Jalapeño Beef and Cornbread Casserole

We love to categorize people. We speak of the Greatest Generation, the Baby Boomers, and various Generations X,Y,Z. I think we are missing a good group noun that describes people like me born between 1915 and 1965. We are the Casserole Kids.

Of course, casseroles were being cooked long before Europe erupted in the “War to End All Wars.” In fact, once pottery cooking vessels were invented thousands of years ago, cooks were able to bake casseroles slowly in the ashes of a fire. You might think of them as vegetable meat stews, but they are the ancestors of the casserole.

The modern casserole, however, became popular when food shortages and economic hardships caused by wars and depressions prompted women to begin stretching expensive ingredients by mixing them with leftovers and cheaper alternatives. Thus was born the tuna noodle casserole, the hamburger macaroni casserole, and the leftover chicken rice casserole, to mention only three of hundreds.

We Casserole Kids grew up eating “one-dish meals” baked in the oven. A few still appear on lists of Comfort Foods, and a few are favorites of mine. At least once a year on a cold night I lust for a tuna noodle casserole like my mother used to make with canned tuna, genuine cream of mushroom soup and frozen green peas. I confess to a weakness for macaroni and cheese (any kind) and I absolutely love green bean casserole, and not just for the holidays. I am not alone in having good memories of these dishes.

For hundreds of years from the Middle Ages to the early Nineteenth Century, casseroles were made with crusts of pastry or grains such as rice. With its crust of corn bread, you might think of this recipe as an authentic casserole made with American ingredients. At least the corn, corn meal and jalapeño peppers are all native to America.

Considering the cost of ground beef today, you might want to substitute chopped up leftover roast beef, but even if you don’t, you can stretch a pound of ground beef into a complete meal with a Tex-Mex flavor for a whole family.

An added advantage is that you can assemble this casserole ahead of time and pop it into the oven an hour before dinner while you are relaxing. And who knows, this might become one of your family’s comfort foods.

INGREDIENTS:

1 lb. ground beef
1 can whole kernel corn
3 jalapeño peppers
1 medium onion (about 3 inch diameter)
1/2 lb. Cheddar cheese
3/4 cup corn meal
1/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. salt plus a dash for seasoning the meat
2 large eggs
1 cup milk
Dash of black pepper
1/4 cup vegetable oil
 
PROCEDURE:

Brown the beef seasoned with a dash of salt and freshly ground black pepper, then drain and set it aside on a plate. While the meat is browning, drain the corn.

Wash, remove the stems and quarter the jalapeño peppers. Discard the white membranes and seeds and chop the peppers medium fine. Clean and chop the onion into a quarter-inch dice and grate the cheese. Set the peppers, onion and cheese aside in separate small bowls.

Preheat the oven to 425º.

In a large mixing bowl, stir the cornmeal, flour, baking soda and salt together until well mixed. In a small bowl, beat the eggs until lemon colored and whisk in the milk. Add the eggs and milk to the dry ingredients and stir until blended. Add the oil and stir well. Then add the drained corn and peppers.

Grease a nine by nine-inch baking dish or pan. Spread half of the cornmeal mixture on the bottom of the baking dish. Next spread the browned ground beef, cover it with the uncooked onion and top it with half the cheese. Finally, spread the remaining cornmeal mixture on top.

Bake at 425º until brown or until a toothpick comes out clean. Remove the casserole from the oven and immediately top it with the remaining cheese. Let the casserole cool a few minutes before serving.

NOTE: You can put the casserole back in the oven for a minute or two after topping it with the cheese if you like.

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Mom’s Drop Doughnuts

When I found my mother’s recipe for drop doughnuts in her recipe box, I was tempted to publish it on “Courage In The Kitchen” exactly as Mom wrote it down. I thought that readers might enjoy seeing how good cooks shared recipes when I was growing up. The recipe consists of a list of ingredients but no instructions for putting them together.

This minimalist format is rather common for recipes written by experienced cooks from that period. It’s as if they were sharing their recipe with a friend who they knew was a also a good cook. The assumption seems to have been, “If you don’t know how to mix up doughnuts, you shouldn’t be trying to make doughnuts like mine.”

Having been cooking for quite a few years and with the added advantage of remembering how my mother mixed various dough batters, I have provided some guidance that results in pretty good drop doughnuts. Drop doughnuts are a kind of doughnut hole. You make them like you do hush puppies—drop tablespoonfuls of dough into hot oil and cook the doughnuts until they are golden brown and done.

They are particularly easy and fast to make, which may explain why Mom made them so often.

