mostly this is liquidy yolk, and I can spoon out the solid bits before I add it to the sour cream mixture. So I set to work: I mixed a cup of sour cream with a cup of CakeWreck2sugar and brought the mixture slowly to a boil. Then I added the beaten yolks. And despite my best efforts, little boiled-yolk bits made themselves evident, and began to multiply. Desperately I added grated carrot and chopped nuts, but the yolks continued to cook rather than to blend in. I had a dismal, unappealing mixture. Sighing, I pulled it off the heat. I would let it cool so I CakeWreck3could discard it; in the meantime, Scott and I would go pick up some eggs and something to eat, then I’d make a new batch of sour cream topping with fresh, non-pre-cooked yolks.

In the meantime, I had been enjoying the developing smell of the cake as it baked. The recipe said to bake for 50 minutes in a 375-degree oven, but at about SadScotthalf an hour I peered in and noticed that the cake looked very brown and solid on top. Could the baking time be off as well? I checked the cake with a toothpick; it came out clean. This cake was done; if I left it in another 20 minutes I would have bricks, not layers. So I pulled it out to cool.

After dinner, I returned to the CakeWithIceCream3kitchen and decided that before I began a new batch of sour cream topping, I’d turn the cake layers out of their pans. I ran a knife around the edge of the first pan, encountering some resistance along the way. Not a good sign. I inverted the pan onto the cake plate and tapped the bottom a few times, then lifted. The cake did not budge. Cautiously, I began to work around the RecipePageedge again, and chunks of the cake began to come out. Not exactly the clean layers I had been aiming for. Had I been wrong about the baking time? I sampled a piece; the cake had a nice consistency and terrific flavor. No, the cake was nicely done, on the verge of overdone; it just refused to come out of the pan. I extracted the rest of the layer and packed the pieces into a plastic SectionDividerstorage container, then tried the second layer to see if it would hold together any better. It didn’t. I had a cake wreck on my hands.

So I abandoned my plans to make the sour cream topping. Instead, we had chunks of cake with the vanilla ice cream I made last weekend. The cake was delicious.

Verdict: Cake wreck. I think I’m done with this cookbook.

The Kellogg’s Cookbook: Cheez-It Souffle

Cheez-It souffle

SouffleBaked2Yes, you read that right. Tonight’s cookbooks is The Kellogg’s Cookbook, and that means recipes with things like Cheez-Its, Rice Krispies and Special K. When I wrote this up for Recipes of the Damned, I made fun of a recipe that involved sauteed shrimp and Corn Pops. To be fair, the recipe sounded very good without the Corn Pops.

CheezItSouffleIngreds2This is what makes this cookbook worth perusing: Many of the recipes seem quite reasonable. This is because many Kellogg’s products are pretty simple: Corn Flakes, Rice Krispies, All Bran. I’ve made cornflake-crusted oven-baked chicken before, and probably everybody who’s not a vegan or a don’t-ask-don’t-tell vegetarian has eaten Rice Krispie treats. But some of the recipes CheezItsPreCrush2are rather silly, either because they try too hard (for example, specifying Kellogg’s Stuffing Mix when any croutons would serve) or because the product they require is inherently silly. Like Cheez-Its.

Don’t get me wrong. I really like Cheez-Its. They have a good strong mainstream cheddar flavor, and they’re an excellent CheezItsCrushed3salt delivery system, which is very important to me in a processed snack food. But in a souffle? I had my doubts, so I decided to find out.

The recipe is fairly simple, though might be daunting to an inexperienced cook. (Of course, if you’ve gotten past the word “souffle” you’ll probably be just fine.) I began by preheating the SeparatedEggsoven and measuring out a cup of Cheez-Its and then crushing then in a plastic bag, using a rolling pin. I poured the crumbs back into the measuring cup; they now reached about 2/3 of the way to the top. I’d expected them to lose a lot more volume. I set them aside and separated six eggs, then beat together the yolks slightly. I also grated about a teaspoon’s worth of a fresh onion.

