Italian Sausage and Cheese Dip

I have not fallen in love with Velveeta, but the stuff does have its uses. One is a version of that old favorite, cheese and sausage dip, introduced to Jerri and me by our neighbors, Jill and Lonnie.

This version was brought north from Oklahoma and uses sweet Italian sausage instead of ordinary breakfast sausage. It is a delicious combination that will please most everyone except your vegetarian friends. You can make a tasty vegetarian version without the sausage but with a finely chopped jalapeño pepper for a little extra flavor.

INGREDIENTS:

3/4 – 1 lb. sweet Italian sausage
3/4 – 1 pound Velveeta or any processed American cheese
1 10 oz. can Rotel or other brand diced tomatoes and green chilies

PROCEDURE:

Brown the sausage over low heat, taking care not to make it crisp. Drain it thoroughly.

Cut the cheese into half inch cubes. Put the cheese and tomatoes into a bowl and microwave it until the cheese is melted. Stir once or twice so the cheese melts evenly.

Mix the sausage into the cheese and tomato mixture and microwave again until the dip is very warm.

Serve warm with tortilla chips or scoops.

NOTES: You can put the dip into a small crockpot to keep it warm, but a half dozen people can finish this dip before it gets cold if you set a good example. You can also pop it back into the microwave for a few seconds if the dip gets too cool.

If you make the vegetarian version, wash and cut the stem off the pepper, then slice in fourths, remove the seeds and white membrane, and chop the pepper into an eighth inch dice. Add the chopped pepper when you are first melting the cheese, then stir in the diced tomatoes and warm the dish for serving.

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Vicki’s Grandmother’s Rhubarb Cake

“You can make anything you want. Just make sure that it gets eaten,” said Jerri when I volunteered to take over most of the cooking after my retirement. Though I have been forced into surreptitious trips to the compost heap on a handful of occasions, most of the time it has been fairly easy to share the output of our kitchen with others.

The most challenging recipes are ones for desserts, since neither Jerri nor I needs the extra calories or carbohydrates in a good pie or cake. And a dessert sitting on the table or in the refrigerator is a temptation we find hard to resist. Our motto should be, “If it is there, it should be eaten.”

Thus, what some of our friends and neighbors might imagine to be generosity is often prompted by my need to clear the kitchen to make room for the next recipe. I truly appreciate people who will accept a plate of cookies, a couple slices of pie or pieces of cake. They are contributing to a less combative household and making it easier for us to step on the bathroom scale in the morning.

However, sometimes people reciprocate when I drop off something. Just a few days ago, when I delivered pieces of Pumpkin Crack to our friends Vicki and Alan, Vicki met me at the door with a plate of rhubarb cake. I love rhubarb cake, and hers was delicious. Even better, it didn’t taste as rich as the crack, so the exchange may have been in our favor.

When I asked Vicki for her recipe, she said she would email it and told me that it was her grandmother’s. I asked for a little history, and she obliged. Here is Vicki’s account of her grandmother’s rhubarb cake.

“Rhubarb Cake Recipe (a recipe from Vicki Burgess George’s mother Wilma Larson 1910-2007 and her mother before her, Emma Retrum 1883-1967)

“My mom was a great baker but she usually made simple things. Well…not always. She did make putzy things too such as krumkake and rosettes for holidays and the weekly loaves of homemade bread and cake doughnuts.  The latter were fried in pure LARD!  She was “trained” to cook and bake by her Norwegian mother in the late teens and 20′s.  

“As a young farm housewife in the depression era, when money was scarce, my mom still baked weekly and cooked large meals for my dad, his brother, and mom’s parents who all lived with them on a farm in Maiden Rock, WI. Unfortunately, she didn’t train me her youngest child as well as her mother trained her.  I think this was because when I was growing up, she worked a full time factory job outside the home which was not the norm in the 50′s.

