Saturday, August 25, 2007

Cool ’N Creamy Coleslaw

When you think of coleslaw, do you think of gelatin? No? Too bad, because the two come together in an unholy union for this recipe.

It comes to us from Best Recipes From the Backs of Boxes, Bottles, Cans and Jars, which is a pretty self-explanatory title. Chapter after chapter offers up recipes that appeared on packages of commercial products. The majority of them are innocuous: a pork-chop barbecue sauce using Kikkoman Soy Sauce, corn fritters fried in Planter’s Peanut Oil, appetizers made with Bisquick, dessert toppings made with Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup.

But there are also losers: meatloaf made with Wheat Chex. (I may be unkind here; I don’t like meatloaf, so I’d be hard-pressed to find a package recipe I did approve of.) Macaroni salad made with tomato sauce. (“I bet you never thought of putting Hunt’s Tomato Sauce in a salad, but what goes better than tomato sauce with macaroni?” Oh, I don’t know—cheese?) “Rodeo Hash” with canned condensed mushroom soup. And this jellied coleslaw.

Coleslaw gets a bum rap. It’s sort of the default picnic or sandwich side. At the diners where we like to eat, little cups of coleslaw are offered alongside sandwiches and wraps, and seem to go back untouched most of the time, passed over for waffle fries and dill pickles. Coleslaw isn’t bad if it’s properly spiced and leans toward the tangy side. I have trouble believing that anybody who was bored with coleslaw would really think, “Maybe if it were in a wobbly gelatin cube instead…”

Cool ’N Creamy Coleslaw
If you are tired of “just coleslaw” whip up this special molded version. It’s been a favorite since the recipe appeared on the Knox Gelatine package decades ago.
2 envelopes Knox Unflavored Gelatine
2 Tbs. sugar
1 ¾ cups boiling water
1 ¾ cups mayonnaise
¼ cup lemon juice
4 cups shredded cabbage
1 cup shredded carrots
¼ cup finely chopped onion

In large bowl, mix Knox Unflavored Gelatine and sugar; add boiling water and stir until gelatin is completely dissolved. With wire whisk or rotary beater, blend in mayonnaise and lemon juice; chill until mixture is consistency of unbeaten egg whites. Stir in cabbage, carrots and onion; pour into 11 x 7-inch pan and chill until firm. To serve, cut into squares. Makes about 8 servings.

From Best Recipes From the Backs of Boxes, Bottles, Cans and Jars. Ceil Dyer. New York: Galahad Books, 1992.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

SpaghettiO Stir-Fry

The editors of the magazine Men’s Health, who ought to know better, have offered this cookbook that says yes, men, EVEN YOU can cook as long as everything comes out of a can! They start off with the hackneyed “men can’t cook” line, which you may have noticed comes into play any time cooking is a chore but is quickly thrown out the window if you want to argue that all the best chefs are men. The cookbook then notes, “we’ve been charring giant slabs of meat ever since we discovered fire. The difference is that now we have better things to do. Why slave over a hot stove when we could be cooking up plans for a golf outing? Or warming up at the gym? Or making things sizzle in the bedroom?” Right, because obviously no woman is capable of doing ANY of those things.

We all know this line is nonsense, just a way to try to present a playful introduction to a dismal batch of recipes. I have to tell you, guys, if you offer your date some of the dishes in this book, I don’t think things will be sizzling in the bedroom any time soon.

Canned food is not inherently bad. I cook with canned beans and canned tomatoes all the time. But several of the offerings in this book are not that good. “Pigs in a Pinwheel” combines canned ham, reduced-fat cream cheese and refrigerated crescent-roll dough, plus onion and chopped oregano. (The recipes feature vivid color photographs of the commercially packaged products they feature, and “also” additional ingredients like vegetables and spices that didn’t get corporate sponsorship.) “Drunken Corn” has you mix canned corn with peppers, Heineken and butter. Other recipes are simply unimaginative combinations of things like beans, cheese and olives, or beef, tomatoes, cheese and tortillas. The idea that you need a cookbook to tell you how to make these things is what’s killing me.

I’ll admit, this book hits one of my pet peeves. I don’t have a big problem with people who admit they can’t cook. We all have things we haven’t mastered. But I do not find it cute when people say they can’t cook, and it drives me nuts when people try to present their lack of this basic survival skill as a charming facet of their personality. This cookbook, with its big chunky pages (of a thickness usually associated with picture books for toddlers) and its simplistic combinations of brand-name foods, is smug about its intended readers’ lack of skills. You don’t need to know how to cook, guys, just open a few cans and the ladies will be falling at your feet! Yeah, nothing makes a woman want to become your love slave like opening a can of SpaghettiOs for her. I have a better idea. If you want to cook to impress a date, pick up a copy of How to Cook Everything and work your way through it. If you want to impress her with good food that you don’t have to know how to cook, take her to a good restaurant that offers better beer than Heineken.

