250 Cookbooks: Mexican Cooking

Cookbook #129: Mexican Cooking, The Pillsbury Company, 1995.

Mexican Cooking CookbookThis is one of the series of “Classic Pillsbury Cookbooks” – I discussed their history in a previous post. This cookbook must have caught my eye enough to purchase it at the check-out stand back in 1995.

And I can see why it called to me then – the recipes are kind of the way I make Mexican food. Trouble is, I rarely follow a recipe for this type of cooking, I just toss it together. It’s hard to go wrong when you start with things like salsa and beans and tortillas and cheese and some sort of meat. I’m sure I got a couple good ideas from this book twenty years ago, but I didn’t mark any recipes. And today, I was able to find a recipe for this blog, but I will recycle the cookbook.

I decide to make “Chicken and Corn Tortilla Casserole”. It’s similar to Mexican Chicken Casserole, except it does not call for canned chicken soup and it does include pimientos and sour cream. Plus, the assembly method is different: instead of layering, you cut the tortillas in quarters and mix the chicken mixture together in a bowl before placing it in the casserole. Halfway through the cooking, you stir the casserole. My issue with most chicken/tortilla casseroles is that the tortillas turn to mush after cooking. Maybe this method will keep the tortilla texture better.

Here is the original recipe:

ChickenCornTortCassRecOf course I made a few changes. I didn’t have cooked chicken on hand, so I boiled two boneless chicken breasts to use in this casserole, then used 1 1/2 of them (1 1/2 cups). I used the cooking broth instead of store-bought broth. I didn’t have sour cream, so I used Austrailian-type full fat plain yogurt. I used more green chiles than called for and they were “hot green chiles”. I added a little chile powder and cumin to the chicken-tortilla mixture.

Mexican Chicken Casserole 2
serves 3-4

  • 1 1/2 cups cubed cooked chicken
  • 1 1/2 cups grated cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 1 4-oz. can chopped green chiles (mild or hot)
  • pimientos: I found them in a 4-oz. can and used half the can; can substitute red or green bell peppers
  • 1/2 teaspoon chile powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 6 or 7 corn tortillas, cut into quarters
  • sour cream or plain yogurt, enough to cover top of casserole, about 1/2 – 3/4 cup
  • green bell pepper strips

Combine the chicken, half the cheese, and the onion, broth, green chiles, pimientos, chile powder, cumin, and tortillas in a large bowl. Stir together. Pour the mixture into a 1 1/2 – 2 quart greased casserole.

casserole before cookingCover the casserole and bake at 350˚ for 30 minutes, stirring once during this baking time. After the 30 minutes, spread the sour cream over the top, sprinkle on the remaining cheese, and lay the bell pepper strips on top. Bake, uncovered, 5 minutes, until the cheese is melted. Let the casserole stand 5 minutes before serving.

Mexican Casserole 2Doesn’t it look pretty? I served it with some black beans mixed with freshly cooked corn off the cob and salsa, a lettuce salad with avocado, and heated corn tortillas. The taste of this casserole is very good, much like Mexican Chicken Casserole 1 but I liked the sour cream on top. (And I liked not having to use canned chicken soup.) The tortillas were once again mushy, but I guess that’s just the way these casserole are. The taste was great and it was a hit!

250 Cookbooks: Diet for a Small Planet

Cookbook #128: Diet for a Small Planet, Frances Moore Lappé, Ballantine Books, NY, NY, 1971.

Diet for a Small Planet cookbookI bought Diet for a Small Planet in the 1970s when it was a popular book in the health food movement. In this book, Lappé encourages everyone to become vegetarians (or at least eat less meat), because raising meat requires a lot more resources than does growing crops meant for direct human consumption. One drawback to becoming a vegetarian can be a lack of protein in the diet. Lappé has a solution for that: the quality of protein found in meat could be had for vegetarians if they combined specific vegetable groups to obtain “complete proteins”.

What is a “complete protein”? Here goes. Proteins are made up of chains of amino acids (trust me, this is true, I am a chemist!). According to Lappé, a complete protein contains the eight amino acids that our bodies cannot make: tryptophan, leucine, isoleucine, lysine, valine, threonine, the sulfur containing amino acids, and the aromatic amino acids. These are the essential amino acids, or EAAs. These EAAs must not only be present in our foods, they must be present in the right proportions. And you need to eat the complementary foods in the same meal.

