Dale’s Cousin’s Chicken and Olive Casserole

After the memorial service for Dale’s mother, the family gathered at the house to visit, exchange news and memories and console one another. Neighbors and family members brought food to share.

One of Dale’s cousins appeared with a hot dish that Dale liked so much, he begged the recipe. It was actually a recipe from his cousin’s mother-in-law, so the recipe really should be called “Dale’s Cousin’s Mother-in-law’s Chicken and Olive Casserole” but that makes for a name too long to fit on a recipe card plus a lot of apostrophes.

Recently Dale brought it to a church potluck, where it was a big hit. I loved it too and Dale was kind enough to share the recipe. For once, that collection of all knowledge we call the Internet lacked a recipe like this. Until now, that is.

If you enjoy chicken and noodles and a mild but rich and flavorful casserole, this is a dish you really need to try.

INGREDIENTS:

1/2 cup butter
1 large onion
1/2 green bell pepper
1 cup chopped fresh mushrooms
2 cans cream of mushroom soup
2 cups sour cream
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 cups cooked turkey or chicken
1 cup sliced ripe olives
1 cup pecans
2 cups chicken broth
Water
1 package noodles (12 to 16 oz.)
French fried onions (optional)

PROCEDURE:

First, prepare your ingredients and put a large pot of water mixed with about two cups of chicken broth on the burner to heat. Grease a three quart casserole. Preheat the oven to 300º.

Peel and chop the onion medium fine. Wash and chop half a medium green bell pepper to about a quarter inch dice. Clean and chop the mushrooms to the same size. Cut the cooked turkey or chicken into bite-sized pieces and slice the olives. Grate the Parmesan cheese and coarsely chop the pecans.

When the water and broth are boiling, add the noodles and cook them just to al dente.

While the noodles are cooking melt the butter in a large skillet and cook the onion over moderate heat until it is soft but not brown. Add the green pepper and mushrooms and cook them for a minute or two. Reduce the heat and stir in the cream of mushroom soup, sour cream and Parmesan cheese. Mix the turkey or chicken into the sauce and remove the skillet from the heat.

Drain the noodles and return them to the pot. Add the sauce from the skillet along with the olives and pecans and mix well. Put the mixture into the casserole, cover and bake for an hour.

NOTES: Dale says that you can use leftover turkey or chicken if you have some in your freezer.

The original recipe called for butter or oleo. Neither Dale nor I think oleo is a good idea. Go with the good stuff.

Dale likes to use those tasty “Amish” noodles, which are a little thicker than the conventional packaged noodles, but either kind will work.

He also stirred in a cup of crushed French fried onions and sprinkled a few on top before baking the casserole.

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Kathy’s Green Grape Dessert—Elegant and Refreshing

Jerri learned how to make this wonderful dessert when she was teaching at Maine South High School in Park Ridge, Illinois, the school that Hillary Clinton graduated from the year before Jerri joined the faculty. Her friend Kathy, who also taught English at the school, brought a bowl of this dessert to school one day, and Jerri has been hooked on it ever since. I love it too.

If you are like Jerri’s cousin Sherril, who claims that she never uses a recipe with more than four ingredients, this is the dessert for you. Three ingredients. So simple a toddler could make it, though you might want to oversee the knife work.

INGREDIENTS:

Green grapes
Sour cream
Brown sugar

PROCEDURE:

Wash enough grapes to fill parfait glasses or dessert bowls for the number of servings you need plus a few extra for tasting. Cut the grapes in half and put them in a mixing bowl.

Add just enough sour cream to coat the grapes. Then spoon in about one-fourth as much sugar as cream and mix everything gently. Taste and adjust the amounts of sour cream and sugar until you have the right balance. This may take several spoonfuls of grapes, thus the need to start with more than you plan on serving.

Fill parfait glasses or dessert bowls and sprinkle a TINY amount of brown sugar on each. Chill before serving.

NOTES: For four servings, Jerri uses about two cups of grapes plus a few more and starts with two tablespoons of sour cream and a scant tablespoon of brown sugar.

You can use either light or dark brown sugar.

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Pease Porridge Hot: Split Pea Soup

If you are a man lucky enough to have had a childhood like mine, you may remember the joys of slapping hands with the girl next to you as a gaggle of kids played “Pease Porridge Hot” during recess at school. And though I can’t speak from personal experience, many a fortunate woman may have a similar memory of singing the song over and over again and dancing in a circle until everyone broke into laughter when the last line changed to “Spell that in four letters. T-H-A-T!!” Happy times indeed.

