Classic Recipe Flavored by a New Cook

Classic Recipe Flavored by a New Cook

Lately I’ve been catching up on missed seasons of the TV show Top Chef. Thank you, Hulu.com! Anyway, that is probably why the similarities between cooking and writing stories based on classic literature occurred to me. For a better understanding of what I mean, let me give a personal example.

Sharon’s grandfather Joe Underwood, and grandmother Lucille.

My family has a unique casserole dish created by my maternal grandfather when he worked as a short order cook during the Depression. The recipe consists of hot dogs, tomato sauce, spices, onions, and cheese baked together. My wonderfully humorous grandpa named it King’s Delight, an ironic moniker due to the basic, cheap ingredients. Despite the simplicity of the recipe, the dish is amazingly tasty! My siblings and I begged our mom for King’s Delight over any other meal in her repertoire of excellently created dishes (she inherited grandpa’s culinary skills). The three of us brought the casserole to our families, where it has now trickled down as a favorite to two more generations. 

For the Underwood clan, it is a classic.

Over the generations the recipe has altered slightly. For instance, I use Hebrew National All-Beef Kosher dogs and Velveeta cheese instead of the cheaper varieties. My mom preferred tomato soup and tomato sauce, while I am a tomato paste kind of gal. I’ve long ago memorized the recipe and never measure anything, thus, each time I make it, the ratio of spices and garlic and cheese will vary, giving the finished King’s Delight a unique taste that is never precisely duplicated. Nevertheless, the basic foundation established by my grandfather remains.

The classic entrée has the same edible components. They are merely flavored by a different cook’s hand.

This is exactly like writing a story based on a classic novel! Similar to my grandfather some eighty years ago, over two-hundred years ago Jane Austen invented six rich, delicious stories inhabited by a mix of succulent characters. Tales so zesty that two centuries later they continue to fill the hearts of readers with a deep feeling of warmth, satiation, and satisfaction. The connection to how a fine culinary meal makes us feel is obvious. Yet, just like a favored dish, once is rarely enough. We soon hunger to taste of it again and revisit the delightful sensations, so we return to the restaurant or dig out the recipe to cook the meal again. 

But… Maybe the cook is a new guy who doesn’t have the process down. Or, he is the more experienced chef than the fellow (or lady) before. Perhaps we lost the recipe or don’t have all the ingredients readily at hand. We might purposely chose to substitute an ingredient or add a different spice we think may taste better. This is, after all, how new recipes are created! Whatever the case, sometimes the dish tastes better, and sometimes it doesn’t thrill us as much as the first one did. 

Returning to the analogy of cooking relating to classic literature, on the one hand, we never tire of eating a favored meal or re-reading a beloved novel. However, variety IS the spice of life, so humans instinctively long to have our literary and culinary taste buds stimulated by a new sensation, particularly one reminiscent of the original. This hunger often times ignites a fervor for cuisine with a similar ethnic quality or particular ingredient. Same applies to our taste in reading material. In essence, we relish having more of what tickled our fancy to begin with!

Taking on the characters of Jane Austen is not a task for the faint of heart. Trust me on this! People often erroneously believe we are attempting to improve on the original, or that we are somehow messing up the classic by going in a different direction with our stories. Nothing could be further from the truth! I wish our family had that very first recipe of King’s Delight my grandfather whipped up in his cafe. I bet he altered the ingredients just as we did over the decades, meaning that what he cooked for his children and grandchildren probably tasted different from the original. This fact does not mean later incarnations were necessarily better.

Lucky for us, unlike that long-forgotten first batch of King’s Delight, Austen’s superb classic novels are unchanged and available for everyone to read. 

Contemporary Austenesque authors mix up the characters, add in unique plot spices, utilize modern techniques and utensils, place everything into a shiny new pot, and serve them to hungry readers. All the while, the cooked masterpiece sitting on the shelf with “Jane Austen” on the spine remains intact. Perhaps in a hundred years my novels will be in a library section for classic literary Austen-fiction. I girl can dream, right? Even if that happens, I have no doubt the section inhabited by Jane Austen’s novels will be far more prominent and heavily visited. For the present, those of us who write within the genre are content knowing we are contributing to the heritage of Jane Austen in our humble way. I think she would be smiling with pleasure, just as I know my grandfather would flash his mischievous grin if he saw his recipe pleasing his great-great- grandchildren. After he cracked a joke in fractured German, that is.

King’s Delight, served with scalloped potatoes (the perfect, traditional tasty duo)

27 Responses to Classic Recipe Flavored by a New Cook

    • I know what you mean! I cooked King’s Delight the week before my bariatric surgery. A “last meal” treat, as it were. LOL! Now that I am on regular foods I am craving it again, especially after writing this blog. LOL!

