In the Kitchen: Ham Banana Rolls (1950)

Dear Constant Reader,

Back in November, I wrote of my quest to prove the vintage recipe testers at Buzzfeed wrong and of the results of my first experiment, Olive-Cheese “Porcupine”. At that very same party, I also made a ham and banana dish. I had to do this at a party, because I wanted the feedback from several palates but also because I hate bananas.

I didn’t actually use the same recipe as the Buzzfeed folks. I could tell that theirs was going to be disgusting no matter how good a cook I am, so I found one that was similar, to prove that the recipe was at fault, not the dish concept. I used the recipe for Ham Banana Rolls with Cheese Sauce from a Chiquita Banana’s Recipe Book from 1950 while they made Ham and Bananas Hollandaise from the McCall’s Great American Recipe Card Collection from 1973. I’ll explain as I go how the two diverged.

Start with bananas, ham, mustard, butter, milk, flour, shredded cheese

Both recipes begin about the same. Take slices of boiled ham and spread with mustard. My recipe left the amount of mustard up to the cook, while theirs specified a teaspoon and a half per slice. I just covered each slice with a thin, even coating. Diverging from both recipes, I used baked ham instead of boiled, because I was going to be making my lunch out of the left-over meat and I don’t like boiled ham. Does anyone? Also, back when they probably used French’s yellow, but I used a brown deli mustard.

I wrapped the bananas in the mustard-smeared ham and then brushed the bare banana tips with melted butter. Their recipe says to sprinkle the bananas with lemon juice to keep them from browning (not so necessary I thought) before wrapping the bananas. In both cases the wrapped bananas go into a greased, shallow baking dish.

Now things get very different. Their bananas are baked at 400F for 10 minutes. I baked my bananas at 350F for 30 minutes, but first I had to pour cheese sauce over them.

The cheese sauce is really easy. Make a roux with butter and flour, then add milk. Then add grated cheese and cook until it’s all smooth and hot. I confess, I used sharp cheddar instead of the called-for sharp American because I already had a bag of shredded cheddar for the porcupine (and I like it better).

That’s it for my recipe, but theirs has one more step. You mix an envelope of hollandaise sauce mix with some water, cream, and lemon juice bring it to a boil. Pour over the bananas and bake 5 minutes more.

Here’s a gratuitous picture of the chef with the finished product. My taste-testers wrote “This is something I will get a craving for in the future. So great!” and “Awesome combo. Maybe need more salt or sharpness but this is one of those surprising flavor combos I’m glad I tried.” Those who liked bananas really liked the bananas. They were nice and creamy and had transformed from “hot banana” into something very tasty. Those who liked ham liked that too, especially the part that was above the cheese sauce, as it got crispy and brown. The part of the ham that was completely submerged in the sauce was not as good, since it never browned. The mustard flavor didn’t blend well with the ham & banana and was a touch assertive. The cheese sauce was a little bland.

If I were to make this again, I’d add some dry mustard to the cheese sauce (and salt & pepper), shred the ham and sprinkle it on top of the bananas, instead of wrapping it around. It doesn’t make for as nice, tidy, and midcentury a presentation, but it solves all the problems above while keeping the good parts.

I’m not surprised that the Buzzfeed version got low marks. To start I think they followed the recipe to the letter and used boiled ham and yellow mustard. Although their bananas cook at a higher temperature, it’s for half the time. They probably didn’t get creamy and slightly caramelized like mine did. Also, they were cooked without the sauce, just having been seasoned with lemon juice, which I think was totally unnecessary. I doubt the bananas were going to get oxidized in the short time from peel to pan. Perhaps the recipe was deliberately trying to amp the lemon flavor. Also, I think brushing the exposed banana bits with butter in my recipe improved the flavor and helped them brown.

Lastly, and most importantly, I think their hollandaise sauce was a loser from the get-go. Maybe it could have been okay with an actual freshly made hollandaise, but a mix was right out. I’m sure adding extra lemon juice to an already lemon-flavored sauce mix didn’t help. I’m not sure why the recipe creator thought ham, banana, and lemon was going to be delicious. I know hollandaise was pretty popular in the ’70s. I’m sure it was seen as more chic than a pedestrian cheese sauce.