INGREDIENTS:

3 cups all-purpose flour
4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup sugar
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
2 large eggs
2 T shortening
1 cup milk
2 tsp. vanilla
Oil for frying
Sugar and cinnamon for dusting the doughnuts

PROCEDURE:

Put the flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, nutmeg and cinnamon together in a sifter. Put at least an inch of high temperature cooking oil into a saucepan and begin warming it over moderate heat.

Melt two tablespoons of shortening or lard in a small pan over low heat or microwave the shortening in a small bowl. While the shortening is melting, beat two eggs in a mixing bowl until they are lemon colored. Whisk the milk, vanilla and melted shortening into the eggs. Sift the flour mixture by thirds into the liquid, stirring well between each addition. You should end up with a stiff but moist batter.

When a candy or deep fry thermometer shows that the oil has reached a temperature of 370º, drop heaping tablespoons of batter into the oil. Since the batter cools the oil, don’t fry more than six or seven doughnuts at a time in an eight inch saucepan. Turn the doughnuts so they cook evenly and drain them on paper towels.

Put a quarter cup of white sugar and a half teaspoon of cinnamon in a clean paper bag. Close and shake the bag to mix the sugar and spice, then sugar the warm doughnuts and put them on a platter or plate that you can keep your eye on as you continue frying more doughnuts. Failure to take this precaution can result in a severe shortage of doughnuts, especially if there are hungry people in the house.

NOTES: Canola or corn oil both work fine for frying drop doughnuts, but my mother often used lard, which works well too. Not all people like sugar and cinnamon on their doughnuts. Omit that step if you prefer.

Posted in Breads and Pancakes, breakfast Dishes, Desserts, Vegetarian Dishes | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Barley and Sausage Casserole

Whenever I think of barley, I am reminded of “The Lady of Shallott“ by Tennyson:

“On either side the river lie
Long fields of barley and of rye,
That clothe the wold and meet the sky;
And thro’ the field the road runs by
           To many-tower’d Camelot….”

Those opening lines are a wonderful example of Tennyson’s genius for creating music with words. I doubt that he meant for anyone to think that the Lady of Shallott ate barley, since by Tennyson’s time, barley was a grain eaten mainly by common people, used to brew beer, make fine whiskey and feed cattle.

Barley and rye grow very well in cool climates and both have been staple foods for over ten thousand years. The earliest archeological evidence that people were eating barley is from a site on the southern end of the Sea of Gallilee. They were gathering wild barley along with einkorn and emmer wheat, but by 4,200 B.C. domesticated barley was being cultivated as far away as eastern Finland. Barley was being used to make beer at least 5,000 years ago.

It is still an important ingredient in certain breads and soups from the Shetland Islands to Saudi Arabia, and it has become more popular in recent years among people concerned about a healthy diet. Since it contains generous amounts of valuable nutrients, is higher in soluble fiber than oats and has been shown to help control blood sugar and cholesterol levels, barley is a good addition to at least one meal every week.

If you are looking for a different kind of casserole, here is a version made with hull-less barley. You can compliment yourself for making a dish with proven health benefits, but even better, you can enjoy the nutty flavor of hull-less barley in a delicious casserole. A main dish that is good for you and tastes good! It’s worth a try.

INGREDIENTS:

3 1/2 cups water
1 cup hull-less barley
1/2 lb. pork sausage
3 T butter, divided
1 large onion, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
1 green bell pepper (about 1 cup chopped)
1/2 red bell pepper (about 1/2 cup chopped)
1/4 tsp. sage
1/3 tsp. marjoram
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
Dash of cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp. salt
2 T all-purpose flour
2 cups chicken broth

PROCEDURE:

Put a cup of hull-less barley into a two quart saucepan. Add three and a half cups of water, bring to a boil and simmer covered for about 40 minutes. Drain the barley and set it aside.

Preheat the oven to 350º.

Melt a tablespoon of butter in a Dutch oven or oven-safe pot over medium heat. Add the pork sausage and break it into smaller pieces as it cooks until it is gray. Clean and chop the onion, celery and peppers into a half inch dice while the meat is cooking.

Add the onion and cook it a couple of minutes until it is soft. Then stir in the celery and peppers, spices and salt and continue cooking the mixture for another four or five minutes.

Melt two tablespoons of butter in a saucepan over moderate heat and stir in two tablespoons of flour. You are making a roux for a thin sauce. When the flour begins to bubble, reduce the heat to very low and cook the roux for about two minutes. Do not brown the flour. Pour in the broth and raise the heat, stirring constantly. When the sauce begins to thicken, reduce the heat to low. Keep stirring and cook the sauce another two minutes.

Mix the barley into the vegetable and sausage mixture. If you want to include mushrooms, this is the time to do it. Stir the sauce into the barley mixture and transfer it to the casserole.