“Notice that she assumes I already know how to cream sugar and butter, etc (see her direction “mix as you would for a cake”).  I make this recipe with the buttermilk instead of the orange juice.  Anyway, this is a simple recipe using mom’s homegrown rhubarb.

“Now I make it using rhubarb from a plant originally from Alan’s grandparents’ farm in northeastern Wisconsin that he has successfully transplanted four times!  He has moved it from his parents’ home in South Milwaukee, to parsonages in both Grantsburg and New Richmond, Wisconsin, and now to our home on the Willow River.  

“I know he uses only aged horse manure to fertilize the rhubarb.  He says chicken manure is too stinky and the aged horse manure works.

Enjoy (the cake…not the manure)!”

The recipe is very similar to “Nellie’s Rhubarb Cake which I shared with readers earlier this summer. Vicki’s grandmother’s recipe uses butter and buttermilk instead of shortening and sour milk, and it omits the salt. The salt in the butter and buttermilk eliminates the need for extra salt, and the two ingredients do make a subtle difference in the flavor of this cake.

I have kept the instructions as Vicki’s mother gave them to her. As Vicki noted, they assume that you know how to make a cake. More complete directions are in the notes.

INGREDIENTS:

1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup butter
1 egg
1 cup buttermilk (or orange juice)
2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 cups rhubarb (cut small)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon

PROCEDURE:

Here are Vicki’s grandmother’s directions. “Mix first seven ingredients as you would for a cake.  Stir in rhubarb.  Pour batter into a greased/floured 9 x 13 cake pan.  Sprinkle one-half cup white sugar and one teaspoon cinnamon (mixed) on top of batter.  Bake at 350º for 40-50 minutes.”

NOTES: Clean and chop the rhubarb stalks into a quarter to half-inch dice. Grease and flour a nine by thirteen inch cake pan. Preheat the oven to 350º.

Cream the sugar and shortening. Use all-purpose flour. Put the flour and soda into a sifter and sift a half cup of flour into the creamed sugar. Stir it well with a wooden spoon. Beat the egg until it is lemon yellow and mix it with the milk. Pour about a third of the milk into the sugar and flour mixture and stir it until it is smooth. Stir in another half cup of flour, then another third cup of milk and beat the mixture until it is smooth. Repeat these steps, ending with the final half cup of flour and beat well.

Stir the vanilla and rhubarb into the batter and pour it into the pan.

Mix a teaspoon of cinnamon into a half cup of granulated sugar and use a teaspoon to sprinkle it evenly over the top of the batter.

Put the pan on a center shelf in the oven and bake for forty to fifty minutes. Test for doneness after forty minutes. A toothpick inserted near the middle of the cake should come out clean. If it does not, bake for another five minutes and test again.

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Jerri’s Hush Puppies

“Heh, heh, heh!” snickered Jerri as she began reeling in her ninth bass. I just reached for the landing net.

Things had started off well for my wife: On her first cast of the day she hooked and brought a sixteen inch bass to the net. I was happy for her. I hate feeling guilty for catching all the fish.

However, she kept repeating that performance. I was paddling the canoe, so I couldn’t cast as often as she, but if I hadn’t rigged both rods myself, I would have suspected that she had dipped my jig and rubber worm in some kind of fish repellent.

After two more bass brought to the net, I switched to the same combination as Jerri’s. There was no change, except that we both took a break from casting as I rigged another jig and worm for Jerri after a lunker headed for the territories with the bait in its mouth.

Things did get better. A keeper bass threw my jig in my face and though we never actually saw it, I had a really, really big one on for a few seconds. But there was no honest way of changing the final score. Jerri: Ten bass landed and four between fifteen and a half and seventeen on the stringer. Me: zilch.

She did let me fillet them, and she fried fresh bass fillets for supper. However, she didn’t make hush puppies to go with them after we discovered that we didn’t have enough vegetable oil at the cabin.

