Saturday, March 30, 2013

Special Edition: Bone Appetit!

Well, I've taken it into my head to create my own molded food recipes. Imagine, me, a molded food cook!

I wanted to start with something, though, that wasn't too difficult to make, and would be sure to be eaten without complaint.  So I decided to make something tempting for the Dogs.

Now, I'm not one to spoil my dogs, unless you count brushing their teeth every night, or buying a bigger bed so that they could sleep with husband and me, or planning entire vacations around the availability of favorite dog-sitters.

But, they do enjoy the occasional break from canned food (albeit the highest quality canned food) so, after ensuring that gelatin was indeed non-toxic to dogs, I set about creating the following recipe.

I used a basic aspic recipe as the template. I'm not entirely happy with the beef broth, because of the sodium, so maybe next time I'll just use the boiling water from the chicken.

So, here's the recipe:

1 envelope Knox unflavored gelatin
1 3/4 cups low-sodium beef broth, divided
1 chicken breast or thigh, boiled and diced
2 large carrots, cooked and diced
1 apple, peeled and diced

Sprinkle gelatin on 1/2 cup of the beef broth to soften. Place over low heat and stir until gelatin is dissolved. Remove from heat and stir in remaining 1 1/4 cups of broth.

Pour 1/2 inch layer of broth mixture into a rectangular mold.  Chill until firm.

Meanwhile, boil chicken and carrots together in unsalted water. Simmer until chicken is cooked.  Dice chicken and carrots.

Artfully arrange diced chicken and carrots atop layer of firmed gelatin. Top with diced apple.  Pour remainder of gelatin into mold and chill until firm.

Unmold on serving plate and garnish with kibble, if desired.

The Dogs had already had their evening meal, so I just gave each of them a small sample to try.

What they thought:
They also each had a larger serving for breakfast next morning, with similar enthusiastic results. I'd say that the recipe makes about 8 meal-sized servings for a 20-40 pound dog, more if you're using for treat purposes only.

Our Rating: Zero Whining Dogs!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Banana Salmon Salad

Banana Salmon Salad
500 Delicious Salad Recipes, p. 8
One of my recent eBay acquisitions was the delightful "500 Delicious Salad Recipes" published by the Culinary Arts Institute in 1951.  A wonderful compilation, valuable for its extensive instruction on home-made dressings alone, as well as an entertaining primer from the dawn of congealed salads and HOLY CRAP BANANA AND SALMON SALAD
Being that the recipe was published in 1951, it's undoubtedly a nod to the craze for "Polynesian" foods that swept across middle class America from the late forties through early 70's.  (If the thought of Polynesian Restaurants and Tiki Lounges dotting the landscape doesn't make you nostalgically melancholic, then you're probably in the wrong place.)

We can largely credit Victor "Trader Vic" Bergeron and his chain of restaurants for igniting the craze, and satisfying the hunger for foreign-esque foods that our boys had brought back from the Pacific theatre of World War II.  The formula is simple:  take any savory substance, preferably a roasted meat of some kind, and add overwhelming amounts of a sickeningly sweet glop, like grape jelly, pineapple, or maraschino cherries. Or a combination of the three.  Add a banana for a little texture variation and, voila! you've got yourself a backyard luau!

(The rise and fall of Polynesian cookery is superbly chronicled by Jane and Michael Stern in their books The Encyclopedia of Bad Taste and American Gourmet, both sadly out of print but well worth tracking down.)

So, here we go:

3 ripe bananas, diced
1/2 cup diced canned pineapple (about 2 slices)
1 1/2 cups canned salmon
1/4 cup diced celery
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon chopped pickle
Mayonnaise to moisten

Mix bananas and pineapple together. Add flaked salmon. Fold in remaining ingredients. Garnish with crisp lettuce or other greens and lemon slices. Serves 8.

Let me state at the outset that canned salmon is a horrid thing. Unlike canned tuna, a can of salmon contains bits of skin and bone and is a messy reminder that what you're about to ingest actually came from nature.  So "flaking" (otherwise known as "meticulously picking through to ensure that you got all the tiny needle-thin bones out") is a necessity.  And the intoxicating smell of salmon being flaked is sure to attract an attentive audience.
Also, there's a very fine line between "dicing" and "pulverizing" bananas.  Use a delicate touch, gals, and make sure that your bananas are not over-ripe!

I wasn't sure about the last two ingredients:  "chopped pickle"....was I meant to chop my own, or was there actually once a product called chopped pickle that one could buy?  Should I chop dill or sweet pickles?  Since another recipe in this book specified chopped dill pickle, I assumed sweet was what was wanted, so I just used garden-variety sweet pickle relish.

