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March, 2010:

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.

Best Recipes From the Backs of Boxes, Bottles, Cans and Jars: If This Is “Best,” What Didn’t Make the Cut?

tangy chicken

ChickenPlated3It’s time for another Recipes of the Damned offering, this one a cookbook extolling the virtues of processed food. More specifically, this book is a compilation of recipes found on product labels. The premises of the book seem to be that a) People use a lot of processed foods, b) People who use a lot of processed foods actually read the recipes on the packages and want to make them AnAuspiciousStart3again but don’t think to write them down, and c) These recipes are actually worth cooking and eating.

Perhaps I am being too snarky. After all, my chocolate chip cookie recipe is memorized from the one printed on the chip bags. The companies do invest in product research and recipe development, and the results can’t all be bad. Heinz57InCupHowever, a perusal of Best Recipes From the Backs of Boxes, Bottles, Cans and Jars suggests that a good 80 percent of them are dubious at best. This book is a horror show.¬† Hiram Walker’s Supreme Brandy Burgers. Hot Mexican Beef Salad, featuring Kraft Catalina Dressing. Innumerable gelatin salads and desserts. And the salty, cardboardy funk of powdered Heinz57PlusWateronion soup mix permeating everything.

It took some digging for me to find a recipe to try. I wanted a dish that would be quick enough to make on a weeknight. I wanted something we’d be willing to eat. And I wanted to be confident I could find the specific commercial products listed, without having to scramble because something is no BrowningChickenlonger made or is only marketed in certain regions. I finally settled on Tangy Chicken, about which the book is absolutely giddy: “The Heinz Company has been printing this extra-easy chicken recipe on their 57 Sauce bottles for years. It’s such a favorite customers probably wouldn’t let them take it off.”

They are right about it being BrowningChicken2extra-easy. The recipe calls for browning chicken pieces in butter, adding a mixture of half Heinz 57 and half water, covering the pan and simmering for 30 minutes, then removing the lid and cooking 10 minutes longer. At this point the chicken is removed and the excess fat skimmed from the sauce, and dinner is served.

Heinz 57 sauce is kind of scary ChickenWithSaucestuff. The second ingredient listed is high fructose corn syrup, and it includes both raisin concentrate and apple concentrate. (Aren’t raisins already kind of concentrated?) It’s basically ketchup with fruit and vinegar added. The tangy flavor is pleasing, but I couldn’t really shake the knowledge of the high fructose corn syrup.

ChickenWithSauce2So, I browned the chicken pieces. I mixed Heinz 57 with water and added it to the pan, where it combined with the melted butter to coat and stew the chicken. I removed the lid to let the excess moisture cook away. I skimmed as much fat as I could from the sauce, then spooned some over the chicken. I served it with steamed broccoli and a warmed loaf of Italian bread.

ChickenCooked2The chicken tasted pretty good; the meat was tender, and the sauce was in fact tangy. But I suspected I could make an even better version from scratch pretty easily with tomato puree, honey or molasses, and cider vinegar, and no HFC. In fact, I decided the main thing I’d learned from this one was a basic cooking technique: brown the chicken (in half the fat next time, perhaps ChickenCooked3using part olive oil), add the sauce, cover, cook, uncover, cook some more. The possibilities are endless, and they don’t involve this cookbook.

Verdict: Good enough. I don’t expect to make this again, though I do have to decide what to do with the remaining half-bottle of Heinz 57.

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.

Vegetables Every Day: A Green Leafy Respite to the Bisquick

kale with caramelized onions and balsamic vinegar

KalePlusOnionsVinegarWhen I was deciding what to cook from the Bisquick cookbook, I knew we would need something green and leafy to accompany it. Something healthy, non-processed, made of real food. So I reached for Vegetables Every Day.

This is a very handy cookbook for people who want to add more vegetables to their diet. It’s ChoppingKaleorganized by vegetable, so you can pick something up at the farmers’ market and be confident that you can find some way to prepare it. Each vegetable gets an intro section with general guidance — seasonal availability, how to recognize quality, how to store, basic preparation techniques — and then several more detailed recipes. This is the book that taught me how to roast BrowningOnionsasparagus (which was a revelation). Everyone should have a copy, and use it regularly.

I decided that kale would be a good balance to the beef-and-pancake nonsense, and chose the recipe for kale with caramelized onions and balsamic vinegar. It’s not at all difficult. You stem and chop some kale, then toss it into boiling water with some salt and CaramelizingOnionslet it cook for about 8 minutes, then drain. Then you halve and thinly slice a couple of onions, heat up some olive oil in a skillet, and cook the onions 12-15 minutes or until they’re golden brown. At this point you sprinkle on a bit of sugar and continue to cook them another 10 minutes or so, until they’re very brown and verging on crispy. Now it’s time to add the kale and toss it together KalePlusOnions2well, cooking for 2 minutes or so. Then you pour in a bit of balsamic vinegar and grind on some fresh pepper, and it’s ready to serve.