Jerri makes wonderful hush puppies. She reduced the size of a recipe from a cookbook that we have had for nearly fifty years. Betty Crocker’s Outdoor Cook Book was published in 1961; it has been republished in a facsimile edition with all the wonderful drawings that make the book a joy to browse. To give you an idea of what you will find inside it, here is the artwork that goes with the hush puppy recipe along with Jerri’s comment.

Note the daddy dog shushing the kids. Been there, done that.

Like many dishes invented by ordinary people, the origin of hush puppies is unknown though it is probable that hush puppies were first made in the southern United States, where cornmeal is a staple food. One explanation is that fisherman mixed leftover cornmeal fish breading with water and fried the batter to feed their dogs. Another is that Confederate soldiers fed their dogs leftover fried corn bread to keep them from barking and alerting Union soldiers.

Interesting stories, perhaps, but once you have tasted a good hush puppy, I think you’ll agree that it would be a very lucky dog who got one of these treats.

INGREDIENTS:

3/4 cup cornmeal
3/4 cup water
3 T milk
1/2 T vegetable oil
2 tsp. grated onion
1 large egg
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. sugar

PROCEDURE:

Take an egg from the refrigerator and allow it to come to room temperature. Grate or finely mince two teaspoons of onion. Bring the water to a boil in a small saucepan and stir in the cornmeal. Keep stirring for three or four minutes or until the cornmeal gets thick and starts to form a ball. Remove the pan from the heat.

Pour an inch of vegetable oil into a medium saucepan and start heating the oil over low heat while you finish the batter.

Add the onion, oil and milk and stir until you have a smooth mixture. Beat the egg in a mixing bowl until it is lemon colored. Stir the cornmeal mixture into the egg until you have a smooth batter.

Put the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar into a sifter or just whisk them together in a small bowl. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the cornmeal batter and stir until everything is blended together.

Raise the heat under the oil. When the oil reaches 375º, drop the batter by teaspoonfuls into the oil. Fry the hush puppies until they are golden brown, about six or seven minutes. Use a slotted spoon to turn the hush puppies so they cook on all sides.

Remove them from the oil and drain them on paper towels. You can test one by cutting it in half to make sure that it is cooked through.

NOTES: Use two teaspoons to drop the batter into the oil. This recipe makes a dozen to sixteen hush puppies.

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Carol’s Pumpkin Crack

The wife of one of Jerri’s nephews brought crack to the family feast we shared recently. At least, that’s what she said it was when I asked. It turned out to be a moist pudding-type cake loaded with flavor.

Here is Carol’s explanation of how she came to make crack.

“I first served this dessert at a church leadership event.  As the meeting went on during the evening, I noticed that several folks kept returning to the buffet to get ‘just a few more bites.’  Someone later joked that it was addictive—once you start, you can’t stop. Thus the name, Pumpkin Crack.  Now I get a lot of requests to bring Crack to our get togethers.  Enjoy!”

Amen!

INGREDIENTS:
1 15 oz. can pumpkin
1 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
2 large eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ginger
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. allspice
1 box regular yellow cake mix
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 scant cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

PROCEDURE:
Preheat the oven to 350º. Grease a nine by thirteen-inch baking pan and set it aside.

Put the pumpkin, condensed milk, eggs, sugar and spices into a mixing bowl. Using a hand or electric mixer, beat the mixture until it is smooth and everything is blended together.

Pour the pumpkin mixture into the pan. Sprinkle about a third of the cake mix over the top. Use a circular motion to swirl the mix into the wet ingredients with a knife. Sprinkle the rest of the dry cake mix on top so it covers the batter evenly. Dribble the melted butter over the mix, and sprinkle the chips over the top.

Cover the pan with foil. Place the cake on a center shelf in the oven, and bake it for twenty-five minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another fifteen to twenty-five minutes, or until it has begun to brown around edges. Stick a toothpick near the middle of the cake. If it comes out clean, the cake is done.

Remove the cake from the oven and allow it to cool completely before cutting and serving. Or you can jab a spoon into it, put it on a kitchen counter or buffet table and let guests take as much as they want. This option makes it easier for people to come back for more.

