Thursday, February 18, 2010

Author Deborah Pfeiffer Explores New Ground Beef

I have been so impressed with the Windy City RWA group. Everyone in there seems to be publishing right and left, and they all have a friendly and mentoring demeanor. When I spoke there, I met the talented Deb Pfeiffer, who is interested in YA in addition to her other publishing. I put out a call for guest bloggers on the Romance of Eating, and Deb mentioned she had this cookbook - and actually cooks from it! I knew she was a kindred spirit! (I want this cookbook, too!) Enjoy! - Amy

For those wanting to stretch out Mardi Gras and ignore Lenten traditions, where better to turn than The New Ground Beef Cookbook (published 1965, by MacFadden-Bartell, cover price 75 cents)? You know it’s gotta be good (and that you’ve stepped back a generation or two) when the back cover copy reads: “Give Every Meal ‘Man Appeal’…with Kroger Premium-Quality Meat!”
I inherited this slim paperback cookbook from a great aunt’s collection in the mid-’80s. At the time, ironically, I was “vegetarian,” which in 1980s’ parlance meant I ate eggs, dairy, fish, even chicken and turkey, just not red meat.

So why would I choose this cookbook as a keepsake from my aunt’s kitchen, over, say, good old Betty Crocker? The cover copy alone intrigued me, not to mention chapter headings titled “Loaves for Loafers” and “Meat Balls Galore.”

The fact that the cover announces this gem was originally titled “The New Hamburger Cookbook” didn’t hurt either. Presumably the name was changed because some of the recipes—365, so you can have hamburger every day of the year, apparently—don’t contain just hamburger, but also other ground meats—veal, chuck, even ham. Yes, ground ham, as opposed to hamburger. Witness, for example, in Chapter VI: Department of Interior Surprises (that sounds appetizing!), a recipe for Veal Breast Stuffed with Hamburger (!). The author, Mettja C. Roate, notes:

My family’s biggest complaint about economy dishes like stuffed veal breast is that they want more meat. Here is a recipe that has economy and plenty of meat, too.
Clearly advice from a different era—I have never thought of veal as an economy meat. Nor does it sound like an economy of time, especially when you have to ask the butcher to make a pocket in the veal, as Ms. Roate further advises.

But the greatest appeal of the cookbook, beyond providing a peek into a former generation’s cooking habits, was the makeover possibilities. After all, I am a writer (and editor) and making things up and over is part of my job. This sensibility also seems to translate over to my approach to cooking. With a great foundation for cooking basics from my mother, once I moved out on my own, I’ve felt the freedom to mess around with recipes, just as I do with words—that old saw that once you know the rules, then you know which ones you can get away with breaking. I like to twist and tweak a recipe and make it uniquely mine—and hopefully better (or healthier or both). With New Ground Beef, I saw potential for conjuring comfort foods using not ground beef but—horrors!--ground turkey.

I must admit I haven’t taken on the big challenges yet in this cookbook, recipes like Chick Pea –Hamburger Loaf, Meat Ball – Beer Casserole, or Hamburger Meat Pudding. But here’s one I modified from the Case That Casserole chapter. A good, solid comfort food factor to it, with a little something different--a rice crust.

I’ll give you my version (with original ingredients, if changed, in parens). [Info in brackets] I omitted for health reasons or because it’s not common practice or a common ingredient these days or just not that easy (and I’m all about easy when it comes to cooking).

Ground Turkey (Hamburger) and Rice Casserole
1 lb lean ground turkey (hamburger)
1 TB onion, chopped very fine [or 1 tsp onion juice]
½ C celery, chopped fine
¼ tsp ground black pepper
[1 tsp salt]
Generous dash of poultry seasoning—or thyme, marjoram, whatever you like (dash of nutmeg)
½ contents of 15-oz can of low-sod/-fat cream of celery soup or mushroom soup (one 8-oz can tomato sauce)
1 egg, or equivalent in egg substitute
2 C cooked brown rice (cooked regular rice—presumably white)
½ C dry bread crumbs
Spritz of olive oil or nonfat cooking spray (1 TB butter or margarine)
In a good-sized mixing bowl, mix the ground turkey thoroughly with the onion, celery, pepper, and spices, then stir in soup.
In another bowl, beat egg with rotary beater until light and lemon-colored—or just add egg substitute instead. Add cooked rice and mix thoroughly. Spray the casserole dish with nonfat spray or atomized olive oil—I typically use 1.5 quart covered Corning Ware or Pyrex dish—then press half the egg-rice mixture into the bottom and sides of the greased casserole. Reserve other half of egg-rice mixture for the top.

