Comfort Food for Trying Times

Or, it’s been a while since I posted a recipe.  My mother used to make this one; I don’t know whether it was Texas Depression-era family comfort food for her, or WWII Women’s Army Air Force food, but she would put it together for the family in a cast-iron skillet, possibly toward the end of a budgetary month (the key ingredients being shelf-stable, it’s a good recipe for that.)

Creamed Beef on Toast

Ingredients

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
Dash of Worcestershire sauce
Black pepper (freshly ground, if possible)
1/4 cup flour
4 T butter
1 1/2 cups (one 12-ounce can) evaporated milk
2 4-ounce jars dried beef
1/2 cup water
1/8 tsp garlic powder (optional)

Preparation

Put dried beef in a colander and pour boiling water over it; pull beef apart and tear into thumb size pieces; set aside.

Melt butter in a large skillet, whisk in the flour until smooth.

Add the milk and water, stirring rapidly with the whisk until the mixture is thickened and smooth. Cook, stirring, for 5 to 6 minutes.

Add the seasonings; add the chipped beef and stir to mix thoroughly.

Heat through and serve on toast points. (Or unpointed toast, or biscuits, or whatever carbohydrate takes your fancy. I’ve heard of people putting it on baked potatoes, even. But toast is easy.)

Serves 6 people once around, or 3 people with seconds. Or one person on a comfort food binge who doesn’t mind reheating leftovers.

Seasonal Yumminess, and Support for a Local Restaurant

I didn’t cook an Easter dinner this year – the traditional meat is either ham or lamb, and I do ham at other times, whenever the local grocery has a sale on spiral-sliced ham. And the only lamb we get up here in the wilderness of far northern New England is either boneless leg of lamb, which is . . . okay, if you like lamb, and the occasional lamb chop, about which I can only say, if I’m going to spend that much money on a piece of meat, I want something a bit larger than your average lollipop.

Also, all of my festive impressive-piece-of-meat dinners (the roast turkey, the crown roast of pork, that sort of thing) were developed back in the days when we had five or six people in residence, several of them bottomless pits teenagers, instead of two or at most three regular adults. It’s one thing to orchestrate a meal like that when you’ve got one kid who can do gravy and a fancy dessert, and another kid who can help you with all the pies, and another couple of kids who can slice and stir and keep an eye on things, and all you need to do by your own self is make the white sauce for the creamed onions and maybe wrangle the meat (unless my husband and co-author has decided to deep-fry it for a change.) It’s another thing altogether to manage it mostly on your own.

So this year we let somebody else cook it. Under normal conditions, we’d have made reservations somewhere nice; this year, we ordered the Take and Bake Easter Dinner for four from the Common Man restaurant in Ashland NH, and brought the various components back to the house in a large paper tote. It all looked good; some of it was meant to cook in the oven and some of it on the stovetop and some of it in the microwave, and there was a lot of it — sliced ham, glazed roasted brussels sprouts, seasonal vegetables with thyme and garlic, scalloped potatoes, mascarpone mashed potatoes (an extra side, just because we could), maple mashed sweet potatoes, cheesecake with raspberry compote, and dinner rolls with seasoned butter — for what was in fact a quite reasonable price.

And indeed, it was all good — at least two meals’ worth, and maybe more. Jim Macdonald had a good time synchronizing all of the cooking directions so that the oven stuff, the stovetop stuff, and the microwave stuff all came out and onto the table together. For my part, I had a good time leaving him to it.

Kudos to the Common Man Restaurant in Ashland, the purveyors of the feast!

A Celebratory Dinner

Because today is Jim Macdonald’s birthday, we drove down to Littleton, NH, to the Little Grill, a Brazilian restaurant whose food Jim – who’s been to Brazil, because during his youth his dad worked there for several years – vouches for. (One of the co-owners has Brazilian roots; how he or she ended up in Coös County, NH, I don’t know, but the oddest people sometimes do.)

