Sandwiches and Potato Chips: Feeding our Elderly

After a bad fall, my 92-year old mother, Lois Bartlett, is convalescing at a hospital in her hometown, Tulsa, Oklahoma. Despite her many ills, she is sharp mentally and interested in getting better. It’s her appetite that’s gone.

A slim and tall woman (she seemed like a tree when I was little), she has always eaten just about everything enthusiastically and until now, has done her own cooking and shopping.

“The food is awful here!” she wailed. I had to agree that the overdone purees and tough slabs of meat were nearly inedible.

“Just give it a good try.” I advised. She had a better idea.

A few days later, she explained, “Christina is bringing me food.” Christina Minielly has known my mother for over 30 years and most recently, has been a caregiver and lunch provider.

“What is she bringing you?” I asked, thinking about some nutritious soup or perhaps some vegetables or fish.

“Sandwiches and potato chips!” she chirped. “And usually, there’s enough for my dinner too!”

Your ten-year old probably shouldn’t have a steady diet of sandwiches and potato chips but at 92? I think it’s great. She’s back to eating and in fact, that sandwich probably has everything she needs, as least for now.

About 20 years ago, my father was dying of lung cancer. I was appalled by his diet of canned soups and frozen food and wanted to make sure that he was eating ‘correctly’. Who knows? Maybe I thought I could cure him. I tried to tempt him by cooking various dishes with delicate sauces and special vegetables. Sometimes, he’d say, “Don’t bother too much with lunch. Isn’t there some Campbell’s soup on the shelf?”

Ha! I’d think. Nothing like that for my dad! No sirree. Everything from scratch.

On another occasion, he was more forthright. “I’d really like some Stouffer’s Turkey Tetrazzini”. Suddenly, I was caught short. Why wasn’t I feeding him what he wanted? His life was really down to weeks at that point. Shopping and cooking was eating into some nice time we could spend together, sitting and reading or reminiscing.

So, I learned a lesson. Throughout your life, eating well is important for many reasons and health is only one of them. But at the end of life, all the constraints of keeping yourself alive are not so important. If my mother wants potato chips, she should have them. When she’s stronger, maybe she’ll go for that nutritious soup I’d like to make her but I can wait.

If you have an elderly relative or friend who you’d like to cook for, it is a wonderful act of kindness. My mother’s young artist friend Rhonda Davis often brings her tasty treats. “You know this stuff, hummous, is really good!”, my mother commented one day, fishing around for more pita bread. Bear in mind, that your older friend won’t eat much and heavy pots or bowls will be hard for a frail person to handle easily. A pint of soup, a small container of stew, or a slice of pie will be just right.

If you’re cooking for a sick friend, bear in mind that lots of food that smells and tastes so good when you’re well has the opposite effect when you’re sick. Spicy or rich foods, dairy (especially cheese and cream), strong tasting fish or meat are the culprits here. Also, the texture of certain foods, such as steak, can be hard to handle. Salads and salad dressing can taste much more acidic when you’re not feeling up to par.

So what’s left? Soup is a good bet with clear broth and some good vegetables, a bit of rice, and a little chicken. Some folks like rice pudding or applesauce. Using a mild cheese, a warm grilled cheese sandwich can be tempting.

My husband’s mother, Mary Allman, also had a poor appetite in her last weeks. One day, I made her a simple egg custard. It was plain and digestible and she ate some of it. It sparked some memories of her childhood which she recounted with quiet pleasure. I enjoyed the stories and was glad that the custard coaxed them out and had given her a little energy.

This dark time of year certainly brings out wonderful generosity and kindness. I am grateful to Christina and my mother’s neighbors who have taken time to bring a very old lady things that she likes to eat.

xoxo, Mary

Here are a few recipes for our older friends.

Egg Custard                                                                                                                                                                                           Also called cup custard or baked custard, this makes a simple dessert for any age and is especially good topped with fruit.

2 cups milk                                                                                                                                                                               3 tablespoons  sugar                                                                                                                                                        pinch salt                                                                                                                                                                                  4 yolks (or 2 whole eggs)                                                                                                                                                   1/2 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract

In a medium-sized bowl, combine the milk, sugar and eggs. Beat well. Add flavoring.

