Sunday, October 16, 2011

Betty is 61 (Peanut butter cookies to celebrate!)

No, Betty isn't a relative. I'm talking about the Betty Crocker cookbook, first published in 1950. The 11th edition has just been released.

When I was growing up, my friends' moms didn't have a whole lot of cookbooks - not like today. There were a few standards. You could pretty much bet that if there was a cookbook, it would be one of the big three - The Joy of Cooking, the Good Housekeeping Cookbook, or the Betty Crocker Cookbook.

Some of the more adventurous moms might have another book or two. Maybe Italian cooking. Or later, microwave cooking. But moms who wanted - or needed - a basic cookbook turned to one of the big three.

The latest version of the Betty Crocker Cookbook fills the same niche as its predecessors. It's got recipes for everything you need, from biscuits to breakfasts and pastas to poultry. Need to know how long to cook a pork chop or a roast - it's all there. Need to know how to make pancake batter - you've got it.

This one is from the '70s.
It's even got tuna noodle casserole. But unlike the recipe in 1970s-era Betty Crocker cookbook that I have, there's no canned soup in this version. New recipes have been added and old recipes have been updated with a focus on fresh ingredients.

Sure, some canned and bottle products are mentioned - I ran across one recipe that used Italian dressing - but it also referenced a recipe in the book for making your own.

And when canned stock is mentioned, there are references to the home made version as well. I like that. Not everyone is going to want to make stock, so it's great to see that the cookbook offers options.

This is a good book for beginners, with photos of vegetables and cuts of meat to help new cooks understand what they're dealing with. And there are troubleshooting photos. What does softened butter look like? If your cookies are too flat or too hard, what did you do wrong?

There's a 20-minute-or-less section, and one for slow-cooking. There's also a section about grilling and smoking and another for sauces. It's got the basics, but it's also pretty comprehensive, with tips on shopping at the farmer's market or how to use your kitchen equipment properly. And a lot of recipes. And a lot of photos to go with them. And its in a ring binder, which makes it a little more kitchen friendly.

Recipes aren't as complicated as you might find in books related entirely to one topic, but this book isn't dumbed down, either. You want to make profiteroles or pickles, there are recipes. And for some recipes, there are variations. And instructions on how to modify recipes to suit your needs. That's really useful for timid cooks who don't know what substitutions will work and which will result in disaster.

Yep, it's the modern version of what we all grew up with. But with more ethnic food, better photos, and recipes geared towards what we can find in today's supermarkets. Because I'm pretty sure that my mom never saw an ancho pepper at the grocery store.

Back then, the complicated produce question was whether the round green thing was cabbage or iceberg lettuce. Now, there's a lot more to know - and to buy.

Even with the huge number of cookbooks I have (don't ask - you don't want to know) there are plenty of times I need a basic cookbook for simple tasks.

I don't always remember the formula for waffle batter and I always need to look up how long to cook a roast. I mean, it's easy enough to tell when it's done by using a thermometer. The question is what time I should put it in the oven so it's done for dinner.

That's why books like this are handy to have. Sort of like an old friend in the kitchen who's comfortable with kitchen basics. But, you know, with cooler clothes and better hair than before.

Nice to see you again, Betty. Pull up some shelf space and settle in.

Of course, I couldn't put this book aside until I made a recipe. Since the book is such a classic, I decided to make something classic. Like this:

Peanut Butter Cookies
adapted from the Betty Crocker Cookbook

1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 egg
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Extra granulated sugar, as needed

Preheat the oven to 375. In a large bowl, be the sugar, brown sugar, peanut butter, butter and egg with an electric mixer at medium speed until well blended.

Stir in the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

Shape the dough into 1 1/4 inch balls (I used a scoop. So much easier.)

Place the balls on an ungreased cookie sheet (I lined mine with parchment) leaving about 3 inches between them to leave room for them to spread.

With a fork dipped in sugar, flatten the balls, making a criss-cross pattern on top.

Bake 9-10 minutes at 350 degrees - or until light brown. Cool 5 minutes on the baking sheets, then move to a rack to cook completely.

Disclosure: the publisher sent me this book to review.


Janice said...

Oh dear, I do have this book. But haven't cooked much from it. I find it relies quite a lot on branded ingredients that are not available in the UK. Should give it another go though as there is nothing this recipe that I couldn't get!

Donna Currie said...

Janice, this new edition was just released a few days ago, and it doesn't have any branded products that I saw. I haven't read every recipe, but it seems like the focus now is on fresh or minimally processed foods. For example, it might ask for frozen vegetables or canned broth, but I haven't seen any mention of things like canned soup.

Leaper said...

But what about the Better Homes And Gardens New Cookbook? We have a whole shelf of cookbooks, but that's always been the go-to reference text my mom turned to and now I do. My well-loved biscuit recipe is from Better Homes & Gardens with the red and white checked cover.

Donna Currie said...

Leaper, I actually have three of the BH&G books. One is ancient and has a grayish cover (it might have been blueish or greenish when it was new, but now its grayish). The next oldest is the red-and-white version. And I've got a pink-and-white one as well.

Really, I think either BH&G or Betty Crocker one would work for a new cook. This one is the newest. My newest BH&G is more than a few years old now.

Besides the move to more fresh ingredients, the other "new" thing is that the newer books don't have you cooking meat to really high temps like the older ones, which also changes the timing. That's something to keep in mind when you're sticking that pork roast in the oven.

I think everyone needs at least one "basic" cookbook where you can find simple stuff like biscuits, pancakes, chocolate chip cookies, and thing like that.

Sherri M said...

This is one I'll probably purchase. And I'll probably get one for my son, who is trying to learn to cook while at college. I use some of my older books (from my Mom's shelf) and just adapt them to fresh ingredients, then pass on the "newer" versions to him. Thanks for the review!

looloolooweez said...

My mom received a copy of Betty Crocker when she graduated from high school in the '70's (I'm pretty sure that one pictured above is her edition), and she carried on the tradition with me when I graduated. That thing has been absolutely invaluable!

Karriann Graf said...

What a great recipe! I’m always up for something new!

“Spice it Up”

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