NOTES: You can substitute two and a half teaspoons of pumpkin pie spice for the individual spices. Use a plain yellow cake mix, not one with pudding in the mix.

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Phyllis’s Bar-B-Que Burgers

It was a typical summer day in southern Kansas—hot and dry and windy. Jerri’s oldest brother and his wife live a couple of miles west of a small city with a beautiful view of the Gyp Hills. On that day, Theron was 225 miles away at a bank meeting and Phyllis was home with three of their four daughters. The oldest daughter, Lynne, had driven the old Hudson to her job.

People in Kansas are alert for severe weather. When Phyllis heard the tornado warning, she herded the three girls into the basement. After the four of them were safely underground, she remembered the puppies upstairs and started to go back up to get them.

“There’s not much you can do except follow tornado precaution instructions and pray,” she said, explaining why she stopped at the foot of the steps. At that moment the cellar door blew off and “things got exciting.”

Lynne heard about the storm and headed home. Her fears of what might have happened intensified when she found the road blocked by a tree about a half mile from their house. A neighbor came along and managed to get around the tree and take her home.

When Phyllis and the girls climbed out of the basement, they first saw that their seventy foot tall antenna tower had been bent and blown over a building behind the house and that equipment and feed bunks were scattered across the yard and destroyed. Walking around the house, they saw that the top half of the big cedar tree in the front yard was gone.

Debris was everywhere, but at least their house was only slightly damaged. The house belonging to Mrs. Bauman, their neighbor across the road, had been blown four inches off its foundation.

As they surveyed the mess, four-year-old Leslie announced, “This never would have happened if daddy had been home.”

The whole family, especially Theron, loves the story. No one was hurt, the puppies survived and Theron’s old pickup didn’t even get scratched.

I don’t know whether they had electricity after the storm, but I’m sure Phyllis managed to put a good supper on the table. She might have made her Bar-B-Que Burgers which she could cook outside on the grill.

Many years ago, Lynne compiled The Krehbiel Family Cookbook to preserve some of the recipes and wisdom she and her siblings learned while growing up. Most of the recipes are from Phyllis, but a few originated with Theron and some were contributed by the girls themselves.

Phyllis found the recipe for Bar-B-Que Burgers in a Carnation milk advertisement. You can find an ad with the recipe here. Lynne noted that this was a “a favorite hamburger, nice and moist!” It might well become one of your family favorites too.

INGREDIENTS:
1 1/2 lbs. ground beef
1/2 cup cracker crumbs
1/4 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. dry mustard
1 large egg
2/3 cup evaporated milk

PROCEDURE:

Put the meat in a large mixing bowl. Crush the crackers, making sure no pieces are bigger than a quarter inch. Peel the onion and wash the pepper. Chop both into a fine dice. Mix the salt, pepper, crackers and vegetables with the meat. Add an unbeaten egg and the milk
and stir with a mixing fork until you have a smooth meat mixture.

Divide the meat into six equal parts and form the patties. Broil them for five to seven minutes.

NOTES: You might want to use just a little more salt, but diners can add salt if they want. You can use a red or yellow bell pepper if you don’t have a green one in your refrigerator.

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Whole Wheat Popovers

If you follow the recipe for “Perfect Popovers”, you’ll be known as the never-fail popover baker in your family or even in the neighborhood. But since popovers are just hollow muffins, it is almost inevitable that someone is going to say, “I wonder what would happen if you tried adding some whole wheat flour to these things.”

I asked myself that question a couple of years ago, and whole wheat popovers appeared on the table one morning. They didn’t pop quite as high, but they were delicious, and I enjoyed thinking that I was eating a healthier breakfast as I spooned some scrambled eggs into half a popover.

They are just as easy to make as ordinary popovers. Just make sure you follow these two basic rules. First, the eggs and milk must be at WARM room temperature; seventy degrees is too cool. Second, don’t beat the batter too long.