Place the casserole with egg-rice “crust” under the broiler for 5 min, or until the rice begins to brown and is set firmly around the sides. Or, if your oven is like mine, I just crank up the heat in the main oven chamber as high as it will go, and bake it until I get the same results. Note that the brown rice will not so much turn brown as get crispier. Once it’s set, remove from oven and spread the meat mixture carefully in the egg-rice crust, using a rubber spatula to spread it evenly. Cover with the remaining rice-egg mixture, and sprinkle bread crumbs on top. Spritz with olive oil (or dot with the butter or margarine).

Bake at 350 degrees F for 45 min. Just before serving, place under broiler for a few seconds to brown the crumbs on top. Again, I might just leave it in the oven longer and crank up the temp. To accommodate different oven temps, I’d suggest testing the meat’s doneness by sticking a clean table knife into the middle of the casserole to make sure it’s coming out fairly clean and done looking. Or just doing a minor excavation in!

Steam some fresh or frozen veggies on the side or do up a simple spinach salad and you’ve got yourself a meal! Maybe you could get even more creative than me, and try substituting in tempeh for the ground meat, or wild rice instead of brown, or onion soup or yogurt instead of the soup. Of course, such acts of rebellion could well set Mme. Roate simmering. After all, in the cookbook’s introduction she warns against such evils:

Substitution of a spice can prove the downfall of an otherwise good dish. If you do not have the spice called for in your cabinet, it’s better to skip the recipe than have to toss good food away uneaten.

To which I say, live a little! Push the envelope a little and exercise your right of creativity in the kitchen. Or, in the true spirit of Mardi Gras, Laissez les bon temps rouler!

Deborah Pfeiffer is a writer, an editor, cook, dancer, and Facebook fanatic, not necessarily always in that order. Her fiction manuscripts--young adult, women’s fiction, and romantic comedy--have finaled in or won regional and national writing contests. She previously worked as a managing editor of an international trade magazine and for the last 11 years has run her own freelance editing, writing, and project management firm, SWYM Editorial (“Say What You Mean”). When she’s not experimenting in the kitchen, you can find her at, where you’ll find tips on how to use Facebook.


Ann Macela said...

I'm not a big turkey fan, but that recipe sounds like it has possibilities! I can't find my mother's cookbook. I can see its blue cover in my mind, but I think it sank when our basement got some water in it. It has some wonderful illustrations of what kitchens looked like in the 1930s and 1940s.

Happy Cooking
Ann Macela

Jules said...

Yikes!"New" ground beef? Sounds scary. (And why does it always look like old corduroy in the package?) Funny post!
My daughter is a similar kind of vegetarian--except bacon is also allowed. We call her a Bacon-arian.
Well, if you are what you eat. No wonder everyone drank so much back then!

Deborah Pfeiffer said...

Ann, go for the ground beef and let me know about it! For me, ground turkey cooked in a dish like this tastes pretty darn good. Not exactly like hamburger, mind you, but not "turkey-ish" either. But, like writing, everyone's taste is different, right? :)

Debbie Pfeiffer said...

Jules, love the Bacon-arian terminology. I think I have a SIL who could live with that.
I know--ground turkey looks strange in the package, but if you can get past that, when you cook it up, it's tasty. You do need to season it a bit, but it works well in a veggie chili recipe I have when I want to "beef" it up (pardon the pun) but keep it lower fat/non red meat. Thanks for the comments and the new vocabulary word. :)

Nancy Robards Thompson said...

Veal Breast Stuffed with Hamburger? Wow. Fun post, Debbie!

Rochelle R. said...

The recipe sounds good. I always use ground turkey instead of beef. I never notice the difference now as I have done it for years. I have that cookbook as well as the previous edition with the different name. Guess I need to get them out and try some of the recipes. Thanks for the post.