Raiding the larder of ideas.

What one family eats, plans to eat, dreams of eating. Plus, other food and kitchen-related stuff from the home of steak-and-potatoes, pie and fresh green beans from the garden.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Boiled Dressing for salads

Okay, so I have allergies. Family and friends know the list of these is long enough to rival the best-known work by Lee Groban (to whom I blow a friendly kiss). At the top of my list is anything made of grape. Oh, sure, I can take a half a bottle of diphenhydramine HCl and be just dandy downing a dram or two of "naturally sweetened" something-or-other, but, by and large, I like to avoid the need for added chemicals. Therefore, when I want a potato salad, a chicken salad, cole slaw, or some other thing which might call for that grapey criminal store-boughten mayonnaise, I can, I suppose, dig out a blender and try to make my own, using rice vinegar.

Nah. I like this option better. It's more work, but...

For starters, there's a little bit of history to it, in its own way. When Mom was growing up on the farm, the farmhouse accommodated three generations. Traditional foods were served at holidays, standard fare was served in large quantities for the field hands and family alike, and a lot of what was most enjoyed was, as one might expect, made from scratch.

Mom spent quite a bit of her adult life trying to recreate some of her favorites family secrets. In a few cases, the recipes had finally been handed down to her by her aunt, Helen. In a few more, the recipes were in cookbooks published approximately the same time Grandma was around in her kitchen. And, in a few cases, something gets into print in a magazine or newspaper, and Mom stumbles upon it and does a little happy dance as she tries it, finds it matches her memories, and shares it with her offspring.

This particular gem was in the second category, with minor variations. Worth the extra time and effort, it is, as Mom says, "just like Grandma's."*

Boiled Dressing

Makes 1 1/4 cups

2 Tbs all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp ground mustard powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 Tbs granulated sugar
1/2 c. cold water
1/4 c. cider vinegar (fresh, strained lemon juice may be used as a substitute, or in a blend with the vinegar, just for a kick)
2 egg yolks, lightly beaten
1 Tbs butter
1/2 c. light cream or whole milk (Mom occasionally uses whipping cream for the potato salad version, just for decadence)

Combine flour, mustard, salt and sugar in top of a double boiler. Stir in water , vinegar, and egg yolks.
Cook over hot – not boiling – water, until thickened. Remove from heat; stir in butter and cream.
Chilll in screw-top jar or plastic container. If necessary, thin with cream or milk when mixing it into salads. It will store, covered, in refrigerator for up to three weeks. (It does not freeze well at all.)

* Since our family has had geeks and tech fans since the days of the first offset printer, Grandma probably would have liked knowing that one can reproduce this using a microwave oven. One simply needs to heat for a minute or so at a time, taking it out to stir frequently, until it has thickened, then add the dairy products.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Chicken Pot Pie

Tonight, it's leftovers. Slop together a casserole from old table scraps and... what? Doesn't that sound mouth-watering enough? Well, fine. Let's see what we can do about that. But what we're messing with is, literally, a batch of leftovers, with a little bit of a boost. It starts with the remaining crust from those tasty Apple Slices, of which Mom made enough to feed several armies, and only one army came, so she popped two balls of dough (approximately a single batch) in the freezer. Now is the time to take them out to thaw so she can roll them out all purty-like.

Next, because I don't like to let a sale go to waste, I roasted up a few big ol' chicken breasts last week, and used the skins, the bones, the drippings (don't forget those!) and whatever wasn't necessarily good sandwich stuffings to start a batch of broth. If you don't have a quart or two of broth in your fridge or freezer, you can cheat, and use store-boughten ;-) but it's not really the same. When I roast chicken, I slather it in butter, then cook it at a high-ish temp (375º-400º F), until the skin turns quite dark -- not that golden-brown everybody touts, but something on the border of mahogany in shade.

The broth usually starts with a couple pints of water, all those remnants from the bird, a half a medium sweet onion, chopped (it doesn't matter how finely. It's going to cook down & get removed from the broth, anyway), a generous dose of celery flakes or a stalk of fresh celery (leaves and all), a scant handful of dried mushroom, pulverized, a little salt, pepper, and patience (Mom also adds parsley flakes, but I'm ambivalent, there. I haven't noticed that it added much to the finished flavor). It simmers at least overnight, then gets strained and tossed into containers in a very cold, dark place, to await future use.

So, now, to the next stage. Turning it into something greater than the sum of the parts. Or, so we hope. We usually toss our favorite biscuits on the top of the chicken stew, but today, we have a rolled crust, instead. What could go wrong? Okay, don't answer that. But we're ambitious, today.*

Just remember, because it's leftovers, measurements are inexact -- to say the least. Play with them, until you find the proportions which make you happiest.

