Thursday, March 22, 2012

Easy and (Mad) Men Approved Hors D'oeuvres

Food from the 1960's gets a bad rap because, well, for the most part, it's just bad. We're talking overly wrought recipes made with bland, over processed ingredients (canned cocktail weenies, anyone?), strange combinations of foods that aren't popular anymore for a reason, and an ungodly ubiquitous little something called an aspic (shudder). So when I pondered what I wanted to to do for Mad Men week on this here blog (besides go out for a mid-week martini lunch), I was just a little cautious when I cracked open my vintage (copyright 1963) Better Homes and Gardens cookbooks. Despite exhaustingly hauling these books with my book collection move after move (sorry mom and dad and everyone else who has ever helped me move), I've never had a desire to make even one of the recipes. I figured it was time to give them another chance. As I remembered, lots of unsavory usual suspects were there: Limas and Franks, Surprise Meat Slices, Tomato Soup Dressing, and Baked Prune Whip - these are all very real recipes. On her good days, these are the dinners that pre-divorce Betty Draper was setting out for Don. Scary stuff, right?

Winter Garden Loaf. This happened.

It wasn't all bad. I can appreciate an underrated ambrosia now and then and many of the desserts were far from revolting. However, it was the chapter "Meals Men Like" in So-Good Meals that really caught my eye. Not surprisingly, it included meat, alot of meat. Passing on the Mushroom Pot Roast, Ranch Ribs and Old-time Beef Stew, I zeroed in on the uncreatively named but promising "Sweet-potato Balls" which are meant to be served with a glazed ham. Not a glazed ham kind of gal, I decided to whip some up to have along with a light dinner but they turned out to be such a treat, I'd imagine they'd also be a really fun appetizer or cocktail party food. Mad Men premiere party on Sunday, anyone?

In the retro (and lazy) spirit, I opted to microwave three large sweet potatoes for about 12 minutes (estimate 4 minutes for each potato) until they were soft and ready to mash. Then, fold in salt, pepper, and butter to taste as if you were making mashed sweet potatoes (mm). Let mixture sit in the refrigerator to chill which will make them easier to roll into balls. In a small bowl, warm honey and a bit of butter and set aside chopped pecans. Walnuts will also work if you want to save a few dollars. Once potatoes are chilled, shape into golf ball sized balls and dip into honey glaze and roll in chopped nuts. I found it a little tricky to handle the potatoes this way so I put rounded spoonfuls in (leopard print, natch) baking cups and then spooned over the glaze and topped with pecans. This made it much easier and let's be honest, baking cups make everything look more festive. Then, bake on a sheet or in a cupcake tin at 350 degrees for about 20-25 minutes. That simple!

To serve, arrange on a tray in their cute wrappers or transfer to fancy little dishes and drizzle with a teaspoon of glaze. Serve while warm and provide small spoons. Each bite of these is like the best, most decadent part of a buttery baked sweet potato but better (can you tell that I love food?). So good and not scary at all.

If you're looking for more ideas for very edible 60's cooking, look into picking up the well-reviewed Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook. If you're still curious about the many depths of dubious 60's dishes, don't miss a favorite Tumblr of mine, aspics and other delights. And since no 60's cocktail party is complete without a well-made Old-Fashioned, check out this week's New York Times article on the history of Don Draper's drink of choice (which dates back to the Civil War, who knew?).

Top photo: Mad Men, AMC


  1. I really want to try that Winter Garden Loaf

  2. I think it would be too scary in color so it's black and white. Lemon gelatin, yum.

  3. Sweet potato balls, yes. Anything in aspic form, noooooooo.

  4. Aspics contine to mystify me and I just can't get my head around them. I picture somwhere in Hell, a smorgasbord of them exists...

  5. I think I know why I'm a little extra creeped out by them... they remind me of headcheese! *shudder*

  6. I've seen something similar at Canter's in the deli section of the restaurant... I always stare at it. One day I will put it in my mouth.