And mayonnaise to "moisten"...I used a heaping tablespoon, which from the resulting consistency of the dish may have been a bit too much, but if I've learned anything thus far, it's that mayonnaise never hurt anything.

What we thought: Not wanting to alert Husband to the presence of fish and banana in the same dish, for the taste test I made him close his eyes while I ladled a dollop of the salad into his mouth.  I recorded his impressions, which are transcribed below:

"Why would you mix all those flavors and textures together?"

"Did I just eat egg, pepper, tuna, and.....strawberry?"

"Can I have another bite?"

"Are there potatoes in that?"

"Definitely celery."

"It's so confusing! Is there tuna in this? Chicken?" 

(I then showed him page 8 of the book and told him that the recipe was on that page.)

"Oh My God it's Banana Salmon Salad. Oh that's delicious!  That's canned salmon? Bobb that's fantastic!"

For my money, it's awfully reminiscent of good old American tuna salad.  In fact, it tastes almost exactly like tuna salad, if tuna salad had bananas in it.  If I make it ever again, I'll just go ahead and use tuna, to avoid the hassle of picking through the salmon.  I honestly can't even distinguish the pineapple taste, so if you're tempted to try this at home, you might up the amount to give it more of a Polynesian exoticism.
Our Rating: Zero Screaming Husbands!
(all dishes are rated from one to five Screaming Husbands. One Screaming Husband equals a happy home where all problems are solved during cocktail hour. Five Screaming Husbands signals the beginning of divorce proceedings.)

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

(Not my) Granny's Tomato Aspic Ring

Granny's Tomato Aspic Ring
submitted by Stefania Butler, The Internets
So, here's how it all went down; Husband informed me we were to host a birthday potluck for a work associate of his.  Besides supplying my regionally-favorite Sky-like Chili and Pigeon Pea Dip (both to be featured soon in this very spot!) I was determined to try my hand at supplying a molded salad and subjecting my party guests to a taste test.

So as not to completely overwhelm them (I mean, at the moment we're pretty dependent on Husband's salary to survive, so...) I decide to go with a simple, classic tomato aspic.  I have dim memories of eating such a thing on occasion in my childhood, and my mother still extols the virtues of the dish, but my memories weren't recent enough to recall the taste, and certainly not the making of.

There are so many variations of the recipe, that I let my Googling skills determine one of the simplest, which I found here.  The recipe, as printed:

1 quart tomato juice
1/3 cup finely diced onion
1/4 cup finely cut celery leaves
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp salt
2 small bay leaves
4 whole cloves
2 tbsps unflavored gelatin
1/4 cup cold water
1 cup thinly sliced celery
crisp salad greens
for garnish: mayonnaise, avocado, and/or small bay (salad) shrimp

Combine tomato juice, onion, celery leaves, sugar, salt, bay leaves, and cloves in an enamel or glass saucepan. Simmer five minutes over medium heat. Strain.

Soften gelatin in cold water and stir into hot tomato mixture. Add lemon juice. Chill until partially set. Add celery. Stir gently.

Pour into lightly oiled 1 1/2 quart ring mold. Chill until firm. Unmold onto salad greens. Fill center with cold mayonnaise and/or with sliced avocado and shrimp.

One problem - I didn't adequately anticipate my shopping needs. Thinking I had tomato juice at home, I didn't buy any.  What I thought was tomato juice turned out to actually be V-8...exactly 1 quart.  So I took a chance and used it (as one party guest remarked, "it's probably what saved it.")

Working with unflavored gelatin is still new to me and still gives me a thrill.  I feel like I'm doing a science project. Seems like some enterprising young buck could do a bit of creative brainstorming and see what sorts of crazy flavor combinations he could come up with.  Oh wait, that's me.  Stay tuned!

The rest of the recipe came together fairly easily.  Because I was working with V-8, I cut back a bit on the onion, celery and salt, but went full in with the brown sugar.

The mold chilled about five hours in a copper mold, and was just a bit runny when I unmolded it, but didn't fall apart.  In a nod to the directions in the recipe, I surrounded the ring with avocado and canned salad shrimp, but left the mayonnaise on the side to be used at the diner's discretion.

What we thought: Me - anything reminiscent of a Bloody Mary is aces in my book. I'm thinking of adding horseradish and vodka and trying for a Bloody Mary Jell-O shooter next time.

It really wasn't bad at all, but as with the Ring-Around-The-Tuna, a dab of mayonnaise makes it go down pretty easy.  The salad shrimp and avocado were a nice touch, but not completely necessary other than for presentation purposes.

