DeKock Nantucket Cake

Covered with a generous mound of real whipped cream, the warm coffee cake was fragrant with the scent of almond extract and cranberries. When I transferred the first forkful to my mouth, I knew right away that I had lucked into a winning recipe for “Courage in the Kitchen.” I had never heard of Nantucket Cake, so I asked Nina for the recipe. She photocopied the handwritten card for me.

If you look for Nantucket cake recipes on the Web, you’ll find a few grouped with recipes describing how to make Nantucket Cranberry Pie. Cranberries grew wild in what was the largest contiguous cranberry bog in the world on Nantucket, the large island south of Cape Cod, so the recipe may well have originated in some housewife’s kitchen there a long time ago.

Cranberries are still harvested on the island from two bogs preserved and managed by the Nantucket Conservation Foundation. Almost two million pounds of the red gems are sent to market from Nantucket’s Milestone Cranberry Bog every year, but Massachusetts no longer leads the world in cranberry production. Wisconsin achieved that honor a few years ago, which means we need to do our part by baking a Nantucket Cake once in a while with genuine Wisconsin cranberries.

This recipe includes a cup of rhubarb, another fruit that grows well in Wisconsin. The cranberries, rhubarb and walnuts create a flavor combination that I think works something like the different peppers in a really good chili. Though both fruits are tart, they have distinctive flavors that complement each other. The walnuts add texture and yet another flavor. Finally, the almond extract merges with the fruit and nut flavors to give your tastebuds a real treat.

I asked Nina how the cake came to be called DeKock Nantucket Cake, and she said she didn’t know, other than the fact that she got the recipe many years ago from her mother-in-law who copied it out for her on the recipe card she showed me. Whether Mrs. DeKock created the recipe herself or got it from a friend, it is a quick and easy cake that will wow your guests.

INGREDIENTS:Nantucket Cake
1 cup rhubarb
1 cup cranberries
1 cup walnuts
1 1/2 cups sugar, divided
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup butter (1 1/2 sticks)
2 large eggs
1 tsp. almond extract

PROCEDURE:

Preheat the oven to 350º and butter a ten-inch round baking pan or pie plate. Clean and chop the rhubarb into half-inch pieces. If you use fresh or frozen cranberries, cut them in half. Coarsely chop the walnuts. Put the fruit and nuts in a medium bowl, add a half cup of sugar and mix well with a wooden spoon. Spread the mixture on the bottom of the pan.

Stir the sugar and flour together in the same medium bowl. Melt the butter and beat the eggs with a fork in a small bowl until they are lemon colored. Beat the almond extract and butter into the eggs and stir the mixture into the dry ingredients. Stir with the wooden spoon until you have a smooth batter.

Spread the batter evenly over the fruit and nut mixture and put the pan on a center shelf in the oven. Check the cake after thirty minutes and turn it to brown evenly. Set the timer for another ten minutes and bake until the top is golden brown, about forty to forty-five minutes.

Serve warm with ice cream as a dessert or with whipped cream as a coffee cake for breakfast or brunch.

NOTES: If you use unsalted butter, add a heaping quarter teaspoon of salt to the batter. When Nina couldn’t find any fresh or frozen cranberries, she used dried cranberries. Both work just fine, but the fresh/frozen cranberries make for a juicier cake.

Posted in breakfast Dishes, Cookies and cakes, Desserts, Vegetarian Dishes | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Potato Pancakes

Jerri likes potato pancakes and often chooses them when they are on the menu. I enjoy them once in a while, but I think that I had enough potato pancakes when I was growing up to last a lifetime. They are not high on my list of favorite foods.

When I queried my sisters about Mom’s potato pancakes, replies ranged from “Ugh, we had them all the time” to “You know Dad planted lots of potatoes, so we ate lots of potatoes. Better than just all boiled spuds.” The most useful reply included some information about how Mom made her potato pancakes: “I remember that she used eggs and flour to make them stick together. Pretty good.” Not exactly enthusiastic reviews, but they show a certain acceptance of a staple food that north country families ate when we were growing up.

Potato pancakes are very popular in Austria and Germany. When we ate them on our travels last fall, I tasted something besides salt and pepper mixed with the potatoes. Those pancakes were delicious so I started researching potato pancake recipes.

There are lots of them. Many start with mashed potatoes, others with grated potatoes. Some include garlic, green onions or parsley. A few call for cheese, flour and baking powder or even biscuit mix. One that especially intrigued me was a Chinese potato pancake made with sweet potato starch and flavored with a little black pepper and Chinese five spice powder.

Some time ago one of our nieces mentioned that her husband really likes potato pancakes but had not yet found a recipe he was satisfied with when he made them at home. She wondered if I had a good recipe, so I started looking in earnest.

I couldn’t find one that tastes exactly like the ones we ate in Germany, but I did find a recipe for German potato pancakes that listed nutmeg in the ingredients. Following Mom’s lead, I used both flour and egg to bind the grated potatoes together and added a little nutmeg for a more complex flavor. We like them this way and think that the nutmeg makes these potato pancakes especially good with applesauce.

Potato pancakes are a great side dish to eat with bratwurst, braised pork chops or ham steak. They are good with fried fish too. That’s why almost every good fish fry in Wisconsin offers potato pancakes with applesauce as a choice of potato on Friday nights.

INGREDIENTS:

2 or 3 medium russet potatoes (a generous pound)
1/2 medium onion (2 1/2 to 3 inch diameter)
3/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg (scant)
1 T all-purpose flour
1 large egg
Vegetable oil for frying

PROCEDURE:

Peel and grate the potatoes into a bowl. Transfer the grated potatoes to a clean tea towel and squeeze into a bowl as much liquid as you can from the potatoes. If there is any liquid in the bowl let it stand a few minutes while you grate the onion, then pour off the water and leave the potato starch in the bottom.

