Happy Monday to everyone, as we approach the end of August and Labor Day weekend – it’s the “unofficial” end of summer! Although, technically, there are 4 more weeks until fall really begins.
Mom kept a well-rounded library of sources from which to draw upon for inspiration and information. Remember, this was decades before the World Wide Web was available to households. Her favorite “go-to” books and magazines, when she was laying the groundwork for her copycat versions of the famous dishes and products of the food industry, included: Better Homes & Gardens, Good Housekeeping and Farm Home Journal.
However, Mom’s first two biggest influences in the kitchen were, of course, her own mom; as well as my dad’s mom, as they lived with Dad’s parents for a short while, when they were newlyweds. Below is a picture of the story, which Mom re-printed in one of her last issues of the newsletter that she wrote and published for more than a quarter of a century (Jan. 1974 through Dec. 2000.)
Likewise, my mom was my initial kitchen influence as well. Besides some of the basics, which my high school Home Ec. class didn’t teach me as a teenager; Mom taught me many things in my young adult life as a busy, working-mom with a baby and another on the way – especially about recipe ingredients and substitutions – including “short-cut-cooking”, as she termed it.
I also have her copy of Peg Bracken’s I Hate to Cook Book and some of her copies of Bob Allison’s cookbooks, called Ask Your Neighbor Recipes. Bob Allison and his “neighbors” were other huge influences on Mom, as that’s basically where “The Recipe Detective” was born, back in the 1970s. Below is a collection of Mom’s writings regarding “short-cut cooking” and ingredient substitutions that work and don’t work.
You have to learn to be versatile when it comes to ingredients. Some things can be substituted, and some cannot. In [my] 1977 issue of The Second-Helping of Secret Recipes (National Homemakers Newsletter, Pearl Beach, MI; July 1977), I wrote a little poem that pretty well says it all…
HERE ARE SOME TIPS ON HOW TO WRITE YOUR OWN RECIPES!
Most good cooks can whip up a culinary storm in the kitchen but, when it comes to putting a recipe on paper… they forget the basic rules of recipe writing. Remember, there’s a recipe for writing a recipe and it goes like this:
Always list the ingredients in the same order in which they will be used in the method. Some of the greatest dishes are lost in translation when the recipe is given with the ingredients out of order…
If you’re working with canned products, it’s easier to identify them as either ‘drained’ or ‘undrained’ in the list of ingredients, rather than take a complete sentence to direct the cook to do this in the method [instructions] portion of a recipe.
The method should be a double-check against the ingredients listed… It helps, too, suggesting what size utensils to use… [don’t] start to combine ingredients in a bowl that is… too small for the final result… Always give the size of the dish, pan, casserole, etc., in which the ingredients should be baked, cooked, [mixed,] etc.
Give accurate temperature and time for cooking or baking or chilling or freezing. Approximate time for cooking or baking should give the cook a five minute margin within which to work. [Using a Pyrex baking dish and not a metal baking pan requires a lower temperature for a longer period of time.] Identifying the color of a dish at various points of the cooking stages is helpful too. Beating time approximation should be given when it is essential to the success of the dish.
When you write a recipe for cookies and you are not certain how many it will make, you can approximate the yield by allowing one dozen cookies for every cup of flour used, if cookies are about 1-inch in diameter before baking.
Some recipes cannot succeed with substitute ingredients. Self-rising flour is one ingredient to be careful of when substituting without specifics. Butter can usually be substituted with margarine – but, in pie crust recipes, margarine makes a crust tough and heavy.
Lard may make a crust flaky, but it is difficult for many people to digest and is often greasy. Pure vegetable shortening, such as Crisco or Spry is best for pie crust shortening. ‘Shortening’ is a term used to identify fats or oils in a recipe. It can mean butter, lard, oil, margarine, etc.
If a recipe specifically calls for ‘sour cream’, don’t try to substitute homemade sour milk, as it may cause a failure. Many cheese product ingredients are interchangeable in baked side dishes and main dishes. But, substitutions can not be used in the case of pasteurized cheese spreads. Velveeta is most successful in most combinations, calling for a smooth and mild flavored dish.
Baking powder and baking soda are NOT alike and should not be substituted, one for the other, unless [very] small amounts are called for that will not possibly affect the outcome [in which case, it could possibly be skipped, altogether]. Many bread recipes do call for both, yeast and baking powder; as well as soda, even though some may be reluctant to accept the combination.
Even the size of eggs used in a recipe can determine the success of a cake or souffle or another light dish. Use large eggs, unless otherwise specified – or use 2 small eggs for every large egg called for in a recipe or use 3 medium eggs for 2 large eggs.