Heat the oven to 300 degrees. Pour the custard into 5 or 6 individual ramekins or small Pyrex cups and set them in a baking pan. Pour about an inch of hot water into the baking pan and bake about 45 minutes.

Test for doneness by sticking a knife in the custard. If it comes out clean, the custard is done. Don’t overbake as it will get tough.

Green Soup                                                                                                                                                                                          For when you’re feeling a bit low. Homemade broth makes a big difference here, especially if well-skimmed of fat and not too salty. You may leave out the egg but it adds some protein.

2 cups broth (chicken, beef. or vegetable)

1 cup spinach or chard, chopped or shredded finely

1 egg, slightly beaten

Heat the broth to the boiling point and stir in the greens. Cook over low heat a few minutes until the greens are wilted and tender. Stir in the egg.

Serve with plain toast or crackers.

Makes 2 small servings.

Baked Chicken

Breast of chicken can be pleasant enough for a sick person but it can easily be tough or too bland. A little lemon juice helps to keep the chicken tender.

1 boneless chicken breast

½  lemon

1 teaspoon dried dill or tarragon

Butter

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Put the chicken in a very small baking dish and squeeze some lemon juice over it. Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with dill or tarragon. You can also use fresh parsley, if you prefer. Dot with a little butter and cover the dish tightly with foil.

Bake for 20 minutes and check for doneness. Cook a few more minutes if necessary.

Makes one serving.

Milk Toast

I read M.F.K. Fisher’s glowing words about milk toast a few years ago and at the time, thought they were a bit ridiculous. But then I came across this pencilled notation in an old cookbook of my mother’s next to the recipe for milk toast:

“Mama likes this.”

No doubt she was referring to her own very elderly mom.  Milk toast is a lovely soother for anyone who is ailing but especially nice for babies, young children and the elderly.

1 cup milk

2 slices bread

Butter

Heat the milk until it is simmering but not boiling. Toast the bread and butter it (sparingly or generously depending on the condition of the sick one). Pour the hot milk in a large bowl, break up the toast into pieces and serve at once with a spoon.

There are versions where cinnamon and raisins and a little sugar are added.

Orts and Leavings and Remembering Peg Bracken

If you do crossword puzzles, the word ort, like erne or oast, is familiar. To the question, “What’s for dinner?” my response was frequently, “Orts and leavings.” Which is to say, scraps. And scraps can be the basis of awfully good food. I enjoy a meal of orts. It forces me to clean out my refrigerator, makes me feel a little smug about saving money, and keeps me from making a trip to the store.

I also feel I’ve paid respect to the food huddled on the refrigerator shelves. I like to think those withered lettuce leaves and leathery squash enjoy this treatment. “No trash can for you, my pretties!”

Let’s explore this path. To begin, examine the terrain. What happens to be in my refrigerator right now is the following: a handful of celery leaves, a wilting head of lettuce, a piece of cooked chicken, 2 strips of bacon, 2 leeks, a half dozen eggs, a cupful of rice, and some very smelly cheese. These orts shall start with salad.

My Salad of Orts

For 2 or 3 servings. Can be easily doubled.

Wilted lettuce can be revived by pulling off and discarding the outer leaves and then soaking the whole head in a sinkful of cold water for 20 or 30 minutes. The sand and dirt will drop to the bottom. Separate the leaves and then lift them out and dry them in a salad spinner. Refrigerate about a half hour and the lettuce should be crisp and fresh.

  1. In a salad bowl, combine lettuce and other greens you may have hanging around such as, several sprigs of parsley, mint, basil, celery leaves.
  2. Shred the cooked chicken breast. Fry the bacon slices and crumble.
  3. Hard-boil 2 eggs. Cut in halves.
  4. Prepare a vinaigrette. I use some Dijon mustard, one part red wine vinegar and 2-3 parts olive oil. Toss the greens with the vinaigrette, saving a few spoonfuls.
  5. Toss the chicken with the remaining vinaigrette and some salt and pepper. This seasons the chicken, which may have become dry.
  6. Divide the greens between 2 plates and put the chicken, crumbled bacon and egg on top.

Your Salad of Orts

Composed salads, as the cookbooks are fond of calling them, can be custom fit to your orts and provide you with a meal in one dish. The basic components are:

protein, crunch, and greens.