MilkSauceThickenedNow it was time to move to the stovetop. In a heavy saucepan, I heated one and a half cups of milk and half a stick of butter for about two minutes, stirring constantly, until the butter was melted. Then I added the grated onion and about half the Cheez-It crumbs and kept stirring, cooking for about five more minutes, until the mixture had begun to thicken and was close to boiling. Here the TemperingYolksCheez-Its are functioning much like the flour in a roux; although the ingredients come together in a different order, this is essentially a bechamel sauce. With cheddar cheese flavor and quite a bit of salt.

Now I spooned out a bit of the hot bechamel and added it to the egg yolks, mixing them together to warm up the yolks; this is SauceWithYolks2called tempering, and it keeps the yolks from curdling when they’re added to the pan. Yolks tempered, I added them to the saucepan. They did not curdle. I kept stirring, letting the mixture cook for about three more minutes, then removed it from the heat.

It was the egg whites’ turn now. Using an electric mixer, I beat the BeatingEggWhiteswhites until they were stiff but not dry, which took less than two minutes by my estimate. (I wasn’t really looking at the clock; I was looking at the egg whites.) I then carefully folded the egg whites into the Cheez-It sauce. This is the tricky part, because you don’t want to overmix them, but you want to make sure you don’t have big pockets of unblended egg white or sauce. I AddingWhitesToSaucefolded in the rest of the Cheez-It crumbs, poured it all into an unbuttered baking dish, and put it in the oven for an hour and 15 minutes.

While it cooked I finished up some kitchen tasks: I made salsa with fresh tomatoes and poblanos from the Greenmarket, and I washed a bunch of dishes. I found myself working gingerly. It FoldingInMoreCheezItsoccurred to me that a sufficiently loud noise or heavy vibration might knock the whole thing down. And boy, did my kitchen seem loud. The fridge cycling down with a thump; the poorly set drawers lurching into their grooves; a tomato rolling off the cutting board and into the sink. Outside noises sounded amplified as well: kids playing, motorcycles driving past, neighbors slamming SouffleToBakegarage doors. I half expected someone to pull into the alley in a bass-thumping boom box masquerading as a car.

But my worries were groundless. The baked souffle had risen, and stayed puffed, though it began to sink gradually once it came out of the oven. And when I dug into it with a spoon it quickly deflated. I spooned up some of the mixture SouffleDish4and we carried it away with salad. I’m not sure if I got the consistency exactly right; it was somewhat soft and I didn’t know if it should be firmer and keep its puff more solidly. But it was a pleasing texture, and it tasted good. It tasted exactly like Cheez-Its. This is not a bad taste, though it’s a little weird in a souffle texture.

SouffleSunkVerdict: Success. But this is another silly recipe. I want to make a real souffle at some point, but I think I’ll wait until the weather has cooled a bit more. The elegant puff seems like it might be a lovely way to present a fine chocolate or a really great cheese. But if I want Cheez-Its, the crunchy cracker is good enough for me.

Bull Cook and Authentic Historical Recipes and Practices: Nobody Knows How to Do Anything These Days

photo by Harris Graber, used with permission

photo by Harris Graber, used with permission

how to make Canadian type whiskey

I’m at a loss how to classify Bull Cook and Authentic Historical Recipes and Practices. Grizzled loner? Disgruntled former employee? The book, by George Leonard Herter and Berthe E. Herter, was published by the Herters in Waseca, Minnesota, in the 1960s and features recipes, photos and opinions galore. There are numerous recipes for game, seafood, soups, sandwiches and wines, as well as helpful Whiskies2hints ranging from “how to keep eggs from sticking in a stainless steel copper bottomed frying pan” (let the pan rest for a few minutes away from the heat) to “Indian method of quitting smoking” (basically, leave a small amount of leaf tobacco in your mouth until the desire to smoke leaves you) to “In case of a hydrogen bomb attack you must know the ways of the wilderness WhiskiesMaskedto survive.”

