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Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Good Old Days?

In 2010, TCU Press published Grace & Gumption: The Cookbook, a follow-up to Grace & Gumption: Stories of Fort Worth Women, the first attempt to chronicle the contributions of women to our city. So when we decided on a cookbook some asked, "Now that we've gotten women out of the kitchen, why put them back in?" M answer? Because all the time they made their contributions to the city and its culture, most of them were feeding their families. And there may have been another factor--I love cookbooks and food writing, and I got to edit the recipes.
Contributors unearthed some fascinating old recipes. Joyce Williams, who wrote about frontier women, discovered directions for fixing squirrel. First you have to skin and clean it (as Joyce says, you couldn't just go to the market and buy it): remove the entrails and skin. To skin, cut off the legs at the first joint, raise the skin on the back and draw it over the hind legs. Then slip it over the fore legs and cut it away from the head and neck. Wash well and dry. Cut in pieces as  you would a chicken. Dust with salt or seasoning. Cook or bake in a Dutch oven, adding vegetables and a small amount of water. Bake uintil done. Sorry, no oven temperature--in those days it was baked over coals on a fire with coals placed on the lid.
For my chapter on ranch women, cowgirls and wildcatters, I found a wonderful recipe for syllabub, a traditional drink associated with eggnog but usually made with wine rather than stronger liquor. Often thought of as a ladies' drink, it was considered mild enough to serve to children.
One old recipe went as follows:
Sweeten a quart of cider with refined sugar and a grating of nutmeg, then milk the cow into it until you have the amount  you consider proper. Top if off with about half a pint of sweet, thick cream.
A recipe for those of us who don't have a cow in the barn:

Whipt Syllabub
2 c. white wine
Grated peel of one lemon
1 c. sugar
3 c. milk
2 c. heavy cream
3 egg whites
Combine wine, lemon peel and sugar. Stir to dissolve the sugar and add milk and cream. Beat (with a rotary beater, of course) until frothy. Beat egg whites separately until stiff and gradually add 6 Tbsp. of sugar, beating constantly util the mixture forms stiff peaks Pour mixed wine into chilled bowl. Top with spoonfuls of the egg whites. Serve in chilled glasses.
To me the recipe is a strange mix of past and present--the rotary beater indicates times gone by--but where did the chilled glasses come from? The block of ice in the icebox?
The yeast rolls at the Fort Worth Woman's Club Tea Room are legendary in this city, although I believe a cateror now provides the food and the rolls are gone. But Ruth Karbach unearthed a 1928 version of the recipe in The Woman's Club of Fort Worth Cook Book:

1 quart milk
2 yeast cakes
1 Tbsp. butter
1/2 c. sugar
1 Tbsp. salt
1 Tbsp. lard
3 quarts sifted flour
Let milk come to a boil and cool; when lukewarm add two yeast cakes, the sugar and enough flour to make a soft dough. Let rise one hour. Melt shortening and stir into soft dough; add balance of flour. Roll to about one-half inch thickness, cut with small round cutter, dip in melted butter and fold in pocketbook shape. Let rise about one-half hour and bake in a moderate oven until brown
Sounds like my mother's recipe, except for the lard. In later years, she substituted corn oil for the Crisco she had used for years. Mom always told me that you must scald milk and cool it or it will kill the yeast. And this recipe doesn't say anything abut kneading, but I was taught to knead lightly until flour was thoroughly mixed in; if you knead too much, your dough becomes heavy and the resulting rolls are tough.
I'm not about to cook a squirrel--or skin it--but the syllabub sounds sort of interesting, and I've done a version of the rolls most of my life. Comforting to know some things never change, and, yes, in some ways they were the good old days.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Two food blogs, cod with potatoes, and vodka bread

