In the mid-70s, when I began writing for the food section, home cooks relied on the newspaper for the majority of their new recipes and dinner-time help.
As more women joined the work force outside the home, they had less time and energy to cook from scratch. Food companies jumped at the opportunity to create foods that were easy to prepare, and the microwave oven was the kitchen appliance everyone wanted. In the mid-'80s, Fayette County Adult Education even offered classes in how to use it, and cooks really thought the microwave would change the way meals were prepared.
But, after we overcooked everything and set a few pieces of foil on fire, we realized the microwave's true value is for making popcorn, melting butter and heating frozen foods.
After that, we turned to fast food restaurants that were popping up along almost every major thoroughfare in Lexington. Dinner was now fast and cheap, but choices were high in fat and calories.
Because of that, we went back to the supermarkets, which by the late '80s were hiring professional chefs to prepare carry-out meals and rotisserie chickens for us. In the produce aisles we picked up our salads that were pre-washed and cut and ready to eat so we felt like we were still cooking at home.
Concerns for our health took over meal planning in the '90s, and we saw a surge in food products labeled "no-fat" or "no-sugar added." We all thought we would lose lots of weight. When we didn't, we turned to the Atkins low-carb diet and consumed lots of bacon, beef, chicken, and cheese. As we moved into the 21st century, we began to understand it was all about balancing nutritious foods in our diets.
While we looked for faster ways to prepare weekday meals for our families, our entertaining wasn't shortchanged. Cooking shows on TV revived our interest in cooking from scratch, and we practiced what we learned from Rachael Ray, Jamie Oliver, Alton Brown, and Martha Stewart by cooking gourmet meals for our friends.
Newspaper food sections also used to be the go-to place for money-saving coupons. Double-coupon days are gone and now we use e-coupons technology to help us save money. We subscribe to food manufacturers' emails and with a swipe of a finger on our smart phones, we get only those money-saving deals that interest us.
Younger cooks no longer take lists to the supermarket. Instead, they pull out their smart phones to locate items, scan packages for nutrient content, check prices elsewhere, and text Mom for the ingredients she needs to make her old-fashioned recipes that they crave from childhood.
Thousands of recipes have crossed my food desk in the past 40 years. Public relations and marketing firms across the country were constantly bombarding the media with information that they hoped would help sell the product they're promoting.
Many were published, many were not.
In 1986, we published recipes that we thought deserved our first ever "Herald-Leader Gag Me Award."
As I get closer to my retirement, I thought I'd share a few of these with you. We had such fun with them back then.
A good cook can often judge a recipe simply by reading it. If it contains all the things that one loves, then surely it must be good. Of the thousands of recipes that came into the newsroom in 1985, the majority sounded pretty good.
But some did not.
We sorted through all the recipes and saved some of the ones we thought sounded horrible.
Individual tastes are so varied, you may find these recipes very tempting, but we decided they deserved the "Gag Me" honor.
Baked sauerkraut with dried peas
1 quart prepared sauerkraut
1/4 cup chopped fresh mushrooms
1 cup whole dried peas
Salt and pepper to taste
Wash peas, soaking overnight in warm water. Cook peas, in same water, for about one hour or until tender. In saucepan, cover sauerkraut and mushrooms with water with a pinch of salt. Cook for one hour. Drain peas. In buttered covered baking dish, add peas and sauerkraut-mushroom mixture. Bake in 325-degree oven for half hour. Serves 6.
This recipe for fiesta chicken casserole has the basics for being a super dish, without the malted milk balls. One reviewer said: You might want to substitute mothballs for the malted milk balls and toss it into the closet.
Fiesta chicken casserole
1 3- to 4-pound chicken, cut in serving pieces
1 package (7 ounces) malted milk candy, crushed
1/2 cup flour
1 egg, beaten with 2 tablespoons water
1/2 cup peanut or salad oil
1 medium onion, sliced
1 can (10 ounces) tomatoes with green chilies or
1 can (8 ounces) tomatoes and 1/4 cup chopped green chilies
1 cup chicken broth
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1 ounce unsweetened chocolate, melted
Shake chicken in paper bag with flour. Dip in beaten egg and roll in crushed candy. Brown very quickly in hot oil. Remember you are browning, not cooking. Place chicken in a 9- by 13-inch baking dish, or pottery for baking. Saute onion rings until soft in remaining oil, drain and place on top of the chicken. Combine the remaining ingredients, including the leftover candy crumbs and 2 tablespoons of flour in a saucepan. Whisk until smooth and pour over chicken. Cover and bake for 1 hour at 375 degrees. Serves 6.
1/2 pound bulk pork sausage
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 can (101/2 ounces) chicken giblet gravy
1/4 cup chopped apple
1 cup herb-seasoned stuffing
4 slices cooked turkey breast, 1/4-inch thick (about 3/4 pound)
2 tablespoons raisins
1 tablespoon jellied cranberry sauce
In 8-inch skillet over medium heat, cook sausage and onion until sausage is browned and onion is tender, stirring to separate meat. Spoon off fat. Add 1/4 cup gravy and apple.
Prepare stuffing as directed on package; toss with gravy mixture. Place about 1⁄3 cup stuffing mixture down center of each turkey slice; roll up. Place roll-ups seam-side down in 12- by 8-inch baking dish. Cover. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until hot. Meanwhile, in small saucepan combine remaining gravy, raisins and cranberry sauce; heat through, stirring occasionally. Serve over roll-ups. Makes 4 servings.