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Booklets and flyers

Special Diet Recipes: I Made Dessert With Baby Food

peach parfait

PeachParfaitBowl3Special Diet Recipes is a 1949 pamphlet of recipes that use baby food — perhaps a predictable approach for the Gerber Products Company. The recipes are recommended for various special diets. Peach parfait fits into a few regimens, including bland diet, soft diet, dental or mechanically soft diet, and liquid diet. So if I ever find myself needing to nurse someone through an antiquated EggWhitedisease I’ll have options for feeding them. (You laugh, but a friend did once get scarlet fever, and Scott suffers from gout. It could happen!)

I picked up this book for Recipes of the Damned because of the meat milk-shake (which is more or less what it sounds like: milk, Gerber’s strained meat, and refrigeration), but I’ve long had MakingSyrup2my doubts about all of the recipes. Baby food? Really? I mean, it’s not like it’s a booklet of recipes using dog food; theoretically baby food should be good stuff since you don’t want to feed crap to your baby. But it seems unpromising, and I’d probably never have used the booklet if it weren’t for this cookbook project.

EggWhiteCloseupAnd that would have been a shame, because I believe I have found a way to make homemade frozen desserts without buying an ice-cream maker. The recipe for peach parfait looks more difficult than it is. I started by making a sugar syrup, dissolving three tablespoons of sugar in a quarter-cup of water and heating it to the thread stage (230 degrees F for those of us who prefer using FoldingInEggWhitea thermometer to playing about with bowls of cold water). I then pulled the syrup pan off the heat, quickly beat an egg white to stiff peaks, and then continued to beat while drizzling in the syrup. Once it was fully blended, I covered the bowl with plastic and chilled it for about an hour.

When I decided the egg white-syrup mixture had chilled FoldingInPeachPureelong enough, I assembled everything and measured out a cup of heavy cream. I whipped the cream until it made sharp peaks, then folded in the egg white-syrup mixture, and then folded in a jar of Gerber’s strained peaches and a couple of drops of almond extract. I had misgivings when I poured the peach puree into the bowl, because it looked so unappetizing (and seriously, PeachParfaitthe baby food section at the grocery store was awfully monochromatic), but I forgot to taste the puree at that point to see what it was really like. It did smell peachy, though not as nice as actual fresh peaches.

I carefully turned the fluffy, creamy mixture into a plastic container and put it in the freezer. And this is the real magic of this PeachParfaitToFreezerecipe: You just have to freeze it, with no churning or turning. Several hours later when we were ready for dessert, the frozen mixture had a thick, creamy consistency.

And the real surprise was that it tasted good.

So I think I’m going to have to try this again, though not with baby PeachParfaitBowls2food. It seems like it should be simple enough to puree fresh peaches or other fruit, or to make a chocolate-and-nut mixture and fold it in. The flavor element is the last thing to be folded in, so as long as the proportion and consistency are right, I should be able to substitute my own ingredients.

Verdict: Success, and surprise. I’ll keep you posted on future experiments.

Recipes for a New Majority: Pies, Potluck and Politics

Kentucky pie

KentuckyPieSlicedIt’s been 14 years since Recipes for a New Majority: Cooking From All Your Favorite Democrats was published, so I can’t remember for certain, but I think I helped proofread it. Recipes for a New Majority is a compilation assembled by the Democratic Party of Oregon, and Scott and I were friends with one of the co-editors. In fact, Scott’s illustrations are featured CookbookGraphic1prominently in the book.

I believe Recipes for a New Majority was done as a fundraiser, but I don’t remember whether it was sold or given away as part of a bigger project. It does feature a lot of recipes from leading Democratic figures, from all over the country; some are still prominent, such as Ron Wyden, then Congressman, now Senator (Democratic Chicken Chili), and Hillary Clinton, then First Lady, subsequently Senator, now PieCrustSecretary of State (Chocolate Chip Cookies). A few contributors have several entries, most notably then-Sen. Paul Simon. He must have had more free time than you’d expect. The recipes are varied; New England corn chowder, barbecued baby beef ribs, Cajun deep fried turkey, vegetarian lasagna. I briefly toyed with the idea of making “Mike’s Nutritious Snack,” a contribution from former Congressman Mike CookbookGraphic4Kopetski, which makes up in simplicity what it lacks in elegance.

Put Rice Krispies in a bowl, like you would if you were going to have a bowl of cereal. Arrange half spoonfuls of peanut butter (gourmets call it “dollops”) FillingIngredsover cereal. 8-10 dollops should do. Pour a cereal size portion of milk over all. Eat and enjoy.

