Three Recipes, Three Kitchens, Six Cooks – It’s The Wiggly, Jiggly Vintage Gelatin Cooking Challenge

It’s either fondly loved or fearsomely loathed. It’s a hodgepodge of color and creativity. It’s wiggly and jiggly. It’s sweet or savory, saucy or solid. And depending on how you prepare it, it’s silky and smooth or chunky and lumpy.

Today in the Vintage Kitchen we are talking about gelatin. That powdered concoction of collagen that originated in the boiled hooves of calves back in the 1700’s and now can be found in slim paper envelopes, dry and granular, in grocery stores around the world.

Vintage Jell-O ad

Food suspended in a translucent, quivery clump doesn’t necessarily sound or look appealing to our modern selves but there was a time in history when this type of dish was considered the essence of elegance. For centuries, gelatin has been used in cooking but in the 1930’s aspics, mousses and molded gelatin salads began to rise in mass popularity among both the upper class and the lower class for two entirely different reasons. Affluent, upper-class society enjoyed such dishes for their delicate and artistic composition while lower working classes, struggling to get through the Great Depression, valued gelatin as an inexpensive source of protein that came with an added bonus of being able to disguise and transform leftovers.

1933 Jell-O Cookbook

Here in the Vintage Kitchen, we are not big on wasting food nor on cooking up unappealing vintage recipes for the sake of mocking their unpleasant attributes. For decades throughout the 20th century people of all ages, income levels, races and genders ate and adored gelatin recipes, so it is in that vein, that we set out to explore these beloved concoctions to see how they might stack up in today’s foodie-conscious culture. Will our modern palates love them just as much as they did decades ago? Or have we become more finicky in the way we approach, prepare and taste our contemporary everyday fare?

In this post, we are diving head first into three vintage gelatin recipes steeped in the culture of mid-century America. Gelatin may have seen its rise to fame in the 1930’s, but its absolute height of popularity came in the 1950’s where two of our recipes originate.  In that decade, more women worked outside the home than ever before making time a newly juggled commodity. Gelatin-based salads, desserts, and main entrees were quick to prepare, could be made well in advance of the dinner hour and retained their shape and consistency for days in the refrigerator. This was the perfect meal-planning solution for busy women acting as wife, mother, career professional and caretaker all in one. Companies like Kraft Food (makers of Jell-O) responded to the demands of mid-century women by continuously creating and rolling out a plethora of newly invented flavored gelatins during the 1950’s that, in-turn, spawned thousands of unique recipes ranging from sweet to savory. It was a heady decade full of potential and possibilities for both gelatin companies and creative home cooks!

Vintage Jell-O Ad

By the 1960’s, the novelty of putting odds and ends into a gelatin mold had worn slightly.  Gelatin aficionados were getting a little bit more sophisticated in their creations as well as their flavor pairings. They weren’t as apt to throw-in the leftovers, or disguise a boring vegetable but instead were creating recipes that were more about flavor than thrift. Food pairings were suggested, wines were recommended and serving situations thoughtfully addressed.

Tomato aspic filled with potato salad and served alongside corn bread muffins circa 1961
It is these two interesting decades in food culture that became the foundation for our very first experimental food challenge featuring four blog readers (plus two from the Vintage Kitchen), three states (representing the East and West Coasts) and three mid-century gelatin recipes.

Our goal for this challenge was to fully embrace the experience of making and tasting these past populars.  Would we discover that they were difficult, time-consuming and confusing?  Or would they be effortless, creative and full of flavor? Each team received the same recipes with the same ingredient list, but each team could choose whatever food brands they wanted and whatever specific types of ingredient they wanted. For example – one recipe called for 1 1/2 cups of shredded cheese, which left it open to interpretation as to what type of cheese.  Finished product presentation was also left up to each team, even though some recipes offered serving suggestions or style notes.