Bake covered on a center shelf in the preheated oven for about thirty minutes. Remove the cover and check the sauce. If it is too thin, bake the casserole uncovered for a few minutes. If the casserole is too dry, stir in a little water or broth and heat a couple of minutes. Taste and adjust for saltiness before serving.

NOTES: If you wish, clean and slice some fresh mushrooms to add an extra layer of complexity to the casserole.

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Fresh Limeade

The frozen concentrated orange juice that we enjoy today was developed during World War II. The Florida Citrus Commission assembled a team of three researchers to improve the quality of processed orange products. The immediate goal was to produce a concentrated orange juice that would taste like fresh for the armed forces fighting in Europe and on islands in the Pacific Ocean. The long term goal was to sell more orange juice. The team succeeded at both.

C.D. Atkins, Edwin L. Moore and L. G. MacDowell discovered a way to produce a concentrated frozen orange juice that retained most of the flavor and much of the vitamin C of fresh juice. The work was done at a laboratory in Lakeland, Florida, provided by the United States Department of Agriculture, and the first major order for the new product was placed by the U.S. Army.

After a relatively slow start, retail sales of frozen concentrated orange juice from Florida Foods Corporation took off in 1949 when the company changed its name to Minute Maid in 1949 and hired Bing Crosby to croon its praises. The process developed by that team wanting to help the army provide “fresh” orange juice for the troops is used to make many other frozen juices we enjoy today.

Since my mother was an early adopter of new food products, we had juice made from stuff that looked like orange popsicles sometime in the early 1950’s, and I am pretty sure that we also had limeade made from stuff that looked like green popsicles before I left for college.

I’m not very particular about lemonade, but I still think that limeade made with fresh limes has a better flavor than even that made from premium quality concentrates. The secret seems to be the lime zest which produces a deep delicious lime flavor. You release that flavor by heating the zest in the sugar syrup. It takes a little time to grate the zest, but the results are worth it.

INGREDIENTS:

1/2 cup water 
1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups sugar
1 T lime zest
1 1/2 cups fresh lime juice 
6 cups cold water 
1 drop green food color

PROCEDURE:

Wash and dry at least eight limes. If they are small or not very juicy, you may need a dozen. Use a fine kitchen grater to remove the zest, the green outer layer of the rind, from several of them until you have a tablespoonful.

Bring 1/2 cup water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Stir in the sugar and the zest
until sugar is dissolved and the mixture comes to a full boil. Remove the pan from the heat. Squeeze enough limes to collect a cup and a half of juice while the syrup is cooling. Pour the juice into a large container.

Mix in a cup of cold water to further cool the syrup and stir it into the juice. Add five more cups of cold water and a drop of green food color, stir well and refrigerate.

NOTES: It is easier to extract the juice from the limes if you microwave them a few seconds before squeezing them. I heat three limes at a time for thirty-five seconds in our microwave.

When I first made this limeade I thought that the zest would make the limeade look like it had some impurity in it, but I don’t even notice it. I stir the zest into the syrup with a fork and watch for any big pieces of rind that may have found their way into the syrup and remove them with the fork.

If you want to have the limeade ready to drink right away, melt some ice cubes into the juice and syrup when you add the water and pour the limeade over ice cubes in the glasses when you serve it.

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Chicken Stroganoff

Although there were twenty or thirty bottles and cans of dried herbs and spices in my mother’s kitchen cabinet, I can remember only four that she grew herself One was mint, which she tended in a flower bed near the house. As I recall, she used it only to make mint jelly, though I may be wrong about that.

On one side of the garden were several chive plants, which grew in the same row with the winter onions. Because of her I still love cottage cheese flavored with chopped chives. Mom also used chives in soups and roasts, and she added them to lettuce, tomato and cucumber salads.

She planted two or three parsley plants, which provided important flavors to soups, meats and other vegetables like boiled and buttered new red potatoes. The fourth herb was dill. On the same day we planted the hills of cucumbers, we planted a long row of dill seeds. Dill was of course the primary flavoring ingredient in her dill pickle recipes, and she used it occasionally in other dishes.

Although dill is grown and used in countries as far apart as India and Iceland, I have always associated it with northern European cooking. I even think of dill pickles primarily as a way German and Slavic housewives preserved the cucumbers they grew in the short summers of the northern hemisphere. However, dill may have actually been brought to northern Europe by Roman soldiers and settlers. Archeologists and food historians have found evidence of dill being cultivated in Celtic Britain after the Roman invasion.

Since dill was thought to have medicinal properties it was added to wines and other foods to cure diseases or give people more energy and strength. Roman gladiators are said to have rubbed their bodies with fresh dill to give them more strength and it was added to wine as an aphrodisiac.

