Mondays & Memories of My Mom – Eat Better and Together

Happy Monday! And happy Autumn too! The days are getting shorter and colder, while the leaves of the trees are getting more colorful each day! Unfortunately, the painter’s palette of nature doesn’t last for long and, soon, all the colors will be gone, blowing in the wind!

#EatBetterEatTogetherMonth

At the end of my last blog entry, I mentioned that, among NationalDayCalendar.com’s month-long celebrations listed for October, it’s “Eat Better, Eat Together Month”! A lot of people say that eating together as a family creates stronger family bonds. In his article, “The Family Meal”, Dr. Christopher Peterson brings up a good point when he says, “What I gain from my meals with others goes way beyond convenience. These meals with others are filling but moreover fulfilling. They make me feel part of a larger group.” [Posted March 20, 2012; PsychologyToday.com]

Personally, between me and my siblings, I’ve found the opposite to be true. We ate dinner together every night, while we lived with our parents. Yet, we hardly talk to each other anymore, since Mom and Dad are both gone now; and some of us don’t get along at all. On the other hand, my own children are closer than my siblings and I; but, they only had family-sit-down-together-meals for about half of their childhoods. Then we were always on the run, doing sports activities; or I was working an afternoon shift somewhere.

However, my kids and I did spend a great quantity of quality time together – just not very often around the dinner table (except for holidays and birthdays). Aside from the eating-together thing, whether you’re cooking for just yourself or for two people or for a whole brood – if you’re the one who plans the menu, then you’re the one who makes the healthy/unhealthy food choices for everyone you’re feeding. It’s a great idea to celebrate eating right and having solid, old-fashioned, close-knit, family meals. But, is there really any merit that eating together creates better eating habits and tighter family bonds?

In the back, left to right, is Cheryl, Debbie, me & our dad…In front, left to right, is Lady (under the table), Bill and Mike. Pitzer family photographed by Gloria Pitzer, March 1973

As I said, when I was growing up, Mom always prepared a sit-down, family-style dinner with all the food in serving dishes in the middle of the table. We all sat together, as a family (like in the picture of us, above). We talked about our days, as we each took a serving from a dish in front of us; passing that dish to the next person while grabbing another dish from the person on the other side of us. However, we would also elbow each other or kick one another under the table, as siblings would do, whenever Mom and Dad weren’t looking our way. For the most part, I think we only got along for Mom and Dad’s sake anyway.

In addition, Mom CHOSE to make well-rounded meals that covered all the food basics, including dessert! That’s what she was taught by her mom and that’s what she taught me to do as well. But, there was no Brady Bunch or Walton’s Mountain type of bonding at our table! We ate together because that’s when the meal was served. It wasn’t a restaurant that you could drop in on at any time and order whatever you like… You ate what was made and when it was served or went hungry until the next meal.

Cartoon written and illustrated by Gloria Pitzer

Of course, with the Recipe DetectiveTM as our mom, we happened to taste-test a lot of fast food and junk food imitations over the years – some things may have seemed like bad/unhealthy choices in food to an outsider – such as fried chicken (like KFC’s). However, Mom’s imitation of the famous fast food dish was baked instead of deep-fried, which is healthier.

As I wrote about in a couple of my other blog entries, “Eating Out at Home” (4/8/19) and “Food for Thought” (5/20/19), Mom knew how to take the “junk out of junk food” and did so in her famous imitations. It’s very true that what you put into cooking is what you get out of it – literally and figuratively! Everything in moderation is a great rule by which to live; but, it’s sometimes easier said than done!

A city that has, for decades, been world-famous for their sit-down, family-style meals is Frankenmuth, Michigan – not too far from us, near Saginaw, MI (from where one of Mom’s favorite radio shows airs, “Listen to the Mrs.”, co-hosted by Art Lewis and Ann Williams on WSGW-Radio.) Tourists flock to this little town from all around the world and will stand in line for hours to get the world-famous chicken dinners at one of the two largest establishments in town.

