Roast Leg of Lamb in Red Wine

It was the last day of the State 4-H Fat Stock Show in Wichita, Kansas. Joyce Livingston, the popular host of “Women’s World” and “The Joyce Livingston Show” on Channel 12, was interviewing 4-H members whose market lambs were going to be sold. Lisa, one of Jerri’s nieces, was about to have a brief but memorable television interview with Joyce Livingston.

The show was limited to 4-H members, but not all of them lived on sheep farms. As Lisa explained, “A lot of kids that showed lambs at the fair didn’t raise sheep like we did. They would buy one or two lambs when they were really young, and would feed and raise them until it was time to show them at the fair. So for those kids, the lambs were more like pets, per se, than they were for us. Our lambs were just in with all of our other sheep on the farm, so we never really spent time with them like the other kids did, so we weren’t nearly as attached to them.”

There were about fifty lambs judged high enough to be in the auction that year, so the television interviews were short, basically the name of the 4-H member, where he or she was from and the name of the animal. If it was something like “Fluffy” or “Lambchop”, Joyce Livingston might comment or ask another question.

Lisa tells how her interview went: “She got to me; I think she asked my name and where I was from, and then she asked me what my lamb’s name was. I just looked at her, probably blankly, and said ‘It doesn’t have a name.’ I remember she looked a little surprised, but then I really don’t remember what she said after that.”

Having worked long ago in radio broadcasting, I’ll bet she didn’t say much more. When you find yourself starting to dig yourself into a hole, the first thing to do is to stop digging. What could she say? “You heartless girl. Have you no love for an innocent lamb?” After all, it was a meat animal auction, and people in Kansas like lamb on the table almost as much as a good steak. As an experienced TV host, she probably said “Thank you” and moved on to the next lamb and its owner.

Lisa with lambHere is a photo of Lisa taken at that auction with her lamb. Like her sisters, Lisa helped raise hundreds of sheep, but this lamb was one she had picked to show. She had worked with it so it was accustomed to her and groomed it for the competition. When her lamb was judged good enough to sell at the Fat Stock Show, she earned some money to help pay her way through college. The girl in the picture is now a banker.

This is a recipe by Phyllis, Lisa’s mother, from The Krehbiel Family Cookbook. She and her husband, Theron, raised prize-winning lambs and helped guide their four daughters through 4-H projects showing lambs at county and state fairs. As you might expect, Phyllis knew how to turn some of those lambs into delicious dinners.

INGREDIENTS:

6 lb. leg of lamb
2–4 medium onions
2–4 medium carrots
2 1/4 cups red burgundy, divided
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 tsp. salt
6 whole black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
2 cloves garlic

PROCEDURE:

Scrape or peel the carrots and remove the outer skin of the onions along with the stem and root ends. Cut the vegetables into large pieces.

Wipe the leg of lamb with damp paper towels and trim excess fat from it. Set the meat in a 13 x 9 x 2” glass baking dish with the carrots and onions. In a four cup measure, combine two cups of wine with the vinegar, salt, black pepper and bay leaves to make the marinade. Pour it over the meat. Cover with foil or plastic wrap. Refrigerate twenty-four hours, turning the meat occasionally.

Preheat the oven to 400º. Take the lamb from the marinade and allow it to drain. Remove the vegetables with a slotted spoon and set them aside. Reserve the marinade.

Remove the paper from two cloves of garlic and cut them into slivers. With a sharp narrow-bladed knife make several slits on the lamb and insert the garlic slivers. Place the lamb fat side up in a shallow roasting pan.

Roast uncovered for twenty minutes, then baste the meat with three tablespoons of marinade. Place the carrots and onions around the meat. Continue to roast, basting every ten minutes for about an hour and forty minutes or until the meat registers 165º on an instant read thermometer for medium rare. Remove the meat to a heated serving platter and let it rest while you make the sauce.

Add a half cup of water and a quarter cup of burgundy to the drippings. Bring the liquid to a boil, scraping the drippings from from the bottom of the pan. Simmer for a few minutes to reduce the volume slightly. Strain the sauce into a small bowl or server. Let it stand for two or three minutes. Then serve it with the thinly sliced meat.

NOTES: Burgundy is the name reserved for wines made mainly from Pinot Noir grapes in Burgundy, a famous wine region in France. Some very good Pinot Noir wines are being made in California, Oregon and Chile and other places from Austria to Australia. If you have a Pinot Noir wine you enjoy drinking, use that to cook your leg of lamb.

Mint jelly is traditionally served with roast lamb, but cranberry sauce also goes well with it. Add a green salad, mashed potatoes and bread or dinner rolls , and you will be putting a gourmet dinner on your table.