Pease porridge or pease pudding, as our British friends call this delicious soup, has been around for a long time. Wild peas are a legume native to areas around the Mediterranean Sea, but wild peas were one of the plants domesticated during the neolithic revolution sometime around 12,000 years ago. Much later, the Greeks and Romans enjoyed peas as a tender fresh vegetable in the spring and as a reliable food that would keep for years when the seeds were mature and dry.

The dry seeds are boiled in water to make pease porridge. While it was probably pretty bland, pease porridge provided fiber, protein, important vitamins and minerals, and enough carbohydrates to give people the energy they needed during the long winters when food was in short supply. And as Reay Tannahill observes in her book, Food in History, “Pease pudding in the pot, nine days old” suggests that the “dish had keeping qualities which endeared it more to the housewife than to her family.”

Today, dietitians recommend that we include peas in our diets. In fact, the Mayo Clinic web site says that legumes, which includes beans and peas, “are among the most versatile and nutritious foods available.” Besides including lots of good vitamins and minerals, peas are low on the Glycemic Index, which makes them especially attractive to people with type 2 diabetes.

Many dietitians also point out that split peas have almost no fat, but you can fix that shortcoming by following this recipe for split pea soup. There’s nothing like a good smoked pork hock or meaty ham bone to add some flavor and fat to a pot of bland legumes. And actually, you won’t be adding a lot of fat per serving, so don’t let the Health Food Police scare you.

INGREDIENTS:

1 lb. split green peas
1 smoked pork hock (about 2 lbs.)
Enough water to cover the pork hock
2 beef bouillon cubes or 2 tsp. instant bouillon
2 medium potatoes
4 medium carrots
1 medium onion
1 bay leaf
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
Salt and pepper to taste

PROCEDURE: If you start with one of those country smoked pork hocks that looks a little dusty, rinse it off. Put it in a soup pot and cover it with water. Bring it to a boil, reduce the heat, cover the pot and simmer the hock for about three hours. Jerri always says, “You are cooking out all the flavor!” to which I reply, “That’s what I am trying to do.”

Besides extracting the flavor, the long slow simmer helps release gelatin from the bones and skin, which adds to the richness of the soup, so keep it simmering for at least two and a half hours. Add water if necessary to keep the meat covered. When the hock has simmered long enough, take it out of the broth and set it aside to cool on a platter.

Watch for stones as you pick the split peas over carefully and put them in a bowl or saucepan. Rinse them until the water is fairly clear, then drain them in a colander and put the peas in the broth. Bring the pot to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer the soup for about forty minutes.

While the peas are cooking, peel two medium potatoes and cut them into a quarter to half inch dice. Peel or scrape the carrots and slice them into quarter inch rounds. I like to cut larger carrots in half and slice them into half rounds. Peel and chop the onion fine. You should have about a cup of chopped carrots and onion and a cup and a half of diced potato. Since I like carrots, I sometimes have more than a cup of those sweet veggies.

Put the vegetables into the pot, add the bouillon, the bay leaf and about an eighth of a teaspoon of ground cloves. Grind some black pepper over the top and stir well. Simmer the soup for about thirty minutes until the vegetables are tender. Add water if the soup seems too thick. As the soup thickens, it will stick to the bottom of the pot. Stir it often to prevent scorching.

While the vegetables are cooking, discard the skin, fat and bones of the hock and chop the meat into bite-sized pieces. Stir them into the soup.

Taste the soup when the vegetables are tender. If it needs salt, you can add another bouillon cube or a teaspoon of instant bouillon, stir well for a minute or two, then taste again. You might also want to add more black pepper. Use your judgment, but as Jerri often reminds me, “You can always add more salt and pepper, but you can’t take them out,” so be cautious.

Serve with good bread or rolls and a salad for a nutritious and healthful dinner.

NOTES: You can turn off the heat under the broth when you remove the hock and finish the soup later. If you are going to serve the soup within three hours, just set the pot in a cool place. If it will be longer than that, refrigerate the broth and bring it back to a boil about an hour and a half before you plan to serve the soup. It is easier to remove the meat from the hock while it is still slightly warm. You can put the chopped meat into the broth before you reheat it.