Instead, I chose to make Kentucky pie, a contribution from Sen. Wendell H. Ford. I had no particular attachment to Sen. Ford, but I thought that the recipe sounded like it would produce something similar to FilledPieCrustDerby Pie, which is a Kentucky specialty; I’ve enjoyed it on both of my trips to Louisville. Of course Derby Pie is trademarked and carefully guarded, but it’s not surprising that there are lots of variations out there, and I thought the combination of pecans and chocolate in a dense filling would be well-received by my co-workers at today’s potluck and cooking contest.

BakedPieThe pie itself is easy to prepare. I started by making a pie crust — two, actually, so I could have one for the potluck and one for Thanskgiving — using a recipe from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything (but I’ve used that recipe before, so it doesn’t enable me to knock off that book too). For the filling I chopped pecans, melted butter, beat eggs, blended flour and sugar, and then mixed it TheSpreadall together with chocolate chunks and vanilla extract. I turned the mixture into the pie shells and baked them at 325 for a bit over an hour. Once the pies had cooled I put them in the freezer. One is to keep until Thursday; I wanted the other to be good and cold this morning, because I was also bringing an ice-cream pumpkin pie to the office and wanted to make sure it was well insulated against melting. And it worked: Tupperware salad bowl, Kentucky pie underneath, bag of ice cubes on top, and by the end of a half-hour commute the ice-cream and pumpkin concoction had barely begun to soften. I set the Kentucky pie to thaw so it would be easy to serve when the potluck began at 4.

MostlyDessertsThe potluck was a tremendous display of talent and skill. The spread included dips, muffins, mac and cheese, and loads of dessert. The offerings ranged from simple — peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cut into triangles — to elaborate — flourless chocolate cake umolded and dusted with sugar just before showtime. And the drinks! We all learned about the cocktail called PouringDrinkthe bee’s knees, which blends gin and honey syrup and bitters and lemon and did I mention gin? There was definitely gin in there. The elaborate mixology was in fact the bee’s knees. A bit of gin later, I agreed to be one of the judges for the appetizers and sides category, and happily sampled more food. This tasting duty also had the advantage of helping offset the gin, which was MacNCheeseimportant since I still had work to do before leaving for the day.

After we’d all made some dents in the non-sweets categories, I got things started by cutting a wedge of the pumpkin ice-cream pie, then one of the Kentucky pie. This encouraged others, and soon people were digging in. The TiropitaKentucky pie went over well; people liked the chocolate and the nuts, the dense filing, and the contrast of the sweet interior with the plain pie crust. I think they also appreciated the fact that it wasn’t as drippy as the gradually melting ice cream pie, though they seemed to be enjoying that one too.

The potluck rolled on, the PBJco-workers wandered in and out of the room nibbling more food, and at some point we remembered that we never got around to finishing the judging. Category judges were instructed to confer and get the results in tomorrow. So stay tuned; I’ll let you know if the Kentucky pie came away with the ribbon.

Verdict: Success, even without the votes in. Really, I think we’re all winners today.

(FYI, there are lots more pictures from the cooking and the potluck on my Flickr page. And you can find pictures from all the blog recipes tried so far in the 107 Cookbooks set on Flickr.)

Come & Eat! Or, Food Inc., the Home Game

Biscuit-Topped Fiesta Supper

The last two books from which I cooked for this blog offered the cook ways to sneak ingredients that are good for you into dishes that resemble comfort food or processed food. This booklet is the opposite: It gives you recipes that sneak mediocre processed foods into dishes that look like they might be good for you.

Come & Eat is a booklet that Pillsbury publishes for distribution in supermarkets, or at least used to, with the appearance of a food magazine or mini-cookbook with quick recipes for “busy families” (which is marketing-speak for moms). Though actually, it’s a multi-page advertisement for processed food products from Pillsbury. An ad that you pay for. Only a couple of dollars, but still.

I got this, what, nearly 10 years ago? Yet most of the products being touted are still familiar. Green Giant canned vegetables. Pillsbury refrigerated biscuits and rolls (the kind you pop out of a pressurized tube). Progresso soup. That sort of thing. The basic conceit is that you can use these processed foods to speed up your meal prep and make food that’s just as good as if you made it from scratch. This happens not to be true, but it’s an illusion that the big companies spend a lot of money to promote.

This kind of thing is a linchpin of the Recipes of the Damned. I have repeatedly railed about recipes that have you use tube biscuits instead of making your own (not difficult and immeasurably better), browning ground beef in salad dressing or using things like Velveeta. (Shudder.) But I have always assumed that the food would taste good — not great, but tasty in that comforting, guilty-pleasure sort of way.

