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Booklets and flyers

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.

Cookies: When Things Don’t Turn Out as Expected

pistachio sugar cookies

PlateOfBlobs4It’s been an awfully long time since I made a post to this blog. I last wrote on October 4, and that was the end of a series of sparse entries. Things got a little crazy this fall; blogging fell by the wayside. It’s now just over a month to the end of the year and I have 18 more books to cover. Right. I decided to ease myself back into the effort with my remaining cookie book, Cookies, CookieIngredientswhich I got from Sears when my sister was working there years ago and the booklets were part of a special holiday promotion. I thought it would be easy to add pistachio sugar cookies to my holiday baking for this year.

The cookies are simple: a basic sugar cookie made of butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla, flour, baking powder and salt. I mixed the flour CookieDoughwith the powder and salt and set it aside; I creamed the butter with the sugar, then beat in eggs and vanilla, and then gradually added the flour mixture. The mixing got a bit messy; this was the last of the doughs for my  holiday baking, and my three-speed mixer suddenly decided to operate at only the top speed. This is not ideal. But I managed to form a dough without CookieDough2spraying too much sugar and butter around the kitchen, and wrapped the dough in wax paper to chill overnight. I then chopped some pistachios, and set them aside for the cookie shaping.

The next day, I rolled out the chilled sugar cookie dough and cut it into shapes as directed. I’d gone through my cookie cutter collection and decided that I PistachiosChopped3wanted to have a fair number of pigs in the mix; I’d dub them “pig-stachio” and take pride in the cute, silly presentation. When I’d arranged cut-out shapes on parchment on the baking sheets, I sprinkled the cookies with the pistachios, and put them into the oven to bake: 5 minutes at 375, “or until edges start to brown.” I checked the first set at 5 minutes expecting them to be underdone. CuttingOutPigsWhat I didn’t expect was for them to be spread out, having lost the distinct shapes I’d cut. No pig-stachios here; blob-stachios, more like. And yes, they were slightly underdone, but adding a minute or two to the baking time was not going to change misshapen blobs back into diamonds and pigs and bells. Ugly, I thought. Disaster.

CuttingOutBellsSeething with frustration, I removed the baking sheets from the oven and let them cool briefly before moving the cookies to cooling racks. I dropped a few of the cookies, to my exasperation. What had I done wrong? Too much baking powder, or too little, or too old? My other cookies with baking powder had turned out fine. Too much butter, not enough flour? Were the eggs too big? It CookiesToBakedidn’t seem to matter how long the dough had been out of the fridge when I cut it; pigs and holly leaves cut from chilly dough were no less distorted and unrecognizable than those cut from warmer, re-rolled dough. I’d just wanted these to be simple and cute; why hadn’t I succeeded?

As I juggled cookies and sheets in CookiesToBake4the kitchen, I could hear my husband coughing in the next room. This shifted my attitude a bit. You see, back in early October — about a week after my last blog post — my husband came down with a fever and what seemed to be flu. By that weekend he was tired, hot, and miserable, and we made an early-morning trip to the ER (on a day that I should have gone to a CookiesToBake5knitting festival, because illness is funny like that). He was diagnosed with “flu-like syndrome,” which a friend later told me might just mean they hadn’t done a definitive test to confirm that it was the influenza virus, but it probably was. The blood test and X-ray showed no signs of pneumonia, and several hours later — after he’d been given two bags of IV fluids, some BakedBlobs2breakfast, and directions for alternating prescription-strength ibuprofen with Tylenol to bring down the fever — we came out into the bright sunny midmorning feeling grateful that he was on the mend. And he was getting better, for nearly a week, until suddenly he became weak and achy again and developed a violent, uncontrollable cough. Another ER visit brought a new BakedBlobsdiagnosis of pneumonia, and admission to the hospital for what turned out to be a four-night stay. This was pretty alarming, in an age when people with broken bones and birth complications barely get to spend one night before getting the boot. But Scott was very sick, and the hospital was where he could get IV fluids, IV antibiotics, and frequent monitoring of his condition.

