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Monday, April 22

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Airbags

I'm not the coolest person. I'm usually one or two waves behind the front line of cool-finders, even if those cool-finders are geeks online with too much time on their hands.

However, several summers ago I was googling "mackerel recipe." I'd realized that while I'd had mackerel as sushi several times I'd never actually seen it called for in a recipe. Thinking I must be ridiculously out of it, I turned to the Internet to enlighten me.

Much to my fright and delight, I came across the website now found at Candyboots.com. Weight Watchers Recipe Cards with captions written by Wendy McClure. I had no idea who this woman was, but I knew that any woman who could write "We don't know who 'Marcy' is, only that she thinks "enchilada" is wacky Mexican talk for 'shit on a shingle.'" to go with this image was someone I would love to have a beer with and (heh-heh) "shoot the shit."

I met her a few months later and did indeed have that beer with her. Since then, there have been several others. And she is a bit more reserved in person than you might think if you'd only read these cards. But she is funnier in person than those '70s knick-knacks piled around a plate of frankfurters.

Wendy has a book out, two books actually. Her first book has been out for a while. It's called I'm Not the New Me and is funny and worth more than the $10.78 Amazon.com is currently charging. Her current new book is called The Amazing Mackerel Pudding Plan: Classic Diet Recipe Cards from the 1970's.

The pages on Candyboots.com can be found in the book, along with many others. So if you've been waiting for more of these recipe cards, and witty sayings to come your way, you're in luck. I recommend some deep-breathing exercises and giggle-fit workouts before cracking the cover, because reading this book is like competing in the Olympics Laughter Event.

The book came out last Tuesday and I've read my copy several times. I spent so much time laughing that one evening I was no longer hungry. So I can tell you that The Amazing Mackerel Pudding Plan is a great diet, because looking at the pictures makes you lose half of your appetite and laughing at the captions makes you lose the rest of it, so you lose weight because you simply can't eat. And all that gasping for air must make you burn at least a few calories.

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't actually interested in making the Fluffy Mackerel Pudding. Thankfully Wendy scanned in the recipe, so I'm able to reproduce it here. (Copyright © Weight Watchers International, Inc. 1974)

Fluffy Mackerel Pudding
2 stalks of celery
1 medium green pepper
8 ounces of canned mackerel that has been drained and flaked
1 tablespoon of dehydrated onion flakes
2 teaspoons prepared mustard
1 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon of mace
dash of ground cardamom
2 medium eggs that have been lightly beaten
2 medium eggs that have been hard-boiled and sliced

Preheat your oven to 350° F. Put the celery and green pepper in a food processor or blender or chop by hand until you have a very fine chop. Place this in a bowl and add the mackerel, onion flakes, mustard, salt, cayenne pepper, mace, and cardamom. Mix until it is well blended. Stir in the raw eggs and fold until well mixed. Lightly grease four 8-ounce cups and put 1/4 of the mixture into each cup. Smooth out the top of the pudding. Bake for 35-40 minutes. Place 1/2 of a sliced egg on top and serve. Makes four luncheon servings.

In case you had any doubts, this sucks! OK, it tastes a little better than I expected, but not good enough for me to take more than a bite of it, let alone feed it to other people. But I could see where they were headed, and I appreciate that they were trying to keep food prep to a minimum. So since I like a good challenge, I decided to come up with something similar but that actually tastes better than dirty mackerel ass.

It seems like what they're calling pudding is more like what I would call a modified soufflé. Eggs whipped with stuff added to it and baked. I think Fluffy Mackerel Soufflé sounds much better, no?

Fluffy Mackerel Soufflé
1/4 pound of fresh mackerel fillet
3-4 slices of lemon
7 ounces of fresh milk
1/4 of a medium onion cut in half length-wise
4 or 5 carrot rings about 1/8" thick or 2 baby carrots cut in half lengthwise
1 large bay leaf or 2 small ones
6 peppercorns (a variety of colors is better, but all black is fine)
2 tablespoons of flour
2 tablespoons of butter
salt and pepper to taste
4 eggs
1 egg white
4 lemon wedges

Preheat your oven to 350° F. Rinse the mackerel fillet and pat it dry. Place it in a small pan or skillet. Cut very thin slices of the lemon and place on top of the fish. You'll need about 3-4 slices to cover. Once the oven comes to temperature, place the pan in the middle of the oven and let it cook for about 20 minutes. It will be a bit drier than would expect it to be if you were eating a fillet as an entree, but having a well-cooked piece of fish will make it easier to flake. Remove any skin and bones and crumble the fish with your fingers until it is fairly fine.

Meanwhile, put the milk, onion, carrots, bay leaves and peppercorns in a small saucepan and bring it to a boil over medium heat. Once it boils, cover it and let it sit on the back burner for about 30 minutes. Scoop everything out of the milk and discard. Add the flour and butter to the milk and stir constantly with a fork or whisk over medium heat until it thickens up and comes to a boil. Once it is smooth and creamy, let it cook for another minute or two. Taste it to see if it needs salt and pepper. Stir that in and leave this uncovered so it will cool. Sprinkle the fish over the sauce and stir in gently. (You can now let this sit in the refrigerator for a few hours or overnight.)

Carefully crack open each egg and let the white dribble out of the shell while the yolk remains in the shell. Place the yolks in one bowl and the whites in another. If you get any yolk in the whites either carefully scoop it out with a spoon, sop it up with a bit of paper towel, or start over. The fat in the yolk will prevent the whites from getting stiff enough. Using a hand-mixer, whisk your egg whites until they create stiff peaks. Adding 1/8 of a teaspoon of cream of tartar to your egg whites will help the peaks be more stable. If you've never done this before, be patient. It takes a long time but will eventually happen. You know you have stiff peaks when you turn your hand mixer upside down and the whites on your beater stick up on their own. For more information about whipping egg whites than you probably want to know, check out this page on Baking911.com.

Stir the egg yolks into the cream sauce, starting with one spoonful of egg whites to lighten it, then adding the sauce over the remaining egg whites (not the other way around). Make sure they're thoroughly combined by using a plastic spatula or a metal spoon to gently fold the egg white from the bottom of the bowl through the fish mixture. Do not overstir. Grease a soufflé or casserole dish. Pour your mixture into the dish so it fills about 3/4 of the dish. Smooth the top with your spatula. Place this on a baking sheet (just in case) and bake it for about 30 minutes. It should get golden brown on top, look light and *ahem* fluffy, but be firm on the edges with a slightly softer center. Let it sit for about 10 minutes before serving. Cut half of a lemon into small wedges for people to squeeze over their dish. The lemon juice will cut the fishiness of the dish and provide a little zesty zing.

So even though Fluffy Mackerel Pudding is an abomination that didn't deserve being created or popularized, I'm not the only (or the first) person to get the urge to make it. Wendy even created a Flickr group where people can share what they made — the props alone are worth a few glances. And you can see photos of my taste-testing the Fluffy Mackerel Pudding and Fluffy Mackerel Soufflé on my partner Andrew on my Flickr stream.

Weight Watchers' intent 32 years ago was valid. But it could be done so much better today. A quarter-pound of chopped smoked salmon and a small handful of fresh dill substituted for the mackerel and bay leaf would be a great substitution. Even a piece of halibut substituted for the mackerel would be good.

And even though Wendy is happy that a great many people have enjoyed laughing at her wittiness and hilarious writing, I think she should be most delighted because I learned how to make soufflés just so I could write this column. Now I just need to find out when she can come over for dinner. Maybe I'll start off with some Slender Quenchers for apertifs.

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