Chicken Pot Pie

1 batch crust from Apple Slices , divided, made at least a day in advance.
1 quart rich chicken broth
1 Tbs butter (or, if you have it, the schmaltz from the top of chilled chicken broth)
1 medium sweet onion, coarsely chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped into 1 cm. bits
8 ounces fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 cup carrots, sliced into bite-sized chunks
3 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into about 1/2 to 1 inch cubes
2-3 Tbs corn starch
1 cup shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup sour cream
2 cups chunked chicken meat
1 cup fresh peas (or, if you use frozen, thaw them in advance of using them here)
Salt & pepper to taste


In medium saucepan, heat broth to simmer.

In separate pan, sauté chopped onions in butter until they are transparent. Remove from butter, add into broth. In same pan, with same butter, stir-fry (at high temp) sliced mushrooms, until golden and edges begin to faintly crisp. Add half to broth, set aside remainder.

Add carrots, celery, and potatoes to broth. Allow to simmer until the potatoes are tender.

Spoon out a half-cup or so of the broth, mix with corn starch, slowly adding back into the stew, stirring constantly, until broth thickens.

Preheat oven to 375º F.

On a heavily-floured surface, roll out half the dough to make bottom crust. Place in bottom of large casserole or spaghetti bowl, pierce with fork a few times (or weigh it down under foil, using rice, beans, or those spiffy ceramic baking weights, if you have them) & bake 10 - 15 minutes, until golden brown. Don't worry if it slouches in the dish as it cooks -- this is a rustic dish, and this is a very soft, short dough.

Crank up the oven temp to 400º F.

Roll out second portion of dough, then cut or tear into decorative shapes (you're never going to get your top crust to stick to a cooked bottom crust, so go crazy with ornamentation, if you wish to hide this reality from the un-initiated in the ways of kitchen. Or, just have a little fun). Set aside.

Add sour cream to stew, allow to reheat. Melt in cheddar cheese. Add in peas, chicken chunks, and remaining mushrooms.

Ladle stew into bottom crust until dish is nearly full (don't overfill -- it will tend to boil over). Top with pretty bits of dough. If you like a more finished appearance, brush dough with well-beaten egg and poppy seed, or with butter, before putting in oven. Bake until top is golden-brown (about 25 minutes).

Allow to stand & cool 5 - 10 minutes before serving.

*The verdict is in: conservative eater Pop ate two helpings.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Squash cups

I love most varieties of winter squash. Actually, I love most squash, in general, but I have allergies, and the reactions are stronger, for some reason, from summer squash than from the winter varieties. Therefore, when I seek squash, I seek a nice, firm, tasty, sweet... dang it, I'm all hungry again...

Going to get cooking, again.

Squash Cups

Oven Temp 400ºF

1 large acorn squash or butternut squash, cut in half, seeds removed*
3 Tbs brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp ground ginger
3 Tbs grated coconut**
3 Tbs chopped glazed pecans (we buy ours from Aldi. They're AWESOME!)

1. Preheat oven to 400º F.
2. Place squash halves cut-side down on foil-lined cookie sheet. Roast until soft to the touch (about 30 minutes). Remove from oven, allow to cool enough for you to handle.†
3. Mix brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger, allspice in a small bowl. In another small bowl, mix coconut & chopped pecans.
4. Separate the skins from the squash meat in chunks, scoop 1/2 cup at a time to put into custard cups or other small oven-safe bowls. Make a small well in top of squash mound. Sprinkle brown sugar mixture over the top, then sprinkle coconut-pecan mix over that.
5. Heat in oven until brown sugar is mostly melted (about 10-15 minutes).
6. Serves 4-6.

* if you wish, you can save the seeds for later to roast them up. They do make tasty snacks.

**I often use toasted coconut. It gives an added bit of interest, but usually requires a cooler oven if you don't want blackened tops.

†You can pre-cook the squash in the microwave oven, if you'd rather not attempt to halve the squash while it's still fresh and hard. For that, poke the squash a few times with a fork or sharp knife, put on microwave-safe plate, cook on high 4 minutes, turn over, cook another 4 minutes, then cool until handle-able, cut in half, discard seeds and skin. It will have a slightly different flavor from the oven-roasted, but if you can live with that, I can.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Macaroni & Cheese faux-Florentine

I have limits to my tolerance for mac & cheese. While I was living in the city on what amounted to minimum wage, I ate a lot of the boxed stuff -- seldom just plain -- and reached saturation point somewhere in the mid- to late-1990s. Still, every once in a great while, I decide it's time to try again, as long as I don't have to see another packet of powdered cheese-type substance.

Therefore, when I stumbled across a recipe in my mailbox, I was intrigued enough to try it. It was bland, but I saw potential in it, so I played with the recipe until I reached what I think is worthy of repeating in our house... and our guest, Jackie, agrees.

The best part is, it's relatively low-fat and high in nutrition, but don't ask me for counts or whatever.

Macaroni and Cheese, faux-Florentine

Oven temp: 450º F.