I thought that last one might be a bit too complex to try out for the blog, but I was drawn to the recipe “how to make Canadian type whiskey.” You would need to do this, explain the Herters, because Canadian whiskeys are superior to American but “are so high priced, however, that no one can afford them in this country

photo by Harris Graber, used with permission

photo by Harris Graber, used with permission

any more.” But fear not: you can duplicate the smooth, drinkable Canadian Club by simply adding some port wine to your cheapest American whiskey, shaking it up and letting it sit for three hours, and voila:

You then will have as smooth a drinking and tasting whiskey as any made in the world, regardless of price. In fact, it will taste so much like the famed Canadian-made Canadian Club Whiskey that is so smooth and free of irritants that it can be drank [sic] without any diluting at all. Your American whiskey with the port wine added, you will find, can also be drunk with no diluting at all and will have no bad alcohol taste or fumes.

photo by Harris Graber, used with permission

photo by Harris Graber, used with permission

So of course I had to try it. I bought my supplies: a bottle of Canadian Club ($24 for a liter), a bottle of the cheapest American non-bourbon whiskey I could find on the shelf (Bellows, not a brand I am familiar with, $9 for a liter), a bottle of port ($12), and some little plastic shot glasses ($3 for a few dozen). Once I got home, I rechecked the recipe and found that the magic formula is to add 1 1/2 ounces of port to a fifth of whiskey. I double-checked that a fifth is 750 ml and poured off 250 ml to set aside; this was handy because it meant I could have another point of comparison. Then I poured in the ounce and a half of port (3 tablespoons), closed and shook up the bottle, and masked the three whiskey samples with white paper so that I could subject our party guests to a blind comparison test.

photo by Harris Graber, used with permission

When the guests were ready, I explained the rules: Each participant would taste whiskey from bottle A, bottle B, and bottle C (or, strictly speaking, mason jar C). They would then tell me which one was smoothest, which had the best flavor, and which they liked best overall. We began with A, which the other guests tasted before I had the chance to sample mine; they all found it harsh and hard to swallow, as did I. Whiskey B went down much easier; we debated a few minutes about whether that was because A had already killed what taste buds were susceptible, but decided that B was in fact objectively a smoother drink. C was not quite as smooth as B and had a distinct after-kick that gave the drinkers pause, but was still not as great a shock to the system as A. People liked B the best.

Now it was time to fill the subjects in on the experiment. I read aloud the passage from the book, and then surprised everyone by announcing that whiskey A was the Canadian Club. They quickly deduced that whiskey B was the doctored Bellows and whiskey C the set-aside, unadulterated American brew.

photo by Harris Graber, used with permission

photo by Harris Graber, used with permission

I was as surprised as anyone. I really expected the Canadian Club to be the best, and the doctored whiskey to be harsh and weird-tasting. Granted, I am not a connoisseur, nor did any of the guests claim to have particularly educated palates. It’s possible that someone who really knew his stuff would have responded differently and been able to pick out the impostor. It’s also possible that the way the whiskeys were stored made a difference; there was more air inside the bottles of doctored and undoctored Bellows than in the full bottle of Canadian Club, and maybe the liquids reacted with the greater amount of oxygen during the three hours they sat “maturing.” (Though if that was a factor, the port still made a difference, because the air-to-liquid ratio in the mason jar of undoctored Bellows was much greater than in the doctored bottle.) It’s also possible that if we’d randomized the tasting so that someone started off with B or C instead of A, we’d see different responses. And of course we had only four drinkers, hardly a scientific sample.

Verdict: Success, and surprise. Still, now we have a very drinkable hybrid, and a whole lot of whiskey left in general. I think I’d better see if any of the cookbooks left for the project have recipes for cocktails.

A Man, a Can, a Plan: A Laugh

chunky kernel spread

MixingDip4I picked up A Man, a Can, a Plan from the discount tables at the Strand Bookstore a couple of years ago. It has so much to make fun of: thick cardboard pages of the kind usually found in babies’ picture books; “recipes” that involve mixing together the contents of cans and passing the results off as cuisine; and a deeply silly self-justifying introduction that would be DipIngreds2offensively sexist if it could possibly have been meant as anything other than a joke:

“Men don’t cook.” People tell me this all the time. That’s a load of bull. … we have better things to do. Why slave over a hot stove when we could be cooking up plans for a golf outing ? Or warming up at the gym? Or making things CreamCheeseNRanchsizzle in the bedroom? … When your girl insists that you cook something for a change, you’ve got it in the can.

