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Mountain Greenery Casserole

17 Jun

In 1962 Helen Gurley Brown published “Sex and the Single Girl.” It encouraged women to be independent, financially as well as, um, in other areas. It was shocking for its time, and promptly sold two million copies in three weeks. The success of the book led to Helen Gurley Brown being appointed editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan Magazine in 1965. In 1969, Gurly Brown followed up “Sex and the Single Girl” with “The Single Girl’s Cookbook.”

My aunt was a single girl in the Sixties. She also didn’t like to cook.”The Single Girl’s Cookbook” was as much a part of her culinary arsenal as Peg Bracken’s “I Hate To Cook Book.” Last night I made the Mountain Greenery Casserole from “The Single Girl’s Cookbook.”

    Mountain Greenery Casserole
    4 to 6 servings

    1 to 1-1/2 pounds beef shoulder or chuck, ground
    1/2 teaspoon crumbled dried thyme
    1 teaspoon salt
    Dash of pepper
    3/4 cup half and half or light cream
    3 cups mashed cooked potatoes (instant or regular)
    2 tablespoons butter
    1/4 cup sherry
    Greenery topping (see below)

    Brown meat in an ungreased frying pan over moderate heat, stirring often, until the red is gone. Add thyme, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and pepper. Cook over low heat for 10 minutes. Remove from heat, add 1/2 cup of half and half, and set aside.

    If you are using instant mashed potatoes, fix them according to package directions. Add to them the remaining 1/4 cup half and half, butter, sherry, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt and beat well (if you are making mashed potatoes from scratch, add these to the potatoes while you’re making them – TMM).

    Grease a casserole. Spread half the potatoes on the bottom. Cover with meat mixture and add the rest of the potatoes. Bake, uncovered, in a moderate oven (350 degrees F) for 15-20 minutes. At serving time spread greenery topping over casserole. That’s the “mountain greenery,” and very pretty.

    Greenery Topping

    1/2 cup sour cream
    1/2 cup chopped green onions
    1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley

    Mix all ingredients together and refrigerate until ready to use. This can be used as a topping on other hot or cold dishes.

Basically, the Mountain Greenery Casserole is like shepherd’s pie with a sour cream and green onion topping. I thought the topping might be weird but it was delicious. It’s like putting sour cream on a baked potato. I was lazy so I used instant potatoes. I also omitted the sherry because I didn’t have any. Hey, maybe I’m a single girl who hates to cook too. My final opinion? This dish is another winner that I’m going to add to my casserole repertoire.

Vote for Pedro

8 Jun

In honor of my exciting Pyrex haul today, I thought I would break in a couple of pieces and make a retro recipe for dinner. This one also comes from Peg Bracken’s I Hate to Cook Book.

    Pedro’s Special

    1 pound ground round steak

    1 onion, chopped

    1 garlic clove, minced

    1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce plus 1/2 can tomato juice, beef broth or water

    1/2 teaspoon oregano

    2 tablespoons chili powder

    1 (16-ounce) can kidney beans with liquid

    1 medium-size bag corn chips

    A bit of lettuce

    More chopped onion

    Brown together in a little oil the ground meat, onions and garlic. Stir in the tomato sauce, oregano and chili powder. Now dust off a good-sized casserole, grease it, and alternate layers of this mixture with layers of beans and corn chips, ending with corn chips. Bake it, covered, at 350 degrees for 45 minutes, and uncover it for the last 10. Before you serve it, strew some shredded lettuce and chopped raw onion on top, for that Old-Tyme Mexicali look.

In case you’re wondering if tomato sauce still comes in a can, it does. I bought a can of Contadina tomato sauce for $1.29. I figured Contadina was probably around in 1960 when Peg Bracken wrote her book, so it was authentic. One thing I did change was I substituted cumin for the oregano the recipe calls for. Oregano sounds weird to use in a Mexican recipe, but in 1960 they probably didn’t have exotic spices in grocery stores. And if you’re wondering if baked Fritos are weird in a recipe, they are – but they’re also delicious!

I served Pedro’s Special with a side of Goya’s Mexican Rice. It was the perfect complement to the rich tomatoey beef and the crispy baked Fritos.

Cockeyed Cake

4 Jun

Today is a miserable, rainy day. I’m drinking tea – TEA! – in June just to stay warm. It’s been raining for three days straight. I spent the entire weekend indoors. I was bored, so I made a cake. But I didn’t have any eggs or butter in the house, and I didn’t want to go out in the rain to get some. So I needed a recipe that called for ingredients that I already had in my pantry. I found just the recipe.