  1. I would love to try King’s Delight. I’d literally eat anything. I think it comes from when we were growing up there was often not enough food to go round. So you ate what was on your plate or went hungry. It’s nothing special but my Mother used to make a dish we loved. She’d oven cook rabbit in gravy, then add in sausages chops kidneys and onions and put it back in the oven. It was delicious!! There’s not much on a rabbit but it’s very tasty. If I put something like that in front of my own family I can only imagine the look on their faces 🙂 My husband would be first out of the room!!!

    • Now, that sounds like a dish my father would love! I’ve never been a fan of rabbit, although to be fair I think I’ve tried it maybe once or twice in my life. I think a person needs to be exposed to more “unusual” foods from an early age to fully appreciate the variety. Thanks for sharing, Teresa. I love hearing of the family recipes with the memories attached!

  2. My family has unique recipes too. I think that the cheap ingredient/make it do recipes become the ultimate comfort food. My dad makes a macaroni and tomato skillet recipe with bacon that is still a great favorite in the family. (When I was little, bacon was cheap and since the tomatoes were home-grown and kitchen-bottled, it really was a cheap dish.) Love the post and the analogy. Thanks!

    • Macaroni with tomato and bacon! OMG! I am salivating here! I totally agree that the basic, cheap ingredients can still make the best food. I’m all for a fancy dining experience from time to time, but give me simple down home cooking any day and I am happy, happy, happy!

  3. Variety truly is the spice of life when it comes to JAFF. No one writer does it the same as the next and I love that! As for cooking, my g-grandmother was terrible. You were just as likely to get some horrible food poisoning as get satiated at her table. However my grandmother was fabulous. She had cooked for the boys on the tenant farm where they worked and had making a little go a long way down to a science. I miss cooking alongside her though I still wear her apron and hope some of her magic is still in it.

    • Aah, what a sweet story! How awesome that you still have your grandmother’s apron. That is a priceless treasure! Your grandma sounds very like the stories my dad tells of my grandmother. Cooking enormous meals out of the most basic ingredients, most of which were grown in the garden and hunted/caught by the menfolk, and then shared with the neighborhood. Definitely very different times. Thanks so much for sharing, Stephanie. Take good care of that apron!

  4. As a small child, I remember my great-grandmother’s table. It was always full of food, people and love. She never wasted anything and at times, there were some pretty strange things on that table. Her brother, my great-great-uncle was a forager and would bring back greens [I didn’t like] and morel mushrooms [dry-land-fish] from his daily rambles. My great-uncle [her son] was a hunter and would also supply the table with his bounty. Those memories are the best. It seems that in all cultures, races and peoples… food brings them together, around a table of love.

    • I can SO imagine what you mean, JW! My mom and dad split when I was a baby, so I grew up with the Yankee side of the family in CA. My dad stayed in the South (Mississippi) so now I am hearing of the southern style of cooking, which is WAY different than what I am used to! Frankly, most of it sounds like food one would only eat on a dare. LOL! But I suppose if things had gone differently and I grew up in MS, I’d think greens, head cheese, crawdads, and all the rest are awesome.

  5. Fun to relive memories through food. My dad used to cook Potato Pancakes and would get up at 4 am to start grating the potatoes and onions. Add on to that his recipe for German Potato Salad and Shaum Tort and I’m set to go.

    • Oh man, I LOVE potato pancakes! Mom made those too, although it wasn’t a recipe she passed along and, alas, I’ve never been able to make them as she did. As for potato salad, I still maintain that my grandpa’s version is the best in the whole wide world. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. 😉

      • My Mom used to make potato pancakes as well. Funny, that I can never make mine to taste the same. Or my Grandmother’s famous borsch. 🙂

  6. My mother had a Chicken Tetrazzini recipe that I loved. Since then I’ve made my own that I really enjoy but I’m sure is not quite the same. Thank you for the post, Sharon. We do like the spice of new plots with the P&P, JAFF variations, and I’m sure they will keep coming and be enjoyed.

    • Family recipes are the best! Even if they aren’t particularly awesome from a serious culinary point of view, the fact that they are special to the family with a history attached makes them taste better. LOL!

    • You are very welcome, Caryl! It was fun for me to take a short walk down memory lane. I even spent some time pouring over the scanned photos of my family before choosing the one of my grandparents above. Nice memories mixed with a few tears. 🙂

  7. What a great story. Or memory . . . or somewhere in between? And what a happy thing to have in your family. Thank you for sharing it! I’ve been thinking a lot about food and how it changes since Sophie’s post about a day in Jane Austen’s life.

    You all are better than me and my siblings. We refuse to learn to make my mother’s best hand me down recipes. No, not because we don’t like them. Because we’re spoiled. She makes her baked beans from scratch and German chocolate cake from scratch (it involves coffee, unsweetened chocolate squares and a bunt pan and is the best thing you will ever eat) for every family gathering. We’ve all, in our own kitchens, tried to make them. It’s just not as good as mom makes. What can I say? So, she spoils us and makes them for us, even though we all know we should learn.

