A long time ago in a universe far far away (i.e. before blogging), a friend sent me a link to a website with “Dinner party idea? ” in the subject line of the email. Ok then.
Clicking on the link transported me back to my childhood (i.e. the 1970s) and I spent a good long while checking out the Weight Watchers Recipe Cards circa 1974. Not only are the pictures hilarious and include all sorts of completely unnecessary props (ceramic mushrooms and animals, for example) but the commentary written by Wendy McLure is laugh-until-you-cry funny. Every time. As she says about the collection in general, “There’s a certain serve-it-at- your-next-key-party freakiness to a lot of these dishes.” I saved the website in my favourites and revisited it a few times, wondering how I could incorporate these dishes into a dinner party. Certainly serving the food as an actual meal might not work since so many of the dishes aren’t exactly substantial (that’s what happens when gelatin is the main ingredient!) so I needed to think of an appropriate “event” which could involve the dishes without relying on them for sustenance.
The more I thought about it, the more I thought it would be fun to have some kind of blind tasting but then that would take away from the spectacularity (is that a word? Spellcheck does not seem to think so) of the look of many of them. What to do? I decided to hold an event serving tasting portions where people would have to guess the major ingredients, give the dish a name and describe it in a few words. There’s no such thing as a free lunch, you know
I proposed the event to Foodbuzz for this month’s 24, 24, 24 and they accepted it so it was all systems go with a week of cooking with gelatin (which I have never done before). All the recipes were pretty easy, they just required some forethought due to the chilling time. Many of the recipes (which you can find here) called for canned or frozen vegetables and I chose to use fresh, organic ones where possible. I figured if we were going to eat these dishes (even just a small taste), I wanted them to taste the best they possibly could (well, as good as they could encased in gelatin, for the most part!).
The big day came. I set the scene
That was my nod to 70s decoration. A daytime event doesn’t lend itself so much to decorating the house too much and I figured the dishes themselves were outrageous enough….
Paper and pen were provided to the unwitting taste testers:
First up: Rosy Perfection Salad, as it was originally called.
It was, indeed, rosy. One team even named it “Ruby Salad” and most guests correctly guessed most of the ingredients. Other name suggestions included “Nuclear Autopsy”, “Fargo Delight” and “Return to Cabbage Mountain”.
Other comments included being thankful for the shredded cabbage which “provided much-needed relief from the daunting mound of suspicious ingredients suspended in an un-natural way.” Come ON – it at least looks pretty, doesn’t it?
Next up, Chilled Celery Log.
Yep, this was celery (boiled for TEN MINUTES) stuffed with cauliflower and parsely. Uh huh.
Guest comments included that this would make perfect airplane food since it was so limp that it did not require a knife. One team named this “Green Goddess Braised Celery” whilst inexplicably, one team went with “Balinese Rice Boat”. OK then. Clearly they had had a little bit too much of this:
1970s theme, 1970s wine, right? In any case, I enjoyed the filling of the celery “boats” and will be using the leftovers in a pasta sauce or something similar this week.
My third offering was the Jellied Tomato Refresher.
Looks innocent enough, right?
Well Jellied Tomato Refresher, you were the judges’ least favourite dish (points to those of you who know what show that is from!).
Some of their comments: “It wibbles and it wobbles but it won’t fall down”, “Rosa Slimata – a salad you eat with a spoon” and completely inexplicably “Reminiscent of a summer Italian day” by the team who disliked it the most who had obviously been getting stuck into this:
Next up, the fabulous Crown Roast of Frankfurters. Shall I repeat that for you since it is such an unimaginable concept. Crown Roast of Frankfurters.
(full disclosure: I was so stressed out making this and trying to get it to come together as per the original photo, below, that I didn’t get a photo so this was what I cobbled together after the event. A mini-version if you like)
Horrific, isn’t it? I chose to use organic beef sausages instead of canned frankfurters. Let’s just take a closer look, shall we?
Yes, it’s stuffed with cabbage. Cabbage cooked in vinegar and sprinkled with poppy seeds. Yes my friends, it’s scary stuff.
Team comments included “Carnivore’s Delight – tent of sausages with a vegetable surprise lurking beneath” and “The doghouse surprise”. It was actually a very popular dish – the cabbage was pretty crunchy still and tangy with cider vinegar and the sausages were delicious. The presentation, yes, it’s mind boggling, but I guess in the 70s it would have, indeed, been spectacular. One tiny portion of leftovers here which Neil already has his name on. I would make this again. I just wouldn’t plate it like this.
The last dish just about did everyone in. Molded Asparagus Salad. As you can see from the photo below, the “molded” part of the recipe didn’t exactly turn out. I don’t own a jelly mold and the bowl I set it in clearly didn’t work. So I improvised and served this in Napa cabbage leaves.
This was just too much for a number of our guests. They were gelatined out. This “Bulgarian Spring Taco” as one team named it was described as “Lumpy red sludge in a lettuce envelope.” This, from the team who had eaten everything up to now, even going back for seconds a few times! Another team named this “The Accident – the cabbage that rolled” and described it as “A charming scoop of chutney-esque tomato gelatin surprise loaded with nutritious, overly blanched chopped vegetables served on a delicate leaf of crinkled yellow cabbage. Very air travel appropriate – no utensils required. Just pick up the cabbage package and try your luck. Don’t take this approach if you want to arrive with your outfit intact!”
Molded Asparagus Salad, you, too are destined for the slow cooker to make soup.
It made for a very amusing afternoon and it was interesting to think about how cooking has changed over the past nearly 30 years. Everyone had a lot of fun…
(this was Team “let’s go back for seconds”!)
Though there were some dubious looks from everyone at some point:
And some moments of complete and utter incredulity:
But we ate, drank and were merry.
And thanked our lucky stars that we don’t live in the 1970s! So many of our reactions to the look or texture of the dishes are simply because it’s not what we are used to and certainly plating has come a very long way since then. But who knows, maybe someone somewhere in 2040 will be hosting a similar party with “retro” dishes from 2010….
As I was writing up this post, I was tweeting that it was turning into an epic post and Michelle of Taste as you Go tweeted back asking if there was a theme song? Actually there was:
Thanks Foodbuzz for sponsoring this much-needed belly-laugh inducing event on a snowy grey February day. And thanks to my good friend Cathy for sending me the link in the first place!