BakedBlobsCoolingOur second ER visit was in the evening, and by the time Scott was diagnosed and admitted, and I was able to go back to see him before heading home, it was nearly 11 pm. I stopped at a corner diner to wolf down a burger, not having eaten since breakfast, then went home and briefed our houseguest on Scott’s condition. Oh, yes, did I mention our houseguest? I did mention BakedBlobsCooling2her in the last blog post. She and her cats had arrived on Sept. 10 after her place was smoke-damaged by a fire that gutted the restaurants adjacent to her building. Now it was Oct. 26, and her building management had finally completed the work that needed to be done before they could send in professional cleaners to eradicate the smoke residue. Who had to work from PlateOfBlobs2bottom to top, and did I mention her apartment was on the top floor? So we had become accustomed to having our friend occupy the couch; we’d worked out a good balance for sharing the bathroom, and had prepared some terrific dinners together. Our cats had gotten pretty comfortable with one another; my girl was still a bit indignant at interlopers in her territory, but HolidayBakingProgress2otherwise they were one big happy family. And as I headed home, I thought, I need to make sure she’s OK. I need to wash all the blankets tomorrow, clean the bathroom. Good grief, I need to throw away Scott’s water bottle, it’s got to be a cauldron of disease. I need to make sure everyone stays healthy.

While Scott was in the hospital I CookiesBaggedbalanced my time between work and housecleaning and visiting him. His hospitalization actually gave me more flexibility; I wasn’t working from home and punctuating document edits with water-bottle refills and other on-demand requests. I was able to go in to the office, and even to take part in the Halloween cooking contest, for which I’d made pumpkin ice cream over the CookiesBagged2weekend. My original plan was to make a sandwich cookie: ginger cookies filled with pumpkin ice cream and rolled in a combination of chopped pecans and crystallized ginger. But I would have had to do my baking on the night we went to the ER, so that didn’t happen. I thought, I’ll find a ginger cookie with which to make sandwiches. Only I couldn’t find any in the places that were on the way to work. Then I thought, I’ll find something I can serve with the ice cream. And then finally I thought, I made homemade ice cream, for heaven’s sake; if that’s not enough to impress people, cookies aren’t going to help. So I presented the ice cream and helped carve a pumpkin and won a prize (for the ice cream; decidedly and deservedly not for the pumpkin carving), and thought, sometimes things can give and it’s still OK.

One thing that gave was the blog. I didn’t want to take the extra time to choose and experiment with new recipes, especially since the odds of success aren’t great in quite a number of the books that remain. I wanted to make easy, comfortable standbys. I made a lot of chicken soup, which isn’t from any recipe at all: prep your vegetables and chicken, saute onions and garlic, add chicken to brown, gradually add other vegetables until you’re really kind of steaming everything in its own escaping moisture, then pour on chicken stock, cover, and let simmer for about half an hour. Or more, if you like, but half an hour ensures the potatoes are sufficiently cooked. Couldn’t be simpler, and never the same twice. I made roasted chicken breasts from a Martha Stewart recipe, in which you rub bone-in/skin-on chicken breasts with a spice mixture and then roast in a cast-iron skillet, atop onion slices, for about 40 minutes. (Martha says to peel away the skin before serving but I find the skin a decadent indulgence.) I poached fish with our houseguest. We ordered Thai food. I got a lot of take-out empanadas. We even turned to canned soup when it seemed warranted (never as an ingredient, only as a dish in itself). Everything was geared toward comfort and convenience, and we were in sore need of both.

When Scott got home from the hospital that Saturday he was tired, and coughing, and in immeasurably better shape than he had been before. He slept for most of the next day and a half, grateful to be somewhere where they don’t wake you up every 20 minutes to poke you with something. (Well, the cats sort of do that, but he’s used to it.) And then he began to have more energy, and was able to be up and about and take naps during the day instead of sleeping most of the time. And I began to breathe a sigh of relief, because not only was he continuing to get better without relapsing, he was getting strong enough to take care of himself for a few days while I was going to be out of town at a professional conference. I had been distractedly grading homework and doing course prep for the workshop I was co-teaching, afraid to even admit to myself that I was worried he might need me to stay home. I missed Sheep & Wool, and that’s fine, I thought, but I can’t miss this. Can I? At some point a bit more than a week before my scheduled flight, I became confident that he really could manage those few days on his own. Our houseguest was now on track to go home herself — the day before I left for the conference, as it turned out — and while we were grateful for her offer to look in on him during my absence, and quite ready to take her up on it if needed, Scott was also excited at the prospect of resting alone, all by himself, without worrying that his coughing was distracting her, or that he was going to be woken up by one of my phone meetings.