It probably deserved the reviews of “It’s kind of like a banana split made a baby with a hot dog? Oh, it’s very sour!” and “Even the bits of banana that graciously don’t have slop on them have absorbed the scent of lemon and mustard in a very aggressive way.”

So don’t every try the 1973 version with hollandaise, but the 1950 version with cheese sauce is actually worth making.

banana rolls cooked
Here’s the original recipe, straight from Chiquita:

Ham Banana Rolls with Cheese Sauce
4 thin slices boiled ham
Prepared mustard
4 firm bananas (all yellow or slightly green-tipped)
1 1/2 Tablespoons melted butter or margarine
Cheese Sauce

Spread each slice of ham lightly with mustard.

Peel bananas. Wrap a slice of prepared ham around each banana. Brush tips of bananas with butter or margarine.

Place Ham Banana Rolls into a greased shallow baking dish, and pour Cheese Sauce over them. Bake in a moderate oven (350°F) 30 minutes, or until bananas are tender… easily pierced with a fork.

Serve hot with the Cheese Sauce from the baking dish.

Serves 4

Cheese Sauce
1 1/2 Tablespoon butter or margarine
1 1/2 Tablespoons flour
3/4 cup milk
1 1/2 cups grated sharp American cheese

Melt butter or margarine in saucepan; add flour and stir until smooth. Stir in milk slowly. Add cheese and cook, stirring constantly until sauce in smooth and thickened.
Makes about 1 cup sauce.

I’ll need to throw another party soon to try some of the other recipes.

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page. Or you can just tip me if you liked this.

Published in: on 16 December 2015 at 3:21 pm  Leave a Comment  
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In the Kitchen: Olive-Cheese “Porcupine” (1963)

Dear Constant Reader,

Recently Eva (she played Blanche in The Wrathskellar) pointed me at a Buzzfeed article where the authors cooked and tasted some “vintage” recipes (ranging from 1955 to 1973) and found them disgusting. Knowing my love of the midcentury, Eva called on me to defend the honor of these maligned dishes. I’m going to do my best.

Since we were having a wrap party for The Wrathskellar, that seemed like a perfect opportunity to inflict serve some of these tempting treats. First up the Olive-Cheese “Porcupine”.

I’ve made cheese balls for parties before and I wasn’t quite sure how this could be bad, unless you used poor-quality cheese. Because the party was just cast and crew, I made a half-recipe. I probably could have made a quarter. It’s a generously sized cheese ball.

I gathered my ingredients: cream cheese, crumbled blue cheese, shredded sharp cheddar, onion (not pictured because I’m a dimwit), Worcestershire sauce, chopped walnuts, and parsley. The onion and parsley got chopped finely and the walnuts toasted (nuts are always better toasted). The cheese was allowed to come to room temperature. The recipe didn’t say how much parsley, so I added about a tablespoon. Everything was tossed in the mixing bowl and combined. I ended up smushing it together with my hands.

Then it was molded into a rough porcupine shape, wrapped in plastic (like Laura Palmer) and stuck in the fridge for a few hours.

Here’s the little darling in all his glory, sprinkled with paprika and adorned with olives. I used multicolored toothpicks for extra festivity and Spanish olives, as the recipe called for, and not those nasty black olives in a can like the Buzzfeeders.

My taste testers universally liked it and left comments like “tastes good”, “almost too cute to eat”, “stinky, but in a good way”, “so good!”, “de-lish”, and “Yummy! Would go well with almost anything – fruity, nutty, cheesy. What’s not to love?”

It was indeed tasty, if a bit bland, which I suspected was going to be the case, tasting most strongly of the blue cheese. If I were to make this again, I would stick with the ratio of cheeses, but up the quantities of the onion, Worcestershire sauce, and parsley. The walnuts were probably about right. Also, I might add a dash of Tabasco. The olives were only there because the recipe was trying to sell Imported Spanish Olives. I think they could be left off without any harm. Also, if it were a larger party, I think multiple small porcupines instead of one big one. It’s cuter.

What do I think of the report that started this all? Not much.

The description of the dish by the Buzzfeed people was “Underneath all those olives, it’s literally just cheese. Mostly blue cheese. Melted and molded lovingly by hand into an animal with a face.”

Well, it’s a cheese ball; of course it’s just cheese. Had they never encountered a cheese ball at a party before?