For instance. Nuts like sunflower seeds are high in the amino acid tryptophan and low in lysine, while legumes like black beans are high in the amino acid lysine and low in tryptophan. Toss some sunflower seeds on top of black beans and you consume a complete protein. Examples of other combinations are grains and milk products, seeds and legumes, and grains and legumes. (Note the milk products: this is not a vegan diet.) Often the traditional dishes of cultures exemplify Lappé’s theory: Cajun red beans and rice, India’s dal and flat wheat bread, Mexican beans and corn.

Below is a scan from the book that illustrates the complementary protein scheme:

complete protein chartThe first part of Diet for a Small Planet contains a ton of charts and tables to support Lappé’s hypothesis: Amino Acid Content of Foods and Biological Data on Proteins, Food Values of Portions Commonly Used, Composition of Foods, Amino Acid Content of Foods, Protein Requirements, Calorie Cost per Gram of Usable Protein, and more. The data in these tables is supported by bibliographical references. The second half gives recipes for twenty different vegetable combinations.

I swallowed the “complete protein” theory totally, and although I never became a vegetarian, I believed the theory after reading this book. I do remember hearing that you no longer had to eat the combinations in the same meal, only the same day or so. Imagine my surprise when I went online today and found that the complete protein method is no longer held as true!

In this 2013 article, Jeff Novick writes that Lappé’s hypothesis is based on a 1952 article by William Rose that reported minimum daily requirements of the eight EAAs. Rose then doubled the minimum and claimed it as the recommended daily requirement. Novick states: “Modern researchers know that it is virtually impossible to design a calorie-sufficient diet based on unprocessed whole natural plant foods that is deficient in any of the amino acids.” Setting the Record Straight, by Michael Bluejay (2013), is another good article that refutes the complementary protein theory. Interestingly, Wikipedia’s article on Complete Protein does not address the controversy.

Back to cooking. I decide to make Tabouli, or “Zesty Lebanese Salad”. It incorporates the “complementary protein foods” wheat (bulghur) and legumes (garbanzo beans). Bulghur (or bulgur) is a wheat product, kind of like a cereal. (We enjoyed a related wheat product called burghul or cracked wheat in Turkey. Bulgur is fine-grained and quick-cooking, while burghul takes a long time to cook and is big and chewy.)

Tabouli RecipeTabouli, or Tabbouleh, is an Arabian dish. It usually doesn’t contain garbanzos (chick peas), although these beans are quite common in Middle Eastern cooking. Lappé’s version of tabouli calls for dried garbanzos and I wanted to use canned ones, so I just sort of guessed at the amount of beans to use. Also, I often make myself a bulghur salad, and usually just toss it together sans recipe, so I again strayed from the book’s version of tabouli.

serves 3-4

  • 1/2 cup bulgur wheat, uncooked
  • 1 1/4 cups water
  • 1 can garbanzo beans
  • 1/2 cup chopped parsley (or to taste)
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh mint (no substitutes!)
  • 1/2 cup chopped green onions
  • 1 tomato, chopped
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 2-4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • freshly ground pepper

Boil the water in a pan, then add the bulgur. Leave it on the burner for a minute or two, then remove from the heat and let stand at least 10 minutes. Put in a strainer to drain off all the water, then put it in a bowl.

Add all of the remaining ingredients and mix. Refrigerate until cold. Taste the salad and adjust the seasonings if you want to. Serve as a side dish or over greens.

TabouliI really liked this salad, especially with some feta cheese mixed in. And the cookbook, Diet for a Small Planet? I will keep it, for nostalgia rather than the recipes.

250 Cookbooks: Cookies

Cookbook #127: Cookies, Natalie Hartanov Haughton, HPBooks, Inc., Tucson, AZ, 1983.

Cookies CookbookCookies. One of my favorite foods in the world. Homemade, of course!

Cookies was a birthday gift from my mother to me in 1987. My mother was a master cookie baker, as I’ve probably mentioned quite a few times in this blog. Looking through this cookbook today, I realize she put a lot of thought into the choice of this particular book. The recipes are definitely her type of cookie, and the collection reflects her entire repertoire – especially the drop, bar, and rolled cookies.

Cookies birthday noteI have totally under-used this cookbook. There is a coffee-cup stain on one page and I see a couple wrinkled pages here and there, but I didn’t mark any recipes as “tried”. I guess there are huge swaths of my life when I just didn’t make cookies because of the calories. Or, I just baked a handful of same-old-recipes when we all needed a cookie fix.

This will change: today I well reshelve this cookbook with my very-favorites! There are lots of recipes I want to try in this book and all are from-scratch. The photos are great too.

Cookies begins with a few pages of cookie basics. “Successful Cookie Baking” reiterates  the way my mother taught me to bake cookies – and the way I continue to bake them to this day. I actually wrote down some important cookie-baking points in 1993 when I made a bound “Cookie Book” as a present for a friend:

“I always measure flour by dipping a measuring cup into a large canister of flour; I almost never sift before (or after) measuring. I always use unbleached flour. I use margarine (the cheap, stick kind) but you are welcome to substitute butter – I’m sure it would make everything better. Do use real chocolate chips and real vanilla.

“I always beat the shortening, sugar, and egg mixture extremely well, until quite fluffy. Then, add the combined dry ingredients and mix only until they are all mixed in.”

I have switched to butter rather than margarine in most of my cooking. It used to be that we were told margarine was healthier (and cheaper) than butter, so I used margarine a lot. Health advisories have changed, so it’s butter for me these days whenever I try a new recipe. But: many cookie recipes bake up differently with butter than margarine. I remember an Alton Brown episode of Good Eats wherein he made chocolate chip cookies three ways – with butter, with margarine, and with shortening – and each turned out different. And that is my experience too. (When I was still living at home, a girlfriend came over and we made chocolate chip cookies. She pulled butter out of the refrigerator instead of the margarine the recipe called for, and those cookies spread way out on baking. Wow! A first experience with experiments in baking. (Mother always – always! – followed a recipe to a “T”. I hardly ever do that these days.)

Anyway. I am only gradually changing my older margarine-based recipes to butter-based, making sure each time that adjustments do not need to be made to have them turn out the way I like.

I pick up this cookbook on a morning when my day’s plans include something very special: I am going to spend the afternoon with my 20 month old grandson. Thought I: “Ah, I know what I’ll do! I’ll whip up a cookie batter at home and take some to bake with him!”

Grandmothers and cookies, YES!

Which recipe to bake? I choose “Zucchini Drops”. I think they will pass the strict codes of “natural and healthy” foods that my daughter wants for her child. Except the sugar: I’ll have to play that down. “Just a little sugar in these, honest! A ton of zucchini and walnuts – good foods!”

Zucchini Drops recipeZucchini Drops
makes about 6 dozen small cookies

  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 cup grated unpeeled raw zucchini
  • 2 – 2 1/4 cups flour (use some whole wheat flour if you want to)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons nutmeg
  • some salt – only if you are using unsalted butter
  • 1 cup flaked cocout
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts

Using a mixer, beat together the butter, brown sugar, egg, and vanilla until light and fluffy. Stir in the zucchini. Add 2 cups of the flour along with the baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, (and salt), and beat just until thoroughly blended. If the batter is pretty wet, add up to 1/4 cup more flour. Stir in the coconut and walnuts.

(The wetness of zucchini varies. Basically, you want the batter to be stiff enough to drop onto baking pan – my batter needed the extra 1/4 cup flour. If your first batch of cookies flattens out too much, add a bit more flour.)

Drop by teaspoonfulls onto a baking sheet. Bake at 375˚ for 10-12 minutes, until the cookies are lightly browned. (I first tried these at 350˚ for 15 minutes, but I like them a little better baked at the higher temperature.)

Zucchini DropsThese were a big success! They are very soft and moist and flavorful. And a little healthy. They don’t taste real sweet, actually, my husband calls them “muffin tops” instead of cookies. (Go ahead and eat them for breakfast!)

Cookie EaterMy little cookie eater takes his cookies very seriously! He ate two and wanted more. They put him in a very good mood!