This dish was wonderful. I’m not sure there is a better smell than onions cooking in olive oil, and the caramelized onion flavor is wonderfully complex, smoky and rich. The kale is still pungent enough to provide a contrast, but not aggressively so. The vinegar adds a nice tart overtone, and if I’m not mistaken it helps make the nutrients in the kale more available to your body.

Verdict: Success. I’m going to make this again, alongside a main dish more worthy of it.

So Quick With New Bisquick: Some Effort, Minimal Reward

hamburger pancake roll-ups

PancakesNKalePlatedIt’s time for another Recipes of the Damned treat! Well, “treat” may not be the correct word. So Quick With New Bisquick is a 1967 compendium of recipes using the boxed buttermilk baking mix. Offerings range from the obvious basics (pancakes, waffles, biscuits) to the predictable variations (coffee cakes, batters for deep-frying) to the distinctly unappetizing (short GratedCheddartuna pasties, hurry-up ham casserole).

I don’t really understand the appeal of the boxed baking mix. I sort of understand why people turn to cake mix; the balance of flour and leavening in cakes is a little tricky to achieve, and the mixes have been engineered to perform well within a broad range of preparation errors. But biscuits BrowningBeef2and even pancakes are far more forgiving of variation, and biscuits made with real buttermilk taste a lot better than those from a box. And saving time doesn’t really seem to be the issue; the bulk of your prep time for pancakes is spent cooking them on the griddle, not mixing them, and a boxed mix doesn’t change that.

I thought hamburger pancake BeefSourCreamMixtureroll-ups encapsulated a lot of what’s wrong with the recipes in this book. The casual supper consists of a ground beef and sour cream mixture, rolled inside pancakes; the rolls are then topped with shredded cheddar and baked. I thought this sounded truly perverse. I wasn’t perfectly accurate about that, but I wasn’t far off.

PancakeIngredsWhile Scott grated a cup of cheddar, I started to prepare the ground beef mixture, browning ground beef with a bit of minced onion (I was supposed to use dried onion flakes, but I didn’t have any, so I substituted an equivalent amount of minced fresh onion). When that was cooked through I poured off some of the rendered fat — not technically in the instructions, but PouringPancakeBatterthere was no way I was going to keep it all in the pan — and then mixed in a couple of tablespoons of Bisquick, one-third of a cup of ketchup, a tablespoon of mustard, half a teaspoon of salt, a generous grinding of black pepper (it was supposed to be 1/4 teaspoon but I couldn’t be bothered to measure), and a cup of sour cream. Scott stirred this as it simmered for about 7 PancakeInPan2minutes, while I worked on the kale and onions that were part of the accompanying dish (to be covered in a forthcoming post). Then we set it aside while I made the pancakes.

“Well, it doesn’t smell as good as it did before we added the sour cream,” I said, “but it doesn’t smell bad.”

PancakeWFilling“I have to agree,” said Scott.

The pancakes were simple but time-consuming: two cups of Bisquick, one egg, and one and two-thirds cups of milk. This is a slightly thinner mixture than you would usually use. I cooked them in a light smattering of canola oil, one at a time. Once I’d accumulated a few, Scott began to fill and roll them, placing a RolledPancakesInPancouple of tablespoons of the ground beef mixture in the center of each and then rolling it into a tube. Once all the pancakes were filled, rolled and arranged in a baking pan, he sprinkled the grated cheddar on top of them and put the pan into a 350-degree oven.

The filled pancakes didn’t taste all that bad, really. The pancakes PancakesPlusCheesewere satisfactory; I’ve recently made better pancakes from a mix (from Salish Lodge; Bisquick just can’t compete), but these were good enough. The beef filling wasn’t bad either, though it was awfully rich. The cheese went well with both of these elements. It was filling and fairly savory, but it wasn’t particularly exciting, and it seemed like minimal reward for the work that went into it. For the PancakesBaked2same amount of labor (with a bit more waiting time in the middle) you could roast a chicken; for less prep and work you could make hamburgers, or spaghetti and homemade meatballs.

Verdict: OK, but not worth the trouble. We’ll finish off the leftovers, but this will not be going into the repertoire.

Sorry for the Absence; Back in a Few Days

I apologize for neglecting the blog. I’ve been busy with a few things and will have to get myself reorganized to even come close to catching up. But I’m on it; look for new posts by Wednesday at latest.