Husband - "The Tomato Aspic had a nice refreshing flavor, a nice balance to the heavier dishes in the potluck. I don't know why people stopped making it."  I can confide that husband didn't care for the salad shrimp at all.

Party Guests - admittedly, I didn't interview them all individually, but there were ten guests, and only about a serving and a half left at the end of the night. So someone must have liked it.

I'm going to make it again on Easter Sunday for mother and see if it stands up to her standards. In all, I think it's probably something I wouldn't mind making, non-ironically,  and on occasion, perhaps alongside a chicken or fish dish.

Our Rating: Zero Screaming Husbands!
(all dishes are rated from one to five Screaming Husbands. One Screaming Husband equals a happy home where all problems are solved during cocktail hour. Five Screaming Husbands signals the beginning of divorce proceedings.)

Saturday, March 9, 2013


"A beautiful jewel-like entree salad for your luncheon or buffet table!"
-"Joys of Jell-O", page 65

In for a penny, in for a pound they say. So I've been scouring eBay for vintage recipe books (that are in my price range, which limits me quite a bit.)

My first triumph arrived in the mail yesterday, the 1963 edition of "Joys of Jell-O". I literally squealed with delight when I opened the package.

Not only recipes, but so much more - recommended chilling times, tips on un-molding, and even a delightful preface, "The Story of Jell-O...And Why It Grew";

Jell-O Gelatin first grandly shimmered its way into American dining rooms in 1897. Just how many brands in your kitchen go back 65 years? Very few, you can be sure, and fewer still have continued to grow in popularity the way Jell-O Gelatin has each year.

...Jell-O Gelatin's long-time popularity comes from many good things. Its lightness is one - a big one. Jell-O Gelatin is so light it seems to make any meal sit a little lighter. Its fresh fruit taste, so much like the fruit that inspired it, is utterly satisfying. And its easy to fix in all kinds of ways - some we'll wager that have never entered your mind. 

Fair enough. Encasing tuna fish in lime Jell-O never would have entered my mind (and this is coming from someone who's already put corned beef in Jell-O.)

But, come on. It's called "Ring-Around-The-Tuna". How could I not. It's like Joys of Jell-O was daring me to make it.

As I've come to find out, one of the major frustrations when making a savory Jell-O dish is trying to balance out the sweetness of the fruit flavoring.  Jell-O in fact did address this problem, briefly, in the 1960's, by developing four savory flavors:  celery, mixed vegetable, seasoned tomato, and italian salad.

For some reason, the savory flavors weren't so popular, and were discontinued shortly after their introduction. Oddly, I remember a box of tomato flavor Jell-O which sat, unused, in our pantry through most of my childhood.  Though likely to be inedible after 50 years, you can still find unopened boxes of these flavors for sale if you're so inclined.

The more standard method of turning sweet-to-savory is by adding vinegar and grated onion.  In an earlier recipe, I pooh-poohed the idea of grating onion versus fine dicing, but I have finally seen the light; grating produces an onion slush that can mix in and flavor the entire mold, rather than bits of flavor here and there.

Now then, here is the recipe in all its glory:

1 package (3 oz.) Jell-O Lime or Lemon-Lime Gelatin
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup boiling water
3/4 cup cold water
 2 tablespoons vinegar
2 teaspoons grated onion
1/2 cup diced cucumber
1/ cup diced celery*
2 tablespoons chopped pimiento*
2 tablespoons sliced stuffed olives
1 can (7 oz.) tuna, drained and flaked
* or reduce celery to 1/4 cup and substitute 1/2 cup chopped tomato for the pimiento

Dissolve Jell-O Gelatin and salt in boiling water. Add cold water, vinegar, and onion. Chill until very thick. Stir in remaining ingredients. Pour into individual ring molds or a 1-quart ring mold. Chill until firm. Unmold on crisp salad greens. If desired, serve with additional tuna and top salads with mayonnaise. Makes 3 2/3 cups, or about 4 entree servings.

This goes together fairly quickly, the most time consuming part was grating the onion.  Husband got a peek at the recipe title as I was putting it together and gasped, "Wait, there's not tuna in it, is there?"  Heh.

Now, the officially-approved trick to adding items to Jell-O is to "chill until very thick, not set".  Maybe  judging the point at which Jell-O is very thick but not set was a skill taught in Home Economics classes back in the day, but frankly it caused me a lot of anxiety. I watched it like a mother hen. And I'm still not sure if I chose the right moment to add everything in, but made my best guess.

Whether because of my mixing style or timing, my mold ended up being somewhat cloudier than the photo sample provided in Joys of Jell-O:

I am exceedingly fond of my radish roses, however.