The book is published by Men’s Health, which clearly has very little faith in its readers’ ability to find their way around a kitchen without pictorial guidance. Or in their palates, for that matter; we DicingRedPepper2find canned ham and pop-tube crescent rolls, tuna and jarred spaghetti sauce, Spaghetti-Os and — well, anything, really — and a truly disheartening array of canned soups. It looks like sponsorship must be involved too, because some brand-name products are featured in vivid color photos, while no-name ingredients get a textual “also” but no pictures.

MixingDipIt didn’t take long to flip through the 50 recipes, but to actually settle on something I would make and ask other humans to eat took a while. I ruled out Spaghetti-Os, canned meat, and anything that would need to cook for more than 30 minutes on a 90-degree day. I also ruled out pineapple, canned fish, and beer as an ingredient. (I guessed that anything I was willing to drink would have too MixingDip3strong a flavor for the dish.) I was left with a few options, and settled on chunky kernel spread, which I keep wanting to call chunky kernel dip, because really it is a dip.

This is one of the easier recipes of an elementary lot. I allowed two packets of reduced-fat cream cheese to soften (the recipe called for fat-free, but you can’t really DipWithFritos2find fat-free anything in our local stores), then mixed in a packet of Hidden Valley Ranch dressing mix. The recipe directed me to then add an 11-ounce can of corn (drained), a 5-ounce can of sliced black olives (drained), a 4-ounce jar of chopped mild green chiles (also drained), and a small red bell pepper (diced). I could only find 12-ounce cans of corn, and chose not to worry about the PartySpreaddifference. I could also only find cans of whole black olives, so bought a can and sliced up enough to equal the canned amount. And I found only cans of chiles, not jars. I thought I had pulled a can of chopped chiles but discovered when I opened it that I had once again fallen prey to grocery shelf dyslexia and purchased whole chiles, so I chopped those up as well. I stirred everything together, covered the bowl with plastic wrap, and stuck it in the fridge for a little over an hour.

Closer to party time, I pulled out the dip and put it into a bowl, which I set in a serving dish and surrounded with Fritos (as per the recipe). I found the dip underwhelming when I sampled some off the spoon, but it turns out that Fritos were required for a reason: the high level of salt and the strong corn flavor tie together the flavors in the dip, and make it a pretty satisfying snack.

Verdict: Success. I can’t see myself making this again any time soon; it seems like it would go best with a sports-watching party, and I don’t really watch sports. Puppy Bowl, maybe? If I do make it again I’ll use hotter chiles and kalamata olives, and buy more Fritos.

The Twinkies Cookbook: Twinkiehenge

Twinkiehenge

TwinkieHengeTwinkies are the epitome of processed food: spongy, resilient, wrapped in plastic, with only slightly more flavor than the wrapping, they are globally recognizable and endlessly the same. They couldn’t not be Recipes of the Damned. So when I saw The Twinkies Cookbook in the discount section at Barnes & Noble a couple of years ago, I had to buy it. What could one possibly cook with Twinkies?

PuddingIngreds2So many things, though “cook” is not always the operative word. An astounding 49 recipes, ranging from Twinkie Kebabs to Twinkie Ice Cream to Twinkie Tunnel Bundt Cake (yes, cake with a tunnel of Twinkies) to Pigs in a Twinkie. (In the upsettingly named chapter “Twinkies and Meat,” which only contains three recipes, thank heavens.) You can blend Twinkies into a milkshake. You can deep-fry them and serve them with chocolate sauce. (We tried that at Chipshop in Park Slope, Brooklyn; meh, unable to hold a candle to the deep-fried Cadbury Creme Egg.)

Oreos2But of course for the party I had to try Twinkiehenge.