Anyhow, on Fridays and Saturdays they have Brazilian Barbecue Night. This is “barbecue” in the Australian, or “things cooked on a grill,” sense of the word, not the American “things smoked or slow-cooked in a pit” sense. The way it works is like this: For a flat price you get your choice of sides from a buffet, and then the waiters keep coming around to your table with grilled meats of all kinds on skewers until you tell them to stop.

The grilled meats tonight were slices of lamb, slices of beef, slices of pork, chunks of steak wrapped in bacon, chunks of chicken wrapped in bacon, chunks of chicken covered in herbs and garlic, chunks of pork covered in herbs and garlic, grilled pork sausages, and also slices of grilled pineapple. Also grilled beef short ribs, but only Himself had those, because by then I had cried “Hold, enough!”

If you’re ever in Littleton, NH,on a Friday or a Saturday night, give it a try. But not if there are any vegetarians or vegans in your crowd, because this is not a place for them.

Kitchen Archaeology; or, The Return of the Lost Recipe

In our current quest to organize the kitchen, the other day I ordered a baker’s rack from Amazon†, and today we moved it into place. This involved relocating the bookshelf full of cookbooks about a foot and a half to the right, which in turn involved first taking all of the cookery books and magazines off of the shelf.

In the course of the relocation, we found the old black-and-white composition book that I first started recording recipes in, right after Jim Macdonald and I set up housekeeping. To our delight, among the recipes was the caramel apple recipe of Macdonald’s childhood, which I had carefully copied into the notebook from the index card I got it on.  We eventually lost the index card, to our sorrow, and after that there were no more caramel apples any more, because the black-and-white composition book was buried under a decade or more of other cookbooks and cooking magazines.

But now we have the recipe again, and I have entered it into my computer’s recipe folder and passed it along to all of our offspring, and now I’m passing it along to you.

Caramel Apples

(from Sister Mary Rose of Our Lady of Good Counsel, via Mrs. W. D. Macdonald)

Combine in sauce pan:
1 and 1/3 cups sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup white corn syrup
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1/3 cup packed brown sugar

Stir constantly until 234 degrees F over medium heat, or until mixture forms soft ball when dropped into very cold water.

Remove from heat and stir in:
1 T butter
1 and 1/2 tsp vanilla

Dip apples; does 8 medium apples. If mixture thickens too fast, place sauce pan over hot water. Be sure apples are washed — a waxy coating makes the caramel slip off sometimes.

(Blogger’s note: skewer the apples on thick wooden skewers or popsicle sticks before dipping them.)

Amazon may be an Evil Empire, but at least it’s an evil empire that provides goods to the north country that would otherwise require a visit to a specialty store down below.

A Thing to Do With Gift Tomatoes

One of my brother’s friends cleared out her garden in advance of the frost, and as a result we ended up with a large bag full of fresh tomatoes — more tomatoes than we could possibly put into bacon-lettuce-and-tomato sandwiches, or add to salads. Letting them deliquesce in the refrigerator until they could be thrown out as inedible would be tacky, but neither did I feel like doing any of the things that would involve peeling and coring and scooping the innards out of that many tomatoes, either.

Then I found a recipe for marinara sauce in the instant pot that called for pureeing whole tomatoes skins, seeds, and all, and said to myself, “What’s the worst that could happen?”

And myself replied, “Well, the recipe could turn out to be a total failure even if you execute it correctly.”

“Yes,” I said, “but even if it is, these aren’t tomatoes I’ve paid out actual money for . . . so what do we have to lose?”

“You’ve got a point there.”

So I limbered up the food processor, and then the Instant Pot pressure cooker, and I’m pleased to report that the recipe was not, in fact, a failure. The end result definitely counted as tomato sauce under the meaning of the act, and it now sits in my freezer in zippered freezer bags, awaiting the day when they’re needed.

All that being said, I’m not such a committed foodie that I’ll be going out of my way to purchase tomatoes to do this thing again. But now I know what to do the next time I’ve got a veggie drawer filled with somebody else’s tomato crop.