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Old-Fashioned Sponge Cake

Sundays were special when I was a kid. Sunday was the one day in the week when the whole family could spend the whole day together. When I was very young my father’s work week ended at noon on Saturday, so we had Saturday afternoons free for fishing, berry picking or visiting. But a lot of the time, those afternoons were devoted to “chores,” a euphemism for hoeing the garden, mowing the lawn, cutting and splitting firewood, and other such unpleasant activities.

Sundays, however, were mostly set aside for fun activities with an intermission for the church service after Sunday dinner. We lived about two miles from Trinity Lutheran Church near the tiny village of Phipps, Wisconsin, where my father had been baptized and confirmed, and we went nearly every Sunday. It was a small country church, one of three served by a minister who conducted the first service of the day in Glidden, Wisconsin, drove forty miles to Cable where he led midmorning worship at the log chapel where my Aunt Hilda was married and then drove another sixteen miles for the service at our church.

Besides this challenging Sunday schedule, he also taught catechism classes, visited homebound members of the congregations, buried and married folks and met with church elders. He was a busy man.

Winter storms sometimes forced cancellations of services at Cable and Phipps, but the church in Glidden had enough people living within easy walking distance that services were conducted every Sunday, even on the opening weekend of deer season. Church was cancelled at Cable and Phipps when the men and boys set off in search of the wily whitetail. In the days before the two car family, hunters had first dibs on the family vehicle, so non-hunters and children had no way to drive to church.

Except for that one Sunday a year, church was an integral part of a day that began with Dad’s driving to town to buy a Sunday paper. Since he didn’t have to go to work and there was no school bus for us kids to watch for, Sunday breakfasts tended to be relatively leisurely affairs. About once a month, they featured orange juice. The exact timing depended on sales at the two local grocery stores. When oranges were on sale, Mom bought a bag, and we had orange juice.

People like great Aunt Hattie, who lived in California, wouldn’t have called it orange juice, because Mom added water to make sure that there was a glassful for everyone. One of my earliest memories is of washing oranges under the pitcher pump in the kitchen. Dad would cut the oranges in half, we would squeeze them on on the round juicer and Mom would add sugar and water until the juice tasted right to her. Then she would add the orange peel halves and give the mixture a good stir before serving glasses of what most people would call orangeade. We loved it.

Later, Mom would use the orange rinds to flavor things she baked—like orange sponge cake. Orange sponge cake recipes call for lots of eggs, which was no problem in the Rang household. Mom’s hens kept us well supplied.

Here is how to turn oranges and eggs into a wonderful cake.

INGREDIENTS:

6 large eggs
1 1/3 cups cake flour
1 1/2 cups sugar, divided
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup orange juice
1 T orange zest
3/4 tsp. cream of tartar

PROCEDURE:

Start by bringing the eggs to room temperature. Set them on the counter a couple of hours before you start the cake or put them in a bowl of warm water for a few minutes.

Wash and dry the oranges. Remove a generous tablespoon of zest from the oranges with a zester or kitchen grater and squeeze a half cup of juice from the fruit.

Preheat the oven to 325º and mix the flour and one-third cup of sugar in a small bowl.

Separate the eggs into two mixing bowls. With an egg beater or electric mixer beat the yolks until they are lemon colored and begin to thicken. Beat in the orange zest and juice and continue beating the yolks until they are very thick, gradually adding two-thirds cup of sugar and a quarter teaspoon of salt.

Transfer the flour and sugar mixture from the small bowl to a sifter and sift the dry ingredients very gradually on top of the yolk mixture. Use a spatula to fold the dry ingredients gently into the yolk mixture.

Wash the beaters thoroughly. Sprinkle three-fourths teaspoon of cream of tartar on the whites and beat them until soft peaks form. Continue beating while you add a half cup of sugar until stiff peaks form.

Fold the egg yolk mixture gently but thoroughly into the beaten egg whites and put the batter into an ungreased ten-inch tube (angel food) cake pan. Run a table knife carefully through the batter to remove any bubbles.

Bake on the center shelf in the oven for thirty to forty minutes. Check for doneness at thirty minutes. If the top of the cake is dry and springs back when you press down gently on it, it is done. Take it from the oven and invert the pan until the cake is completely cool.

Run a table knife around the tube and inside the pan to remove the cake from the pan.

NOTES: If you don’t have cake flour in your kitchen, you can make do by using 1 1/3 cups minus 2 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour.

We balance the inverted pan on a bottle while the cake cools. Works great unless you jostle the pan.

This cake is delicious by itself, wonderful with ice cream and heavenly with whipped cream. Don’t think of spoiling it with “whipped topping.”