Zehnders and the Bavarian Inn operate the two major restaurants in Frankenmuth that serve the famous family-style chicken dinners, with all the food in serving dishes in the middle of the table, from which the family will serve themselves and which the servers will refill for you as needed. Just a hint – reservations will get you in quickly, rather than waiting in line. The town’s German heritage exudes from its restaurants, hotels, breweries and quaint little shops that line the mile-plus length of the main street through town – from Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland (all Christmas, all year) to the Frankenmuth Brewery!

Mom and Dad always loved to take road trips to Frankenmuth, as do me and my husband. It’s a great day trip to experience all the German culture that this small tourist town has to offer! Over the years, Mom came up with many imitations of some the famous dishes from the two major restaurants mentioned above; plus, some bread and confection imitations from the local bakeries and fudge shops.

FROM MOM’S MEMORIES…

The German community of Frankenmuth, Michigan, which for decades has celebrated the art of fried chicken, served family-style; has had thousands of customers lined up every weekend and holiday, waiting to be seated in one of their 2 largest restaurants [Zehnders and the Bavarian Inn]. Their fried chicken is like ‘Grandma used to make’ – richly flavored, moist inside and never greasy. The family-style dinner provides the table with large bowls of homemade mashed potatoes and gravy, moist and spicy dressing (called ‘stuffing’ in other parts of the country), a fresh-from-scratch cranberry-orange relish, hot breads and beverages. [By Gloria Pitzer, as seen on page 94 of Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – The Best of the Recipe Detective (Balboa Press; Jan. 2018).]

MORE FROM MOM’S MEMORIES…

A MEAL BY ANY OTHER NAME

FAST FOOD RECIPES were not published in the best-sellers – and these were the restaurants where families were apt to frequent if they wanted a meal that was affordable! Paul and I could take all 5 of the children to Capri’s, an Italian restaurant down the road from us in Pearl Beach, and we could feed the whole family for less than $10, providing we ordered the large pizza with only pepperoni and cheese on it and one soft drink for each of us. It was not for substance that we ate out. It was for entertainment.

We could take the kids to McDonald’s and it did the same thing for us that going to the movies did for our parents. It was an affordable pleasure. It was a diversion from meatloaf and pot roast and peas and carrots. It was a treat. We looked forward to it. We felt good about the experience and even better after it was over. It carried us through a long week of paying the utilities, insurance, house payments and car payments and grocery expenses.

When we had to have our 10-year-old station wagon repaired, we had to skip eating out that week. If one of us had to see the dentist, it might be 2 or 3 weeks before we could afford to eat out again. We made do with what we had. We could make the most of what we had. In the 50s and 60s and early 70s, this is the way parents raised their families, budgeted their earnings and allowed for their pleasures.

Things changed, as well they should. Women went out to work. If they weren’t working to supplement the family income, they went to work for their own satisfaction. Whatever the reasons, families changed. Eating at home became less and less appealing – and less and less convenient. Homes were built with smaller kitchens and bigger bathrooms. Microwave ovens were more affordable – and defrost and heat became more popular. [By Gloria Pitzer, as seen on page 295 of Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – The Best of the Recipe Detective (Balboa Press; Jan. 2018).]

Illustration by Gloria Pitzer

#TacklingHungerMonth

Along with October being national “Eat Better, Eat Together Month”, it’s also “Tackling Hunger Month”. In connection with those two month-long celebrations, the 2nd week of October is observed as “National Food Bank Week”. Thus, I want to make a local shout out, here, to one of the Detroit area’s food banks, Gleaners!

#NationalFoodBankWeek

I hear about this group all the time on our local news. They do such great things in so many communities! The other day, I heard about their wonderful program, “Cooking Matters”; which is “a groundbreaking nutrition-education program that connects low-income individuals and families with food by teaching them how to prepare healthy, tasty meals on a limited budget.” By the way, “National Food Day” is coming up next week, on the 24th!