Return the potatoes to the bowl, add the onion, salt, pepper and nutmeg and sprinkle the flour over the potatoes. Mix everything together, then beat the egg until it is lemon yellow and stir it into the potatoes.

Pour about an eighth inch of oil into a heavy skillet and set it over medium heat. When the oil is hot, spoon quarter to half cup mounds of the mixture into the pan. Press the mounds to about a half inch thick with the spoon or a spatula.

Fry the cakes about four minutes, then turn them and continue frying until they are golden brown on each side. Unlike batter pancakes, you can safely turn potato pancakes a couple of times without making them tough.

Set them to drain on paper towels on a warm plate. Serve with applesauce on the side.

NOTES: Be sure to use russet potatoes because they have more starch than the thin-skinned varieties like Yukon Golds or red potatoes. Some potatoes have more liquid than others. The last time I made potato pancakes, the towel became damp but only a half dozen drops of liquid ended up the in bowl. On other occasions, I have poured off a half cup of water.

If you wonder whether the oil is hot enough, drop a little potato mixture into the pan. If it starts sizzling right away, your oil is ready. Spoon more mixture over the test potatoes. You may have a slightly darker spot on that pancake, but all will be well.

It is difficult to judge exactly how much salt you need. If you prefer foods with a definite taste of salt, use a little more.

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Nellie’s Potica Recipe

Here is another recipe from my brother-in-law Patrick, who grew up in Hibbing. His mother died in childbirth when he was four, and when he was six his father married Nellie. Patrick and his brothers got a stepmother who baked some special desserts that still rank high on the list of his favorites. Potica and rhubarb cake are near the top. He isn’t sure where she got the recipes. Nellie was from Duluth, so she might have brought them with her when she moved to Hibbing, or she may have gotten them from a relative there.

Potica (pronounced po-TEET-suh) is the Slovene version of a nut roll. Slovenia is a small country on the north coast of the Adriatic Sea bordered by Italy, Austria, Hungary and Croatia. The largest number of Slovenes came to the United States between 1880 and 1920. Many of them came to Ely, Tower, Hibbing and other cities on Minnesota’s Iron Range to work in the mines.

While the men worked in the mines, their wives worked in their kitchens. They used the recipes they had learned from their mothers, and one of those recipes was for a special bread called potica. Of course, people from other countries also came to the Iron Range. One of them was Giulio Forti, who opened the Sunrise Bakery with his wife,Virginia, in 1913.

When their oldest son, Vincent, married the daughter of a Croatian immigrant in 1932, she taught him how to make potica. For over twenty years he baked it for friends and family, but finally, Vincent’s daughters persuaded him to add it to the regular offerings of the bakery. Today, the descendants of Giulio and Virginia ship thousands of loaves of potica to customers around the world from the Sunrise Bakery.

The dough for Sunrise potica is stretched paper thin, but many housewives on the “Range” simply roll the dough out as thin as they can and spread a generous layer of filling on it That is how Nellie made hers. The thinner you roll it, the more authentic your potica will be, but it will always taste good.

Here’s slice of my potica.

image

INGREDIENTS:

Dough:
1/2 cup water
4 tsp. yeast
2 cups scalded milk
1/2 cup sugar
3 tsp. salt
2 eggs
6 T butter
6-7 cups flour
Cinnamon and sugar when forming loaves

Nut Paste:
1 lb. ground walnuts
1 cup honey
1 cup milk
1 egg

PROCEDURE:

As usual, scrub your hands well as you will be kneading dough.

Dissolve the yeast and a quarter teaspoon of sugar in a half cup of lukewarm water. Heat the milk until it is steaming and put it into a large mixing bowl. Stir in the butter, salt and sugar into the hot milk. When the milk has cooled to lukewarm, beat in the two eggs and a cup of flour to make a thin batter. By this time the yeast should be foaming. Stir it into the batter.

Continue adding flour a cup at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition, until the dough begins to come away from the bowl. Turn the dough out onto a floured board and knead until it is smooth and satiny. This will take six or seven minutes. Form the dough into a ball.

Grease the bowl with butter or shortening and put the dough into the bowl, turning the ball to coat the surface with grease. Cover the bowl with a damp kitchen towel and set the bowl in a warm, draft-free place until the dough has doubled in bulk.

Make the nut paste while the dough is rising. Use a fork to mix all the ingredients together to make a smooth batter in a three quart saucepan. Set the pan over medium heat and bring the batter to a simmer, stirring continuously. When the batter just starts to steam, reduce the heat to low, keep stirring, and cook the batter until it turns to a smooth paste. Cover the pan and keep it warm on very low heat until you are ready to spread it on the dough.

Grease three loaf pans and melt a stick of butter in a small bowl or pan.

Turn the dough onto the floured surface and knead it five or six turns. Divide the dough into thirds.

Roll the first third of dough into a rectangle on a well-floured surface. The dough should be as wide as your loaf pan and as long as practical. Paint a layer of butter on the dough and sprinkle it with sugar and cinnamon. Spread one-third of the nut paste on the dough. Starting at the narrower end, roll the dough tightly as if you were making a jelly roll. Tuck the ends of the loaf together and put the loaf into the pan. Repeat these steps for the other two pieces of dough.