It’s not “mostly blue cheese”; blue is the least of the cheeses (1 part blue cheese to 2 parts cream cheese to 4 parts cheddar), although the most pungent of the three. I can see how this would not appeal if one didn’t like strongly-flavored moldy cheese. Most of the comments from their tasters bear this out: “Just a big ol’ fungus ball.” “I didn’t want to eat it because a) the smell…” “It’s fouler than foul: like a roadkill porcupine that has been roasting on hot tar for several hours.”

I’m also not sure why it says “melted”. The cheese should not be melted, just brought up to room temperature so everything can be combined, chilled to let the flavors mingle, and then brought up to room temperature before serving (most cheese should not be served cold). If they actually melted the cheese, I can see why the results would be unappealing

One person said: “How do you even ruin cheese?” How did they? This is a super-simple, if plainly flavored, cheese spread. My only guess is that none of them knows how to cook and that they used cheap crappy cheese. On a different dish they noted with pride that they used the cheapest imitation crab they could find instead of the shrimp the recipe called for.

I would consider Olive-Cheese “Porcupine” to be redeemed.

For those who want the recipe in easily readable form. This is as writ from the original:
Olive-Cheese “Porcupine”
4 oz. blue cheese
8 oz. cream cheese
1 lb. shredded sharp cheddar
1 tablespoon minced onion
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts
Spanish Green Olives

Allow cheese to soften at room temperature. Mix with parsley, onion, Worcestershire sauce, nuts. On waxed paper form mixture into oval shape. Refrigerate 2 hours. Roll “porcupine” in paprika. Let stand at room temperature 1/2 hour before serving. Garnish with Spanish Green Olives on wooden picks for “quills”. Serve with crisp crackers.

Lest you think the Olive-Cheese “Porcupine” was invented by the Spanish Olive Council, here’s a cheese porcupine from 1964, made of cream cheese and butter, flavored with beer, decorated with breadcrumbs and pretzel sticks for quills.

I’ve got one more recipe that I made at the party to report on and I’ll be trying even more as soon as I can find an occasion and an audience.

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page. Or you can just tip me if you liked this.

Published in: on 10 November 2015 at 2:38 pm  Comments (1)  
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In the Kitchen with Mina: Peach Mousse (1950)

Dear Constant Reader,

I recently made dinner based on a menu in a little cookbook from 1950, Meals for Two Cookbook. True confession, I just used the menu as a guideline and made similar dishes from other vintage cookbooks in my collection.

The entree (Lamb en Brochette) was from an undated “postwar” butcher’s pamphlet, the vegetable (Épinard à l’italienne) was from a 1947 cookbook, and the bread (Sweet Potato Biscuits) came from a 1935 baking powder pamphlet. Dessert, however, did come from the original cookbook and that’s what I want to share with you.

Dessert was Peach Mousse and I was intrigued. Usually when I make mousse, it involves whipping heavy cream or egg whites (or both) and maybe a little gelatin to stabilize. This used evaporated milk, a substance I’d never had in my kitchen before, and it was a frozen dessert.

The ingredients are simple: peaches, sugar, evaporated milk, lemon juice, and a dash of salt (the salt box is hiding behind the other ingredients — I forgot to move it into the shot).

Peel the peaches and mash them to make 3/4 cup of puree. That was about a peach and a half in my case. Add some sugar and stir until it dissolves.

The recipe says to whisk the chilled milk until stiff. This is terribly amusing. I was using my trusty hand mixer and while the milk thickened, it was nowhere near stiff. After a little research I discovered that whipping evaporated milk needs a little special prep. Put the milk, bowl, and beaters into the freezer for half an hour. Then beat for only a few minutes. I did get soft peaks, but I’d never call it stiff. I couldn’t imagine this working with a whisk at all.

Fold in the peach puree, lemon juice, and salt and stick in the freezer. I put it in smaller, lidded container to freeze. That night it was in the freezer for maybe 5 hours and it was still soft at dessert time. A couple days later, it was very hard and probably wanted to spend a little time at room temperature before scooping.

I served it with fresh blueberries thus:

It’s more like ice cream than mousse, but so deliciously peachy that who cares. It’s easy to make, as long as you properly chill the milk. The actual preparation is pretty fast, although you’ve got to wait hours for it to harden up enough to serve.