The protein: nearly any bit of cooked meat, fish, ham, cheese, or tofu cut in strips, cubes, or shredded is useful in salads. Plan on about ¼ cup per serving. I added the hardboiled eggs because I didn’t have quite enough shredded chicken.

Crunch in my salad comes from the bacon but you could use chopped nuts or croutons instead. About a tablespoon per serving. The fat in the crunch adds flavor but to keep a salad lean, you might choose chopped celery, carrots, or sprouts.

Adding a few leaves of herbs such as basil, mint, or parsley makes for very interesting and tasty salads. Just try to balance bitter or tough greens with enough lettuce so that eating the salad doesn’t sound like dinner in the horse barn.

Serve your salad with French bread, pita, whole-wheat toast, Swedish crispbread or whatever you have on hand.

Just how smelly is that cheese?

Leftover cheese can be the basis for many a meal of orts and leavings. A good way to deal with it, especially if you have several small pieces of different types, is to make a quiche. For interesting reading about quiches, what they are and where they come from, read Julia Child’s discussion about them in the Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume I. She has a nifty method for the basic custard mixture to which she adds all sorts of ingredients.

Quiche de Fromage Scraps

About 8 slices

If you like so doing so, make your own pie dough, otherwise buy a rolled out commercial one.

  • 1 sheet of pie dough
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup milk or cream
  • pepper, nutmeg
  • 2 cups shredded or crumbled mixed cheeses
  • Optional: 2 slices bacon, fried and crumbled or ¼ cup chopped ham

Press the dough in a pie pan and pre-bake the shell according to package instructions. Set the oven to 375 degrees.In a bowl, whisk the eggs, milk or cream, several grindings of pepper and a few dashes of nutmeg until light. Put the optional ham or bacon in the bottom of the pie shell and cover with the shredded cheeses. Pour the egg mixture over top.Bake for about 30 minutes. It should be puffed and browned on top.

Your Quiche de Scraps

About 8 slices

The orts in the recipe above were cheese and bacon. Root through your refrigerator to see what you have. Quiche does not need to contain cheese. The custard is the important part to which many other ingredients may be added. A cup of chopped cooked vegetables (such as spinach, onions, red peppers, asparagus, zucchini, or a mixture), or cooked chopped chicken, salmon, or shrimp make fine quiches.

  • 1 – 1 ½ cups cooked chopped vegetables and/or meats or fish
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup milk or cream
  • pepper and nutmeg
  • 1 cup shredded, grated or crumbled cheese (optional)

Following the above method, pre-bake the pie shell and prepare the egg and milk (or cream) custard. Spread the cooked and chopped vegetable or meat mixture in the pie shell and pour the egg mixture over the top.Bake at 375 for about 30 minutes.Serve quiche hot or cold.

Remembering Peg

Last week, Peg Bracken, author of the I Hate to Cookbook died at her home in Portland, Oregon at the age of 89. In the 1950s and early 60s, a full-time working mother was not the norm. ‘Participating’ dads were not either so after a day’s work, women had to get something on the table. The way Peg tells it, she and her friends pooled recipes that were fast, easy, and edible. This was the basis of her book and it was an instant success. Published in 1960, it sold 3 million copies.Here’s how it starts:

Some women, it is said, like to cook.

This book is not for them.

This book is for those of us who hate to, who have learned, through hard experience, that some activities become no less painful through repetition: childbearing, paying taxes, cooking. This book is for those of us who want to fold our big dishwater hands around a dry Martini instead of a wet flounder, come the end of a long day.

Peg has been one of my all-time heroes (and I love to cook.). What appealed to me was her humor, lack of pretension, and love of life. Read a book! Have a cocktail! See friends! Eat something tasty! She didn’t hate food and she didn’t mind cooking. She just hated being thrust into a role where daily cooking was somehow sacred. That thinking became obsolete but Peg was ahead of her time.

From my perspective (as a fierce advocate of home cooking), I think Peg was onto something. You don’t need to adore cooking to get a good meal on the table.

When I first moved to Portland, I found out that Peg lived there. Through her stepson, Jack Ohmans (the cartoonist for the Oregonian), I got in touch with her. She invited me to her home and the minute I got there, she offered me a spice cookie.

“Elevator Lady Spice Cookies!” I nearly shouted.

“Nope, but those were really good too.” she replied.

