As a girl in Alabama in the 70’s and 80’s, I learned that the kitchen belonged to women, and vice versa. My mother and most women in my family were homemakers when I was very young (before divorces and the 80’s economy). Some of my earliest memories are of my mother, my aunts, and my grandmothers stirring on the stove or chopping on the counter.
My mother was a fantastic cook. Or so I’ve heard. While I did experience the occasional testament to her expertise, for the most part my brother and I were part of the inaugural generation of Better Food Through Chemicals and Convenience. Our live-in kitchen help consisted of Mr. Chef-Boyardee, Mr. Frank O. American and Mr. C.A. Swanson who rotated their duties.
My brother and I often had our meals separate from our parents due to the fact that my father was a military officer and my parents’ evenings were many times taken up by social events. Even on an unscheduled night, my father got home later than my friends’ dads and he and my mother had the ritual of the evening cocktail and the wind down. In retrospect, I wonder that it rarely occurred to me to be curious about what they were consuming later in the evening after their Manhattans. I was mostly just grateful that they didn’t make me partake in their sophisticated adult fare, which probably contained either mushrooms or peppers, both food items whose edibility I resolutely contested.
My brother and I were both “picky eaters” who rejected many of the mainstays of the American diet – we would not allow either ketchup or mayonnaise to pass our clenched teeth. Ketchup wasn’t that hard to avoid, but a mayonnaise aversion makes life much harder since every single picnic and barbeque and pot-luck and family gathering have as their lynchpins and centerpieces various comestibles often laughably called “salads”, i.e. potato salad, pasta salad, etc., that are basically just chopped up bits of things held together with a white, oily, library paste. At least that’s how we viewed these items. So, I really don’t blame my mother for finding the convenience food of the day a godsend when it came to feeding her suspicious and rejecting offspring enough calories to keep us alive and carrying enough weight to not attract the attention of social service authorities.
There is no more competitive cook in the entire world than the military wife, or at least this was the case in the fifties and sixties. Occasionally, the Wives Clubs of the various bases and commands would publish a cookbook. These spiral bound tomes would often have very very similar recipes with slight differences – Martha’s Famous Beefy Cheese Casserole might have jalapenos whereas Margie’s Week Night Goulash would be the same thing but with green chilies. Martha uses Campbell’s condensed tomato soup and Margie uses Ro-Tel tomatoes. I think the reason these duplicative recipes existed side by side is that no one but no one had the guts to tell either Martha or Margie that their recipe was not the unique culinary inspiration they thought it to be. I also have to imagine both Martha and Margie getting their copy of the base cookbook and finding the dueling recipes and thinking “WTF! That’s MY recipe!”
My parents would have the occasional dinner party and my mother would make something from one of the volumes of Mastering The Art Of French Cooking which could involve flaming something with brandy. Or she would make her famous shrimp or chicken curry which was served on an elaborate curry set which was a big platter surrounded by the matching condiment dishes which contained bacon bits, toasted coconut, chopped peanuts, chopped egg, and chopped peppers. My parents also hosted fondue parties. My mother had four fondue pots and made both a beef and a cheese fondue. I found the beef fondue kind of blah, but the cheese fondue – OMG! Instant transport to the Alps with the gooey white wine and Kirsch flavored cheese on the crusty bread. Folks, there’s a reason there was an actual fondue craze in the sixties. Find a fondue pot in a thrift store or on Ebay and make the classic cheese fondue recipe, you will not regret it.
On the cookbook shelf next to Julia Child and multiple James Beards and the various entertaining cookbooks was a book that made a big splash in the sixties, Peg Bracken’s
I Hate To Cook Book
This was a seminal cookbook for women of my mother’s generation, since it acknowledged that sometimes cooking is a chore and drudgery and wouldn’t it be nice if you could make good stuff with less effort and have time to do the things that otherwise interest you? Truly, this was right up my mother’s alley and I feel sure she was not alone.
When I went out into the world on my own, I was immediately confronted by the fact that I personally had no clue how to shop and cook. I had never stood by my Mommy’s side as she made the treasured family recipes. We didn’t have treasured family recipes. We often only saw something once; even if everyone really really liked it, it would remain an elusive memory, like a beautiful woman glimpsed once in a passing train car, never to be seen again. Remember that great thing Mom made that time? The thing with the chicken and the grapes? Or that incredible Mexican casserole with the olives and the steak? What else was in that? What cookbook did it come from? Oh well.