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Broccoli Pasta Salad

“What can we bring?” is the first question Jerri asks when we are invited to someone’s home for dinner. My mother asked the same question hundreds of times over the years.

If your host or hostess suggests that you bring a salad, here is one that you can put together in under half an hour. Since it tastes even better after it sits in the refrigerator for a couple of hours, it’s a salad that eliminates any last minute panics. It’s perfect for senior citizens.

We can make it before our afternoon nap, pop it in the refrigerator and wake up alert and ready to astound our friends with our vim and vigor. It’s a good recipe for the gainfully employed too. You can make it before leaving for work in the morning and take it out of the fridge on your way to the party. Not as relaxing as we find it, but trust me, you will get there some day.

Meanwhile you can practice making this salad which has just enough dressing to flavor everything without loading it with extra calories.

INGREDIENTS:

1 12 oz. package rotini
Water and salt to cook the pasta
4 or 5 slices bacon
3 cups raw, chopped broccoli
1/4 cup diced red onion
1/2 cup unsalted roasted sunflower seeds
1 cup shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
1 cup mayonnaise or whipped salad dressing
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup sugar

PROCEDURE:

Heat the water for cooking the pasta. Cook the pasta according to the directions on the package for al dente or firm. Drain the pasta in a colander and rinse with cold water to cool it completely.

Cut the bacon into a three-eighths to half-inch dice and fry it over medium heat until it just becomes crisp. Be careful not to burn it. Drain it well and set it aside. You should have about a half cup of crisp bacon.

Wash and chop the broccoli into one inch pieces. Clean and chop the onion into a three-sixteenth to quarter-inch dice. Shred the cheese.

Put the cooled rotini, bacon, vegetables, sunflower seeds and cheese into a large mixing bowl. Toss the ingredients until they are distributed evenly.

Make the dressing in a small bowl by whisking together the mayonnaise or whipped dressing with the vinegar and sugar. Pour the dressing over the pasta mixture and toss gently until the pasta and vegetables are coated.

Transfer the salad to a serving bowl and refrigerate for at least an hour before serving. For the best flavor, let the salad stand at room temperature for fifteen or twenty minutes.

NOTES: This is a good salad to take to a potluck or picnic.

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Quick and Easy Baguettes

More than anything else, seeing a bicyclist with a shopping bag hanging from the handlebars and a three foot long loaf of bread under her arm convinced me that, like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, I was not in Kansas anymore. Or in my case, no longer in Wisconsin.

People do not carry unwrapped loaves of bread under their arms in Wisconsin, certainly not while riding bicycles, but it is still a common sight in Europe. The longest loaves I saw were in Paris, France, but nearly every baker at the market in Münster, Germany, where I was a student, had a bin filled with long skinny loaves that gave me another reason to call bread “the staff of life.”

These long loaves are called baguettes. In French the word means simply baton or wand, so the conductor at a concert uses a baguette de direction to lead the orchestra and the magician waves his baguette magique over the scarf-covered top hat to make the rabbit appear.

You can make your own magic wands with just flour, water, yeast and salt, though I like to add a fifth ingredient, a pinch or two of sugar, to encourage the yeast. When your loaves are done, you can entertain your family and guests by waving a baguette over the table before you cut it into pieces and pass the butter, cheese or herbed olive oil. Once they taste the new bread, they will applaud you as the “kitchen magician.”

INGREDIENTS:

1 1/4 cups warm water
1/4 tsp. sugar
2 1/4 tsp. yeast (1 package)
About 3 cups bread flour
1 tsp. salt
Cooking spray
Cornmeal

PROCEDURE:

Heat the water until it feels warm but not hot when you sprinkle a drop or two on the inside of your wrist, just as if you were testing the contents of a baby bottle. Put the water in a mixing bowl, and stir in the sugar and yeast. Let the yeast proof for five to ten minutes until it begins to foam.

Put a cup of bread flour into the liquid and stir it well. Repeat with the second cup of flour, at which point the mixture will be a thick batter. Now add flour a quarter cup at a time, stirring thoroughly between each addition. On average you will need to add a little more than three-quarters of a cup of flour to end up with a soft but firm dough. It is better to have a dough that is slightly too soft, since you will add more flour while kneading.

Cover the bowl with a damp kitchen towel and let it stand in a warm, draft-free place for half an hour. The dough will rise noticeably in this time, since you have not added any salt, which retards yeast growth. Scrape the dough from the bowl on to a lightly floured work surface. It will be a little sticky. Use a spatula to turn the dough and flatten it a bit. Sprinkle a half teaspoon of salt on it. Fold the dough, turn it once again and sprinkle on another half teaspoon of salt.