The booklet I have was published for the 1999 holiday season, so since it’s September I decided to rule out the more obviously Christmas-themed cookies and snacks. Well, I was sorely tempted by the Red-Nosed Reindeer Cake. But I decided to pick something that would make for a quick weeknight supper, and settled on Biscuit-Topped Fiesta Supper because it called for the most brand-named ingredients.

The recipe itself is fairly easy. I browned ground beef (once again I used bison) and onions in a skillet, and drained off the excess fat; then I added bottled salsa, Green Giant Mexicorn (canned corn with peppers), tomato sauce, sugar, garlic powder, chili powder and pepper. Yes, I said sugar. I didn’t approve, but I had vowed to follow the recipe as closely as I could. I decided that substituting Tostitos brand salsa for Old El Paso was acceptable, as merely a lateral move; omitting the sugar on moral grounds, while rational and defensible, would not be in the spirit of the project.

Anyway, I let that simmer for a bit for the liquid to cook off, and in the meantime I preheated the oven and prepared the biscuit topping: I popped open a tube of Hungry Jack biscuits and sliced each of the 10 in half crosswise. And let me tell you, that’s not easy. Oh, it can be done, provided you have a serrated knife, and the ability to let go of the idea that biscuits ought to be round. I also blended together some cornmeal, garlic powder and paprika, and melted some margarine. When enough liquid had cooked out of the meat mixture, I arranged the biscuits in a ring around the edge of the pan, overlapping slightly, then brushed them with the margarine and sprinkled on the cornmeal mixture, then topped the meat mixture in the center with shredded cheddar. I slid the skillet into the oven and let it bake for about 20 minutes. I’ll say this for casseroles: They give you time to clean up in the kitchen. Of course, so do lots of baked and roasted items that don’t call for refrigerator biscuits, but I don’t mean to be spiteful.

When I pulled the skillet out of the oven, the biscuits had puffed up and browned, and the cheese had melted over the meat mixture. It smelled very…processed. I dished up some meat and biscuits for each of us. The meat casserole was OK; the salsa and tomato sauce gave it a bit of a tang, but there wasn’t enough spice to give it a really distinctive flavor, and the sugar underscored the generic taste. The biscuits were OK; the cornmeal mixture gave them a better flavor than they would have had otherwise, but the texture was kind of spongy. (Admittedly, I had just made homemade biscuits on Sunday morning, and the tube kind should never be trotted out within a week of eating those; it just isn’t fair. They can’t compete.)

“This is a lot like Hamburger Helper,” my husband said. He didn’t mean it as a compliment. He wasn’t trying to be mean, either; we both felt that the dish wasn’t exactly bad, it just wasn’t actually good.

Verdict: Not worth the effort. If I were to try to make an improved version of this I would do several things. I’d add more vegetables, for one thing: actual diced peppers, maybe diced zucchini or yellow squash, plus minced garlic instead of garlic powder. I’d bump up the spices. I’d use a homemade salsa and more of it, and replace the 8-ounce can of tomato sauce with a tablespoon of tomato paste to give a rich underlying flavor without overwhelming the other flavors. I’d use homemade biscuits, or perhaps polenta rounds.

Or I’d just make tacos.

1946 Modern Homemaker: Prosperity Through Home Canning

peach jam

Modern Homemaker appears to be a magazine* from Kerr Glass Manufacturing Corp. (now owned by Ball), so it’s not too surprising that it devotes most of its attention to home canning. On an introductory page, editor Zella Hale Weyant notes that while the war and its demands for food rationing and shared sacrifice have ended, the future of the nation’s food supply is far from certain. What Weyant did not know is that in the years to come, petrochemical companies would convert their wartime product lines to chemical fertilizers and pesticides, leading to the industrialization of American agriculture — greatly expanding the country’s food supply and choices, but at a cost to individual health and the environment that we have barely started to come to terms with.

In the meantime, Weyant recommends that homemakers continue to preserve the bounty of their home gardens through home canning. The magazine gives recipes for jams, jellies, preserves, fruits, vegetables, meat, and fish, as well as dishes one can make with the canned goods. There are also instructions for using the hot-water-bath and pressure canning methods for various foods.

I have a pressure cooker, but am missing the pressure gauge, so I have not been in the habit of canning low-acid foods that require pressure. I opted to make peach jam, partly because I thought it would be fairly simple and partly because I love peaches.

My original plan was to go out Saturday morning to the neighborhood Greenmarket to get fresh peaches, make the jam, then go about my day. I got the peaches home and found that I did not have the right size canning lids, so I decided to make jam in the afternoon after I’d bought lids. This turned out to be just as well; the process took longer than I thought, and my husband would have been pretty impatient to start our usual weekend brunch trip by the time I was done.

