Sunday, September 26, 2010

"The I Hate to Cook Book" - Dr. Martin's Mix (Pork Sausage, Rice and Veggies skillet)

Date I made this recipe: September 25, 2010

The I Hate to Cook Book by Peg Bracken
Published by: Fawcett World Library (paperback)
© 1960; Third Crest Printing, April 1965
Recipe: Dr. Martin’s Mix (Pork Sausage, Rice and Veggies Skillet Dish) – p. 20

Just so we’re clear, Peg Bracken hates to cook. She hates it so much that 40 years ago, she wrote this book and has had people hating to cook (while laughing their butts off at her humor) ever since. And even though I love to cook, I had to add this book to my collection because well, why not? (Sadly, Peg passed away in 2007. And this begs the question: If Broadway dims its lights when a Broadway actor or actress dies, do cooks and chefs turn down their burners? Does the publishing world stop publishing for a minute? Do Home Ec teachers pause mid-dice to observe a moment of silence? Because everyone should--she was that funny).

My husband selected today’s recipe because his last name is Martin and his paternal grandfather was a doctor. Isn’t it great when life works out like that?

I never met his grandfather and only managed to meet his grandmother once but the family certainly has its share of stories. My favorite tale has to be when Dr. Martin took my husband, Andy and his brother, Ben, to the movies. Dr. Martin thought that Midnight Cowboy would appeal to these young lads only to be told by the poor woman in the ticket booth that this movie had absolutely nothing to do with cowboys and Indians! Well, who knew?

Andy’s grandmother, quite the social butterfly in her day, often referred to herself as “Mrs. Dr. Martin.” Now if you knew his grandmother, you’d know that she was a bit full of herself but then I found out that it is customary for women in Germany who are married to doctors to refer to themselves this way and Andy’s grandmother’s grandmother was German. While the second story is plausible, I’m going with a) bragging rights – final answer. (Although I’m told that German holders of two or more PhD’s refer to themselves as Herr Doctor Doctor…hahahahaha…)

So speaking of laughing, here is Peg’s recipe for Dr. Martin’s Mix, exactly as she wrote it 60 years ago:

Dr. Martin’s Mix 4-5 servings
(It takes about seven minutes to put this together. Dr. Martin is a busy man).
Crumble 1 to 1 ½ pounds of pork sausage (hamburger will do, but pork is better) into a skillet and brown it. Pour off a little of the fat. Then add:
1 green pepper, chopped
2 green onions, (also called scallions) chopped
2 or 3 celery stalks, chopped
2 cups chicken consommé or bouillon
1 cup raw rice
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
½ teaspoon salt

Dr. Martin then puts the lid on and lets it simmer at the lowest possible heat until he goes out and sets a fracture. When he comes back in about an hour, his dinner is ready.

And that’s it! Except you need to know that I checked this dish 28 minutes in and the rice was starting to stick to the pan and was a little on the mushy side. So I’d plan on checking it in 20 minutes and then again a little later but definitely do not take the hour indicated or your meal will be scorched! Dr. Martin would very likely not have been happy about that. Mrs. Doctor Martin wouldn’t have been too thrilled, either.

And speaking of names, Peg could have easily called this dish (American) Chop Suey because it certainly resembled dishes I knew (and loved) as a kid with that name. I mean you had your meat, your rice, your chopped peppers and onions—the only thing different was that this recipe used Worcestershire sauce but I bet you could have easily substituted soy sauce and called it a day. If all else fails, there should be an interesting tale to tell. And maybe some day it will end up in a book. We can all only hope.

By the way, a 40th anniversary edition of this cookbook is now available (in hardcover) from most bookstores. Run, do not walk, to get your copy.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

"How to Eat Better for Less Money" by Janes Beard - Old-Fashioned Beach Meat Loaf

Date I made this recipe: September 20, 2010

How to Eat Better for Less Money by James Beard and Sam Aaron
Published by: Simon and Schuster
© 1954, 1970
Recipe: Old-Fashioned Beach Meat Loaf – p. 100

When I was in my hometown visiting my dad in August of this year, one of the things I found was a fee statement from my undergraduate alma mater. The year was 1977, my sophomore year. The fee per credit hour was (brace yourselves parents of current college students) - $25.00. That’s right - twenty five dollars a credit hour. By my calculations, my dad (who paid for my education with U.S. Savings Bonds) was out a whopping $3,200 and change for my four-year degree. But of course that was a lot of money back then.