What we thought: This is actually not the most disgusting thing I've ever had in my mouth (no gay jokes, please). You can definitely tell that there's tuna in it, but it's not an overpowering taste.

Husband likes the mix of textures. The most jarring thing for both of us is the uneasy mix between sweet and salty - unlike, say, salted caramel, the two extremes here don't mix quite so well. Nonetheless, husband said "I would almost welcome that on a hot summer's day."

We each tried a second taste with a dollop of mayonnaise on top, and it worked much better at smoothing out the salty-sweet disparity.  A quarter cup or so of mayonnaise mixed in before chilling might not be such a bad idea. Were it still available, I wouldn't be opposed to trying this recipe with celery-flavored Jell-O, or even the discontinued lemon-lime. In fact, lemon might even be a better fruit-flavored choice for this particular recipe, especially with the addition of mayonnaise.

So mock if you will, but there may be something to this gelatin cookery after all. Or maybe I'm just a fat slob who'll eat anything.  Nonetheless, I'll continue tasting so you don't have to!

Our Rating: Two Screaming Husbands!

(all dishes are rated from one to five Screaming Husbands. One Screaming Husband equals a happy home where all problems are solved during cocktail hour. Five Screaming Husbands signals the beginning of divorce proceedings.)

Cornflower Salad

Cornflower Salad
contributed by Opal Pruitt, Buda, Ill.

Like the beloved Guess What Salad, this sort of ended up looking like vomit encased in gelatin.  But, unlike the Guess What Salad, the main ingredient here is cream corn, which already looks a lot like vomit on its own, so one could reasonably expect that the gelled version would, too.  And yet, Opal Pruitt of Buda, Illinois thought it wise to go ahead with this recipe.

Here it is:
2 no. 2 cans cream corn
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. onion, grated
Pepper to taste
2 tbsp. sugar
3 envelopes unflavored gelatin
1/2 c. water
6 cooked carrots
6 medium green peppers, hollowed

Blend corn, onion, salt, pepper and sugar. Soften gelatin in water; dissolve over hot water. Add to corn mixture. Put a piece of carrot in each hollowed out pepper and fill with corn mixture. Set peppers in muffin pan to steady them while chilling. Slice and serve on salad greens with dressing.

Two challenges right off the bat - I've never worked with unflavored gelatin, and what the hay is a no. 2 can?

The second question was quickly answered by my crack Googling skills - and here's a handy chart of old-timety can size equivalents for easy reference. Turns out no. 2 is about 20 ounces. Now, I'm no rocket scientist, but if my 7th-grade math skills are serving me correctly, using two no. 2 cans would result in about five cups of cream corn slop.  Having recently dumped a gallon of unused glop down the drain, I decided off the bat to halve the recipe, since it's just Husband and me.

The closest I could get to a 20-ounce can these days was 14 3/4 ounces, so I reckoned that close enough to 20 for my purposes.

Now, the unflavored gelatin.  It's a pretty intimidating process, like conducting a little science experiment in your very own kitchen!  First, you sprinkle the gelatin granules on top of cold water (or whatever liquid flavor base you might be using.)  After a few moments it turns into something resembling tile caulk.  Then, you have to heat it up without adding more liquid, and stir until the gel is all dissolved.  (I set the measuring cup in a pan of boiling potatoes which I was using for another recipe,  Dingle Fish Pie, which is delicious and thus not suitable for this blog.)

Okay, now that I read over that last paragraph, it doesn't sound so difficult or amazing.  But it is a lot less convenient than instant-mix Jell-O, plus at this point I was about two cocktails in.

I also wasn't exactly sure of the benefit of grating onion vs. just dicing it really fine, so I did the latter.

The trickiest part of the entire operation was balancing the cooked carrot in the middle of the hollowed-out green pepper while pouring in the corn slop.  Then trying to ensure that it stayed erect (heh heh) during the chilling process, which took quite a while. Overnight, in fact. (You can see in the above photo how one of the carrots, meant to represent the pistil, got whopper jawed.)

(Incidentally, I'm really impressed with myself that I pulled the word pistil out of my ass just now.  I'm not even sure if it's the right word, but one of my biologist cousins will set me straight if not.)

What we thought:  The gelled corn slop was okay, but not really flavorful enough to cover for the green pepper taste, which sort of overwhelmed.  Also, the gel doesn't really adhere to the green pepper very well...once sliced, one would need to serve right away, as the gelatin tends to slip out of its protective pepper-frame.