It’s very simple. You start by mixing up some instant chocolate pudding, according to the package instructions. The recipe called for a 5.9-ounce package, but all I could find was two 3.9-ounce packages. This didn’t bother me; have you ever noticed that you never hear the phrase “too much pudding”? I mixed up the pudding and put it into a serving bowl, and topped it with crushed Oreos, about 16 cookies’ worth.

CrushingOreosNow it was time to add the Twinkies. The recipe says to cut Twinkies in half crosswise and stand them up on end, with the rounded edges up and the cut ends pushed into the pudding. But this seemed to me to be only halfway there. Stonehenge isn’t just standing vertical stones; it’s the crossbars that make it truly distinctive. Without them I’d have Twinkie Rapa Nui. So I halved a few Twinkies lengthwise as well and laid them atop the posts, and voila: Twinkiehenge.

CrushedOreosSome of you may have found the combination of chocolate pudding and crushed Oreos familiar. When I was in my teens, back in the last century, our Y-Teens gatherings often featured a dessert known by a number of names: Better than Sex, Better than Robert Redford, God in a Pan. (Yes, we were in our mid-teens and Robert Redford was in his late 40s at that point. What can I say? The man can still bring it.) BTS was made of chocolate pudding, crushed Oreos (often still a bit chunky), and whipped cream or Cool Whip. We did not bother with Twinkies, or henges.

PuddingAndOreosOf course on Saturday it took us a while to get around to eating Twinkiehenge. It’s one of those dishes that looks too pretty, or at least too goofy, to eat. But we cast aside our fears of little Twinkie Druids casting little Twinkie curses on us, and dug in. Unsurprisingly, the combination of pudding and Oreos was tasty. The Twinkies didn’t really add anything to that. They didn’t detract; they were just kind of there.

TwinkieHenge3Verdict: Success, albeit silly. I don’t think I’ll be bothering with the Twinkie part again, but we’re working on transforming too much pudding into no more pudding.

The New Joys of Jell-O: Joy Is Not the Word I Would Use

ring around the fruit mold

RingAroundJellO2I have never been a fan of Jell-O. I find the texture off-putting, the taste chemical-y and harsh, and the very principle simply wrong. This is probably one reason that I own three Jell-O cookbooks; in fact, it was a Jell-O cookbook that started me down the path to Recipes of the Damned, and eventually to this blog.

JelloFruitCocktailThe New Joys of Jell-O is not that cookbook. The New Joys of Jell-O is a slim hardcover published in 1973 and resplendent with early 1970s glory; lurid color photos display outmoded hairstyles, clothing and Jell-O dishes. The publisher is clearly trying to pull Jell-O out of a 1960s cultural tar pit by showing that hip, groovy people who are in touch with today’s modern world will show up on your doorstep carrying fruit encased in translucent goo.

JellOPowderThe last time I made a Jell-O recipe I played it safe, adding melon balls to lime Jell-O and leaving it at that. This time I decided that I really had to go big. Big and bad, as it happened. So I scanned the recipes for something that would encapsulate all the worst aspects of Jell-O cookery — no small selection of choices — and settled on ring around the fruit mold.

JellOInBundtPan2I began by making the Jell-O itself. Following the recipe’s instructions, I drained the liquid from a 30-ounce can of fruit cocktail, and added water to it to make 1 1/2 cups. I set this aside, possibly not as far as I should have. I dissolved a 6-ounce packet of strawberry Jell-O in 2 cups of boiling water, stirred in the fruit cocktail solution, and poured the liquid into a Bundt pan. This represented my first real sign that things weren’t going to go quite as hoped. (Well, first real sign after the realization that I was making Jell-O in the first place.) I don’t own any actual Jell-O molds, and I didn’t have anything at all ring-shaped other than my standard Bundt pan, and it’s about twice the size I needed. I worried a little about whether the Jell-O would unmold cleanly, then decided there wasn’t anything I could do about it at this point, and put the pan in the fridge to chill overnight.