MEET THE COOKBOOKS…

MEET THE VINTAGE RECIPES…

– Jellied Cheese Ring Salad (from the Silver Jubilee Super Market Cook Book, 1955)
Molded Cucumber Mousse (from The Blender Cookbook, 1961)

Spanish Cream (from the Silver Jubilee Super Market Cook Book, 1955)

MEET THE TEAMS…
 

The only requirements for this project were that each team take one photo of the ingredients they used in each recipe and one photo of their finished product. They also answered a set of questions about the experience, since working with gelatin in this format was something rather new for everyone involved. The teams did not communicate with each other at all during the process of making each recipe, nor had any collaborative influence over food styling or interview interpretation, which made for an interesting variety of visual appearance when it came to the finished products. Let’s look!

RECIPE No. 1: MOLDED CUCUMBER MOUSSE (from The Blender Cookbook, 1962)

 

Harpie & Manny, RetroRevivalists from New Jersey,  made their Cucumber Mousse using bottled lemon juice and dried parsley and decorated it in a ring of cucumbers with sliced tomatoes.

Here in the Vintage Kitchen, we used fresh lemons and Mediterranean sea salt along with parsley and organic cucumbers from the farmers market. We added our own bit of color by styling it with purple cabbage and fresh parsley. Just like Harpie & Manny we also used cucumber slices in the finished presentation.

Note how Harpie & Manny’s cucumber mousse has a lovely even consistency throughout. Our mousse in the Vintage Kitchen, had a two-toned effect with a bright green gelatin ring at the top. Not sure, why this happened but it did give our mousse an extra dose of wiggle.

Overall this recipe was very interesting. It was light, airy and creamy.  Harpie thought it was a breeze to whip up in the blender but found the ingredient interpretation a bit tricky when it came to the onions. “The directions are challenging to interpret: should we add a slice of a medium onion, or slices of a medium onion? I settled for something in the middle.”

In the Vintage Kitchen we struggled with this same issue, was it one thinly sliced medium onion or one thin slice of a medium sized onion? For the VK version we finely sliced a whole medium onion, but after tasting the finished product, would definitely cut way back on the onion to about one slice. All that onion led to a strong taste which wasn’t terrible just tangy! Having said that, if you are a fan of cold cucumber soup then you would love this recipe. It’s refreshing and summery and pretty in color. The original recipe suggested pairing it with cold poached salmon or trout, which would be really good. It would also be delicious served on of top of smoked salmon and crackers or smashed with avocado on multigrain bread with lemon and fresh herbs. Both Harpie and Manny and the Vintage Kitchen would make this mousse again, experimenting next time with a bit less onion. Harpie thought it made an excellent alternative to lettuce leaf salad.

RECIPE No. 2: JELLIED CHEESE RING SALAD (from the Silver Jubilee Super Market Cook Book, 1955 edition)

 For this recipe, you’ll note that the cheese was left up to interpretation. Marianne and Olivia,  a mother/daughter duo from Redmond, WA used honeyed goat cheese and topped their ring with orchard peaches, prosciutto, and fresh basil.  Very creative!
 

In the Vintage Kitchen, we made our ring salad with Havarti Dill cheese, organic farm eggs and milk and smoked paprika. We also chose not to ring this one since we initially thought about cubing it and serving it on top of crackers. We decorated it with a simple sprig of rosemary and served it on an age appropriate plate made by Garden City Pottery in San Jose, California in 1951.

We loved how Marianne and Olivia added a bevy of extra flavors to their cheese ring, which really opens up the possibilities of offering a sweet or savory appetizer or hors d’oeuvre. In the Vintage Kitchen, we hemmed and hawed over various cheese possibilities (blue, cheddar, gouda, cream cheese, brie, camembert, parm etc etc etc) for this recipe for an entire day before deciding on Havarti dill. There was a lot to consider here as far as color, texture, and taste, and while we had big hopes for it, the jellied cheese turned out to be pretty uninteresting in the flavor department. The Vintage Kitchen version had the consistency of a slightly damp sponge and had absolutely no smell. The combo of the smoked paprika and the dill made it taste sweaty like room-temperature buttermilk or old socks. Definitely not quite what we were expecting!