The Cockeyed Cake recipe is from the “I Hate To Cook Book” by Peg Bracken. When it was first published in 1960, Bracken’s book was revolutionary. With a pinch of irreverence and a dash of irony, it validated what many women felt but didn’t want to admit: that they did not like to cook. Bracken’s recipes are quick and uncomplicated. They often use commercially prepared items, like canned soup. My copy of the “I Hate To Cook Book” was given to me by my aunt, who did not like to cook either. To be honest, she wasn’t and still isn’t a very good cook. Her copy of Bracken’s book is filled with her notations in pencil, like “Good,” “Very Good” – no doubt to guide her in deciding what to make when she was having people over for dinner. The only good thing my aunt makes is a chicken curry recipe that also came from the “I Hate To Cook Book” (Sunday Chicken, if you’re interested). My aunt gave it a “Very Good,” and if it turned out right when she made it than you know Bracken’s recipes are easy. Bracken tells us the Cockeyed Cake recipe is old. I think the omission of eggs, milk, and butter – ingredients you would usually find in a cake – possibly dates it to the Second World War, when these items were scarce. In any event, it was a perfect cake to make on a rainy day as I had all of the ingredients in the house.

    Cockeyed Cake

    1.5 cups sifted flour
    3 Tbsp cocoa
    1 tsp baking soda
    1 cup sugar
    1/2 tsp salt
    5 Tbsp cooking oil
    1 Tbsp vinegar
    1 tsp vanilla
    1 cup cold water

    Put your sifted flour back in the sifter, add to it the cocoa, soda, sugar, and salt, and sift this right into a greased square cake pan, about 9 x 9 x 2 inches. Now you make three grooves, or holes, in this dry mixture. Into one, pour the oil; into the next, the vinegar; into the next, the vanilla. Now pour the cold water over it all. You’ll feel like you’re making mud pies now, but beat it with a spoon until it’s nearly smooth and you can’t see the flour. Bake it at 350 degrees for half an hour.

You could make frosting for it, but that would definitely have involved butter, and possibly milk. So I ate it without frosting. It was pretty good, but there’s something lacking about a chocolate cake that doesn’t use real chocolate, or eggs, or milk, or butter. It tasted better the second day, so maybe it needs time to “set.”

I might make it again, but I would definitely make frosting to go with it. The next recipe I’m planning to make from the “I Hate To Cook Book” is “Pedro’s Special,” a Mexican-style beef casserole that calls for corn chips. I do love Fritos.

Eating My Way Through Cape Ann

1 Jun

Today was a beautiful sunny day in an otherwise rainy week. My sister and I both had the day off from work so we headed up to our favorite coastal town in Massachusetts for some Rockport Happiness. On the way to Rockport we stopped off in Gloucester to a knitting store called Coveted Yarns. They’re located in Rocky Neck, the “artsy” section of Gloucester. I bought the premiere issue of Noro Magazine, the new knitting magazine for the Japanese yarn brand Noro. I’ve been looking for it everywhere as it’s been flying off the shelves at some of my other usual yarn stores. Right next to Coveted Yarns is a barbecue joint called Smokin’ Jim’s. Every time I go to Coveted Yarns I think “Someday I’ll eat at Smokin’ Jims.” Today was the day. Or so I thought. Smokin Jim’s only accepts cash, no credit or debit cards. And there was no ATM in sight. Oh well. Another time, Smokin’ Jim.

Coveted Yarns, Gloucester

Smokin’ Jim’s

Our original lunch plans dashed, we arrived in Rockport and headed over to a little cafe we often eat at called The Red Skiff Grill.

Red Skiff Grill

I had the fish and chips. I always get the fish and chips at Red Skiff. And they have the best cole slaw. I love a good slaw.

After lunch I needed something sweet, so we headed to Tuck’s. They have the best fudge. There’s another candy store in Rockport called the Fudgery, but don’t buy their fudge. Tuck’s fudge is better. Tuck’s is just like an old-tyme candy store. All the candy is displayed behind glass cases and in large glass jars on the countertops.

Tucks.

I sat at the top of Bear Skin Neck and looked out at the water while I ate my fudge. Here’s the fudge and what I looked at while I ate it:

Then we went to Helmut’s Strudel. I didn’t have strudel, though. Just a cup of coffee.

20120601-220950.jpg

I did some shopping in Rockport and bought a few crafty things. I bought a ring from a company called Pink Armor by Amanda. She makes jewelry from vintage fabric and buttons. This cute ring made from vintage fabric only cost $5.

And I went to the town’s bead store, called The Beadles (geddit?). I bought a starfish charm and a small faux pearl to make a little necklace to remind me of the ocean. The store gets a lot of natural sunlight and beads are arranged by color.

After visiting the bead shop we stopped off at Dunkin’ Donuts for a soda for the ride home. I was surprised to find out that it was National Free Donut Day. By the time we got there all the good donuts were gone. So I settled for a chocolate stick.

On the way home, we stopped off in the town of Essex. Essex is famous for two things: fried clams and antiques. In 1916 Lawrence “Chubby” Woodman invented the fried clam, and people have been flocking to Woodman’s ever since.

Woodman’s, an Essex institution since 1914.

You can also buy lobsters at Woodman’s.