The Web is alive with food blogs, way too many for any one person to follow. But I follow a couple regularly and have gotten lots of recipes from them. One is Mystery Lovers Kitchen, to which mystery writers Krista Davis, Cleo Coyle, Riley Adams, Mary Jane Maffini, Sheila Connolly, Wendy Lyn Watson, and Ellery Adams each contribute one day a week. They also have guest bloggers, and I've been privileged to post a blog a couple of times. But I've used recipes for a scrumptious if very rich beef/noodle casserole from Riley and also a recipe for what I call chicken bundles--cooked chicken, cream cheese and some seasonings wrapped in crescent rolls and baked. Riley says the recipe serves four or--sigh--one teenager. From Krista I've gotten a wonderful spiced chicken--she rolled legs in seasoning, but I prefer thighs.
Sunday night I cooked one of Krista's recipes for my Austin family. We fixed three portions, thinking my grandsons wouldn't eat fish--wrong! They wolfed it down. Of course, I'll fiddle with it next time I do it, but it's basically oven fried potatoes topped with cod fillets. Krista used russet potatoes--3 large, sliced 1//4 " thick. Next time I'll use small red potatoes, sliced much thinner. But basically you put a generous Tbsp. of olive oil in your 9x13 pan with a lip. Season potato slices with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and paprika--we didn't have paprika, but I should have gone out and picked some fresh rosemary. Toss potatoes to coat thoroughly with seasonings, then toss with enough olive oil to coat all potato slices. Arrange slices in overlapping groups in the pan. Roast the potatoes at 425 for 30 minutes--I think they need a bit more. Place cod fillets (one per person) on the potato cakes or squares, top with a pat of butter and a lemon slice and bake, still at 425, for another 15 minutes. Serve with lemon wedges--and don't count out a five-year-old and a seven-year-old.
The other blog is called "The meaning of pie" and is maintained by a friend of Megan, my oldest daughter. One recipe that caught my eye was creamed chipped beef which this cook turns into a gourmet dish. I know many people call it SOS (shit on a shingle--a hangover fromWWII days), but I love it. High in calories, however.
But the dish that most amazed me--and I've made it--is alevropita, a flat, crispy, Greek, feta bread. For this one, you have to keep your head about you and your hot pads handy because it involves a 500 degree oven. Assemble all the ingredients, then beat together while you heat your 12-inch iron skillet in that hot oven.

2 Tbsp. olive oil for the batter
2 Tbsp. olive oil for the skillet
2 teaspons vodka - don't leave it out; it makes all the difference
1/2 cup water
Half an egg--scramble it and guess at how much is half
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp. flour
1/8 tsp. kosher salt--a dash
1/8 tsp. baking powder--another dash
5 oz. feta cheese, crumbled -do not mix into batter
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter, soften

Mix water vodka, olive oil and half egg. In a separate bowl, sift flour, baking powder and salt. Pour wet ingredients into dry and whisk together. Take the hot pan from the oven--do not grab blindly for the handle without using the hotpad. Pour second 2 Tbsp. olive oil into hot pan and spread with paper towel or spatula. Immediately pour batter into pan and spread to the edges of the pan,as much as possible, using a wooden spoon. Sprinkile feta on top of batter and dot with butter.
Return to oven for 15-20 minutes but watch carefully--you want it browned, but at 500 degrees, things go from browned to burned way too fast.
Take pan out of oven, put it someplace safe for extra hot dish--wooden cutting board, stove top, whatever. Use spatula to remove the bread to a cutting board and cut into pieces.
The meaning of pie says this goes great with a Greek salad. I think you can also use it as an appetizer. Only problem I have with it is I don't usualy keep vodka on hand, but this is worth getting it.
I wish I could find the name of the cook behind this blog, but I can't. Anyway, a tip of the toque to her.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Cookbooks

What's your favorite cookbook? That's hard to answer. The one I rely on is an old Good Housekeeping cookbook that my mom had. It's lost it's front cover and spine and apparently the front matter, so I can't tell you the copyright date. But it's got all the basics--white sauce, roast a turkey, cuts of beef and how to cook them, tuna casserole--okay, nobody likes that any more except me. I also like my old edition of Joy of Cooking--my oldest son tried to convince me to let him buy me a new one so he could have the old one, but I refused. I like most of the Southern Living cookbooks, especially one on entertaining--yes, it too was Mom's. And there are others I go to for specific recipes: Calf Fries to Caviar for fruit salads, an old one I can't remember the title of for German potato salad, and so on.
But the one I treasure most is a book my brother brought me a while back: Tasty Treasures, compiled by The Women's Auxiliaries to the Chicago Osteopathic Hospital. There's no copyright or year given but I bet it was when I was about twelve or so, for it's my break into print: there's a recipe for "hot party dip" and there it is, in writing, my signature--Judy MacBain. Mom pretty much put this book together, and she's everywhere in it, though she thought it would look bad if she was there too often, so she called herself Penelope Jones. Penelope contributed such recipes as mushroom cheese caps--I fix those to this day and Jordan loves them. Penelope also suggested avocado mayonnaise: 1/2 of an avocado with 1 cup mayonnaise, salt and sugar to taste and 2 Tbsp. lemon juice. I'm pretty sure I'd cut out the sugar and at least use the whole avocado, if not two. Several of my aunts names appear, and I'll never know if Mom used their recipes or just their names. She also assumed the pen name of Gourmet Grace to give little cooking hints, such as: A zippy sauce for corned beef hash casserole: 2 Tbsp. chili sauce spices with a dash of Coleman's mustard. But nowhere could I find a recipe for corned beef hash casserole--even if I had wanted to. Gourmet Grace also suggests sprinkling sage on pork chops before baking them or "about 2 Tbsp. chopped anchovies spreaad over tomato filling for pizza is delectable." Now, I love anchovies--but is this my mother talking?
Mom included a few recipes under her own name and here's the best: Everlasting Rolls. It's great for those who think they can't make dinner rolls.

