I examine the shelf, consider which cookbook to take. Next week is Thanksgiving at my aunt’s house, and I’m making hors d’oeuvre. It has to be made on the day before Thanksgiving, so it can’t be my signature cheese toasts and homemade apple butter, which are so good I once served them as a main course and no one complained, but are best served with fresh apple butter still hot from the stove top, so I turn to my old standbys and workhorses: Taste of Home Annual Recipes. I found it in the first book(2005) I tried. It’s literally the first recipe in the book: mushroom puffs. Bread, and mushrooms. Nice and simple. Won’t eclipse or overshadow the main meal, filling but not too filling, and delicious. Everything you could want in an appetizer. Nothing in the recipe that I can’t get at my local grocery store or farmer’s market, and I can replace the hot sauce with my own secret recipe(whatever I have in the kitchen that isn’t spicy. It’s never failed me yet).
I am obsessed with books and food in general, so my love of cook books is simply a natural outgrowth of that. Why I always use The Taste of Home cookbooks, almost to the exclusion of any other cookbook, is a better question.
It’s not nostalgia; Taste of Home is a recipe magazine, featuring mainly reader-submitted recipes, that I have never purchased, since I can just buy the Annual ,which includes all the recipes of the year, and it’s not the cookbook I grew up with; that would be the battered, nameless one of my fading memories that mysteriously vanished one day. I asked my mother about it, and she said she got it as a wedding present from her aunt, and it came with a frying pan. My anathematized now ex-stepfather most likely threw it out. It’s not the strangest cookbook I own, as that is The Rock and Roll Cookbook.
They aren’t even my favorite cookbooks or have my favorite recipe. My favorite cookbook is The All-American Cheese and Wine Book,
which is the source of my legendary cheese toasts with apple butter. So why, time and time again, do I find myself perusing My Mom’s Best meal or Meals in Minutes?The reason I keep going back to Taste of Home like a favorite comfy sweater is that each recipe starts with a little paragraph from the submitter. It sometimes contains details about the chef’s life, like they’re diabetic or that they like to collect wild asparagus along the road to use in the mustard-sauce asparagus, or it gives advice on other things you can do with the recipe, like swapping out fruits or serving the salad warm. Just a few words, but that makes all the difference. I feel like the recipe is being handed to me and entrusted to my safekeeping, like a sacred treasure or a tome of magic. The three Annuals I purchased at a library book sale are highlighted and written on, which makes me feel as though theirs a connection between me and the previous owner, like I’m cooking and reading from her books. It’s comforting to have the words of another chef there, to guide you in your own culinary adventures. They add a certain texture to the recipe that I find irresistible, and keeps me coming back for second helpings. Everything tastes better when dipped in story. Two of my favorites are…
Here in Iowa, asparagus patches grow wild along the roads. My husband and I often go asparagus hunting on Saturday and Sunday mornings. A tangy mustard sauce complements the fresh asparagus in this easy recipe. -Nancy Hasbrouck Ida Grove, Iowa
This recipe comes from my grandmother who raised me. Besides looking after my siblings and me, she worked the farm and ran another business on the side. How she did all that, I’ll never know! She’s a tremendous cook and the goodies from “Edith’s Kitchen” are always welcomed and eagerly devoured – this bread pudding is one of the best!
I feel that those little stories place the recipe in its proper context. This recipe isn’t just a good bread pudding recipe: its Grandma Edith’s bread-pudding recipe, as given to me by her granddaughter. This asparagus recipe comes from Iowa, where it grows wild along the road. Someone else developed this recipe, whether by modifying an early recipe or by experimenting with edible substances and seeing which result tasted good. I am an inheritor of that legacy, whether it be something a friend come up with when he had the munchies, or a three thousand year-old Chinese tsampa and beef stir-fry from the Zhou dynasty. I stray from that legacy at the peril of a spoiled meal and an upset family.
Going back over the Mushroom puffs in preparation for making them on Wednesday, I discover the author lives in Altoona, Pennsylvania, which is near The Delgrosso amusement park, built for the pasta sauce corporation’s employees and the source of one of the few pleasant memories I have of my time in Johnstown. I’d completely forgotten the book says where the submitter lives. Flipping through, I discover that Marina Castle-Henry, who submitted the saucy cherry meatballs, lives in Burbank California, where Disney’s animation Studio is located. Another submitter lives in a town delightfully called Niceville in Florida and submitted [chicken] nuggets with chili sauce, which her husband likes better than the fast food version.
