Marcia Copeland oversees a staff whose job is simple: They try to create kitchen failures by messing with the instructions on packaged baking mixes.
They overbeat and underbeat, overbake and underbake, overmeasure liquids and undermeasure liquids. They also add too few or too many eggs to products made under the Betty Crocker label.
Copeland is director of the Betty Crocker Food and Publications Center in Minneapolis, Minn. And her staff not only tries to create baking flops -- it's called "tolerance testing" in the world of test kitchens -- but develops recipes for the Betty Crocker supermarket magazine and Betty Crocker cookbooks.
A lot of those same tests were conducted with the recipes you'll find in the 40th-anniversary, seventh edition of "Betty Crocker's Cookbook" (Prentice Hall, $22), which goes on sale later this month. This Betty Crocker best-seller has sold 26 million copies in its first six editions.
It's been said that you cook from Betty Crocker to feed people, not because you want to wine, dine and impress. And Copeland is the first to agree.
"We don't appeal to the foodies, particularly," she says. "But we do appeal to those people who have to prepare meals seven nights a week."
It's the kind of book you give to people who've never set foot in a kitchen. "We don't pretend to be cutting edge. But we take the more difficult things and take the mystery out of it."
Old-Fashioned Baked Beans 13 cups water, divided
2 cups dried navy beans, sorted and rinsed
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses
1 teaspoon salt
6 slices bacon, crisply cooked and crumbled
1 medium onion, peeled, ends removed, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
Preheat oven to 350. In a Dutch oven heat 10 cups of water and beans to boiling. Boil uncovered two minutes. Mix in brown sugar, molasses, salt, bacon and onion. Cover and bake four hours, stirring occasionally. Remove from oven and stir in remaining three cups water if necessary. Return to oven and bake, uncovered, two to 2 1/4 hours longer, stirring occasionally, until beans are tender and of desired consistency. Serves 10.
@Caribbean Chicken 4 chicken drumsticks (about 1 pound), washed and patted dry
4 chicken thighs (about 1 pound), washed and patted dry
2 cans (15 ounces each) black beans, undrained
1 tablespoon gingerroot, grated or 1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon lime zest, finely shredded
2 tablespoons lime juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 clove garlic, peeled, ends removed, finely chopped
1 cup mango or papaya, peeled and cubed; or 1 cup peach slices, drained and cut up
2 green onions, washed, ends removed, thinly sliced (with tops)
Preheat oven to 375. Place chicken pieces, skin side up, in an ungreased 9x13-inch baking dish. Bake uncovered 40 minutes. Remove and discard excess fat. In a large bowl, mix together black beans, gingerroot, lime zest, lime juice, salt, garlic, mango, papaya or peach slices, and onions. Pour mixture over and around chicken pieces. Cover and bake 30 minutes longer or until juices of chicken run clear. Serves four.
Vegetable Beef Soup 5 cups beef broth
1 cup fresh corn; or 1 cup frozen whole kernel corn
2 medium potatoes, peeled, cubed (about 2 cups)
1 medium carrot, peeled, ends removed, thinly sliced (about 1/2 cup); or 1/2 cup frozen
1 medium stalk celery, washed, ends removed, sliced (about 1/2 cup)
1 medium onion, peeled, ends removed, chopped (about 1/2 cup); or 1/2 cup frozen
1 cup 1-inch fresh green beans, cleaned and strings removed; or 1 cup frozen
1 cup green peas, shelled; or 1 cup frozen
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 medium tomatoes, peeled, cored, chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
In a large Dutch oven, if using fresh ingredients add beef broth, corn, potatoes, carrot, celery, onion, green beans, green peas, pepper and tomatoes. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes until tender. If using frozen vegetables, bring liquids and non-frozen ingredientsto a boil and simmer 15 minutes; then add frozen vegetables and simmer uncovered 15 minutes until tender. Serves six to eight.