Retro Recipes and Traditional Fare

Something from the Oven

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by Amy Sherman

somethingfrom.jpg Recently I was at a library book sale and as usual I scanned for hidden treasure among the cookbooks. Browsing cookbooks is nothing short of a history lesson. Here's what I found, as men came back from fighting overseas and Americans travelled abroad for pleasure, their hunger for exotic recipes increased and so did the number of international cookbooks.

Cooking on a budget was a popular theme in times of recession like the 1970's. Curiously the cookbooks from the 50's and 60's were dominated by the use of processed foods. Browsing the volumes, I began to wonder, just how did processed food come to such popularity anyway?

Not long after my shopping trip I began reading Something from the Oven: Reinventing Dinner in 1950s America. Not a cookbook at all, but a rich and fascinating history of cooking in America in the post WWII period up until the early 60's. Suddenly it all made sense! 

Classic Split-Pea Soup

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by Cathy Pollak

peasoup.jpgGrowing up I spent a lot of vacations traveling up the California coast.  It always seemed our first stop was a small town just north of Santa Barbara known as Buellton.  Here we would stop at Pea Soup Anderson's to have...wait for it...their famous split pea soup.
I don't think it was the best pea soup I've ever had but I do know it is where I became a fan of this hardy, green liquid.  There was something about stopping at Pea Soup Anderson's that seemed special.  I'm not sure if it was the giant windmill turning out front or going into the gift shop and buying some candy that made it exciting.  I just remember loving it.

Split pea soup is so easy to make.  It falls into the category of "set it, and forget it" for me.  This recipe is quite tasty and doesn't require any additional seasoning.  We love it with crusty bread on these beautiful but cold winter days.

French Onion Soup Gratine

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by Joseph Erdos

frenchonionsoup.jpgThere is no soup more classic than the French onion soup. It's famous around the world and here in the United States, no bistro menu is without it. It's a soup that is ultimately comforting, flavorful, and adored by everyone who tries it. The best part is breaking through the irresistible topping of bread and melted cheese. No wonder so many people have claimed to be its inventor.

I first came across French onion soup a couple of years ago when a small group of friends and I gathered to celebrate my birthday at Cafe Deville, a rustic French bistro in the East village. We gorged on crusty bread, wine, escargot in butter, and ordered everything that was stereotypically French, including French onion soup. The cheese in that bowl was so stretchy that a knife was needed. It was a very memorable time. Good fun was had by all and the bottle of wine helped too.


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by Joseph Erdos

baekstoffe.jpgWhen I think of casseroles, I imagine layers and layers of meats and vegetables slowly cooking together until fork tender. Baeckeoffe is that casserole; it beats all other casseroles. Beef, lamb, and pork are combined with onions, leeks, and carrots, then drowned in wine, and slowly braised for hours in the oven until just perfect. Baeckeoffe, which translates to baker's oven, originates from Alsace, France, a region that has changed hands many times between France and Germany. In many ways, especially gastronomically, it maintains a German identity. Here you will find beer, sausages, sauerkraut, and vineyards growing typical German grapes like Riesling and Gewürztraminer. Many dishes are specific to this region, Baeckeoffe being one of its most famous traditional foods.

The most appealing features of the dish are its minimum supervision to make and ability to feed a large, busy family—of particular interest in olden times. As the story goes, Alsatian women would drop off their casseroles with the local baker on Monday, which was the day set aside for doing laundry. The baker, who may have had many casseroles in his oven at one time, used a rope of dough between the rim and lid of each casserole to form a tight seal and keep in moisture. The low, steady temperature of the baker's oven was the ideal environment for cooking the Baeckeoffe.

Simple Comfort, No Wok Required

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by Sue Doeden

brie_and_pesto_fondue.jpgThere was a time when gathering people around a fondue pot to cook their own food was very popular. It was the 1970's I think – about the same time I got married. My husband and I recieved three of these "communal" pots as wedding gifts. I think I remember using one or two of them one or two times soon after the wedding. And then they sat. For years.

My experience with fondue was very limited. I remember going to a Minneapolis restaurant with my parents on special occasions where they would serve a a bowl of cheese fondue warming over the flame of a tiny tea candle. Each table of diners would recieve this bowl of melted deliciousness along with a basket of crunchy, house-made garlic croutons. As a young girl, the process of poking one of those toasted chunks with a long, slender fork and dunking it into the warm cheese before popping it into my mouth, felt quite elegant.