Even though we were still full from lunch, we managed to indulge in their onion rings. Woodman’s has the best onion rings.

Golden deliciousness

The Essex River

From there we headed up the Causeway to Howard’s Flying Dragon. They carry an eclectic mix of furnishings, housewares, art, and collectibles. They fit my budget better than the many expensive, high-end antique stores that populate Essex.

Howard’s Flying Dragon. They always have a different message in their window in giant letters every time I go there.

Antique buggy for sale at Howard’s.

At Howard’s Flying Dragon I bought an old Ball Jar, having been inspired by a recent post from Lillibeth’s Garden on spray-painting old mason jars to use as planters or lanterns. I love a new project.

All-in-all it was a fun-filled, food-filled day. I ate a lot, I shopped a little, and I managed not to get too sunburned. Good times.

Thrift Score

1 Jun

Some of my newest purchases of Corning Ware and Pyrex. Did you know Pyrex was a division of Corning Ware? I didn’t either. I got all of these pieces at my local thrift store last Friday.

I found four pieces of Corning Ware blue cornflower. The dish in the first photo (I had a hunkering for mac and cheese after blogging about it last week) cost $3.25. The largest square dish in the second photo was $4, the medium was $2.50, and the mini was $1.50. I scored all four pieces for $11.25. Not bad for my first purchase of vintage Corning Ware. I’m only collecting Blue Cornflower because that’s what I grew up with. My mom still uses her various baking dishes, and she got them as wedding presents 50 years ago.

I also snagged a Pyrex casserole dish in a groovy floral pattern for $3. The pattern’s proper name is Spring Blossom, but it’s unofficially known as Crazy Daisy. I grew up with various Pyrex patterns, and since they come in so many pretty colors and patterns, I’m not going to limit myself to one particular pattern.

I can honestly say that I’m addicted to collecting Corning Ware and Pyrex. I look forward to posting more pics as I add to my collection.

Au Gratin Potatoes, Mac and Cheese, and Corningware

27 May

If you were a child of the Seventies like I was, chances are your mom cooked with Corningware Blue Cornflower cookware. These glass and enamelware dishes and pots were ubiquitous in the Seventies. It was produced betwen 1958 and 1987, and practically every household had them.

My mom cooked Betty Crocker Au Gratin Potatoes in the casserole dish. She and my dad made their morning coffee in the Blue Cornflower percolator. That familiar percolating sound greeted me every morning as I came down for breakfast before going off to school. My mom actually used that percolator up until the early 2000s for Christmas breakfast, when she needed to make more coffee than her 8-cup Mr. Coffee machine would allow. It would probably still work if she plugged it in today. Because if the world were destroyed by a nuclear bomb, only cockroaches and Corningware would survive.

Ad for Betty Crocker Au Gratin Potatoes, 1965. My mother must have seen this ad, because she always served Betty’s Au Gratin potatoes with hot dogs.

One particularly “Seventies” piece of Corningware that my mom had was the Blue Cornflower electric frying pan. It looked like a large, shallow square casserole dish with handles. It set into a base that acted as a hot plate. When it was plugged in it would heat up the dish and you could cook in it, then take the dish off the base and set it on the dinner table. My mom always used it to make beef stroganoff and stuffed veal birds – two particularly Seventies dishes that you don’t see much of these days. We used to have them all the time when I was growing up, but even my mom hasn’t made them in thirty years.

My mom also used her blue cornflower casserole dish to make macaroni and cheese. And no one made mac and cheese better than my mom. When I try to make it myself, it just doesn’t taste as good as hers. She got the recipe off the side of a Ronzoni macaroni box. Here it is:

    1 lb. box of Ronzoni elbows #35
    4 cups sharp cheddar cheese – shredded
    3 tablespoons butter
    4 tablespoons flour
    1 teaspoon salt
    1/2 teaspoon pepper
    3-1/2 cups hot milk
    1/2 cup seasoned bread crumbs

    Cook macaroni as directed on side panel of box. Melt butter in saucepan, blend in flour, salt, and pepper. Add hot milk, simmer 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add 3-1/2 cups of cheese, stir until smooth. Combine drained macaroni with sauce in buttered baking dish. Top with 1/2 cup of cheese and 1/2 cup of bread crumbs. Bake uncovered in 375 degree oven for about 20 minutes.

I’ve tried lightening it up with skim milk and low-fat cheese, but it doesn’t work. Skim milk just isn’t as creamy as whole milk, and low-fat or fat-free cheese doesn’t melt properly. The oil in low-fat cheeses separates and the cheese sauce becomes a congealed mess. So I bite the bullet and make it the way my mom made it. She still makes it this way when I go to her house for dinner. That first bite always reminds me of my childhood.

What retro items from your childhood do you collect? And if anybody knows a good low-fat macaroni and cheese recipe, I’d love to know.

Corningware ad from the late 60s. The coffee percolator and the electric frying pan that my mom had can be seen in front of the lady.