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"Secret" ingredients....the key to a dish

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1 "Secret" ingredients....the key to a dish on Fri Sep 16, 2016 10:01 am

bethk

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Has anyone else tried to replicate a remembered recipe from their past and just never figured out the 'secret' ingredient that was the key to the taste you knew but couldn't figure out?

When I was in junior high and high school in the 1960's we had school cooks at each building. They made some of the best food using government hand-outs and what they could purchase on (probably) very low budgets. But those ladies had 'heart' ~ they knew the meals they fed us was the only hot meal many of the students got in a day. My family always had food to eat because we raised / grew much of it on our farm.....but the 'city' kids probably weren't as fortunate.

One of my favorite lunches was a shredded chicken sandwich - soft and flavorful 'pulled' chicken piled high on a hamburger bun. It was so tasty.

For years after I got out of school I attempted to make that 'blast from my past' and I failed miserably. I tried to just simmer the chicken until tender and shred but it lacked that 'certain something' that flavored and thickened the filling. I tried thickening the chicken with a gravy, either flour based (roux) or cornstarch (slurry) and neither was right. When the internet became available I would Google 'school lunch lady recipes' and, sad to say, there isn't a whole lot out there. It's like once those ladies who cared for us so long ago retired they took their recipes with them, never to be seen again.

I was lucky, however, to have a friend who's mom WAS one of those lunch ladies! We got into a conversation about my beloved Shredded Chicken Sandwich and she knew the secret to the sandwich.

She said to simmer your chicken with chopped onion until very tender, cool and shred, removing the skin and bones (which could be used for chicken stock for soup). Then the key to thickening the shredded chicken with just the right flavor was as simple as tearing up a hamburger bun and stirring it in until it 'melted' and disappeared but held that chicken together.

I tried her 'recipe' and it was just the flavor I had remembered.

Now, I'm not suggesting anyone else try this recipe and then tell me how awful it is ~ it's MY remembered recipe and something I grew up eating and loving. But I'm wondering if YOU have a story to tell and share with all of us?

2 Re: "Secret" ingredients....the key to a dish on Fri Sep 16, 2016 4:08 pm

Bugster2

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At one time I think Norm had a cookbook of old school cafeteria recipes but memory being in poor shape, I could be wrong. I hope he sees this post and can give us an answer.

3 Re: "Secret" ingredients....the key to a dish on Fri Sep 16, 2016 4:15 pm

Bugster2

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Beth, check this out:

http://www.hungrybrowser.com/phaedrus/mpschoolcafeteria.htm

There is a recipe for meat burgers that uses the technique you were talking about: stale bread soaked in broth

4 Re: "Secret" ingredients....the key to a dish on Fri Sep 16, 2016 5:09 pm

bethk

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It amazes me when I read some of those old recipes and see how inventive they were to 'stretch' the meat products.

5 Re: "Secret" ingredients....the key to a dish on Sat Sep 17, 2016 5:50 pm

Crybaby

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I went to a Catholic grammar school in Old Metairie, a suburb of New Orleans (now quite a big suburb, which is why the area I was in is now "old" Metairie), from first through eighth grade. Trust me, there was no such good food to be had. I'm not a very picky eater so I would usually eat the lunch but occasionally, they had "food police," usually a nun, who would stand by the place where you scraped your plate. They would insist someone go back and finish cleaning their plate, and vegetables were usually the culprit. They tasted like canned vegetables, just heated, with no embellishments such as bacon, or pieces of pork, or whatever -- and this was Louisiana! By the time you sat down with your tray, the veggies were usually lukewarm, which only helped make them taste even worse.

My poor brother would routinely come home with damp napkins in his pocket, full of broccoli, cauliflower, or peas and carrots. My mom finally told him it was fine but to PLEASE empty his pockets prior to putting his uniform pants into the hamper to be washed. Some poor kids would just sit there, staring at those tasteless vegetables, until the bell rang and lunchtime was over. I used to feel so sorry for them, as I could get anything down! For the life of me, I'm having a hard time remembering what type of meat was on the plate at lunch -- just those horrendous veggies!

Beth, your school lunch memories sound great. Too bad I don't have any of those!

6 Re: "Secret" ingredients....the key to a dish on Sun Sep 18, 2016 12:03 am

Bugster2

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My sister had a witch of a teacher who used to make the kids eat the orange peels on their oranges. My sister was in first grade and came home almost hysterical telling mom not to put any fruit in her lunch.

We had a witch of a teacher that made us eat the carrot raisin salad. I can still feel the panic.

