Ok, ok. I must admit: my Grandma and I are pals. We spend every Thursday morning chatting on the phone, giddy as schoolgirls. She asks me about the cute things my kids say, I ask her about the antics from silver sneakers (how you work up a sweat while sitting in a chair is a question only an octogenarian can answer). I tell you, those old folks get feisty.
However, our favorite topics are crafts and cooking. “So, what did you make for dinner this week?” I ask eagerly. There’s always something new: a grilled chicken marinade. Baked pecan squares. Everything makes my mouth water (it’s not all prunes and mushy peas, folks). She also listens to me go on about my feeble kitchen attempts with rapt attention. She asks me to repeat the ingredients to the curry, or to mail her the thai peanut sauce recipe because, no, they don’t have a computer.
Last week I asked her for stove-top suggestions. Our little apartment, although totally adorable and one of my favorite places in the world, is a living, breathing oven, and that’s before you start cooking. In our heat wave, I can’t dare to turn on the oven or even our slow cooker for fear of burning the place down.
My grandma thought a moment. “Hm… I don’t have anything new, but I’ll see if I find something.” Later that week, I received a tatted, rag-a-muffin 5 1/2 x 8″ cookbook with the yellowed hue of the 1960’s. “The Skillet Cook Book by Wesson Oil” the title read. I smiled. It’s hard to get your hands on such a nugget.
As I skimmed the recipes, I fell more and more in love. There’s something nostalgic about cooked fish patties arranged with parsley and olives to look like “real fish.” Recipes that call for maraschino cherries and shortening. “Recipes from the Far East” was a section of the book. This book was published in 1958. I imagined my grandma, in her apron and her shoebox kitchen, a young, eager wife like myself, searching through this book to find a new recipe to make for her husband. Recipes created in the period where butter was out of fad and shortening took center stage. Where we cooked with excessive amounts of Wesson (i.e., vegetable) oil. Which I noticed, by the way, is the same type of vegetable oil I still have on my shelf. I picture Mad Men. Jello molds. Could this era produce anything I would eat now?
I decided to give it a try. Like a wise friend (and excellent chef) once told me, “if you like the ingredients, you’ll like the dish.” So I chose this one:
Filet ‘O Cod (just kidding!! Did you really think I was serious? Please, I have taste buds.)
Now, for real:
1.5 c orange juice
2 cans peaches (I used no sugar added)
2 Tbs. brown sugar (heaping)
2 Tbs. vinegar (I went with almost 3)
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 Tbs. basil (I like basil so I went heavy)
1 tsp cinnamon (I went heavy, same reason)
1/2 tsp nutmeg (I went light, guess why)
Combine these ingredients in a saucepan and let simmer on medium heat for about 10 minutes. The longer you let it simmer, the thicker it will be (but there will also be less of it). Meanwhile:
2 lbs chicken legs/thighs (I used boneless skinless thighs)
flour, salt, pepper, breadcrumbs, or any combination of the four
Coat chicken in flour mixture. Brown chicken in a skillet (I went off the record here and used olive oil rather than the Wesson Oil. Sorry Wesson.) Then add the sauce, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for about 20 minutes. I turned the chicken once about halfway through. Serve as you like.
Wow. The dish was delicious. In fact, my husband texted me today from work, just to say the leftovers are even better. Who knew? I did saute the garlic before adding in the other sauce ingredients. And I served it over Trader Joes giant cous cous, with a side of spring mix salad.
Have you considered also how cheap this dish is? 1.5 cups OJ (maybe 75 cents), 2 cans of peaches ($2 max) and 2 lbs of chicken which shouldn’t cost you more than $5. So for $7 you get eight entrees. Eight! Tangy, sweet, a win-win.
Thank you, 1958. Not only did you produce my good friend Grandma (and, subsequently, me), but you did indeed provide a delicious, rather healthy, and very inexpensive meal.