So I had to find my own way. My first cookbook was The Good Housekeeping Cookbook circa 1973
The very first dinner I ever made for my husband came out of this cookbook. It was called California Beef Stew and was a basic stew but with peas, onions, black olives and used wine and grated orange and thyme in it. It was and is yummy. I have made it occasionally ever since that first night lo those many years ago. We do have a library of tried and true recipes that we see again and again like old friends. My husband’s mother cooked every night from scratch for the entire family and over 18 years of Sunday dinners with her, I came to learn to make almost all of her dishes her way. Not a cookbook, not a recipe, ever.
But for those of us who do cook from recipes or would like to self-teach the culinary arts, here is someone's list of the best cookbooks ever.
So, what was food like in your family. Were there any particular cookbooks or recipes that you remember as creating the taste profile of your life?
To Boldly Go Where No Tea Party Has Gone Before
My first encounter with the US Constituion is so clear, I can still taste the fizzies and shake-a-pudding I was scarfing. There I was breathing in the immortal words of our Founding Fathers for the first time. It was forty years ago and I was perched on a pillow in front of the family fruitwood encased Sylvania watching "Star Trek".
I just got back from a wonderful afternoon and evening at my parents'.
Standard 4th of July fare: Homemade southern fried chicken and homemade potato salad and all the sides and snacks. Family, neighbors, and good conversation with no where to be and no set time to be there.
Before dinner itself can be served, everybody has to take a turn cranking the ice cream. It takes about an hour of cranking and adding ice and salt to get it set nice and firm. When the strongest men can't crank it any more, it's ready -- to pack. The inside beater is removed, the canister re-sealed, and lowered back into the salt water. More ice and salt are piled on top. Then a couple of blankets thrown over the lot to keep all that cold in.
Dinner is served, conversation continues, and about an hour and a half later, the ice cream is hard set inside its little ice fortress and ready to serve.
I was an adult before I found out that most people don't make ice cream the way my mother always has. Her's is really a frozen custard. Which gives it a creamy smoothness and extra richness that other recipes just can't match.
Today I found out that "My Mom's Recipe" was gotten from her Aunt Hazel. The aunt that raised her, and my favorite "grandma." (As a child, it never occurred to me to ask why my grandma's name was Aunt Hazel. It was just her name.) Where Aunt Hazel got it, no one remembers. She had been making it long before taking my mom in back in the 40s. Some woman's magazine? A neighbor? Aunt Hazel's mother or grandmother before her? We don't know.
Anyway. To keep this national treasure from disappearing from the face of the earth, I'm putting it out there in cyber space.
Mom’s Homemade Ice Cream
makes 1 gallon
1/2 cup Sugar
4 Tbsp. Flour
Dab of Milk -- just enough to make a thick paste from the Sugar and Flour
4 Egg Yolks, beaten
2 cups Milk
dash of Salt
Boil until thick. This is a custard. That means stirring so the eggs don't cook at the bottom. Bring it to a good solid boil and keep stirring as it thickens. It thickens as you cook. So don't stop early and think it will thicken as it cools.
My mom actually uses only 1 cup of Milk above, then adds the 2nd cup as the mixture is coming off the stove. To help it cool faster.
Refrigerate this custard for 3 or 4 hours to get it completely down to refrigerator temperatures (40° F).
In a separate bowl, mix:
1-3/4 cups Sugar
1/2 Tbsp. Lemon Juice
2 Tbsp. Vanilla
1 qt. Half and Half or 1 pt. Heavy Cream
Refrigerate this mixture as well.
Just before making the ice cream, beat 4 Egg whites until stiff.
Put everything into the ice cream freezer -- custard, cream mixture, and egg whites. They're just layered in the ice cream freezer -- no need to mix or fold them together, the ice cream beater will do that for you. Fill with Milk to the Full Line.
Now crank that puppy as describe in the ice cream freezer manual (and above). It goes easier with people to trade off. [Personal bias: If you're not hand cranking, you're not making REAL homemade ice cream :-)]
So now that Spring is officially here and the daffodils are popping, it is time to celebrate with a delicious and seasonal dish that makes the most of one of Springs most lovely gifts, asparagus. Ours is just beginning to peak out of the ground so we won't have enough to pick for a week or so. But as it becomes more affordable at growers markets and at your local stores you might want to try this as either a lovely Brunch dish or a satisfying supper (that's how we usually do it). These are savory ricotta pancakes with lemon zest and scallions, layered with sauteéd asparagus and bacon and drizzled with lemon butter. Easy to leave out the bacon for vegetarians too. Very very delicious.
Update: I corrected the recipe. 1 cup (8 oz. ricotta) is correct.
For the past 13-plus years, I've run the website The New Homemaker, a resource site for stay-at-home parents, caregivers and everyone else. I've taught many people there to cook from scratch--just simple, home-y things with basic ingredients. I am also a leftovers ninja. I hate throwing food out.