Do not reuse solid shortening for deep frying unless it is within 48 hours of the original use. Even though shortening is refrigerated and strained, the solid shortening has a tendency to take on the flavor of the food previously fried in it – even potatoes. However, oil may be used over, up to 10 days or 2 weeks, if it is carefully strained after using, covered and immediately refrigerated until the next use.
Do not mix food flavors with same oil – such as fish and, then, chicken or onions and, then, something else… The best suggestion for reusing oil is to reheat it no more than three times. Discard it and begin fresh the next time.
RESTAURANTS DO NOT ALWAYS COOK FROM SCRATCH
…Don’t be disappointed when you find that a duplicated recipe employs the use of prepared mixes, because that is the way today’s food service businesses do it. Most of what you eat in the corner diner – where the truck drivers stop for good, home-cooked [meals] – is the same basic food you would also be served in a fine hotel, supplied by the same food manufacturing firms that also stock our supermarkets with products for the homemakers. For instance, did you know that Ore Ida offers a large selection to restaurants of the same variety of potatoes that you probably buy from the frozen food counters of your local supermarket?
As seen in Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – The Best of the Recipe Detective (Balboa Press; Jan. 2018, p. 16)
‘NOBODY DOES IT LIKE McDONALD’s CAN’ – [was] the popular television jingle that advertised some of the best French-fried shoestring potatoes to come down the pike in a long while. The French did not invent French fries – American fur trappers did. Potatoes were not well-thought of in the early days of this country. But, fur trappers would melt down bear grease in large open kettles over their campfires and, when the grease began to bubble, they’d spear chunks of their dressed game meat, roots and potatoes on the end of a sharply pointed stick, setting them in the hot grease to cook to the individual’s liking and then eat off the stick – much like modern-day shish kabobs or fondue.
TO MAKE FRENCH FRIES at home – long, white Russets work best! Peel and cut in half lengthwise. Place cut sides on a cutting board and remove a thin slice from each end, as well as from the rounded long-sides. You now have sort of rectangle blocks to work with. Slice these into 1/4-inch thick strips and place in a deep refrigerator container. Mix 1-quart water with ½ cup vinegar and pour over potatoes, repeating this process until you have enough to cover the potatoes. Cover and chill for several hours to draw out the starch that makes a fried potato hold the grease and become limp.
After chilling, drain them well on paper towels. Drop a few at a time, using a French-frying basket, into 425°F oil that’s at least 4” deep. A good combination is 1-pint corn oil to 1 cup Crisco, using as much as is needed for the amount you are preparing, keeping it 4 inches deep; and, if the oil is not hot enough, the fries will turn out greasy. Let the potatoes “Blanche” in the oil rather than fry completely, removing them after just one minute. Drop them on a cookie sheet and put in your freezer for 10 minutes. Return them to the oil to fry until golden brown and drain them well on paper towels. Salt them as you wish, which also helps to evaporate any excess grease on the finished potatoes. Most of the salt will fall off when the fries are transferred to serving plates.
Put it all into a blender on high speed, using an on-off pulse to agitate for 2 minutes or until smooth. Let batter stand for 10 minutes before using it. Allow ¼ cup of batter for a 6-inch round pancake prepared on a hot, lightly greased griddle. Makes 16 pancakes. The batter freezes well, to use within 3 months.
As seen in Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – The Best of the Recipe Detective (Balboa Press; Jan. 2018, p. 91)
These are chicken wings, split at the joints, with the boney wing-tips discarded. Arrange them side-by-side in a single layer in a greased, shallow baking pan. Coat liberally in any barbecue sauce. Bake at 375°F, uncovered, for 20 minutes per pound of chicken (3 pounds will serve 6 to 8.) About every 10 minutes or so, apply additional barbecue sauce to the pieces as they’re baking, without turning them.
[*The ingredients of this fudge are similar to those of traditional penuche.]
1 cup butter
2 ounces baking chocolate
1 cup brown sugar, well-packed
3 cups granulated sugar
1 cup milk
1/2 cup light cream
1/4 cup honey
Dash of salt
1 tsp. vinegar
1 tsp. vanilla
In an accommodating saucepan, melt butter and chocolate.
Stir in the next 6 ingredients, as listed, and bring just to a boil. Immediately, reduce heat, stirring and cooking at just below boiling point for 10 minutes. Then, cook without stirring, on simmer, for 2 more minutes or until it’s reached the soft ball stage (when a little fudge, from tip of spoon, dropped into cup of cold water, forms a soft ball.)
Remove from heat, stirring in vinegar and vanilla.
Let it cool for 1 hour, then, beat until it can be kneaded to a smooth consistency.
Shape into rolls, about 2 inches in diameter (or flatten into 2×2-inch “logs”. Wrap in wax paper and chill 12 hours before slicing.
