Sunday, July 6, 2008

Fresh Tomato Shortcake: Bisquick Ick

I’ve been awfully busy of late, which means I’ve been sitting on a gold mine: A cookbook titled More Favorite Name Brand recipes Cookbook and a 1967 Bisquick cookbook. I’m leading off with Bisquick.

Ah, Bisquick. The convenience food that frees you from the trouble of finding and measuring actual ingredients when you want to make biscuits or breads. I hadn’t thought that measuring flour and leavening was especially difficult, but apparently there has long been a demand for pre-mixed ingredients, standardized, shelf-stable, safe from the annoyingly delicious flavor of dairy fresh butter, replete with partially hydrogenated oils. I know our family had a box of the stuff on the shelf for a while; kind of a long while, actually, as I think my mom was quick to realize that she could do a lot better herself when she chose to. But Bisquick is still available, in Original; Heart Smart; Bisquick Complete, enabling you to make biscuits in the flavors Buttermilk, Cheese-Garlic, Honey-Butter and Three Cheese; and now in a “Shake and Pour” jug to which you add water so you can make pancakes. The Web site suggests this enables you to make pancakes for the family in minutes, but doesn’t bother to point out that the time-consuming part of making pancakes is cooking them.

But Bisquick is so much more than pancakes. It’s muffins, dumplings, hamburger pancake roll-ups, meatball pie, chicken fricassee, and country-fried steak. All these and more can be found in So Quick With New Bisquick, a 1967 recipe book that helps home cooks work from breakfast to dessert with the box of lumpy powder. I’ll be fair: Lots of the recipes in the booklet are innocuous, the basics of short dough and casserole thickener and dessert pastry. They might be better if made from scratch—they would certainly be less likely to contain trans fats—but they’re probably not that bad made with the mix. But 1960s color photography and food design seldom disappoints me for long, and I soon found a glorious image of the Fresh Tomato Shortcake.

I’ve given the recipe below, but I admit the description of the ingredients is more appealing than the picture. Far more scary recipes in the book include Ring Around Tuna (canned tuna, cheddar cheese and biscuit dough), Batter Franks (deep fried in a Bisquick batter), and Oriental Meat Pie, which combines ground beef, chopped onion, cream of mushroom soup, milk, soy sauce, salt, olives, parsley and Bisquick biscuit dough in a casserole. I think the soy sauce is supposed to be what makes it “Oriental”; but seriously, that’s quite a stretch.

Here’s the tuna ring:

Upsetting, isn’t it?

And here’s the Chicken Fricassee and Dumplings:

Which doesn’t look quite as awful but is rather pale. There’s a sauce that says, mmm, flour and milk; white, white goodness.

The booklet is full of breathless, cheerful prose exhorting the reliability and speed of Bisquick, and promising that you’ll become the most popular hostess and a well-loved mom if you spoon up Bisquick delicacies from dawn to dusk. One section titled “Remember Gramma’s?” promises you traditional foods like pancakes, chicken and dumplings, and fruit cobbler, in less time, all thanks to the magic of Bisquick. Gramma probably didn’t have the heart to tell readers that making cobbler from scratch doesn’t add more than about five minutes to the effort.

Fresh Tomato Shortcake
Bacon, tomato and cheese flavors—good with lettuce wedges.

Prepare Cheese Sauce (below). Keep sauce hot over hot water. Prepare Shortcakes from Basic Recipe (below), except—omit sugar. Cut 3 tomatoes into thin slices. Fry 6 slices of bacon until crisp; drain on paper towels. Split shortcakes crosswise; spread butter on halves. Place tomato slices between layers and on top of each shortcake. Spoon Cheese Sauce over shortcakes and garnish each with a bacon slice. 6 servings.

Cheese Sauce
3 tbsp. butter
3 tbsp. New Bisquick
¼ tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
¼ tsp. dry mustard
1/8 tsp. ground thyme
1 ½ cups milk
1 ½ cups shredded process sharp Cheddar cheese
Melt butter over low heat in saucepan. Blend in Bisquick and seasonings. Cook over low heat, stirring until mixture is smooth and bubbly. Remove from heat. Stir in milk. Heat to boiling, stirring constantly. Boil and stir 1 minute. Stir in cheese. Cook and stir over low heat until cheese melts. Makes about 2 cups.

Basic Recipe for Shortcake
2 1/3 cups New Bisquick
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled slightly
½ cup milk*
Heat oven to 450 degrees. Mix all ingredients with fork to a soft dough. Knead 8 to 10 times on lightly floured cloth-covered board. roll dough ½ inch thick. Cut with 3-inch floured cutter. Bake on ungreased baking sheet about 10 minutes. Split warm shortcakes.

* If desired, omit butter and add 2/3 cup light cream.

So Quick With New Bisquick: A Betty Crocker Cookbook for Breads, Main Dishes, Desserts. General Mills. New York: Golden Press, 1967.