Marianne and Olivia said their version featuring goat cheese made the ring somewhat grainy, so that wasn’t ideal either.  While they didn’t hate it they wouldn’t rush to make it again. Perhaps it’s easier and more delicious to just eat a piece of cheese, in this case, instead of ringing it in jelly! But here in the Vintage Kitchen, we love a good challenge. We haven’t quite given up on this guy yet. The right cheese and the right mix of spices might yield something magical, so we are going to continue working on this just to see if we can come up with something palatable for football snacking season.

RECIPE No. 3: SPANISH CREAM (from the Silver Jubilee Super Market Cook Book, 1955)

Creativity really ruled the roost with this recipe  Harpie and Manny added an elegant drizzle of chocolate sauce and fresh strawberries to theirs.

Marianne and Olivia topped theirs with a dollop of homemade blackberry jam and served it on a gorgeous antique plate.
 

Here in the Vintage Kitchen, we topped our Spanish Cream with the last of this season’s sweet Ranier cherries. We served it on a vintage JAJ Floral Pyrex plate that was made in England in the 1960’s and dusted each piece with a sprinkling of cinnamon.

Each team agreed that the Spanish Cream was by far their most favorite recipe of the three and definitely one to be made again and again. Harpie loved that it was sweet but not too sweet in taste, silky smooth in texture and refreshingly cool in the heat of summer.

Marianne liked the fact that this recipe was made up of a few simple ingredients that turned into an eye-catching, delicious treat. “I think jellied foods first appealed to people because they were pretty and a bit of a novelty. Take the Spanish Cream for example. All you need is milk and a few eggs to make a really special looking dessert. Top it with some fresh berries or jam and you have an elegant dish from ingredients most would have on hand.”

Here in the Vintage Kitchen, we loved that the consistency of the Spanish Cream was light and airy, making it a great dessert choice following a heavier meal. In taste we found it to be most similar to flan or rice pudding but not as dense in texture. Marianne likened it to a cold marshmallow or even a tapioca pudding.  Because of its simple combination of basic ingredients, there is lots of available room to add your own creativity by adding extra flavor enhancers and playing around with the styling, which makes this dessert completely customizable to each cook’s preference.  Next time Marianne and Olivia make it,  they will be experimenting with a coffee version. Harpie and Manny will throw in an extra dose of vanilla and top it with maraschino cherries. And next time we make it in the Vintage Kitchen,  we will be experimenting with a local honey and Greek yogurt version.

So enjoying two out of three of these vintage recipes wasn’t so bad! Each of us embarked on this challenge with our own pre-conceived notions about jellied foods. Harpie and Manny weren’t sure that a gelatin dish could taste good if it was anything other than sweet. “Could savory jello recipes be tasty? Or are we too ingrained in that jello is supposed to be sweet and fruity? Coming from the 1990’s baby background that the Retro Revival staff was born in, jello desserts were only fruit flavored. Anything that wasn’t fitting of that description was considered unpalatable. Once we tried the cucumber mousse (which was the first recipe we made), our feelings immediately changed. Unlike what we expected – suspended savories in a flavorless blob – we got a light and tasteful alternative to boring green salads.”

Marianne addressed the preconceptions about the congealed consistency factor.  “I think many people are afraid of gelatin or they don’t realize that it can be used to create something of a creamy texture. The expectation is that it will create something solid and jiggly. But it has so many uses beyond fruit gelatin desserts. Initially, by participating in this challenge, I was interested to see what kinds of textures would be achieved. Would jellied cheese be better than it sounds? Would I find the next “wow” dish to bring or serve at my next dinner party?”