INGREDIENTS:

1/2 cup plus 1 T whole wheat flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup plus 4 tsp. milk
2 tsp. vegetable oil
3 large eggs

PROCEDURE:

Make sure that the baking rack in your oven is in or slightly below the center position. Preheat the oven to 450º. Grease the popover pan lightly and place it in the oven to heat.

While the oven is heating, put the unbroken eggs in a small bowl and cover them with very warm water from the tap. Let them sit for at least five minutes. Warm the milk on the range or in the microwave until it feels slightly warm to the touch.

Mix the flours and salt together in a one quart measuring cup or bowl. Add the warm milk, oil and eggs and beat the batter with an electric mixer for eleven seconds (NO MORE) on high. Take the mixer out of the bowl and stir the batter slowly with a fork to mix in any remaining large dry clumps. Small lumps are OK.

Take the hot pan from the oven and fill the cups evenly; they should be one-half to two-thirds full. Put the pan into the hot oven, turn the heat down to 425º and bake twenty minutes. Reduce the heat to 350º and continue baking the popovers for another twenty minutes. DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN DURING BAKING. PERIOD.

Remove the pan from the oven, let it cool for fifteen or twenty seconds, remove the popovers from the pan and serve them while they are still hot. Give each popover a gentle twist to loosen it. A table knife works to loosen stubborn popovers. If you want, cut a small slit in the side of each popover to release the steam.

NOTES: The eggs and milk must be warm. The oven door must remain closed during the entire baking period. Have faith. They will pop. You can make popovers in an ordinary muffin pan, but they don’t pop as high.

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Rhonda’s Rice and Broccoli Casserole

This is a recipe from Kansas, a statement which you might want to interpret as a gourmet alert. The ingredients include Velveeta. But though I hate to admit it, in spite of that this recipe makes a delicious side dish.

Rhonda, the wife of one of Jerri’s cousins, contributed the recipe to a cookbook compiled by the Farm Bureau Women of Butler County, Kansas. As I have mentioned elsewhere, my mother-in-law gave us the cookbook for Christmas many years ago, and Jerri has made many of the recipes. Some have become favorites, like “Betty Stucky’s Raisin Bars,” and this one from Rhonda is going to be added to the list.

When I warmed up the leftover casserole to go with the hot dogs and pasta salad we set out to feed my brother-in-law and his work crew at the cabin, he remarked how well the broccoli went with the rice as he took a second helping. It is indeed a tasty combination.

When I confessed that the sauce was made with canned soups and Velveeta, he guffawed and asked me if I finally was abandoning my purist policies.

One of his grandsons and a member of the work crew looked puzzled. “What’s Velveeta?” he asked.

“It’s like American cheese, like the single slices you get on cheeseburgers,” I said, “but it comes in a box.” I got the box out to show him.

“It’s a brand name,” my brother-in-law explained to him.

“OK,” said he, and took a serving.

I can remember the box of Velveeta in the refrigerator at home. Like Rhonda, Mom used it in cooking because it made really smooth sauces. Velveeta was invented in 1923 in Monroe, New York, and was named for its velvety smooth texture. It is a dairy product, so even Wisconsinites can admit to using it without shame. It is not, however, to be confused with a good Wisconsin brick, Cheddar or Colby.

When Jerri and I were first married, most Kansas supermarkets offered Velveeta, ground Parmesan, and a handful of other cheeses, nearly all from Kraft. Last summer, when we stopped at Emporia, Kansas, to stock up on the best flour I know (Hudson Cream), I made a point of inspecting the cheese case.

There were probably a hundred different varieties and brands of cheese made by cheese makers from Oregon to Vermont as well as Wisconsin, an enormous improvement in the last four decades. I almost felt like I had wandered into a good Wisconsin supermarket.