My mother used pork hocks and ham bones interchangeably when she made soups. She often saved the skin from the ham and simmered it with the bone to add flavor to the soup.

This recipe makes enough soup to serve six to eight hungry diners, but it keeps well for two or three days in the refrigerator. If you want to eat it “nine days old,” store it in the freezer.

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Manhattan Meat Rolls

When I was a student at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, the Division of Residence Halls provided housing and dining facilities to thousands of students. I think that anyone who attended UW-Madison in the early 1960’s would agree that the division generally did a pretty good job.

We had maid service once a week to ensure that we slept on clean sheets in rooms that had been swept, dusted and put in some sort of order. I lived in Tripp Hall, along Lake Mendota, directly across the street from Van Hise Hall as the refectory or cafeteria was then named.

The main floor held the kitchen, a private dining room that would seat twenty-five or thirty people and the main dining area with a cafeteria line. On the lower level was the physical plant and a restaurant, the Pine Room. Van Hise served two men’s dormitories, Tripp Hall (where I lived) and Adams Hall, and one women’s dormitory, Slichter Hall. Each hall was was divided into houses or floors with resident counselors who in that long-ago sexist time were all called house fellows.

Van Hise served nearly a thousand students twenty meals a week. Sunday evenings, we were on our own. The Brat House on State Street and Corcoran’s on University Avenue were two of my favorite destinations for Sunday suppers, but friends and I also patronized the Pine Room and the Student Union with occasional forays to more distant supper clubs and restaurants.

House fellow meal passes were valid for twenty-one meals a week, so they did not have to fend for themselves on Sunday evenings. Nor did they have to get up before 9 o’clock Saturday mornings for breakfast in the Van Hise dining room. Their passes entitled them to anything they wanted at the Student Union or the Pine Room.

Since I worked in the Pine Room to help pay for my education, I first saw Jerri, who was a house fellow at Slichter, on one of those Saturday mornings when she and her friends came in after a late night of making sure that the girls were safely back in their rooms. I did not know her name, of course. She was just one of those house fellows who ordered large glasses of apricot nectar to go with their eggs and bacon or sausage (or both!). House fellows could sign for anything they wanted for Saturday breakfast or Sunday supper. One of the men’s house fellows, as I recall, used to have three beef tenderloin sandwiches for his main course every Sunday.

In her second year, Jerri was invited to be the Assistant Head Resident at Elizabeth Waters Hall, probably the finest women’s dormitory on campus. I was very familiar with that hall, since it was famous for having an excellent chef. Residence Halls had a policy that allowed any resident to invite another resident of the opposite sex to Sunday dinner at no charge.

The guest registered ahead of time, so the Van Hise meal ticket, for instance, could be validated for a meal at Elizabeth Waters or vice versa. Menus were posted weekly in every hall, so if a girl read that her hall would be serving something that she did not like on Sunday, she could shop around for a boy whose hall was serving something more to her taste. It was a wonderful system that improved one’s diet and social life.

I was introduced to Jerri by one of the house fellows in Adams Hall after she had moved to Elizabeth Waters. Assistant Head Residents could have guests as well, and so began a wonderful friendship that has lasted for nearly fifty years of wedded bliss.

Cover of Liz Specials CookbookUnlike the men who simply ate the food set before them, the women of Elizabeth Waters compiled a cookbook of their favorite recipes supplied by their chef who sized them for family meals.

I still like the cover.

As you can see, the cookbook has been consulted many times over the years. It contains several recipes that we still use regularly. The recipe for Manhattan Meat Rolls, which were also served at Van Hise, is one I remember fondly. Here is how to make them.

INGREDIENTS:

For the meat filling and sauce:
1 1/2 lbs. lean ground beef
2 cans condensed tomato soup
3 T all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 T chopped fresh parsley
1/2 tsp. herbes de Provence (or 1/8 tsp. each marjoram, rosemary, thyme, and oregano)
Dash of freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup water
1/2 tsp. beef bouillon

For the biscuit dough:
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 T baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 T sugar
1 cup shortening
Milk to moisten the dry ingredients

PROCEDURE:

Brown the meat in a skillet and drain any extra grease from the pan. Stir in one can of the tomato soup and cook until the soup is blended with the meat. Add the flour and salt and mix well. Continue cooking for about two minutes, stirring continuously. Remove the skillet from the heat and allow the meat filling to cool while you make the dough.

