This section is from the book "Mrs. Allen's Cook Book", by Mrs. Ida C. Bailey Allen. See also: The Conscious Cook: Delicious Meatless Recipes That Will Change the Way You Eat.
The question of the proper thing to serve at each meal is one that confronts every housewife, and often proves very perplexing. Many women seem to feel that, when the main dish has been selected, the other foods will take care of themselves. But no meal can be piled together helter-skelter, for in planning the menu some one dish must be selected around which the rest of the meal revolves. The main dish, properly speaking, is represented by the most substantial course, but the meal can often be made to fit around a special dessert or salad. A correspondent, for instance, asked for a company dinner menu in which the dessert might be grape juice jelly, with whipped cream. Taking into consideration the three factors that must be observed in planning every meal, no matter how simple, - the dietetic value of the food, pleasing the palate, and satisfying the eyes - I sent her the following menu:
In this menu the jelly acts as the point of interest; that is the flavors of the meal reach in it a climax. There is nothing so unsatisfying as to finish a well-cooked meal which is so badly planned that it leaves an impression of monotony. Many a case of overeating and consequent indigestion may be traced to the combination of too many foods on the same taste-level. The palate, which is very sensitive in its search for something distinctive in flavor, is so continually disappointed that one may unconsciously keep on eating long after the appetite is satisfied. The term taste-level applies to foods which are made of similar ingredients.
I have often heard an old Southern Mammy say that every white vegetable should have a green or dark one to balance it at a meal. This rule is not infallible, but, generally speaking, the white vegetables, as hominy, rice, potatoes and macaroni, are of a starchy nature, and, to carry out the balance of the meal, a green vegetable rich in minerals should be provided. In case one of the more succulent white vegetables is chosen, like cauliflower, which will furnish ample mineral, the meal will not taste well unless either the starchy or the mineral vegetable is darkened in some way, as browned cauliflower or fried potatoes. In case a third vegetable is to be added, it should be of contrasting color, that is potatoes, carrots and spinach may be used together, or rice, tomatoes and string beans, but fried potatoes, white turnips, and cauliflower, would not be a good combination.
A white fish or meat should be served with a sauce of contrasting flavor and color. In preparing the gravy for roast meats, for example, it should be made of a rich dark brown color; otherwise it will look insipid. Light meats, such as pork tenderloin, veal cutlets and the like, are much better when combined with tomato, or some dark sauce, and, if chicken is to be creamed, the addition of an egg yolk or two, or some minced parsley or green pepper, to give color value as well as additional flavor, is an excellent plan. Very dark foods, such as spinach, timbales, baked tomatoes and so on, should be combined with light colored sauces and vice versa. This also applies to puddings.
The greatest help in planning combinations is to schedule meals ahead for at least a day, preferably for the week, leaving one meal blank to take care of the leftovers. Lack of variety shows very plainly when put down in black and white.
Every meal must be planned by a pattern or skeleton menu, whether just for the family or for company. If these patterns are kept in plain view whenever the menus are made, there will be little danger of providing unbalanced rations. I find it an excellent plan to build up the meals by aid of skeleton menus, such as the following:
1. Fruit, raw or cooked.
Cocoa should not be served unless the supply of butter is diminished, and the main course is very light. If desired, the cereal may take a different form, as fried mush or hominy omelet. In this case any kind of raw fruit may be served.
If a heavy soup, as a bisque, puree, or egg-thickened soup, is served, the meat course may be omitted. If potatoes, rice or spaghetti are provided, in addition to the main course, the dessert should be light. For an elaborate meal a light vegetable, such as green peas, may accompany the main course. If desired, a substantial meat, fish or vegetable and nut salad may be substituted for the second and third courses. A fruit salad may be the dessert. Neither milk nor cocoa should be served unless needed to supply a scanty protein allowance. A heavy dessert is allowable only when needed to give balance to the meal. If deficient in protein, an egg custard may be used; if lacking in fat, an almond pudding, butterscotch pie and so forth.
1. Any fruit or fish cocktail, canape, or stock soup and crackers. (This course may be omitted.)
3. Any vegetable salad with French dressing, or one of its derivatives, or with very fat meats, an orange or grapefruit salad, with French dressing; a green vegetable, as celery or radishes, may be substituted. If the salad is of fruit, it may be supplemented with crackers or sweet biscuits, and act as dessert.
4. A light dessert, as junket, gelatine, whip, fruit cup, baked oranges, baked stuffed apples with heavy meats. Heavier desserts, as pies, puddings, tapioca cream and so forth, with light meats. Only tart desserts with fish. Coffee.
If fish is served as a separate course, it should precede the meat, and be in the form of timbales, croquettes, ramekins, or small portions of broiled or boiled fish, with or without sauce.