Knead the dough for five to six minutes until it is smooth and elastic, keeping your hands and the work surface lightly floured. Kneading distributes the salt through the dough and of course gives you that nice bread texture. Form the dough into a ball.

Coat the inside of the mixing bowl with cooking spray and roll the ball of dough in the bowl to lightly grease the surface. Cover with the damp towel and let the dough rise until it has doubled in volume, usually forty-five minutes to an hour.

Sprinkle a light coating of cornmeal on a baking sheet. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface. Divide the dough into thirds and form each piece into a rope a little over an inch in diameter and twelve to fourteen inches long with tapered ends. Put the ropes on the prepared baking sheet, coat them lightly with cooking spray and cover them with a damp towel. Let them rise until they have doubled in size, usually about half an hour.

Preheat the oven to 450º.

When the loaves have doubled in size, use a very sharp knife to cut three or four diagonal slits about a quarter inch deep on the top of each loaf. Bake on the center shelf for eighteen to twenty minutes until the loaves are light brown and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.

NOTES: If you want a crispier crust, you can toss three or four ice cubes into a preheated baking pan on the bottom shelf in the oven when you start baking the baguettes. I sometimes do this when I make Italian Feather Bread, but so far I have been happy with baguettes baked without the ice cubes.

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Simple Scalloped Potatoes

Eight people stand in front of a car in a field with trees in the background. In the back row, the dapper man on the left with the mustache is my grandfather. He is wearing a three piece suit, tie and a golf-style cap. At the far right is my grandmother in a dress decorated with what appears to be satin. White stockings contrast with her sensible shoes.

Between Grandpa and Grandma stand their three oldest children—George, Margaret and Harry, my father. The three younger children are in front. Like her older sister, Laura is outfitted in her Sunday best complete with a hat and handbag. The naughty one hiding her face with a scarf is Hilda, but her little brother Harold stares directly into the camera.

Fred Rang familyThe Rang family was having their photo taken with their new 1929 Ford. It was the last car Grandpa bought, a black Model A Fordor with room enough for the entire family. The price was $613. My father told me that the car was paid for with the money Grandpa got for the potatoes they sold that year from the small field between the house and the road.

Though Grandpa and Grandma Rang had dairy cows and flocks of chickens and ducks and grew oats and hay, potatoes were the cash crop. When my father was growing up, Wisconsin ranked in the top three or four states for potato production. Grandpa was proud of his potatoes, and they gave him some extra money to put into a savings account at the bank in Hayward.

He was lucky to have bought the car before the bank failed. All the savings the family had earned from their hard work in the fields disappeared. A few months before the Crash, Grandpa had started putting the cream checks into a bank in Stone Lake, Wisconsin, which survived the depression, so he had a little cash. They didn’t have much money, but at least they had a new car.

My father told me that the Ford replaced the Overland he had learned to drive when he was about ten years old. He would drive it from the farm to the north side of Hayward, where Grandpa would take over the controls. Grandpa never liked to drive a car, but he felt that it was his responsibility to drive in town.

I don’t think that I have ever seen an Overland except in photos, but I have wonderful memories of Grandpa’s Model A. Dad and his younger brother, Uncle Harold, used it to hunt ruffed grouse, which we called partridges. The Model A was designed to be driven on the roads of the time, complete with rocks, ruts and mud holes. It sat high above the ground on its twenty-one inch wheels and was perfect for negotiating logging roads and fire lanes in northern Wisconsin.

My father was a mechanic and I was interested in cars, so I soon learned that Grandpa’s Model A went about twenty miles on a gallon of gas, that it had mechanical brakes and a three speed transmission. It also had a heater that was adjusted by sliding a metal cover off a hole in the floor behind the engine and a windshield that could be cranked up to let cool air in.

The crank out windshield made it an ideal “bird hunter’s” car. Once we left the highway and were on a gravel road or dirt track through the woods, the windshield would be cranked up and Dad would load his double barrel shotgun. It was a twelve gauge with big hammers. Uncle Harold drove and I watched from the back seat.

“There’s one!” Dad would say. Uncle Harold would stop or slow down to get closer to the partridge as my father aimed the gun through the open windshield. And then, “Boom!!” My ears would still be ringing as my father brought the partridge back to the car and laid it on a gunny sack on the floor boards next to me in the back.

Not very good for one’s hearing, not very sporting either, but we had lots of partridges for supper when I was growing up.

Scalloped potatoes go pretty well with fried partridge. You can make your own like this.

INGREDIENTS:

5 to 6 cups potatoes
2 to 3 T minced onion
3 T butter
2 T all-purpose flour
2 to 3 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 cups milk

PROCEDURE:

Preheat the oven to 350º while you mince the onion and peel and thinly slice the potatoes. A mandoline or the slicing side of a kitchen grater makes this job easy. Heat the milk to steaming.