We had a great afternoon. She was as candid, funny, and warmhearted as I figured she would be. Her books are still around, canned soups and all. Peg loved what passed for convenience foods in the ‘60s but don’t be put off. She had some terrific recipes and that’s why my copies are falling apart. She wrote many books but my favorite is The I Hate to Housekeep Book (which tells you something).

Here’s one of Peg Bracken’s recipes that uses up the final ort in my refrigerator: the cupful of rice. It’s a large recipe but can be divided easily and is a meal in itself.

Hellzapoppin’ Cheese Rice

4 cups cooked rice
4 eggs
2 tablespoons minced onion
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons salt
1 pound grated sharp Cheddar
small pinch each of thyme and marjoram
1 package chopped frozen spinach
1 cup milk
4 tablespoons melted butter

This is copied verbatim from Bracken’s book. She is referring to Sugar Belle, (possibly a fictional character) who gave her the recipe.

She beats the eggs till they’re light. Then she adds the milk and all the seasonings. Finally, she folds in the cheese, spinach and rice and pours the whole works into a greased casserole. After she pours the melted butter over it, she sets it in a 375 degree oven to bake for thirty-five minutes and she takes off her apron.

That’s all, friends!

xoxo, Mary

Party Time!

Don’t wait for summer.  Have a party now. Spring is a great time for a small party: no more than 10 people.  In fact, no more than you can fit either around your dining room table or on your living room floor.  I’m talking about dinner parties, specifically dinners with friends.   

With people you know reasonably well, a good party to have on the floor is a Moroccan Party. Here is the menu: 

Hummous tahini with pita bread 

Chicken, Lemon and Olives with Couscous

Orange Salad with Rosewater or Dried Fruits and Nuts

Mint Tea and Rose wine

Make a large enough space in your living room (you may have to move furniture) and  put down some towels or a blanket over a largish area.  Cover this with either a sheet, table cloth, bed spread or some material that looks cheery but isn’t an heirloom.  When dinner is served, guests can lounge around the perimeter with the dishes in the center.  If you are a strict purist,  you may not want to have plates or flatware but simply use the pita bread as your vehicle to propel the food to your mouth.  Otherwise, give your guests plates and forks and dig in.  Recipes for the hummous, chicken and orange salad are given below.  Follow package directions for making couscous, making sure not to use too much water or it will be mushy.  Instead of the orange salad, you might have a big tray or platter of various dried fruits and whole nuts.  It can be pretty messy but keeps everyone on the floor for quite a while.   If there is a middle-eastern grocery in your area, you can buy some sweet pastries to go with your dessert.  A word about wine: there is a Moroccan rose wine called ‘Gris de Boulouane’ but any reasonably dry rose with go well with this menu.   Don’t forget candles and music.                                                                      

Another possible floor party is the Indian Party:

Sabz Ghost (Lamb stew with Coconut Milk)

Makhani Dal and Cucumber Raita

Basmati Rice, Chutney and Naan bread

Coconut Sorbet

Beer and Black tea

Because this Indian meal can be served lukewarm or room temperature, there’s no rush to get to the table so consider something a little rousing for your guests before sitting down (or lounging if you’re really taken with that idea).  Take advantage of the evening light and have a croquet match or a badminton game before dinner.  If you have no outdoor space or it’s raining, consider an Indian parlor game.  I have read about some extraordinary ones such as Ticklin’ Feather (quite gentle) and British Bulldog (a bit rough).   Recipes follow for the lamb, dal, raita and ice cream.  I do have a recipe for naan but it is fairly easy to buy so, I won’t include it unless hounded to do so.  Chutney and lime pickle are also easily purchased. 

When making basmati rice, remember to rinse it first, and cook it in only 1 1/2 times the amount of (salted) water to rice for about ten minutes.  Leave it covered and fluff it before serving.

Don’t have a Brazilian Party on the floor.  Eat while dancing. 

Caipirinhas

Roast Pork and Sausages

Black Beans and Rice

Orange and Red Onion Salad

Heart of  Palm salad

Greens, Farofa and Hot Sauce

Caramel Flan

 There are a lot of elements to this dinner but it’s a good one for vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike since the meats are cooked and served separately.  Farofa is ground manioc flour that is toasted and sprinkled over greens.  It is easy to prepare but not that easy to find unless you have some Brazilian source near you.  Nevertheless, I’m including the recipe because it is such a delicious accompaniment to the meal.  Be sure to play Brazilian music and warn the neighbors in advance. 