I really didn't like this one bit, owing in large part to my dislike for raw green peppers.  Which biases me, and what I think is not germaine anyway.  I might have liked it better had I followed the suggestion to serve "with dressing" but I couldn't imagine what would go with it. Ranch?

Husband....loved it. It might be his favorite thing I've made yet.  Go figure.
Our Rating: Zero Screaming Husbands!

(all dishes are rated from one to five Screaming Husbands. One Screaming Husband equals a happy home where all problems are solved during cocktail hour. Five Screaming Husbands signals the beginning of divorce proceedings.)

Friday, March 1, 2013

Pickle-Cheese Pineapple

Pickle-Cheese Pineapple
Favorite Recipes of America Vol. III: Salads, pg. 335

I was on my way to my already-earmarked recipe for today (Party Pork Crown, coming soon!) when I stumbled upon this treasure.  Aside from the delightfully ambiguous name (which can also double as a creative alternative to Rock-Paper-Scissors on a long car trip: Pickle sours Cheese, Cheese covers Pineapple, Pineapple smashes Pickle) but also because of the list of ingredients, because HOLY CRAP PEANUT BUTTER AND PICKLE RELISH TOGETHER.

I had always assumed that the scene in Auntie Mame when Doris Upson discloses that the secret ingredient in her tuna balls is peanut butter was meant as a parody of mid-century cooking, not a literal transcription. So I had to try it right away.

l to r: Lee Patrick (Doris Upson); Rosalind Russell (Mame Dennis); Willard Waterman (Claude Upson). If you haven't seen the wonderful 'Auntie Mame' (1958) then you have no business here.

The recipe (unattributed to a single individual, perhaps wisely) is as follows:

2 8-oz. pkg. cream cheese, softened
1/2 c. grated process Swiss cheese
1/2 c. grated process Cheddar cheese
1/2 c. peanut butter
1/2 c. sweet pickle relish
Sweet gherkins

Combine cheeses, peanut butter and pickle relish; blend. Chill thoroughly. Shape into oval. Garnish with sweet gherkin slices and strips to resemble a pineapple. Serve as a spread for rye bread.

Things bought for this recipe:  Peanut Butter, Cream Cheese, Swiss Cheese.
Things already on hand:  Cheddar cheese, pickle relish, gherkins

Since it's just Husband and I, I halved the recipe, which may have affected the final shape I was able to achieve.  But, oh!  The empowerment of being felt artistic enough to craft my own pineapple shape!  What a boon it must have been to mid-century housewives, finally able to make use of their art history degrees from Swarthmore!

Thankfully, for the un-artistic, a guide photo was included:

I was confused by the instruction to blend; should I hand-mix, or use a processor? Since it wasn't explicit, I went ahead and hand-mixed with a spatula, and it wasn't too difficult.

The sculpting medium of cheese-peanut butter is difficult to work with. It was awfully hard to avoid using my hands. I ended up using the plate it was sitting on as a potter's wheel, spinning it with one hand while I used the spatula to shape with the other hand.

I also, apparently, didn't see the instruction to chill before applying the gherkin pieces - I found that the "pineapple" tended to lose its shape, so once complete I stuck it in the freezer for about 15 minutes to let it set.

What we thought: Licking the spatula after mixing, I was pleasantly surprised.  It was slightly reminiscent of pimento cheese, there was hardly a hint of peanut butter OR pickle relish, the overwhelming taste was the cream cheese.

After pulling it out of the fridge for husband, I'm ashamed to admit that my sculpting skills let me down. On first sight, he exclaimed "Oh, it's so cute!"  But when asked to identify what he was looking at, he first guessed "octopus," then "bathing cap".  Only when prompted with the clue "Hawaiian fruit" did he correctly identify it.

His reactions on first taste, in order:

"What are you trying to do to me?"

"Is this what I think it is?"  (He, also being a devotee of Auntie Mame, thought it might be the peanut butter-tuna combination)

"Hmmm, it's not bad."

My own second taste determined that chilling had really brought out the peanut butter flavor, so much so that it couldn't be hidden.  Not that it was entirely bad.  My own mother has long extolled the virtues of peanut butter and dill pickles together, so maybe there's something to it after all.  In the course of "tasting" the concoction (spread on pumpernickel rounds) we managed to eliminate nearly half of it. 

If you're game to try it,  you might spice it up a bit...add some red pepper flakes and basil, maybe, try to pass it off as a Thai recipe.  All in all, not nearly as horrible as it looked on paper.

Our Rating: Two Screaming Husbands!

(all dishes are rated from one to five Screaming Husbands. One Screaming Husband equals a happy home where all problems are solved during cocktail hour. Five Screaming Husbands signals the beginning of divorce proceedings.)