Put the pans in a warm, draft-free place and cover them with the damp towel. Preheat the oven to 350º while the loaves are rising. When the dough is even with the tops of the pans, place them on the center shelf of the oven and set your timer for thirty minutes. Turn the pans to help with even browning after thirty minutes and set the timer for another ten minutes. Check the loaves regularly after the timer sounds the second time and remove them from the oven when they are golden brown and sound a little hollow when tapped on top.

Brush the hot loaves with a little butter. Let them cool a few minutes in the pans, then carefully remove them from the pans and allow them to cool thoroughly on a rack.

NOTES: Nellie’s recipe does not say how much sugar and cinnamon to use when you assemble the loaves. I sprinkle three or four tablespoons of ordinary granulated sugar over the butter followed by a half or three-quarter teaspoon of cinnamon sprinkled on the sugar before I spread the nut paste.

If you can keep the loaves straight you might try varying the amounts of sugar and cinnamon in each loaf the first time you make potica and using the amounts you prefer the next time you make it.

Whole milk works best for making potica. You can fortify that reduced fat milk with some half and half or heavy cream or even with some melted butter.

The first time I made potica I used ground pecans sent to us by one of Jerri’s nieces. The potica was delicious.

My sister Patsy bakes her potica on baking sheets instead of loaf pans. Take your choice.

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Grandma Hopp’s Meatloaf

In the spring of 1951 I got a bicycle for my eighth birthday. It was a red Schwinn bike that had belonged to my Uncle Bill, my mother’s youngest brother. I admired him immensely. He was a soldier serving at an American Army Base in Germany and no longer needed the bike. After we wheeled it out of the haymow where Grandpa had carefully stored it, Dad gave him $10 to save for Uncle Bill. Then we loaded the bike into the trunk of the Plymouth and drove home.

I was excited but also a bit apprehensive. I was eight years old, didn’t know how to ride a bike and had short legs. When we got home, Dad offered to teach me how to ride. After I fell over a few times I refused to get back on the bike, so Dad got on to show me that it really was possible to keep it upright. Even Mom came out and demonstrated her skill on a two-wheeler.

It would have been easier learning to ride if the road in front of the house had been paved. Our driveway wasn’t very long, and when I got to the rutted sand and loose gravel I was in trouble. However, after a few days and a number of scrapes and bruises, my skill improved. Soon I was riding the quarter mile down to where Phipps Road ended at U.S. 63.

My usual method of stopping was a controlled fall, and starting was also a challenge. Since I could not hold the bike upright and get a leg over to the pedal to start riding, I positioned the bike next to the front steps, climbed on the bike and pushed off. There were, of course, no front steps along the highway. After pushing the bike home a couple of times, I loaded an unsplit block of firewood into my wagon and pulled it down to the highway. A day later I hauled one down to the bridge at the river, a quarter mile in the opposite direction.

With a half mile of road to ride on, I was in heaven. Our neighbors had front steps, so I could visit Gus Gauch, Mr. and Mrs. Hagberg and my friend, Bob Hanus, who lived with his parents just beyond the bridge. By September I no longer needed steps or blocks. I may have had a growth spurt that summer, or maybe I just learned how to tilt the bike, get my leg over the crossbar and push off with enough speed that I almost always managed to stay upright.

I also learned that my Schwinn was actually an all-terrain vehicle. The balloon tires were ideal for riding across fields, of course, but I also rode it on the trail to the garden and even through the garden until I was told to stop. I rode it on the footpath along the river used by trout fishermen and raced across pastures, dodging rocks and cow pies and bouncing over fallen tree limbs.

When I turned ten, I was allowed to ride on the highway into Hayward. By then I had a basket mounted to the handlebars which made it possible for me to run errands for Mom when she needed something from town. The shoulders along 63, though it was a U.S. Highway, were not very wide, but I squeezed as far to the right on the pavement as I could, and I never had any close calls. Perhaps I should thank the drivers, the slower speeds that most people drove and the fact that we didn’t have cell phones to distract us.

I’m pretty sure that I first rode my bike to Grandma and Grandpa Hopp’s farm when I was eleven. I had been spending a week or two with them every summer since I was eight or nine years old and looked forward to my “vacation” all year long. Grandpa had a small herd of dairy cows that he milked twice a day by hand. I was especially impressed that he could squirt milk into the cats’ mouths as they sat begging near him. When he had finished milking, I would help carry the buckets up to the milk house where Grandpa strained the milk and stored it in milk cans in the cooling tank for pickup by the milkman who also delivered butter and cheese.

It was a little over eleven miles from our home to Grandma and Grandpa’s, and my mother worried that I would “get run over.” I worked out a route that put me on town roads with little traffic except for the final three or four miles on a county highway, which was, as I explained, the distance I rode into Hayward. My father did not seem very worried in any case, and my mother approved the route when I promised to be very careful.

I had only two problems in the four years that I made the trip. The first year I learned that deep sand at the bottom of a steep hill would make me take a header. On the second or third trip a front axle broke and I had to walk the last two miles. Grandpa and I called my father at work from a neighbors’ phone. Dad brought out an axle and the tools to repair the otherwise trusty Schwinn. Incidentally, that road is paved now, but I still think about walking my bike down the hill and pushing it through the sand whenever we drive it.

A few moments from those summer weeks at Grandma and Grandpa’s are still fresh in my memory. I remember waking up one morning when it was just getting light. Grandpa must have made a noise as he was getting dressed, so I pulled on pants and joined him in the kitchen. As we drank our morning coffee (mine heavily laced with milk), I asked him how he woke up every morning without an alarm clock. He answered, “I just wake up when it starts to get light. I like to watch the sun come up.”