The jam recipe is brief and charmingly vague:

Cut well ripened peaches into small pieces. Put into large kettle without the addition of water. Cook slowly about 20 minutes or until peaches are slighly softened. Measure peach pulp and for each cup of peaches add 1 cup of sugar. Return to fire and cook until of desired consistency. Pour into sterilized KERR Jars and seal while hot.

I opted to peel the peaches before chopping them, which took a fair bit of time I hadn’t accounted for. Peeling peaches is not particularly difficult: cut an X across the bottom of the peach, then dunk it in boiling water for 30-60 seconds, and the skin will be loosened and should be easy to pull off. A few of my peaches were underripe and hard; I re-dunked those, thinking perhaps I had just not given them enough exposure, and now they were still hard but also too hot to handle easily. I set them aside to cool while I cut up the rest of the already-peeled peaches, then used a knife to pare them before chopping and adding them to the pot.

“Cook slowly” is a nice, general instruction, isn’t it? Obviously not on high heat, but how low is slow? By the time the 20 minutes were up my peaches had broken down quite a bit and given up a significant amount of juice, but I’m not sure if that means my heat was too high or if I did it just right. To measure them I dumped the whole potful into a heatproof bowl, then poured cup after cup back into the pot, counting as I went. The 24 peaches I’d started with produced 10 1/4 cups of fruit and juice, so I added 10 1/4 cups of sugar, and then cast a worried eye at my seven pint jars and two cup-sized jars; would 20 1/2 cups cook down to 15 cups of jam? For that matter, was that too much sugar? It looked like an awful lot at first, and my initial tastes of the mixture once the sugar had dissolved were more suggestive of peach candy than peach jam, but as it cooked the flavor balance shifted again and the peaches were the dominant taste. And of course sugar has a preservative effect here. It’s possible that I could have reduced the amount of sugar, but I don’t know enough about the chemistry involved to be sure how much I could eliminate before the acidity would be insufficient for canning safety. I suppose I could have experimented to find out, but I wasn’t willing to do so at this point.

Another vague direction is “cook until of desired consistency.” It’s a bit tricky to know what the desired consistency of your hot and bubbling jam should be, because the final product will be thicker once it has cooled after canning. I kept cooking and cooking, probably about 25 minutes, stirring and simmering until the mixture felt noticeably thicker than it had before, and I tried the old-fashioned plate test: I dribbled some on a plate and held it at a slight angle, and when the dribbles were thicker and slower to run, I decided that would do for me. And I was delighted to find that my jam fit almost exactly into the jars I had available.

Now it was time to seal the jars. Jam takes hot-water-bath canning, but I thought I’d use my pressure cooker since it’s broad enough to hold all seven pint jars at once and I didn’t want to have to do two batches. This worked out well, except for the fact that even though I did not have the lid latched closed, it still sealed, and I had to vent out the steam to be able to open it when cooking was done. This was quick and easy — raise the valve — and safe enough with the aid of a potholder, but it made a dramatic hissing sound, and the cats were not impressed.

I was impressed by the jam, though. It shone golden and glorious, with lumps of peach giving it a rustic character. We had some with toast this morning and it tasted wonderful. The two cup-sized jars did not fit in the canner so I’m storing them in the fridge; I don’t think we need to worry about using them up before they go bad.

Verdict: Success. It took me a while to get there, but the results were well worth it.

* But it counts as a cookbook for my purposes because I don’t have any of the rest of the run.

500 Delicious Salads: Well, Two, at Any Rate

pear salad with ginger cheese; supper salad bowl

500 Delicious Salads is the second of three of these pamphlets I have that date from about 1940 and offer rather fewer recipes than advertised. Last month we tried out 500 Tasty Sandwich Recipes, and they were not bad. I thought the salad book would offer a lot of options, and it did, if I liked gelatin or tongue or shaping pear halves and cottage cheese into bunnies. (Which are kind of cute, in a creepy way.) But I found two recipes fully worthy to try: pear salad with ginger cheese, and supper salad bowl.

Supper salad bowl is effectively a hearty tossed salad, with bacon and hard-boiled eggs as the protein offering that makes it a complete meal. (More bacon, you say? Well, yes.) I did not have a wooden salad bowl, which is kind of a shame; the recipe directs you to rub a cut garlic clove all over the surface of your bowl, and I suspect it didn’t have the same effect on our plastic Tupperware bowl. But I did it anyway, and proceeded to layer in lettuce (no specifics given; I chose green leaf), chicory, cucumbers, scallions, radishes and celery. I was supposed to add tomatoes as well, but I didn’t have any and by the time I realized that I didn’t feel like running out for some, particularly since my only nearby options would be your standard mealy and flavorless grocery store tomatoes. If I do this again I’ll have to make sure I plan around a Greenmarket shopping trip, because the tomatoes would have been a nice complement to the chicory.

