Saturday, August 23, 2008

Sweet, sweet cauliflower

Once again, I must apologize for protracted absence and reassure you that, as Granny Weatherwax would insist, I aten’t dead. I have just been doing other things. You can accuse me of having my priorities out of whack.

But you cannot accuse me of suggesting that you could pour Coca-Cola over cauliflower and call it food. That crime is ascribable to the editors of Consumer Guide, who in their 1984 More Favorite Brand Name Recipes Cookbook offer this among other less sinister recommendations for working brand-name foodstuffs into your cooking. Sadly, the book does not have many photos, just a few more presentable concoctions in a center-pages insert; I regret this because I would really like to know what this cauliflower mess looks like when ready to serve, but I am not about to waste a perfectly good head of cauliflower to find out for myself.

I’m also utterly mystified about what makes it Japanese. And for that matter I have my doubts about its “pickled” status; to me, the combination of about a cup of sugar and cola with 3/8 of a cup of vinegar and half a tablespoon of salt seems more likely to result in syrup than brine. Perhaps “candied cauliflower” didn’t test well with audiences.

Most of the other recipes in the book are less bizarre than the combination of Coke and cauliflower, but they still include a lot of stretches to include brand-name ingredients where other, less processed foods would probably do just as well or even better. A pork and cheese casserole calls for a particular brand of bleu cheese crumbles, but I’m pretty sure you could substitute whatever kind you had handy. “Chinese Skillet Dinner” lists only one brand-name ingredient, Premium Saltines, half of which are crumbled and mixed in with a combination of butter, celery, scallions, chicken and rice soup, chicken, frozen broccoli, lemon juice and soy sauce; the other half are thinly sliced (yeah, right) and used to scoop up the mixture. Many of the recipes make this halfhearted effort at brand loyalty. Perhaps the editors of Consumer Guide realized what a joke this all was.

The dessert chapters look comparatively good, largely because most of the brand-name ingredients required there are things like Pillsbury flour, Hershey’s chocolate chips and Libby’s canned pumpkin—items that many cooks would already use, or that are easily replaced with better-quality offerings like Ghirardelli. But even in these sections some weird items appear: Superose Liquid Fructose, Butter Buds, Sweet & Low, Dr. Pepper. Significant effort and expense went into producing a book of recipes that would have been far better in the aggregate if readers had been advised to turn away from processed mixes and substitutes and just cook with real food.

Japanese Pickled Cauliflower
1 medium sized head of cauliflower
1 green pepper
½ cup very thinly sliced celery
¾ cup Coca-Cola
6 tablespoons wine vinegar or white vinegar
¼ cup sugar
1 ½ teaspoons salt
Break off each floweret in cauliflower, wash and drain. Wash and remove seeds from green pepper; cut into thin 2-inch strips. In large bowl, combine cauliflower and green pepper. Cover with boiling water; let stand 2 minutes; drain thoroughly. Add celery. In small pan, heat Coca-Cola with remaining ingredients. Pour over vegetables. Toss lightly with a fork, and pack into a 1-quart glass jar. Push down lightly so liquid covers vegetables. Cover and chill overnight. This keeps in the refrigerator for several days.
Makes about 1 quart
From More Favorite Brand Name Recipes Cookbook, by the Editors of Consumer Guide. Skokie, Ill.: Publications International Ltd., 1984.


sally said...

I do not understand. Presumably there is a test kitchen. Aren't they required to actually sample the things they make? This sounds absolutely vile.

Anonymous said...

If you left out the Coke, it would be a regular quick Japanese pickle--the kind of thing a housewife might make while dinner was cooking. With the Coke . . .

. . . ew.

Why not Black Cherry Salad, which is made with Coke, Jell-O, and actual cherries? Or Coca-Cola Canned Ham? They're still made with processed ingredients, but at least they taste good!

Jenny Islander

Anonymous said...

Oh, ick. Oh, ick. What if the author used a Japanes pickle recipe that called for soy sauce or miso? And replaced it with Coke . . . because it was brown?

I think I just made myself ill.

Jenny Islander

Samatakah said...

"Keeps in the refrigerator for several days."

Or until you throw it out one day months later while cleaning the back of the fridge.