Now, these parties involve a little cooking but! It can all be done in advance.  Set it all up and when that doorbell rings, you’ll be there wearing something festive and primed to mingle.

The Moroccan Party:

 Hummous tahini

  • 1 can chickpeas                                                                                                                                                                                          
  • 2 – 4 tablespoons sesame tahini
  • 1 lemon, squeezed
  • 1 small clove garlic, minced or pressed
  • Salt                                                                                                                                                                                                         
  • Olive oil

In a food processor or blender or with the back of a wooden spoon, mash the chickpeas with a little of their liquid.  Stir in the tahini with an equal amount of water. Add the garlic and lemon juice.  Season with salt and taste.  You may need more lemon, tahini and salt.  Taste until it is seasoned to your liking (but don’t stress about this – the flavors do develop with a little time).  Film the top with olive oil and serve with pita bread.

Chicken with Lemons and Olives                                                                                                                                              This dish has many variations but this particular one has a lot of shortcuts (using boneless chicken, for example).  Ras el hanout (which means ‘top of the shop’) is a spice mixture that can be bought or made.  Vann’s spice company makes a version of it.  I’ll include a simple recipe for it as well as for preserved lemons.  If you don’t want to make preserved lemons, you can substitute fresh lemons.  Use the best quality chicken you can find for this – it makes a difference. 

  • 5 pounds boneless chicken thighs
  • 1 cup chopped parsley
  • 3/4 cup chopped onions
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • Salt                                                                                                                                                                                                             
  • 1/2 teaspoon saffron   (more if you have it and want to part with it)
  • 1 tablespoon ras el hanout
  • 3/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 3 cinnamon sticks                                                          
  • 2 preserved lemons  (or fresh – but if you have time, try to make the preserved ones)
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice   
  • 8 olives, pitted and chopped (such as Kalamata olives)

Put the chicken into a large pot.  Add 2/3 cup of the parsley, the garlic, onion, salt, spices, half of the butter and the cinnamon sticks.  Add 2 cups of water and bring to a boil.  Simmer covered for about 40 minutes.  Chicken should be very tender.  Remove the chicken from the broth and remove the skin (if there is any).  Remove the cinnamon sticks from the broth.

Reduce the broth by boiling it to a thick rich sauce (about 2 cups).  Taste for seasoning.  Add the remaining parsley, olive, lemons, lemon juice, remaining butter and the chicken and cover and cook until just hot.  Can be made a day in advance and re-heated.

Preserved Lemons

  • 2 organic or untreated lemons
  • 1/3 cup coarse salt

Wash and dry the lemons and cut each into 8 wedges.  Toss with the coarse salt and squash the lemons into a pint jar, pressing them down to bring out the juice.  Pour in more fresh lemon juice to cover (a few tablespoons, usually) and seal with a non-metallic lid.  Leave at room temperature for 7 days, shaking the jar daily to distribute the salt and juice.  Add olive oil to cover, then refrigerate.  Keeps very well – about a month.  To use: rinse the sections well in water, otherwise they will be too salty.  Preserved lemon is delicious chopped up in couscous and on grilled vegetables or fish or tuna-fish salad.

Ras el Hanout

  • 1 tablespoon ground mace
  • 4 teaspoons each: nutmeg, ginger and salt                                                                          
  • 3 teaspoons allspice
  • 2 teaspoons each: aniseed, cinnamon, black pepper, clover, turmeric                                      
  • 1 teaspoon each: cardamom, cayenne pepper

Combine all ingredients. Makes about 8 tablespoons.  Store in a small jar. 

Orange Salad with Rosewater                                                                                                                                                      Peel and slice into rounds one orange per person.  Sprinkle with rosewater and a little cinnamon and arrange on a large plate.

 

 

The Indian Party:

 

Sabz Ghost (Lamb in Coconut Milk)  

This dish can be made a day or two in advance and served hot or room temperature.  Be careful with the chilies: they do get hotter the longer they cook. 

