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.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Green Bean Casserole

The holiday feast seasons have long had the tradition that the table must hold a dish of green beans in a thick, mushroomy gravy, usually built from a can of your favorite brand of cream of mushroom soup, undiluted.

Unfortunately for some of us, there's entirely too much sodium in those canned soups -- even the "reduced sodium" varieties. Therefore, we have to make the great sacrifice, and start from scratch. Sigh. (wink, wink)

Scratch is not exactly easy to find, on the shelves around here. I have a friend who admits that, when she was newly married, she had to go to the manager of the neighborhood market to ask where he stocked the scratch.... true story. She's a magnificent cook, today.

But I digress.

So anyway, my green beans this year started in Pop's garden. You don't have to go that far. If you don't have a garden large enough to accommodate a few bean poles, just get a bag or two of frozen green beans cut in your favorite style. The Bat likes julienne, I like mine hearty and thick -- something to do with squeaky teeth if they're slightly undercooked, I think. Anyway, I take what Pop gives us, and he seems to favor the lighter effort of just chopping off their stringy heads, blanching them & freezing them whole (or mostly so).

So, from the fresh green beans from the garden, the next stage is, I suppose, to go to the store and stock up on the rest of the stuff... unless you're an even more ambitious gardener than Pop is.

(Also, if you don't like the sodium content of the pre-fab fried onion stuff in a can, you might opt for making your own onion rings, by slicing a sweet onion thinly and separating the rings, dipping them first into buttermilk or soured milk, then into your favorite bread crumb mix, and last, gently arranging them atop the casserole... I found some unbreaded, crisp onion bits at Aldi last year, & have used them often, since. Those, though, you really only want to sprinkle on top of your dish and pop into the oven for a maximum of ten minutes, or you'll have lumps of coal for the kiddies...)

And from there, it's straight prep and eating.

No Soup Green Bean Casserole

1 Tbs butter
1 lb mushrooms, sliced (if you use button mushrooms, get them as they're slightly darkening, for fuller flavor)
1 medium sweet onion, chopped finely (minced)
1 tsp ground thyme
1 1/2 tsp sea salt
2 Tbs celery leaf (fresh is better... if you're chopping celery for, say, turkey stuffing, hold out half the leaves from there & add them here)
ground pepper to taste
1/2 c all-purpose flour
1 c. milk
your choice of onion topping

Over medium-high heat, spray a large pan (I use a wok) with your preferred non-stick spray,* drop in & melt butter, then stir in mushrooms, onion, thyme, salt, celery, and pepper. Stir regularly until mushrooms produce lots of liquid.

Sprinkle in flour, stirring constantly, cook for about one minute.

Gradually add in milk, stirring constantly until well-mixed with flour. It will begin to thicken.

Add in green beans, bring to simmer. Transfer all this to an oven-safe dish. Top with onions to your heart's delight.

Pop in hot oven (400ºF) for five to ten minutes, until onions are crisped nicely. Serve hot....

* Many cooking supply stores carry empty spray containers designed to be filled with your own supply of oil for just this purpose. The Bat & I use extra virgin olive oil.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Pumpkin Pie, Woolworth's style

The Bat's best friend Jackie is married to the son of a long-retired Woolworth's manager. Somehow, in the course of the years, their family acquired what they proudly refer to as "the REAL Woolworth pumpkin pie recipe". It seems that this particular recipe is for the favorite pie served at every top five-and-dime where there was a lunch counter.

For the past few years, when we have had family holiday gatherings (and our families, while not linked by any law known to man, have been joined into one big mob for almost forty years, now), Jackie has made these pies, while others struggled with the double-crust fruit varieties.

Well, this year, Jackie had good reason for being unable to roll out pie crust and lift heavy bowls of liquids, so for Thanksgiving dinner, my seester managed to acquire the recipe and put a couple of them together, just so we'd not be deprived of the greatest pumpkin pie of all time. It worked. The pie was exactly as it needed to be -- light, tasty, and grown-up. Unlike so many others' pumpkin concoctions, this one doesn't overpower one with pounds of ginger and/or cinnamon/nutmeg/mace/what-have-you. I ate more than my fair share of it, and wanted more. I got more, the next morning at breakfast. It was great.