Chicory was a bit of a surprise to me, actually; I’ve never used it before, and if I’ve consumed it at all it can only have been in coffee that was thinned out with chicory. (Does anyone else remember that? It seems not to be a common thing any more to see chicory substituted for coffee, and I for one am glad.) It’s a thin leaf with a prominent center stem, with the leaf serrated along it. I wasn’t sure whether one is supposed to eat the stems as well, but for the sake of keeping my salad bowl from overflowing I discarded the thickest stems. Chicory has a somewhat bitter taste, so it gives some depth to a tossed salad such as this.

I was also supposed to sprinkle the crumbled bacon over the whole salad and ring the edge with the hard-boiled egg slices. But this week my husband has been waylaid by a gout attack, and he’s been trying to limit his protein intake, so I put the bacon and eggs on the side. I was also supposed to offer an herbed vinaigrette, but we seldom use salad dressing and I found this one quite flavorful enough without it.

I did make the orange vinaigrette for the pear salads, though. These were delightful. You serve pear halves on watercress; fill the cored middle with a dollop of ginger cream cheese, which is cream cheese mixed with crystallized ginger and a bit of cream for texture; and drizzle on a bit of orange vinaigrette. The ginger cream cheese was so delicious I could hardly see straight. It would be great in other recipes: as a filling for sandwich cookies (ginger or lemon), as a frosting for pound cake, as a ribbon in ice cream. (Seriously, now I really want to get an ice cream maker so I can play in this manner.) The combination of pear, cheese, ginger and orange was refreshing, almost dessert-like. I will definitely be making that one again.

Verdict: Success. I must say these booklets that I got for Recipes of the Damned really do offer some delicious dishes. I’ve done surprisingly well with them. Of course, I know my luck is sure to change by the time I get to The Twinkies Cookbook next June, if not before then. (There is still Jell-O ahead, after all.)

Health-For-Victory Club Meal Planning Guide: Defeating the Nazis With Deviled Eggs

deviled eggs; bacon-cheese sandwich filling

Health-For-Victory Club Meal Planning Guide is a 1943 pamphlet from the Home Economics Institute of Westinghouse in Mansfield, Ohio. So it brings together wartime scarcity and rationing with the precepts of early-20th-century home economics, which means a lot of things with white sauce.

In all fairness, the majority of the recipes are reasonably wholesome, and cover a wide variety of dishes. The quick bread section includes blueberry nut bread, French toast, corn bread and griddle cakes. Cakes and cookies include gingerbread, oatmeal cookies and lemon molasses cupcakes. There are rarebits, chicken fricassee, cherry dumplings, peach shortcake, and chicken and noodles, as well as the intriguingly named “macaroni hoe.” (It appears to be a robust mac and cheese souffle with an egg base, flavored with green pepper and pimiento.) There’s also a section on dehydrating and brining food to preserve your garden’s output, and tips on making the most of your ration points. And there’s a lot of very sound nutritional advice (such as saving the cooking water from vegetables to use in soups, or relying on beans and nuts for your protein when meat is scarce).

I don’t know if I’m just unusually sensitive to summer heat (this is very possible) or if cultural standards have changed, but the June 1943 book seems to have a lot of heavy, hot and starchy foods for the season. Fruits are stewed; hot cereals are offered; macaroni stars in a lot of non-salad dishes. I didn’t realize this when I was scheduling the various cookbooks, so had to dig a bit to find something suitable for the August heat. But I came up with two recipes that worked well for a cold supper on a warm night: deviled eggs, and bacon-and-cream-cheese sandwich filling.

The sandwich filling was pretty easy. I cooked yet more bacon (at this rate I need to buy stock in Ajax Dishwashing Liquid) and chopped up enough for 1/4 cup; I mixed this with 3 ounces of cream cheese, plus a bit of horseradish, Worcestershire sauce and milk, then chilled it until it was time to spread it on toasted bread. It tasted good. (Is that surprising when the major flavor element is bacon?) The recipe produced enough for three moderate sandwiches or possibly two generous ones, but we went with moderate.

The deviled eggs were a bit more work. I followed the booklet’s instructions for hard-cooking the eggs: put the eggs in a pan and cover with cold water, bring to a boil, and simmer 5-8 minutes, then drain off the hot water and rinse well with cold to stop the cooking. At this point the smart thing to do would have been to immediately peel the eggs under cold running water, but I was cooking them a day ahead and so put them into the fridge in the shells. This meant that despite the fairly generous air pocket at the end of some of them (a sign that the eggs were not perfectly fresh, though they were still quite good), the shells did not come off too easily when I did peel them. I didn’t utterly mutilate them, though.