Here’s the recipe:

Peach Mousse
2 large peaches
1/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup evaporated milk
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
Dash salt

Pour evaporated milk into a bowl (preferably metal) and put it and the mixer’s beaters in the freezer for 30 minutes.

Peel and stone the peaches and mash to get 3/4 cup puree. Add the sugar and stir until sugar is dissolved.

Whip the milk for just about three minutes, until it resembles whipped cream. Fold in the peach mixture, lemon juice, and salt.

Cover and freeze for several hours, until firm.

Makes about 3 cups.

There’s a variation that uses bananas instead of peaches. I loathe bananas, but maybe I can find some brave taste-testers.


Published in: on 29 July 2015 at 2:09 pm  Leave a Comment  
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In the Kitchen with Mina: Grapefruit Dessert (1941)

Dear Constant Reader,

Saturday night I made a dessert I’ve been dying to try for awhile, sort of a baked Alaska with grapefruit. It was originally published in the New York Times on January 12, 1941. The recipe as it was printed is below my signature, if you’re interested. A modernized version was published a few years ago, which is what caught my eye.

We had a couple of lovely grapefruit at Stately Babydoll Manor, sent by my doting mother from Florida. I don’t care for grapefruit, but I really wanted to try this recipe. The sacrifices I make for my art.

Take grapefruit — use the pink or ruby red because it’s sweeter — and cut in half. Cut out the sections without slitting through the skin and supreme them (That’s a shorter way of saying to cut away the membrane between the sections). This is a lot easier with a grapefruit knife, which I don’t have.

Put the sections in a bowl and pour some brandy over them. Cover and chill for at least an hour. Keep the shells; you’ll need them later.

When ready to serve, turn on the broiler.

Make meringue by beating egg whites with a pinch of salt. When they’re foamy, add some sugar and beat until smooth & glossy. It should make soft peaks. You definitely want a mixer for this. Only crazy people make meringue by hand.

Dump some ice cubes into a small baking pan. Put the grapefruit shells on top of the ice, which helps keep the contents cold and stabilizes the shells. Spoon the grapefruit sections into the shells, leaving behind the brandy/juice mixture.

Put a scoop of ice cream on top of the fruit. The original recipe called for vanilla, but I used caramel swirl, for interest. Cover the ice cream and the whole top of the grapefruit shell with the meringue.

Stick under the broiler for about a minute. Really, only a minute. Keep a close eye on the desserts. As soon as the meringue browns like a marshmallow, it’s ready.

Put into fancy dishes (in the heat of the moment, I forgot about our lovely stemmed sundae glasses and just used ramekins) and serve immediately.

It was fabulous, and I’m saying that as grapefruit hater who’s not super-fond of brandy either.

I used a “churn-style” ice cream which has a lot of air whipped into it and it was pretty melty by the time I hit that layer. I might try a denser sort next time. I also might pre-scoop the ice cream and let the scoops harden up in the freezer until it’s time to assemble everything.

The brandy & juice that’s left in the bowl makes a pretty good cocktail, I’m told by one of my taste-testers.

A Dessert in Search of a Name

1 pink grapefruit
2 Tablespoons brandy
1 egg white
1/4 cup sugar
1 pinch salt
2 scoops ice cream
Ice cubes

Cut grapefruit it in half. Cut out the fruit sections and supreme them, reserving the shells.

Put the sections in a bowl and pour brandy over them. Cover and chill for at least an hour.

When ready to serve, make meringue. Beat egg white with a pinch of salt, until foamy. Add sugar and beat until smooth & glossy, with soft peaks.

Cover the bottom of small baking pan with ice cubes. Put the grapefruit shells on top of the ice. Spoon the grapefruit sections into the shells.

Put a scoop of ice cream on top of the fruit. Cover the ice cream and the whole top of the grapefruit shell with the meringue.

Stick under the broiler for about a minute, until meringue is browned.

Put grapefruit halves into shallow dishes and serve immediately.

Serves 2. Can easily be scaled up.


