The cooking section of our local daily newspaper was one of the reasons I had the nerve to launch an independent newspaper. I love to cook, I love to eat, and I had always loved reading the cooking section. But finally it got to where reading it wasn’t just like witnessing the death of the newspaper biz, it was like watching it commit suicide. I’m not saying that even 25 years ago the cooking section was perfect. It had good parts and bad parts. Food companies used to employ PR writers who concocted unlikely recipes featuring whatever the food companies were selling. The newspaper always ran those in spades because they were free copy. So I still have a clipping for a “Kahlua cake,” though I never made it.
(It looked good, but I can’t imagine putting something that costs as much as Kahlua into cake batter. It reminds me of one Sunday when I was young and wanted to use part of our only bottle of wine in the spaghetti sauce, and my roommate, Madelyn, said, “Why don’t you just pour it over the (bleep)ing dog food?”)
The daily’s food section also had a local cooking column where readers could share their recipes, and I clipped some of those, too, not to make but to collect because some of them belonged in the horror movies. My all-time fave was one where you suspended canned corned beef in Jell-O. The last line was, “If you make this in March, use green Jell-O and call it St. Patrick’s Day Surprise.” I’d have to drink a six-pack of St. Patrick’s Day green beer before I’d try that one! But for the most part, the cooking section was an interesting part of the paper. There were good, thoughtful articles about cooking as well as the fake PR ones, and good recipes as well as the horror-show ones. For the most part, the bad ones were just matters of pouring a can of cream o’ something soup into some other processed crap before topping with cornflakes and baking at 350 for 30 minutes—awful but at least they were something that real people might be out there in Newspaper Readerland really eating. In recent years, though, as newspapers began shrinking and cutting costs, our local weekly’s cooking section kissed reality wetly goodbye. You began seeing weird news-service articles that featured things like: “a pancake sturdy enough to stand up to dinner.” (I got the idea of a feisty little round something adorned with maple syrup and a gunbelt, that talked like John Wayne.) Another week, the first-page food article advised combining two Southern gustatory traditions by using sweet tea to marinate chicken. Are you kidding me? I’d rather use the green beer. Finally, just recently, I read a page-1 feature that proved that the cooking section had left Earth’s orbit entirely: “Tomato lovers wait for this moment all year, that moment when the plants in the garden are struggling under the weight of those gorgeous red (or yellow or orange or even green) orbs, and the tables at the farmers markets threaten to buckle under the load.” It was Jan. 6. It had been clear for some time that the cooking page was a throwaway section, but now the logical conclusion was that nobody at all was watching what got thrown there, or that whoever was supposed to be had been drinking green beer. Anyway, just as aspiring writers begin their first novels after reading not The Brothers Karamazov but some god-awful Harlequin that makes them realize, “I can do better than this,” the food section in our local daily has emboldened me to try it myself. People love reading the cooking page, I thought; why not give them one? Julia Child I’m not, but I am at least paying attention. Thus I am pleased to make my maiden voyage into food writing, but I do have, as it were, other fish to fry and I don’t want to keep doing it alone! So if you have recipes – or even a whole cooking column – you’d like to share, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org, and please include a phone number. This might be the beginning of a beautiful friendship. In any case, I begin this food section humbly, with three recipes for ground-meat glop. “Glop” is what in my world we call workaday food that comes in a big cheerful mass, so that you eat an indeterminate amount – not “a slice of” or “a three-ounce portion of,” but: “some.” It is not dietetic but it is homey and comforting, perfect for winter weeknights. Another name glop gets called is “homemade Hamburger Helper,” which I think is a case of Life Imitating Art Imitating Life. Hamburger Helper was invented to emulate home cooking, for a generation of mothers who no longer had time to do it. Then the generation who grew up eating it went organic and realized Hamburger Helper was processed and synthetic and bad for them – but it still tasted like home and comfort and Mama. So we went back to making these humble but cozy little suppers from scratch using real, fresh ingredients, only to have them insulted with the HH designation. Whatever they get called, around here anyway they also get eaten the crap out of, and the leftovers, if any, fought over for lunch the next day. Here are three of our favorites. I use ground turkey as is the Fat Girl Creed, but use ground beef if you prefer. Fast Stroganoff Glop Olive oil to glaze large nonstick frying pan 1 pound ground turkey (or beef ) 1 onion, chopped 1 to 3 cloves garlic, chopped 2 cups chicken broth (use 1 14-oz. can if you don’t have homemade) 2 tablespoons cornstarch 1 cup milk (I use skim as is the FGC) ½ cup sour cream High-quality soy sauce to taste Black pepper to taste About half an 8-ounce package wide egg noodles Fresh or dried parsley or marjoram Spray or pour olive oil to coat skillet frying pan. Over medium-high heat, brown meat with onion and garlic until all pink is gone. Meanwhile, dissolve cornstarch in chicken broth, milk or a little water. When meat is done pour in broth and milk and bring gently to a boil, then add dissolved cornstarch and simmer until sauce is thickened. Meanwhile, boil noodles in salted water per package instructions. To stroganoff, add soy sauce and pepper to taste for flavor and color, and just before serving stir in sour cream, then drained noodles. Scatter herbs on top and serve with a tossed salad or steamed green vegetables.
Skillet Potato Glop (If you use ground beef instead of the turkey in this one, remember it has a bolder flavor than the turkey so you probably don’t have to go to so much trouble gussying it up.) Olive oil for bottom of skillet About 5 medium potatoes, washed but unpeeled 1 pound ground turkey (or ground beef) 1 medium onion, chopped 3 garlic cloves, chopped Optional additions to ground meat, your choice: Ketchup Mustard Dried onion flakes Mild or hot chili sauce Soy or Worcestershire sauce Preheat over to 400. Grease a cast-iron skillet with the oil. Cut into bite-sized pieces enough potatoes to fill most of your skillet. Add chopped onion and garlic, mix and salt generously. Stir or hand-mix into the ground meat a couple spoonfuls of onion flakes, salt, pepper and liberal squirts of the flavoring sauces, depending on your tastes, as if you were making a meat loaf. Then crumble the mixture among the spuds. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for about 40 minutes. Remove foil, check potatoes for doneness, and cook a few minutes longer to brown potatoes. Serve with salad.
Slightly More Exotic Asian-Influence Glop (This one actually came from a demonstration I watched at the DeKalb County Farmers Market. A tiny Oriental woman with a wok cooked ground turkey flavored with fresh ginger. ) Tablespoon or so vegetable oil, plus a dash of sesame oil, if you have it 1 pound ground turkey 1 onion Fresh ginger root 2-3 garlic cloves (Optional) 1 or 2 red chili peppers, if you like it hot 1 (-ounce) can sliced water chestnuts 2 or more cups frozen broccoli florets High-quality soy sauce Hot cooked rice Peel a roughly walnut-sized section of ginger root. Place with peeled garlic cloves on chopping board and chop fine. Chop the onion. Pour oil into wok (or frying pan if you don’t have one) and add garlic, ginger and chili peppers if you’re using. (Chop them for maximum “heat” or halve them and then discard before serving for milder flavor.) Turn heat to high for wok or medium high for skillet, add onions and crumble ground turkey into pan. Stir fry, occasionally using a wooden spoon to break up meat and scrape mixture off bottom and sides of pan, until meat is no longer pink. Add broccoli and drained water chestnuts and continue cooking until broccoli is cooked through, 4 or 5 minutes. Add soy sauce to taste and serve immediately over hot rice.