Chopsticks Sandwiches is probably one of the lowest effort dishes in Barbie’s Easy-as-Pie Cookbook. And let’s just address the name and issues with ‘ethnic’ recipes in vintage cookbooks upfront. Reference to chopsticks aside, this is an American recipe. It comes in the middle of the Sandwiches, Salads, and Snacks chapter, and wisely contains no story vignette or Barbie-based flavor text at all. As a white girl who maybe kind of definitely wore a cheongsam to her senior prom in the 90s, let me tell you. Cultural appropriation does not age well, and naïveté is no excuse for it. I am more than happy to be spared whatever Barbie and Midge might have had to say about Chinese food in 1964.
I should backtrack and point out that the recipe might have been low effort in Barbie’s day, but it proved challenging in ours, as its main ingredient is frozen chow mein, and that… is not so easy to find it turns out. Both Donna and I were stymied in our early efforts. Still, the recipe appealed to my lazy side, to say nothing of the side of me that thinks that American Chinese food served with butter on a bun sounds … pretty good, actually. (Don’t judge me!)
The internet promised me that the product does still exist, although not in a form Barbie would have recognized, and eventually, I stumbled upon a carton of Tai Pei’s chicken chow mein in the freezer section of my grocery store. Score! (Note: The history of Chinese food in America is a really rich rabbit hole to fall into if you have some free time. You could start here!) I grabbed some hamburger buns and peanuts and was all ready for a delicious* if not culturally authentic lunch.
*At least, I hoped it would be delicious.
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We picked this potato salad recipe to try while attempting a Barbie-style indoor picnic a few months back.
At the start of the “Sandwiches, Salads, Snacks” chapter of Barbie’s Easy-As-Pie Cookbook, Midge tries to talk Barbie into going to the movies now that the weather’s too rainy for the picnic they had planned. But Barbie promised Ken a birthday picnic, so she announces they’ll just lay out their paper plates in the dining room and use the stove instead of a grill.
The main attraction of Barbie’s indoor picnic involves a fundamental misunderstanding of what burgers are, so for our own similar type of party (back before we couldn’t have picnic parties), we decided on something more routine for the side dish.
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It took me right up until it was time to cook them to understand that Barbie’s pot of burgers was a kind of sloppy joe and not a magical dish where hamburger patties are braised to tangy, juicy excellence in a kind of olive-tomato stew. If I had realized that these “burgers” were not cooked in what I think of as burger form, I would have been much less enthusiastic in my recommendation that we include them in our last cooking adventure. And that would have been sad. Because, y’all. The pot of burgers is really good.
I think it was the olives. I’ve never had a sloppy joe with olive in it before. (I don’t know if I’ve had a sloppy joe at all since I’ve turned, I don’t know, twelve, but that’s beside the point.) It also could be due to the fact that Donna and I blatantly ignored Barbie’s instructions and used tomato paste instead of ketchup. It’s nice to have access to ingredients beyond what would have been available to a child in the 60s.
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Corned beef has been on my mind since reading Toothpick Tales’ blog post about the perfect reuben sandwich . (An unexpected side effect of writing about food and cooking is wanting to read what everyone else is writing about food and cooking too.) Reading that post took me from never having had a reuben sandwich to absolutely needing a reuben sandwich. Right now. In my mouth and in my stomach. I’m not sure my first experience with one should be homemade, though? Such an iconic dish deserves an expert touch, at least for the first one.
It’s not a sandwich, but when I was flipping through Easy-as-Pie in preparation for my weekly grocery outing, I noticed that Barbie had a hashed corned beef salad. I didn’t even know if I liked corned beef, but I thought that would be a start anyway.
You have to like beets to appreciate today’s recipe. You will definitely taste the beets.
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I decided to go with rye bread for my take on the bacon-and-cheese beauty. I like aggressive flavors, and rye is one of the only carb-y things I ever find myself really craving. In keeping with the theme of strong flavors, I also decided to include horseradish. Bacon, tomato, cheddar, horseradish… How could you go wrong?
Well, I managed. On our big cooking night, I put together a horseradish cheddar spread, put it on a slice of rye, and topped the whole thing with a fat slice of tomato and 3 strips of bacon. It was… soggy. Really soggy. The flavor was there, but it wasn’t appetizing. Oh well. Inventing recipes isn’t going to be a get it right the first time kind of thing. So the next day I tried again, using plain horseradish and a slice of cheese, and… meh. Still soggy. Still not worth the effort.
The tomato was the big issue. Fresh tomato was just too wet. Could I put it on after the beauty cooked? Could I cut it up into little bits of tomato and avoid the juicy seed part? Scowling, I wrote in my journal that what I really wanted was a grilled cheese with a bloody mary on the side. Hmmm…
Though I didn’t get a bloody mary out of it, On The Side turned out to be the answer I was looking for. I present: Cheddar and Horseradish Beauties with a side of tomato bacon chutney…
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For my take on Bacon-and-Cheese Beauties, I swapped the white bread for wheat, the American cheese for fresh mozzarella, and roasted slices of small, vine-ripened tomatoes. I also finished the dish off with some pesto, which is basically basil’s ultimate form. The resulting bacon and mozzarella sandwich takes a bit more work than Barbie’s original Beauties, but it’s worth the extra effort.
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The recipes in Easy-as-Pie are so promising, at least if you like vintage cooking. Bacon-and-Cheese Beauties are the perfect example. What could possibly go wrong with bacon and cheese? The answer to this question lies in the ingredients list, which calls for processed American cheese and white bread. When Friendship Club decided to meet for a cooking party, we agreed to make the beauties as instructed and then each try our own variation on the theme. This is the original recipe and… I don’t recommend it. But we said we were cooking through the whole book, and so in the spirit of completion, here goes.
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