A 'radically refreshed' Betty Crocker classic cookbook

Gretchen McKay
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (TNS)

The "Big Red" cookbook was first published in 1950.

For someone who exists only in our collective imagination, Betty Crocker has made quite a mark on American home cooking.

Her eponymous “Big Red” cookbook, first published in 1950 and revised 12 times in the years since to reflect changes in taste, demographics and cooking methods, has taught and inspired generations of home cooks. The 13th edition that hit bookshelves on Oct. 25, for instance, features more than 375 exclusive and on-trend recipes geared to busy families looking for shortcuts and healthier options, along with more global flavors.

Combined, the “Betty Crocker Cookbook” has sold more than 75 million copies in the last 72 years. At one time, the tome was second only to the Bible in sales, says Cathy Swanson Wheaton, executive editor of cookbooks for General Mills, which owns the brand. That’s some serious devotion to a cook who was never even a real person.

Since that bestselling start, the Betty Crocker cookbook series has published more than 300 titles on subjects ranging from boys and girls, Christmas cookies, entertaining and diabetes to Indian and Mexican home cooking and cooking with Bisquick. For the most devoted fans, and those interested in exploring retro dishes such as Welsh Rarebit or Olive-Cheese Balls, 2017 brought a collection of vintage “lost” recipes.

That Betty continues to resonate with modern cooks, Wheaton says, is hardly surprising.

“She has always been a helper in the kitchen and out of the kitchen since she was born,” she notes, first as a knowledgeable and trusted voice answering cooking questions on the radio in 1924 and later as the namesake of General Mills’ test kitchen in downtown Minneapolis. “And because she trends with time, she helps new generations of cooks no matter what gender to get food on the table, create memories and provide nutrition. We’re not just stuck in the recipes of yesteryear.”

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Fun fact about the woman in that iconic red jacket with the perfectly coiffed, stylish hairdo: Betty was born in 1921 in a boardroom as a promotion in the Saturday Evening Post for Gold Medal Flour. The Washburn Crosby Co. (now General Mills) had sponsored a contest calling on home cooks to solve a jigsaw puzzle, and along with the answer, the 30,000 entries came with hundreds of baking and cooking questions and recipe requests.

Seeing a need for education — and no doubt an opportunity for a little marketing — Washburn’s mostly male advertising department created Betty Crocker to add a personalized touch to the queries.

According to the company website, “‘Crocker’ was chosen in honor of a popular company director, and ‘Betty’ was selected because … well, she sounded friendly.”

Betty soon became a household name, with the brand developing low-cost dishes to feed the nation with rations during World War II and adding her name and likeness to soup and cake mixes in the 1940s. Her iconic red spoon appeared on packaging in 1954 and is now associated with more than 200 products.

“Betty Crocker’s Picture Cookbook” was groundbreaking in 1950 because, as the name implies, it featured photos demonstrating certain techniques, “and it was so helpful to consumers to see what you were supposed to be doing while they were reading about it,” says Wheaton. Photography to make food look as appetizing as possible wasn’t a thing at the time; cookbooks were simply about how to get a meal on the table with available ingredients.

Each new edition since then has captured the next big shift in eating, both in available ingredients and what cooks are using to prepare them. “Each is like a snapshot in time,” she says, adding that a large part of her job is to watch food trends at restaurants and grocery stores “and what my friends are making.”

This latest edition, which took four years to produce, is “radically refreshed” with busy families in mind. Dozens of easy, five-ingredient recipes are sprinkled among its 704 pages, each accompanied with a picture of the ingredients along with the final dish. Even though no one initially knew that the coming pandemic would make food so expensive, it also includes a host of budget-friendly, “use it up” recipes aimed at leftover ingredients lurking in your fridge or pantry.

A new “veggie-forward” chapter gives the biggest plate real estate to veggies and whole grains with protein, along with recipes for spirit-free cocktails. In addition, cooks will find ways to use new-to-them ingredients such as harissa, tempeh, miso and coconut milk in a variety of globally inspired foods and learn how to give heritage recipes a new twist. A classic zucchini bread, for instance, gets updated with chocolate and hazelnuts.

“People have so much more access to ingredients than even in the last edition [in 2018],” says Wheaton, adding that they always shoot for items that can be found at local grocery stores.

Another plus: The book’s lay-flat, larger book format means the cookbook will actually stay open to the selected page on your kitchen counter. In a nod to today’s more consciously healthful eating, every recipe also includes full nutritional information, along with food yields and equivalents. Users will further appreciate not one but two indexes — one that lists recipes by category (gluten free, calorie smart, fast, etc.) and another alphabetically by name.

This edition also includes tips on entertaining, food storage guidelines, pictorials on various cooking techniques and a glossary of cooking terms — useful information for nervous novices looking to gain confidence in the kitchen.

That said, the cookbook includes a few aspirational recipes for more seasoned cooks. “We appeal to the masses. We want it to be accessible, but enjoyable,” she says.

Because Wheaton’s team had only completed the first round of recipe development before the pandemic shutdown, much of its meticulous recipe testing — which included preparing every dish with both gas and electric stovetops and ovens — took place in staff members’ homes instead of General Mills’ test kitchen in Minneapolis. Like the rest of America, they had trouble finding some ingredients on store shelves, and at times had to trade equipment back and forth. She recalls when one baker got sick with COVID-19 (but had no symptoms), he had to bring his desserts to the test kitchen and put them on the trunk of his car so his mask-wearing colleagues could collect them for photos.

Even with that added wrinkle, being able to continue Betty’s legacy of being a friend in the kitchen and helpful to consumers, Wheaton says, was as fun as it was gratifying.

“Everyone struggles with what to make for dinner,” she says, “but food has so much more power to create memories and connect us to one another along with fueling our bodies.”

