I got married in August of 1967, so I must have cooked my first-ever meal that September, my skin still mahogany brown from my honeymoon tan. Those early meals took a lot out of me. My full load of graduate courses was a snap compared to the challenge of putting varied, colorful, nutritious and economical dishes before my brand-new husband for lunch and dinner every single day.
These meals, both lunch and dinner, included dessert (we had tiger-like metabolisms). Once I tried to make a cake to celebrate the end of finals. The recipe said to cook the icing to the \”hard ball stage,\” which I interpreted to mean that all the icing ingredients had to be cooked until they became a hard ball….
Here are some of my early adventures in cooking, now mercifully discarded:
1. Tuna casserole. This was probably the first dish I mastered, made with Campbell\’s Cream of Mushroom soup and enhanced with a sprinkling of crumbled potato chips on top. I still make it, but with bechamel instead of canned soup, organic whole-wheat noodles, lots of veggies and, needless to say, no potato chips. It takes longer to make and doesn\’t taste as fabulous as the original, but then, I don\’t get as hungry as I once did.
2. California dip–the ur food of graduate-school parties. You mix half a pint of sour cream with an envelope of onion soup mix, grab a bag of potato chips (left over from the tuna topping) and go put on your long hostess gown.
3. Jello. I used to give it to my kids as a kind of healthy dessert. Being an enlightened parent, I used a recipe that called for twice the amount of jello powder and resulted in a stiff, psychedelic, bone-building snack that a toddler could hold in her hand, thus saving the aggravation of spoon and bowl.
4. Peanut butter balls. You mixed peanut butter, honey (because of the enlightenment factor), and dry powdered milk until you got a stiff mixture that could be formed into balls. You rolled these in powdered sugar and fed them to your offspring.
5. Chicken livers in sour cream. My husband used to love these over rice, and they were cheap, too. But we didn\’t know that they were toxic.
6. Chicken friccasee, another spouse favorite. It involved browning chicken pieces in Crisco, then putting them in the pressure cooker along with bacon and cream. More poison.
7. Dark steaks. We discovered that our supermarket, where we could never afford any meat fancier than ground beef, would sell us their slightly darkened steaks at ground-beef prices. I knew from my European upbringing that dark meat is infinitely preferable to the bright red still-warm-from-the-animal sort. We got so that we grilled only filet mignon, and relegated cuts like T-bones to humble dishes such as soups and stews. This spoiled ordinary beef for me forever: I haven\’t eaten a steak in thirty years, and can only tolerate ground beef if it is well disguised with onions, mushrooms, and red wine.
8. Fish sticks. The only reason I can conceive for eating these is that fresh fish was not readily available in Southern supermarkets in those days. And a toddler could pick up a fish stick with her hand (one without ketchup on it) and eat it all by herself.
(Fish sticks, jello fingers, endless boxes of Cheerios..a lot of what we ate in our early married days had to do with what a toddler could manage on her own.)
9. Ice cream. I served this with a clear conscience, and not just on special occasions. It is the one item on this list that I really miss.
I\’d love to know some that recipes you\’ve abandoned.