Hippo Manchester
December 15, 2005

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Food: The taste of retro

Comfort food is back — time to break out the cheese balls and fondue

By Susan Reilly  news@hippopress.com

I grew up in age of no taste, design-wise ,and sometimes food-wise— the 1970s.

It seems that the 1970s are back, again.  The decade that style forgot, that brought us David Cassidy, avocado-colored kitchen appliances, space sticks, Revlon’s “Charlie,” Sizzlean, the Donny & Marie Show and TAB is back.

Cooks are looking for ways to use their crock pots, those countertop musthaves from 30 years ago. Ditto fondue pots. And we just came off Thanksgiving, the holiday that year after year, without fail, brings back the retro green bean casserole, made from frozen green beans, cream of mushroom soup and fried OC onions. It is safe to say that this casserole is likely an American culinary icon.

We can be thankful that some foodstuff from the decade is gone, like McDonald’s Shamrock Shake and pull-tabs on soda cans that would slice your foot at the beach. Everything else — Hamburger Helper, Jiffy Pop, Cheese Whiz and Sizzlean — is still sold in stores. But retro food was not only about quick, simply-add-water types of cooking.  Dishes such as Chicken a La King on toast, deviled eggs, meatloaf and American chop suey all hold a special place in our food memories.

What keeps retro food popular?  Is it familiarity? It certainly isn’t the health factor, as a lot of retro foods are not low fat.

When I think of retro foods, I think of dishes made by my aunt Cathy. She was quintessentially ’70s, complete with the frosted Carol Brady wigs, baby blue eye shadow, short flared dresses and chunky heels and she smelled of Coppertone. While the fashions and car are gone, her cooking remains popular. To this day no gathering is complete at my aunt’s house without her cheese ball, still served on a rustic 1970s hand-painted flower plate with Ritz crackers, or her porcupine meatballs with frill-topped toothpicks. And once set out, both dishes are the first to go.

Some of our best childhood memories may be when family is all together and inevitably there is food involved.

At the Puritan Backroom, on D.W. Highway in Manchester, the kitchen staff estimates that 60 to 80 plates a day of menu specials such as meatloaf, quiche Lorraine, American chop suey, liver and onions or macaroni and cheese are served.

At Starfish Grill, 33 S. Commercial St. in Manchester, scrod baked with a Ritz cracker topping is served with a Maine lobster and macaroni and cheese casserole ($16.99). CR Sparks, 15 Kilton Rd. in Bedford, serves “The Wedge” ($5.95) where bleu cheese chive buttermilk dressing, bacon and cherry tomatoes replace Thousand Island dressing.

You can make a few of these retro delights yourself. The Barefoot Contessa has updated onion dip, a remake of the retro Lipton onion soup mix dip of the past. And the cheesiest of mac and cheeses is only 15 minutes at the stovetop (roux plus milk plus shredded cheese) away. While it easy to see why some of the dishes of the past, like the Jello molds with miniature marshmallows and soup-based casseroles, have taken a back seat, the eating public is still happy to see dishes like meatloaf, Quiche Lorraine and American chop suey.

Have a retro party of your own

Here are some of my Aunt Cathy’s finest:

Aunt Cathy’s Cheese Ball

Makes two balls

1 stick margarine

1 block of cream cheese

1 5-oz. jar Kraft ROKA (found in the dairy section of the supermarket)

1 8-oz. cup Kaukauna port wine cheese spread

Soften all ingredients and combine well.  Chill.  Serve with crackers.

Aunt Cathy’s porcupine meatballs

1˝ lbs. ground beef

˝ cup uncooked long grain white rice

1 teaspoon salt

˝ teaspoon pepper

1 tablespoon dried minced onion

Can of tomato soup

˝ cup of water

Combine ground beef, rice, salt, pepper and onion in a bowl. Shape mixture into bite-size meatballs. Warm tomato soup and water in pressure cooker. Drop meatballs carefully into soup mixture. Close cover. Set regulator to high. Once pressure cooker starts to react by wiggling, reduce heat to low and cook for 10 minutes.

Eat in or take out

Don’t want to cook? Here are a few places to get the favorites:

• Meatloaf with mashed potatoes and gravy: Strange Brew, 88 Market St., Manchester, 666-4292; Cotton, 75 Arms St., Manchester, 622-5488; Blake’s, locations all over southern New Hampshire; Red Arrow Diner, 61 Lowell St., Manchester, 626-1118; Poor Boy’s Diner, 136 Rockingham Rd.,  Londonderry 432-8990; The Black Forest Café, 212 Route 101, Amherst, 672-0500; The Puritan Backroom, 245 Hooksett Rd., Manchester, 623-3182.

• Steak Diane: Patrick’s Country Restaurant, 9 High St., Goffstown, 497-4800; Spatt’s, 2264 Candia Rd., Manchester, 627-9959; The Puritan Backroom, 245 Hooksett Rd., Manchester 623-3182.

• Liver and onions: Putnam’s Waterview, 40 Main St., Goffstown 497-4106; Red Arrow Diner, 61 Lowell St., Manchester, 626-1118; MaryAnn’s Diner, 29 East Broadway, Derry, 434-5785; The Puritan Backroom, 245 Hooksett Rd., Manchester 623-3182.

• Baked macaroni and cheese: Jerome’s Deli, Bridge St., Manchester; The Puritan Backroom, 245 Hooksett Rd., Manchester 623-3182

• American chop suey: Bunny’s Superette 75 Webster St., Manchester 622-5080; The Puritan Backroom, 245 Hooksett Rd., Manchester 623-3182; Palace Pizza 300 Main St., Nashua 883-3231.

• Quiche Lorraine: Village Gourmet & Deli, Rte 101, Bedford, 472-4030.

• Grapenut custard: Poor Boy’s Diner, 136 Rockingham Rd., Londonderry, 432-8990.

• Platters of retro food for parties:  Milly’s Tavern, 500 N. Commercial St., Manchester, 625-4444, platters of deviled eggs, franks in pastry, Swedish meatballs and mini quiche; Milton’s Mill-yard Grill, 90 Dow St., Manchester, 641-1862, trays of beef Stroganoff, American chop suey, baked macaroni and cheese, chicken Divan and meatloaf; Angela’s Pasta and Cheese, 815 Chestnut St., Manchester, 625-9544, Swedish meatballs.

Know of other purveyors of stick-to-your-ribs retro fare? Write us at adiaz@hippopress.com and we’ll spread the news.