From Mr. Gonneau [Maurice Gonneau, executive chef of the Park Lane and the Chatham], too, comes a recipe of his own that’s a perfect party dessert. All of the fruit is carefully removed from half of a grapefruit. Seven or eight of the neat segments are soaked for an hour or more in brandy or in kirsch, then arranged in the bottom of the grapefruit shell. Over them goes a big spoonful of vanilla ice-cream, to be hidden under a fluffy meringue. The grapefruit, keeping cool in a pan of cracked ice, goes into a hot oven for two minutes so that the meringue may take on color. When it is as brown as a sun bather such a dessert is as impressive as that haughty bit, a baked Alaska.

Published in: on 2 February 2015 at 10:09 am  Leave a Comment  
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In the Kitchen with Mina: Frozen Fruit Salad (1929)

Dear Constant Reader,

In the 1920s having a home freezer showed you were awfully up-to-date *and* well-to-do. So, frozen foods became a fad to show off when entertaining. Now, I don’t mean something frozen that you’d heat up before serving. These are dishes that were served frozen. And not just ice cream — I’m talking about frozen salads. Frozen chicken salad and frozen tomato salad were pretty popular. I even saw a recipe that directed the busy cook to simply freeze a can of tomato juice and then slice off thin rounds (which were presumable served on lettuce and garnished with a dollop of mayo).

Betty gave me a charming little volume called Salads and Sandwiches, which was published by the Woman’s Institute of Domestic Arts and Sciences in 1929. It’s chockfull of dainty little dishes just right for a ladies’ tea party. And one of them was Frozen Fruit Salad. I just had to make it.

Frozen fruit salads were very popular in the ’20s but persisted well into the 1950s. I made a half recipe (1 quart), just in case it turned out awful, and brought it to a party, since even a half recipe makes more than the denizens of Stately Babydoll Manor want.

First you need to make fruit salad dressing, which is equal parts pineapple, peach, or pear juice and orange juice (I used pineapple-orange juice because it was in the fridge and mighty convenient), some lemon juice, a little sugar, and a beaten egg, all cooked in a double boiler. You’re supposed to give it “a few turns with a rotary egg beater”, but lacking that piece of kitchen equipment, I used a whisk.

While the dressing is cooling, chop up some nut meats (I used a mix of toasted walnuts, pecans, and almonds), dates (I used medjool dates and they kind of mushed into a paste when I chopped them), maraschino cherries, and pineapple (canned, of course!). Whip some cream.

Then beat cream cheese and mix in the dressing. Again, the whisk was the right tool. Then fold in the fruit and then the cream.

Spoon it into a mold. I don’t actually have any decorative molds (Really? Why do I not have any fancy molds?), so I used a metal mixing bowl. Then you’re supposed to seal the mold with adhesive tape or a strip of cloth soaked in paraffin and pack it in ice and salt for 4 hours. I just covered the bowl tightly and stuck it in the freezer.

You’re suppose to unmold it, cut into 6 slices, and serve on lettuce leaves with a little whipped cream garnish. I unmolded it (with a little difficulty, being in someone else’s kitchen) and put it out as-is for the guests to admire and cut themselves more modest portions. (Note the classy Halloween-themed plate.)

It was sweet and creamy and I wouldn’t call this a salad in the least. The Woman’s Institute does say that some fruit salads can be served as both salad course and dessert. And this certainly falls into that category. I was told it tasted “pink”, “ice cream-ish”, and “1950s”. Almost all was eaten, so I’d call that a success.

Here’s the recipe:

1/4 cup pineapple, peach, or pear juice
1/4 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons sugar
1 egg, beaten slightly
8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup chopped nuts
1/2 cup chopped dates
1/2 cup chopped pineapple chunks
1/2 cup chopped maraschino cherries

Combine juices. Add sugar. Add egg. Cook in a double boiler until mixture thickens slightly. Remove from heat and beat briefly. Allow to cool.

Meanwhile, beat the cream cheese until creamy. Whip cream until stiff. Add fruit juice mixture to cream cheese. Fold in fruit and nuts, then fold in whipped cream.

Spoon into 1-quart metal mold. Cover tightly with plastic wrap, then aluminum foil. Freeze for at least 4 hours.

To unmold, remove wrap & foil, dip mold briefly in hot water, then place serving platter on top and invert everything.

Garnish and serve.