#NationalFoodDay

Part of what started Mom’s career as the Recipe DetectiveTM for Secret RecipesTM, was her keen ideas on how to make our family’s food budget stretch during the 1970s’ food crisis. Mom started sharing some of her discoveries in the columns she syndicated. It had a snowball effect when she started imitating famous food products and dishes, at home – in her own kitchen, with what she had on hand in her pantry – because our family of seven couldn’t always afford those kind of eating-out treats…that’s how Mom developed her “Copycat Cookery” and “Eating Out at Home” concepts! More on those next week…

IN CLOSING…

#NationalDessertDay #NationalDessertMonth #BakeAndDecorateMonth #ChocolateCupcakeDay #NationalSweetestDay

After writing about eating better, I’m compelled to mention that today happens to be National Dessert Day, which “includes candies, pies, ice cream, fruits, cookies, pastries, cobblers, and donuts…” according to NationalDayCalendar.com. That celebration coincides with two other October national celebrations – National Dessert Month & National Bake and Decorate Month – just in time for National Chocolate Cupcake Day, which is coming up on Friday, the 18th; and National Sweetest Day, which is coming up on Saturday, the 19th.

In honor of all that sweetness, here are a couple of Mom’s free dessert recipes that I’ve posted before AND a new one for her sugar-free pumpkin pie recipe, which she gave away in her Jan.-Feb. 1988 promotions!

P.S. Food-for-thought until we meet again, next Monday…

Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – The Best of the Recipe Detective is available for sale, at $20.99 each, through the publisher, Balboa Press, at https://www.balboapress.com/Bookstore/BookDetail.aspx?BookId=SKU-001062252; it’s also available in eBook form, for $3.99, at https://www.balboapress.com/Bookstore/BookDetail.aspx?BookId=SKU-001062253

Mondays & Memories of My Mom – Eating out at Home

Happy Monday and welcome, again, to Mondays & Memories of My Mom, a blog series I started last year to honor my mom’s legacy.

Mom and I at her 80th Birthday Party – Photo by Paul Jaekel, Jan. 2016

I’m Laura Emerich and my mom is Gloria Pitzer, aka the famous “Recipe Detective”TM, investigator of the food industry’s “Secret Recipes”TM. Starting in the early 1970s, Mom was the pioneer of imitating the food industry’s favorite fine-dining dishes, as well as fast food, junk food and grocery products at home! She carved out the original niche in copycat recipes movement. Mom also created the slogan, “eating out at home”, which became the title of one of her more than 40 self-published books in a 28-year span, from 1973 through 2001. You can find more information on most of her publishings by clicking on the “Cookbooks”  and “Other Publications”  tabs on this website. I’m still updating the “Other Publications” tab as I find more of Mom’s syndicated work from the 1960s and 1970s era.

Mom’s books were all quite unique and special. She built most of her cookbooks on the taboo subject of embracing fast food and junk food, while all the critics were saying to stay away from it and how bad all of it was for our health. Well, maybe so, but as Robert Redford once said, “Health food may raise my consciousness, but Oreos taste better!” – a quote that Mom noted on the first page of her September 1978 cookbook, Eating Out at Home.  [Note: See the “Recipes” tab on this website (another tab to which I’m working on adding more) for Mom’s copycat version of Oreo-Style sandwich cookies, which she calls “Gloreo’s”.] Opposed to those critics, Mom’s definition for junk food was “poorly prepared food”.

People know what they like, and Mom found a way to “have your cake and eat it too!” Mom claimed to be able to take the junk out of junk food by making it at home, where you can control the ingredients. It was a break through that had many companies, like Hostess, up in arms – that someone could possibly duplicate their product at home and, then, share it with the public! However, Mom never knew what the companies’ actual “secret recipes” were for their sumptuous products, as she wrote on page 2 of her Eating Out at Home cookbook…

You don’t have to know exactly how the original dish was prepared by the commercial food chains. All you need is a basic recipe to which you will add that ‘special seasoning’ or that ‘secret method of preparation’ that sets one famous secret recipe apart from those similar to it…

When I work to duplicate a recipe so that the finished product is as good as (if not better than) a famous restaurant dish, I begin by asking myself a series of questions: I want to know what color the finished dish has…[and] was it achieved by baking, frying or refrigeration?…What specific flavors can I identify?… and about how much of each may have been used…

Similar tests are used in chemistry…[to]…break down the components of an unknown substance and try to rebuild it. So the cook must work like a chemist (and not like a gourmet; who, most of the time, never uses a recipe – but, rather, creates one.)