We canceled our Thanksgiving party. Usually we host a big vegetarian get-together, but this year about three weeks ahead of the holiday we took Scott in for a follow-up visit to his doctor, who assured us that Scott was well on track for a very slow recovery, and we would have to be patient. And we realized that we couldn’t be confident Scott would have energy for a day of guests, so we alerted our regulars that they would need to make other plans. We were right to do so: by the time the holiday rolled around, he was doing a lot better — able to get to the neighborhood Starbucks for a writing session during the day and not necessarily have to take a nap afterward — but an entire day of cooking and guests, with nowhere to really isolate himself in our little apartment, would have been beyond him. I kind of missed the company, but was also glad of a chance to rest. It was the first Thanksgiving in at least five years that I haven’t had to set an alarm and basically cook all day, or spend the whole preceding weekend scouring the apartment and cooking ahead. I realized that I needed to recover a little myself.

And so we are continuing to get better here at Chez 107, day by day. Every day I cross a few things off my to-do list and move forward. Every day Scott coughs a little less, a little less often, and has a little more energy. Every day I give thanks for his health, and for my own health (I fought off a cold during all that but managed not to carry some lethal variant of pneumonia to the conference — whew). And I think about the lessons I’ve learned and am still learning, about what really matters, about how people will step up to help when you ask, about how you can’t be too proud to ask when you really need the help.

Oh, and the pistachio cookies? Ugly, I had originally said, but delicious. While I was still frustrated about their appearance I mentioned them in a Facebook post and said I was having second thoughts about whether they’d go into the boxes I was packing to ship to friends. One friend said, “Surely there is room in the goodie boxes for some Charlie Brown Christmas Cookies.” And she was right. To me they were ugly because they didn’t turn out as I meant them to. But objectively — well, they still weren’t magazine-pretty, but they were kind of cute in their way, and they were good enough. There was room.

Verdict: Not up to expectations, but good enough. And I am grateful that they taste good. I’m still not sure why they spread as they did, but I think I might try the recipe again, only instead of rolling out and cutting shapes I’ll try forming the dough into balls, rolling them in chopped pistachios, and setting them to bake that way. It’s worth a try.

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.

Totally Garlic Cookbook: Savory Taste of the Stinking Rose

garlic goat cheese spread

GoatCheeseAtPicnicWhen I signed up to bring appetizers to the office picnic, I promised one vegetable-based dish and one “more indulgent” dish. The eggplant dip met the “vegetable-based” goal. For “more indulgent,” I decided that meant it had to have cheese. I also knew it had to be something that could be served at room temperature. I turned to the shelf where I’ve gathered all the GarlicCookbookremaining cookbooks for the project and found the Totally Garlic Cookbook, which is a slim little paperback shaped like a clove of garlic. (Get it? Because it’s garlic! Hi-larious, right?)

I have no idea where we got this, whether it was a gift or a discount bin purchase or a throw-in-with-an-online-order acquisition, but here it is. It’s loaded with GarlicHeadappealing appetizers, entrees, even desserts. I quickly found garlic goat cheese spread and was ready to go.

I began with the garlic: one head, top trimmed off, drizzled with a little bit of olive oil from a jar of sun-dried tomatoes. I wrapped the head in foil and put it into a 350-degree oven for an hour, then pulled it out, unwrapped the GarlicRoasted3foil, and let it sit until it was cool enough to handle.

While the garlic baked, I minced four of those sun-dried tomatoes and chopped about three tablespoons of fresh basil. When the garlic was cool, I squeezed the garlic into the bowl with the tomatoes and basil. The garlic was soft and almost gooey, and was easy to squeeze out of the SunDriedTomatoeslittle papery hulls. It smelled glorious: rich, mellowed, but still pungent and distinctly garlicky. (Note to self: Next time I’m using the oven, wrap up three or four heads to roast and set aside.) (Additional note to self: When using the oven for potatoes or chicken or something, not cookies.)

At this point I stirred in about 11 GarlicBasilTomatoesounces of goat cheese. I used the Chevre brand spread, the last two little containers that were on the shelf at the grocery store, but I think just about any basic goat cheese would serve. Once I’d thoroughly mixed it all together, I laid four whole basil leaves on a sheet of plastic wrap, spread the goat cheese mixture over them, laid on four more basil leaves, and rolled the plastic around to GoatCheeseMixture2shape the cheese into a little log. It went into the fridge, and the idea was that after an overnight chilling it would be stiff enough to slice into rounds. It was not. It was still soft and spreadable in the morning, and I knew that once I got it to Central Park there would be no chance of chilling and slicing. So I removed the plastic and laid the cheese in a container with some kalamata GoatCheeseMixture3olives.

At the picnic I offered it up with slices of baguette, and it was very well received. The picnickers went through a good proportion of it, though what was left at the end of the day was decidedly the worse for wear.

