Cookbook Review: The Tastes of Home (Indiana, ca. 2005)


The Tastes of Home is an adorable little house-shaped spiralbound cookbook printed as promotional material for an Indiana real estate broker. I have a few friends in the real estate game and understand that self-promotion is critical to success; my own realtor still sends me yearly calendars and holiday cards nearly twenty years after buying my home. The recipe collection is published by Fundcraft, one of the larger custom cookbook printers. The opening page has a photo of the realtor and a thoughtful holiday message, followed by a few pages with general tips for buying and selling a home. The rest of the book appears to be a boilerplate Fundcraft cookbook, rather than a collection of recipes from friends and clients.

My expectations were fairly low given the source. I mean, the calendars I get from my realtor are certainly functional but they are hardly high art. They are meant to be given away for free with the expectation that half of them will end up in the trash. The same is likely true for a realtor’s cookbook; it’s received as a nice gesture, but are you meant to actually cook from it? Surprisingly, yes. This is hardly Jacques Pepin but it’s a competent if somewhat eclectic collection of well over two hundred recipes.

What you’ll notice right off the bat is that many of the recipes seem out of place for a twenty-first century cookbook. There are staid favorites like Watergate Salad and a couple of odd Jell-O concoctions, and a healthy smattering of condensed soup casseroles and 1960s chow mein. Many of the appetizers seem straight out of a mid-century dinner party, to be served on rye squares or toast points for fancy company. A particularly weird recipe is a seafood dip that’s simply canned clam chowder (undiluted) mixed with chili sauce and cream cheese. This retro selection is counterbalanced with a well-constructed minestrone, a tart-sweet Swedish Cole Slaw and a surprisingly authentic Indian chicken curry – the speciously named Bombay Chicken. The one them that ties them all together is, well, the tastes of home.  Appetizers for a housewarming party, warm yeasty breads, elegant side dishes, and old school comfort food all under one ‘roof’.  No expensive ingredients or technical mastery required.

One of my favorite recipes from The Tastes of Home is a simple Onion Tomato Soup.  There’s no particular genius to this recipe but it surprised me with its simplicity and elegance.  At heart it’s a French onion soup recipe, with silky thin-sliced onions in a hearty beef broth.  Toss in a can of tomatoes and some seasoning and you’ve got a soothing winter soup.  When I make this recipe at home I’ll throw in a little bit of finely chopped (not ground) round steak; this adds a little bit of “real” beefiness to the bouillon base.  It also adds a little bit of comforting texture, something like the chicken pieces in canned chicken noodle soup (except entirely different).    I’ve also swapped out the dried basil for anise seed, following a tip I picked up from one of my other vintage cookbooks.

This recipe is also a good fit for obnoxiously omnipresent Instant Pot.  I’m normally not a fan of kitchen gadgets – most of them just take up space in my cupboards collecting dust – but I’ve made an exception for my Instant Pot.  I’m not quite as obsessed as some, but I’ve used mine a couple of times a week for the five years I’ve owned it.   For Onion Tomato Soup the Instant Pot shaves a good half-hour off of the prep time and cooks the onions into near oblivion (which is just the way I like them).  It also ensures that the tough round steak gets tender quickly.

The final soup is hearty like French onion soup with some sweetness and acidity from the tomatoes.  It’s warm and satisfying but hardly a meal unto itself.  I suppose you could to the whole crouton-and-cheese-and-put-it-under-the-broiler thing but that sort of defeats the purpose of a simple homey soup.  Pair it up with a slice of crusty bread or a grilled cheese sandwich and you’ve got a belly-filling meal.  Enjoy!

Instant Pot Onion Tomato Soup (adapted from the Tastes of Home, 2005)

  • Preparation: 15 min
  • Cooking: 20 min
  • Ready in: 35 min
  • For: 6 side dish servings

Ingredients

Instructions

Instant Pot Directions

  1. Peel onions and slice into thin rings. Chop round steak into small pieces, no more than ½ inch in any dimension.
  2. Turn on Instant Pot in Saute mode. When pot is hot melt butter. Add onions and round steak, season liberally with garlic salt and pepper and saute until onions are tender and meat is browned.
  3. Pour tomatoes into instant pot. Break up into smaller chunks using kitchen shears or a wooden spoon. Fill empty tomato can with water and add to pot, along with beef bouillon and anise seed. Stir well.
  4. Put lid on Instant Pot. Cook at low pressure for 8 minutes. Let pressure release naturally for 15 minutes, then manually release what remains.

Stovetop directions

  1. Peel onions and slice into thin rings. Chop round steak into small pieces, no more than ½ inch in any dimension.
  2. Melt butter in a thick-bottomed saucepan or Dutch oven over medium high heat. Add onions and round steak, season liberally with garlic salt and pepper and saute until onions are tender and meat is browned.
  3. Pour tomatoes into pot. Break up into smaller chunks using kitchen shears or a wooden spoon. Fill empty tomato can with water and add to pot, along with beef bouillon and anise seed. Stir well.
  4. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and cover. Simmer for 60 minutes or until beef is tender.

 


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