Once the eggs are peeled, they should be cut in half lengthwise, and the yolks pressed through a sieve into a bowl. I used a finer sieve than I think was intended, so it took a bit of time and didn’t do much good for the sieve, but it did make for a nice fluffy filling and no big chunks of yolk. Mix the sieved yolks with some cream, vinegar, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper, and beat the mixture until fluffy. Or, in my case, until you get impatient to get on with it. Scoop the yolk mixture back into the egg halves. You could use a pastry bag to make it pretty, but I didn’t bother. Garnish with paprika or chives.

The deviled eggs tasted good. I wouldn’t say great, but then I’m not really an aficionado, so it’s an uncommon deviled egg indeed that will have me singing its praises. I was perfectly happy with them. I served up the sandwiches and eggs with a sizable green salad, on principle.

Verdict: Success. The recipes were not complicated, and the instructions were clear and accurate. The results tasted good. The bacon-cream-cheese filling certainly does a good job of stretching the serving of bacon; even a generously spread sandwich uses less than half the bacon you’d put on a single BLT. And the hard-boiled egg instructions were right on target, producing nicely yellow yolks (two were slightly tinged with green — I think those eggs were older — but not enough to affect the color of the filling). I don’t feel especially called to make either again, but I don’t specifically object to doing so.

Franks to the Aid of the Party: Private Hot Dog Party

Kitchen Party: Franks with assorted relishes

Franks to the Aid of the Party is a 1950s pamphlet from Swift Premium, intended for teenagers who are planning parties for their friends. Apparently the pamphlet’s writers wanted readers to believe that there could be no better way to make friends, build your popularity and establish your social status than to serve hot dogs to your peers at every opportunity.

I scheduled this booklet for August because that seemed seasonally appropriate for hot dogs. At the time I wasn’t thinking about the fact that these party recommendations are themselves seasonal, and most of those seasons are not high summer. The Valentine Dance features “Hearts-and-Arrows Sandwiches,” in which you cut hamburger buns into heart shapes and use paper and a toothpick to make the extended hot dog inside look like an arrow; side dishes include a heart-shaped red gelatin mold. The Shamrock Shindig serves up the dogs with hot potato salad. The Beach Bake looks suitable for warm temperatures, and if I lived closer to a beach where I could roast hot dogs and s’mores over an open fire I’d be raring to go. But I don’t.

I wasn’t sure what to do about this one. None of the parties seemed to work for August except for the simplest, “Kitchen Party,” in which hot dogs are served up buffet-style with a selection of toppings, which hardly seemed like enough effort to qualify for the project. I was on the verge of swapping the booklet for something from a different month when it occurred to me that I had a bigger problem: The conceit of the book was a party, and I had serious doubts about managing to throw a party focused around hot dogs. Have I mentioned that a lot of my friends are vegetarians? Even if I decided to offer veggie dogs as well, I didn’t think I could get turnout for a hot dog party; I do have a reputation to maintain as a cook and hostess. I decided I was as unlikely to get people to come to a Halloween “Punkin Parade” with hot dogs heated in barbecue sauce as I was to get them to come in August for buffet-style toppings, and decided to do the Kitchen Party for just the two of us.

This did still bring me to do things I don’t usually do; typically when we fix hot dogs we embellish with ketchup and mustard at most. Kitchen Party suggested a variety of toppings, including bacon, chili sauce, cheese, lettuce and salad dressing. I decided that for two people we could set out a range of only things we would eat on hot dogs if we found them on a buffet elsewhere, which ruled out salad dressing; I also left out tomatoes since I had none left from my last Greenmarket trip and I won’t buy them in conventional supermarkets. I narrowed the focus a bit more for the sake of not putting out a truly obscene amount of food for two, and thus was left with bacon, cheese, ketchup, mustard, and pickles.

So for the second time in only a few weeks I was cooking bacon, something I hadn’t previously done for years. I admit I do eat bacon pretty often when we go for diner breakfast. I like it, but I hate to cook it; it’s messy to do and laborious to clean up after, and the smell can be overpowering. I am not fond of coming home after running errands and finding that the place still reeks of bacon. But I was in luck: This apartment is our first in, well, possibly ever that has its own window, so it was far easier to vent out the smell than in previous years. As for the cleanup, one does what one must. I’d already noticed that with an increase in cooking new dishes for the project I had sped up my use of dishwashing liquid. Such is life.

