The Washington Post

Romney recipe challenge: Tom Sietsema weighs in

Washington Post food columnist Tom Sietsema tries Lenore Romney’s "Hamburger Stroganoff." (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)

That is, until now. Loop reader Jen Cox was recently thumbing through an old cookbook belonging to her grandmother in search of a favorite frosting recipe, when she made a pretty sweet discovery. The collection of recipes, published as a fundraiser by the Riverside Lutheran Church of Detroit sometime, Cox guesses, in the mid-1960s, included a contribution from one “Mrs. George Romney.”

The book is one of those spiral-bound volumes found on most every cook’s shelf, printed by Junior Leagues or PTAs — the ones whose recipes call for enough cans of condensed soup to fill a kiddie pool.

Lenore Romney, mother of Mitt, was then Michigan’s first lady, and the recipe was identified as heralding from the “Executive Residence,” the governor’s mansion in Lansing. Though the Romneys were Mormon, it’s likely that as part of her FLOM (that’s First Lady of Michigan) duties, she contributed to many such cookbooks from organizations across the state.

Cox sent us the page, which gave instructions for concocting a hearty-sounding “Hamburger Stroganoff,” a dish, that although it doesn’t contain a can of soup, is very much of its era.

Ann Romney’s "Great Tasting Low Fat Turkey Burger." (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)

And so we decided to conduct a taste test pitting the Romney recipes against one another in culinary battle royale through the generations. Lenore and Ann, mano a mano. Or, in this case burger vs. burger.

We invited our esteemed colleague Tom Sietsema, the Post’s food critic, to analyze the dishes and pick a winner.

The Loop whipped up a version of each entree and placed them before the judge, who dissected each before declaring a champion.

On the stroganoff: “It tastes like something Donna Reed would have served.”

“Very reminiscent of something that originated in a can,” he said.

He found that the addition of parsley — the only green on an otherwise beige plate — was the recipe’s saving grace. “It’s like a life buoy,” he said.

The turkey burger didn’t fare much better:

Sietsema notes that ground turkey is notoriously devoid of taste. “It can be quite flavorless and dry,” he said. Though the recipe calls for lots of full-flavored ingredients, like chipotle peppers and cumin, to compensate, our taster was unimpressed. “It’s as if the spice cabinet fell over into a quarter-cup of ground turkey,” he proclaimed.

“Juiceless,” he said.

And here’s a kiss of death: “It tastes like it’s good for you, which is not a compliment.”

Neither the stroganoff nor the turkey burger was a huge hit, but when pressed, Sietsema said that if he had to take a second helping of either, he’d opt for another serving of Lenore’s stroganoff. And Loop readers agreed — in an online poll, Lenore’s dish won out.

It seems that in matters culinary (like everything else), mother does know best.

Emily Heil is the co-author of the Reliable Source and previously helped pen the In the Loop column with Al Kamen.


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