    • I’ve learned more and more as I get older how important and precious such family stories/memories are. Sadly too many people do not recognize this. I count myself as one of them until the past 20 years or so. Now I LOVE hearing the stories of my dad and other older generations who are still alive, and wish with all my heart that I had fully appreciated this when younger. Maybe then I would have asked my grandpa more about the details in creating King’s Delight!

      I know what you mean about making it like mom. My mom truly was an amazing cook. I think lots of women from the past were, back in the day when there was no “fast food” or easy means of getting dinner. Women, and some men, cooked everything from scratch. My hubby and I were talking about canning the other day, and I was recalling how my mom canned all the time. I literally never ate store bought jelly or fruits until I moved away from home! Yet I can’t for the life of me remember exactly how she did it, even though I helped her all the time. I wish I had paid more attention! And now my mom is gone so I can’t ask her. Luckily for us, years before she died, my mom wrote all her best recipes down and printed them up into a book, so I do have that! 🙂

    • Of course, Anji! I should have shared the recipe in the article – Duh! Basically, without precise measurements, start with good quality hot dogs. I like the all beef variety, but that is personal preference. Chicken or turkey dogs would work as well. When I make it, I make a LOT because it is good, if not better, when a day or two old and reheated. So, I slice up in bite size pieces at least 4 or 5 packages of the Hebrew National hot dogs, sometimes more. Then, I add one can of Campbell’s tomato soup and one large can of Contadina tomato paste. Any brands will do, of course, but those are my favorites. If making a huge batch, or if wanting it to be really saucy, toss in another small can of tomato paste or a can of tomato sauce. You can add or substitute the paste for tomato sauce (or use both) but to me the paste adds a richer tomato flavor. For some the paste is too acidic, whereas the soup or sauce will give a milder flavor.

      Then, chop a medium onion fine. Add in garlic (I am a big garlic fan so go a bit crazy, but again this is to taste and per preference). For spices, I use basic Italian herb mix for ease. Nothing wrong with adding basil, oregano, etc. separately if you wish. Last, but most importantly, is the cheese. Any cheddar cheese, or a blend, will do. I prefer Velveeta because of the taste and because it melts so smoothly. I buy the biggest size block because I also use it for the potatoes. Cut the cheese into slices, just over half of the whole Velveeta block, depending on how many hot dogs you put in. Upon occasion I’ve used the Nacho cheese spiced Velveeta, which gives it a tanginess that can be a fun alternative. Add some salt and pepper. Bake the whole thing at 350 degrees, stirring from time to time, for about an hour, or until the cheese is all melted and the sauce is creamy. My mom liked to sprinkle seasoned bread crumbs over the top during the final 10 minutes of baking. I do that sometimes, but tend to prefer it without a crust.

      That’s it! The potatoes are simply sliced and boiled, with sliced onions added. For the sauce, I am a bit lazy, so just use a can of Campbell’s cheddar cheese soup with the left over Velveeta, melted together on the stove. Add some milk, or cream, to get the desired consistency. Then just pour it over the cooked potatoes, sprinkle on some pepper and salt, and Viola! SO yummy together!

      • Thanks Sharon. Now I have to find a UK substitute for Velveeta, I guess. It seems to be a “cheese food product” rather than just pure cheese. Folk in the US seem to have a different relationship with cheese to us Brits. We much prefer to use “real” cheese in cooking, rather than cheese substitutes. Any suggestions from any of my US friends who’ve lived over here?

        • No Velveeta in the UK!?!?! A travesty! LOL! Seriously, I am normally not a “cheese product” person either, preferring a real cheese hand’s down. This is the one exception. But, as I said, any cheese will do, cheddar being the closest to Velveeta and thus the classic taste of King’s Delight. I’ve made it with real cheddar, and so did my mom back in the day before Velveeta came along. You just need to stir it a lot more and be prepared for the cheese to not melt as smoothly. The texture may be more “chunky” as it were, since cheddar tends to leave small curds. I’ve never tried making it with any other kind of cheese, although the idea is intriguing! I can imagine it tasting delicious with a bit of smoked gouda or even bleu cheese. That’s the fun with playing around with recipes. It may not always work as the cook likes, but then again it may even be better! Same with the spices. Since it is a tomato-based casserole, we always kept the the typical Italian herbs. But that isn’t to say other favorite spices might be excellent in it. 🙂

  8. My mother had one which she called Poor Boy’s Ravioli and it stemmed from the depression era she grew up in. Thanks for sharing.

    • Hi Sheila! I imagine Depression Era innovation, in cooking and other areas, was huge. Positives from a definite negative. I’m curious about Poor Boy’s Ravioli! Just the name sounds yummy! Thanks for sharing.

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