However, I like dill for the subtle flavor it adds to many of my favorite foods including pickles, potato salad, cabbage rolls, poached salmon, fish soup and this recipe for chicken stroganoff derived from the Use It All Cookbook by Jane Marsh Dieckmann.

INGREDIENTS:

1 medium onion (about 3 inches in diameter)
3 T butter/margarine
1/2 lb. mushrooms
1 T flour
1/2 salt
2 tsp. paprika
1/4 tsp. basil, crumbled
1/4 tsp. thyme, crumbled
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup dairy sour cream
1/4 cup Swiss cheese
2 cups diced cooked chicken
2 tsp. lemon juice
2 T chopped fresh dill
8 oz. noodles

PROCEDURE:

Clean and chop the onion into a quarter-inch dice. Clean and thinly slice the mushrooms. Chop the chicken into a half-inch dice. Grate the cheese and wash and chop the dill. Start heating water to cook the noodles.

Melt the butter over medium heat in a large saucepan or Dutch oven and sauté the onion until it just begins to turn gold. Add the mushrooms and cook for three or four minutes, stirring constantly. Blend in the flour, salt, paprika, basil and thyme and cook for two minutes. Lower the heat and gradually stir in the chicken broth and wine. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture bubbles and thickens.

Reduce the heat to very low, cover, simmer for five minutes and remove the pan from the heat. Blend in the sour cream and cheese. Add the chicken, lemon juice, and dill. Heat thoroughly over low heat, but do not boil.

Serve over hot cooked noodles with a cucumber and tomato salad and good bread.

NOTES: You can substitute leftover turkey for the chicken. I use rounded tablespoons of dill. Sauvignon blanc or chardonnay wines are both good choices for the recipe and to serve at the table. This recipe makes four generous servings.

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Hilda Ploof’s Cole Slaw Dressing

At least once a month, we visited the Ploof family in Hayward. Dad and Pete were good friends who fished and hunted together and Mom and Hilda also shared many of the same interests. One of those interests was card games, and the wives made sure that their husbands joined them for a night of serious card play at least a couple times a month.

Their favorite game on those nights was Smear. I have never played the game, but it is said to be related to Pitch, the card game of choice with Jerri’s parents. While our parents played cards, we kids, including Pete and Hilda’s daughter, Maureen, were treated to a movie or a root beer.

In the winter, we would go to a movie at the Park Theater. As I recall, kid’s tickets were a dime to start with, though they gradually increased to a quarter. Dad and Pete would give us money for our tickets and popcorn, and when they were feeling generous, we even got enough extra for some candy to share. The theater was about four blocks from Pete and Hilda’s. That may not sound like very far, but they were long blocks along highway 63, and when the wind was from the north with snow falling, it felt like we were polar explorers.

In the summer, we played Hide-and-Seek and Anti-I-Over outside and then went to the A&W Root Beer stand, which was only a block away. Our parents gave each of us a nickel for a small mug of root beer, and I was made custodian of the jug and money to buy a gallon of root beer to take back to the card players. Of course, we kids got our share from the jug as well, and sometimes we made root beer floats during a recess at the card table.

In one of my mother’s recipe boxes I found Hilda’s recipe for cole slaw dressing. It makes enough dressing for a really large cabbage, but it keeps well. Having a batch of dressing in the refrigerator makes it easy to put a bowl of cole slaw on the table in just a couple of minutes.

We like Jerri’s recipe for cole slaw, which is made with sour cream and mayonnaise, but Hilda’s recipe includes horseradish, which adds a little spice to the dressing. It also has a tiny bit more sugar which makes it slightly sweet. My sister Patsy says that this is one of her favorite cole slaw dressings, and Jerri likes it nearly as well as her own.

INGREDIENTS:

1 1/2 cups mayonnaise
1 T cider vinegar
1 T regular mustard
1 T minced onion
1 T grated horseradish
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. white pepper
1/2 tsp. celery seed

PROCEDURE:

Stir all the ingredients together until well mixed and smooth.

To make cole slaw, wash the head of cabbage and discard any damaged outer leaves. With a sharp knife, cut the head in half and then one half into quarters. Remove the core and slice one quarter very thinly. Then cut the slices into pieces that are no more than a half inch long. Do the same with another quarter until you have as much finely chopped cabbage as you need.

Blend dressing with the shredded cabbage to the consistency you want. Store any extra dressing in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

NOTE: You may also peel or scrape a carrot, grate it with a kitchen grater and mix it with the cabbage. We nearly always do this to give some color to the slaw.

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Grandma Weingarten’s Icebox Cookies

When I was a little kid growing up in Hayward before we moved out of town, we lived just a couple of blocks from Grandma and Grandpa Weingarten. Until I was grown up I didn’t know that their names were Frieda and Otto. They were just Grandma and
Grandpa. They weren’t actually my grandparents, but that’s how I thought of them.

