December 16, 2009

Christmas Cookies

I'm one of those people who waits until the last minute to make my Christmas cookies. I don't have any particular recipes that I use year after year. I'm more impulsive, making what sounds good a day or so before I get ready to start baking. Many times I'm more interested in how I might creatively package the cookies than I am in the actual cookie itself.

I came across Party Best Butter Cookies (undated, 28 pp.) while looking through my booklets trying to get inspired. This looks similar to another Pillsbury Flour booklet that I wrote about last year. Same crease down the center, a few other sponsors besides Pillsbury--this booklet has Saran Wrap, the American Dairy Association and Sun Maid Raisins.

I agree with this advertisement from the American Dairy Association. I always use real butter.

The booklet is divided into several different types of cookies: Molded & Drop Cookies, Rolled Cookies, Variety Cookies, Cookie Service Ideas, Valentine's Day, Easter, Halloween, Birthdays and Receptions.

This recipe for Pepparkakor Cookies is used in several of the Christmas Service Ideas.

So is this recipe for Grandma's Sugar Cookies. The original owner of the booklet though these were good and notated it in the page margin. There are all kinds of ideas for using this basic sugar cookie recipe.

Like the booklet last year, this one also has some crafty projects such as this Sugarplum Tree:

How about these Modern Christmas Trees that use the Pepparkakor Cookies?

This page gives instructions (though no picture) for making a mobile with Christmas cookies as well as instructions for making a cookie cover from white net and clear plastic (which is pictured below).

This Pepparkakor Tree is cute, made with wooden dowels. Seems like you could paint it different colors and use it for other holidays besides Christmas.

This page for Holiday Cookie Snacks gives some dip and cheese spread recipes.

These Cookie Trees can be made with either the Pepparkakor Cookie recipe or Grandma's Sugar Cookie recipe.

These Nibbling Trees make use of styrofoam forms for table centerpieces:

Here's another craft project using 1-lb and 2-lb coffee cans. Now we have lots of plasict coffee cans--how's that going to work out?

There are other projects and ideas for other holidays.
The last page shows how to use Saran Wrap to make an attractive cookie gift package. It also has an offer for a cookbook from Dow called "Food from Famous Kitchens." Details were found inside the Saran Wrap packages and the booklet cost $1.

December 10, 2009

Taking the Comfort out of Comfort Food

There are a couple of standard comfort food meals around my house that revolve primarily around processed foods. I wrote about one of them here. The other meal consists of Campbell's Tomato Soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. The cheese on the sandwich may occasionally change, the bread may change, but the soup never does. My previous attempts at serving a nice homemade, fresh tomato soup have always been met with much resistance and suspicion and then it's back to the familiar red and white can. So over the years I've grown used to the taste and appearance of Campbell's Tomato Soup.

A trip to the dentist a few weeks ago necessitated the serving of this meal, sans the sandwich. When I opened the can, I immediately noticed that the soup was no longer the familiar, bright reddish-orange color. Dipping my finger in for a quick taste confirmed my suspicions. Something wasn't right.

"I think something's wrong with my soup," I told the Campbell's Customer Service lady who was immediately contacted via the 1-800 number found on the can. Expiration date current? Check. No dents in the can? Check.

"Has the soup formula been changed recently?" I asked, only partially hopeful, thinking of how the Ohio version always tasted slightly different than the Texas version. It looked as if perhaps they'd added a scant bit of chili powder, something like that, to appeal to the Latino market down here. That might account for the dulling down of the color and the change in taste. I didn't want the formula to have changed, but at that particular moment, I wanted to eat contaminated soup even less.

"Oh no, nothing's changed" she reassured me sweetly, "but don't take any chances and throw your can out." Our conversation ended with her telling me she would be sending me coupons in the mail.

In the meantime, I was ticked. Should I take my-lazy-and pressed-for-time-self down to the store again and buy a new can? Should I serve that can (which tasted okay to the patient) or should I serve the (evil) microwave styrofoam container version sent home by the dentist?

I served the contents of the original can, the patient survived and I ate something else. (After a subsequent visit to the dentist my still-lazy-and-pressed-for-time-self served the new "convenient" version--I really have nothing positive to share about that product except I'm impressed that the dentist took the trouble to send soup home with the patient in the first place.)

A week ago, I fixed the handyman and I yet another newly purchased can of Campbell's Tomato Soup and grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch. I ignored the new brownish-red color of the soup and noticed it still tasted different (still not in a good way). I decided right then and there that I wouldn't be buying this brand anymore. Some people around here were just going to have to adjust.

I redeemed the two $3 coupons I received in the mail from Campbell's, but instead of buying the soup, I bought two six-packs of the Low Sodium V8 juice that I drink because of it's calming effects on my heart. Something about all that potassium. I don't really care for it, and I kind of drink it like medicine, but I have grown accustomed to it's taste. Most importantly, I know what it's supposed to taste like, since I drink it all the time.

Uh Oh. Déjà vu. Trouble here with the first can out of the package. It's more of a brownish color than it used to be. The taste is even nastier than usual. Several days, and cans, later, I also notice that it doesn't seem to be calming my heart down like it used to. Something's changed, I think. This time I don't bother to call anybody. "So much for that little heart calming trick," I think, "it was good while it lasted."