Mom's basic roll dough
2 pkg. granular yeast
1/2 c. warm water
Pinch of sugar
1 12-oz. can evaporated milk, plus enough water to make 4 cups (nowadays I use “light” milk)
1 scant c. vegetable oil
1 c. sugar
Dissolve yeast in water (add just a pinch of sugar to help the yeast work) and let it rise about five minutes. Mix milk and water, oil, and sugar. Add dissolved yeast. Stir in enough flour to make a thin batter, the consistency of cake batter. Let this rise in a warm place until bubbles appear on the surface (probably 1 hour—check it at 30 minutes).
Separately, mix
1 c. flour
1 tsp. salt (or less)
1 heaping tsp. baking powder
1 level tsp. baking soda
 Sift seasoned flour into first mixture. Keep adding flour until it is too stiff to stir with a spoon. Knead well. Don't let the dough get stiff with too much flour, or your rolls will be heavy. This dough will keep a week or so in the refrigerator but watch out--it grows and spreads.
This can be used for dinner rolls, either cloverleaf or rolled out, or coffee cakes. Mom's most popular use was for Christmas coffee cakes--more about that as the season nears.
And those cheese-stuffed mushrooms? Mix grated sharp cheddar, a bit of dry mustard, a dash of Worcestershire, chopped green onions, and enough mayonnaise to bind. Bake in a moderate overn until mushrooms are soft and cheese begins to brown. Enjoy!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

How hungry are you?

Today is Blog Action Day. Bloggers all over the world are asked to take on a social issue. This year's topic is right up my interest alley--food.
Tonight my neighbors came for dinner. I fixed pasta with a subtle anchovy/lemon zest sauce. At the last minute you add 1 cup pasta cooking water and two egg yolks to make a "silky" sauce (it really was). I accompanied it with "slightly exotic roasted cauliflower salad" and pimiento cheese for an appetizer. We ate well and had wine to go with our meal. I eat well most days--often whatever strikes my fancy, from smoked salmon to creamed tuna, really rare hamburger patties to chicken salad. I'm spoiled. I can go to the freezer or fridge and decide on a whim what I want. Got a desperate craving? OK, I'll go to Central Market and pick up whatever delicacy I'm craving--maybe a lamb chop or Dover sole (do you know how much it costs in a restaurant vs. what you can cook it for at home?).
In spite of all this luxury at my disposal, in America in 2010 48.8 million Americans lived in "food insecure" homes--32.6 million adults and 16.2 million children, which means the latter weren't getting the nutrition they need to build healthy bodies and strong minds as they grow. I live in Texas, which second only to Misissippi, has the highest rate of food insecure homes. Don't think food insecurity--let's call a spade a spade, hunger--doesn't exist in your county, your city, even your neighbborhood. It's everywhere.
What can we do? I don't know, but I was raised to believe I am my brother's keeper. That means I support government programs that aid the poor--not welfare, because it's so badly administered--but health care, Head Start (which is now gone I think), school lunch programs, whatever it takes to feed the hungry. We worry about the millions starving in Africa and well we should, but we have to look out for those at home. Sometimes our charity gets such an international vision that we forget to look under our noses.
What can we as individuals do? Support the local food bank, look online at the food programs available and after checking them out, donate cautiously, support any program at the religious affiliation of your choice.
Just because you're well fed, don't assume everyone is.
No, I'm not going to eat bread and water in penance. In fact, I may have a little chocolate. But I want to and will do my part. How about you?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Is Cooking Becoming A Lost Art?

