A dear, dear friend of mine, knowing my deep and abiding taste for kitsch, sent me a copy of the Campbell Soup Company’s Cooking With Soup: 608 Skillet Dishes, Casseroles, Stews, Sauces, Gravies, Dips, Soup Mates and Garnishes. Once I picked myself up after having major swoonies, I thought…Good Lord, food photography has made tremendous strides in visual appeal over the intervening decades.
Feast your eyes (if not, surely, your taste buds) on the cover, which features a photo of the Penthouse Chicken. I can only imagine that it’s deemed “penthouse” because it will make the diner feel as though they’re eating the swankiest of chickens in all the land and not because you want to put it up high, far out of reach of the unsuspecting who might get their hands on it. Mmmm, where can I get mystery meat covered in congealed red glop, garnished with cross-sections of femur? Let the noms begin!
I’ve never been a fan of cooking with soup, unless the thing I was eating was actually soup. I mean, I’m not a big eater of processed foods to begin with, though I do confess to a weakness for chipotle chicken Lean Pockets and do indeed keep a few canned soups on hand. Hey, I must eat in order not to die and like everyone else, can be lazy in my hunter-gathering. I’m no stranger in looking for things that adequately meet my needs. Canned soup provides a heaping dose of adequacy; it adequately keeps me alive, it provides adequate flavor so I don’t want to kill myself out of boredom, it keeps me adequately full until my next meal. It also provides–and I say this looking at a can of Healthy Request tomato soup–sodium (normally, in relatively high amounts), high fructose corn syrup, potassium chloride and monopotassium phosphate (both of which are also used as fertilizers).
What it doesn’t provide is excellence. Granted, there can only be so much excellence one can expect from food flavored with fertilizers. The kitschmonger in me has gone berserk over this book. It’s got the space-age sensibility that one truly CAN open up a bunch of packages and make things easy for Mom in the kitchen; it gives the feeling that we’re only a few short steps away from a food-o-matic a la The Jetsons.
I love the pithy word play, the recipes for “Souper Saucy Meat Loaf” and “Spread-a-Burgers”. I can’t look at the section called “Soup on the Rocks” without flinching. I rejoice over the inclusion of a recipe for THAT tuna casserole…you know the one, with the frozen peas and the cream of celery soup and the crumbled potato chips on top? In this book they call it “PERFECT TUNA“. *killing me* Conversely, the foodie in me weeps as I page through the Great Big Book of Adequate. with all 608 recipes chock-full of nothing special.
Though “special” is a word that can mean many things. And I think I am wrong. I think I need to redefine what I consider to be “special”.
There were a few recipes that were particularly notable in their horror. In all fairness, I just got this book yesterday so there are probably more than a few recipes that should strike terror into the hearts of readers, but two really stood out in their ability to churn the stomach and ruin the appetite.
Bonus! You get three recipes here for the price of one. But yes. Meat shell pie, so lurid it inspired my boyfriend to write a song about it. What you do, see, is you press out the ground beef to make a shell, and then you press halved hot dogs into said shell so it looks like a clock. Then you top it with soup and sauteed onions, bake, and then top with Velveeta and bake again. It upset me that the good people of Campbell’s didn’t include a picture of said meat shell pie and so, I drew a diagram. So you could visualize the majestic nature of…the Pie.
Hot dog eaters take note: the color I used for the frankfurters (since I lack a light pink marker) is called “greyed lavender” and really, it’s not far off from a hot dog’s natural color. I’m not judging, I’m just stating the facts.
Who wants seconds???
I was floored when I was thumbing through this book and realized they had included a desserts section. I will grant that one may use canned soup for many things–casseroles, sauces, apparently cocktails–but the concept of using soup in dessert had eluded me.
Look, it’s lovely, isn’t it? Looks all moist and delish. Walnuts. Candied plums for garnish. What could go wrong?
Oh, right. It’s made with tomato soup.
I can’t decide whether to be strangely comforted or plain-old revolted by the option to add raisins.
I appreciate cooking short cuts. I’m no stranger to making food and freezing it for another time or another use entirely. Opening a can of soup is a viable lazy-night alternative for sure but it’s no substitute for a real meal. I blame cooking like this for our mental distance from the reality of our food, and where it comes from, and how it’s prepared, and what’s in it, and what it does to us. When we cook like this, we cede control over what goes in to ourselves and the bodies of the people we love. Take back control. Understand your food. Cook fresh, when feasible.
Let me put it this way: Were I to host a dinner party in Hell, this would be on the menu. And if you think this book was written in 1970 and so, is outdated and nobody cooks like this anymore, let me remind you, just for starters…