The most remarkable part of the duplication of famous recipes is that you can accept the challenge to ‘try’ to match their [dish or product]. Sometimes, you will be successful. Sometimes you will fail in the attempt. But, at least, it can be done [‘practice makes perfect’], and it certainly takes the monotony out of mealtime when, for reasons of financial inadequacy, we can not always eat out…even if we could afford to eat at all or most of our meals away from home, wouldn’t that become monotonous in time?

2011 at Big Boy Restaurant – Marysville, MI

Mom found out decades later, in her and Dad’s retirement years, without 5 kids in tow and being able to afford it from the success of their “Secret Recipes”TM business, that eating out all the time did not get as monotonous for them as she thought it might! They enjoyed, at least, breakfast and lunch out almost every day and they made friends everywhere they went too!

Given that Dad was diabetic, they were always conscious of the choices they rendered – from the places where they chose to dine to the menu selections and portion sizes they made. They even afforded themselves the occasional fast food breakfast sandwich once in a while – everything in moderation. As Mom also wrote on the same page as the excerpt above:

STOP CHEATING YOURSELF of the pleasure of good food. Eat what you enjoy, but DON’T OVER eat…This is what really causes the problems of obesity and bad health – rather than believing the propaganda of the experts that ‘fast food’ is ‘junk food’…It is not! Poorly prepared food, whether it is from a fast-service restaurant or a [$20-plate in a] gourmet dining room, is ‘junk’, no matter how you look at it…if it is not properly prepared.

Junk is in the eye of the beholder…as Mom also wrote about in the following excerpt from page 3 of her Eating Out at Home cookbook, for imitating a cake similar to that of Hostess Twinkies:

TO DEBUNK THE JUNK…don’t think of Hostess Twinkies as junk dessert but, rather, the very same cake ingredients prepared in the Waldorf Astoria kitchens as the basis for their “Flaming Cherries Supreme”. All we did [to imitate the product] was shape the cake differently, adding a little body to the filling and putting it INSIDE the cake, rather than on top as the Waldorf did!

Furthermore, on the subject of “junk food” (including James Dewar, inventor of the Twinkie), the following excerpts came from one of Mom’s “Food-for-Thought” writings; as found on page 6 of her last cookbook, Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – The Best of the Recipe Detective, (Balboa Press, Jan. 2018); originally written for Mom’s famous, self-published cookbook, Gloria Pitzer’s Better Cookery Cookbook (Secret Recipes, St. Clair, MI; 1982):

The critics who contend that ‘fast foods’ are ‘junk foods’ and not good for us, have probably never prepared these foods themselves. Certainly, they have no access to the closely guarded recipes from the food companies that created these dishes, as there are only a few people in each operation that are permitted the privilege of such information! So, 99% of the critics’ speculations are based on their own opinions… ‘Fast foods’ are not ‘junk foods’ unless they’re not properly prepared. Any food that is poorly prepared (and just as badly presented) is junk!

Unfortunately, ‘fast food’ has carried a reputation, by default, of containing ingredients that are ‘harmful’ to us. Yet, they contain the same ingredients as those foods served in the ‘fine’ restaurants with wine stewards, linen table cloths, candlelight, coat-check attendants and parking valets; which separate the plastic palaces of ‘fast food’ from the expensive dining establishments. One ‘eats’ at McDonald’s, but ‘dines’ at ‘The Four Seasons’. Steak and potato or hamburger and French fries – the ingredients are practically the same. How they are prepared makes the difference!…

James Dewar, date/source unknown

James Dewar started out driving a horse-drawn wagon in Chicago and, by 1930, was manager of the Continental Baking Company’s Chicago establishment. He invented “The Twinkie’, a sponge-type cake with creamy vanilla-flavored filling [in the early 30s.] It has been called the “Grand-daddy’ of modern snack foods. Today, the finger-sized cream-filled cake is as big a confectionery sensation as they were when Dewar first introduced his creation to American cuisine. The company that put out the Twinkie was originally called the Continental Baking Company and later became the Hostess company.