Blend the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Using forks or a pastry blender, cut the shortening into the dry ingredients as if making biscuits. Add enough milk to produce a soft dough. Knead the dough five or six strokes on a floured surface, then divide it in half. Roll each half to a scant half inch thick.

Grease enough baking sheets for two dozen rolls and preheat the oven to 400º.

Spread the meat evenly on the dough and roll the dough into logs. Moisten the outer edge of the dough and seal it to the roll. Shape the logs to the desired roundness. Cut the logs into three quarter inch slices and place the slices one inch apart on the baking sheets. Bake the rolls for about twenty-five minutes or until lightly browned on top.

Make the sauce while the rolls are baking. Wash and finely chop the parsley. Dissolve the bouillon in the water and blend all the ingredients together with the second can of tomato soup in a saucepan over moderate heat. Remove the sauce from the heat when it begins to simmer.

Serve the rolls hot from the oven and allow diners to add sauce if they wish.

Posted in Main Dishes, Meats | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Cinnamon Raisin Rolls

My mother made a lot of cinnamon raisin rolls. Most of the time, she would use her ordinary white bread dough. She made a double batch of bread twice a week when I was growing up, so she would take a quarter of the dough for rolls and we would enjoy a pan of dinner rolls for supper or cinnamon raisin rolls for dessert. Warm from the oven, they tasted wonderful.

But every once in a while she would stir up a batch of “sweet roll dough” to make coffee cakes and rolls. They tasted like the rolls you get with this recipe. I ate a lot of these too.

INGREDIENTS:

1/2 cup water
3 tsp. yeast
2 cups milk
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup shortening
8 T butter, divided
2 tsp. salt
2 large eggs
5 1/2 – 6 cups all-purpose flour
Brown sugar
Cinnamon
Raisins

PROCEDURE:

Put a half cup of warm water in a cup. You can test that the water is not too hot by letting a drop fall on the inside of your wrist. It should feel only slightly warm. Stir the yeast and a pinch of sugar into the water and set it aside to proof. Put two large eggs into a bowl of warm water to bring them to a warm room temperature.

Heat the milk to steaming and put it into a large mixing bowl. Add the shortening and four tablespoons butter and stir until the butter has melted. Stir in the sugar, salt and two cups of flour. Beat this batter until it is smooth.

Beat the eggs until they are lemon colored and stir them into the batter. Make sure that the batter is not too hot, then stir in the yeast. Beat in the eggs, then add additional flour a cup at a time to make a soft dough, stirring each cup in completely before adding the next.

After stirring in five cups, add the final cup a small amount at a time, stopping if the dough starts to pull completely away from the sides of the bowl. You may even need a little more than six cups of flour to get the dough to the point where it begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl.

Let the dough rest in the bowl for five or six minutes. Turn it out on a floured surface and knead it for one to two minutes. The dough will remain somewhat sticky. Grease the mixing bowl and return the dough to the bowl. Cover it with a damp kitchen towel and let it rise until it has doubled in bulk.

Melt four tablespoons of butter and have the brown sugar and raisins ready. With some of the melted butter, grease baking pans with enough capacity to hold at least two dozen rolls.

Turn the risen dough out onto the floured surface and divide it into two or three pieces. Put one or two back into the bowl and shape the other piece into a roughly rectangular loaf, turning it on the floured surface to keep it from sticking. Roll the dough until it is a third to a half inch thick.

Paint it generously with melted butter, sprinkle generously with brown sugar, cinnamon and raisins and roll the dough into a log. Using a sharp knife, cut the log into sections an inch and a half to two inches long and stand each section in the prepared baking pan. The sections should be touching each other in the pan. Repeat the process with the other two pieces of dough.

Cover the pans with a damp kitchen towel and allow the rolls to rise in a warm place until they have approximately doubled in height. This will take anywhere from forty-five minutes to an hour and a half, depending on how warm it is in your kitchen.

Preheat the oven to 350º while the rolls are rising.

Set the pans on a center rack and bake the rolls for about twenty-five minutes or until they are golden brown on top. Unless you are concerned about your sugar intake, glaze them with a powdered sugar glaze. To make it, stir about two tablespoons of milk, half and half or cream into a cup of powdered sugar. Add a half teaspoon of vanilla extract and stir until smooth. Drizzle over the pan of rolls while they are still hot.