Velveeta was still in the cheese case, but my attitude towards it had changed. Even the ancient Romans used some processed foods including fish sauces and cheeses flavored with garlic or sweetened with honey as well as salted cheeses shipped to Rome from across the empire, perhaps to be eaten with the hams imported from Belgium. We have chemists today to make fancier processed foods, but maybe that’s just progress.

Even without scientists, our ancestors were pretty clever when it came to inventing new foods. For instance, yogurt, tofu and most of the cheeses we enjoy today have been around for thousands of years. What I finally have come to understand is that Velveeta is really just another in the long list of foods that start with milk. Not my favorite to eat on crackers, but a good ingredient in some recipes.

Like Rhonda’s Rice and Broccoli Casserole which makes six to eight servings of a delicious side dish.

INGREDIENTS:

3/4 cup white rice
1 1/2 cups water
Scant 1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 lbs. broccoli crowns
4 T butter
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/3 cup chopped onion
1 can condensed cream of chicken soup
1 can condensed cream of mushroom soup
1/2 lb. Velveeta cheese

PROCEDURE:

Rinse the rice, then put it in a saucepan with the water and salt. Bring to a boil, then stir and reduce the heat to a low simmer. Cook the rice covered for fifteen to twenty minutes until the water is absorbed. Remove the pan from the heat.

Prepare the vegetables while the rice is cooking. Wash the broccoli, discard the tough bottom part of the stems and divide the crowns into bite-sized pieces. Clean and chop the celery and onion into a quarter to half-inch dice.

Preheat the oven to 350º.

Blanch the broccoli in a microwave oven or covered saucepan with a little water for four or five minutes until it is crisp but tender. Drain and set aside the broccoli. Cut the Velveeta into half inch cubes.

Melt the butter in a two quart saucepan over low heat. Add the celery and onion and cook them for about four minutes until they are soft. Add the undiluted soups and Velveeta and stir until you have a smooth sauce. Remove the sauce from the heat.

Spread the cooked rice evenly over the bottom of a two quart baking dish. Spread the broccoli on the rice and spoon the sauce over the broccoli. Put the dish on a center shelf in the oven and bake the casserole for about thirty minutes until the rice is bubbling around the edges and the sauce is just beginning to brown.

NOTES: Rhonda’s recipe calls for two ten ounce packages of frozen broccoli spears and butter or margarine. I prefer butter and fresh broccoli when you can get it.

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Shrimp Etouffée

I was introduced to Creole cooking on my first visit to New Orleans many years ago. I ate barbecue shrimp, jambalya, gumbo and shrimp etouffée. The only dish with which I was vaguely familiar was jambalaya, and that was because of the Hank Williams hit song, “On the Bayou.” The food was so good that I bought a cookbook of Creole cuisine, La Bouche Creole, by Leon E. Soniat, Jr.

The title literally means “The Creole Mouth.” It’s a fun book to read filled with Soniat’s accounts of how Mamere (his grandmother) and Mamete (his mother) prepared many of the recipes. La Bouche Creole has been in print for over thirty years. You should get a copy if you want to enjoy authentic Creole cuisine. Meanwhile, here is a modified version of one of my favorite recipes from Soniat’s collection, shrimp etouffée.

Etouffée means “smothered” so shrimp etouffée is shrimp smothered in a thick sauce. It resembles shrimp creole like my mother used to make, but shrimp etouffée has a more complex flavor that I think you will find both intriguing and delicious. The secret is the beef broth and brown roux. It takes a little longer to make shrimp etouffée than shrimp creole, but that roux creates a rich sauce that is heavenly.

Soniat calls for three pounds of shrimp, and that is what I used the first time I made the dish. Shrimp are expensive, however, and I now use about two pounds, half small and half large.

