Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Appetizer Book

Senior and I spent a recent chilly Saturday exploring a wonderful little shop called The Great Midwestern Antique Emporium. Tucked away in a back corner, beyond the life size plaster owl mold, the Luftwaffe dagger and the glass replica of a human head, we discovered a bookshelf full of vintage cookbooks. I thumbed through a few of them before coming across this little paperback gem:

Isn't this awesome? Look at that spread! Why haven’t I ever thought of disguising an ugly pillar candle with snacks on a stick? I'm going to have to channel my inner Sandra Lee (the sober one) and replicate that tablescape. But not entirely - that steaming hot pot of goodness with the handle sticking out would definitely be a mistake over here at my house on Clumsy Street. 

For more ideas, the photo on the back cover is even better:

The directions for this went something like this: "Fill a basket with nuts, then boobytrap it with sharp pokey things. Let everyone dig in with their hands. Don't worry about germs, because all your guests are going to get food poisoning anyway from the unrefrigerated shrimp. Wash it all down with a really big glass of cocktail sauce."

Good Housekeeping's Appetizer Book was first published in 1958, the same year Elvis was inducted into the army, the first US satellite was launched into space and cocktail parties were all the rage. And after looking at the recipes in this book, I believe that if you served enough alcohol, you could get away with serving all kinds of crap to your guests. Case in point, the recipes on the first page:

Speedy Tuna Dunk
1/2 cup soft butter or margarine
1/4 cup chopped stuffed olives
1 cup chunk-style tuna
Cream butter with olives and tuna until well blended. To serve, arrange in bowl along with dippers (salty-rye fingers, raw turnips, pickle sticks). Let guests dunk their own. 

I’m all about a creative dip, but butter and tuna? On a raw turnip? Isn't this going to look just like cat food? I’m not even mentioning the scourge of the olives, one of those foods I put in the same category as expired milk.

Peanut Butter-Catchup Dip
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup catchup
Corn chips
Mix peanut butter with catchup until smooth. Refrigerate until served. To serve, arrange dip in bowl, surrounded with corn chips. Let guests dip their own.

So not only is this dip weird, it's phonetic. Who thinks these things up? Curiosity got the best of me, so I whipped up a partial batch. It turns orange, similar to the color of cheese in a can. It tastes a little like a peanut and butter jelly sandwich. 

If it was left in the sun. 
For six days. 

Speaking of disgusting, how about this one:

Crostini di Fegato di Pollo
3 tablesp. butter or margarine
1/4 cup very finely minced onion
4 chicken livers, finely chopped
6 crushed fresh or dried juniper berries
1/3 cup white wine
Buttered Italian-bread slices. 
An hr. before serving: In skillet, heat butter until golden in color. Add onion, saute until light golden. Add chicken livers; saute over high heat, stirring, until mixture bubbles. Add juniper berries and wine; simmer, uncovered, a few moments, or until wine evaporates. Remove from heat; cool. To serve: cut bread into bite-sized pieces. Let guests do the spreading. 

The chicken livers aren't my problem, it's the juniper. I guess that “di Fegato” is Italian for “cat pee”, because I’m pretty sure that’s what juniper berries smell like. I'm not sure where you would find dried ones. Wouldn't those be juniper raisins? And isn't it hard to crush a raisin? 

I think some of the other recipes were named after the cocktail party guests had been imbibing for a while. Want to whip up a batch of Peppery Nuts? Nosegays? Hash Mounds? Meat Frosties or, during Lent, Fish Quickies? There is even a whole page devoted entirely to balls - Cabbage Balls, Clam Balls, Blue Balls (don't worry, they're made with bleu cheese). And if you are feeling particularly crafty, you can create one of their signature garnishes. My favorite is a lily made out of rolled bologna slices and strips of pickle.

The recurring theme in all these recipes - throw it in a bowl and let the guests take it from there - is a host's dream. But this handy book also includes some clever shortcuts if your prep time is really limited. For example, challenge yourself with this recipe: 

French Fry Appetizers
Prepare frozen French fries as label directs; serve hot as is

The best part is that the previous owner of this cookbook underlined that recipe somewhere along the line. Just in case he or she forgot one of the steps and needed a quick reference point.

And finally, my favorite recipe.  This one is pure genius:

Bacon Crisps
Thin lean bacon slices
Cut each bacon slice in half, then wrap each half around 1 saltine cracker, Place on a rack in a shallow pan and bake at 400 degrees for 12-15 minutes or until bacon is crisp. 
Serve piping hot.

I adore the authors of this cookbook. And now I have to go plan my next cocktail party.

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