NOTES: These rolls are best eaten warm and slathered with butter. They taste fresh the next day if you give them a few seconds at reduced power in your microwave.

This dough makes wonderful filled coffee cakes too. Just roll it out to about a quarter inch thickness, paint all but a half inch on the edges with butter and spread your favorite filling over the center of the dough. Moisten the edges with milk or water and fold one side of the dough slightly past the center line of the filling.

Do the same with the other side of the dough. Seal the seam and ends and lay the cake seam side down on a baking pan. With a sharp knife make three or four slashes about two inches long in the top of the cake to let steam escape.

Bake it with the rolls for about twenty-five minutes. Drizzle glaze over the cake if you like, or simply paint it with a little butter after taking it from the oven.

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Hilda’s Never Fail Dumplings

Have you ever seen the bones in your toes wriggling inside your shoes? If you have, it was probably because your local shoe store had an X-Ray Shoe Fitter manufactured in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Shoe-fitting fluoroscopes, like the Internet, personal computers, antibiotics, canned foods, microwave ovens and hundreds of other things we use today, owe their original development to military research projects.

During World War I, the army studied the fit of boots to improve soldiers’ health, partly with the use of the newly discovered X-Rays that let researchers see soldiers’ feet through their boots. After the war, inventors designed and patented machines that could be used in shoe stores. By the late 1920′s X-Ray Shoe Fitter, Inc. was the leading manufacturer of fluoroscopes for shoe stores in the United States.

By the late 1940′s medical research began documenting the dangers of using shoe X-Ray machines, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin became one of the first cities in the United States to regulate the location and use of the machines. By 1960, very few shoe X-ray machines were still in use, not simply because they were dangerous but because customers began thinking of them as sales gimmicks rather than useful tools.

However, kids like me found them fascinating. My friends and I would go into the shoe store on Main Street after school and ask to check the fit of our shoes. Most of the time, however, the owner would tell us that it was a machine for trying on new shoes. I don’t know if he was trying to protect our health or to keep us from scuffing the oak cabinet that housed the magical machine.

I still have a vague memory of the first time I saw my feet in the X-Ray machine. It was at night, so it must have been a Friday. Stores were open late on Friday nights in Hayward when I was growing up, and families did a lot of shopping then. After a quick supper, we would drive into town where my sisters and I got a nickel or dime to spend while Mom and Dad bought groceries and anything else needed.

With the shopping done, Dad would often pick up a six-pack of beer and we would drive to Pete and Hilda’s, on the north side of Hayward. If a suitable movie was playing, their daughter Maureen, my sisters and I would each be given money for a movie ticket and a box of candy or bag of popcorn. Mom and Dad would play canasta and drink the beer, two cans for the men and one for the ladies. It made for a wonderful evening.

Every two or three weeks, Pete, Hilda and Maureen would visit us in the evening or on a Sunday afternoon, bringing their six-pack of beer and sending us kids outside to play while they broke out the canasta cards. We played games, swung on the swing, took turns on our homemade teeter-totter or walked to the river to watch the trout rising and in general had pretty good times.

We shared dinners too, and one thing Hilda could make was a good stew with dumplings. I always liked Mom’s dumplings, and Jerri’s dumplings are great too. Now that I think of it, I can’t remember a dumpling that I didn’t like.

Mom liked Hilda’s dumplings so much that she copied the recipe and noted that they were good on the card in her recipe box. They’re delicious, but then again, what dumpling isn’t?

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. salt
4 tsp. baking powder
1 large egg
Whole milk

PROCEDURE:

Sift the flour, salt and baking powder into a mixing bowl. Break the egg into a standard measuring cup and beat lightly. Fill the cup with milk and add the milk and egg to the dry ingredients. Beat just until mixed and let rise for five minutes.

Drop the batter by tablespoonfuls on top of beef or chicken boiling briskly in the broth. Leave the meat in the pot. Cover and boil for twenty minutes.

NOTES: Hilda noted that these dumplings are just as good warmed over in the broth the next day.