At the time, he wanted to give the public something reasonably priced, for the Great Depression of the 30s brought grave times to this country. Treats like the cream-filled Twinkies, would be a luxury to people who couldn’t afford otherwise. For decades, the appealing factor about the Twinkies national popularity has been that it is affordable! Dewar put 2 cakes in each package, selling them for $.05 a pair. For the price of a nickel, it was quite a bargain. Dewar remembered how the Continental Baking Company was selling small finger-sized shortcakes for strawberry season in the 1930s. The pans they used to bake them in were not being used except for the spring promotion to produce the shortcakes. He, therefore, came up with the idea of preparing the same shortcake in those pans, but filling each cake with an injection of vanilla cream. The Twinkies became an immediate success! The idea for the name, on the other hand, came while he was on a business trip to St. Louis and saw a billboard advertising “Twinkle Toes Shoes’, which was, then, a terrific sales pitch. The name “Twinkies’ was a spinoff of that shoe advertisement. From then on, the cakes took off. When Dewar retired from Continental in 1968, he boasted often to the press that he ate scores of Twinkies every day. That’s not a bad endorsement for the critics who claim junk food will shorten your life span.

Gloria Pitzer, 2013

Mom has always tried to encourage the inner cook in all of us, through her many publishings. Even if you didn’t think you could cook at all, Mom could make you feel like a gourmet, making your own creations and bringing joy back into eating at home. Additionally, without publishing any pictures in her cookbooks or newsletters, Mom could, very-well, describe in detail how the product should look throughout the various stages of the recipes; so that you knew or not if your duplication was coming along properly. Her recipes are always fun and easy to follow. She also made them simple to “customize”, to suit your own diet needs.

Mom’s original concepts of “eating out at home” and “taking the junk out of junk food” has brought so much joy to so many people who couldn’t afford such “luxuries” as eating out, even fast food, or buying junk food; either for monetary or health reasons. Mom gained a lot of followers in the copycat movement (also some plagiarists) since she started the concept in the early 1970s.

Illustration by Gloria Pitzer

Just running a search on the term “copycat recipes concept” brought me 6,370,000 results on Bing and about 3,410,000 results on Google. Searching the term “blogs for copycat recipes” brought me about 18,200,000 results on Google, including this great article, “Top 25 Copycat Recipe Blogs of 2017” by Toby Kuhnke, Editor, AllFreeCopycatRecipes.com.  In addition, when asking Bing, “How many copycat recipe blogs are there?” – I received 95,100,000 results. In all, I’d say that’s quite a movement.

Also, searching Amazon for “Gloria Pitzer” brought me 63 results of people reselling her old cookbooks that are no longer in print; as well as others who are getting her last cookbook, Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – The Best of the Recipe Detective (January 2018) from the publisher, Balboa Press, and reselling them on Amazon. There are also many wonderful comments about my mom and her unique cookbooks to be found on many of these results!

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading “Eating out at Home” (the blog) and will return again next week for “Mondays & Memories of my Mom” when my next blog, “It’s all Relative”, discusses Mom’s writing heritage as seen on the last page of her cookbook, Eating out at Home (Gloria Pitzer’s Secret Recipes, St. Clair, MI; 1978). Also, in closing, I usually end with one of Mom’s recipes that she gave away for free on her product information and ordering sheet in exchange for a SASE. The following recipe wasn’t on any of those sheets, but it was given away for free when my brother, Michael Pitzer, first developed TheRecipeDetective.com website years ago for internet exposure to our parents and their “Secret Recipes”TM business. This particular recipe was also printed in Mom’s cookbook, Eating Out At Home (Gloria Pitzer’s Secret Recipes, St. Clair, MI; 1978, page 47)