Although I did a quick Google search on the soup for any recall news before I called their Customer Service, maybe I should have just checked the Campbell's Corporate website for the news release. (And maybe they should send the news releases around to their CS call centers.)

A bit of the positive spin in the news release is missing from this Sacramento Bee article:

Still, the new soup won't be labeled with a "low sodium" banner. The company worries that customers would associate that with blandness. "We hope it's the biggest change you never notice," said Denise Morrison, president of Campbell Soup North
America, during a visit Wednesday to the company's agricultural research headquarters near Davis.

Sorry Denise, I noticed the change.

Although I meant to, I don't think I ever blogged about how a while back my salad dressing made with the Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing Mix and Kraft Mayonnaise kept failing to thicken. Two calls to the 1-800 Hidden Vallen Ranch ladies resulted in several free coupons but no thick dressing. Eventually, the light bulb came on and I called Kraft, who did reveal that there was indeed a formula change with the Mayonnaise and Miracle Whip. I switched to Hellmann's and the problem was solved.

And yes, Nature's Own bread, I also noticed that the (new) lack of trans fats in your bread products now makes a fresh loaf last less than a week. Which makes it easier to decide to buy the fresh bakery bread that I always liked better anyway. Now that they last the same amount of time there's no contest.

I suppose it's good the food companies are paying more attention to what they're putting into their products, but it's not going to be easy changing what America's used to eating.

December 07, 2009

I'm in a blogging slump. For instance, I started this post back when fresh peaches were in season. How long ago was that? Even though cranberries are the fruit of interest at the moment, I somehow have to get past this peaches booklet in order to move on. Heaven knows I have a mountain of other material I'd like to write about.

Peaches were only one of the many fruits being canned by early California food processors in the late 1850s. California peaches were of excellent quality and weight due to California's temperate climate and fertile soil. California canned peaches were one of the canned goods that might have been eaten by some fortunate soldiers during the Civil War or served in fine dining rooms on the East Coast during that same time period.

The Peach Recipe Book - 101 Helps for the Clever Hostess and Thrifty Housewife (not dated, 24 pages) was published in the early 1930s by the California Canning Peach Industry. I can find no information at all on the CCPI. The booklet is filled with recipes, menus and other suggestions on how to use canned peaches any time of the year.

There were a variety of canned peaches from which to choose: halves or slices, whole, spiced, sweet pickled or in other special forms such as canned Fruits for Salads and Fruit Cocktail. Fruits for Salad was a convenient combination of California Peaches, pears, apricots, pineapple and Maraschino cherries in a suitable size for salad packed in a sweet syrup. Fruit cocktail was the same as we know it now, a blend of diced California Peaches, pears and pineapple along with seedless grapes and Maraschino cherries.

The Peach Trio Salad Plate pictured below looks similar to what I remember frequently seeing on the menu at the Woolworth's lunch counter although that was usually with fewer ingredients and was probably more commonly known as the diet plate, with only cottage cheese, lettuce leaves and peach halves.


Peach Halves (allow 3 for each serving)
Cottage Cheese
Raspberry Jam
Roquefort French Dressing
Crab Salad
Salted Almonds
Grapefruit Sections
Olives (Ripe or Green)

Serve each salad trio on a dinner-size plate. First, arrange 3 large, crisp, cup-shaped lettuce leaves shamrock fashion on the plate. In one, put a generous spoonsful of well-seasoned crab salad, top with a Peach Half, and fill the cavity with mayonnaise. In the second lettuce cup put a spoonful of cottage cheese topped with a Peach Half. Stick salted almonds into the cheese; fill the peach with raspberry jam. In the third lettuce cup arrange grapefruit setions to form a ring, center with a Peach Half, and fill the Peach with Roquefort French Dressing. Garnish with olives.

With all the fat in the mayonnaise and Roquefort dressing I don't think this could be considered low-cal.

How about this Ham Loaf with Peaches?

The Peach Meat Pie, one of the recipes on the pages above, calls for filling the peach cavities with tomato ketchup. The Ham Loaf recipe suggest filling them with chili sauce. Not a flavor combination that sounds good to me!


Peach Cobbler is a grand old way of serving Peaches--one that simply can't be improved upon. Hot or cold, with cream or top milk, it's always a favorite! These quantities serve 6 to 8.

1 No. 2-1/2 can Sliced Peaches
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons butter
Biscuit dough

Places Peaches, sugar, spices and butter in deep pan and sprinkle with flour. Mix biscuit dough (prepared biscuit flour may be used, or your favorite recipe), roll out 1/2 inch thick and spread over top of Peaches. Bake in a hot oven (450°) for 30 minutes.

Can Measurement Equivalents:

Large or No. 2-1/2 can contains approximately 3-1/2 cups of fruit and syrup;
Medium or No.2 can contains approximately 2-1/2 cups;
Small or No. 1 can contains approximately 2 cups.

Okay, it's done! Perhaps I can get myself out of this slump now.