It was kind of fun to put together the tricked-out hot dogs. Instead of playing parlor games, we ate while watching the end of a Godard film. So we missed our chance at such revelry as this:

Afterwards, cut some kitchen capers. Turn a chair upside down and play quoits. Lay a milk bottle on its side and invite the bravest to sit on the bottle with legs outstretched, cross legs, and eat a cookie without rolling off the bottle. Set a big, wide-mouthed jar on the floor and try dropping clothespins into it from eye level. And now’s the time to trot out all those match tricks!

I am as clueless as ever about what those match tricks might be. After the Godard DVD ended we put on an episode of “Mythbusters” in which they produced a tremendous fireball using non-dairy creamer. That’s probably not what the Swift-Premium crew had in mind.

Verdict: Satisfactory, but silly. I think ultimately I can’t get past the fact that I’m no longer 16, and it’s not 1957.

What Mrs. Dewey Did With the New Jell-O: I Quiver in Fear

cool melon salad

What Mrs. Dewey Did With the New Jell-O is a pamphlet from 1933. It’s quite the marvel. It starts with a hilarious little story about Mrs. Dewey discovering the new Jell-O packages in her grocery delivery, and becoming positively giddy about the possibilities of desserts, salads and loaves. Apparently the big new change was that instead of mixing the powdered Jell-O with boiling water, you could mix it with warm water and thus require less time to chill. The new formula must not have worked out, because the box I bought last week instructed me to dissolve the powder in boiling water, then add cold water.

Of course I ate Jell-O when I was growing up. It was Indiana in the 1970s. I think Jell-O may have been required by state law, along with Libbyland frozen dinners, Hi-C grape drink, and Space Food Sticks. My mother was a really good cook, but you still must work with the products that dominate your culture. So yes, I ate Jell-O, though at least Mom never mixed in vegetables or anything scary like that. I’m not sure she bothered with fruit, or with molding it into fancy shapes. I left the stuff behind pretty quickly once I got to college and began to learn to really cook for myself. And during college I got my hands on a 1960s Jell-O cookbook that started me on the long and winding road to making fun of bad recipes. I think I actually ate Jell-O twice in the years since my adolescence, once after an operation and once in the form of Jell-O shots (which were rather horrible).

So I was really kind of afraid when I had to make my first Jell-O recipe for this project. With three Jell-O cookbooks in the mix I felt I could ease myself into the horror of Jell-O; no suspended cauliflower or lunchmeat for my first effort. I opted for a simple Jell-O and fruit combination, honeydew melon balls in lime Jell-O.

This meant I had to scoop out melon balls, and found that my melon baller was larger than was probably ideal for this recipe. As kitchen disasters go, this is of course right up there with “They only had the second-best caviar” and “Oops, too much chocolate,” but it is one reason that the melon balls look a little weird in the final Jell-O mold. Another issue was that I don’t really have Jell-O molds to speak of, nothing that could give a particularly interesting shape to the dessert; I ended up using small metal bowls to produce freakish little green domes. Most of the melon balls were not perfectly spherical, so in the photo you can see that they kind of look like marshmallows, which is especially weird.

I was least prepared for the smell of the lime Jell-O powder. It was kind of acrid and overpowering and not quite right, and I began to have serious concerns about whether we could actually eat the finished product. But either the smell eased up or I became inured to it, and by the time the Jell-O was chilled and ready to eat it wasn’t making quite the same impression. The Jell-O unmolded easily; it wasn’t as easy to neatly slice the mold into two servings, since the texture of the Jell-O and the texture of the melon were very different. That difference plus the overly large melon balls made it tricky to eat both elements together as well; we would pretty much spoon up either Jell-O or melon.

And the taste? The melon tasted good. The Jell-O…was OK. It had a decent texture — not rubbery like bad, too-old Jell-O can get. The lime flavor was rather artificial, but not actually bad.

Verdict: Meh. It worked, it was edible, it was less scary than feared. I would say I don’t plan to make it again, but there are two more Jell-O cookbooks in the schedule, and I may well have to bring myself to pick a recipe with vegetables. Be very afraid.

500 Tasty Sandwich Recipes: Have Some Sandwich With Your Mayonnaise

chicken and bacon salad, salmon and cucumber, beef

500 Tasty Sandwich Recipes is one of a series of 1940s booklets offering hundreds of recipes for a particular item: salads, sandwiches, and dairy-based dishes have made it into my collection. While writing Recipes of the Damned entries I found hilarious possibilities: molded salads arranged to look like flowerpots, peanut-butter rarebit (yes, really), and perhaps best of all the “treasure sandwich chest,” which requires you to hollow out a loaf of bread and fill it with assembled sandwiches. With hundreds of recipes per booklet, I thought I’d never run out of possibilities.