Note: Add 1/2 cup chopped kumquats, 2 Tablespoons chopped preserved ginger, and use almonds for the nuts and you’ll have Oriental Frozen Fruit Salad.


Published in: on 23 October 2013 at 9:59 am  Leave a Comment  
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Vintage Chinese Food, Part 2

Dear Constant Reader,

Yesterday I wrote about making Cashew Chicken from a cookbook published by nuns in the mid-50’s. Today’s recipe is Asparagus Peking Style.

In this case I made the recipe almost exactly as writ, with one big exception. It called for a can of asparagus and I just can’t do that, even in the spirit of tasting history. I had to use fresh asparagus. Sorry to all those purists out there.

Asparagus, sherry*, soy sauce, corn starch, chicken broth, and oil. I remembered to put the oil in this picture!

Since the recipe called for canned asparagus and I was using fresh, I had to do a little prep work before I could get started. I snapped the tough ends of the asparagus (it’s fun!) and blanched them. Some people advocate blanching the asparagus standing up, but I think that takes way too much time and water. I like to throw them in a little boiling water in a big skillet, presumably the same one they’re going to get cooked in later, to save on dish washing. After a few minutes the asparagus turns bright green and is tender. Don’t let it overcook. Drain the asparagus and run some cold water over it to stop the cooking process.

Then mix up the oil, broth, some water, sherry, soy sauce, and cornstarch in the pan and bring to a boil. When it’s bubbling away, toss in the asparagus and cook until it’s hot. The sauce will be really thick, bordering on gloppy. Serve.

That’s it!

And here’s the recipe with measurements and stuff.

Asparagus Peking Style (Lung Hsu Ts’ai)
2 Tablespoons oil
1/4 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon sherry
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
1 lb. asparagus

Prepare asparagus by snapping off tough lower stems. Blanch the asparagus in boiling water for a few minutes until the stems are bright green and tender. Drain asparagus and set aside. This can be done in advance. Or you could just use canned asparagus, like the original recipe.

Heat pan and add all ingredients except asparagus. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly.

Add asparagus and heat through.

Serves about 4.

And here’s the whole meal: Cashew Chicken, Asparagus Peking Style, and brown rice. This picture doesn’t show the beauty of my zebrawood chopsticks**.


*In the last missive I decided not to use cream sherry because it was so sweet and instead used rice wine vinegar. A few minutes later I changed my mind, thinking that it was likely that cream sherry was the sort that your average 1950’s housewife had on hand and that was the target audience for this cookbook.

**I need a food stylist. And a better camera.

Published in: on 20 August 2013 at 9:31 am  Leave a Comment  
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Vintage Chinese Food

Dear Constant Reader,

The other day I indulged in some vintage Chinese food. That’s not “vintage” as in “hmm… how long as this white box been in the back of the fridge?”, but as from a vintage cookbook.

The Art of Chinese Cooking, The Benedictine Sisters of Peking (1956)

The backstory to this cookbook is as good as the recipes. It was written by two nuns who were in China when the Japanese invaded. After Pearl Harbor, they were sent to a civilian internment camp. When the War ended, they went back to being missionaries, but the Communists kept pushing them out of various cities until they ended up in Taiwan (then called Formosa). The American Consul thought they might be in danger there and sent them off to a safe place. Ironically, that was Tokyo. Needing an income, they opened a school where they taught Chinese cooking.

Their book is illustrated with the cutest line drawings of dancing dumplings and opium-smoking ducks. Yes, there are some utterly stereotypical “Oriental” caricatures, but do keep in mind when it was published. It’s also a product of its times in the use of canned foods which we can easily get fresh these days.

There are a whole lot of recipes I’m planning to try someday, quite a change from many of my midcentury cookbooks, where the recipes are more “interesting” than delicious. I’m really intrigued by Loquat Chicken and someday I’ll have to visit my parents when their loquat tree is fruiting and try it out.

I made Cashew Chicken, a favorite. I’ve modified the recipe a bit from the original, mostly in terms of proportions (i.e. heavier on the vegetables, lighter on the meat), but a little regarding the ingredients.

The ingredients: bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, raw cashews, rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, salt, cornstarch, celery, chicken breast, sugar, chicken broth, onion. There was also oil, which I completely forgot to put in this still-life.