Posted in Breads and Pancakes, Side dishes | Tagged | 1 Comment

Easy Masoor Dal

Rice and bread are both rather bland foods. If you are a vegetarian, you don’t have the option of adding chicken to that pot of rice or topping your bread with beef gravy or barbecued pork to add some flavor. That may partly explain why dal was invented by some imaginative cook on the Indian subcontinent thousands of years ago. The earliest references to vegetarianism from India are older than those from ancient Greece, which we find in the Odyssey, thought to have been composed about 800 B.C.

While never in the majority, a significant minority of ancient Greeks and Romans were vegetarians. The people of eastern and northern Europe who conquered the Roman Empire, however, were hunters who liked their venison. Vegetarianism virtually disappeared from Europe until the Renaissance when European scholars rediscovered the ancient philosophers of Greece and Rome.

Vegetarianism in the United States was practiced by a few small Christian communities in the 18th century, and a few notable Americans were vegetarians. Among them was Colonel Thomas Crafts Jr., who was the first person to read the brand new Declaration of Independence from the balcony of the old state house in Boston.

Another was Benjamin Franklin, who became a vegetarian at the age of sixteen, but later began eating meat again occasionally. Franklin has more to answer for than abandoning his youthful enthusiasm for vegetables or burdening us with wise sayings like “Eat to live, and not live to eat.” He introduced tofu to the American colonies in a letter to John Bartram in Philadelphia in 1770. He sent some soybeans and passed on instructions of how the Chinese made “tau-fu.”

India, where vegetarianism apparently originated, is home to most of the world’s vegetarians—at least 250,000,000 people. There are far fewer in the United States, but one of them happens to be our grandson.

He is the person who first told me about dal. Dal (also spelled daal, dhal or dahl) in Hindi may mean lentils or a thick spicy stew made with lentils. Masoor dal means red lentils. The lentils contribute some important proteins missing in rice and wheat, and the spices add interest to those bland foods. Therefore, dal is not only good for you, but also makes things taste good—a perfect combination.

With a quarter of a billion people eating dal in India, there may be a million different dal recipes. Here is one that is easy and delicious.

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup red lentils
2 cups water plus more if needed
3 T vegetable oil
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 1/2 inch piece of fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground turmeric
1/4 tsp. ground cayenne pepper
1 tsp. cumin seeds
1/2 tsp. garam masala
1/2 to 3/4 cup finely chopped tomato

PROCEDURE:

Rinse the lentils and put them in a two or three quart saucepan. Add about two cups of water, enough just to cover the lentils. Bring them to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer until the lentils are tender, about twenty minutes. Skim off any foam as the lentils cook. Add more water if necessary, so you end up with a thick soup. Remove the lentils from the heat until you are ready to add the spice mixture.

While the lentils are cooking, peel and mince the ginger root and garlic and finely chop the onion. Put about three tablespoons of vegetable oil into a small skillet. Stir in the onions and sauté them over moderate heat for three or four minutes until they are translucent but not browned.

Wash and finely chop a small to medium tomato while the onions are cooking.

Reduce the heat to low and add the minced ginger, garlic, salt, turmeric, cayenne and cumin seeds to the onions. Cook this spice mixture for four minutes, then stir in the chopped tomato. Continue simmering and stirring the mixture for another three or four minutes to soften the tomato.

Stir in the garam masala, then stir the spice mixture into the lentils and bring the dal to a simmer. Simmer it for a few minutes to blend the flavors, stirring often to prevent scorching. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

Serve over rice for a main dish or as a dip for eating with naan as an appetizer.

NOTES: The best places to find red lentils are food co-ops or Asian markets.

Some people add chopped cilantro and more spices to their dal. My advice is to start with this recipe and try adjusting it to suit your taste the next time you make it.

You can substitute butter for all or part of the oil for cooking the onions and spices.

Some recipes omit the garam masala, perhaps because like me, those cooks didn’t know what it was. It will, however, enhance the flavor of your dal.

Garam masala is a mixture of spices that Indian cooks make themselves or buy from a spice merchant. There are many versions ranging from mild to blazing hot. Curry powder, for instance, might be called a mild garam masala. Traditional garam masala starts with whole peppercorns and other seeds and spices which are toasted then ground into a powder, but you can make a pretty good imitation with spices you probably have in your spice rack.

This recipe makes about a quarter cup of medium hot garam masala.