7 Re: "Secret" ingredients....the key to a dish on Sun Sep 18, 2016 6:43 am

bethk

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I can remember in grade school being outside for afternoon recess (remember that? Fresh air and exercise twice a day?) and the lunch ladies would bring lunch leftovers out to give away. Sometimes it would be cookies, sometimes it would be ground bologna or ground meat sandwiches. It didn't happen every day but when they did show up everyone was happy.

I don't recall having much in the way of fresh fruits and vegetables, save for maybe carrot and celery sticks. But those women were really good at making things taste good. Sometimes there wasn't much they could do, like the canned spinach ~ bleeeeck! But that was only about once a month and they served it in little dessert dishes so it didn't get mixed into your fish sandwich with tartare sauce (yum). And any time there was a yucky thing they would also serve an extra special dessert (like apple brown betty or peanut-peanut butter cookies).

I don't recall ever being 'forced' to eat something or having to stay inside because I didn't finish my lunch. I do remember my 4th grade teacher, Miss Harkom (who also was teaching when my father went to the same school) making clam chowder in class when we were studying about the new colony and she would veer off to how they would forage for their food. She was great. She was also the one I can remember leading us in The Pledge and the Prayer every morning. Boy, have things changed......

8 Re: "Secret" ingredients....the key to a dish on Sun Sep 18, 2016 7:59 am

NormM

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My son hated school cafeteria food. He grew up in our Korean restaurant getting freshly made food whenever he wanted. When his mom moved away and he started school, I told him he would have to get used to eating American food. I didn't know it but the later told me he would throw up after eating cafeteria food quite often. In high school there was one food that he really liked. It was chicken fried steak and I had a school cafeteria cookbook looking for the recipe but I never found it and eventually discarded the cookbook. I did make a chicken fried steak that he liked but it was just old fashioned everyday cooking that did the trick in that instance.

http://r2j1cp@gmail.com

9 Re: "Secret" ingredients....the key to a dish on Sun Sep 18, 2016 8:01 am

NormM

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Speaking of discarding cookbooks, I am about to throw away a stack of old cookbooks right now but am waiting to see if I can think of something useful I can do with them instead.

http://r2j1cp@gmail.com

10 Re: "Secret" ingredients....the key to a dish on Sun Sep 18, 2016 10:25 am

Bugster2

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NormM wrote:Speaking of discarding cookbooks, I am about to throw away a stack of old cookbooks right now but am waiting to see if I can think of something useful I can do with them instead.

I don't know how old your books are but the last time I went through my cookbooks I checked out what they were selling for on Ebay. Some were selling for a fortune because they were out of print. Those I kept. I need to go through my books again and just sell them if I can make any money.

11 Re: "Secret" ingredients....the key to a dish on Sun Sep 18, 2016 10:40 am

NormM

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I'll check ebay. I know most if not all of these are out of print.

http://r2j1cp@gmail.com

12 Re: "Secret" ingredients....the key to a dish on Tue Oct 11, 2016 3:07 pm

1DomesticGoddess

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1DomesticGoddess wrote:
NormM wrote:Speaking of discarding cookbooks, I am about to throw away a stack of old cookbooks right now but am waiting to see if I can think of something useful I can do with them instead.

Norm, I'am a bit late in posting this, but have you ever considered donating those cookbooks to your city's public library?

When I was a young bride and money was tight, I often checked out cookbooks at our city's public library.  I always looked forward to checking out cookbooks every month.  I found a lot of wonderful recipes in those books as well.

13 Re: "Secret" ingredients....the key to a dish on Tue Oct 11, 2016 4:14 pm

Bugster2

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Out here at our libraries, it doesn't quite work that way. If you donate books, they go to the library book store and sold. Someone gave me 2 of the same book (not a cookbook). It was newly published and none of the libraries had a copy. I took the book to the library and said I wanted to donate it to the library. They told me it would go to the book store and sold for a couple of dollars. I said "No way!" I want people to be able to read it. It takes a lot of work to catalog a new book and they were reluctant to do it. I finally got my way, I think. Hope no one snuck it out to the book store instead.

14 Re: "Secret" ingredients....the key to a dish on Tue Oct 11, 2016 5:26 pm

NormM

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I offered to give them away but only one was taken. I threw the rest away.

I recall a book store which tried to throw away books they had not been able to sell in the last ten years and someone dug them out of a dumpster, boxed them up and took them to a bookstore as a gift. It was the same bookstore that threw them away. They said they were going to burn them and outraged a lot of people but still no one wanted any of them.

http://r2j1cp@gmail.com

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