Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book – 11th Edition
Nostalgia: n. A bittersweet longing for things, persons, or situations of the past.
I am a sucker for sentimentality. There are times, however, that I’m confused as to how nostalgia can push through the fullness of time with such a golden sheen. Often the things that I can be nostalgic for don’t end up being nearly as enjoyable when I happen upon them at my current perch in life. I end up disappointed, and sometimes sad, for ruining what esteem I held for something that elicited such joy at a lesser privileged time in my history. It might be best to leave some things well enough alone, but I was hopeful that the Better Home and Gardens New Cook Book would not be applied to this category.
If memory serves, this was one of three cook books that we had in my home growing up. The edition that we had was much larger and had a hardcover. This is certainly not that version, as it is significantly smaller both in overall size and text font, some pages have separated from the binding – even with minimal use – and it’s harder to keep open because it is a mass-market paperback, so be forewarned. I decided to only rate it 3.5 peaches because of these flaws, and for the basic recipes within, with a whole peach devoted to its nostalgia and staying power.
I couldn’t tell you what my mother cooked out of her better quality book – if I’m honest, not much, as cooking wasn’t necessarily her forte – but, once or twice, she likely baked some shortbread. For me, it was enough to just have the colourful book to flip through, and dream of the day when I would be able to make anything I wanted. I think I may have even spent some time copying out recipes that I found appealing. The life of a child before the advent of the internet, sigh.
As a gift from my mother, at some point over the last twenty years, I received this smaller paperback version of that red-and-white plaid cook book in my mind’s eye, and I set out to make my childhood dreams come true. But, not unlike that big old book, this one sat idle for many years.
Cooking was a skill that took me decades to acquire, as I had other interests that stole my time – many that shall not be named on this website – but by my 30s I had steered my head away from all of those distractions, and I jumped in with both feet. I fancy myself a bit of a foodie at this point in my early 40s, certainly as compared to my earlier years when I subsisted off of Kraft dinner, wieners, and beans. I truly enjoy fixing up delicious meals for my family, even if they take all day and produce a big, honking sink of dishes. Ok, I hate that part, but it is an unfortunate consequence of the cooking, and I am without a dishwasher, so what can you do?
The Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book might make me smile when I pass it on my bookshelves, but I rarely use it unless I’m looking for some kind of bake sale item – the lemon squares are a fabulous option in this case. I just have so many other books that offer more exotic or exciting recipes, so this one often gets skipped and forgotten. I decided to give it a chance as my opening post for The Cookery on Peachy Books, as it deserves some attention after all this time, and if nothing else, there is the nostalgia factor that I appreciate.
I set out to make a meal from this collection for my lads on the weekend. I took a closer look at this classic and read through the first section entitled: ‘Cooking Basics.’ Here you’ll find a breakdown of required ingredients and appliances, some suggestions to maintain kitchen safety, party planning tips, the food guide pyramid, and cooking techniques; all of the things that would help someone completely inexperienced navigate their way through a kitchen.
I had my son take a gander to see if there was anything that he would prefer to have for Sunday dinner. He headed straight to the ‘Appetizers & Snacks’ section and chose potato skins, and on a neighbouring page, a dill dip for veggies and crackers. I can work with that, I thought. So I took out a package of ground beef from the freezer and decided I would make some burgers to go with his finger-food fare.
We prefer our burgers with simply salt, pepper, and ground beef, which doesn’t require a recipe, of course. Since I didn’t have any buns on hand, I sifted through the book until I found the ‘Breads’ section. There was a ‘dinner rolls’ recipe, but after reading through to the end, I found additional instructions detailing how to instead form the dough into burger buns. I was all set to begin making our scrumptious meal!
Now, I had a confounding experience that happens more than I’d like to admit when I’m following new (to me) recipes. I try following the directions, when suddenly they call for something that I know to be a bad choice based on my cooking knowledge. Instead of being confident and going with what I know, I figure I must be misremembering and I just follow the recipe in front of me. It turns out, as it has many times in the past – I guess I’ll just never learn – I should have followed my instincts.
The dough called for heated milk, butter and sugar to be added to the flour and yeast mixture, and it stated that the milk mixture should be warm, between 120 – 130 degrees Fahrenheit. First of all, that doesn’t seem like a warm temperature to me, just speaking logically. Sure, it’s not boiling, but it sure as heck isn’t warm, in my view. And from my bread baking experience, where I’ve tried various recipes over the last ten years, I am sure that on multiple occasions it was pointed out that yeast will burn if your liquid is any more than 110 degrees. I pondered this and decided that maybe the flour would bring down the temperature right away, and therefore the yeast wouldn’t get burnt. I didn’t feel great about it, but I also wanted to follow the recipe to the letter since I was making a review post for the cook book, so I just followed instructions…
Welp, I’m fairly certain that I killed my yeast, because, as you can see, the buns didn’t rise much at all. But they were still tasty and we all enjoyed them, so all is well that ends well.
I don’t know if them not rising is why this is the case, but my son liked that they held the burger and the toppings together better than the store-bought brioche buns we usually get; where the burger slips around and sometimes tears though the bun. My husband agreed, and said he liked how they didn’t get soggy from the wet toppings.
So, I’m going to give the recipe another go, but next time I’ll adjust the milk temperature to around 110 degrees, and we’ll see if they rise more, and if they like them as much. The biggest part of cooking great food is the trial and error, in my opinion. Lots of recipes I use have handwritten notes included, where I have tweaked things to my families preferences and taste buds.
The potato skins were fantastic, and the star of the show, I would say! I’d laid the toppings on pretty thick, so that could have something to do with it, but the chili oil that you spread over the shells adds a nice extra flavour component. You’ll see some plain ones, and those, of course, are for my particular eater.
The dill dip was a great companion to the potatoes, instead of just plain sour cream. As a whole, this was a very decadent and rich starter that you surely shouldn’t eat much of at once. The recipe called for 6 large baking potatoes, so I froze a dozen shells, and next time I’ll just have to add the toppings and we’re good to go.
We love vegetables around here, so it’s no surprise that my son chose a crudité platter with dip. I found crackers, or the skins, to be a better vehicle for the dip personally, as we usually eat our vegetables plain. Next time I’ll look for a similar but healthier version, because I really enjoyed the dill, but with sour cream and cream cheese it was a bit heavy.
The meal was indulgent, but it was thoroughly relished by us all. I might not head to the Better Homes’ New Cook Book on a regular basis, but this exercise has proven that maybe I should a bit more often. Who knows what other timeless gems I can stumble across.
Do you remember this cook book? Is there a recipe you favour, found within its pages? If not, let me know which cook book you remember, or one you love!