INGREDIENTS:

1 T ground cumin
1 1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1 1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
1 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg

Mix the spices together very thoroughly and store the mixture in a cool, dry place.

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Smoked Sausage Soup

Among the many reasons for admiring Julia Child are her sensible observations about the privacy of the kitchen. From her I learned that the broken cake or tart that refused to slip smoothly out of the pan will look fine and taste great once it is frosted or covered with plenty of whipped cream.

When half of something she was flipping in the skillet ended up on the range top, she simply used a spatula to scrape things back into the pan and observed, “Who’s to know?” It was Julia who taught me that things like crepes have both a public and private side.

Most of all I learned that the cook’s job is to make food that looks inviting and tastes good, not to explain exactly what goes into it. For instance, if the chef told you that the eggplant Parmesan on your plate was made with raw cow’s milk you might think twice about eating it, even though he was assuring you that he used genuine Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese in the recipe.

Perhaps this explains why there are so many secret recipes: We all have prejudices about food that can interfere with our enjoying some wonderful dishes. Take rutabagas as an example.

It is hard for me to understand how people can reach adulthood without learning to love rutabagas. That’s probably because I grew up in northern Wisconsin, prime country for raising rutabagas. Cumberland, Wisconsin, just an hour’s drive north of New Richmond, celebrates the harvest of this vegetable with a Rutabaga Festival each August. You might want to mark your calendar for the weekend of August 21st this year.

My guess is that someone who grew up in Alabama might wonder why I don’t swoon over boiled peanuts. Or why I don’t dream of rattlesnake steaks broiled over Texas mesquite when I am longing for some comfort food like Mom used to make.

My mother hated all snakes and killed them when she could. She had read the Bible and knew that snakes were her enemy. That probably explains why I don’t miss rattlesnake on a menu. The fact that rattlesnakes are not found very far north in Wisconsin might also be a factor, though I remember her shooting a large pine snake that could have fed the family for a day or two.

On the other hand, rutabagas grow like weeds up here. When my father was a boy, my grandfather planted a couple of acres of rutabagas every year. Grandma Rang cooked them for the family and Grandpa chopped them up and fed them to the cows in winter. Dad said the cows really liked them.

My mother put rutabagas in soups, mashed them with potatoes and boiled them like carrots. I don’t remember rutabaga pie, but it’s possible that she simply didn’t tell us what was in that slice on our plates.

Which brings me back to Smoked Sausage Soup and Julia Child’s admonition, “Who’s to know?” because the secret ingredient in this soup is a rutabaga.

INGREDIENTS:

1/2 lb. smoked sausage
1 small rutabaga
2 medium carrots
2 medium potatoes
1/2 small onion
4 beef bouillon cubes
4 1/4 cups cold water, divided
2 tsp. cornstarch
1/8 tsp. brown gravy sauce (optional)
Parsley (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste

PROCEDURE:

Peel the rutabaga and potatoes and cut them into about a three-quarter inch dice. Clean and chop the carrots into half-inch pieces. Peel and coarsely chop the onion. You should have about one and one-half cups each of rutabaga and potato and one-half to three-quarter cup each of chopped carrot and onion.

Put the vegetables into a three quart saucepan along with a quart of cold water, four beef bouillon cubes and a dash of freshly ground black pepper. Bring the soup to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer partially covered for about twenty minutes. Cut the sausage crosswise into half inch slices and add them to the soup. While the soup is coming back to a simmer, dissolve the cornstarch in a quarter cup of cold water. Add the cornstarch to the soup and cook for three or four minutes.

If the broth looks too pale, add a few drops of brown gravy sauce at this time.

Taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve the soup by itself or with a salad and sandwiches. If you wish, garnish each serving with some chopped parsley.

NOTES: This recipe makes five generous servings, but you can easily increase the recipe. One simple way is to use the whole ring of sausage, an extra cup of water and one more bouillon cube to make eight servings.

When I use thin-skinned potatoes to make this soup, I just scrub them well. If you have someone in your family who you think might object to eating rutabaga, peel the potatoes. That way, if someone asks, “What is this?” you can say, “Maybe a piece of potato?”

Who’s to know?

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Bert’s Jumbo Raisin Cookies

Dad and Leroy grew up a half mile apart along the Namekagon River. He and his wife Bert were good friends of my parents. Our families went to the same little Lutheran church in the country, we kids went to the same one-room school and played together and we got together for dinners and picnics from time to time.