As appetite craves change, the essential in planning appealing meals is to combine a variety of foods so that they harmonize. Nature is a trustworthy teacher. Years ago she taught the good old combination of pork and beans, bread and cheese, pork and apple sauce, because they tasted well together - her pupils not realizing that these foods supplemented each the other.
To prepare foods that "taste good," look well and are digestible it is a good plan to follow the infallible rule of "enough but not too much," as well as to consider the esthetic beauty and appearance of the combination. Conservatism too often stands in the way of the average housewife, many serving the same dishes year in and year out, that their mothers served before them. However, the women are not entirely at fault, the habits of the men contributing a large share towards the existing narrowness. The New Englander is starved without his breakfast doughnuts; the Southerner without his corn pone, and the Westerner without his wheat cakes, regardless of the fact that the meal may contain dishes of equal stability and nutrition.
Another reason why women get into "ruts" is because too many men seem to like monotony - being satisfied with frequent repetitions of a few good dishes, often ridiculing any attempt toward growth and betterment in the family menu. The man who growls over the "high cost of living" is too often the one who demands the same old foods!
Breakfast is usually the most neglected of the three meals, actual scantiness of food, combinations which are indigestible, and hasty service leading to frequent mid-morning indigestion and consequent "grouchiness." One of the greatest mistakes perpetrated in most households is the serving of an acid fruit with a cereal or cream. Some cast-iron stomachs can stand this combination, but often it brings about fermentation with accompanying gas. When a cereal is to be served, the fruit should be bland, as bananas, peaches, apples, dates, stewed figs or prunes, not only because it is the correct thing to do, but because it "tastes good." In this case the heavier part of the meal should be scheduled accordingly and contain foods of marked flavor. If scrambled eggs, for instance, follow a bland fruit, and cereal with cream, the effect is flat; while, on the other hand, if a little dried beef or bacon is cooked with the eggs, or if they are made into an omelet with tomato sauce, the whole meal gains point. However, if the meal starts with an acid, like oranges, pineapple or grapefruit, the main portion may be heavier and somewhat bland. Plain scrambled eggs should be suitable in this case and might be accompanied by fried potatoes (to give substantiality) and corn muffins, as no cereal is served. Fish never should be served for breakfast, unless preceded by an acid fruit, or accompanied by an acid sauce. Potatoes or hominy should never be served when a cereal appears, as all are starches, and, therefore, too similar in texture and taste. When steak and potatoes are served, for instance, the cereal should be omitted. When cereal is used, plain bread and butter, biscuits or rolls should be prepared, while cereal muffins may be used when the cereal is omitted. In other words care should be taken not to repeat similar flavors. When fried foods, like fritters or griddle cakes, are used, an acid fruit should appear, not only because it tastes better, but because the acid assists in breaking up the fat in which they are usually cooked.
For example, examine the following winter breakfast menu:
Ham and Eggs Creamed Potatoes
Hot Biscuits and Maple Syrup
The orange acid cuts the ham fat, the potatoes are moist and act as a sauce to the ham, while the syrup adds a sweet note without which the meal would be incomplete.
As the weather grows warmer, heavy dishes should be partially replaced by foods Nature has provided. Lettuce, cress, asparagus and rhubarb, as well as the early fruits, have a definite place in the spring breakfast.
Broiled Mackerel Baked Potatoes
Corn Muffins Coffee
Brown Rice Brown Sugar Syrup
Creamed Asparagus on Toast Strawberry Shortcake Coffee
In the first menu the acid rhubarb cuts the fat mackerel and gives the sour flavor that fish demands; corn muffins are used instead of cereal, while baked potatoes supply the needed bulk to satisfy the appetite. In the second menu the brown rice, which is not denatured and, therefore, substantial, is used instead of the meat, as the asparagus on toast is served in a milk sauce, and syrup is served with the cereal instead of milk in order to avoid repetition of flavor; while the fruit is combined with the hot bread into a shortcake.
Luncheon, or supper, as the lightest meal of the day, offers great opportunity for unusual combinations, not only of foods purchased for the purpose, but of leftovers. The fall and winter seasons call for hot soups, escallops and warm desserts, while spring and summer suggest dishes of light and cooling character.
A good combination for one meal is not enough; it is the ensemble of the day that leaves a feeling of complete satisfaction. The character of luncheon depends somewhat upon the occupation of those who are to eat it. Active bodies need heavy foods, so in winter, when provision is to be made for children and hungry men, "rough and ready" dishes may be utilized, as beans, peas and lentils; the thick soups, Indian pudding, hot gingerbread, etc. Whenever a light main dish is served, the dessert should be heavy, while a heavy main course calls for a light dessert. Plum pudding, for instance, is out of place after a substantial dinner, but may be used to advantage as a luncheon dessert.