Otto died when I was just a boy, but I still remember his “soup strainer” mustache. That might have been because my father told me he always tried to take communion from the common cup before Grandpa Weingarten with his big mustache. Grandma Weingarten spent her last years in a nursing home at Hayward, where Jerri and I visited her a few times. She always seemed like a grandmother to me.

One reason why she seemed grandmotherly is that she treated my mother like a daughter. Mostly, she listened to Mom’s problems as a young wife and gave what I assume turned out to be good advice, since she and my father lived to celebrate their fiftieth wedding anniversary. However, Grandma Weingarten was indirectly responsible for the first really big fight that my parents had. I was too young to remember it, but Mom told all of us kids the story many times, and Dad confirmed her account: “She was really mad,” he would say, and grin. After a few years, even Mom thought it was a little funny.

On a duck hunting expedition with his younger brother, my father shot a merganser. A merganser is a large duck that looks a little like an extremely large mallard. Their luck had been bad that day, and when the merganser appeared in front of him, Dad decided to play a practical joke on his young wife. My mother’s knowledge of wild game was very limited, though she was soon going to learn the difference between a tasty mallard and an inedible merganser.

Like any free range duck or chicken (and most humans), mallard ducks are omnivores. They eat almost anything that tastes good which includes seeds, vegetables and a variety of insects, crayfish, and even the occasional small frog. If you watch a mallard hen teaching her ducklings to forage, you will see that she puts great emphasis on lots of fresh green vegetables like clover and watercress.

Merganser ducks, on the other hand, eat mainly fish. Their diet includes a few green plants along with some insects, but mergansers are piscavores. They love fish, whether it be a lowly sucker or a tender trout. One would think that a bird eating trout dinners day after day would be delicious. According to my mother, one would be wrong.

As she told the story, Dad brought home a beautiful big duck on a late Sunday afternoon and asked her to clean and roast the huge mallard he had shot. Having grown up on a farm, Mom knew how to kill, gut, pluck and clean chickens and ducks, so she promised him a mallard dinner for Monday night’s supper.

After picking out “millions of pinfeathers,” she stuffed the duck with homemade sage dressing, rubbed it with butter and put it in the oven after lunch to have dinner ready for Dad when he got home.

In a half hour or so, she began noticing an unpleasant odor that reminded her of dead fish. The smell was beginning to make her feel a bit queasy. She said, “I thought that I was going to throw up, when Frieda knocked on the back door and came in.”

Grandma Weingarten reared back on her haunches, wrinkled her nose, and said, “Ach, what are you cooking?”

“I’m roasting a nice big mallard that Harry shot for supper tonight,” said Mom.

Without taking off her coat, Grandma Weingarten marched over to the stove, opened the oven and looked at the enormous carcass from which emanated the miasma. “That’s not a mallard,” she announced, “That’s a fish duck, and it will taste worse than it smells. Harry’s playing a trick on you.”

Mom said that she threw the duck out the back door by the steps so Dad would see it and know that he was going to encounter what we now call a “situation.” When she told the story of that evening, she always started off by saying that she had me in a snowsuit because she had opened all the windows and doors “to get rid of the stink,” that she had let the fire go out in the stove because she didn’t feel like cooking, and that she was maddest of all at all the pinfeathers she had had to pull out.

“I was so mad I was crying, and that made me even madder. And your dad came in the door smiling, and that made it worse. He’s lucky I didn’t kill him with a frying pan.”

Somehow they got through the crisis. I doubt that Dad built a fire and cooked anything, so he probably bribed Mom with a hamburger and a beer at the Twin Gables, which was just a couple of blocks from our house. In the course of the evening, Mom told Dad not to bother bringing any ducks home again. It was ten years before she roasted any wild ducks, and when that happened, they were dressed and cleaned bluebills from Gus, the old farmer who lived down the road from us in the country.

After educating my mother about how to tell a fish duck from a mallard, Grandma Weingarten continued to mentor her and other young women in the neighborhood and our church with a sympathetic ear, good advice and recipes. Here is her recipe for icebox cookies that I found in one of Mom’s recipe boxes.

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup white sugar
3/4 cup vegetable shortening
2 large eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. cream of tartar

PROCEDURE:

Cream the shortening with the sugar in a mixing bowl. Beat the eggs until they are lemon colored and stir them into the sugar mixture. Sift the flour, salt, soda and cream of tartar by half cupfuls into the sugar and egg mixture and stir until everything is well blended. You need a stiff dough, so add a tablespoon of flour or so if necessary.

Turn the dough out on to a sheet of wax paper dusted with flour and form a log about three inches in diameter. Try to square the ends of the log. Refrigerate it for at least eight hours until the dough becomes firm.