Beer-battered fish for tacos is cooked in an air fryer instead of an oven in the latest edition of the Betty Crocker Cookbook. (Gretchen McKay/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/TNS)

ROASTED VEGETABLE MACARONI AND CHEESE

PG tested

This veggie-forward take on mac ’n’ cheese features roasted broccoli and carrots in a creamy cheese sauce. A panko topping adds just the right amount of crunch.

For vegetables

  • 2 cups small broccoli florets
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper

For mac ’n’ cheese

  • 2 1/4 cups uncooked cavatappi pasta (6 ounces)
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup shredded Colby cheese

For topping

  • 1 cup plain panko bread crumbs
  • 3 tablespoons melted butter

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Spray 2-quart baking dish with cooking spray, then set aside. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray.

In large bowl, add all roasted vegetable ingredients and toss to combine. Spread in pan in single layer. Bake 10 minutes. Stir, then continue baking 8 to 12 minutes longer or until vegetables are lightly brown and just tender.

Meanwhile, cook and drain pasta according to package instructions. While pasta is cooking, melt 1/4 cup butter in 3-quart saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir in flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture is smooth and bubbly. Remove from heat and stir in milk. Increase heat to boiling, stirring constantly. Boil and stir 1 minute. Stir in cheeses. Cook, stirring constantly, until cheeses are melted, then remove from heat. (I had to add a little more milk to thin the sauce.)

Gently stir cooked pasta into cheese sauce. Stir in roasted vegetables then pour mixture into baking dish. In small bowl, mix bread crumbs with 3 tablespoons melted butter until well mixed. Sprinkle on top of pasta mixture.

Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until bubbly and topping is golden brown. Let stand 5 minutes before serving,

Serves 6.

— “Betty Crocker Cookbook: Everything You Need to Know to Cook Today” (Harvest; Oct. 25, 2022; $32.50)

YUMMY RICE BOWLS WITH KIMCHI VINAIGRETTE

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This tasty and healthful rice bowl features kimchi in both its flavorful vinaigrette and as a topping. I cheated with pulled meat from a rotisserie chicken and jarred kimchi instead of the cookbook’s recipe for homemade.

For added flavor, drizzle the finished bowls with gochujang mayonnaise (1/2 cup mayo mixed with 1 tablespoon gochujang paste and 1 tablespoon lime juice).

For vinaigrette

  • 3 tablespoons kimchi juice (from 24-ounce jar)
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon gochujang (Korean chili paste)
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped gingerroot
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil

For bowls

  • 4 cups chopped romaine lettuce
  • 2 cups shredded cooked chicken
  • 4 cups warm cooked short-grain brown rice
  • 1 cup shredded carrot
  • 1 medium red pepper, cut into thin strips
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced radish
  • 1 cup thinly sliced kimchi, drained and patted dry
  • 2 green onions, cut diagonally into thin slices
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • Cubed avocado, optional

In medium bowl, whisk together all vinaigrette ingredients except vegetable oil. Slowly beat in oil, then measure 1/3 cup of the vinaigrette in a measuring cup and set aside.

Add romaine to remaining vinaigrette in bowl, then toss to combine. Divide romaine among 4 bowls. Add reserved 1/3 cup vinaigrette and shredded chicken to same bowl; toss to coat.

Divide rice among the 4 bowls of romaine. Top with chicken mixture, carrots, red pepper, radishes and kimchi. If desired, drizzle with gochujang mayonnaise. Sprinkle with green onions, cilantro and avocado.

Serves 4.

— “Betty Crocker Cookbook: Everything You Need to Know to Cook Today” (Harvest; Oct. 25, 2022; $32.50)

AIR FRYER BEER-BATTERED FISH TACOS

PG tested

Air fryers are more popular than ever with cooks looking to cut fat from their diets. This beer-battered fish taco recipe is both calorie smart and super fast — the fish only needs to cook for about 7 minutes in the fryer. A sweet and tangy citrus slaw adds a bright, refreshing crunch.

For slaw

  • 1 orange
  • 1 cup thinly sliced green cabbage
  • 1/3 cup thinly sliced red onion
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped seeded jalapeno
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper

For avocado cream

  • 1/2 cup guacamole
  • 3 tablespoons sour cream

For fish

  • 1/4 cup beer
  • 1 egg white
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon mesquite seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon each chili powder and ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 pound cod or other medium-firm white fish, skin removed, cut into planks
  • 4 flour tortillas, warmed

Grate orange to get 2 teaspoons zest; place in medium bowl. Using paring knife, cut orange into sections. Remove remaining peel and white membrane. Chop orange and place in bowl with any juice. Add remaining slaw ingredients and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate until ready to assemble tacos.

In small bowl, mix guacamole with sour cream. Cover and refrigerate until ready to assemble tacos.

In small bowl, whisk together beer and egg white. In shallow bowl, mix flour, mesquite seasoning, chili powder, cumin and salt.

Dip each piece of fish in flour mixture to coat both sides, then dip into beer mixture, allowing excess to drip off. Coat again with flour mixture and place on cookie sheet.

Spray air fryer screen with cooking spray. Place coated fish pieces on screen, then spray with cooking spray to moisten flour coating. Set fryer to 375 degrees and cook for 5 minutes. Turn fish over, and cook an additional 1-2 minutes or until fish flakes easily with fork.

Spread each tortilla with about 3 tablespoons avocado cream. Place 1 fish plank on top, then top with about 1/2 cup slaw. Fold tortillas over filling and serve immediately.

Serves 2.

— “Betty Crocker Cookbook: Everything You Need to Know to Cook Today” (Harvest; Oct. 25, 2022; $32.50)

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