INGREDIENTS:

3 T butter
3 T vegetable oil
6 T all-purpose flour
2 cups chopped onions
1 cup chopped green bell pepper
1 cup chopped celery
4 or 5 cloves garlic
1 6 oz can tomato paste
3 cups beef broth
2 cups water
3 bay leaves
1 tsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. chili powder
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. salt
2- 3 lbs. peeled shrimp
1 cup chopped shallots
2 T chopped parsley

PROCEDURE:

First make a roux. Heat three tablespoons each of butter and vegetable oil over low heat in a large pot or Dutch oven. Add six tablespoons flour and use a wooden spoon to stir it frequently until the flour is medium brown, almost to the color of milk chocolate. It will take about twenty minutes to do this right.

Pay close attention to the flour so it does not burn. Prepare the vegetables while the roux is cooking. Clean and chop the onion, bell pepper and celery into a quarter to half-inch dice. Clean and mince the garlic.

When the roux is brown, add the vegetables followed by the tomato paste, beef broth and water. Raise the heat and bring the pot to a boil, then reduce the heat. While the vegetables simmer, add the bay leaves and stir in the basil, thyme, chili powder, cayenne pepper, black pepper and salt. Clean and chop the shallots into a quarter-inch dice and finely chop the parsley.

Peel and devein the shrimp if necessary, or thaw frozen shrimp and remove the tails.

After the vegetables have simmered about forty-five minutes, add the shallots and parsley. Simmer for another ten minutes, then add the shrimp and bring the pot back to a simmer. If you are using raw shrimp, allow the pot to simmer about seven or eight minutes, then turn off the heat. With precooked shrimp, turn the heat off as soon as the pot begins to simmer.

Cover the pot and let it stand on the back of the stove for an hour or so to blend the flavors. Reheat just to a simmer before serving.

Serve the etouffée over white rice with a green salad and crusty bread.

NOTES: Soniat calls for raw shrimp, which you need to peel before cooking. Not having any raw shrimp in the house one Sunday morning, I tried two packages of frozen cooked shrimp. I thawed them, removed the tails, and added them to the pot as the final ingredient. The dish was still delicious, and I have stopped peeling shrimp.

One cup of uncooked rice will produce about three cups of cooked rice, so if you start with one and one-half cups of uncooked rice, you will end up with six to eight servings to smother with shrimp etouffée.

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Betty Stucky’s Raisin Bars

One year Jerri’s mother gave her a cookbook compiled by the Farm Bureau Women of Butler County, Kansas. Jerri grew up in Butler County, which is the largest county in Kansas and larger than the state of Rhode Island.

Butler County doesn’t have quite the same population density as Rhode Island, of course, but there are several thousand people living there in a couple dozen cities and small communities or on farms and ranches in the Flint Hills, famous as the largest remaining region of tall grass prairie in the United States. The Kansas Turnpike leads you over the Flint Hills, which extend from northern Kansas down into Oklahoma, but the highest point in the Flint Hills is in Butler county at 1,680 feet above sea level.

I don’t know if it was the high point or not, but Jerri drove me a half mile from her home in Rosalia one evening to show me the lights of El Dorado, thirteen miles to the west, from a hill that was at least twenty feet high.

I now look forward to our Kansas trips because they take us through the Flint Hills. If you plan a visit to Kansas, I recommend April or May when the hills are green. That’s the best time to enjoy viewing the thousands of beef cattle grazing on the slopes, the cottonwoods and osage orange trees along the streams and the ranch houses miles away in the valleys below you.

The Farm Bureau women were an important part of Butler County society when Jerri was growing up, and she recognizes many of the names in the cookbook. One of them is Betty Stucky, because she and her husband bought the farmhouse that Jerri’s family moved to from Moundridge, Kansas when her father decided to raise beef cattle instead of farming wheat.

Her family moved into Rosalia after a couple of years, but her father continued to graze cattle until after we were married. Jerri remembers the “farm” clearly because she would tag along with her brothers who drove out daily to milk the cows when she was six or seven years old.

The family renting the farmhouse at that time had a daughter about Jerri’s age that she liked to play with. One time when she was playing with Ruth Ann, Jerri deliberately stayed out of sight when her brothers finished the chores. They drove home five miles only to be sent back by their mother with instructions to find their sister.