I made him promise to get me up every morning, and he was true to his word. After coffee we would go out, open the chicken coop and let the ducks and geese out of their sheds so they could get busy eating bugs and weeds. Then we would sit on the steel lawn chairs and watch the hummingbirds at Grandma’s flowers and the acrobatics of the barn swallows and purple martins as they caught breakfast on the wing while we waited for the cows to come walking through the pasture on their way to the barn.

When I asked, Grandpa explained that the cows came to the barn because they wanted to be milked, that their udders started feeling full and they knew it was time, but sometimes the cows did not show up for the morning milking. That always meant that they had gotten through the fence and couldn’t find the way back.

The pasture was mostly woods with some small clearings where Grandpa had cut trees for firewood, and there was a larger meadow by the ponds where moonshiners had cut fuel. The cows did a good job of keeping things clear, so it was easy walking.
We would follow the fence until we found the problem. It was always where a dead tree had fallen over the barbed wire and pulled down a post.

We would listen for the bell on Bossy, the head cow. It didn’t take long before we found the herd in the forest and guided them back to the opening in the fence. After milking and breakfast I would help Grandpa put in a new post and splice the wire.

My grandfather loved to read, and he was interested in lots of different things. I remember reading Zane Grey novels, mysteries and books about history and geography. But most of all I loved Grandpa’s collection of The National Geographic Magazine shelved on the porch. When he built the house, Grandpa included a stone porch on the north end. The stone walls, about five feet high, were topped with screen panels.

As I read about faraway places, the fresh air carried the smells of pines and flowers and the screens let in the songs of birds, the chattering of squirrels and the raucous conversations of the chickens, ducks and geese. It was a marvelous place to read about ancient civilizations, beautiful islands, temples and palaces, castles and people living in the jungles of South America and Africa. Like many boys my age, I saw my first female breast in a National Geographic photograph illustrating an expedition to Equatorial Africa. I was fascinated.

Not too fascinated to skip meals, however. When Grandma called, Grandpa and I came. It was not fancy food. Grandma was a meat and potatoes cook, but she baked great bread and cookies and, with Grandpa standing in for an electric mixer, wonderful cakes. “Three hundred strokes, pa,” she would tell him, and he would sit at the table cradling the mixing bowl and whipping the batter with a big wooden spoon.

My Aunt Dorothy preserved this recipe she got from Grandma. I probably ate a few slices of this meatloaf before I tackled the dessert.

INGREDIENTS:

1 1/2 lbs. hamburger
1/2 lb. pork sausage
2 slices bread
1/4 cup milk
1 large egg
1/2 medium onion (3 inches diameter)
1/2 cup green bell pepper
2 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp. seasoned salt or equivalent
Grind of black pepper
1 or 2 cans cream of mushroom soup
1/2 – 1 cup water

PROCEDURE:

Preheat the oven to 350º.

Clean and chop the onion into a quarter inch dice. Do the same for the green pepper. Remove the papery outer skin of the garlic cloves and mince them.

Tear two slices of bread into pieces and put them in a mixing bowl. Soften the bread with enough milk to make a paste. Add the vegetables, egg, salt and meat and mix everything together.

Pack the meat into a casserole or loaf pan and bake, uncovered, for about an hour or until a fork stuck in the top of the loaf doesn’t bring up any red juices. Pour off any fat.

Mix a can of cream of mushroom soup with a half cup of water and pour it over the meatloaf. If you want more gravy, use two cans and a cup of water. Bake an additional fifteen to twenty minutes.

Serve with bread, potatoes and any other vegetable of your choice.

NOTES:

The amount of onion and green pepper is not specified, and my guess is that Grandma put in enough of both to be noticeable but not enough to overwhelm the flavor of the meat and gravy. I think I remember eating this when I was a kid and being suspicious about the green chunks. Mom did not put peppers in her meatloaf.

The original seasoned salt was Lawry’s, and that is probably what Grandma used. Today there are dozens of different varieties and brands of seasoned salt. If you have one you like, use it in this recipe. We don’t have seasoned salt in our spice racks, so we improvise for recipes calling for it. A half teaspoon of salt with a grind of black pepper, a little turmeric and paprika with dashes of onion and garlic powder and-voila!-you have seasoned salt. I also added a little extra black pepper to the recipe.

The recipe says to form the loaf in a three quart casserole. We don’t have one, so I decided to try putting the meat in a standard bread loaf pan. I packed it firmly into the pan, and the resulting loaf was excellent. If you do it this way, you will have room for only one can of soup.

Aunt Dorothy noted that this is a “nice change from traditional meat loaf.” An understatement: This is a different but delicious meatloaf. Peas, carrots and cranberry sauce all go well with it.

Posted in Main Dishes, Meats | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Vegetarian Vegetable Soup

When you have a vegetarian for a grandson, it’s important to have a few dishes that a vegetarian will enjoy. I like vegetables, but I think of them as side dishes, or as I tell Will, our grandson, “I love vegetables, right next to the meat.” He doesn’t appreciate my humor. Seriously, however, I think of soups as a way to enhance the flavor of both the meat and the vegetables by cooking them together with different herbs and spices.

People have been making soups with meat and vegetables for thousands of years but sometimes there’s no meat to toss in the pot. The birds and big game elude the hunter and the fisherman comes home empty-handed. However, even the slowest hunter-gatherer (or his mate) was usually able to find some nourishing vegetables that couldn’t fly or run too fast or dodge the net. A few roots, leaves, seeds or fruits boiled in a pot of water could make a pretty satisfying meal.

Today, we have access to a wider variety of ingredients in supermarkets which makes it easy to create delicious soups without having to search for vegetables on windy prairies or in damp forests. The ingredients below are all available in any supermarket at very reasonable prices.