Well talk about how times have changed. By contrast, my law school education cost a lot more…and I mean a LOT more. I don’t think $25.00 even touched the cost of one of my books. I mean, I know it’s been a while but really—does it cost that much more to teach students today than it did 33 years ago?

So speaking of today, let’s do some fast forwarding. I toyed with getting either an MBA or a law degree and finally decided on law because I wouldn’t have to take statistics or the GMAT that contained math—I hate math and it hates me. (And for the record – calculating billable hours is “law math” and I stink at that as well). I was what was known as a “second career student”—someone who had a career and was looking to change it up. Yes, well, all I can say is I wish I would have read the fine print about how unemployable an older female law graduate would be. (But that’s another story best told over cocktails to other older female law school graduates who are in the same boat. We p&m and order more drinks and suddenly things look brighter…unless we’re in a dimly-lit bar to begin with, of course!).

Since graduating, I have pretty much been forced to become a legal contractor (some would say “whore”), going where the job is for as long as the jobs last. And in a “who would have thought” moment, contract jobs in corporations are generally more stable than jobs at a law firm where litigation support (for those in the know—“document review”) jobs can last for three days or three minutes...and you never know which until you get there. (I swear to you the drill goes like this: They say “The project will last 3 months.” And then two minutes after you’re in it to win it, it changes to: “Did we say 3 months? We meant 3 weeks. Did we say 3 weeks? We meant 3 days. Did we say 3 days? We meant 3 hours…”)

The current job I’m on (back at a corporation I worked for last summer) was supposed to come to an end this past Friday but at the last minute I got a stay of execution. So instead of hearing “One day you’re in...but please pack your knives and go” I heard: “We’re thinking three more weeks.”

By this time, of course, the loin-girding had already started as I performed a mental lockdown on our checking account. I’ve gotten over the stigma of going on and off unemployment but haven’t quite come to grips with the fact that my “hourly” on unemployment is equivalent to a salary last seen by me somewhere around the year 1977! Well, even for that time period, that was a little much so let’s go with
1987. Final answer.

Anyway...feeling the need to cook something on a budget, I pulled out James
Beard’s How to Eat Better for Less Money book. And then promptly cracked up laughing because many of the recipes called for cuts of meat that I consider to be expensive—like saddle of lamb, or even the veal used in my meatloaf (one package was priced at a whopping $8.50—for meatloaf?!) Had I not found a cheaper package of veal, I would have just gone with pork and ground beef although even that would also have been expensive; my recipe called for four pounds of meat. (Well mooo-oooo!) Instead, I made a half recipe and that was more within my budget.

This recipe was good and flavorful and somewhat cheap but you know what, it wasn’t my mom’s. Talk about economical—my mom used oatmeal as filler and that’s the taste I wanted. This one was close, but no cigar. And I didn’t use the amount of bacon called for because I considered that overkill and more expensive (I can buy my bacon by the slice at Whole Foods). But this was fine and we have leftovers and that is the whole point of meatloaf, am I right?

So kids, for three more weeks, I get to earn enough money to sweeten the pot to perhaps make something a little more expensive next week…or not. We’ll see where the recipe wind takes me. But for now I’m safe…and I didn’t even need to cook the meal of my life or channel Jackie Kennedy to do so. (And for those of you lost in America, I reference Top Chef and Project Runway; same with the “one day you’re in…” quote above).