Melt the butter in a saucepan and stir in the flour, salt and pepper to make a roux. Cook the mixture for a minute or two, but be careful not to brown it. Add the hot milk. Stir continuously until the mixture bubbles and you have a smooth sauce. In case you are interested, what you will have made is a white or Béchamel sauce.

Mix the onion with the potatoes and spread them in a nine by nine or eight by twelve-inch baking dish. Pour the sauce over the potatoes. You should be able to see the sauce in the top layer. If you can’t, add a little extra milk. Put the dish on a center shelf in the oven and bake uncovered for about an hour.

NOTES: If you are using reduced fat milk, use an extra tablespoon of butter to make the sauce. Be careful with the salt. Two teaspoons is enough for our taste, but you may want a little more. Remember, you can always add salt at the table, but it is extremely difficult to get those little salt crystals separated from the milk and potatoes after the dish is cooked.

For best results, use waxy potatoes like reds or golds instead of russets. If all you have are russets, however, they will taste fine, though they tend to become mushy,

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Cool Asparagus Barley Salad

Sometimes a person is just plain lucky. That’s how I felt when I learned that hull-less barley not only tastes wonderful but is also a healthy choice for people wanting to control their cholesterol and blood glucose.

I have been eating and enjoying barley since I was little, because my mother added it to her soups and stews. As far as I know, she bought pearl barley in packages at the A & P or Co-op. Pearl barley is polished like white rice to remove the bran and endosperm. Hull-less barley and brown rice retain those nutritious parts and are considered whole-grain foods.

Like most people we knew, Jerri and I bought pearl barley. Pearl barley in a box with the Quaker logo was easy to spot on the store shelf, but it took some hunting to find much beyond brown rice and whole wheat flour in our local supermarkets. The whole food movement had begun shortly after World War II, but it was still in its infancy in the nineteen seventies, at least in Kansas, Kentucky and Wisconsin.

Today, the whole food movement is a healthy youngster, not as big and strong as the giant food processing companies but robust and growing. Whole grain products, unprocessed and organic foods are not only available but popular. A small natural foods grocery that opened in 1980 to sell healthful foods in Austin, Texas, has grown to nearly 400 stores. Smaller cities often have local food co-ops where you can buy whole grains and flours ground from them, heirloom vegetables and hundreds of other natural food ingredients that were once only names in a gourmet cookbook for most of us.

Hull-less barley is an example. You can use it to make a nutritious and tasty salad. I found the recipe in Wild, Wild Cooking by Christopher Ray. His book was published in Hudson, Wisconsin in 2003, and we have an autographed copy. I don’t know if it is still available in any local bookstore, but if your family includes a hunter or fisherman (a successful one, that is) Wild, Wild Cooking would be a good addition to your cookbook collection.

The original recipe did not specify hull-less barley, but it has a nuttier flavor and is better for you. I think that you will like the result.

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup hull-less barley
3 1/2 cups water
16 stalks asparagus and large pot of water for blanching
1/2 cup red onion
1/2 cup red bell pepper
2 T fresh cilantro
3/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. white pepper
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1/2 tsp. oregano
Pinch of cumin
2 T olive oil
Juice of one lime
Juice of half a lemon

PROCEDURE:

Bring the barley and water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Reduce the heat and simmer the barley covered for about forty-five minutes, stirring occasionally and checking to make sure that it is not boiling dry. If necessary, add more water. After forty-five minutes or so, when most of the water should be absorbed, test for doneness by chewing a few grains. If you like the texture, your barley is done.

If you want it softer, let it cook another five or ten minutes, making sure there is a little water in the pan. When the barley meets your approval, remove the pan from the heat and let it cool covered while the barley absorbs any remaining water, or drain and rinse it with cold water in a colander to stop the barley from getting any softer. Put it into a mixing bowl and fluff it with a fork.

While the barley is cooking, prepare the vegetables. Clean and chop the onion and pepper into an eighth to quarter-inch dice and wash and chop the cilantro. Wash the asparagus and trim the tough part of the stems from the spears.

Bring a pot of water to a boil. Put ice cubes and water into a mixing bowl before you cook the asparagus. Blanch the spears in the boiling water for three to four minutes until they are ‘al dente,’ which means a piece of a spear crunches when you bite it. The exact amount of time will depend on the thickness of the spears. They are ready just as they begin to turn limp. Use tongs or a slotted spoon to transfer the spears from the pot into the ice water to cool them quickly. Properly cooked spears will be a bright green and tender but not mushy. Cut the cooled spears into two inch pieces and mix them into the cooled barley along with the other vegetables.