And, I do remember a couple of times when my parents had friends over for a "fondue party." It was a long, drawn-out affair, with the meal lasting for hours as each person skewered a piece of meat with a fondue fork and placed it into a fondue pot full of hot, bubbling oil to cook. It's definitely not fast-food. And it's not a meal in 30 minutes or less. It's slow food.

Chicken a la what?

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by Sue Doeden

chicken_a_la_kin.jpgAfter cooking up a bunch of boneless and skinless chicken thighs the other day, I decided to turn some of them into chicken a al king. I don't know what made me think of this dish from the past – white sauce with chicken and vegetables stirred into it. For one thing, I've never really cared much for it. It brings back bad memories of creamed chipped beef and canned peas that my mom used to make when I was a child. She'd serve it over toast. The peas were mushy, the toast was soggy and the chipped beef was – well – chipped beef. I did not like it. Not one bit.

So, why would chicken a la king even drift through my mind? I used to make it every once in a while, but that was years ago. When I mentioned chicken a la king to my husband the other day, he said it had been so long since he'd even heard of it that he'd forgotten all about the creamy gravy-like dish.

I dug out my old recipe and gave it another try. I have to say that on a cool autumn evening, the dish was very satisfying. And quite tasty. I made toast cups to serve with the a la king. I didn't have one, (remember, I don't care for soggy toast) but my husband was raving about what a great match the crunchy toast cups and the hot, creamy chicken a la king were.

Not the Wedgie You're Thinking Of....

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by Cathy Pollak

wedgie.jpgPersonally, I love the wedgie.  I've had them lots of places...some fancy, some not so fancy.  They are a little different everywhere, the dressing that is, not the wedge.

The wedge is always iceberg.  I'm not the biggest fan of the iceberg but it is the perfect, bland vessel for an outstanding dressing.

This particular concoction is no exception.  When I read this recipe, something about the ratios of ingredients just seemed perfect.  Glad I tried it because it is sooooo good.  Perfectly creamy and tangy with a little garlic bite. 

This is going to be a new staple around here, the Blue Cheese Dressing Wedge.

Gratinineed Cucumbers

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by Joseph Erdos

cucumbers.jpgI think it's an American consensus that any dish covered with cheese is better. Steamed broccoli drowned in bright yellow processed cheese comes to mind. But what dinner table in America is without scalloped or gratinéed potatoes? Too bad we Americans can't claim the idea as our own invention. The French came up with gratiné, the method of topping ingredients with breadcrumbs, butter, and cheese and baking under a broiler. Potatoes are the most popular cooked in this method, but other vegetables also deserve this special treatment. Cucumbers, a vegetable that really never gets cooked, make the perfect gratiné.

Why cucumbers? In Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Julia Child offers up her recipe for baked cucumbers and in Julie & Julia, Julie Powell discovers the deliciousness of Julia's baked cucumbers. While reading these books in anticipation of the movie, I couldn't keep cucumbers out of my mind. I just was unable to fathom cooked or baked cucumbers. Then on an episode of Julia and Jacques on PBS, I saw Jacques Pépin sauté cucumbers to serve alongside fish. So I had to try preparing something with cucumbers for myself.


State Fair Winner

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by Cathy Pollak

lemonpoppybread.jpgI know it doesn't look like much, but looks are often deceiving. 

I have been craving a little snack cake.  You know, one of those desserts you curl up with in the afternoon over a cup of coffee and a good read. 

I went searching in my files for something to satisfy my craving for a quick, easy dessert.  I came upon this recipe I clipped out of the Los Angeles Times possibly ten years ago.  I thought it was about time I made it.

This Poppy Seed Cake was a two-top prize winning recipe at the Iowa State Fair (not sure what year) and it's delicious.  Just perfect. 

The cake is moist, airy and totally enjoyable to eat.  It doesn't even need frosting, just sprinkle with powdered sugar and it's ready to devour.


Chocolate Cinnamon Rolls Save a Cookbook

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by Sue Doeden

chocolate_cinnamon_rolls_008.jpgI'm still rolling through my office, trying to organize every inch of it, with the help of my friend, the professional organizer. We're making great progress. Tops of my desks have stayed mostly clear. My files are filling up. I'm finally seeing blank space on the shelves in my storage closet, the result of some purging.

There is much more to do before the job is done. My organizer strongly suggests I get my cookbook collection all in one place and that place should be my office. Cookbooks live on shelves in the storage closet in my office, on shelves and in a bookcase in an extra bedroom, in a pile next to my bed and a few on the ottoman in the living room. I shudder when I think of consolidating this enormous number of books into one space in my office. I fear the "organizer" will tell me to start choosing cookbooks to put in a "give-away box."


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