Recently I showed Will a quart package of vegetable broth in the pantry and asked him if he wanted to come over for a lesson on how to make vegetarian vegetable soup. He was eager to join Grandpa in the kitchen.

I chose vegetables that he likes and let him do the work of putting the soup together. I also listed four optional ingredients that he might want to add. He was positive that we should include tomatoes, so a half hour before dinner, we added two cups of cherry tomatoes that Jerri had chopped and frozen last summer. The soup was delicious, and five of us emptied the pot.

INGREDIENTS:

2 T olive oil
1 small onion (2 inches in diameter)
2 cloves garlic
2 small thin-skinned potatoes (2 inches in diameter)
3 medium carrots
2 medium parsnips
2 medium turnips (1 1/2 inches in diameter)
2 or 3 ribs of celery
4 cups vegetable broth
2 cups water
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. oregano
1/2 tsp. basil
2 cups chopped tomatoes
2 or 3 T cornstarch dissolved in 1/4 cup cold water

PROCEDURE:

Cut off the stem and root ends of the onion and remove the papery outer layer. Cut the onion in half lengthwise. Holding one half with the cut side down on a cutting board, cut the onion into roughly quarter inch slices, then cut across to make a quarter inch dice. Repeat with the other half. Set the chopped onion aside in a small bowl.

Cut the ends off two cloves of garlic and treat them like the onion, except dice them into very small pieces. This is called mincing a vegetable. Put the minced garlic into the bowl with the onion.

Use a larger bowl to hold the rest of the vegetables.

Wash the potatoes and dice them in nearly the same way as you did the onion: Cut them in half, then cut each half into half-inch slices and make a half inch dice. With thin-skinned potatoes such as reds or Yukon Golds, you do not need to peel them. If you have potatoes with thicker skins, peel them if you want.

Peel or scrape the carrots. Remove the tops and the bottom scar of the root. If the carrots are no more than a half-inch in diameter, carefully chop them into quarter to half-inch slices. If they are larger, cut them in half lengthwise, then into half-inch pieces. Put the chopped vegetables in a bowl and set it aside.

Parsnips and turnips sold in supermarkets are usually waxed, so you definitely need to peel them before dicing. Wash the celery ribs with a vegetable brush, remove any bad parts and chop the ribs into half-inch pieces. Add these vegetables to the bowl with the carrots and potatoes.

You are done chopping.

Put two tablespoons of olive oil in a soup pot or Dutch oven over low heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook slowly, stirring often, for three or four minutes until the onion begins to turn translucent.

Stir in the rest of the vegetables along with the broth, water and spices. Turn the heat to medium to bring the pot to a boil, then reduce the heat to very low and simmer the soup, covered, for thirty to forty-five minutes. Add two cups of chopped or diced tomatoes and simmer for an additional half an hour.

Dissolve two or three tablespoons of cornstarch in a quarter cup of cold water and stir it into the soup. Stir and cook three or four minutes until the starch is cooked and the broth has thickened slightly.

Taste and adjust the seasoning.

Serve with bread for lunch or a light dinner or as a first course to be followed by an entrée.

NOTES: As he was peeling the carrots, Will said, “This is a boring, repetitive job.” He was right, but somebody has to do it. I had already included an encouraging note to bolster the cook’s morale: “You are done chopping.” I did assist with the parsnips and turnips.

You can of course buy pre-chopped vegetables fresh or frozen, but I can guarantee that your soup won’t taste as good as one made with vegetables fresh from the garden or market. Part of the reason, I think, is that each vegetable ends up being chopped a little differently when done by hand in the kitchen, so the soup is more interesting to the eye and the tongue.

When we tasted the soup just before serving, I asked Will to tell me what he thought. “I think it needs more pepper,” he declared and ground another eighth teaspoon into the pot. I would have done the same. He’s on his way to becoming a cook!

With a little nervousness I decided to introduce Will to bread baking before we started the soup. He followed the recipe for Mom’s Dough Gods, which makes a single loaf of white bread that he turned into a dozen and a half dinner rolls that were perfect. Not only a cook, but a baker as well!

Feel free to adapt this recipe to your tastes, but I strongly suggest that you use a variety of vegetables. In particular, at least one parsnip and one turnip lend a depth and complexity to a vegetarian soup that is usually provided by meat or meat stocks. Include them the first time you make this soup. If you absolutely can’t tolerate one of them, leave it out next time. On the other hand, you might want to add another vegetable. If I had known that Will now likes rutabagas, we would have included a small one in his first soup. Rutabagas are wonderful in soup.

If you have a twelve-year-old grandson or granddaughter that you want to introduce to the wonders of cooking, this is a good dinner combination to start with.

Posted in Gluten free, Main Dishes, Soups, Vegetables, Vegetarian Dishes | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Liz Waters Poppy Seed Cake and Filling

As I have mentioned before, when I was a student at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, university administrators still believed that students deserved good cooks as well as good teachers. Talented chefs worked with dietitians to design menus that were nutritious and interesting, and teams of skilled cooks turned the plans into gourmet dinners.

But teachers and cooks are human beings, so some were better than others and occasionally even the finest chef stumbles. As an English major, I was taught very early that “Even Homer nods.” However, the chef at Elizabeth Waters, where Jerri was Assistant Head Resident, didn’t nod very often. He created a lot of wonderful dishes that I was privileged to enjoy as Jerri’s guest.
Cover of Liz Specials Cookbook

This is one of them, a dessert that the residents chose for their Liz Specials cookbook in 1965. As you can see from the picture, our copy has been well used, but it still has an honored place on the bookshelf.