Combine soy sauce, salt, sugar, cornstarch, and vinegar* in a bowl. Chop the chicken into small cubes and add to the bowl. Set aside. Not the most attractive photo, but raw chicken isn’t exactly glamorous.

Chop up bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, celery, and onion. The most important thing when making Chinese food is to cut up everything first, because you won’t have time once you start cooking. Also, everything should be about the same size so it all cooks evenly.

Heat up some oil** and add the veggies. Stirfry them until they’re softened (not mushy — you’ll be cooking them more later) and the onion is just little bit brown. You want to use a big pan and high heat. Scoop the cooked veggies out of the pan.

In the oil remaining in the pan (add some if necessary), brown the cashews. This is why I specified raw ones. Keep an eye on them, so they don’t burn. Once they’re toasty, remove them from the pan. The original recipe is for walnut chicken (with a substitution of blanched almonds), but walnuts are my least favorite nut. The original also calls for deep frying the nuts. I though that was excessive. But feel free to make it that way if you like.

Add more oil to the pan and add the chicken. Be careful; it will spit! Cook the chicken until it’s browned. Then add some chicken broth or stock. When that heats up, add the vegetables and nuts and cook it all until it’s hot.

Serve with rice.

The recipe proper:

Mina’s Cashew Chicken, Benedictine-style
1 boneless skinless chicken breast (about 8 oz.)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
1 1/2 Tablespoons soy sauce
1 Tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sugar

1 can (8 oz.) water chestnuts
1 can (8 oz.) bamboo shoots
3 ribs celery
1/2 large onion
Approx. 5 Tablepsoons oil
1 cup raw cashews
1/4 cup chicken broth

Combine salt, cornstarch, soy sauce, vinegar, and sugar in a medium bowl. Cut the chicken into 1 inch cubes. Add the chicken to the sauce. Set aside.

Chop water chestnuts, bamboo shoots, celery, and onion into small pieces.

Heat 2 Tablespoons oil in a large pan over high heat. When it’s hot, add the vegetable and stirfry until soft and slightly browned. Remove vegetables from pan and set aside.

If necessary, add 1 Tablespoon oil to pan. Heat and add cashews. Cook until browned. Remove and set aside.

Add 2 Tablespoons of oil to the pan and heat. Carefully add the chicken to the hot pan. The liquid will make it spit, so be careful. Brown the chicken. Lower the heat and add the chicken broth. Once the broth simmering, add the vegetables and nuts.

Cook all until it’s hot. Serve with rice. Makes about 4 servings.

You can easily double the amount of chicken, just remember to double the sauce ingredients too. Everything else stays about the same.

Tomorrow I’ll share the second dish I made, Asparagus Peking Style.


*The original recipe calls for sherry. We have cream sherry (very sweet) and I’m sure back in China it was made with rice wine, which has a sharper flavor. So I used rice wine vinegar. The reason I forgot to put the oil in the picture was because I was furiously debating the virtues of sherry vs. vinegar, decided, grabbed the bottle from the pantry, and left the oil sitting forlornly there next to the abandoned sherry.

**This should be a neutral oil that can get quite hot, like vegetable oil. Peanut oil is good for cooking Chinese food. I used grapeseed oil. Which you’d know if I had remembered to put it in the picture.

Published in: on 19 August 2013 at 12:04 pm  Leave a Comment  
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More Cooking

Dear Constant Reader,

Please vote for The Boston Babydolls as “Best Theatre Group” on The Boston A-List. We’re currently in 5th place!

When I was young, I was subjected to tapioca pudding and hated it. But now one of my favorite summertime desserts is technically tapioca pudding: Strawberry Tapioca Flamingo. It’s from the late 40’s/early 50’s and so good. Although strawberries were the original and a favorite (especially since we have friends nearby with a strawberry field in their front yard who always need help disposing of their abundant crop), it’s good with other soft summer fruit.

Fruit Flamingo, a la Stately Babydoll Manor

1 pound fruit (berries or stone fruit), hulled, stoned, &c.
1/2 cup sugar*
about 2 cups pineapple juice**
1/3 cup quick-cooking tapioca
1/2 teaspoon salt***
1/2 cup heavy cream

Cut fruit into bite-sized chunks. Add sugar and let sit for at least half an hour.