In the words of Tim Gunn from Project Runway - “Make it work…”

Old-Fashioned Beach Meat Loaf (“Beach meatloaf?” As opposed to your “alley” meatloaf or your “swamp meat loaf”???!!) (This is the full recipe but I don’t know how many it is intended to feed. My guess is a lot!)
2 pounds chopped beef, ground twice
1 pound chopped pork, ground twice
1 pound chopped veal, ground twice
1 large onion, chopped or grated
1 carrot, grated
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon rosemary leaves, crushed
½ bay leaf, crushed
2/3 cup fresh bread crumbs
2 eggs
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
Bacon or salt pork strips

Mix all ingredients but bacon or salt pork together and knead thoroughly. Press down. Form into a tight loaf and place on strips of bacon or salt pork in a shallow baking pan. Cover with more strips of bacon and bake in 350 oven, basting frequently for 1 ½ to 2 hours, according to the size of the loaf. (Beard’s note: “This is delicious hot, but even better cold, when it resembles a good pate de campagne of the French provinces. It must not be baked in a loaf pan and it must be well pressed together with the hands before baking).

And now here are my notes: Get out a Cuisinart. Dump in your onion and your carrots and pulse until the vegetables are finely chopped. Add all ingredients, including the meat, turn the thing on and walk away for a minute. Blend the ingredients, turn it back on, walk away for another minute, come back and dump the mixture in a shallow pan. You will not believe how finely ground your ingredients are. Shape with hands then cover with some strips of bacon (as opposed to practically wrapping the thing in bacon like a snuggi), and bake for 1 hour or until the internal temp reaches 165. Serve. Eat the leftovers for several days until the meatloaf is gone or you can’t take it any more!

Monday, September 6, 2010

"The SPAM Cookbook" - Sam Choy's SPAM Loco Moco

Date I made this recipe: September 5, 2010

The SPAM® Cookbook – Recipes from Main Street by Hormel Foods, compiled by Linda Eggers
Published by: Gopher Prairie Press
ISBN: 978-0-9841674-0-1, © 1998
Recipe: Sam Choy’s SPAM® Loco Moto – p. 79

Well, kids, school is now in session and today’s recipe showcases how a word can have more than one meaning. Okay get your pencils ready for the word of the day: Spam.

Those of the more modern generation associate the word “spam” with junk emails sent out to numerous individuals in an attempt to wreck havoc with the world…and specifically my computer.

This past Friday, someone hacked into one of my email accounts and sent a spam email to my entire address book saying that I was in London (ha! I wish!), that I was mugged and I needed money. (And while it is true that a buck or two would be helpful, I would likely have not contacted my friends via email to hit them up for $1500 bucks!).

This spam caused me to be locked out of my email account for two days running. Can we talk about how frustrating that is? It also caused no less than 7 people to call me to see if I was okay. And the thing that cracked me up most of all is the requirement that I sign in to my email account to email the support team to tell them that I’m locked out and need my password reset. Not to be snarky but how, pray tell, am I supposed to sign in to say I need help signing in when I cannot sign in?

So I wish I would have been the recipient of the other spam…as in SPAM®, the precooked canned “ham” product made by one of Minnesota’s own, Hormel Foods Corporation, located in Austin, MN. (By the way, years ago, I did some work with the Hormel Credit Union. The woman who answered the phone always pronounced it “Hor-mull” but we (we rubes, perhaps?) always called it Hormel…like caramel. I’m not sure which is correct but it made me chuckle).

Okay, show of hands: how many of you had SPAM® as a kid? Because I have to tell you folks, you were either in the rank and file of families whose moms stretched a food budget by including an occasional Spam® dinner in the mix or you weren’t. And to my amazement, several of my friends, all whom grew up like me in the 60’s, seemed to have missed out on this life-changing experience. I am happy to say that we were a SPAM® household! (Although not often and when it was, it was always doctored up (as my mom would say) by cloves and a ham glaze.)

So, okay…SPAM®…the history…SPAM® was first produced in 1937 and was widely used by US troops during WWII. Perhaps this is why my father, a WWII vet, didn’t mind my mom making SPAM® for dinner every once in a while.

In 1970, the comedy troop, Monty Python, wrote the SPAM® song (which I always thought went “Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Spamity Spam…” but a quick check of the lyrics indicates that it did not. How disappointing. But who cares? I’m going to sing it the way I sing it and there it is.). And years later, SPAMALOT, a spoof of Camelot, and likely the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail, hit the Great White Way and that, as they say, was that. I’d venture a guess to say that SPAM® likely experienced resurgence after that and rightly so.