The cake is dense but not chewy, and the poppy seeds give it a lot of flavor. The pudding provides a nice contrast.

You have to remember to soak the poppy seed overnight before making the cake, but otherwise, it is simplicity itself to make.

INGREDIENTS:
For the cake:
1 cup poppy seeds
1 1/4 cups milk, divided
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup butter
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup cake flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp. vanilla
3 egg whites

For the filling:
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 tsp. salt
2 1/2 T cornstarch
1 T flour
2 cups milk
3 egg yolks
1 tsp. vanilla
1 T butter
1/2 cup chopped nuts
1 T powdered sugar

PROCEDURE:

For the cake:

Soak the poppy seeds in three-quarters of a cup of milk overnight in a cool room or the refrigerator.

The next day preheat the oven to 390º and cream the butter and sugar thoroughly. Grease two eight-inch round layer cake pans.

Sift the flour, salt and baking powder gradually into the creamed sugar. Using a wooden spoon, blend the flour into the sugar. The dry ingredients will resemble biscuit mix. Stir in the milk,vanilla and poppy seeds and beat until smooth. The batter will be very stiff.

Beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form, then fold the egg whites into the batter. Spread the batter evenly into the cake pans and bake for twenty-five to thirty minutes. Test for doneness at twenty-five minutes by inserting a toothpick near the center of a cake. If it comes out clean, the cakes are done.

Take the cakes from the oven and allow them to cool for an hour. Remove the cakes from the pans, set one upside down on a cake plate and the other right side up on waxed paper.

For the filling:
It is easiest to make the filling in a double boiler. Put water in the bottom of the double boiler, put the milk into the upper pan and warm the milk until it is lukewarm. Mix together the sugar, flour, cornstarch and salt and whisk it into the warm milk. Continue heating the milk, stirring often, until it begins to thicken. Cover and cook another three minutes.

Beat the egg yolks in a small bowl until they are lemon yellow, then whisk a half cup of the hot mixture very gradually into the beaten yolks and whisk the yolks back into the pudding. Cover, return the double boiler to the heat and cook for three minutes.

Remove the pudding from the heat and stir in the butter, vanilla and chopped nuts.

Let the pudding cool completely, then spread a layer of the pudding on the cake you had put on a plate. Top the pudding with the second cake and sprinkle it with powdered sugar. Slice and serve.

NOTES: You can omit the nuts from the pudding, but the crunchiness is pleasant. If the pudding is too warm or you put too thick a layer of it on the cake, pudding will run down the sides. The cake will still be delicious and look like a work of freeform art.

You may have some pudding left over after you put a nice layer on the cake. As Jerri says, “It must be hard cutting a recipe down to something for a family from enough to serve three hundred people.” The leftover pudding is delicious. Take it from one who knows.

Incidentally, if you don’t have any cake flour, the standard substitute is one cup less two tablespoons of all-purpose flour. Works every time.

This is the third recipe from Liz Specials that I have shared on Courage in the Kitchen. You might want to try the Thousand Island Dressing and the Manhattan Meat Rolls too.

Didi found that the Liz Specials cookbook has been digitized and is available here
Have fun with some more great recipes!

Posted in Cookies and cakes, Desserts | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Plain Rice Pilaf

In “Vol. II Treasured Recipes–from the Kitchens of Members and Friends of the Hayward Women’s Golf Club,” Marge Gogian suggested that the shish kebab grilled by George the Turk should be served with rice pilaf. She did not give a recipe for the pilaf, but it was probably similar to what I call The Turk’s Pilaf, a plain side dish designed to enhance rather than compete with the entrée.

The Turk’s Pilaf is made with bulgur or cracked wheat simmered in broth and seasoned only with salt and pepper. Plain rice pilaf is made in much the same way, though in its simplest version, the rice is cooked in water rather than broth.

Here is a simple rice pilaf recipe. It makes four generous servings of a flavorful side dish that goes well with shish kebab, steak, grilled chicken or salmon.

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup long grain white rice
1 T butter
3 T olive oil
2 cups chicken broth
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. salt

PROCEDURE:

Rinse the rice well in cold water and allow it to drain thoroughly in a colander. Melt the butter and olive oil in a heavy-bottom covered saucepan or a skillet with a tight-fitting lid. Heat the broth until it is nearly boiling.

Put the rice into the pan and raise the heat to moderately high. Sauté the rice, stirring constantly, for three or four minutes until it just begins to turn gold. Reduce the heat and carefully stir in the hot broth.

Stir in the salt and pepper and reduce the heat to low. Cover and simmer the rice until it has absorbed all the broth, usually fifteen to twenty minutes. You can check how the rice is doing, but DO NOT STIR the rice. When the rice is nearly done, you will see little holes in the rice made by steam escaping from the bottom of the pan and you can gently tip the pan to see if all the broth has been absorbed.

Remove the pan from the heat, take the lid off and stretch a dry tea towel over the pan. Replace the lid and let the pilaf rest for five to ten minutes. Then fluff it with a fork and serve.

NOTES: If you want to be fancy, garnish the rice with toasted slivered almonds, pine nuts or chopped mint leaves.

The grains of rice should not stick together. Stirring the rice while it is cooking releases starch that glues the rice together as does the steam that condenses once you remove the pan from the heat. The towel keeps water from dripping onto the rice as the steam condenses on the lid. So don’t stir and use the towel.

George the Turk was known for telling everyone “Don’t worry ‘bout.” I used to think that he used the expression only as his way of making guests feel welcome until I bussed tables at the Turk’s Inn one New Year’s Eve.

