Confessions and Casserole: Retro Recipe Challenge

Despite being a relatively modern, quasi-liberated young woman, I harbor a not-so-secret sometimes desire to be a 1950s housewife. I want to spend my days cooking, cleaning, and running around after little rugrats, and I want to do it all while wearing pearls and high heels and a red checked apron. And that is why when I discovered Laura Rebecca's Retro Recipe Challenge, and with it the chance to at least live out the cooking part, I was immediately hooked.
With the exception of diner food, nothing screams 1950s to me more than casserole. And this casserole, in particular, seemed like a straight-from-a-sitcom dinner table classic. It photographs like mystery meat, it contains condensed soup, and made by the original recipe a serving accounts for 46% RDA fat, 25% RDA cholesterol, and 44% RDA sodium. Now that is a casserole.
Having read that I found I could not actually bring myself to make it original recipe. It's not that I'm any form of real health-conscious, it's just that ignorance is bliss, and I couldn't knowingly ingest that as written. So I cut out the sauce entirely and I used 98% fat-free cream of chicken soup as a half-hearted attempt. In addition, the only veal around was selling for $14.99/lb. That didn't quite jive with my notion of 50s frugality, plus if I'm going to shell that out for veal, I'm not smothering it in cream of chicken soup. So I went with chuck stew meat, a much cheaper option, reasoning that beef is kind of like grown-up veals anyway. I still had some of that darn buttermilk so that replaced some of the milk in the dumplings. And finally, my container of silver onions was 12 oz. instead of a pound. I made up the difference with some French-fried onions mixed in, which added back some of the fat and just seemed casserole-appropriate.
I'm still not actually sure how I feel about the casserole. It's decidedly edible and overwhelmingly mediocre, despite the surprisingly postive rating given it on the Pillsbury website, and I was rather hoping it'd live up to that reputation or be so spectacularly awful as to be humorous. Instead,
it has some sort of casserole identity crisis; it's not quite beef and dumplings and not quite beef potpie. But it wants to be so much more, and all you taste is the potential. The beef dredged in flour and paprika smells lovely to start. Make the gravy; throw in some mushrooms and thin onion slices, and you've got yourself a nice mock Stroganoff if you make some egg noodles on the side. Toss in some chopped carrots and celery, onion and peas, and you've got a quick stew. Let it simmer long enough with some good canned tomatoes and herbs, and you have a beef ragu.
I bet it would taste better if I'd made it wearing a red checked apron.

adapted from the original 1956 Pillsbury Bake-Off winning recipe

1/3 c flour
1 tsp paprika
2 lb boneless chuck, rump, or other suitable cheap stew beef in 1 to 2-inch pieces
1/4 c oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1 c water
1 can 98% fat-free condensed cream of chicken soup
1 1/2 c water
1 12-oz container silver (pearl) onions, drained
1 2.8 oz can French-fried onions
2 c flour
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp celery seed
1 tsp Bell's poultry seasoning
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 c oil
1/3 c buttermilk
~ 1/3 c milk
2 Tbsp margarine, melted
1/2 c breadcrumbs

In a large plastic bag mix flour and paprika; add well-trimmed beef pieces and shake to coat. Heat 1/4 c oil in 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Add beef and cook until browned. Add 1/2 tsp salt, pepper, and 1 c water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer uncovered 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Transfer mixture to ungreased 13x9 baking dish.
In same skillet, combine soup and 1 1/2 c water. Blend well and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Pour over beef mixture. Add onions and French-fried onions and mix well.
Heat oven to 425 F. In large bowl combine flour, baking powder and soda, onion powder, celery seed, seasoning, and salt, mix well. Add the oil and buttermilk and enough milk so that when stirred dry ingredients are just moistened.
In small bowl combine melted margarine and breadcrumbs. Drop spoonfuls of dumpling dough into crumb mixture and roll to coat well. Arrange dumplings over warm beef mixture. Bake at 425 F for 20-25 minutes or until dumplings are deep golden brown.


Blogger Laura Rebecca said...

Leave it to the chefs of the 50s to take veal and cover it with condensed soup.

Thank you, Emily, for your participation -- and bravery. I'm sure your post will garner a lot of discussion!

10:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you also need poppy seed in the dumplings. absolutely critical,
per my mom.

3:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I urge you to make the original recipe as written as it won the 25k back in 1956! My dear Mum is a wonderful cook still at 82 and she used to make this quite a lot in the late 50s and 60s. We loved it, of course back then veal was cheap. I've substituted chunks of turkey tenderloin and I believe cut up boneless chicken thighs would also be a good substitute for the veal. As far as the sauce is concerned, Mum maybe only made it the first few times. I only recall having it without the sauce, which although tasty, is unnecessary. It is critical to make the dumplings exactly as directed and with all of the ingredients...they are addictive. I've made it many times and subbed the 1 cup of water for a cup of white wine and I've also added some carrots and peas. I hope you will try it again as written, except perhaps subbing turkey tenderloin or chicken for the veal.

1:37 PM  

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