And even better still, I have permission to share this family secret with anybody else who likes a pumpkin pie with a lovely, delicate blend of aromatic seasonings in a not-too-fussy pumpkin-y custard base.
The custard is a dense, not fluffy one, in which the egg white remains somewhat intact. If you find this disturbing, this is not the recipe for you.

Woolworth's official pumpkin pie
(makes two deep 9 1/2" pies)

1 #2 1/2 can (3 1/2 cups) pumpkin
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 1/2 tsp nutmeg
2 tsp salt
4 eggs, separated
3 cups milk
2 8-inch pie shells, unbaked

In large mixing bowl, place pumpkin. Sift together sugar and spices. Add to pumpkin. Mix on low speed for 2 minutes. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl, mix an additional 1/2 minute.

Separate eggs, stirring yolks together lightly. Do not stir or mix egg whites, but set aside. On low speed, add egg yolks to pumpkin in slow stream over 1/2 minute period. Add milk in slow stream over 1/2 minute period. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl, then mix for three minutes.

Stir in (do NOT beat) unbeaten egg whites.

Allow to stand (refrigerated) at least 3 hours (overnight is preferred).

Preheat oven to 450º F. When ready, place 2 UNBAKED pie shells (in their respective pie dishes) on rack in oven.* Pour filling into shells, bake 10-15 minutes, then reduce oven temp to 350ºF, continue to bake for 45 more minutes, or until the outer edge of the pie filling (about an inch and a half or so) has become firm, and the center is still a little jiggly, but a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Refrigerate (or at least allow to cool thoroughly) before serving. Is great with real whipped cream. 

* It is also possible to put those crusts on the counter, fill them there, then carry the very-full-of-liquid dishes over to the oven and place them on the rack, et cetera, et cetera, but I've found that having the liquid in a container with a pour spout and the crusts on the rack already, to be filled in situ, reduces the likelihood that I, Captain Coordination, might see great pools of uncooked pumpkin custard suddenly appear on Mom's lovely hardwood kitchen floor. And her walls. And shoes. Not that the cats would object.

Update: Photos were taken at Thanksgiving dinner, 2014.

Update 2: This recipe can also be used to make custard without pie crust. for this, you will want to thoroughly butter your custard cups, place them in a walled baking dish, pour water to surround the cups to slightly past the halfway point, and then fill the cups. Bake at 450º F for 10 minutes, then reduce oven temperature to 350º F for approximately another 25 minutes, or, until a sharp, thin knife inserted into the center of a custard comes out clean. Allow to cool completely – you can garnish with toasted pecans or whipped cream (or both) at the time of serving. 

Asteroidae says that pie cries out for whipped cream and a side of cranberry relish, but even without all that, it's her favorite.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Grandma Heitmann's Pfeffernusse

Back-breaking labor. Farm wives and daughters know this in the kitchen, as well as in the out-buildings and fields. Most of the time, that hard work is for the survival of the family farm. But then, holidays happen every year, and with each of those comes a particular variety of hard work for the womenfolks -- particularly satisfying variety of hard work, at that.

One of the favorite results of great physical efforts is this Christmas cookie. It's not particularly an aesthetically pleasing treat, the way, say, gingerbread men and frosted sugar cookies can be. Pfeffernusse, an old German dunking cookie, was one of Mom's favorites, as made by her mother's mother. "Little rocks," Mom labeled them, and they truly did require either dunking in coffee or special steel-rebar-reinforced dental work in order to bite into them.

This recipe has all the flavor, but a little less of the jawbreaker quality, mostly, Mom says, by cutting back on the flour just a little. She also says that, as she's been making these little blighters today, it's just a little easier to stir the large batch of dough, this way.

Personally, I think the dough tasty no matter how dense it gets. But if you are a little more risk-averse than I am, I'd suggest that, if you want to eat dough, you should invest in pasteurized eggs or egg-substitute stuff before you stuff your face with this gooey holiday joy.