 
Please welcome my guest, Katherine Grey. For many of us, cooking with Mom is a treasured memory, Katherine uses that memory as a springboard to discuss her feelings about today’s tendency to avoid cooking. Like Katherine, I remember making cookies with my mom. Chocolate chip and peanut butter were my favorites, but Mom accused me of eating as much dough as I cooked. To this day, I love chocolate chip cookie dough.
****

 The young women of my nephew’s generation (he’s 21) seem to take great pride in the fact that they can’t cook or as they say, “can’t boil water.”  Why is that, I wonder? Did their mothers not teach them how to cook or about the immense feeling of satisfaction when you make a meal or bread or a cake or anything else from scratch? Did they not pass on the sense of pride one feels when given a compliment on how good something they’ve made tastes? Or perhaps their mothers never learned to cook themselves. It would be hard to pass on the art of cooking if one never learned themselves.

 Maybe I find the concept of not knowing how to cook so foreign because I was taught to cook by a mother who rarely used anything out of a box or can. I didn’t have a store-bought cookie until I was a teenager and was at a friend’s house. I’m only in my late thirties so it’s not like store-bought cookies were some new innovation.

 I was four years old the first time I made cookies with my mother. I remember kneeling on a dining room chair, helping my mom stir together the dry ingredients of a recipe, learning to crack an egg.  (She was smart enough to have me crack them in a separate bowl or else we would have eaten a lot of shell pieces with our cookies.) She taught me to use measuring cups and spoons by giving me my own bowl in which to measure flour, sugar, baking powder. Over the years we made all different kinds of cookies from chocolate chip, to peanut butter, to ginger snaps to oatmeal and more. As I grew older, I graduated from doing more watching than cooking to being responsible for mixing the dry ingredients together, to mixing them with the wet ingredients, to being able to take the hot pan from the oven (this was a big deal to a twelve-year old), to finally making the entire recipe by myself for the first time.

 Unfortunately, nowadays making cookies means buying a package from the refrigerated section of the grocery store and either breaking the pre-cut dough into pieces or slicing a log of dough into circles and tossing them in the oven. 

Baking cookies with my mother throughout the years is one of my fondest memories and maybe the reason why, as an adult, cookies are one of my favorite things to bake.

 When I do hear someone say they don’t know how to cook, I want to tell them they can learn. If you can read and follow directions, you can learn how to cook. Get a cookbook that looks interesting, read through the recipes, and choose one to try. This is how I made Coq Au Vin for the first time. Yes, I know how to cook but I’d never made it before and didn’t know anyone who had. The first time, the chicken came out a little dry.  The second time, the chicken stuck to the bottom of the pan, but the third time, it came out great. You can learn to cook. It just takes patience and practice.   

 And start with something easy. Like cookies.

 Oatmeal Walnut Cookies

1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup packed brown sugar
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup Crisco shortening
1 egg
¼ teaspoon vanilla
¾ cup quick-cooking rolled oats
½ cup chopped walnuts**
Small dish of granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a mixing bowl, stir together the first 6 ingredients (through the baking soda). Add the Crisco, egg, and vanilla to the bowl and beat well. Stir in the oats and nuts. Form into small balls. Dip the top of each ball in the dish of granulated sugar. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet.  Bake for 10 to 12 minutes.
Makes 3 ½ dozen cookies.

** I sometimes substitute craisins for the walnuts.

About Katherine Grey

At the age of four, Katherine pestered her mother to teach her to read. From that point on, she spent the most of her childhood lost in the pages of one book after another. Soon she began writing stories of her own, populated with characters doing all of the things she was too shy to even contemplate doing herself.

A chance meeting with another writer led Katherine to seriously pursue a writing career. Her debut novel, Impetuous, was released by The Wild Rose Press in August 2011.

Katherine lives in upstate NY with her family though she threatens to move south at the beginning of each winter season.