Here in the Vintage Kitchen we were excited too at the possibility of discovering something new in these old recipes. We were curious to find the attraction of this type of cooking and to understand why people would prepare and eat jellied foods. We went into this project thinking that vintage gelatin dishes were going to be primarily a flavorless mix of strange ingredients.  We were pretty certain that our modern palate, so trained on enjoying and seeking out fresh whole foods, would reject the idea of tucking into a quivery conglomeration of cold cut-ups.

 Surprisingly though, after completing the challenge, we were all pleasantly enlightened.  Gelatin was no longer the oft-putting substance we once thought it was and it taught each of us a new way to look at how it ties together the consistency of food in a variety of formats. It was also really fun to work with. Each recipe was quick to make and exciting to style. Like blank canvases, gelatin offers an artistic form of expression combining simple, tactile arrangements of food, texture and color. As you can see from our above photographs each team presented their finished dishes in entirely different ways. Other than decorating a cake there are not that many types of food that yield such widely diverse creativity in the presentation department.

 

Marianne brought up a good point about the availability (or in this case the non-availability of ingredients back in the 20th century that aided the aspect of artistic merit. “Vintage cooks used everyday ingredients to make something special. Today we are so accustomed to getting exotic ingredients from all around the globe. Vintage cooks didn’t have that option. So, for special occasions, they used what they had and elevated them to a new level with gelatin. Appearance must have been very important. By today’s standards, the original recipes aren’t what most people think of as visually appealing but you have to admit they are all kind of show stoppers.”

Would we rush out and buy boxes and boxes of gelatin tomorrow and eat it every day from here on out? Probably not. But we wouldn’t run away from it now either. In this cooking experiment, we discovered a valuable place for the humble gelatin recipe. The powder package still holds up (no pun intended!) carrying with it the same essence of possibility and potential that it had in the 1950’s and the 1930’s and the centuries before.

Harpie and Manny thought we were still a few years away from seeing a gelatin resurgence in popular American cooking. Marianne and Olivia thought that with a good marketing campaign and better names for dishes (for example, Honeyed Goat Cheese Mousse with Yakima Peaches, Sliced Prosciutto and Basil instead of Jellied Cheese Ring Salad) that people would be more willing to experiment with and accept a jellied food dish. Here in the Vintage Kitchen, we think this is the perfect time to see gelatin rise in popularity again. Watch any episode of Chef’s Table…

and you’ll see professional cook’s experimenting with all sorts of materials to elevate their food to a new level of sensory experience. Gelatin has all the attributes of attaining something truly marvelous with a modern approach. We may not be as apt to enjoy Jellied Eggs with Prunes or Olive-Studded Ham Loaf but we don’t HAVE to eat those combos anymore either. As Marianne said we have the world at our finger tips so the set of ingredients for our next jellied dish is limited only by our imagination. And that, dear readers, is the true novelty of a good gelatin.

Cheers to our brave and industrious kitchen experimenters Harpie & Manny and Marianne & Olivia, for joining us on this fun-filled cooking challenge through the wiggly world of gelatin. Keep up with Harpie and Manny on their Retro Revival blog here.  Find both of the vintage cookbooks (plus many more unique mid-century ones!) in the shop here.

A Special Note on the featured cookbooks in this post: The Blender Cookbook (1962) features over 275 pages of vintage recipes intended entirely for creation in the blender. You will never believe the wide range of inventive and innovative recipes that these two Paris trained Gourmet magazine food editors turned authors came up with for all meals of the day! The Silver Jubilee Super Market Cook Book (1955) celebrates the 25th anniversary of the opening of America’s first supermarket. We previously featured this cookbook in a post about supermarket founder Michael J. Cullen, which you’ll find here.

Culinary Creativity: Recipes From Our Prize Winner!

By day they are executives in New York City but by night (and most weekends too) they are culinary wizards adventuring their way around the inventive kitchen. Meet blog reader Michael, one of the winners in last month’s Spartan Souvenir giveaway and his lovely wife Renee.

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As soon as their prize of Greek olive oil and wild mountain oregano hit their mailbox they started day dreaming about what they could make. Possibilities abounded of course, but it didn’t take very long before they settled on two Mediterranean style dishes that highlighted their new winnings and captured the simple fresh flavors of their farmers market palates.  In a lovely spirit of community, these two home chefs not only sent back a follow-up note on their gift receipt but also included recipes and photos of everything they made with their Sparta samplings. Fantastic! Here is what they made…

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“The olive oil has such a nice  fruitiness and the oregano is slightly floral and delicate,” shared Renee. “We love it!”

Long-time connoisseurs of make-it-yourself pizza they first prepared a Mediterranean style Greek pizza with homemade dough and an inventive brussels sprout topping. Next, (just in time for Fish Friday) they made a simple Greek style baked cod using local fish and an array of herbs.

Michael and Renee’s recipes couldn’t have come at a better time in our calendar year. If you are still entertaining holiday house guests the Greek Pizza makes for a fun party pleaser and can be doubled or tripled in size to fit all appetites.  Or if you find yourself ready to put the heavy plates of the holiday season behind you then the Greek Baked Cod would be just the ticket for a light and refreshing meal. Both recipes highlight the unique flavor of the olive oil and oregano from Sparta, Greece which you can find at thespartantable.com All other ingredients can be locally sourced from your grocery or market.

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Greek Pizza

Note: Michael and Renee followed Jim Lahey’s lead on the pizza dough preparation. You can find a step by step guide here which includes a casual video on the making of it all. If you have never made homemade pizza dough before don’t feel intimidated, it’s very easy and this is a no-knead recipe which makes it even easier. If you can’t sacrifice the time for the dough, start out simple with a pre-raised dough ball from Trader Joe’s or the fresh bakery department at most supermarkets.

(for the dough)

3.5 cups all-purpose flour ( M&R veered slightly from the dough recipe and incorporated some whole wheat flour as well. This recipe reflects their version.)

1/2 cup whole wheat flour

1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast

2 teaspoons fine sea salt

1 1/2 cups water

(for the topping)

1/2 red onion, thinly sliced and placed in a bowl, covered with water for at least 30 minutes, then drained and dried

1 Serrano chili pepper, thinly sliced (remove the seeds and veins if you are adverse to heat or if your chili is super strong)

8-10 raw brussels sprouts, shaved

1/4- 1/3 cup (plus more for topping) Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

1/2 teaspoon Spartan Table wild mountain Greek Oregano

5 ounces Spartan Table Extra Virgin Greek olive oil

Salt and Pepper to taste

Prepare dough as directed. Preheat oven to 475 degrees. Add pizza stone about one hour prior to baking. Mold the dough into a circle on a pizza peel lined with semolina flour to prevent sticking and for easy sliding.

Place all topping ingredients together in a bowl and mix in olive oil and salt and pepper to coat.

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Scatter your toppings evenly on top of the dough. Bake until bubbly and slightly browned about 10-12 minutes. Depending on your oven, this could take more or less time. Finish with olive oil,  sea salt and extra Parmesan cheese.

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Greek Baked Cod (serves 2)

Fresh, local cod  (enough for two portions)

1/2 teaspoon Spartan Table Greek oregano

5 ounces Spartan Table Greek olive oil for drizzling and finishing

1  quarter of a large organic lemon, thinly sliced

1 half of a medium shallot, thinly sliced

1/4 quarter cup of thinly sliced fresh fennel (from the bulb)
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 tablespoon fresh parsley, finely minced, for finishing

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Add cod to two pieces of foil paper (doubled so that it doesn’t leak) placed on a baking sheet. Drizzle fish with the olive oil, oregano and salt and pepper. Arrange the shallot slices on the bottom of the foil, place the cod filet on top with the fennel and lemon slices.