In a comment recently, I told someone I could teach her to cook long distance, and other commenters asked me to write up some lessons here. The original person got overwhelmed at all the lists of expensive equipment "they" said she needed, and at the complicated recipes she was looking at calling for saffron and turmeric and so on, stuff she'd have to run all over town for and then never use again.
Phooey, I say. When people get hung up cooking, nine time out of ten I find out they're using some fancy recipe. That ain't cooking, that's company cooking. I'm talking simple everyday fare here. Leave company cooking for company.
Repeat after me: COOKING IS EASY. COOKING IS MY BIRTHRIGHT AS A HUMAN BEING. I CAN COOK. IT'S EASY.
This series will look first at how to stock your kitchen and what to do in there once it's stocked.
Follow me below the saffron thread doodle for part one.
The way to the heart is through the stomach. Apparently that is so, even if that path is cast in the form of a messed-up cake.
As noted in the past, I cook. I don’t bake. I’ve said before that, if you tried my efforts, you’d see why it is I don’t bake. I’ve made some doozies in cooking, too—someday I’ll write about the Creole Boiled Fail Rice, and the Rose Rib-Sticking Gravy. But for now, I’m going to tell you about the dessert that confirmed I had the heart of a man—because he agreed it was a disaster and ate a piece anyway.
I don’t know if it’s love or insanity. Could be both.
Fly over the Kos Croissant to see what happened.
I don't normally diary about food, but tonight, I made Desperation Fries.
It's a meal I first made back in the dark days when I was barely holding a job, before my Army service, back when I was trying desperately to keep a relationship alive.
I've refined it over the years, but to this day, it's a food that really satisfies me and brings back memories of never giving up.
(More on the flip)
Are you trying to stretch your food dollar yet finding yourself forking over six bucks for a meal in fast food joints? Do you walk into a supermarket and pass up the fresh produce and meat in favor of some pricey frozen entrée because making stuff from scratch seems like too much work and time? Do your eyes glaze over when pretentious foodies like myself rhapsodize about shallots, which are like unbelievably expensive tiny onions? Do you have a pot, a stick to stir it with and a hungry dog to eat what you’ve burnt?
Interested in a simple one-pot recipe for dinner that is filling, tasty and inexpensive? If you answered yes to any of these, please follow me below the orange torsade crostillante.
Monty Python had Vikings sing its praises.
It's practically the state dish of Hawaii.
Mom called it a lifesaver when the price of beef, pork, and chicken was too high for the budget.
Over time, the only thing worse than SPAM for dinner was Banquet's "Boil A Bag" chipped beef, pungently renamed by Mom as "shit on a shingle." For all I know, she was right and that's what that dish was originally named. I know I once suggested creaming SPAM, and she looked at me as if I'd just lost my damned mind.
Then again, Mom was the Queen of Milk Gravy--aka cream gravy, "red-eye" gravy, and sausage gravy--and I would still eat a plateful of SPAM if she covered it with her specialty. Damn, now I'm hungry.
There are days, kiddies, when I tire of politics and the heady whirl, and the thought of suffering through another fifteen pages of Kathryn Jean Lopez whining about young girls wearing makeup is enough to make me want to remove my own hand so I can’t operate the mouse any more.
There are days when I can’t muster the strength to tell you the story of the time when Chris Christie got stuck on the Tilt-A-Whirl at the Convent of St. Fidelis of Sigmaringen’s Annual Fair and ended up vomiting on Ann Coulter’s head during the ceremonial stoning of the adulteresses in the carpark out the back, despite the pleasure I know such a story would bring to you all.
Today is one such day. The final straw this morning was Jonah Goldberg offering congratulations to Ben Fucking Shapiro at the Corner on that basis that Ben has apparently:
gotten a whole bunch of liberal Hollywood muckety mucks to confess their very liberal agenda
in his new book, in addition to not soiling himself in public for five whole days. The Hollywood Reporter quotes several of the more shocking revelations from Ben’s book, including that:
MASH had a pacifist agenda, says co-creator and director Gene Reynolds. "We wanted to point out the wastefulness of war," he says in the book.
Be still, my barely beating heart - a fine piece of investigative journalism that surely rivals the time Peggy Noonan photocopied her own vomit and sold it to the Washington Post as a hard-hitting expose of alcoholism in the news-media.
Peggy, by the way, is channelling Andrew Sullivan:
Democrats, on the other hand, should be forced to answer a question. If you oppose the highly specific Ryan plan, fine, but tell us your specific proposal. How will you save Medicare? Will you let it die?
questions to which my considered and carefully expressed response is “Screw you, you drunken asshole”.
On days like this, I like to bake, and I hope you won’t mind me sharing a recipe with you. You may need the distraction as much as I do.