Visit her at http://katherinegrey.blogspot.com




Thursday, October 6, 2011

Eating alone and liking it

In spite of friends, family, and eating out a lot, I eat supper alone several nights a week. I manage to avoid some of the obvious pitfalls, such as cereal for dinner or overeating. And I do try to be creative, so that fixing and eating supper is fun. Sometimes I carry my supper for one to the front porch and watch the world go by. But you learn that there are some things you just don’t cook for one—like sheet cake! Even if you froze it in single-serving portions, it would last forever and you’d get very tired of it.
I asked other friends what they do about eating alone. One claims that it’s because she won’t cook for herself and eats out that she can’t lose weight. Another said, “When I want meatloaf, I cook it and portion it out in the freezer.” I was telling still another friend that someone asked me what you did when you wanted a rhubarb pie. (Since I’ve never made a rhubarb pie in my life, it’s a moot point; my mom made them, but I don’t particularly like rhubarb.) Anyway, my friend said when she was divorced and single, she baked a rhubarb pie, ate the whole thing herself, and thought how wonderful it was not to have to share it!
Someone suggested that the freezer is a single person’s best friend, but I countered with: “Or your worst enemy.” If you freeze a lot of leftovers, you end up with stuff that you don’t want to eat but feel you should. Remember that your mom always told you, “Waste not, want not.” Freezing often doesn’t improve the quality of food—just the opposite. I admit that if I get a yen for sloppy Joe or tuna Florentine, I fix it and freeze it—but too often I throw away much of the leftovers.
I have a partial solution for that: buy a vacuum food saver. Remember the Save-a-Meal machines of the ’70s? They sealed food into a plastic bag so that you could freeze it. Trouble is, they left all that air in with the food, and eventually ice crystals formed on it—a sure sign the food is no good. The food saver draws the air out and essentially cryovacs the food. It’s great for saving meat—for instance, if you buy a pack of four chicken breasts and only cook one. Food-save the other three individually (the plastic comes in rolls, so you create the size bag you need). Save leftovers, or use the food saver to preserve that really good piece of cheese you bought for a dinner party but didn’t completely use. (Don’t freeze the cheese—just keeping air from it will keep that white mold from forming on it.) If you’re really smart about using this machine and have the accessories, you can save red wine in the bottle or put things in special jars. (I’m not that smart).
One word, though, about the freezer and food-saving: the airtight seal doesn’t last forever, so don’t leave leftovers too long, and keep an eye on them. I have two serving-size portions of lamb in the freezer as I write; the seal has broken down, and ice crystals are on the meat. I’ll probably pitch them, though right now I just keep eyeing them and choosing something else. (My mother used to think I was far too willing to pitch leftovers.)
Baked goods don’t work well in the machine—bread, for instance, gets squished because the machine draws air out of the bread as well as the bag. Bread freezes nicely in regular baggies, so you can keep a loaf for a long while. (My kids dispute this and want to refrigerate it, but I insist that it gets stale in the fridge.) When Megan bought a food saver, Brandon tried to “save” everything in the refrigerator. She reported that it was an absolute failure with scallions, which subsequently had to be thrown out. Use some common sense here!
But even with a food saver, leftovers can be discouraging. If you bake lasagna, eat your portion—or maybe three portions in a week—that’s still a freezer full of lasagna. So save the lasagna for when the kids come home—or go to the best Italian restaurant you know.
When you cook for yourself, you have to get rid of some long-held notions. One is that “Waste not, want not” dictum that sings like a refrain in our heads. When you cook for one, you’re going to waste some food—just pitch it with a clear conscience. It’s not waste on the scale that you’d waste food if you cooked for a family of six and had unusable leftovers. Reconcile yourself to both discarding some food and eating the same thing two nights in a row. (If it’s good, that shouldn’t be a problem.)
A lot of recipes can be reduced to serve two, but it’s sometimes hard to reduce them to a single serving. So eat salmon burgers or some other delicacy two nights in a row if you don’t want to freeze the other burger.
The other caveat is that you have to learn to shop at a grocery that has a good butcher. I bet you don’t buy meat or fish from the butcher because it’s more expensive. But you’re only cooking for one! It’s not that much more expensive. It’s better to ask the butcher for one chicken breast than to buy four in a package and have those leftovers. Or use chicken cutlets or tenders instead of a package of breasts. I’ve been told that the chicken in those pre-packs of four has already been frozen and defrosted; if you take it home and freeze it, you’re freezing chicken that is already on its way to getting old.
Want salmon? Buy a one-serving piece.
Some random ideas:
■ Toss cooked tiny pasta with Parmesan, pepper, and a little heavy cream. Add a little chopped parsley for color (even the dried kind).
■ Ask the butcher for one or two small lamb chops (if you like lamb) or one pork chop.
■ Make an individual pizza, using a flour tortilla as the crust. Top with whatever you want. One I like: spread pesto over the tortilla and top with roasted veggies and goat cheese. Or try a topping of creamed spinach, artichoke hearts, chopped Roma tomatoes, and Parmesan. Invent your own! Bake at 400┬║, but watch closely so the tortilla doesn’t burn.
■ Buy those frozen hash browns that can be resealed. Then if you have leftover turkey, for instance, you can make turkey hash. Use bottled or dehydrated turkey gravy to bind together and spice it up with a little garlic powder, Worcestershire, onion, etc.
■ Buy sliced turkey in the deli and put it on toast. Cover with cheese sauce or Alfredo sauce and broil. Top with cooked bacon and a tomato slice.
■ Some things in the produce department—spinach, broccoli, beans, mushrooms—come loose, so you can buy whatever amount you want. Asparagus doesn’t, and that troubled me for a while. It’s so expensive, but it’s so good. Now I buy a pack of very fresh asparagus (did you know it should be standing in water and not lying on a shelf?) and then I eat it all week—with lemon butter, on buttered toast, chunked up in salad, or even plain.