I also discover that the recipe won’t make enough for twenty five adults and decide to make another dish, since I have off on Wednesday and nothing better to do than cook. I take down the 1998 Taste of Home Annual, and began searching for something with cheese, to balance the mushrooms puffs. Cattleman’s spread is a little too “meaty” and filling for a thanksgiving appetizer, and cheesy potato sticks, despite coming with a delightful bit about the editor’s Montana farm kitchen, only produces six servings. Dilly vegetable spread is made with ham, which I dislike, and, as the chef, I get first veto on recipes. I eventually settle on Mozzarella dip. My mom wanted me to make a cheeseball, but I can’t find a recipe in Taste of Home. Cooking, or rather preparing, the mozzarella dip is simple. Just load the ingredients into a big bowl, stick the handheld blender in, and mix and stir. Mines a little smoother
than the book’s recipe illustration
but is still delicious. For weeks after thanksgiving, I’m using it as a topping for burgers, fries, and sandwiches, and dips for nachos and vegetables.
The mushroom puffs present a bit more of a problem. The filling is fairly simple. Chop the ingredients up until they can fit into the food processor, load them into the food processor, and hit the button to turn on the food processor. The food processor does all the work. The mix comes out good and ready, but the dough presents a problem, as does the recipe itself. I brought the wrong sort of dough. It said to buy the Pillsbury Crescent rolls. I bought the generic equivalent of Pillsbury biscuits at Aldi. The recipe says to roll them up jelly-roll style. I have never made a jelly roll before, and have no idea how. I don’t even know what a jelly roll is. In addition the biscuit dough isn’t as long as the crescent roll dough (I’ve used it before to make a different appetizer), so I just fold them over as well as I can and hope for the best. I place them in the oven, and they come out golden brown, although some didn’t stay wrapped well enough. I ate those.
This is what the book says they’re supposed to look like.
My mother likes the mushroom puffs. She stole one when she got home, and then ate the leftovers for breakfast the day after thanksgiving. At my aunts they went over fairly well. All the comments I got on them were positive, mainly people telling me it was good. That was literally all any ne said about it. My brother-in-law asked me what was in the mozzarella dip, and all I could remember was sour cream, salt, and mozzarella. I completely forgot about the mayonnaise.
Cooking is an inherently social activity. While it is best, both for safety and convenience, to have anyone not helping you cook out of the kitchen, you are never really alone in a kitchen. The ghosts of great chefs offer advice and judgement, whether through remembered advice from parents or cookbooks. The ingenuity and skill of a hundred different artificers are at work in even the humblest American kitchen. Flame has been tamed by the brilliance of science, and trapped within a metal box, available at the flick of a switch. Electricity has been enslaved and made to light the night and blend foods together. Stainless steel knives, available at any yard sale for 50₵, glimmer in drawers, just begging to be used to slice up a tomato or trim fat off a piece of steak. The recipe is an integral part of this. Even when you know it by heart, someone else taught it to you.
Taken from the Taste of Home’s Website.
TOTAL TIME: Prep: 10 min. + chilling MAKES: 28 servings
2 cups mayonnaise
1 cup (8 ounces) sour cream
1 cup (4 ounces) shredded mozzarella cheese
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon dried minced onion
1 teaspoon sugar
Dash each garlic salt and seasoned salt
In a large bowl, combine all ingredients. Cover and chill for at least 1 hour. Serve with raw vegetables or tortilla chips. Yield: 3-1/2 cups.
Mushroom Puffs(I suggest you substitute soy sauce and Worcester sauce)
TOTAL TIME: Prep/Total Time: 20 min. MAKES: 6 servings
4 ounces cream cheese, cubed
1 can (4 ounces) mushroom stems and pieces, drained
1 tablespoon chopped onion
1/8 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
1 tube (8 ounces) crescent roll dough
In a blender, combine the cream cheese, mushrooms, onion and hot pepper sauce; cover and process until blended. Unroll crescent dough; separate into four rectangles. Press perforations to seal. Spread mushroom mixture over dough.
Roll up jelly-roll style,(That means in a little spiral, with some of the bread in the middle) starting with a long side. Cut each roll into five slices; place on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake