Saturday, January 04, 2020

Notes for chef

Girls' night dinner
Later this year I am to teach an online course for Romance Writers of America on creating a fictional chef. The mystery readers among you will know how popular culinary mysteries are, and I assume chefs pop up in romances too. But a lot of authors don’t know much about chefs, not that I know all that much. Obviously, however, food and food writing interest me, and I’ve been collecting notes and ideas as I go along. So I’m doing research and hoping to encourage authors to create realistic characters who are not all the temperamental male chefs in high-end restaurants. Maybe all this is a way of fulfilling a buried dream of mine. I’ve always said in another life I’d like to come back as a chef. In this life, my old back and knees couldn’t stand it.

Last night Jordan got to prowling through my old (1972) copy of the Southern Living Party Cookbook. I remember when once it was my bible. Jordan laughed long and hard at the directions for using a decorative ashtray. Hostesses were advised to light a cigarette, take a couple of puffs, and then snuff it out so guests would know that the ashtray was functional, not just decorative. We would no more do that today than jump through hoops. One time I’d get militant is if someone tried to light up in my house.

But Jordan liked the recipes too—we found twice-baked potatoes (which most of us do off the top of our heads) and Italian artichokes. Artichokes chilled in a sauce of Italian salad dressing, mayo, and capers. Creamed chicken, Recipes with lots of mayo and heavy cream and butter. Eggs without cooking them first shocked Jordan. Lots of dishes that could be prepared ahead and frozen or held for a day or two in the fridge. As Jordan said, it was true planning ahead. What she didn’t know was that the sixties were the era of freeing housewives from the constraints of their roles—thank you, Betty Freidan—and frozen food dinners came into vogue as a way of easing the housewife’s life. It was also the era of canned soups—in casseroles, dips, you name it. I still cook some dishes made with the help of Campbell’s and enjoy them. And I’m not too proud to admit it.

It dawned on me as we talked about this book that if an author was to create a 1960s chef, they’d have to adjust the menu drastically. I remember when friends and I had a retro potluck supper on the front porch. We had onion soup/sour cream dip, and one man looked at his wife and said seriously, “Can you get the recipe for this?” She smiled and said she thought she could.

Dinner that evening consisted of tuna casserole (I still love my recipe and make it occasionally just for myself) and orange Jell-O with pineapple chunks and grated carrots. I remember my mom making that and so did the friend who brought it that night. I honestly don’t remember what else we had, but it was a fun evening.

Tonight Jordan and I are having sort of a retro dinner. Christian and Jacob have gone to Dallas for a Mavericks game, and we’re having a girl’s night. We’re trying those artichokes, and I made twice-baked potatoes. But at Jordan’s request we’re having loin lamb chops. I salt and pepper them, sauté them to medium rare in olive oil, then finish with anchovy butter. I am finally happy with the way I cook lamb chops.At first, Jordan’s were not done enough for her, while mine, cooked at the same time, was almost overdone. The potatoes, however, were killer.

We topped our meal off with fudge hand-dipped in dark chocolate, from the Dutchman’s Hidden Valley. As she nibbled at that delicacy, Jordan said, “We have to go back there soon.”

For those of you who are “of an age,” what dishes do  you remember from the fifties, sixties, and seventies?


Irene Bennett Brown said...

No Peek Chicken and Rice and Tater Tot Casserole were dishes the family liked. I almost never make either now.

judyalter said...

I still make No Peek Chicken, and my family likes it a lot. Although most nights I cook for one, I am blessed by the opportunity to cook for my local family--which makes four of us--especially on weekends. Lets me do some of the things, like No Peek Chicken, that I wouldn't do for myself.