SpaghettiO Stir-Fry
2 15-oz cans SpaghettiOs
¾ lb extra-lean ground beef
10-oz package frozen broccoli
Also: ¼ cup diced green onion; small red bell pepper, chopped
How to make it: Brown the ground beef in a nonstick skillet. Dump in the SpaghettiOs, broccoli, onion and pepper, and cook for about 10 minutes.
Makes 4 servings.
Per serving: 335 calories, 11 g fat (30% of calories), 4 g saturated fat, 22 g protein, 35 g carbohydrates, 4 g fiber, 898 mg sodium
From A Man, A Can, A Plan: 50 Great Guy Meals Even You Can Make! David Joachim and the editors of Men’s Health. Rodale Press, 2002.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Meat Cake

A colleague sent me a link to Meat Cake, which he tried at a recent meat-themed party. There's really nothing I can say about it that the cook doesn't already say throughout the post. I love how he went to so much trouble to make it look like a real bakery cake.

My colleague noted that it tasted "decent," especially when accompanied by large volumes of beer.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

’Nana Salad

A dear friend sent me this carrot-themed cookbook among a batch of more obvious sources of damned cookery. It’s a self-published affair, photocopied pages in Courier type, plastic-comb-bound with a tough orange cover, and has coupons in the back for ordering more from “Mrs. Roy E. Fletcher.” (I’m sure Mrs. Fletcher is or was a lovely woman, a fine cook, and an excellent garden club member; it’s just that the “Mrs. [man’s name]” construction sets my teeth on edge, and did in 1982 when I was a mere child of fifteen. Not her fault.)

I set this volume aside for a while after a hasty perusal. Sure, some of the recipes were not fully to my taste, but could I really fault the carrot? It is a versatile vegetable: savory enough for meat and veggie dishes, subtle enough for sweet offerings, an excellent way to sneak fiber and texture into cakes and cookies. Could I really find a Damned-level recipe in the book? Instead of flipping through once more I read the index (feeling a secret affection for the garden club members who went to the trouble to create an index; I rate a good index very highly in any book), and voila: ’Nana Salad. Bananas and carrots, I thought; this has promise. I turned to the page and spotted longhorn cheese, and we were off to the races. Good lord, I thought, what is longhorn cheese doing in a dish with bananas and carrots; isn’t it basically Colby? Why, yes. But they weren’t done. Canned pineapple! Gelatin, an old nemesis! And topping it all with a sort of hollandaise sauce? Oh, the horror.

I bet the finished dish has the same color scheme as a 1971 back-to-school clothing catalog. All oranges and yellows.

’Nana Salad
1 8-ounce package longhorn cheese
6 bananas
2 cans pineapple, grated (save juice)
2 ½ cups grated carrots
1 6-ounce package lemon-flavored gelatin
½ cup sugar
1 cup pineapple juice (drained from fruit)
2 tablespoons flour
2 eggs
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup whipping cream, whipped

Grate cheese and line bottom of 9x11 inch dish. Slice bananas over cheese, then pour drained pineapple over bananas. Spread grated carrots over pineapple. Make gelatin as directed, leaving out ½ cup liquid. Pour gelatin over entire mixture and refrigerate.

For sauce, mix sugar, pineapple juice, flour, eggs, and lemon juice together in sauce pan. Bring to a boil and stir until mixture thickens. When thickened, add butter and stir. Refrigerate. When chilled add ½ cup grated carrots. Add whipped cream and mix well. Pour sauce over salad. Serves 10-12.

From The Classic Carrot Cookbook for 24-Carat Cooks. A collection from the kitchens of garden club members and their friends. Ed. Norma Jean. Arizona Federation of Garden Clubs, Inc., 1982.

Monday, August 13, 2007

At least it's for a good cause

Red Robin (the restaurant chain) is holding a contest for young burger chefs. A second annual one, even. (The first escaped my notice.) Because God knows there aren't enough ways to make a hamburger. How often do you go out and think, "Never mind what fish is fresh in this region, or what vegetables are in season; why can't I find a really new combination of ground beef, bun and onions?"