Verdict: Success. I’ll do it again, when it cools down enough to turn on the oven.

A Lion in the Kitchen, Meats Edition: Pork-A-Plenty

pork chop-noodle skillet

ChopPlated2A Lion in the Kitchen is a 1965 Lions club recipe compilation. I don’t know if there were other volumes, but this one focuses on meat, and boy, are there a lot of meat dishes included. Wild game, beef roasts, sandwiches, stews, grill preparations, and even a few silly recipes (such as “How to Cook a Husband”), all adding up to a lot of calories and cholesterol. “This is a man-sized PorkAPlenty3dish, the kind males go for,” say the notes to one recipe, one of the innumerable ground-meat casseroles included — though it could be said of nearly anything in the book.

The titles make for entertaining reading. Squirrel supreme, Hoosier beef casserole, tuna mound, green turtle steak saute, “my wife is visiting her mother PorkChopsInPancasserole.”¬† Goofy little cartoons dot the pages, and unappetizing black and white photos mark the chapter introductions. One of the best parts of this book is that a previous owner left little recipe clippings between many of the pages, and also wrote little comments. He or she seems to have been very interested in beef roasts and casseroles.

ChopsBrowningIt took me a while to settle on something to try. I didn’t want to make beef or chicken again, but I also didn’t want organ meats. Scott avoids shrimp to keep from exacerbating his gout. I didn’t want to make anything that called for canned soup or powdered soup mix, which constraint itself ruled out a pretty large proportion of the recipes. I also didn’t want to buy several pounds of roast, or Ingredients2try anything with unfindable or unexplained ingredients, such as “1 8-oz can of Arturo sauce.” But eventually I settled on a pork chop dish that featured Roquefort cheese in a cream sauce — not exactly lean, but at least straightforward to prepare.

I began by seasoning four pork chops with salt and pepper and browning them on both sides in AddedCreamNCheesesome canola oil, about 15 minutes per side; while they cooked, I chopped up collard greens and garlic for a side dish, started water boiling for noodles, and chopped up a wedge of Roquefort cheese. When the pork chops had browned well on both sides, I poured in a cup of heavy cream and added the cheese; I then covered the pan and let the cream and cheese cook with the CreamSauceCookingpork chops. In the meantime I cooked egg noodles and made the collard greens. The cheese and chops cooked together for about 15 minutes. I topped noodles with a pork chop and cheese sauce, with the collard greens on the side.

The pork chops tasted great. I thought they were just a slight bit overcooked; probably I should PigArthave cut a couple of minutes from each phase of cooking, since today’s pork cuts have less fat than those available in the 1960s. But they were tasty, and the sauce brought together the noodles and the pork very well.

Verdict: Success. I doubt I’ll be using this cookbook again very soon, but tonight’s dinner was great.

Pepper Springs Cookbook: Unstable Enchiladas

sour cream chicken enchiladas

EnchiladaPlate4Pepper Springs Cookbook barely makes it into the list of my holdings that qualify as cookbooks. It’s a little wirebound booklet with a rigid back that stands up to display the recipe of choice, and all the recipes rely on sauce or flavor mixes sold by the company. We got it in a holiday gift box from Dale and Peggy (Scott’s brother and his wife), and when I started looking for a ShreddingChickenrecipe to use from this book I had to double-check that we still had any of the mixes left that were included in the package.

I began with a rotisserie chicken (Southwest flavor, why not?), which I shredded apart — a time-consuming and greasy task to be sure, but less overall effort than roasting your own. Once that was done and I’d grated some ChickenNCheesecheese, I followed the directions for preparing the corn tortillas for filling: “heat the tortillas which have been wrapped in a paper towel for about 25 seconds in a microwave.” These turned out not to be the ideal instructions for my particular tortillas. It’s possible the ones I was working with were too stiff, or started from too cold a temperature, but the 25 seconds in the microwave did not BrokebackEnchiladassufficiently soften them to roll and stay rolled. The first one broke as I was putting it into the pan; the next one unfurled, distributing chicken and cheese around the pan. I reheated the remaining tortillas periodically but it was no use; I had to hold rolled enchiladas against the side of the pan with one hand and work single-handed to fill the others until I’d arrayed enough to stay SauceIngreds2reasonably close to their rolled form when I let go. And as they cooled, all of them ruptured. By the time I was done, the pan looked like it held some perverse variant on soft tacos. Maybe I needed a tortilla that was more initially pliable; I’d say mine were typical of supermarket corn tortillas, but perhaps I should lay hands on the ones featured on the cover of the newest issue of EnchiladaSauceEdible Queens. Or maybe I should have soaked the tortillas briefly in chicken broth or milk. Too late now; my enchiladas had become enchilada casserole.

