Monday, March 26, 2012

OMG a Recipe: It's a Mad Mad Mad Men World

I've been feeling the nostalgic vibe of late, especially after receiving a funky old Campbell Cookbook: Cooking With Soup cookbook from a friend who knows I love kitschy stuff like that. It goes nicely with my Philadelphia Cream Cheese cookbook, spiral ring-binding and all. Appropriately enough, the equally vintage AMC series Mad Men is kicking off its effing-finally-it-took-you-long-enough 5th season. To celebrate the return of the martini-swilling chain-smoking prodigal son, I thought I'd hazard a sampling of what the 1950s and 60s era cuisine tasted like, and cook something from the book that looked like it would have sat on Betty Draper's shelf, before things went off the rails.

Now you're cooking with nostalgia! - Photo by Wasabi Prime
These old cookbooks, much like an early episode of Mad Men, circa season 1, can be quite a hoot. Where else are you going to read about the four food groups, where the Milk Group includes a serving of cubes of "Cheddar-type cheese?" A time when capers were considered "crafty," there's dishes called "Spunky Ham Bowl" or "Cock-a-Leekie Soup" without a trace of self-awareness, and you could still get away with calling a dish "Oriental" as long as there's some soy sauce in it. Ah, those were the good old days. It's no wonder they were all raging alcoholics who drank their way through lunches to get through the day.

I found what could best be called a pantry straggler -- a lone can of chicken and rice soup sitting upon our shelf. Luckily it wasn't one of the newfangled line of Campbell's soups, so I could reference a recipe in the cookbook  using this soup flavor. Granted, my can o' soup was using wild rice, which I'm sure would have been considered too exotic for the post-Baby Boomer era, but even in its original white rice form, it wouldn't have changed much with the recipe I decided to use. Simply named Greek Lemon Soup, on page 163, the dish was just that: one can of condensed chicken with rice soup, water, 1 egg, lemon juice, nutmeg and butter. They dress it up a little by describing the soup as being called "Soup Avgolemono" to the Greeks, which means just that, egg-lemon soup or sauce.

Betty is DONE with being your haus frau - Photos by Wasabi Prime, Mad Men pic from AMC
Even the newly-singletoned Stepford-drone, Betty, would appreciate this soup, as it can be made for a serving of one, with minimal ingredients that are likely hanging around a forlorn-looking refrigerator and pantry. You basically heat the soup to the can's directions, and whisking the egg with the lemon juice in a separate bowl, you temper the egg and lemon mixture before incorporating it slowly into the soup, but off the direct heat, so the egg doesn't curdle. You're lightly cooking the egg in the soup, constantly whisking so that it just emulsifies and gives the soup a rich, surprisingly silky texture. I was actually -- gasp -- pleasantly surprised with what gently adding the egg to the soup would do for its consistency. The lemon juice brightened the flavor, which does any canned product some good, and the nutmeg just made it a little more interesting. What isn't interesting is the final result: Bland, Boring City. Even Don Draper would choose a different kind of liquid lunch before sucking down this snooze-worthy broth.

Option B... for Booze - food photos by Wasabi Prime, Mad Men pic from AMC
Not very exciting-looking, I know. So I drizzled a little olive oil and added some fresh-cracked pepper as these would have been ingredients hanging about a Mad Men-era household, and something they would have thought to add to the soup anyways: Voila! Slightly less Bland-Boring-City.

A little better. But a dry martini would make it perfect - Photo by Wasabi Prime
I had my vintage-era soup and then capped the day off early by signing off around three to start swilling cocktails and exercising poor decision-making skills that would make the fellas at Sterling Cooper proud. Perhaps later I'll have enough liquid courage in me to give recipes like "Curried Crax" a try, or figure out just what the hell a "Mulligatawny" is.

1 comment:

  1. Love your wording in paragraph one especially, Cock-a-Leekie Soup. Wow, I guess maybe the 60's were a more innocent time. Put that name on a menu today and watch the fireworks fly.


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