Tag Archives: Main Dishes

First Monday Menu: Chop Suey and Strawberry Shortcake

After a long April full of deadlines, I am back to blogging with May’s First Monday Menu.

Origin stories are varied, but chop suey seems to have been invented by Chinese Americans in the late 1800s. According to Wikipedia, E.N. Anderson, an anthropologist specializing in Chinese Food, traced chop suey to a similarly named Chinese dish meaning “miscellaneous leftovers”. This fits with the dish’s use during WWII.

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In my research, chop suey pops up everywhere. It’s in cookbooks, magazine articles, and product advertising. All recipes are similar and flexible. I’m assuming it was a popular dish for using up odds and ends in the pantry. The recipe I used today came from a chapter full of suggestions on cooking with meat during shortages and rationing. Numerous recipes using leftovers are suggested, including the chop suey you see here.

I chose this particular recipe because I think it showcases the flexibility of the dish. It’s from What Do We Eat Now? A Guide to Wartime Housekeeping by Helen Robertson, Sarah MacLeod, and Frances Preston. It was published in 1942. It’s a fantastic look at how changes were affecting home front housewives’ daily lives. I am always impressed by the ingenuity and bravery of women facing numerous challenges to running a smooth household.

What Do We Eat Now? suggests using a green salad and a fruit dessert to create a meal. I added a simple salad and strawberry shortcake. My pictures show ranch dressing on the salad. I want to point out that ranch dressing was not invented until the early 1950s, so it’s not technically accurate here. I used frozen strawberries and angel food cake for our strawberry shortcake. A variety of strawberry shortcake recipes existed in early 1940s cookbooks, so home front housewives were definitely serving this dessert during war years, especially if they grew their own strawberries in their Victory Gardens.

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Chop Suey

  • 2 c shredded meat
  • 2 tbsp fat
  • 1 c fresh OR one can mushrooms (optional)
  • 1/4 c sliced onion
  • 2 c shredded celery
  • 1/2 c shredded green pepper
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 1 can bean sprouts OR 2 c cooked shredded green beans
  • 1 1/2 c sliced uncooked radishes
  • soy sauce

Prepare meat. You may use cooked pork, turkey, veal, beef, chicken, or duck. If there isn’t enough, add a small amount of ham or freshly cooked meat. (Note: You can choose to use all freshly cooked meat, but this recipe was specifically for using leftovers.) Melt fat in pan. Saute onion, green pepper, and celery. Cook over low heat until the vegetables are tender, usually about 6 or 7 minutes. Blend in the flour. Add bean sprouts (or green beans), meat, and radishes. Heat. Season well. Serve over rice or fried noodles.

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Results

I like that this recipe shows how you can use whatever meat you have available and that some of the other ingredients are optional or may be switched out for something else. I think this recipe could be adapted to fit any vegetables you have on hand, as well.

My family was a little uncertain about trying chop suey, but I wanted to test it since I see it in so many different places in my research.  Everyone enjoyed it. Even my toddler loved this one. It was surprisingly flavorful and definitely filling. We used shredded chicken, green beans, and rice, but I think this would be just as good with turkey or beef served over noodles. I make sure all of my kids go to college armed with an arsenal of easy to make recipes. Chop suey will be a useful addition.

Let me know if you try a version of chop suey.

Have a great week!

 

First Monday Menu: Chicken a la King and Sour Cream Cocoa Cake with Mocha Frosting

This month’s menu comes from the 1940 edition of The American Woman’s Cook Book. This is a great cookbook from the beginning of our wartime period. I like comparing cookbooks from 1940 to cookbooks from later in the war years. Most of the later ones include advice and recipes for cooking and entertaining while dealing with rationing and shortages. Many also include recipes and tips for the working woman.

Today’s entree is a recipe many people still make today. We served our chicken a la king over spaghetti. You can also substitute salmon for the chicken.

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Chicken a la King

  • 2 c cooked diced chicken
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 egg yolks
  • green pepper, minced
  • pimiento, cut in thin strips
  • 1 c mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 c chicken stock or milk
  • 1 c sour cream or evaporated milk
  • 4 tsp sherry
  • salt and pepper to taste

Melt the butter, add the peppers and mushrooms, and saute until light yellow. Lift out. Blend the flour with the seasoned butter. Add the chicken stock and cook until thickened. Add the chicken, and when it’s hot, add the cream combined with the beaten egg yolks and the mushrooms, pepper, and pimiento. Add the sherry and serve immediately. Don’t cook after adding the egg yolks because the mixture may curdle. You can stand it over hot water if needed. You can also use 1 can of red salmon, boned and skinned.

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Results

This was very filling, but also a bit bland. While we were eating we discussed what we would do differently, and we all agreed the chicken should have been seasoned more. Adding some garlic and using cream of mushroom soup for part of the liquid were other suggestions. I looked up a couple modern versions of this recipe and found that the 1940 recipe and the 2019 recipes were almost identical, so perhaps we are just fans of spicier food in my family. Overall, it was good, but not something I can see myself making again.

Sour Cream Cocoa Cake

  • 1/2 c cocoa
  • 3/4 c boiling water
  • 1/2 c shortening
  • 2 c sugar
  • 2 c sifted cake flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 c sour cream
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 3 egg whites

Mix cocoa in boiling water and stir mixture until smooth. Cool. Cream shortening and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add cocoa mixture to creamed mixture. Sift flour, salt, and soda together. Add dry ingredients alternately with cream to the first mixture. Beat until smooth after each addition. Add vanilla. Fold in stiffly beaten egg whites. Pour into pans lined with waxed paper and bake in a moderate oven (350°F) for 30 minutes. Makes 2 (9 in) layers. Spread Mocha Frosting between layers and on top.

Mocha Frosting

  • 1 1/2 tsp Mocha extract or strong coffee
  • 1 c confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 tbsp water
  • 3/4 c chopped nuts

Mix the extract or coffee with the sugar and stir into the water, gradually, smoothing out the lumps. After the frosting is spread on the cake, 3/4 c chopped nuts may be sprinkled over the top.

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Results

I feel like this cake was playing an April Fool’s Day joke on us. The top layer broke. The frosting was extra runny and either soaked into the cake or slipped right off the cake stand and onto the counter. We had to make a double batch of the frosting to have enough. It was also fairly time-consuming with lots of steps involved in the cake itself. I was worried about how it’d taste.

I shouldn’t have worried. It was delicious. It was moist and milk chocolatey, and definitely filling. The frosting had a very mild mocha flavor and was more like a glaze than a frosting. The cake was so wonderful, though, that a heavier frosting would have been too much. We’ll definitely make this one again.

I hope the weather has been kind to you this week. Let me know if you try any of these recipes!