Yes, I have eaten Red Robin burgers. I'm still hauling around excess flesh and cholesterol from burgers I ate nearly 20 years ago while downing specialty drinks ("because we care, two's the limit"). We can at least be glad the kids aren't being exhorted to come up with the next zippy rum drink or Long Island iced tea.

Selected recipes from the contest will be used to create a cookbook to benefit the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, and that's a worthy cause. Bet you could contribute to it without cooking hamburger if you wanted to.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Microwave Ham Loaf

I’ll be fair: This is a really beautifully done cookbook. It’s a very comprehensive guide to microwave cookery, with excellent instructions on appropriate cookware, techniques and food safety. The photographs are stunning: colorful, clear, detailed, and perfectly set up to show exactly what the reader needs to see rather than to simply present an artistic or emotionally appealing view of the food. The book dates from 1990, which means the information is current and useful. The type is clear and easy to read. The variety of recipes presented is dazzling.

And yet.

It’s the recipe I chose, not the book. Ham loaf is already an unappealing foodstuff in my view; I’m not big on meat loaves in general. (My mother’s meatloaf was reputed to be excellent, far above the usual standard of the dish; I could never bring myself to like it.) Nor am I particularly crazy about ham. When I do eat meat (which is less and less these days), I like to see browning. Microwaves are not ideal for browning (though the book does offer a lot of techniques for coming as close as possible), nor does a smoked ham mixture seem likely to brown, even with a little bit of veal in it.

See, pink before cooking.

After cooking: pink.

Serving size: pink.

So what we get is a pink meat slab, speckled with olives and pimientos and green onions. Um, yay? Sorry, doesn’t do much for me. You go to town, though.

Also, in our apartment, we can’t use the microwave and the air conditioner at the same time without knocking out a circuit breaker. So I lack enthusiasm for microwave-only meals. Readers whose homes have better wiring may have a different perspective.

Ham Loaf
229 calories per serving. Good source of thiamine, niacin, vitamin C, iron. Begin 55 minutes ahead.
Ingredients for 8 servings
1 ½ pounds fully cooked smoked ham
½ pound ground veal
2 green onions, sliced
2 eggs
1 ½ cups fresh bread crumbs (3 slices)
1 cup tomato juice
¼ cup diced pimientos
5 pitted ripe olives, sliced
2 tablespoons dry mustard
2 tablespoons steak sauce
1 ½ teaspoons celery salt
Lemon slices and parsley sprigs for garnish

Microwave cookware
8-cup ring mold or Bundt pan

1. With sharp knife, cut ham into chunks. Place chunks in food processor with knife blade attached or in meat grinder; finely chop.
2. In large bowl, combine chopped ham and veal. To meat, add green onions and remaining ingredients except garnish. Stir until well combined.
3. With spoon, firmly press mixture into ring mold or Bundt pan; smooth top with back of spoon.
4. Cook loaf, covered loosely with waxed paper, on High (100% power) 5 minutes. Rotate pan. Reduce power level to Medium-Low (30% power) and cook, covered, 15 to 18 minutes longer, until a meat thermometer inserted in center of loaf mixture reaches 150 degrees F.
5. Uncover; rotate pan. Increase power level to High and cook 5 minutes more. On heat-safe surface, let loaf stand, covered loosely with foil, 10 to 15 minutes.
6. To serve: Invert loaf onto warmed serving platter. Garnish with lemon and parsley sprigs.
From The Good Housekeeping Illustrated Microwave Cookbook. New York: Hearst Books, 1990.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Roundup of interesting tidbits

How I love RSS. I would never have come across these stories without the feeds.

Coffee may prevent skin cancer. By which I mean, a study of ultraviolet radiation, exercise and caffeinated water on mice showed that mice who'd taken in the caffeine and exercised had some increased defenses against pre-cancerous cells as compared to mice who'd not exercised or who'd had less caffeine or who'd had neither. Which is certainly not to say that there is any evidence it works the same way in humans, or that coffee works the same as caffeinated water, or that an increase in the ability to eliminate damaged or cancerous cells is the same as preventing or curing cancer, or that this would be applicable to any sort of cancer other than skin cancer. But I fully expect to see all those ideas floated as "scientifically proven" in the media in the next couple of weeks.

Sample American regional cuisine at its best by going to NASCAR. This fun story from the Toronto Globe and Mail combines things I'm into -- good food and fun people -- with things I am so, so, so not into -- car racing, cars, and visiting places as hot as Florida during the summer.

OK, this one has nothing to do with food. I just adore the headline: Stoner Plots Campaign From Farm. "Dude, did you ever notice, the turkey really is in the straw, man. Whooooah."