(Obligatory writing reference:  Sometimes your subconscious presents you with the creative equivalent of a pound or so of gift tomatoes.  Even if you don’t have a use for them right now, it’s always a good idea to preserve those ideas in some fashion — a scrapbook file on your hard drive, or a printout stored in a physical folder and kept in the bottom drawer of your desk, whatever works for you — to keep your subconscious happy and willing to serve you up ideas when you need them.)

Because It’s Been a While

A recipe!

This is one of my go-to seasoning mixes for things like pot roast or beef stew, or even roast chicken. File also under “Useful Things I Learned from Folk Songs.”

Scarborough Fair Seasoning Mix

Mix together in equal parts (how big the parts are depends upon whether you’re planning to use all of the mix on your current project, or planning to make a larger batch and store most of it for later):

Dried parsley
Dried sage
Dried rosemary
Dried thyme
And a bay leaf (because you always need a sheriff at the county fair.)

Whiz them together in a spice grinder or grind them up in a mortar and pestle, or just mix them together as-is. I like to grind them up because that solves the rosemary problem: Rosemary makes stuff taste delicious, but the little needle-like sprigs don’t soften very much during cooking.

I use more or less equal parts of all four herbs, but there’s no reason you can’t tweak the proportions to suit your own preferences. Store any extra in a clean glass jar with a tight lid.

Nanowrimo’s Almost Over

And so is my Thanksgiving/Winter Heating Season quickie sale, which ends at midnight on Sunday the 26th of November.

As always, you can make the purchase for yourself or as a gift for a friend, and can collect on it either right away or at a future date.

Meanwhile, I have to trundle out and purchase this year’s turkey and all the rest of the traditional Thanksgiving oddments.

And in honor of the season, a reprise of my 2012 posting of The World’s Easiest Cranberry Sauce recipe:

1 bag fresh cranberries

1 cup sugar

1 cup water

Put cranberries into a small-to-medium-sized saucepan.  Take a moment to make certain there isn’t a twig or a pebble in there by mistake.  (I’ve never encountered one, but everybody says to check, so somebody must have, at least once.)

Add the water and the sugar.  Stir to combine.  It’s probably a good idea to use a wooden spoon, because you’re going to want to stir the mixture some while it’s cooking, and it’s going to get hot.

Put the saucepan on the stove and turn the burner up to high.  Bring the cranberries-water-and-sugar mixture to a furious boil, stirring every now and again.  Keep on boiling it until the cranberries have all popped.

Remove from heat and pour the sauce into a bowl or tureen or what-have-you, so long as what you have isn’t going to melt from the heat.  Put the saucepan in the sink and run some water into it, so that you don’t end up having to remove the cold solidified remnants with a chisel later.  Remember to turn off the stove.

Serve the sauce with turkey, or with pancakes, or with whatever seems good to you.  It’s good warm or cold, either way, and will keep for a day or so in the refrigerator.

Some people fancy this up with lemon peel or other seasonings, but simple is easier and works just fine.

Peeve Plus

Today’s peeve, because I haven’t been peevish for a while:

Listen up, people.  The phrase you’re aiming for isn’t “make due.”  It’s “make do.”

I know that homonyms are tricky, and “do” and “due” are homonyms in some dialects of English.†  (My own native dialect isn’t one of them; the vowel sounds are different enough that I’m not likely to confuse the two.  On the other hand, if I don’t specify either a fountain pen or a safety pin, a listener with no context to help out won’t know which one I’m talking about.)

Still, that’s no excuse for not getting it right in your prose. It’s the sort of mistake that puts off discriminating readers, and you don’t want to do that.

And now the “plus” part of this post, or, I discover a tasty new thing to do with cabbage.