Today I have been pottering around my charming kitchenette - I have grey granite benchtops, by the way, and Halston oven mitts which are the same cerise color as my refrigerator - cooking a little recipe which I snaffled from Julia Child. I don’t mean I cadged it from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, although I’m sure it’s in there. I mean I managed to grab it out of Julia’s pocket one evening in Paris when she was trapped under a drunken Simone Beck. There. Don’t say I never do anything for you. Now you’ve got a free recipe and you don’t have to watch that Julie and Julia crap either.
Julia calls it “Pommes Normande en Belle Vue” which is posh for “baked apple pudding”.
You need 2 pounds of apples, a little bit of water, the finely grated rind of a lemon, a cup and a half of sugar or so (depending on how sweet your apples are), a big slosh of brandy (I like to use Pommeau de Normandie because I’m dead fancy), a tablespoon of butter and two whole eggs plus one egg white.
Julia says that you need to have a two and a half pint, cylindrical fireproof mould but frankly, who the fuck would have one of those? I use a little rectangular perspex baking dish.
Set your oven to 400 degrees.
The first stage is to line whatever you are cooking the pudding in with caramel, just like a creme caramel, so that when you unmould it the pudding has a brown glaze and a delicious caramel sauce.
Put three quarters of a cup of sugar in a little saucepan with enough water to just wet it, turn up the gas pretty high and let it bubble until the water dissolves and the sugar melts and darkens. If it starts to burn in any spots, swirl the saucepan until the sugar mixes together. Don’t stir it or the sugar will crystalize, and for God’s sake don’t get it on yourself. I like both my caramel and my men dark brown, but it’s really up to you.
When the caramel has reached your preferred shade, pour it into your dish and then (wearing oven mitts, please) quickly tilt the mould around until the caramel has set and covered the whole of the inside. Then put it aside for later.
Peel the apples and chop them into quarters. Put them in a big saucepan with a little water, cover on a low heat and simmer for 20 minutes until the apple is soft and starting to fall apart. Stir in the lemon rind and the rest of the sugar. You can put a big pinch of cinnamon in at this point if you like.
Then turn up the heat and boil the mixture for about five minutes, stirring all the time, until you have a very thick apple sauce. Whisk in the alcohol and the butter and, when the butter has melted, the eggs one by one. You’ll need to be quick so the egg white doesn’t start to cook, but if you end up with some little bits of cooked white, just whisk until they go away.
Pour the mixture into your baking dish, stick the baking dish in a larger baking dish and stick the lot in the oven. Pour boiling water into the outside dish three quarters of the way up the side of the inside dish and let it cook for an hour. It should puff up quite nicely. If it is browned on top put a piece of baking paper over it, and then cook for up to another half an hour until it seems quite set and starts to pull away from the edge of the baking dish.
This is wonderful hot and spooned out of the dish, or you can put it in the refrigerator overnight and then turn it out onto a plate for serving. It is really quite delicious - light and yet full of the flavor of the apples.
It may not look particularly appetizing, but if you pair this it a nice ice cream (like my never fail vanilla and poached pear), you will have to beat the family off with sticks. I was going to unmould it and take a picture of that, but I said ‘Fuck it” and ate the damn thing.
The pudding is quite smooth, so any additions from your personal pharmacopoeia will need to be carefully ground before mixing them in after the eggs. However, the bitterness of the caramel is very good for camouflaging the taste of almost anything. Cyanide in particular imparts a quite lovely almond hint to this dish.
What has been cooking at your house?
[Cross posted at Sarah, Proud and Tall.]
Yeah, you heard me.
Not hot dogs, those tubes of meat pudding whose ingredients are better not known before you eat one. And these days, you really need to make sure your ground beef is as fresh as it can be, unless you are really comfortable eating the processed, packaged stuff.
Memorial Day has become, like nearly every other commercial holiday in America, a time to eat. I'm aware of the hypocrisy I'm about to commit, but I'll go ahead and get on the soapbox anyway. Memorial Day isn't a celebration; it's meant to be a day of reflection, a day to remember those who gave their lives for our country. It's like the Fourth of July Lite, now. All that's missing are the fireworks.
But if you're going to eat, then you might as well make sure that it's good. And personally, I can see having a cookout after spending a day at the cemeteries and memorials. It's quick, you're still outdoors, and it's more conducive to sharing stories and remembrances because it's so informal.
I plan to drive down to a veterans' memorial in Phoenix and take some pictures tomorrow, and then spend the day avoiding my oldest brother's in-laws, fleeing the scene, and taking refuge with my former choir director. I'm bringing sherbert to the brother's place, and a lemon cake and deviled eggs to my choir director. Gee, no favoritism here at all, eh?
Follow me over the Kos flower for a discussion of Memorial Day traditions and the recipe for excellent burgers.