Preheat the oven to 350º. Cut the chilled dough into rounds a quarter to half an inch thick and bake on parchment paper or a lightly greased cookie sheet until they begin to brown on the edges, eleven to thirteen minutes. Space the rounds by an inch and a half.

NOTE: Grandma Weingarten’s recipe doesn’t say anything about toppings, but I sprinkle a little white sugar over the cookies before putting them in the oven.

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Mary Harvey’s Pasties

It’s pasty season once again in the Rang household. For people who grew up in northern Wisconsin, Michigan or Minnesota, pasties are comfort foods that warm you both inside and out. They are filled with a tasty combination of meat and vegetables baked into a crust. They warm the house as they are baking and give your body the energy it needs to keep you warm on that walk after dinner.

Mary Harvey was the secretary at a Methodist Church in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula when our friend Alan served there as pastor. She also baked wonderful pasties. He says that her pasties were in great demand at the church, in the community and of course by her family. “They were big, the crusts were tender and flaky and they were stuffed with meat and vegetables seasoned just right.” Alan’s family had a standing order for Mary’s pasties and ate them almost every week in the winter.

As always seems to be the case, when a recipe is developed by housewives in their homes there are hundreds of different versions. Pasties are a good example. While most traditional pasty recipes call for beef or pork, some specify chicken or turkey. Others are made with fish or crabmeat, and today there are even vegetarian pasties that omit the meat entirely.

Mary’s recipe is different from the the one I usually follow because it uses a combination of beef and pork and turnips instead of rutabaga. The crust is also very different. It uses vegetable shortening instead of lard and the flour is stirred into the melted shortening and hot water rather than being cut into the flour as is usually done to make pastry crusts. I thought that the dough would make tough crusts, but they turned out just fine and were very easy to make.

INGREDIENTS:

For the crust:
1 cup water
1 cup vegetable shortening
1 tsp. salt
4 cups all-purpose flour

For the filling:
3/4 lb. round steak
3/4 lb. pork steak
3 cups chopped potatoes
1 1/2 cups chopped carrots
1 1/2 cups chopped turnips
3/4 cup chopped onion
1 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
8 T butter

PROCEDURE:

First make the crust. Pour a cup of boiling water over a cup of shortening in a large mixing bowl and stir until it is completely melted. Blend the salt into the flour in another bowl, then add the flour to the liquid and stir rapidly until it forms a ball. Cool the dough in the refrigerator for at least an hour before rolling out the crusts.

Make the filling while the dough is cooling. Remove extra fat from the meat and cut it into thin slices about an inch long. Peel the potatoes, turnips and onion and scrape or peel the carrots and chop all the vegetables into a quarter to three eighth-inch dice.

Mix the meat and vegetables together with the salt and pepper in a large bowl. Refrigerate the bowl if you are not ready to assemble the pasties.

Preheat the oven to 400º.

Make the pasties when the dough is well chilled. Divide the dough into eight pieces. Use your hands to make a small ball, then roll the dough on a floured surface into a circle the size of a dinner plate. Place a cupful of filling near the center of the circle and dot the filling with a tablespoon of butter cut into quarters. Fold the dough over the filling and seal by turning the edges to make a rim.

Prick the dough with a fork in several places to let steam escape while the pasty is cooking. Place the pasties on lightly greased baking sheets and bake them at 400º for fifteen minutes, then reduce the temperature to 350º and bake for another fifty-five minutes until the pasties are lightly browned.

NOTE: If necessary, heat the bowl of water and shortening in a microwave a few extra seconds until the shortening is melted.

Pasties are still not Jerri’s favorite food, but she liked these better than the ones I have been making for years, so I guess that I’ll be making these again.

Posted in Main Dishes, Meats | 1 Comment

Strawberry Shortcake

When I was ten or eleven years old, my mother made one of the very best strawberry shortcakes I have ever tasted. My two sisters, Barb and Betty, helped me pick nearly a quart of wild strawberries we found growing in special abundance that summer on the abandoned roadbed of Wisconsin Highway 24 where it ran through a swampy area north of our property.

School was out for the summer, and we were enjoying our freedom. One day I volunteered to guide my sisters to the Whitten Dam on the Namekagon River. I have no idea why my mother agreed to this suggestion, though it may simply have been that she wanted us kids out of the house. At least, there was no traffic to worry about, though the old wooden bridge over the river at the dam was treacherous.

I knew how to find my way to the dam and back home. My parents had led us on the old road several times, and we had a picnic there once. On another occasion, Dad had caught a nice northern pike in the big pool below the spillway. She sent us off with some cookies in a syrup pail and instructions not to fall in.