So you can imagine my surprise when I did a recipe count during the cataloging of my collection, and found that none of these books actually has as many recipes as advertised. Sandwiches? Only 351, and that’s counting every possible filling variation plus all the recipes for breads. Salads? A mere 447, well under the booklet’s promise of 500. Dairy recipes? Just 259, not the 300 promised by that title, though the closest to its promise of the three.

Truth in advertising aside, I decided that sandwiches would be great for supper on a warm summer evening. I thought that variety might be pleasing, and also that while I might well pick one dud I could surely not pick three, and so I settled on chicken and bacon salad, salmon and cucumber, and beef.

Preparation of the chicken and bacon salad is fairly simple: one cup of chopped cooked chicken, half a cup of diced bacon, half a cup of diced tomatoes and half a cup of mayonnaise. And if you think that sounds like a lot of mayonnaise, well, you’re right. I had determined to follow the instructions for all these untried recipes, but I had misgivings when I measured out the mayonnaise. I went ahead, and found myself with a rather creamy mixture. It tasted good, which I think is partly because the bacon and the tomatoes were very high quality, but if I were to make this again I would use a lot less mayonnaise.

I mixed up the salmon and cucumber salad next, and was far more skeptical about the mayonnaise this time. Overdoing the mayo seems especially wrong when you’re dealing with salmon, whose flavor deserves to be accentuated, not smothered. I mixed up cooked salmon and chopped cucumber and far less mayonnaise than recommended, for a still very spreadable, even mayonnaise-rich, filling. I can’t imagine how goopy it would have been with the full amount.

Finally I turned to the beef filling, which was blissfully free of mayonnaise. Cold roast beef is combined with salt, chili sauce, Worcestershire sauce and melted butter. I am not sure what the author meant by “chili sauce” in 1949; I seriously doubt she meant the kind that you get at Asian markets, in the plastic bottle with the strutting rooster, glittering with pepper seeds, but that’s what I had on hand and that’s what I used, and it turned out to be really tasty. Peppy, zingy, but not so strong as to overpower the beef or Worcestershire sauce.

I spread the sandwich fillings on toast and added lettuce to the chicken and salmon, and served them up with potato salad. I did not go the extra step of cutting off the crusts; I may be nuts but even I have my limits. The sandwiches were all delicious, even with an excess of mayonnaise.

Verdict: Success. I’d make them again, with adaptations, and they did make for a nice cool supper on a warm, humid night.

And that brings us nearly to the end of July’s book list; only Jell-O remains. (Cue dramatic music.) More details on that tomorrow.

Metropolitan Cook Book: Helpful Recipes From a Life Insurance Company

potato salad

Metropolitan Cook Book is my second Recipes of the Damned effort in this project, and while the small booklet has a lot more recipes than Tempting Low-Cost Meals for 2 or 4 or 6, I found it just as challenging when it came to finding recipes I was actually willing to cook. While I was cataloging my collection I made a vow that I would not make any recipe that forced overcooking of vegetables, as noted by instructions such as “add the tender [asparagus] tips [to boiling water] the last 15 minutes” (which is approximately 14 minutes 30 seconds too long to be boiling asparagus) or “boil Brussels sprouts 15 to 20 minutes.” Unfortunately, for the Metropolitan Cook Book this ruled out nearly anything involving non-starchy vegetables. The meat recipes all seemed rather heavy, more suited to cold weather; the pastry recipes were tempting but I thought I should try not to make cake all the time. So potato salad won the draw.

I’ve never been terribly enthusiastic about potato salad, having had some pretty dull specimens over the years. I didn’t have high expectations for this recipe. It’s quite simple: cooked potato cubes, salt, pepper, onion juice (obtained by cutting off a chunk of an onion and squeezing), parsley, olive oil and vinegar. It’s so simple it’s virtually foolproof, which is a good thing since the instructions seem to take a lot for granted. The ingredients list “2 cups freshly boiled potatoes,” and the first instruction is “Cut potatoes into 3/4 inch cubes.” So does one boil the potatoes whole and then cut them up while hot? Cube them before boiling? How long to boil? I threw caution to the wind and peeled and cubed the potatoes before boiling them for about 15-20 minutes, paying less attention to the clock than to their texture when poked with a fork; when they were tender but not mushy I drained them off and proceeded with the seasonings. When I had mixed it all together I covered the bowl and refrigerated it.

I served the potato salad with a cold supper of sandwiches (see the upcoming entry on 500 Tasty Sandwich Recipes for details), and was pleasantly surprised. The potato flavor was pleasant and not overpowered by seasonings, and the texture was a nice complement to the lettuce on which I served it.

Verdict: Success. I would make the potato salad again. But I still refuse to boil asparagus to death.