The thing is, I like cabbage.  I once – no lie – cut a class when I was an undergrad, purely because the college cafeteria that fed my dorm was going to be serving braised cabbage that day, and I wanted to get there when the dining hall opened so that I could have it fresh instead of after it had been sitting on a steam table for an hour and a half.  (The class was Eighteenth Century English Lit, and Edward Young’s Night-Thoughts – the work assigned for that session – simply couldn’t compete.  The eighteenth century was a great time for English prose, but for poetry, not so much, at least not until the Romantics came along.)

Anyhow, I like cabbage, but after steaming it, and braising it with kielbasa, and chopping it up and putting it into slaw, I thought I’d run out of ways to cook it.  Then I read online about roasted cabbage, and I said to myself, Self, you need to try this one.

It’s one of those dead simple recipes:  Take a head of cabbage, a cutting board, and a nice heavy knife.  Slice the cabbage longitudinally into one-inch thick slices – cabbage steaks, if you will – leaving in the core.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400° F.

Then take a sheet pan and line it with tinfoil (another lovely word – tinfoil hasn’t been made of tin since the middle of the last century).  Spread a couple of tablespoons of olive oil over the bottom of the pan.  Put the cabbage slices on the sheet pan in a single layer, and brush them with more olive oil.  Then sprinkle the slices with fresh ground pepper and kosher salt.

Put the sheet pan in the oven, and cook the cabbage for 40 minutes, turning them over carefully at the 20-minute mark.

Serve as a vegetable with grilled sausage or whatever pleases you.


†Everybody speaks a dialect of some sort.  It’s just that some dialects are more privileged than others, and get to be called “Standard.”

Food and Drink in the North Country

Things you can have if you travel up this way.  Possibly #1 in an ongoing series, depending upon how much I get out of this house before winter comes back around.  (The Starks of Winterfell could have a summer home up here, I suspect, and nobody would even notice because they’d fit right in.  “Winter is coming.”  “Ayup.  Got your wood in yet?”)

Anyhow.  Here’s a photo of that pHtea Jim Macdonald blogged about in his post about the Vermont RennFaire:

PhTea

That’s white tea, chamomile tea, and yerba mate in the photo; the black tea had already been consumed by me the night before.

And here is breakfast at the North Country Family Restaurant in Groveton, New Hampshire, where they make their own corned beef hash.  (As does any diner in northern New England with a shred of self-respect.)

Hash and Eggs at the NorthCountry Restaurant

That’s two eggs sunny-side up over corned beef hash, with homemade toast and a side of hash browns.  (Well, up here they call them hash browns.  As a transplanted Texan, I feel obliged to point out that they are actually country fries, because proper hash browns are shredded, not cubed.  Nomenclature aside, though, they’re done well, and come with or without onions at the diner’s preference.)

The other breakfast, in the background, is a fried egg sandwich made with French toast.  I have it on good authority that it tastes just fine.

I Haven’t Vanished From the Internet

I did, however, sprain my wrist a while back, which put a crimp in my keyboarding for a while there.

By way of apology, have a recipe, with bonus family anecdote:

Jake’s Mother’s Teacakes

1/2 cup shortening (probably lard, originally; latterly, Crisco)
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup milk
2 1/2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla

Cream shortening and sugar.  Add egg.
Beat thoroughly.
Sift flour and baking powder together.
Add dry ingredients alternately with milk.
Add vanilla.
Chill, roll, and cut into rounds with a biscuit cutter.
Bake on greased sheet in a quick oven (350-375 F) about 5 to 8
minutes – the time varies according to the thickness of the cookies.  Until the edges start to brown, anyway.

The “Jake” in question was my great-uncle on my father’s side, making his mother my . . . great-great-aunt?  Something like that.  Anyway, when my father was growing up, he used to walk over to her house, with his dog following along after him, and she would make these cookies for him, and the dog would get some, too.

Then my father graduated from high school and went off to college, leaving his dog behind.  The dog, for his part, continued going over to Jake’s mother’s house . . .

. . . and Jake’s mom would bake these cookies for the dog.

They’re a not overly sweet cookie that keeps well, and dunks nicely in tea or coffee or milk.