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Close the foil (like a packet) and bake for about 20-25 minutes, depending on your oven and size of the cod. Ours took about 20 minutes to cook. Finish with an extra drizzle of the oil, sea salt and parsley.
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In the land of Ms. Jeannie it is very exciting to have such an enthusiastic (and delicious!) response to a blog post. Hopefully Michael and Renee’s recipes will help pave the way for more culinary adventures discovered by our readers. Having come full circle with an interview that originated months ago in the faraway, mystical olive groves of Greece and ended up finally on the kitchen table of two New York foodies, this post feels a bit like magic. Even though a zillion miles separates us from Sparta and  Nashville and New York we now share a commonality in the history of a food. And our cross-culture community feels a bit more close-knit.  As Homer said “the journey is the thing.”

Again, a big thank you to Jehny and George for carrying on the family tradition of olive-growing in Greece and to Michael and Renee in New York for inspiring us with two new recipes fit for a feast.

If you missed the interview with Jehny and George from The Spartan Table find it here.  If you have any questions regarding Michael and Renee’s recipes post them in the comment box and we’ll get them answered ASAP.

Cheers or opa, as they say in Greece, to the final days of 2016. May they be both merry and bright.

kitchen prep

Dinner and a Date: Grecian Style!

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This week, Ms. Jeannie is taking you on a little dinner date! From the look of things above you may think that her adventures have taken her abroad on an exotic travel vacation steeped in ancient history. If you guessed the destination to be time-traveled Greece, then you are correct! Sort of.

While the view looks like this…

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and the menu looks like this…

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Ms. Jeannie is excited to inform you that she has never actually left the U.S.. In fact she never left her city. That’s right dear readers, Ms. Jeannie is visiting Greece while never leaving Nashville. Let’s see how…

During other day explorations of her new city, Ms. Jeannie delightfully happened upon the United States’ only full scale replica of the Parthenon that famous historic ruin in Greece that was built in the 430’s B.C.  In case you need an art history refresher, this is what the original looks like …

The original Parthenon as it stands in Greece among all its ruined glory.
The original Parthenon as it stands in Greece among all its ruined glory.

And this is the American version…

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Standing elegantly (and so massively) in the city limits of Nashville’s Centennial Park, this American Parthenon is incredible in size, scope and detail.

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While it is not quite as old as the original (this one dates to 1897) it is a true work of art from all angles with the stories of Greek heroes and gods running all around the facade…

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Built in 1897 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the state becoming part of the union, Nashville’s Parthenon was built by Southern architect and Civil War veteran William Crawford Smith for a special event exposition that included several other copies of ancient ruins.

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This original photograph of the Nashville Parthenon was taken in 1909. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

With no intention of making a permanent structure, the Parthenon was built as a whimsical folly, fully expecting to be dismantled shortly after the celebrations ceased. But as an instant favorite among locals and visitors the Parthenon became a part of the permanent Nashville landscape in the 1920’s when it was completely rebuilt in more solid form. What was once the original wood and plaster model became much more weather resistant concrete. Now it is hard to imagine anything getting in its way.

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There is nothing petite, frail or breakable about this beauty. It is difficult to get a sense of size or scale from photographs but this father and son pictured below hint at the sheer size of both the steps and the columns…

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As the sun travels across the sky, the colors, shapes and shadows morph from sand shades to cinnamon to sweet potato to gold. And then the night sky darkens. The spotlights come on. And the Parthenon lights up in the most spectacular of ways…

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It is no wonder that the park stays open until 11:00pm. With wide sweeping lawns, a small meandering lake complete with floating geese and ducks and plenty of shade trees, the Parthenon makes an ideal romantic backdrop for a late summer/early fall picnic. Ms. Jeannie spotted lots of hand holders among all those columns!

