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Recipes of the Damned

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.)

No recipe post today, but a response to Pollan

I’ve finally had time to organize my thoughts about Michael Pollan’s NYT essay “Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch.” Check it out at Recipes of the Damned.

Tomorrow: Salad.

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.