As you would expect, it was busy. George was everywhere—greeting guests at the door, ushering them into the Harem Lounge where three bartenders labored to keep up with the orders, circulating among the tables in the Sultan and Kismet Rooms, trotting up the stairs from the basement with pans full of steaks or other items from the coolers, and running through the kitchen to make sure that everything was under control. Even the busboy and the dishwasher got the same good advice.

Keep it in mind when you are making pilaf. Even if it’s not perfect, it will taste just fine, so “Don’t worry ‘bout!”

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Mom’s Dough Gods

When we kids were at home, Mom made dough gods almost every time she made bread. We devoured them hot from the pan coated with sugar and cinnamon. We thought they were better than doughnuts.

Some people call them dough gobs, but they were dough gods to us. I don’t know how they got that name, but they deserve it. They truly are a heavenly treat, despite the fact that they are one of the simplest foods you can make. Stir up some bread dough, let it rise an hour or so and fry it in any kind of cooking oil you have available. Mom used lard, shortening or vegetable oil, and her dough gods always turned out golden and tasty.

You don’t need a special dough. The recipe below makes a standard nine by five inch loaf of old-fashioned white bread or a batch of dough gods. Double the recipe and you can bake a loaf of bread along with the dough gods. There’s really no extra work to make both at the same time, so you get the loaf of bread as a bonus.

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup milk
1 heaping tsp. active dry yeast (1/2 package)
1/2 cup water
1 T sugar
1 T butter
3/4 tsp. salt
2 1/2 – 3 cups all-purpose flour
Oil to fry dough gods in
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp. cinnamon

PROCEDURE:

As with all bread baking, start by scrubbing your hands well.

Put one-half cup warm water (90º to 110º) in a cup with a quarter teaspoon of sugar and stir in the yeast. While the yeast is proofing, warm the milk to about 110º and pour it into a large bowl. Stir in the salt and sugar. Melt the butter and add it to the milk.

Stir in the flour one cup at a time, beating thoroughly between additions. After you have stirred in the first cup, mix in the yeast. Continue adding flour one cup at a time until the dough becomes stiff and begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl.

Let the dough rest in the bowl for five minutes, then scrape it out onto a well-floured work surface with a spatula and use the spatula to turn the dough to coat it with flour before starting to knead it. Powder your hands with flour, and knead the dough until it is smooth and satiny, about four to five minutes.

If you have never kneaded dough, you should check out Wikihow.com for an excellent lesson on kneading or go to Thekitchn.com for a good video showing you how to do it. Actually, doing both is a good idea. Just go to the sites and use the search for “knead dough.”

Return the dough to a greased bowl, roll it to cover the surface lightly with grease, and cover the bowl with a damp towel. Put the bowl in a warm spot in the kitchen (I use the top of the refrigerator) and let the dough rise until it has doubled in bulk, usually an hour or a little more. Punch it down and knead it on a lightly floured work surface five or six strokes. Pat it down to about an inch thick and use a knife or baker’s scraper to divide the dough into twelve or fourteen pieces. Roll the pieces into balls about the size of walnuts and cover them with a damp towel.

Put the sugar into a shallow bowl or pie tin and mix in the cinnamon. Put some paper towels in a baking pan or on a plate to absorb any oil from the dough gods after they are fried.

Heat a quarter to half-inch of vegetable oil in a ten or twelve inch skillet over medium high heat. While the oil is heating pat some of the dough balls into circles about a quarter inch thick, then stretch them out even thinner.

Test to determine if the oil is hot enough by dropping a small piece of dough torn off from one of the bigger balls into the oil. It should brown on one side in about thirty seconds and finish in another thirty seconds on the other side.

Put two dough gods into the oil, let them fry for about a minute, then using tongs or a slotted spoon, turn them over to finish cooking. If the first one is not golden brown when you turn it, just turn it back for a few more seconds and raise the heat a little.

When both sides are golden brown, take the dough gods from the oil and let them drain while you put the next pair into the pan. Dredge the two you just cooked in the cinnamon sugar and put them on a plate.

Enjoy!

NOTES: Dough gods are best eaten warm, and a couple of kids can keep up with the pan, at least for the first four or five dough gods. You can omit the cinnamon and even the sugar if you want.

I think that Mom used tongs to handle the dough gods, but I have a faint recollection of her using a cooking fork. Just be careful not to splash any hot oil on eager hands snatching dough gods from the plate.

And finally, I found a couple of recipes on the Web that called for frozen bread dough (thawed and allowed to rise of course). I would never use it, but perhaps I am a Luddite in the kitchen.

Posted in Breads and Pancakes, Desserts | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Improved Tomato Juice

As graduate students at the University of Wisconsin, Bob and I had to watch every penny. A couple of quarters wasted on lettuce or potatoes at the regular price meant fewer beers at Glenn and Ann’s.

However, we did entertain friends from time to time, and some of them liked Bloody Marys. As is the case today, Bloody Mary mix was expensive when compared to ordinary tomato juice. Thus, we learned how to turn canned tomato juice into something that our guests liked when mixed with inexpensive vodka and decorated with a pickle and couple of olives.

We scanned the grocery ads in the newspaper every week. We watched for sale prices on everything. When jars of olives or pickles were on sale, we bought a couple if we were running short. Celery, since it was a fresh vegetable, was more of a problem but we used it in soups, casseroles and even—gasp—ate it fresh. In this way we were able to maintain our reputation as good hosts without tanking the bank account.

One morning we poured glasses of Bloody Mary mix instead of orange juice, which had been consumed by some other guests who enjoyed a sweeter beverage. The enhanced tomato juice was a bit spicy but tasted pretty darned good, and we began making a milder version for breakfast.