Sprinkle the salt, spices, olive oil and the lime and lemon juice over the mixture and stir the salad gently but thoroughly. Taste and adjust the seasonings. If it looks a little dry, you can add a bit more olive oil.

Let the salad sit at least an hour before serving, or make it a day ahead of time and keep it in the refrigerator.

NOTES: I’m sure that you can make this salad with pearl barley as well. Hull-less barley takes a little longer to cook than pearl barley, so follow the directions on the package. Bottled lemon and lime juice work okay for this recipe too.

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Mrs. Deckert’s Hawaiian Banana Bread

My mother’s recipe box has a lot of banana bread recipes in it. Since I like numbers and facts, I was going to count them today. However, I abandoned that project after looking at the third card in the box. It was a recipe for Hawaiian Banana Bread that had no pineapple, macadamia nuts or coconuts. I was intrigued. Why call it Hawaiian?

Mom’s note said “Patsy’s from Mrs. Deckert. Very good.” So I grabbed the cell phone and called my sister.

After telling her of my aborted banana bread counting project I asked, “Why do you call it Hawaiian?”

“That’s what Mrs. Deckert called it,” she said. “I don’t know why she did, but it’s our favorite banana bread. You should try it.”

She explained how she got the recipe. “When we were first married, we bought a house in Northwoods Beach south of Hayward. Mrs. Deckert lived across the road and next to the town hall across from our house. She was the nicest little old lady. She had a strong German accent and came over to welcome us when we moved in. She brought us a loaf of her Hawaiian Banana Bread. I asked for her recipe and later gave it to Mom. Mrs. Deckert used to bring us Kuchen too. It was delicious but I never got that recipe.”

Bananas do ogrow in Hawaii, so maybe that explains the name.

Too lazy to go back to my recipe counting project, I decided to see how many banana bread recipes would show up on a search of the Internet. The answer is, A LOT. Even more than recipes for zucchini bread, a notoriously prolific squash that frugal cooks desperately keep trying to use up every summer.

My Google search returned about 3,260,000 results for zucchini bread but over 7,750,000 for banana bread. If each banana bread recipe were written on a standard three by five-inch recipe card and laid end to end, you could mark the route all the way from St. Paul, Minnesota, to Rapid City, South Dakota with enough cards left over to guide you most of the way to Mount Rushmore.

The zucchini bread cards would run out at Sioux Falls.

This is another really easy recipe. Just cut the shortening into the dry ingredients before folding in the banana and eggs. No electric mixer and just a little stirring. Here is what you do.

INGREDIENTS:

1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
3 ripe bananas
2 large eggs

PROCEDURE:

Preheat the oven to 350º and mash enough bananas to fill a measuring cup. Grease and flour two bread loaf pans.

Sift the flour, sugar, salt and baking powder into a mixing bowl. With a pastry blender or table fork, cut the shortening into the dry ingredients until it looks like coarse corn meal. This is like the first step in making pie crust.

Beat the eggs in a small bowl until they are lemon-colored. Fold the mashed bananas and eggs into the flour mixture until everything is moist and put half of the batter into each pan.

Set the pans on the center shelf in the oven and bake for thirty to forty minutes. Check for doneness at thirty minutes. A toothpick inserted near the center of the bread should come out clean.

Remove the pans from the oven and let them stand for about six minutes to cool slightly. Then loosen the loaves and transfer them to a rack to finish cooling.

NOTES: Patsy says that you can bake this bread in one standard loaf pan if you want. Extend the baking time to an hour and test for doneness before taking it from the oven.

Frugal shoppers watch for discounted bananas at the supermarket. Produce managers often reduce the price on bananas starting to get brown streaks on the peel as they ripen. If you want bananas to peel and eat raw, buy ones with little or no brown on them, but if you want to make banana bread, pick ones that are turning brown or take yellow bananas home and let them ripen on the counter. They get sweeter and sweeter.

This recipe produces two five by nine-inch loaves a little more than an inch thick. Maybe because you cut the shortening into the dry ingredients, the bread is a bit darker than most banana breads, but it is delicate and flavorful.

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The Turk’s Shish Kebab

If you happened to be driving U.S. Highway 63 from Rochester, Minnesota, to Ashland, Wisconsin, on April 21, 1957, you might have wondered why there were so many cars parked on the shoulder of the highway north of Hayward. Some sort of celebration, you would have concluded as you passed the full parking lot at The Turk’s Inn. After all, it was Easter Sunday, and people were probably celebrating the holiday.

One of your passengers might have glimpsed a short man with a fez on his head in front of a large brick barbecue just south of the building. If the wind was from the east, you might even have smelled the wonderful aroma of meat and vegetables cooking over an open fire. George the Turk was cooking shish kebab!