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In celebration of the beauty and timeless appeal of the Greek culture Ms. Jeannie is including a recipe here for a Mediterranean meal that works great for brunch, lunch or dinner. Or perhaps that romantic picnic in the park! Pulling a traditional Greek recipe from a 2010 cookbook, Greek Revival by Patricia Moore-Pastides, Ms. Jeannie put her own spin on a classic recipe that could be served in a number of situations – hot out of the oven at home, room temperature straight from the picnic basket or cold out of the fridge for instant next day left-over gratification.

While the recipe is classified technically as a tart, it is more on the fluffy side like a crust-less quiche then a dense whole ingredient tart. Traditionally it is served as side dish but it can be easily adjusted serving size wise to accommodate hungrier appetites. Serve it with some toasted crusty bread drizzled with olive oil and garlic, or a simple side salad and a glass of a wine or honey smothered fresh fruit and you have some magical combinations of savory flavor pairings that could take you from morning to night.

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Sweet Potato, Zucchini and Feta Tart

1.5 tablespoons olive oil

1 large sweet potato

2 medium zucchini

8 oz. feta cheese

1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon pesto (you can make your own or buy a small jar already prepared)

2 eggs

2 cups milk

2 tablespoons flour

1/4  teaspoon pepper

  1. Preheat oven to 375.
  2. Oil the bottom of a 9 x 11 inch baking dish. Grate the sweet potato and zucchini on the large hole section of a traditional box grater – this  should yield about 3 cups of each.  Toss both vegetables in a large bowl together…

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3. Spread in the bottom of the prepared baking dish.

4. In a medium size bowl mix the feta and pesto and then sprinkle over the sweet potato and zucchini mixture.

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5. In a blender mix together the eggs, milk, flour and pepper. Pour over the the top of the cheese/vegetable mixture and bake in the oven for 1 hour or until well set and golden brown on top.

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The original Parthenon was built in Greece as a temple to honor Athena – the goddess of reason, intelligence, inspiration, art and literature. The American Parthenon was built to honor and represent the intelligent and cultured community of Nashville.. And this blog post was designed to honor you, dear dedicated readers of this blog for so many years now. Food and history go hand-in-hand, Ms. Jeannie sends a big cheers your way for encouraging and supporting both!

For more Greek recipes please visit this previous post here.

In the Vintage Kitchen: How To Make Healthy Refried Beans From Scratch

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Happy New Year dear readers! Ms. Jeannie is sending you bucketfuls (it’s been raining a lot here) of good wishes, good fortune and good health for this new year.

This week we are back in the vintage kitchen with a healthy recipe that features a food staple held high in the luck department for January. Beans! They also made the news this past week as something we Americans should be eating more of (poor unfortunate sugar just got the worst rap) so we are conquering two bright and shiny wish you well tidings with one post here – good health and good luck.

If you are anything like Ms. Jeannie you might never have thought much about refried beans…how they are made, what exactly they are made with and how you might possibly make your own better version at home. In the store they come canned in two varieties, vegetarian and traditional and most contain hydrogenated oils and preservatives which are not the healthiest of options. But refried beans are great on tacos, burritos and nachos and are a great source of protein so Ms. Jeannie was excited to come across a from-scratch recipe in this vintage cookbook recently listed in her shop

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Best Recipes from the Cook Book Guild published in 1972

Published in 1972, The Best Recipes from the Cook Book Guild is actually a compilation book of hundreds of recipes from other note-worthy cookbooks published between the 1940’s and the 1960’s. Each recipe comes with source notes and sometimes a story about where the recipe came from and who made it originally, which of course opens the door to a myriad of culinary adventures to pursue.

 

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The refried bean recipe came from the 1967 edition of The Complete Book of Mexican Cooking by Elisabeth Lambert Ortiz (1915-2003), who was an award-winning  British food writer and the wife of Mexican diplomat Cesar Ortiz Tenoco.