Grandma Heitmann's Pfeffernusse

1 qt dark Karo brand syrup
1 lb granulated sugar (approx. 2 cups)
1 lb butter
2 Tbs baking soda dissolved in boiling water or coffee(just enough liquefy the soda -- about 2 Tbs or so
3 eggs, beaten
2 tsp allspice
grated rind one lemon
1 1/2 or 2 cups finely chopped pecans
5 lbs all-purpose flour (approx. 20 cups)*

Preheat oven to 375ºF.
In a very large mixing bowl, cream syrup, granulated sugar, and butter.
Add baking soda solution, eggs, allspice.
Add in flour, a cup or two at a time. Unless you have a heavy-duty industrial-strength mixer, you will need to stir in the last two or three cups gradually, by hand, with a strong spoon.
Form into balls using a 1-inch scoop or a teaspoon, and drop onto cookie sheet.
Bake 10-11 minutes, or until lightly browned.
Cool on a rack, serve with coffee or hot cider.

*You can prepare them for a lighter-density cookie, and Mom often does this for the sake of her "poor aging frame" (it's been aging like this for about... well, forty years, I'd guess). For the tender generations who can't wield a war hammer, use only 16 cups flour.

Her Grandma Heitmann used to roll out some of the dough and cut shapes -- mostly reindeer -- for the kids on the farm. Those got sprinkled with a trace of extra sugar before they were baked.

These are not the usual kiddie cookies to be slathered with icing and candy decorations. Yes, most kids will like them, but they're aimed for adult tastes.

My own memories are of Mom once -- and only once -- rolling the dense balls of dough in sugar before baking them into glittery, yummy hockey pucks... it was a case of gilding fine gold. And then, there was the year that she used this dough to make a "gingerbread" house with a fondant-style frosting as cement. It took some doing to Hänsel-and-Gretel it to death.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Mice in the Kitchen!


Oh. it's just candy mices.

KittyMaus won't be allowed to nibble these mousies...

Still hot from the pot!

Dark chocolate kisses for the head. Sliced almonds for the ears. Holding it by the stem, dip a maraschino cherry into melted chocolate, & you have the body. It's all held together by that melted chocolate.

And they won't be stirring, on the night before Christmas. They'll have vanished entirely.

(HT: an old friend who sent me one of these years ago... and helped me discover that plenty of dark chocolate makes the sickeningly-sweet cherries more palatable. The sincerest form of flattery in the kitchen is theft of recipe. **Kisses**)

What a Maroon's Macaroons

Dark chocolate bottoms, dried cherries or pecans on top... the best of all worlds!

Bugs Bunny gave us the label. I reckon it fits, most days. I'm too often the slow, dim one when I set to work (I like to believe it's the result of medications, but, then, when everybody else in the family is comfortably qualified to join Mensa, and I just barely scraped by on the exams -- due to neglect of math -- it's probably not just the drugs speaking).

So, when I bake, I don't want to have to pretend I'm a Ph.D. in chemistry. Keep It Simple, Stupid, is the motto I've tried to live by as mush as possible. So, to the macaroons.

A few things to consider: we don't have a really good baking supplier in our region -- the nearest one is more than an hour's drive away. So, when I want finely shredded coconut, instead of those long, pretty strands that make such nice birds' nests for Easter, I have to toss my long shreds into a blender or food processor & turn them to near-dust. It's not an onerous task, but it does add an extra step to the otherwise brainless activity. And, of course, if you like chocolate, you may want to melt a pound or two in a double-boiler, so you can dip these puppies. I prefer semi-sweet or dark chocolate on my own, but I know a lot of milk choccie lovers, so go there if you must.

The Macaroons
1 can (14 oz.) sweetened condensed milk
1 bag (14 oz.) finely shredded sweetened coconut flakes
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract (preferably powdered, but any good variety will do)
Your preferred toppings (I have chosen tart dried cherries and pecan halves)

Preheat oven to 325ºF.

In a medium or large mixing bowl, combine condensed milk, coconut, and vanilla.

Using a small cookie scoop or a nice, rounded teaspoon, drop onto parchment-covered cookie sheet. (I usually spray the cookie sheet with a little oil to prevent slippage as I'm setting up.) Try to keep them as neat as possible.

If you want to go all fancy, top each one with a bit of your favorite not-too-sweet fruit or nut.

Pop those babies in the oven for about ten minutes, or, until they start turning golden-brown.

Allow to cool.
At this point, you can also dip them in chocolate, if you so desire. I found that, when one makes the cookies larger, they tend to go all floppy in your hands, so, to make them more manageable, I "painted" some chocolate onto their bottoms using a small spoon, and then let them completely cool on parchment before serving.

Then, if you want to keep a few to send out for Christmas, you'd probably be wise to hide them from Pop.