Heavy salads fit better into the light luncheon than in any other place, and often form the main dish, while a fruit salad is always acceptable in place of dessert. When a meat soup is served, the main dish should be largely vegetarian, as a potato or nut salad, a cheese souffle, or eggs. In case the main dish is cold the dessert should be hot, as an apple shortcake, while a hot main dish, like stewed lentils, calls for a cold dessert, as jellied peaches and cake. In other words, delicious-ness of combination depends upon contrast in temperature as well as flavor. Cream soups are in place only at luncheon or supper, because they are so heavy that they partly satisfy the appetite. To this end they should be counted as having actual food value - while the clear dinner soup is used more as a stimulant. A cream soup is always bland in taste, and should be followed by some strong-flavored dish of firm texture; for instance, creamed chicken is too similar in texture to harmonize. Toasted ham sandwiches, croquettes or salads give a better effect.
The following luncheon menus illustrate this point:
Cream of Lima Bean Soup Croutons
Nut and Potato Croquettes Nut Sauce
Orange and Date Salad Ginger Cookies
Clear Meat Soup Baked Cheese Celery Hot Toast
Veal and Egg Salad . Warm Biscuits Shredded Pineapple Sponge Cake
Halibut Loaf Peas Potato Chips
The perfect winter dinner commences with soup, which starts the gastric juices, preparing the stomach for the balance of the meal. As a general rule any clear soup is in order, made, however, from meat stock of different flavor from the meat to be served. Meats lacking in flavor, like veal or young chicken, should be preceded by tomato, cress, celery or some other soup of distinct flavor. Oyster bouillon, for instance, is too bland to serve with veal; on the other hand, heavy meats, like beef, pork or mutton, need delicate soups, as lettuce or green pea. Whipped cream should never be served in a dinner soup, as it adds too much to the already large amount of fat.
When the weather grows warm, it is permissible to commence the meal with a fruit cup, in which case fruit should not appear again on the menu. Iced soups and bouillons are in good taste during this season.
In planning the main portion of the meal, one rule is inviolate - potatoes, rice and spaghetti should never appear in the same meal, because they are too similar. When two vegetables are to be served, one should be green, like asparagus or string beans, and one of more plebeian character, like onions or beets.
Fat meats need fresh vegetables and tart flavors to "cut them"; beef and pork can stand the standard vegetables, while game needs harmonizing foods.
The following lists of foods that may be served together are necessarily incomplete, but they will undoubtedly act as a guide to any thinking housewife who desires to make her meals harmonious:
What to Serve with Beef: If roasted, pot-roasted, boiled or braised, use mashed, whole browned, baked or boiled, new potatoes; for steak use mashed or French fried potatoes. Other vegetables may be onions, squash, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, tomatoes, string beans, spinach, corn, dandelion greens, celery, peppers and carrots. All plain salad plants, with French dressing, may be used, as cucumbers, tomatoes, celery, cabbage, beets, onion or green pepper salad, the vegetables either separate or in combination. For desserts choose light dishes, such as fruit tarts, fruit cups, small dumplings, small portions of cereal or bread pudding, layer cake, fruit whips, small portions of Spanish cream or corn starch pudding, made with water (not milk).
What to Serve with Lamb or Mutton: With roast mutton use the same vegetables as with roast beef. With roast lamb use rice, mashed or whole-boiled new potatoes, green peas, string beans, fresh lima beans, sliced tomatoes, summer squash, Bermuda onions, diced white turnips or asparagus. With boiled or braised mutton or lamb use boiled white or sweet potatoes, yellow or white turnips, oyster plant, onions, string beans, spinach, Brussels sprouts, ten-minute cabbage, carrots or cauliflower. Use any salad plants, with plain French dressing, or celery, chives, or fines herbes, sliced tomatoes, bananas, tart oranges, tangerines, grapefruit, green pepper, boiled chestnuts, or pimentoes, in combination with a salad plant. The dessert should be distinctive in flavor, and may include anything made of fruit, coffee jelly, with nut cookies, sponge cake or plain layer cake put together with raspberry jam, any light fruit ice, as apricot ice, bread puddings with fruit flavor, boiled caramel custard, caramel Spanish cream, and steamed snow puffs with grape juice sauce.
What to Serve with Veal: Use mashed, boiled, new, or browned potatoes, diced white turnips, all kinds of greens, beets with orange sauce, peas, string beans, ten-minute or escalloped cabbage, German carrots or asparagus. Use any salad plant with French dressing plain or combined with chopped chives, fines herbes, pickled carrots, sliced tomatoes, green peppers, celery, pimentoes. tomato jelly or shredded new cabbage. The desserts may be the same as for lamb or mutton.