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Through extensive travels in South America (and perhaps a few helpful lessons from Cesar’s family!) Elisabeth became an expert at preparing and instructing others on the art of Mexican cooking. The author of numerous international cookbooks, she is credited primarily with introducing Latin American cuisine to home cooks in both the U.S. and her native England during the 1960’s singing it’s flavor-packed praises in the forms of books and articles for Gourmet magazine and various food-related periodicals.  So what we have here dear readers is a fresh approach to an ethnic recipe from  a woman who learned her way through the culture. In Ms. Jeannie’s opinion, this is the best kind of cooking – learning through curiosity, love and experience .

Part One: Cooking the Beans
Part One: Cooking the Beans

Refried Beans (Frijoles Refritos) serves 6

2 cups dried pinto, black or red kidney beans (Ms. Jeannie used black beans for her recipe)

cold water

2 onions, chopped

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 bay leaf

2 serrano chiles, chopped or 1 teaspoon dried chilis, crumbled (Ms. Jeannie used one teaspoon red pepper flakes since fresh chiles aren’t in season yet here in the South)

11 tablespoons lard or oil (Ms. Jeannie used olive oil)

salt

freshly ground pepper

1 tomato, peeled, seeded and chopped ( if tomatoes aren’t in season yet you can substitute 1 can of diced tomatoes, drained of juice)

  1. Wash the beans and place in a saucepan, without soaking, with enough cold water to cover, 1 of the chopped onions, 1 of the garlic cloves, the bay leaf and the chiles.
  2. Cover, bring to a boil, reduce heat; and simmer gently , adding more boiling water as it evaporates from the pan. {Note: Using black beans, this process took about one hour and 30 minutes with about a cup of additional boiling water added halfway through.}
  3. When the beans begin to wrinkle (or become sift as in the case of the black beans) add one tablespoon of lard or oil and continue to cook for an additional 30 minutes over the same heat. Do not add anymore water.
  4. Heat the remaining lard or oil in a skillet, and saute the remaining onion and garlic until limp. Add the tomato and cook for an additional 2 minutes.
  5. Remove the pan from the heat and working in small batches add beans to the onion/garlic mixture mashing them together to form a paste. Repeat this step until all beans have mashed with the onion and garlic.
  6. Heat 2 tablespoons of lard or oil in a large skillet, add the beans in small batches and mash over low heat, forming a creamy heavy paste. Add two additional tablespoons of lard or oil intermittently throughout this process.
  7. Repeat step six again with the last 4 tablespoons of oil, once the beans have all been initially pureed. (This is the re-fried part in the name refried beans!) It should look like this when finished…
Homemade Refried Beans
Part Two: Mashing and Frying the Beans

This recipe is a great one because, once you understand the principles of refried beans  you can really change things up and add your own flair if you like. Spice it up, experiment with different herbs or chopped vegetables like leeks or scallions or different types of cheese.  If you like your refried beans a little bit more loose, you can add a little water to the pan after step 7 and mix it into the beans until you get the desired consistency. Likewise you can use the beans as part of lots of different dinner options from hors d’oeuvres to appetizers to main courses.

beans5

Ms. Jeannie made chicken tostados with her refried beans.  Quick and easy, she prepared them with the same whimsical, spur-of-the-moment method she uses for making tacos.  This one featured layers of tostado with chicken breast, green olives, lettuce, onion, avocado, cheddar cheese, tomatoes and the warm refried beans.

There are so many beans left over, Ms. Jeannie’s already hatching new recipes in her head about how else she can use them in her cooking this week ahead.  It looks like luck will continue spilling forth across many days this week in the kitchen department. If you want to save your luck for another day store it in an air-tight container and freeze it for later use:)

To embark on more culinary adventures using The Best Recipes from The Cookbook Guild as your spring board, please visit here. And as always, you can access dozens of other delicious vintage recipes on Ms. Jeannie’s blog using this link.

Happy cooking dear readers!