We never made it to the dam. Before we were halfway there, we started picking a few wild strawberries, and when we got to the low spot in the road, my little sister Betty (three years my junior) announced that she was tired of walking and wanted to sit down and eat some strawberries. That’s when Barb and I noticed how big some of those berries were.

They weren’t a large as tame strawberries, but some of them on plants in the ditches were as big as the end of my little finger. We had not had any strawberry shortcake yet that summer, so I began a sales job on the girls who were busy popping those sweet morsels into their mouths. In a few minutes we had transferred the cookies from the syrup pail into our stomachs and were busy replacing the cookies with strawberries.

We didn’t fill the pail, but we brought home enough berries for strawberry shortcake that evening. Even Betty, who was never an enthusiastic berry picker, was motivated by the thought of Mom’s drop shortcakes covered with wild strawberries and whipped cream.

Mom helped us pick enough for another shortcake a few days later, and we picked wild strawberries once or twice the following summer, but by then my parents had planted two long rows of tame strawberries in the garden by the house. In a couple of years, wild strawberries became a special treat that we picked in small quantities to enjoy over scoops of ice cream before the tame berries were ripe.

A few years later those tame strawberries motivated my father to become a commercial strawberry farmer. There was a small pond across the field on the north end of the forty where our home was built. Dad had cleared and plowed a half acre parcel on which he had planted sweet corn for two years. Assuming that the roots in the soil had decayed enough to make it possible to dig potatoes, he then planted a half acre of russets. I can testify that some of the bigger roots had not decayed enough, but with Dad’s help we harvested a lot of beautiful spuds.

Dad was bitten by the commercial strawberry farming bug after the second year of raising potatoes by the pond. He ordered several hundred strawberry plants and laid out the patch according to instructions from the county agent. He also built a portable water pump powered by a small “one lung” gasoline engine so he could irrigate the plants when necessary.

He was enthusiastic about the new venture at the end of the first year. Most of the plants had survived, the pump worked perfectly, and the plants were tucked under their blanket of mulch ready to be uncovered and encouraged to produce lots of juicy berries the following summer.

Unfortunately, Dad did not recognize the valuable service that Nugget performed. This was understandable, since Dad liked cats while Nugget was my dog. Nugget kept the deer away from the garden by the house. He stayed home in his house or sleeping in the summer on the back stoop. He had a good nose and a pair of sensitive ears that could detect a hungry deer at a hundred yards. He also had a good bark and had developed a convincing way of baring his fangs. Deer stayed out of the yard.

But they loved Dad’s strawberry patch. Ominous signs appeared with the first blossoms. When Mom and Dad walked out to the patch to see how the strawberries were doing, they saw deer tracks in the freshly hoed soil between the rows, but there were lots of buds and Dad was confident.

“Still lots of buds, but not too many flowers,” he would report evening after evening. “Lots of deer tracks, though.”

Then it was “Some nice berries are getting ripe. Lots of fawn tracks and what looks like a big buck.”

Until finally one evening he brought home a handful of nearly ripe strawberries and announced, “Those darned deer are eating the berries as fast as they get ripe.”

The county agent recommended an eight foot tall fence but Dad decided to cut his losses and run. “Maybe I can shoot that buck,” he said optimistically, but he never did.

If you can’t find a good patch of wild strawberries and don’t have a dog to protect your tame ones, you can still make some delicious strawberry shortcakes.

INGREDIENTS:

For the shortcake:

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 T baking powder
1 tsp. salt
2 T sugar
1/3 cup shortening
1 cup whole milk

For the berries:

1 quart fresh strawberries
1/2 cup sugar

For the whipped cream:

3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1 heaping T sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

PROCEDURE:

If you are lucky enough to live near a farmer who has a “Pick your own strawberries” patch, the first thing to do is go pick a couple of quarts. Berries you pick yourself will have more flavor than any you can buy in the supermarket. Next best (and a lot less work) is to get locally grown strawberries at a farmers market. You’ll need a quart for the shortcake, and you can nibble on the rest when the urge strikes you or slice, sugar and freeze them for shortcake after the strawberry season is past. Pick nice red ripe fruit.

Wash the berries and remove the stems and tops. Set aside six berries to top the shortcakes with. Slice the rest and gently mix them with the sugar. Let the berries rest at room temperature for one to two hours.

Preheat the oven to 450º and lightly grease a baking sheet.

Blend the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar together in a mixing bowl and cut in the shortening with a fork or pastry blender until the flour looks like coarse corn meal. Stir in the milk just until the dry ingredients are moist. Be careful not to mix the dough too long.

Use a mixing spoon and rubber spatula to drop six mounds of dough spaced two inches apart on the baking sheet. Put the sheet on a center shelf in the oven and bake for twelve to fourteen minutes until the biscuits are just beginning to brown. Do not overbake them. Remove the biscuits from the baking sheet and cool them on a wire rack.