Hundreds of people used to reserve a table for Easter Sunday shish kebab a year in advance. Served with bread, salad, and pilaf, George’s shish kebab was an Easter Sunday favorite with people from all of northwest Wisconsin. I have often wished that I had George’s recipe.

Now, thanks to my sister Barbara, I do. Barb likes to play golf and lives in Hayward, Wisconsin. When I found a little cookbook, Vol. II Treasured Recipes–from the Kitchens of Members and Friends of the Hayward Women’s Golf Club, at the Goodwill store in Stillwater, Minnesota, I thought that she might enjoy it. The book was published in 1977 and includes recipes by many prominent Hayward ladies. In what became one of her Christmas presents she found George the Turk’s recipe for shish kebab.

The book credits the recipe to Marge, the daughter of George and “Ma” Gogian, from the Turk’s Inn at Hayward, Wisconsin. Here it is.

INGREDIENTS:

1 leg of lamb (2 lbs. meat cut in cubes)
3/4 cup sherry (Amontillado or dry sherry)
1 tsp. lemon juice
1/2 tsp. garlic salt or 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/8 tsp. garlic powder
1 T oregano
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 medium onions (about 3 inch diameter)
2 medium green bell peppers
12 small tomatoes (about 1 inch diameter)
6 skewers

PROCEDURE:

Trim the fat and gristle from the lamb. Remove the bone and cut the meat into one inch cubes. Clean and finely chop one of the onions. Put the meat with the chopped onion, wine, lemon juice and seasonings into a resealable plastic bag. Marinate overnight in the refrigerator, turning the bag a few times to make sure all the meat is coated with marinade.

When you are ready to start cooking the shish kebab, fire up your grill or light the charcoal to make a hot fire.

Clean and quarter the second onion and separate the pieces into layers. Wash the peppers and remove the stem, seeds and white membrane. Cut the peppers into two inch pieces. Wash the tomatoes.

Drain the marinade from the bag into a small saucepan and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer the marinade for a few minutes to make the basting sauce. If there is not enough liquid, add a little more sherry. Remove the sauce from the heat.

Load the skewers as follows: Start with a lamb cube, then pieces of onion and green pepper, another cube of lamb, then a tomato followed by another cube of lamb, pieces of onion and green pepper and another cube of lamb. Continue alternating the meat and vegetables until you have one-sixth of the meat on each skewer.

Broil over a hot grill, turning and basting the meat and vegetables often. Cook until the meat is nicely browned and sizzling. Serve with rice pilaf.

NOTES: Marge advised “If lamb is tough, sprinkle with lemon juice.” but since I do not know how to determine if the meat is tough without cooking and eating it, I always add a little lemon juice. Lamb is seldom tough, but the lemon juice is insurance and adds a little extra zip to the flavor.

Since the Turk’s Inn was cooking for hundreds of guests, Marge’s recipe for a family dinner is, as my sister Barb says, “a little vague” about exact quantities and how the skewers were loaded. Barb remembered that two skewers were plated with the pilaf for an order, so each diner would get three tomatoes. I have adjusted the quantities to make four generous servings.

Barb also noted, “Marge would get upset often when the tomato would drop off the skewers, typical of grilling them with the meat as it took longer for the meat to grill than the veggies.” Many grilling recipes suggest grilling tomatoes on a separate skewer, so they can be cooked for a shorter time than the meat. If you fear tomatoes on the floor, you might want to try this. Firm tomatoes cut into one-inch pieces work for this recipe too, though they don’t look so nice on the skewers.

George always grilled shish kebab over charcoal, but a gas grill would probably work just as well.

I had shish kebab at the Turk’s Inn only a couple of times, and both times it was served with the Turk’s Pilaf, which is made with bulgar or coarsely cracked wheat. However, George and Ma both knew I really liked that pilaf, so they may have substituted it for rice pilaf.

Here is a recipe for deliciously simple plain rice pilaf.

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Swiss Vegetable Medley

The recipe for Swiss Vegetable Medley in Mom’s recipe box is written in pencil on a recipe card probably given to her by a friend, since it is the only card with that particular floral decoration in the box. Later she added an emphatic “Try This” in ink, which caught my eye.

My guess is that she asked for the recipe over a lunch table or at a potluck long after I left home. At least I don’t recall eating many frozen vegetables at Mom and Dad’s until after Jerri and I were married. When they were in season, we ate fresh vegetables from our garden. In the winter, besides onions, celery, carrots and potatoes, we ate canned peas, beans and corn that Mom put up in the summer and—I still dread it—canned spinach from the store.

Starting with frozen mixed vegetables, however, makes this a ridiculously easy recipe for making a tasty side dish.

