Tuesday, August 29, 2006

A "different" carrot recipe

Hey, campers! Here's another tasty recipe from the wilds of Eastern Oregon. Like several previous items (the UFO invasion in Morrow County, and the local way to make "chow mein", for example), my wife discovered this in a local newspaper from out there, and brought it to my attention, just to gross me out. The dry 2/3 of our state seems like a normal, calm, rural place on the surface, but then you read the local paper and realize you're in Twin Peaks country. I don't know what would be weirder: a.) that people really eat this stuff out there, or b.) they don't (due to common sense and taste buds and so forth), but they put it in the newspaper anyway.

Today's recipe actually comes from the same "nice" little old lady as the chow mein glop I wrote about earlier. This recipe doesn't seem to have a name other than "A Different Way to Cook Carrots". She writes, "For those who do not like carrots, please try this recipe, you might like them this way." Fat chance.

Our delicious, nutritious ingredients:

1 1/2 cups raw baby carrots
1 8 oz. can cream of chicken soup (follow directions on can)
1/2 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
buttered dry bread crumbs [no quantity specified]

The directions, such as they are:
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. [She doesn't say to do this, but it stands to reason.]
  • In a buttered baking dish [of unspecified size], place the baby carrots in it, and pour the soup over 'em.
  • Then sprinkle the cheese on top, and finally top it all off with the bread crumbs.
  • Cover and bake for 30 minutes.

When she says to follow the directions on the can of soup, I assume she means to reconstitute it with milk the way you normally would, although I'm not 100% sure about that. Maybe it's just because I'm a computer geek or something, but imprecise directions make me nervous, especially if I'm supposed to eat the end product. I haven't looked at a can of cream of chicken soup in a long time, and there may be other directions besides how to use it as soup. If there are casserole-specific directions, I suppose you'll probably want to use those instead.

The justification given for this dish is that it's a great way to get people to eat their carrots. Which is crucial, because carrots are wholesome and nutritious and full of vitamins and minerals and generally super-duper good for you and all, in case you missed that part back in grade school. The classic way to get people to eat what's good for 'em is to disguise it with so much fat and salt and modern gee-whiz chemicals that you negate any health benefits the clandestine nutritious bits might provide. But hey. At least they ate their carrots. Mission accomplished.

What you get from this recipe, I imagine, is something akin to a chicken pot pie, except without the pastry crust. Which is heresy, of course. The chicken and the crust are what it's all about, and everything else is secondary. I will grudgingly tolerate carrots in a pot pie, because they're traditional and everyone does it, but I really don't think they go with chicken. Or cheese, for that matter. And it's rare that chicken and cheese are improved by being combined. It's like matter vs. antimatter, except three ways instead of two, if you can imagine such a thing.

Despite all the snarkiness, I really do, 100% sincerely, want to help, for real, honest, and if you're going to insist on serving this stuff to picky eaters (i.e. people who don't like carrots), you'll need all the help you can get, so here are some suggestions on how to improve this tasty, tasty delicacy, without making it too much work, or involving any weird ingredients. My sense is that this recipe has less potential for improvement than that chow mein recipe, so I don't really want to get your hopes up too much, but here goes:

  1. She doesn't say to do anything with the baby carrots. If you're going to hide them under an opaque layer of salty beige soup, the decent thing would be to slice them up, especially if you're serving this to carrot-o-phobes. It's harder for them to pick all the orange bits out that way. And maybe add some chopped celery while you're at it. I mean, why not? It wouldn't be worse that way.
  2. In this day and age, suggesting that people make their own pie crust definitely counts as "too much work". But maybe you could get a frozen crust from the store and use that, and bake your soupy cheesy carrots in a proper pastry crust, the way God intended. Hint: You probably want to avoid any premade crusts that involve graham crackers or oreos. I mean, be my guest and try it if you really want to; I just don't think it'll have the desired effect, is all I'm saying.
  3. If your frozen crust doesn't come with a top, or even if you aren't doing the whole pastry crust thing, you might try some mashed potatoes on top. There's a rich tradition in England of putting mashed potatoes on top of meat pies. I don't normally advocate copying what the British do when it comes to food, but, I mean, there are potatoes involved. You can't go wrong with potatoes. (If you ignored my advice in the last item and went with the graham cracker crust, my advice this time is to leave off the potatoes. Like you'll really listen or whatever.)
  4. Add some garlic, maybe some onions. Even garlic powder would work in a pinch, for this sort of thing. If you think garlic's a weird ingredient, there's nothing I can do to help you.
  5. If you have a can of peas or a bag of frozen peas lying around, this might be a great opportunity to dust it off and inflict it on the unwary. Just hide 'em under the soup, like you did with the carrots. Peas are traditional in your classic pot pie recipe, so you can get away with it, although I personally don't hold with cooked peas, generally speaking.
  6. But please, please don't try the above with lima beans. Your oven will explode and burn down the whole neighborhood. Or to be more frank about it, I refuse to offer any useful advice when it comes to lima beans; if I have to make up crazy nonsense to deter people from using lima beans, I'll do what I have to do. You have to draw the line somewhere.
  7. Find some way, somehow, to ditch the canned soup. Ok, I'll admit that getting some chicken and doing up some gravy would be harder than just going with the canned soup, so let's agree that "not using canned soup" is an advanced technique here.
  8. This will probably taste better after a few drinks, especially if you used the Oreo crust. Like the recipe itself, it wouldn't do to get too fancy here. Martinis would be correct if you're trying for the whole 50's suburbia effect, but they just seem a little too swanky under the circumstances, and I just don't think the pairing is quite right, flavorwise. Rum-and-cokes would be better, and drink 'em out of jelly jars if you've got 'em.
  9. Just pack it in and make the damn chicken pot pie, already. Or get a frozen pot pie from the grocery store and microwave it, if you're feeling unmotivated. It'll be a million times better, either way.

That chow mein recipe I covered (or variants of it) turns out to be a time-honored taste sensation native to the upper midwest, and today's recipe certainly has a sort of cornfed, stick-to-yer-ribs quality to it as well. I wonder if the, ah, chef is originally from that neck of the woods. From the grainy photo of (allegedly) her next to the recipe, I'm guessing she's somewhere in her late 70's to mid-80's. If you read local obits of people that age and older, a remarkable number of them were born somewhere in the Midwest, usually the Dakotas or rural Minnesota, and moved out here some time between 1910 and the dustbowl era. My own grandfather-in-law is yet another of these Minnesota migrants, and my father's family came west from Missouri about that time, and I've met several other people who did this as well. Nobody's every really explained why all these people left en masse, although I suppose the climate may have been a factor.

Right now it's state fair season in the Midwest, which is a great chance to examine the current state of the art in the local cuisine. Pharyngula has a bit about the state fair in Minnesota -- tater tot hotdish on a stick! deep-fried Oreos! The Champagne of Blogs offers a similar report about the Iowa State Fair, with plenty of photos. Deep-fried mac & cheese! Pork chop on a stick!

I hesitate to mention this, because I'm not a mean person, but on one hand you have this... cuisine, and on the other you have all these nice, well-meaning little old ladies whose husbands all had heart attacks and kicked off at age 55, my own sainted, dearly-departed grandmother among them. As I said, I'm not a mean person, so I would never, ever suggest there's a causal link here or anything. I'm just sayin'.

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