Anyway, what one is supposed to do is fill each tortilla with shredded chicken and grated cheddar, roll it up, and lay it in a baking pan. I sighed and moved on to the sauce, which was a TheBookletfairly simple white sauce base. I made a roux with a melted stick of butter and half a cup of flour, then whisked in half a cup of milk and two cups of chicken broth (the booklet says a can, but everything I could find was in aseptic quart packages). I noticed here that the recipe had listed 1-1/2 cups of milk in the ingredients but directed me to stir in half a cup, and nowhere did it say what RecipeCloseupto do with the remaining cup. So I eyeballed the baking pan and the liquid currently cooking up for sauce, and added the rest of the milk to the pot. I stirred constantly until the mixture began to thicken (not all that long; there was a pretty high ratio of roux to liquid here), then removed the pan from the heat and stirred in a packet of Pepper Springs Southwest Chili & Onion EnchiladasSaucedToBakeDip mix and a cup of sour cream. The sauce smelled great.

And this is where the recipe ends. The first half of the page concludes with “prepare the sauce as follows and pour it over the enchiladas.” The page itself ends with instructions to stir the dip mix and sour cream into the sauce. Nowhere does it say whether to bake the enchiladas, BakedEnchiladasor at what temperature. Now, it is possible that the intention was for the enchiladas to be complete at this stage, and for the cook to pour on the sauce, then dish up supper immediately. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen an enchilada recipe that did not call for baking, but it doesn’t seem impossible. However, when I considered the previous issue of the wayward cup of milk, I decided that it was EnchiladaPlate5more likely the baking instructions had simply been omitted. Regardless, my shattered corn tortillas were not yet ready to eat. So I preheated the oven to 375, poured the sauce over the fragmented enchiladas, and baked the casserole for 20 minutes, which seemed to bring the tortillas to a satisfactory consistency.

This is something that bothers me about little throwaway cookbooks like this. They’re intended for the inexperienced cook, the one relying on mixes and processed ingredients, but all too often they are shoddily edited. Of course as an editor I’m always annoyed to see a published work that hasn’t been edited properly, but it’s particularly galling in a cookbook for inexperienced cooks because they are less likely to have the fundamental skills to solve the problems that the editing mistakes cause.

Well, rant mode off. The baked enchiladas tasted good; while not pretty, they had a nice spicy flavor that helped keep the sour cream sauce from being too heavy.

Verdict: Not quite as expected, but satisfactory. But a good illustration of why I don’t like to rely on processed mixes too much.

Food & Wine Fast: Quick and Elegant Dishes

Swiss chard with chickpeas and feta

ChardPlatedWithBread2Food & Wine Fast is another of those special stand-alone editions of a magazine. This one offers elegant dishes of the quality often found in Food & Wine, all of which can be prepared in 30 minutes or less. I do like Food & Wine; the recipes all feature real, high-quality ingredients, and the photo spreads are glorious.

I designated this recipe for SwissChardLeavestonight simply because I hadn’t been able to pick up Swiss chard any earlier in the week, but it turned out to be a good choice because I spent a big chunk of time in the kitchen baking cookies for tomorrow’s knitting night, and I didn’t want to spend more time on dinner than I had to.

I began by rinsing and stemming some Swiss chard and putting the ChardInPotstill-dripping leaves into a pot (in fact, the new Calphalon pot I got with a gift certificate recently). I covered the pot and cooked the leaves until they were wilted, which took less than five minutes; then I drained the chard and rinsed it in cold water, and pressed out as much liquid as I could. I chopped the leaves coarsely and put them into a bowl. To this I added sliced ChardAndChickpeaPanscallions, chopped fresh dill, minced garlic, chickpeas, salt and pepper, and some olive oil. I mixed the ingredients well and put them into a square baking dish that I’d coated with a bit more olive oil. Atop all this I crumbled some feta cheese and pressed it down a bit, then put the dish into a 400-degree oven for about 20 minutes, which gave ChardWithFetame some time to clean up the kitchen.

The cheese had browned a bit at the edges when I pulled out the pan, and the mixture was hot through. I dished it up and accompanied it with some bread left over from Sunday. The dish was terrific; the dill gave it an unusual savory flavor, and the slight tang of the chard balanced nicely with the richness of the feta.

Verdict: Success. The dish was fast, as promised, and tasted great.