A-1-Style Steak Sauce by Gloria Pitzer

1/2 cup Dark Molasses

2 Green Onions, chopped

3 TB Kosher Salt, coarse

3 TB Dry Mustard

1 tsp Paprika

1/4 tsp Cayenne

1 clove Garlic crushed — or, 1 tsp Garlic Powder

1 Anchovy Filet chopped — or, 1 TB Anchovy Paste

6 TB Tamarind Fresh — or, 1 TB Tamarind Extract

1 tsp Pepper

1/2 tsp Fenugreek

1/2 tsp Powdered Ginger

1/2 tsp Ground Cinnamon

1 tsp Powdered Cloves

1/2 tsp Cardamom Seeds

3 drops Tabasco

6 oz. Rhine Wine

2 oz. Rose Wine

1 pint White Vinegar

1 TB Kitchen Bouquet

1 TB Postum Powder

Put all spices (except last 6 ingredients) through blender until it’s a fine powder. Place over low heat with half vinegar and simmer 1 hour; adding rest of vinegar a little at a time as mixture is reduced in bulk. Stir in tabasco, wines and kitchen bouquet. Cook 3 min. to dissolve. Remove from heat. Pour into crock or Tupperware container (2qt) and let stand covered for 1 week. Then strain through cheese-cloth, six times. Bottle and cap tightly. Keep refrigerated indefinitely. Freeze to keep for years.

Gloreos – The Oreo-Style Sandwich Cookies

Gloreos – The Oreo-Style Sandwich Cookies

When the Washington (DC) Post once interviewed the Nabisco people to ask how they felt about a Michigan housewife, claiming she could imitate their famous chocolate sandwich cookie at home, they were very insistent that it was impossible! Well, I felt if Hydroxy could come close, so could I – and I gave the big food company a taste of their own product!  – Gloria Pitzer

Cookie:

  • 18 oz. package devil’s food cake mix
  • 2 eggs (eggs)
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 1/2 cup Nestle’s Quik cocoa powder
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Combine cake mix, eggs + water, oil and cocoa powder. Blend well until you can form it into a ball. Let stand 20 minutes.
  2. Form dough into 1/2-inch balls placed 2 inches apart on lightly greased baking sheet Flatten each ball with bottom of a greased once drinking glass that has been dipped in Nestle’s Quik powder to deepen the color of the cookies to resemble the originals.
  3. Bake 8 minutes. Immediately out of the oven, flatten each cookie with the back of a pancake turner. Let cool 20 minutes while you prepare the filling.

Filling:

  • 1 envelope unflavored gelatin
  • 1/4 cup cold water
  • 1 cup Crisco
  • 1 lbs + 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  1. Soften the gelatin in 1/4 C cold water and place in a pan of hot water until clear. Meanwhile, beat the Crisco until fluffy, adding the powdered sugar a little at a time.
  2. Add the vanilla and cooled gelatin and beat 6 minutes. Shape into 1-inch balls and place between the bottom sides of two cookies, pressing them gently but firmly together until the filling becomes nicely rounded at the edges.
  3. Chill about one hour to set the filling.

Assembly:

  1. Shape the chilled  filling into 1-inch balls.
  2. Place each ball between 2 cooled cookies, on the bottom-sides of each.
  3. Press gently until filling has spread to the edges of the cookies like the originals.

Makes 4 dozen sandwich cookies.

AboutOreos®

The Oreo cookie was developed and produced by Nabisco in February 1912 at its Chelsea factory in New York City (now Chelsea Market). It was created mainly to target the British market, whose biscuits were seen by Nabisco to be too ‘ordinary’. Originally, Oreo was mound-shaped and available in two flavors; lemon meringue and cream. In America, they were sold for 30 cents a pound in novel tin cans with glass tops, which allowed customers to see the cookies.

A newer design for the cookie was introduced in 1916, and as the cream filling was by far the more popular of the two available flavors, Nabisco discontinued production of the lemon meringue filling during the 1920s. The modern-day Oreo was developed in 1952 by William A Turnier, to include the Nabisco logo.

What a lot of people don’t know is that over 491 billion Oreo cookies have been sold since they were first introduced, making them the best selling cookie of the 20th century.

Check outwww.nabiscoworld.com/Oreofor more information about Nabisco and their entire line of great snacks.