After her first success, Jerri repeated the strategy a few more times. It ended when she told a friend at school how she managed to stay later at Ruth Ann’s. The friend told her father, who was the preacher at their church. He told Jerri’s mother and father, and such shenanigans ended shortly.

Jerri has made these bars many times, often for potlucks or funeral lunches. She likes it because you use only one pan to mix the batter, so if you like to wash cooking dishes, skip this recipe.

But they do taste good.

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup raisins
1 cup water
1/2 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. allspice
1/4 tsp. cloves
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

PROCEDURE:

Put the raisins and water into a two-quart saucepan and bring it to boiling. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the shortening. Cool the mixture to lukewarm. Preheat the oven to 350º and grease a 15 1/2 by 10 1/2-inch baking pan while the raisins are cooling.

Beat the sugar and egg into the lukewarm mixture.

Sift the dry ingredients together and beat them by half-cupfuls into the raisin mixture. Stir in the vanilla and chopped walnuts.

Pour the batter into the greased pan and bake on a center shelf for twelve minutes or until done. Test for doneness by pressing gently near the center of the pan. If the surface springs back up, the bars are done.

Cool to room temperature, dust lightly with powdered sugar and cut into bars.

This recipe makes about four dozen bars.

NOTES: Betty noted that you can frost the bars if you wish.

We don’t own a 15 1/2 by 10 1/2-inch pan, so Jerri bakes them in a regular 9 by 13-inch cake pan. This produces thicker bars, so you will have to bake them a few minutes longer. Incidentally, Jerri added the vanilla to the original recipe.

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Butch’s Kraut-Stuffed Hamburgers

Butch Wardenga was a year behind me in high school, but he ended up a few years ahead of me in cooking and sharing his recipes. While I left Hayward and ended up working for a company in the Twin Cities, Butch stayed in the Hayward area and ended up with his own home caretaking business.

While there are these obvious differences in our lives, we both had mothers who were good cooks, we share a love of good food and we like cooking for other people. Butch published a collection of his recipes in a book he titled Care Taker’s Cookbook. I write “Courage in the Kitchen.”

One of my sisters and her husband gave me a copy of Care Taker’s Cookbook for my birthday this year, and several recipes caught my eye. I talked with Butch on the phone and have his permission to share some of those recipes on this blog. The first one I tried was “Kraut-Stuffed Hamburgers.”

They tasted just as good as I thought they would. Frying the kraut with bacon and onion creates a mild filling for the hamburgers that is a perfect complement for the meat. You really should try it, even if you think that you don’t like sauerkraut.

INGREDIENTS:

2 lb. ground beef
1 medium onion (2 1/2 inches)
5 slices bacon (about 1/4 lb.)
3 cups sauerkraut
Salt and pepper
Flour
3 T olive oil

PROCEDURE:

Cut the bacon into quarter inch pieces and fry them over moderate heat until they are crisp in a large skillet. Peel and chop the onion into a quarter-inch dice. Add the onions to the bacon and sauté until they are translucent and tender. Stir a dash of salt and a quarter teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper into the bacon and onion.

Stir the drained sauerkraut into the mixture and fry until it turns golden brown.

To form the hamburgers, take about a quarter cup of meat and press it into a patty about five inches in diameter. Put one or two teaspoons of the sauerkraut mixture on one half of the patty and fold the other half over the top. Seal the edges.

Heat about three tablespoons of olive oil in a large frying pan. Dredge the patties in flour and fry them until they are well done. If you are cooking for a group, keep the hamburgers warm in a roaster.

NOTES: I made half a batch to produce four good-sized burgers. Instead of folding the meat over the filling, I made two thin patties, put filling on the bottom one and sealed the top patty to the bottom.

Be careful with the salt, since sauerkraut is often quite salty. Diners can always salt their burger at the table.

If you want a copy of Butch’s cookbook, you can buy it the next time you are in Hayward or on line from Hayward Mercantile Company.

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