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Austin Chronicle Hearth & Soul

By Suzy Banks

Uncanny Cuisine

When I was a kid, I ate in the Land of Cans. One of our standard meals on Wednesday nights when my mom went bowling was canned green peas, Minute Rice, and Salisbury steak in a can. We spooned the gravy from the canned meat over our rice and plopped down in front of the television to watch The Beverly Hillbillies. God help me, but sometimes I crave this meal, but I don't think they even make Salisbury steak in a can anymore. If they do, now they call it Fancy Feast or Mighty Dog.

We ate Spam, deviled ham, Campbell's Soup, canned spinach drowned in catsup to disguise its resemblance to pond scum, and canned date nut bread. Since I was allergic to cow's milk, even my soy bean milk came powdered in a can. I drank powdered Tang at lunch and drank canned Hawaiian Punch when I got home from school. I honestly didn't think about it until I was in high school, when I was struck with a gastronomic epiphany, the result of two very different dinners at two friends' houses. At D--'s house, we dined on Banquet frozen fried chicken, canned creamed corn, and canned lima beans. D--'s mother brought out a platter of Twinkie's after dinner and tried to pass them off as homemade. At least she had the sense to remove the cellophane wrappers.

A couple of nights later, I had dinner at E--'s house. His family had just moved to Bellville from California. We had poached salmon and steamed asparagus and a salad made with some kind of lettuce besides iceberg which was studded with sliced strawberries and -- gasp! -- sunflower seeds. I was stunned by this exotic fare and vowed to expand my horizons beyond the can opener.

I did. But like some persistent culture curse, I haven't entirely abandoned my taste for tinned food, a secret I now share for the first time. I even prepare meals for guests using canned goods, but I'm quick to bury the can deep in the garbage before they show up to eat. Now, however, I feel it's time to come out of the pantry and share my secrets (which have fooled some of the greatest food snobs the world has ever known).

Great green enchilada sauce or dip: one 7oz can of Herdez Salsa Verde and a ripe avocado whirled in the blender until creamy.

Great sauce for zucchini fritters: one can Herdez Salsa Casera and one ripe tomato whirled in the blender. (Zucchini fritter: two cups grated zucchini, one egg, some grated regianno parmesan. Make patties, dredge in bread crumbs, fry in olive oil.)

Great tuna spread: one can tuna in spring water, one cube of butter softened. Blend until mixed. Jam into decorative bowl (very important) and sprinkle with capers. Serve with crostini, which is Italian for Melba Toast. People -- and I mean educated people -- think this stuff is paté.

Great breakfast eggs: Fry a corn tortilla until crisp. Spread with Bearitos Refried Beans with Green Chilies. Poach egg in Herdez Salsa Casera. Scoop egg onto the tortilla with salsa. Sprinkle with cilantro and Pure Luck goat's milk feta cheese.

And if you think these are good, you should see the secrets in my freezer.

Are y'all trying to freeze me out? Thaw me with a question at Suzebe@aol.com or write to me at: The Austin Chronicle, PO Box 49066, Austin, TX 78765.

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