Sunday, October 2, 2011

Do you cook with canned soups?

Two or three  years ago, I wrote a memoir/cookbook, Cooking My Way Through Life with Kids and Books —why I wrote it is too long a story to tell here, but it was fun to do and I was pleased with the results. A local university press that publishes cookbooks reviewed the manuscript and, after many months, sent a detailed six-page critique from a reader. The critique was like a roadmap for a revision, and I was grateful, but at one point it called my recipes “nice faux gourmet recipes.” Referring to my recipe for that standard, King Ranch Chicken, the anonymous critic claimed she never used canned soups but always made her own white sauce. The comment made me think of all the things you can do with canned soups without feeling guilty.

Canned soup recipes have probably been around as long as canned soups, and probably controversial just as long. The critic’s comment sounded like snobbery to me, but a lot of people simply prefer not to use canned ingredients. One person on a web forum about canned soups said she objected to tomato soup recipes, because they left an aftertaste. I don’t particularly like beef-based soups, like vegetable beef, and I hate the smell when someone is heating one in the office microwave. What did I really mean by canned soups? Creamed soups, such as chicken, mushroom, and celery. But then there’s that good bacon/spinach dip recipe that calls for cheddar cheese soup (not always easy to find).

Some people object that canned soups are high in sodium and fat. Yes, but you can buy low sodium and low fat. Others simply prefer not to use canned soups and make white sauce, as the lofty critic did, or use one of the recipes for substitutes on the web.

Canned Soup Substitute

2 c. nonfat powdered milk
¾ c. cornstarch
¼ c. or less inst. vegetable bouillon
2 Tbsp dried onion flakes
1 tsp. basil
1 tsp. thyme
½ tsp. pepper

Trouble with that is, you’ve used four prepared ingredients, gone to a lot of trouble, and probably (I don’t know this for sure) produced a pretty tasteless or artificial-tasting product. There is of course a difference between canned and prepared soups, like instant vegetable bouillon or dried onion soup mix, from which almost everyone makes that sour cream dip that disappears as soon as you put it out..
Once I gave a “retro” dinner party, and we all brought dishes from the ‘50s. One guest brought that dip, and one of the men looked at his wife and said, “Can you get this recipe?” She smiled and said, “I think I can figure it out.”

Neither Jacques Pepin nor Julia Child ever cooked with prepared or canned soups, but Rachel Ray does. I’m for canned soup in moderation but not to the extent I need to buy 101 Things to Do with Canned Soup or The Biggest Book of Canned Soup Recipes.

Almost everyone knows how to make King Ranch Chicken with soup, but here are a couple of less common recipes that I’m fond of.

 Colin’s Queso

1 lb. hamburger
1 lb. sausage (your choice if it’s mild, medium or hot)
1 16 oz. jar Pace picante sauce (again, mild, medium or hot—you choose)
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 lb. Velveeta Original (I use Light if Colin isn’t looking)

Brown meat in skillet, breaking up the chunks. Put meat in a crock pot, add remaining ingredients, and heat until cheese melts and ingredients are blended. Serve hot with corn chips. I used to put chips in the bottom of soup bowls, top them with this queso, and serve it to my kids as a one-dish meal.

 Spinach-bacon spread

8 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
2 10-oz. pkgs. chopped spinach, thawed and well drained—squeeze it by hand for best results
32 oz. Monterey Jack cheese with jalape├▒os, shredded
1 11-oz. can cheddar cheese soup, undiluted
1 8-oz. pkg. cream cheese
1 tsp. Greek seasoning
½ tsp. onion powder
1 tsp. Tabasco, or less if you prefer; this is pretty spicy
Paprika

Combine everything but bacon and paprika. Heat until cheese melts. Stir in crumbled bacon, sprinkle with paorprika. Serve hot with crackers.

 Don’t know how to make King Ranch chicken? Write me at j.alter@tcu.edu. It’s a Texas classic.