So by now you must be wondering how it was that I even came to go down memory lane and make this SPAM dish and for that you can blame it on the Minnesota State Fair.

Although I’m usually on an “every five years” attendance plan, I went to the fair this year with my friend, Mary (for reasons too long and involved to go into here). And not more than two seconds into the place, we spied the SPAM® sign on one of the buildings. And it turned out to be a SPAM® gift shop. And people—oh, the joy of seeing that beloved SPAM® name (not to mention the blue and gold colors which, by the by, are the same as the University of Michigan’s – Go Blue!) on everything from golf clubs to flip flops. (The flip flops were especially cool because the word SPAM® was carved out on the bottom so it would leave an imprint in the sand).

And so of course there were two SPAM® cookbooks for sale, one of which I had seen before but have not yet purchased, and the other was new to me and so that’s the one I went with. It’s a little book and while lacking in photos, it more than made up for it because there were recipes from around the U.S. just in case you wanted to tailor-make your recipe to your region.

And so that led to me making the infamous (I am not kidding here) Hawaiian dish, Loco Moco. And not just any Loco Moco but Sam Choy’s Loco Moco, Sam Choy being a famous Hawaiian chef and all. And actually, not just Sam Choy’s Loco Moco but Sam Choy’s SPAM® Loco Moco. Does it get any better? I think not.

Now before I get into the Loco Moco recipe, I have to pause here for station identification and to tell you that prior to me buying this cookbook, I had decided to try to make something that was “fair-worthy” for this blog but was having a heck of a time doing so. I don’t have that many Minnesota cookbooks and the ones I looked through did not have a recipe that really sent me flying.

And then there’s the problem of “the stick”—as in the running joke for years and years and years is that all the State Fair food is on “a stick.” Because, people, most of it is!

This year, for instance, you can get deep-fried bologna (wow—I spelled bologna wrong and had to run through the Oscar Mayer song until I got the letters right!) …on a stick, and deep-fried bacon cheddar mashed potatoes…on a stick…and so on and so forth. In previous years, it was pork chop…on a stick and alligator…on a stick and “hot dish” (casserole)…on a stick. We don’t have time to discuss the “deep-fried” portion of our program but let me just say four words that should make you shudder: “deep-fried cheese curds.” (Okay, technically “deep-fried” is a compound word and only counts as one word…so sue me).

So…if I had purchased the other cookbook, I could have made a SPAM shish kabob on a stick (because there was a recipe for that) and called it a day but that was way too easy. And so I locked and loaded on that island favorite, Loco Moco.

For those not familiar, Loco Moco is a favorite Hawaiian dish that includes meat and gravy, a fried egg and rice. Although I didn’t have a loco moco while in Hawaii (why, I do not know) at least I tried the Hawaiian lunch plate that consists of meat (usually fish) plus rice plus macaroni salad. Ours is not to question why.

And given how Hawaiians love their SPAM® (for reasons that are still had to fathom), it should come as no surprise that it was included in a Loco Moco recipe.

Now I will give you this: I am not a big fan of salt and although I could have gone with low-sodium SPAM, that would be cheating, and I’m not too fond of brown gravy, especially the mix kind that is loaded with sodium. But when in Rome…or when in Hawaii…or when at the Minnesota State Fair, one makes compromises. So eat it and enjoy it! Mahalo (or should I saw “Moo?”)

Sam Choy’s SPAM® Loco Moco (*not currently on a stick but give us time) – Serves 2
1 can SPAM® Luncheon Meat, chopped (the recipe says 7 ounce but all I found was 12)
½ cup chopped onions
1 package brown gravy mix
4 cups cooked white rice
4 eggs, fried any style

In a large skillet, sauté SPAM® and onion until lightly browned, and set aside.

In a small saucepan, empty brown gravy mix and stir in 1 cup water. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat and let simmer 1 minute. Place warm rice in bowls. Fill with SPAM® mixture, then eggs and top with gravy.