3-6 Tbs dry breadcrumbs
4 Tbs parmesan cheese (divided)
1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
16 oz pkg frozen spinach, thawed
1 medium onion, finely chopped (divided)
1 3/4 cups lowfat or 2% milk (divided)
3 Tbs all-purpose flour
2 c. extra-sharp cheddar, grated
1 c. lowfat cottage cheese
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
pepper to taste
8 oz. elbow macaroni

1. Spray 8-inch square baking dish with oil.
2. In a large saucepan, bring water to full boil.
3. In a small bowl, mix breadcrumbs, oil, and 1-2 Tbs parmesan cheese. Set aside.
4. Squeeze out extra moisture from spinach, mix with half of chopped onion and remaining parmesan cheese. Set aside.
5. In a medium saucepan, heat 1 1/2 cups of milk and remaining half of onion until steaming. In a separate bowl, mix remaining 1/4 cup milk with flour, whisk until smooth. Add this to the hot milk and then cook, whisking constantly until it simmers & thickens. Remove from heat, add in cheddar cheese until melted. Stir in cottage cheese, nutmeg, salt & pepper.
6. Cook pasta in boiling water 4 minutes, or until not quite tender (noodles will continue to cook in oven). Drain, add to cheese sauce, mix well.
7. Spread half the macaroni in the bottom of baking dish. Spoon spinach mixture on top. Pour remaining macaroni on top of that. Sprinkle with remaining breadcrumb mixture.
8. Bake in 450º oven until golden & bubbly (about 25- 30 minutes).

Options: (a) sprinkle crispy onion flakes -- an unbreaded variety -- on top as it comes out of the oven (not before, as they will likely burn). (b) add in chopped sweet peppers to the spinach layer.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Creme Fraiche

1 c. heavy or whipping cream
2 Tbs. buttermilk

Combine ingredients very well in a glass jar and cover.

Let stand at room temperature (about 70º F) for 8 or more hours, until thickened.

Stir well, then refrigerate.

Use within a week to ten days.

Apple Slices

Mom tells the story that, when she was young, she and her family (aunt, uncle and cousin) would take summer trips to Northern Wisconsin or the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. During the course of the season, the adults would come back to the sumer cabin having stopped at the local bakery for the favorite treat: apple slices.

For long years after they stopped going north, Mom wondered if she would ever taste those treats again. Then, in 1964, while we were living in Madison, WI, ourselves, she stumbled across this recipe in -- of all places -- the Chicago Tribune. At first glance, she wasn't convinced the recipe was anything even remotely like what she remembered, but after baking it once, she was transported to her own youth. It has been a favorite for our family ever since.

One warning -- a single batch may not be enough. Mom usually triples this (with a little extra fruit to give it a boost), and fills a jelly roll pan, to keep Pop happy.

Apple Slices

2 c. sifted flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 c. lard
1 tsp. lemon juice
2 egg yolks, slightly beaten
1/2 c. ice water

1 1/4 c. granulated sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. salt
2 Tbs. corn starch
1 1/4 c. water
3 lbs. apples, pared, cored, and cut into 16 equal pieces

Preheat over to 450ºF.

Sift together flour, baking powder, salt for crust. Cut in lard until coarse crumbs. Mix lemon juice, egg yolks & ice water. Add to flour mixture. Blend gently with a fork or pastry blender. Mixture is very moist. Turn out onto waxed paper or plastic, wrap tightly & securely. Chill for at least six (6) hours or overnight.

To prepare filling: mix sugar, cinnamon, salt & corn starch in a medium to large saucepan. Add water. Bring to a boil for 5 minutes. Add apples, cook 10 minutes more on low heat.

Divide dough in half. Roll first half on a generously-floured pastry cloth, into a rectangle about 11"x 15" using cloth-covered rolling pin. Roll dough up on rolling pin gently, turn out onto a 13"x 9"x 2" pan. Bring dough up against the sides of the pan about 1 inch. Scoop apple mixture and ladle into pan [note: Mom usually drains most of the liquid away from the spoon & puts just the tasty apples in the crust, saving the syrupy solution for other uses, such as an ice cream topping or pancake syrup]. Roll remaining dough to fit top of pan. Cut steam vents, then lay crust over apples. Pinch edges together to seal well. (If you like, at this time you should sprinkle sugar over the top, for a glistening, glittery, crispy crust.)

Bake in oven at 450º for 20 minutes, reduce to 350ºF, continue to bake for another 30 minutes. Cool in pan on cooling rack. You may wish to drizzle a light confectioner's sugar icing over the top [note: Mom has used a little of the syrup from the apples as a substitute for milk or water, mixing it with the confectioner's sugar for a tasty, cinnamony, thicker drizzled icing. Our favorite topping, though, is large-crystal decorative sugar she knows as "hagelzucker", but is available via any Wilton's cake decoration supplier, if you don't have an Amish/German community nearby from whom to buy baking goods. Of course, they really need no embellishment].