Stir beer (or Club Soda) and oil together with a sturdy mixing spoon in a large bowl. Add flour and beat vigorously until smooth and moist. Dump dough into middle of Pam-sprayed, 12- or 13-inch, round pizza pan. Spread dough evenly with back of a large, wet spoon. (Note: Dipping spoon into cold water keeps the dough from sticking.) Use the spoon to patch any holes in the dough.
Bake the crust, empty, for 10 minutes at 400°-F; then, remove and, immediately, add your favorite sauce while it’s warm. Top with cheese and other favorite garnishments. Return to oven to bake for another 20-30 minutes or until toppings are bubbly, the cheese is melted, and the crust appears golden brown around its rim.
Melted butter (enough to brush 8 biscuit tops twice)
In a 1 1/2-qt mixing bowl, with an electric hand mixer on medium-speed, beat together the first three ingredients, adding the Bisquick a little at a time and working in the last cupful with a sturdy mixing spoon until you form a soft dough.
Dip your hands in a bit of extra Bisquick to divide and shape dough into 8 patties; making each about 1-inch thick, and placing them close together in a Pam-sprayed 9-inch or 10-inch Pyrex baking dish.
Using a pastry brush, wipe all the tops with a bit of melted butter. Bake at 400-degrees (F) for 25 minutes or until golden brown. At once, after removing from oven, wipe the tops in a bit of melted butter again.
As seen in Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – The Best of the Recipe Detective ( Balboa Press, January 2018; 1st Printing, p. 88)
THE FRIED CHICKEN RECIPE that first called attention to my recipes nationally – through the ‘National Enquirer’, ‘Money Magazine’, ‘Catholic Digest’, ‘The Christian Science Monitor’, ‘Campus Life Magazine’ and, yes, even ‘Playboy Magazine’ – was this following combination of ingredients. The method is quite unorthodox and the original idea for developing it in this manner, came from a conversation I had with ‘Col. Sanders’ over the air with radio station WFAA in Dallas when I was a regular guest on a talk show with them for several months. We discussed the secrets of the food industry with listeners by phone from our homes. The Colonel was fascinated by the publicity I had received for my ‘Big Bucket in the Sky’ fried chicken recipe and agreed that I was on the right track if I’d add more pepper. He loved pepper! He also suggested browning the chicken in a skillet and, then, oven-baking it until tender to achieve a likeness more to the original recipe he had created in 1964. He told me to look around the grocery store for 1 packaged product to replace the 11 spices – which I did diligently – and discovered that powdered Italian salad dressing mix was the secret!
So, I set to work to revamp the recipe. My original recipe was quite close to the famous Colonel’s product, but the coating kept falling off – because, as he explained, I couldn’t get the oil hot enough. He liked peanut oil, himself, but suggested that I could achieve a similar result by using corn or Crisco oil – with 1 cup solid Crisco for every 4 cups of oil. He talked about the quality in his product changing after turning the business over to new owners.
When Heublein Conglomerate bought out the franchise, they paid a few million dollars for ‘The Colonel’s’ recipe and technique. It seemed unlikely that a home-kitchen-rendition of such a famous product could be had for the price of my book. But the letters came in – ‘best chicken we ever had’; ‘l-o-v-e-d that fried chicken recipe’; ‘our favorite chicken recipe – so, please don’t change it’; and ‘maybe the colonel should have YOUR recipe!’
3 pounds of chicken fryer parts – cut small
2 packages Good Season’s Italian Salad Dressing mix
3 tablespoons flour
2 teaspoons salt
¼ cup lemon juice
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
1 ½ pints of corn oil
2/3 cup Crisco solid shortening
1 cup milk
1 ½ cups boxed pancake mix combined with: 1 tsp paprika, 1/2 tsp powdered sage and 1/4 tsp pepper
Rinse chicken and wipe pieces dry.
Make a paste out of the first five ingredients. Brush to coat chicken evenly with the paste…the underside as well. Stack pieces in a large refrigerator container, seal in foil and refrigerate several hours or, better yet, overnight.
1 ½ hours before serving, heat oil and Crisco, until melted, in a heavy saucepan. Put just enough of this into two large heavy skillets so that it covers the bottom of each 1-inch deep and just set the rest aside, as the oil will have to be replaced as you remove fried pieces and continue to fry more.
Dip each pasty chicken piece, 1st in milk and then in pancake mixture (having combined it as directed above with the last three ingredients.) Dust off excess mix and place skin-side down in the very hot oil mixture.
Brown the chicken on each side until golden. Then, place browned pieces in shallow baking pans, single-layered with skin-side up. Spoon remaining milk over pieces. Seal with foil on only 3 sides of the pan.
Bake for 40 minutes at 375°F or until chicken is fork-tender, basting with milk and pan drippings every few minutes. Remove foil and bake another 8-10 minutes or until crispy. Serves 6-8. Leftovers keep up to a week refrigerated.