INGREDIENTS:

1 16 oz. bag of frozen vegetables (broccoli, carrots, cauliflower)
1 can condensed cream of mushroom soup
1 cup shredded Swiss cheese
1/3 cup sour cream
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup French fried onions
1 small jar pimientos (optional)

PROCEDURE:

Thaw and drain the vegetables. Preheat the oven to 350º, grease a one quart casserole and grate the cheese. Stir the vegetables, soup and sour cream together in a mixing bowl. Stir in the black pepper and half the Swiss cheese and French fried onions.

Pour the mixture into the casserole and bake covered on a center shelf for thirty-five minutes. Sprinkle the rest of the onions and cheese over the top and bake uncovered for another five minutes.

Serve hot and bubbly as a side dish with just about any meat you like.

NOTES: I haven’t tried it, but I don’t see why you couldn’t substitute three or four tablespoons of finely chopped red bell pepper for the pimientos.

Posted in Side dishes, Vegetables | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Great Grits—A Native American Treasure

Once upon a time there was a young native American wife who simply could not parch corn without burning it. She could plant corn in the spring, tend it all summer, shell the dried kernels in the fall and store them in clay pots she made herself. But parching corn was beyond her.

On one particularly bad morning a few thousand years ago, things were going even worse than usual. Maybe the rock was too hot that day, or she was dreaming of becoming the perfect cook, but whatever the cause, quite a few kernels were raw on one side and black on the other.

Tired of hearing her husband complain about how she parched corn, she decided to do something different. She put the corn on a flat rock and crushed it with another rock until she had a cup of corn meal, stirred it into a pot of boiling water and cooked it until it turned into a thick pudding.

“Not bad,” said her husband “Not burnt at least,” he added just to be nasty, “but what are the little black specks?”

She was ready for that question. “Something I thought might make the grits taste better.”

“Grits” he asked, “What kind of a word is that?”

“It’s a word I made up. It means tasty breakfast food.”

“It’s better than Mom’s parched corn!”

And so a wonderful new food came into the world and they lived happily ever after.

This could be a true story, except for a couple of small details. First, the word itself. “Grits,” comes from an old English word, “grytt,” which means a coarse meal. And second, parched corn would not turn into the creamy delicacy that we call grits today. Grits are made from hominy rather than from unprocessed corn (maize).

The people who lived in mesoamerica discovered how to make hominy thousands of years ago. When the Spaniards arrived in Mexico, hominy was a staple food of the Aztecs. It is made by a process called nixtamalization, which means soaking the kernels in an alkaline solution such as a mixture of water and wood ash. After washing and drying, the nixtamalized corn is more nutritious, flavorful and easier to grind.

After you dry and grind the hominy, you have grits. When you grind unprocessed corn, you get corn meal. The Spaniards brought maize back to Europe, but they did not bring back instructions for making hominy. Later they gave some seed corn to the Italians. Those ingenious people found that corn grew well in their country and that corn meal could be substituted for other starchy ingredients like millet or chestnut flour to make polenta, a food Italians had been eating before Rome became an empire. Polenta tastes pretty good but it’s not as good as grits.

The recipe below is based on the way I think Wayne, the chef at the First United Methodist Church in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, made the grits served at the men’s prayer breakfasts I attended with my brother-in-law Merle. When I told Wayne that they were the best grits I had ever eaten, he told me there was a half pound of butter in every gallon. The bottle of Louisiana hot sauce on the counter next to the range in the church kitchen prompted me to try that too, and the results were pretty darn good.

Here is what I do to make four modest servings.

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups water
1/2 cup quick-cooking grits
1/4 tsp. salt
2 T butter
Black or white pepper to taste
Dash of hot sauce

PROCEDURE:

Bring two cups of salted water to a brisk boil in a one quart saucepan. Add the grits and stir until you have a smooth mixture that comes back to a boil. Reduce the heat to very low and simmer, stirring often for about six minutes until they are very thick.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the butter plus dashes of pepper and hot sauce.

Serve with eggs and ham, bacon or sausage for a real southern breakfast.

NOTES: When the grits begin to thicken, you need to stir them every half minute or so as they tend to stick on the bottom of the pan.

If you use unsalted butter, use a slightly rounded quarter teaspoon of salt. I usually just grind some black pepper into the grits, but if you don’t like the idea of black specks in your grits, use a dash of white pepper. Be careful with the hot sauce: Three or four drops are enough for this amount of grits.

These grits have a subtle flavor that complements the yolk of an egg fried sunny side up or over easy. Try the combination sometime.

Grits also are the main ingredient for a wonderful breakfast casserole I wrote about a few years ago.

Posted in breakfast Dishes, Side dishes | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments