Live Better…Electrically (PG&E Motto)
At home, I have a gas range. I grew up using gas ranges. My mother-in-law has an electric range. I just want to say for the record that I hate electric ranges. I like the control that my gas range gives to me and any adjustments I make are immediate. When using my mother-in-law’s range, I either end up burning or undercooking the food (not that it never happens with the gas range, but it doesn’t occur as often).
When homemakers were beginning to get rid of their wood burning stoves, the gas and electric utility concerns were going out of their way to convince women that their mode of energy was the better one for cooking. They hired a full complement of home economists to teach homemakers how to use their new appliances. They weren’t stupid. They knew that women would develop an allegiance to a particular way of cooking and would pass that preference on as they taught their children how to cook…which meant more profit for the utility in the long run.
On my way up to Northern California to my in-laws’ house to tend to sick relatives, I stopped at my favorite antique mall and discovered a cookbook published in 1960 by “The Home Economics Department, Pacific Gas and Electric Company.” The opening paragraph told me that The Electric Cookbook “has been planned and written especially for you — the homemaker whose first interest is in her family, who loves to please her husband and children, whose heart grows warm when they like what she cooks.”
Saturday was my in-laws’ 55th wedding anniversary. Since two family members weren’t well enough for a restaurant celebration, I suggested to them that I prepare a meal highlighted in the cookbook. They agreed that it was an excellent idea.
Menu:Braised Spicy Steak Steamed Rice in Consomme Green Beans and Scallions Strawberry Pie (substituted for the suggested Date-Topped Cake) Temperature: 350º F. Time: 50 Minutes Serves: 6
Braised Spicy Steak2 pounds round steak, 1/2 inch thick 1/4 cup flour 1 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon pepper 3 Tablespoon shortening 1 cup catsup 1/2 cup water 1 onion and 1 lemon 1 green pepper, cut into rings 5 whole cloves
Dredge steak with flour mixed with seasonings; pound in slightly. Melt shortening in skillet; brown meat on both sides on SECOND TO THIRD heat. Put in baking pan. Mix catsup and water; pour over steak. Top with thinly sliced onion and lemon; green pepper, and cloves. Cover with foil, and bake.
Steamed Rice in Consomme’
Brown 1 cup uncooked rice in 3 tablespoons butter in skillet on THIRD heat. Put in casserole. Combine 1 can consomme’, 1 can water, and 1/2 teaspoon salt; add to rice. Cover and bake. (Note: It is almost impossible to find consomme’ these days so I usually substitute broth for it…they aren’t exactly the same but they are close enough for the substitution to work)
Green Beans and Scallions
Cut stems off 1 bunch scallions, and finely chop 2 inches of stems. Cook in covered casserole with 2 packages frozen green beans, salt, butter, and 1/2 cup water.
Fresh Berry PiePastry for 2-crust pie 7/8 to 1 cup sugar 5 Tablespoons flour 1/8 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon 4 cups fresh berries (boysenberries, loganberries, blueberries, or blackberries) 1 1/2 tablespoons butter
Line a 9-inch glass pie plate with pastry. Combine sugar, flour, salt, cinnamon; mix lightly through prepared berries and put into a pastry-lined pie plate. Dot with butter. Cover with top crust. Bake in 425º F. oven for 35-45 minutes, or until nicely browned and juice starts to bubble through slits in crust.
There were some hits and misses with the dinner. The meat department at the grocery store didn’t have any round steak set out so I had to ask the butcher for it. He said he would get me some but that it is for London Broil which set off alarms for me because it is a less tender cut. He suggested a sirloin steak, instead, because it would be easier for my over-eighty in-laws to eat. We picked out a beautiful looking steak. What I had forgotten was that I would be braising the steak by steaming it in the catsup/water combination, so the round steak would have been tender anyway.
Even with forgetting to add the cloves, the flavor of the onion, lemon, green pepper, and catsup permeated the steak. I recommend this combination as a flavor enhancer for lower priced steaks and roasts. That said, the steak ended up being “well done” instead of medium-well. Thankfully, the steak was so tender and juicy, it didn’t matter.
The green beans cooked all right but were floating in too much water by the end of the cooking time. I think a couple of tablespoons of water would have been sufficient since the beans were frozen and would emit their own steaming water.
The rice, though, was a frustration. At the end of the 50 minutes, the rice was nowhere ready to eat. I don’t know if this is because I used brown instead of white rice but I had to cook it for about 15 minutes more on the stovetop to try and bring it within palatable range. Even then, I poured off about 2 cups of liquid. This makes sense because a very rough ratio is 2:1–two cups of liquid for every cup of brown rice. A regular-sized can of broth will have slightly under 2 cups of liquid and the recipe had me add another can’s worth of liquid. It isn’t the end of the world to drain off extra cooking liquid but the flavor would have been more concentrated if I had just used the broth.
The pie was a hit. But that wasn’t because of anything I did. It was Mother Nature reminding us how delicious her bounty can be. I was able to buy strawberries from a grower around the corner that were smaller and sweeter than the large strawberries usually available at the supermarket. The bonus was that they had been picked Saturday morning.
There were some hits and misses from the food part of the meal but the most important feature of their anniversary dinner was when my in-laws started sharing memories from when they met all of those years ago.