DicingMarshmallowsThe next step was to assemble the fruit component. The recipe called for 1 cup of prepared Dream Whip, 1/3 cup of chopped nuts, 1/2 cup miniature marshmallows, and the fruit from that can of fruit cocktail. You can see already this isn’t going anywhere good. I’ll reassure you on one point, though: Dream Whip is (or perhaps was) the mix-it-yourself equivalent of Cool Whip. (It is not salad dressing; that’s Miracle Whip. Breathe a sigh of relief.) I don’t know if Dream Whip is available for sale today, but it certainly can’t be found in my neighborhood grocery store, so I substituted Cool Whip.

JellOFillingIngredsThe marshmallows were also a problem, because they didn’t have miniatures at FoodTown. I couldn’t be sure from the shelves if they were sold out or if they just weren’t available. I considered trying the other grocery stores in the area, but I decided against that. It’s been insanely hot here, and I didn’t feel like trooping from store to store. I also wasn’t confident that I’d find them anywhere else; after all, who runs out of or doesn’t stock miniature marshmallows? It wouldn’t be the first time that I’d gone store to store only to discover that nobody carries something that I had just assumed everybody would have in stock. And I had a party to prepare for; I didn’t really want to spend the time, especially if it wasn’t going to come to anything.

JellOFillingSo I bought full-size marshmallows and decided to chop them into bits. This was tricky, because marshmallows are gummy and sticky inside and really want to stick to your knife. I dusted my knife blade with powered sugar and dipped the exposed surfaces in powdered sugar as I went along, and while this didn’t completely solve the stickiness problem, it reduced it enough that I could accumulate half a cup of marshmallow bits without completely losing it.

JellOJelledMy sourcing problems addressed, I mixed together the Cool Whip, fruit cocktail bits, marshmallows and chopped walnuts. The mixture was pale and lumpy and distinctly unencouraging. I set it aside and prepared to unmold my Jell-O. I turned it onto a plate and it came out in once piece–a misshapen piece that was liquidy at the edges. I think I may have held the mold in warm water a little too long; I was afraid I’d mixed in too much liquid (package directions say no) or used boiling water when I should not have (package directions say boiling water, no problem there) or failed to let it chill long enough. But it didn’t continue to bleed liquid, so I think I just warmed the pan too much. Certainly once I’d turned it out into a cockeyed triangle, it didn’t remain malleable enough for me to shape it back into a ring.

JellOUnmolded2I began to spoon the fruit cocktail mixture into the center. There was a lot of it. Frankly, I think there was too much of it. For the amount of fruit cocktail mixture I had I think I needed twice the Jell-O. (It had occurred to me the night before, when I saw that the Bundt pan was only half full, that I might go get more Jell-O and make a double quantity. But then it occurred to me that I would have that much more Jell-O left over, because I had no illusions that the party guests were going to flock to the Jell-O mold and clamor to take some home with them. So I didn’t.) I spooned in as much as I felt I could reasonably keep on the plate without in fact hiding the Jell-O, and carried the dish out to the party buffet.

RingAroundJellO3Quite a bit later, after we’d enjoyed salad and dips and pickles and cake and whiskey (more on that in another post), Scott decided it was time to find out how the Jell-O was. He served himself a plate with even shares of Jell-O and fruit cocktail mixture, took a bite, and furrowed his brows. “You have to eat some of this,” he said, in a tone that implied “It’s your fault we even have this here.” He served some out for me before I could protest, though I agreed that it was my fault and it was only fair that I tried it for myself.

JellODishedThe Jell-O was the best part of it. This is not a compliment. The combination of Cool Whip and fruit cocktail and marshmallows was unpleasant, even more than I had expected. (The nuts did nothing to improve or degrade it, really.) The flavors and textures were completely discordant. There was the slipperiness and chemical tang of Jell-O, the sticky softness of marshmallow, and the mushy so-very-not-fresh-fruit sensation of the fruit cocktail pieces. I finished the serving because I kept thinking one of these spoonfuls was bound to improve, but they never did.

The apartment was really warm, but the Jell-O held up surprisingly well, and didn’t start to melt off the plate for some hours. Once it did, I took it out to the kitchen and disposed of it.

Verdict: Disgusting. Kids, don’t try this at home.