Tuesday, January 25, 2005

This seal means recipe goodness!

That's what it says on the title page of Lunches and Brunches, by the editors of Better Homes & Gardens (Meredith Press, 1963). Now, isn't that a reassuring thought?

By the way, I searched in vain for the city where the Meredith Press is located. I've spent much of my life formatting footnotes, and properly formatted footnotes include that information. But the location of the Meredith Press was nowhere to be found. Personally, I suspect foul play. How much do you want to bet that Meredith Press is at the bottom of New York Harbor, her horribly decayed skeleton wafting gently in currents of pollution?

Well, it's no more than she deserved for including this recipe in the chapter entitled "Show-Off Salads for Lunch":

Strawberry-Cream Squares

2 3-ounce packages strawberry-flavored gelatin
2 cupes boiling water
2 10-ounce packages frozen strawberries
1 131/2-ounce can (11/2 cupes) crushed pineapple
2 large, fully ripe bananas, finely diced
• • •
1 cup dairy sour cream

Dissolve gelatin in boiling water. Add berries, stirring occasiobnally till thawed. Add pineapple and banana. Pour half the mixture into an 8x8x2-inch pan. Chill till firm. Spoon sour cream over chilled gelatin, spreading in an even layer; pour remaining gelatin over. chill firm.
Cut in 9 squares; serve on lettuce ruffles. Garnish with dollops of sour cream and whole strawberries split in half from top almost to bottom. Makes 9 servings.

Makes nine servings unless someone shows up with an unexpected addition to the party. Then the harried hostess will have to subdivide the Strawberry Squares. Imagine the squabbling, the heartburnings--nay, the carnage.

Also please note that while the Editors of Better Homes & Garden are incredibly punctilious with regard to punctuation and other niceties (for example, note the "an" before the "8" in "8x8x2-inch pan"--you have to admire their thoroughness) they forgot to mention where you're supposed to get the strawberries for the garnish. You know, the ones you're supposed to slice "from top almost to bottom." Personally, I can't imagine frozen strawberries managing to survive this treatment, or looking particularly attractive it they did.

At any rate, there you have it; an incredibly labor-intensive, artificially fruity, vitamin-depleted, fatty and sugary excuse for a salad that probably tastes just like Starburst Fruit Chews.


Monday, January 24, 2005

Spaghetti with Mushrooms? Is this a trick post?

That's what you'll be thinking soon, because my first recipe sounds pretty innocuous. Tasty, even.

But first, some backstory. (You know where I said that my favorite things were my weird cookbooks? Well, I lied. My favorite thing is telling people I'm going to tell them something and then not telling them, sliding off instead into some kind of long-winded digression. Which in case you haven't noticed, is what I'm doing right now.)

You see, you really should know that this post almost didn't happen. Last night I thought I had found the perfect first recipe to post--perfect in that it was 1) made with two kinds of Jell-O and 2) looked like a colored photograph of a revolting skin disease. But then I realized that a large part of this recipe's appeal was the gruesome photograph of what happens, apparently, when Home Economists lock up suspicious-looking boxes of Jell-O, treat them roughly, subject them to unutterable humilation, and then TAKE PICTURES.

But with no way of uploading the picture, I thought it would be better to start with unillustrated recipes.

So, still shuddering faintly, I picked up one of my weird old cookbooks (The Modern Priscilla Cook Book: One Thousand Recipes Tested and Proved at the Priscilla Proving Plant, Boston, 1924). But I made the mistake of perusing the text in order. Well, the problem with that is that The Modern Priscilla Cook Book is arranged in strict order; first beverages, then breads, quick breads, crullers, doughnuts, griddlecakes, waffles, muffins, then cakes--what the hell was I going to do? These kinds of recipes are unfuckupable. These are the foods of the gods. I mean, I'm always looking for the ultimate cornmeal batter cake recipe, so picture my excitement when I spotted a recipe for corn waffles. Can you imagine them with butter and good strawberry preserves?

But dammit--this was getting me nowhere! So I flipped to entrees. (If that didn't work, I was going to head right to the heart of darkness--the chapter on salads.)

And then--I found it:

Spaghetti with Mushrooms

• 1 cup spaghetti • 2 tablespoons butter
• 1 can tomato soup • 1/2 cup cheese
• 1/2 cup mushrooms, diced

Cook spaghetti in boiling salted water until tender. Drain, rinse with cold water, and add to tomato soup. Brown mushrooms in butter and add with cheese to spaghetti. Heat thoroughly and serve. Serving, 4.

(That last part must be a typo--don't you think it should say "Serving, 1 garbage can?")

Oh, what a subtle, evil genius it was who concocted this recipe. How the name, "Spaghetti with Mushrooms," quickens the imagination. We envision a steaming plate of pasta tossed with a voluptuous amount of sauteed mushrooms. And then comes that can of tomato soup to spoil it all. And then--please note the cooking--you should excuse the expression--"technique." Note that the noodles go into the soup where they sit, rather like someone soaking her feet for a pedicure, until the mushrooms are browned. Then the whole mess gets combined and heated again. Can you imagine the sogginess?

Do you think this is where Chef Boyardee got the idea?


Sunday, January 23, 2005

Bad recipes and the woman who loves them

I spend a lot of time reading cookbooks. I've amassed a good-sized collection, of them, too. Way too many to actually cook even a tiny percentage of the recipes from them.

In general, my favorite cookbooks aren't pretty coffee-table type tomes. No, they're either extremely well-written, with a high text-to-recipe ratio, (think M.F.K. Fisher) or they're historical (James Beard American Cooking; The White House Cookbook; The Picayune Creole Cookbook) or funny (Plain Jane's Thrill of Very Fattening Foods Cookbook and the works of Peg Bracken.) I also adore community cookbooks, like the ones published by various Junior Leagues. And I love the really really old and weird ones, like The Modern Priscilla Cookbook, circa 1920 something.

Basically, my outlook is the weirder and more disgusting the food sounds, the better.
My favorite cookbooks are full of recipes that are either way too unhealthy or way too full of disgusting processed-food ingredients for me to actually cook them. I'm a sucker for recipes that use canned soup, Jello, Cool-Whip, Velveeta and/or Ro-Tel tomatoes.

The thing is, although I love the idea of these recipes, I'd have to be insane to actually cook and eat this kind of crap. So mostly I sit around at breakfast and lunch (two meals which through the grace of God I usually get to eat alone) eating my healthy, South Beach Diet meals while reading cookbooks, mainly about regional American, non-foodie type food. (Recipes featuring liberal amounts of bacon grease are big favorites at the moment.)

Over many solitary lunches I've found myself zeroing in on the most disgusting recipes I can find. "This is it!" I'll think to myself--"the most disgusting concoction I've ever heard of!" But then the next day I'll find one just as horrifying.

I couldn't bear to be the only one to get a huge vicarious thrill over what dumb, probably mostly dead people used to eat. So I thought I'd start a blog in order to introduce these appalling recipes to a deserving audience. Naturally, I'm going to spare you what these recipes actually taste like. I have no intention of turning this blog into a recipe review. I don't want to know. And neither do you. Don't even bother emailing to ask.

So anyway, this blog will be about recipes I'll probably never cook, and the many reasons why I wouldn't want to.