The recipe below is the result of over forty-five years of experience in turning ordinary tomato juice into a perfect breakfast drink that is low in carbohydrates but high in flavor. Actually, it will only be perfect when you adjust the recipe to your personal taste, but here is how you start.

INGREDIENTS:

1 can (about a quart and a half) cheap tomato juice
1/4 tsp. celery salt
1/4 tsp. hot sauce
1/2 tsp. lime juice

PROCEDURE:

Mix everything together and chill.

NOTES: If you want to make a pretty good Bloody Mary mix, double or even triple the hot sauce, celery salt and lime juice. Stir in a couple teaspoons of Worcestershire sauce, and a little cayenne pepper.

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Hot Beef Sandwiches

Two or three times a year my family went on a shopping trip. Hayward, Wisconsin had a good assortment of retail businesses, but like most families living in the wilds of northern Wisconsin, we also ordered things from Sears and Roebuck, Montgomery Ward and Spiegel catalogs.

But when Mom wanted to get a new dress for church, she wanted to try it on, and if Rivkins or Abramson’s, Hayward’s two department stores, didn’t have one she liked, we headed to Ashland, Wisconsin, or Duluth, Minnesota. Dad felt the same way about boots and shoes. Though he didn’t find out until many years later, he had broken a bone in one foot when he was a boy, and he had a hard time finding footwear that was comfortable.

Ashland was the nearest “big” city. Over 11,000 people lived there, and the wide main street boasted a dozen stores specializing in men’s and women’s clothing. If Mom happened to see an advertisement for a big sale at one of the big department stores in Duluth, we drove the extra twenty-five miles to a really big city with over 100,000 people living on the hill overlooking Lake Superior.

There was always a shopping trip in August. I used to think it was just because we needed to buy “school clothes,” but the hot August weather may have been a factor. Both Ashland and Duluth enjoyed cool breezes from Lake Superior that gave us a day’s relief from the dog days of summer. Supporting that theory was the fact that nearly every summer, Dad would announce some evening, “Let’s go for a drive to Ashland this Saturday. Be a good time to do some shopping or fill a few jugs at the artesian wells.”

It was also a good time to stop at a cafe for lunch.

Dad and I always had hot beef sandwiches: Thinly sliced roast beef on “store bought” white bread and a scoop of mashed potatoes covered with brown beef gravy. One slice of bread was cut diagonally. Most of the meat was stacked on the middle slice of bread. The two triangle-shaped pieces on each side of the middle slice gave an elegant appearance and supported extra meat and the mashed potatoes. It was a heavenly lunch, especially with a bottle of pop to help wash everything down.

If you’re lucky, you can still find places that serve real hot beef sandwiches. On our last trip back from Kansas, Jerri and I stopped in Kearney, Missouri. Jerri asked the clerk at the gas station if she could recommend any restaurants besides the fast food joints that we all know and love. J.J.’s Homestead was the first one out of her mouth. “Turn right after you go under the Interstate,” she told us.

We would have saved a few minutes if she had told us to turn left on the first street after we drove under I-35, but after a short visit to a business development and a U-turn we arrived in front of “J.J.’s Homestead Homestyle Family Restaurant”.

Diets are forgotten when we are traveling. My policy is that we need plenty of nourishment to support us if we slide into a ditch along the Interstate. Chicken Fried Steak, one of my favorites when we are on a trip to Kansas, caught my eye on the sandwich lunch menu. Right below it, however, was a listing for Hot Beef, described as “Slow-roasted beef piled high on traditional white bread, served open-face, and smothered in our savory beef gravy.” I ordered the beef.

When he took our order, our server told us that J.J. referred to Jesse James, the famous outlaw who was born about two miles from where we were seated. It made the meal even more special for me, as I thought of old Grandpa Weingarten who told me he remembered the bank robbery that ended the crime spree of the James and Younger gang in Northfield, Minnesota, when he was a boy.

After finishing off a rather large serving of beef, potatoes and gravy on two very good slices of white bread, I complimented the young man on how good the beef was. He told us that on Mondays when they roasted the meat, customers commented on how good it smelled. It was a wonderful lunch that took me back to those days when we sat around an oilcloth-covered table in a comfortable restaurant and enjoyed a meal out. The major difference was that we sat in a booth and were served by a friendly young man with a tattoo on his arm instead of a friendly young woman with pigtails.

Hot roast beef sandwiches are easy to make and wonderful to eat. The recipe is simple:

INGREDIENTS:

Enough roast beef to make the number of servings you need
Two slices of ordinary (or “traditional” if you wish) white bread for each serving
1/2 to 3/4 cup of mashed potatoes for each serving
Plenty of beef gravy

PROCEDURE:

Slice the beef thin. Heat the meat, potatoes and gravy. Cut half the slices of bread diagonally to make triangles. Put a full slice of bread slightly to the left of center on the plate. Place a triangle of bread on each side. Pile beef on the center slice, allowing a little to fall on the triangles. Put a big scoop of mashed potatoes to the right of the beef. Smoother everything with gravy.

What could be simpler? Use leftover beef and gravy from yesterday’s pot roast and use this easy recipe to make the mashed potatoes.

NOTES: If you don’t have enough leftover gravy, you can make more in a few minutes: Make a roux by melting four tablespoons of butter in a skillet. Stir in four tablespoons of all-purpose flour and cook it over moderate heat until it turns medium dark brown. Season the roux with a quarter teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper, dashes of celery salt and basil. Carefully blend two cups of beef broth into the roux and cook three or four minutes, stirring constantly, until it is smooth and thickened. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

If you want a darker gravy, you can stir in a little brown gravy sauce.

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