Drain juice from fruit and add enough pineapple juice to make 3 cups.

Combine juices, tapioca, and salt in a saucepan. Bring to a full boil, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. It’s going to be thin, but don’t worry. It’ll thicken as it cools.

Fold in fruit. Let cool, stirring occasionally.

When it’s cool, distribute half the mixture amongst 4 attractive dishes or cocktail glasses. Chill all.

Before serving, whip cream and fold into remaining mixture. Top off the dishes.

Serves 4.

Strawberry Flamingo garnished with fraises du bois from the Manor Gardens.


*The original called for a full cup, but I find that’s too cloying.
**Water works just fine. I’m not sure I’ve ever had pineapple juice on hand.
***Kosher salt works best.

Published in: on 11 June 2013 at 10:37 am  Leave a Comment  
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In the Kitchen with Mina

Dear Constant Reader,

I had some fun cooking while Scratch was off having fun at the Burlesque Hall of Fame. Mid-century cuisine, of course, and from one of my favorite cookbook authors.

I chose Wolf in Chef’s Clothing: The Picture Cook and Drink Book for Men by Robert H. Loeb Jr. (1950).

The recipes, for the man who knows nothing about cooking but wants to impress the ladies, have step-by-step illustrations, as seen. The whole thing is whimsical, charming, and gently condescending.

I decided to make “Orange Hawaiian”, which he recommends as either a breakfast dish or an appetizer. I was only making it for one, so I halved the recipe. And ended up having it as sort of a mid-morning snack.

I gathered my ingredients:
an orange, a can of crushed pineapple, sugar*, lemon juice**, sherry, and pistachios.

I cut the orange in half and cut out the fruit and supremed it (that’s a fancy way of saying I got rid of the membrane between pieces). I wished I had one of those funny grapefruit knives, because I needed to be careful not to cut through the peel. The fruit & juice went into a saucepan with the can of crushed pineapple, a little sugar and lemon juice.

You’re supposed to cook until it “looks like thin marmalade”. Whatever that means. I just cooked it low until it simmered a little. Once it’s off the heat, I added a little sherry. Less than called for because the only sherry we had was Harvey’s Bristol Cream*** and I don’t like it much.

Then I scooped the mix into the orange rinds. Not surprisingly, there was more than necessary to fill them, so I dumped the rest in a ramekin. Then I sprinkled them with salted pistachios and baked everything at 350 for 20 minutes. Then I let them cool a bit before eating.

It was good enough, but I’d probably serve it as a dessert rather than breakfast or as an appetizer. I didn’t drain the pineapple and probably should have. To make it really “Hawaiian”, I’d use macadamia nuts; I have no idea how available they were in 1950. I don’t think the sherry added anything, but I used so little that it didn’t detract either. I’m surprised it wasn’t topped with a maraschino cherry.


*Isn’t my sugar bowl lovely? It’s just there for symbolic purposes, as it holds lump sugar. I keep granulated sugar in a utilitarian canister that is unphotogenic.

**Yes, I used the stuff in the bottle. Sue me.

***Don’t judge. It was a gift.

Published in: on 10 June 2013 at 10:32 am  Leave a Comment  
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In the Kitchen with Mina

Dear Constant Reader,

I did a little cooking yesterday, and, among other items, made a classic fruit salad. This one, although popular in the 1950’s, has its origins in the 1920’s. The salad is quite whimsical in its design, which was typical of ladies’ “dainty” luncheon dishes.

Take your ingredients: lettuce leaves, canned pineapple rings, bananas, maraschino cherries, and mayonnaise. There was a bit of a tropical fruit craze in the ’20’s, probably promoted by Dole, which was the main importer of pineapple (canned, of course) and bananas from Hawaii to the mainland. Maraschino cherries (the neon red kind) are also a product of the 1920’s.

The assembly of this salad is key. You need to properly present all the ingredients or the impact is lost. A toothpick or two can help with the architecture. Don’t forget that this was commonly served at ladies’ luncheons, so you want to make sure the shape is instantly recognizable.


Candlestick salad!

Isn’t that clever! A pineapple ring candle holder, a banana candle, a cherry flame, and mayonnaise wax!

Why? What did you think it was?


Published in: on 17 December 2012 at 10:57 am  Leave a Comment  
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