About fifteen minutes before you want to serve the shortcakes, chill a mixing bowl and beater along with about three fourths cup of whipping cream in the freezer. Beat the cream until soft peaks start to form, then add the sugar and beat a few seconds until all the sugar has disappeared into the cream. Add the vanilla extract and beat a few seconds longer.

Assemble the shortcakes by slicing the biscuit in half horizontally and spooning plenty of strawberries over the bottom half. Replace the top half, spoon on more strawberries, cover with a generous spoonful or two of whipped cream and top with a strawberry.

NOTES: Shortcake actually refers to the baking-powder leavened biscuit that provides the body of the dessert. Mom made her shortcakes like she made baking powder biscuits but with extra sugar and a little more milk so the dough dropped easily onto the baking sheet.

She sometimes made strawberry shortcakes with pieces of ordinary yellow cake. They tasted pretty good too, but the cake fights with the flavor of the strawberries. You can buy preformed sponge shortcakes in the supermarket. I have used them in the middle of the winter after thawing out some sliced strawberries.

With plenty of real whipped cream, they taste okay. If a recipe suggests using “whipped topping,” skip it.

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Hungarian-Style Pork Chops

When the Spaniards started shipping treasure from the New World, they sent more than gold and silver to the kings and patrons who funded their expeditions. They also sent food plants unknown in Europe. Corn, squash and chili peppers, staple foods of native Americans, were soon being cultivated in Spain, and within a few years these crops had been carried across the Strait of Gibraltar to North Africa.

These wonderful foods spread rapidly across Africa and Asia and were introduced to eastern Europe by the conquering armies of the Ottoman Empire. By 1569, Turks were growing peppers in Buda, the ancient capital of Hungary, which explains how Hungary became associated with the crop. Hungarians called it paprika, the diminutive form of papar, the Serbian and Croatian word for pepper.

Paprika (either pae-PREE-kuh or PAEP-ri-kuh) refers to the spice produced from the peppers and first appeared in English late in the 19th century. By then Hungary was known for producing the best paprika in the world, and Hungarian cooks had been making their delicious goulashes flavored with it for a couple of centuries. Goulash was probably made popular by Germans like my father’s grandparents who brought it with them when they emigrated to Wisconsin.

Paprika is made by air-drying chile peppers and grinding them into powder. There are several different kinds ranging from very mild to moderately hot. Nearly all that is sold in supermarkets today is a mild variety used mainly to garnish deviled eggs and potato salad or to color soups and stews like goulash. If you want to taste the flavor, be sure to warm it in oil.

Some specialty food markets do offer hotter versions of paprika, or you can simply add a little cayenne pepper to achieve the required heat for the dish. That is what we do. Our spice racks are too crowded as it is without having two or three different kinds of paprika.

Jerri found this recipe many years ago when we lived in Kentucky in the Better Homes and Gardens Meat Stretcher Cook Book. Since it includes sauerkraut and caraway, you could call it German-style chops, but the Hungarians deserve credit for the paprika, so I am happy with the name.

INGREDIENTS:

6 thick pork chops
2 T vegetable oil
1/2 cup onion
2 large garlic cloves
1 T all-purpose flour
1 T paprika
1 chicken bouillon cube or 1 tsp. instant bouillon
1 cup water
1 T caraway seed
1/8 tsp. cayenne
3 cups sauerkraut
1 cup sour cream

PROCEDURE:

Clean and chop the onion into a three-quarter inch dice. Clean and mince the garlic. Heat the vegetable oil in a covered skillet over medium heat. Trim any excess fat from the chops, season them with salt and pepper and brown them on both sides.

While the meat is browning, dissolve the boullion cube in a cup of hot water.

Remove the browned chops from the pan, reduce the heat and cook the onion and garlic for a minute or two. Add the paprika, flour, caraway seed and cayenne. Pour in the bouillon, raise the heat slightly and bring the liquid to a boil, stirring constantly to make a smooth sauce.

Rinse and drain the sauerkraut and stir it into the sauce. Return the chops to the pan and cover them with the sauerkraut. Reduce the heat, cover the pan and simmer the meat for about forty-five minutes.

Remove the chops from the pan to a warm serving dish. Stir the sour cream into the sauerkraut mixture and raise the heat slightly to bring the cream and sauerkraut to steaming, but do not bring it to a boil.

Spoon the sauerkraut sauce over the chops and serve with noodles, a green salad and a crusty bread or hard rolls.

NOTE: This recipe makes six generous servings, but it is easy to halve it if, like us, you need to cook for only two or three. You may need to use a little more than one tablespoon of vegetable oil to brown the chops, however.

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