Normally, I like to follow recipes, but every now-and-then, it makes sense to know how to cook things without one, and here is a method you can use for many things, from greens to Brussels sprouts. This method comes from Paul Mayer’s 1975 “Vegetable Cookbook” (published by Concord, California’s own Nitty Gritty Productions – YEAH!) and is quite easy and tasty. And so I turned to this when I got some strange greens at the farmer’s market and was not sure what to do with them.
My daughter and I have a game we play at the farmer’s market, where we have to buy something we have not tried before and cook it up. This is always enjoyable, but sometimes not exactly delicious. This time, however, it was a rousing success. Thank you, O vegetarians of the 70s! (Yep, that means you, Mom.)
Choy Sum, aka Canton Bok Choi. I had certainly never bought this before, at least not in this flowered state: a bundle of leaves and many, many bright, mustard-yellow flowers that were said to be edible. On this day at the market, everyone seemed to have piles of the stuff, as is the case with the smaller local markets where you really get JUST what is in season locally, even if it means all anyone has that day is carrots and onions. So my daughter and I made a deal – we would get some, and just try it, knowing that it might taste awful, but would at least be amusing! When we got home, I looked it up in my Produce Guide, which said when there were lots of flowers, it might be bitter. Yikes! So I first blanched it all for 1 minute before cooking it a la Vegetable Cookbook. I made a couple of modifications too – using chicken stock in place of water, and cooking it a few minutes longer than 7, more like 10. I was liberal with the butter, and the leaves tasted like bok choy (so far, so good, we both like that) and Lo and Behold, the flowers tasted FABULOUS! My daughter actually fought me for them, eating pounds of the stuff! She ate them before her chicken – success!
The Paul Mayer Method for Cooking Green Vegetables
1. Bring a teakettle full of water to a full boil. 2. Into another pot with a lid, scatter a handful of sugar and 1 teaspoon of salt. Place over high heat until sugar begins to caramelize. 3. Quickly add prepared vegetables. Without reducing heat, pour in the boiling water. The water never ceases boiling and the vegetables start cooking immediately. Cover the pot and boil rapidly for exactly 7 minutes. 4. Quickly drain vegetables into a colander and rinse briefly with cool tap water to stop the cooking action. The vegetables will remain hot! 5. Drain well and season with melted butter, or serve with sauce or seasoned butter, or topped with almonds. (This method is not used for root vegetables, eggplant, artichokes or spinach.)
I love this Betty Crocker cookbook, above all for the photographs of many glorious Dansk baking dishes, including the lovely yellow one on the cover (that contains some bizarre sausage concoction.) Originally from 1965, this edition is from 1974, but I believe many of the images are the same ones from the original printing, and certainly most of the recipes seem to be as well.
Hailing from a time when casseroles were made from endless combinations of pantry staples, combined with a meat and a frozen vegetable, this book features one of THE most classic dishes, called “Classic Beef Stroganoff”. But as with so many older recipes, this one called for ingredients I either don’t approve of, or could not find, such as a can of bouillon. So I used tiny little scoops of “Better than Bouillon” which I think is super yummy WITHOUT the msg! Yes, I did go ahead with the catsup, especially since I was making this for my 5 year old, who adores the stuff. Sadly, the end result was that she refused to eat the sauce and I had to rinse the meat off and serve it to her NEXT to plain noodles!
At any rate, this is quick and easy, though I think that modern diners are so used to really fresh, made-from-scratch foods that the sauce just ended up tasting a bit “canned”. Some of the more bizarre concoctions in the book might not be super tasty either, but the photographs are so BRIGHT and GLORIOUS that I am sure I will be trying many more. Just for the love of it!
Classic Beef Stroganoff
1 lb beef tenderloin or boneless sirloin steak ½ lb fresh mushrooms, sliced ½ cup minced onion 2 Tbsp butter or margarine 1 can (10 ½ oz) beef bouillon 2 Tbsp catsup 1 small clove garlic, minced 1 tsp salt 3 Tbsp flour 1 cup dairy sour cream 3 to 4 cups hot cooked noodles or rice
Cut meat diagonally into very thin slices. Cook and stir mushrooms and onion in butter until onion is tender; remove from skillet. In same skillet, brown meat lightly on both sides. Set aside 1/3 cup bouillon; stir remaining bouillon, the catsup, garlic, and salt into skillet. Cover and simmer 15 min. Blend reserved 1/3 cup bouillon and flour; stir into skillet. Add mushrooms and onion. Heat to boiling, stirring constantly. Boil 1 min. Stir in sour cream; heat through. Serve over hot noodles or rice. 4 servings.
Baking. I love to do it, but WOW things do not always turn out! Especially with old recipes, because anything called for that is packaged might be quite different in formulation or quantity now. Also, things can just be off, as in humidity, oven temp, relative size of eggs… I can think of plenty of excuses why cookies burn, cakes fall, or custard doesn’t set up properly. And sometimes, simply not paying attention is the culprit, as in loosing count of cups of flour, or half-teaspoons-full of salt! In the case of these tea cookies, I’m not quite sure what wasn’t right. Each batch did get better, though none was perfect. I am tempted to re-name them Tea Don’ts!
For this recipe, I took the Way, Way Back Machine to WELL beyond my normal 60s and 70s comfort zone, to a cookbook from 1939 (albeit the 1947 printing!) with the delightful title of “The Prudence Penny Regional Cookbook”, published by The San Francisco Examiner. (Note: I am still on my local kick.) This cook book is fascinating because it is divided into regions of the US (New England, Southern, Pennsylvania Dutch, Creole, Mississippi Valley, Minnesota Scandinavian, Western, Cosmopolitain, and so on) and so it is actually a great resource for virtually any type of traditional recipe. Also, it features color photos of many elaborate, and now gross-seeming things like gelatin-and-meat-salad-creations, or vegetables carved into shapes of animals but NOT meant to be served to children. Delights like this, that nobody has time, nor inclination for these days, are what got me into this whole vintage cookery thing in the first place. And look at the photo of all the pretty cookies! Note: these are CLEARLY not in the photo!
About the cookies: I thought, from the name and ingredients, that these would be something on the order of lace cookies, but they were not nearly as crispy. Also, good heavens, when they said “greased cookie sheet”, I don’t think they meant a light spray of Pam – I think they mean, SMEAR THAT SUCKER with Crisco! Because Lordy, these cookies STUCK something fierce. That said, and after burning the first batch, they did get better and better as I made them smaller and baked them for only 10 minutes rather than 12. Still, they were not sweet enough and the texture was weird, so for my next batch of cookies, I’m moving on. To you out there I say: Do NOT try this at home!
2 eggs 1 cup light brown sugar 2/3 cup sifted flour ¼ tsp baking powder ½ tsp salt 1 ½ cup chopped walnuts
Beat eggs and brown sugar. Sift flour, baking powder and salt together, and add to egg mixture. Blend thoroughly. Add walnuts. Drop from teaspoon onto a greased cookie sheet, ½ inch apart, and bake in a moderate oven (350 degrees F) for 12 minutes. Makes about 2 dozen cookies.