Thursday, December 22, 2011

Mostly resistible meals

not my idea of a thrilling collection
My in-laws, Mary and David, came from Boston for Christmas and during their stay Mary cleaned Owen's room with him and took him to the Container Store to buy a shelf for his collection of Transformers. Until a few days ago, he stored his Transformers under the bed, on the bed, and all over the floor. He sat there one night organizing them on that Container Store shelf and singing Christmas carols and it was one of my happiest moments of the whole season to watch him discover the pleasure of organizing a ridiculous collection. A pleasure I know all too well.

not most people's idea of a thrilling collection
Cleaning Owen's room was a monumental feat. Mary is a hero.

And this is how I repaid her: By cooking a series of one-dish casseroles out of The Best of the Best from California, a book that pays homage to the wonders of condensed cream of mushroom soup and Jell-O instant pudding.

Meal #1: chicken and wild rice casserole.

Could it be any uglier?
I appreciated how easy this hideous casserole was. To make this you basically cut everything up, season with pre-mixed poultry seasoning, scrape into a big dish, and bake. I thought it was inedible -- dry, bland, sagey, soupy.

But Mary and David loved it, as did their son, as did their grandchildren. My kids sat around crowing about how the tables are now turned! That finally I know what it's like to sit down to a meal I don't like! I wondered if bad taste is genetic and whether I could blame Mary and David for this, but then I reminded myself that they do nice things like take Owen to the Container Store and squelched this line of thought.

Meal #2. Lasagna in a bun.

 To me, they look very tasty.
Fry some hamburger and onion then add jarred spaghetti sauce. Hollow out hoagie rolls, mix preshredded cheeses and ricotta. Stuff the buns with meat and cheese, then top with more shredded cheese. Bake. I really think this concept has potential, not that the dish met its potential; no one liked them very much. I could imagine what these tasted like, so didn't actually taste them because I'm on a diet.

Meal #3. Chicken lasagna. You take meat off a rotisserie chicken, make a white sauce, layer the meat and sauce with noodles and mozzarella. Bake. Everyone liked it; Mary said it reminded her of chicken a la king. I knew from her description exactly what it tasted like, so didn't taste it.

Eat your heart out, Norman Rockwell.
Meal #4. Mexican stroganoff. To make this bastard dish, you fry hamburger and onions, season heavily with chili and paprika, stir in mushrooms and sour cream, then pour over egg noodles.  I took a tiny taste for seasoning and it was enough to know that Mexican stroganoff is both absurd and delicious.

By the way, if you're wondering what it's like to cook meals you don't eat, the answer is: not that hard as long as you also make a really good salad that contains enough -- but not too much! -- feta cheese.

Finally, I did make one Best of the Best dessert, a Hershey's Kiss pie for David's birthday. Mary had earlier in the week reminisced about a Cool Whip dessert she loves, chuckling as she "admitted" this. I took that as license to serve a Cool Whip dessert, which is not ordinarily my thing. To produce this pie, you melt the unwrapped contents of a 12-ounce bag Hershey's kisses with 1/4 cup of milk in a saucepan. Then you add an 8 ounce brick of cream cheese and stir until it melts. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in 12 ounces of Cool Whip until the mixture is homogeneous. Pour the chocolate cream into an Oreo crust (frozen or homemade) and refrigerate until firm.

I did eat a .75 ounce portion of this and almost fainted it was so good. You don't realize how much flavor is contained in a one centimeter shard of Oreo crust until you go on a diet.

Anyway, I didn't do any holiday cooking this year because we were invited other places. It was very restful .

Mary and David are back in Boston now and we are in Los Angeles. We went to this great restaurant the other night and ordered small plates of pig's ear salad, burrata with tomatillo salsa, veal sweetbreads, poutine with oxtail gravy, hanger steak, pork belly sandwiches, gnocchi with liver sauce, and balsamic barbecued ribs. The kids were game and cheerful and ate more than I'd expected. I tasted everything. 

Happy New Year, everyone.


  1. jealous of your trip to Animal! After two weeks of non-stop eating I am home in TX and eating year old frozen mini quiches. Happy New year to you too!

  2. Hey, if you're in Los Angeles, you should stop by Forage for lunch and I'll recommend whatever we have that's most diet-friendly (I'm in the same boat.) And I won't be insulted if you don't order my pumpkin marjolaine!

  3. Your cookbook collection may not be most people's idea of a thrill, but I'm controlling the urge to blow up the pic just to read the bindings. :-)

  4. I liked your cookbook collection as a substitute for moulding, myself. But I'm glad to see them safely up and away. Please send them to tame the Lego collection here for their next feat.

  5. Happy New Year Tipsy! My comment doesn't pertain to this particular post, but I got a gift card for Christmas and I'm going to use it to buy your book! I can't wait!

  6. Actually that is exactly my idea of a thrilling collection, but since I live in an apartment in NYC I have to cull all books and belongings regularly and mercilessly. This still does not stop me from almost daily trips to second hand stores and the Strand bookstore looking for more books about food.

    Happy New Year and thank you so much for your wonderfully entertaining blog.

  7. It is surprising and quite disgusting how much "taste" is in junk food. But, after all, it was designed to give our taste buds a thrill, so we shouldn't be surprised. I have gone long enough without eating it regularly that is shocking when I take a bite. It's too much, too loud. However, it's hard not to understand the appeal. Thanks for all the entertainment, and Happy New Year!

  8. Just finished reading Make the bread buy the butter, which I got for Christmas from my wonderful hubby! Loved, loved, loved it. Made me laugh out loud and swear off hot dogs for life! Just found the blog and am loving reading that as well. I love that your son has a fabulous collection and I hope when he outgrows it you will resist the temptation to donate them and box them up for when he becomes a dad himself. We have many like boxes filled with much loved beanie babies, books, games and I regret not keeping more.
    Thanks for the entertainment! Looking forward to your next book!

  9. Happy New Year Tipsy! I started 2012 by making yogurt from your book. So easy and so satisfyingly good. I am no longer a slave to Fage. Next, vanilla extract!

  10. Oh, Jennifer. I'm in real trouble. As I didn't receive your book for Christmas as I had hoped, I downloaded it today so as to have something to read while sitting in the doctor's waiting room. And I am about to start a batch of bagels and order rennet and am thinking about using my leftover heavy cream to make butter and I'm not even through the first chapter... I may need an intervention!

  11. Just finished your book, and I am inspired. Can you help out with Taco Seasoning? I can't seem to crack the code. Perhaps it is the MSG MIA...

  12. That book case makes mine look like your son's Container store shelf! Now I will have to stop by to see it. Funny post with those old timey casseroles. I would be on a diet too.Happy New Year.
    Pat B

  13. I was reading your post and for some reason I kept reading the line about he contents of an unwrapped 12 oz bag of Hershey kisses as meaning to leave the wrappers on lol!

    I was so confused, wondering why you would leave the "metal" wrappers in. :P

    And I'm all over your library/cookbook collection! I'm starting to expand mine more and more and it's taking over my house

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