Later when I was in my teens, Dad and I, Uncle Harold and their friend Pete met for breakfast on the opening day of deer season at Bert and Leroy’s. After a big breakfast we would cross the river in the dark on a rickety plank footbridge that Leroy had built across the stream. Most years it was icy and treacherous on those single planks, but I remember only once that someone slipped in, and that was when we were bringing a deer home from the hills.

Bert hunted too, and Leroy had found her a great place for a stand, stocked it with firewood and gallon jugs of water and built her a comfortable bench and gun rest. Bert would build a fire, fill the big coffee pot with water and have hot coffee for us as we wandered in from our deer stands. Once or twice, she had the first deer of the season dressed out by the time we showed up for lunch.

In the summers we had lots of fun together too. One particularly memorable event was the snipe hunt that one of the older boys and I organized for the girls in the south pasture. When our sisters came home crying and bitten by mosquitos, our sniggers soon changed to yelps as Leroy and Dad “taught us a lesson.” It hardly seemed fair, since they had told us about snipe hunts earlier that summer.

Bert and Mom often got together for coffee and conversation. They both believed in setting out fresh baked goods when someone stopped in. Bert’s Jumbo Raisin Cookies are delicious and stay soft and chewy. They impressed Mom so much that she made a copy of the recipe, and here it is.

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups raisins
1 cup water
1 cup shortening
2 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 1/4 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. allspice
1 tsp. vanilla

PROCEDURE:

Put two cups of raisins and a cup of cold water into a saucepan. Cover, bring to a boil and simmer for five minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and allow the raisins to cool.

Preheat the oven to 350º

Cream the sugar and shortening in a large mixing bowl. Beat the eggs until lemon colored and mix them thoroughly into the creamed sugar.

Measure the flour, baking powder, soda, salt, cinnamon, and allspice into a sifter. Sift about three cups of the flour and spices into the liquid ingredients, stirring thoroughly after each cup of flour is added. Stir in the vanilla and raisins and the final cup of flour and mix well.

Drop the dough by heaping teaspoonfuls onto a well-greased cookie sheet and bake until lightly browned, eleven to twelve minutes.

NOTES: Don’t drain the raisins. This recipe makes about five dozen cookies. If you like soft and chewy cookies, this is a recipe you really should try.

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Egg Drop Soup

When Eiersuppe was on the menu at the Aaseehauskolleg, the Studentenheim or dormitory where I lived at the university in Münster, Germany, nobody turned it down. Eiersuppe–in English, Egg Drop Soup–is a comfort food that warms the soul as well as the body.

My mother made it for me when I was sick, and in Germany and Austria it is still considered an excellent food to help people recover from a cold or flu. It is low in calories and carbohydrates and of course is mostly water, so it has to be good for you. The wonder is that it tastes so good.

In its most basic form, egg drop soup is just lightly seasoned chicken broth with threads of beaten egg poached in it. However, for many cooks, that recipe is just the starting point. “Chefkock.de,” a German cooking magazine, lists 480 egg soup recipes on its website.

Egg Drop Soup is popular around the world. It is a staple of Chinese cuisine, and many people first taste this soup in a Chinese restaurant, where it’s often called Egg Flower Soup. There are versions from Korea, Japan, India, Italy, Spain and France. In the New World, cooks from Alaska to Mexico have found ways to naturalize this wonderful soup as well. In Alaska people add king crab meat to the broth while Mexican chefs make Sopa de Huevo y Ajo with garlic, tomatoes and chili powder.

You can make egg drop soup almost any way you want, but here is a good basic recipe.

INGREDIENTS:

4 cups chicken broth
1/8 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
1 T cornstarch dissolved in 2 T cold water.
2 T chopped parsley
2 eggs

PROCEDURE:

Rinse and finely chop about two tablespoons of fresh parsley.

Bring the broth to a boil in a saucepan. Add the salt and pepper. Dissolve the cornstarch in the cold water and stir it into the broth. Reduce the heat to simmer. Beat the eggs to lemon yellow and carefully dribble them into the simmering broth, stirring the stream of egg gently with a fork as you add it to the broth.
Simmer about a minute after you have added the eggs, then taste and adjust the seasoning. Ladle into bowls and garnish with the parsley.

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