  • 3 – 4 pounds lamb, cubed (use shoulder for a relatively inexpensive cut)
  • 1/4 cup  garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup fresh ginger, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup cooking oil
  • 1/2 cup whole almonds
  • 1/2 cup raisins (golden or black)
  • 3 cardamom pods
  • 3 whole cloves
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 small green chili pepper   
  • 1 small dried red pepper (remove seeds) 
  • 1 can unsweetened coconut milk        
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped

Marinate lamb in the garlic and ginger for 2 hours.  In a large pot, heat the oil and fry the almonds and raisins briefly until they are light brown.  Set aside.  Using the same oil, add the cardamom, cloves and the lamb.  Cook stirring over high heat until the meat is browned.  Mix in the salt and yogurt and cook slowly until the yogurt is absorbed. 

Stir in the red and green chili peppers and half of  the chopped cilantro.  Add the coconut milk and cook slowly, stirring from time to time for about forty-five minutes to an hour.  When the lamb is tender, add the almonds and raisins.  Cover the pan and simmer to reduce the sauce, about 10 to 15 minutes. 

Taste for seasoning, adding additional coconut milk if too spicy.  Garnish with the remaining chopped coriander and serve hot, with chutney, Naan bread and rice. 

Makhani Dal                                                                                                                                                                                  Almost every Indian dinner is accompanied by some form of dal.  Split peas, dried beans or lentils are the basis of dal which is then seasoned and spiced in a myriad of ways.  Canned lentils in this recipe work well and make this an extremely easy dish to prepare.  As with the lamb, this can be made ahead and served warm or room temperature.

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil             
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped          
  • 1 heaping teaspoon fresh ginger, grated                               
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 2 pounds canned lentils
  • 1 pound can of pureed tomatoes
  • 10 sprigs cilantro
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 cup cream

Heat butter and olive oil in a heavy pan and fry the garlic, ginger and chili powder for a few minutes.  Add the lentils and tomato puree, stirring well.  Separate the cilantro leaves from the stalks and chop each.  Add the chopped stalks to the lentils, season to taste with salt and pepper and leave to simmer over low heat about fifteen minutes.  Before serving, stir in the cream and the chopped cilantro leaves.

Cucumber Raita                                                                                                                                                                            Raita, a yogurt relish, cools down a hot Indian meal. 

  • 1 English cucumber, peeled and diced
  • 3 cups plain yogurt
  • 2 onions, finely chopped
  • Salt and pepper

Combine the diced cucumber, onions and yogurt.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Coconut Sorbet                                                                                                                                                                              There are wonderful Indian desserts and I confess this is not one of them but it does fall into the easy make-ahead category.  That said, it is very sweet (a hallmark of many Indian recipes) and you may want to double this recipe because it is very tasty!

1 can of Coco Lopez (cream of coconut – it’s sweetened)

Using a whisk, combine the cream of coconut with 1 cup of ice-cold water.  Pour into a glass baking dish ( 11 x 7 inch or and 8 inch square).  Freeze until frozen, stirring every 30 minutes (about 3 hours).  This can be make 2 days in advance.  Cover and keep frozen.  Make 2 cups.

The Brazilian Party                                                                                                                                                                             A tip of the hat to Melissa Voorhees who grew up in Brazil and Nilma Ottoni who is Brazilian for sharing their recipes.  Both wonderful cooks! 

Caipirinha: the Brazilian  cocktail!  

For this cocktail, you’ll have to prowl around and find cacacha, Brazilian cane liquor.  You can subsitute rum, but then you’ll have mojitos which are a fine substitute.

Basically, you need 1 1/2 parts lime juice to 1 part alcohol and sugar to taste (about 1 tablespoon per drink).  Make up a pitcher of these in advance and when ready to serve, be sure to fill the glasses with ice.  This is a strong one!  

Pork Loin and Sausages

  • 1 pork loin, about 3 pounds
  • 2 tablespoons cooking oil
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 or 3 onions, chopped
  • 4 or 5 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 pounds Italian sausages, mild 

Pre-heat the oven to 325. Dry the pork with paper towels and season with salt and pepper all over. In a  large pot, heat the oil and brown the pork loin on all sides.  Set aside and wipe out the pan. Add the olive oil and stir in the onions and garlic and saute a few minutes.  Place the pork on top of the onions, cover the pan and bake for 2 hours.  About 30 minutes before the end of the cooking time, prick the sausages on all sides and add the pan.

Black Beans

Cook one pound of dry black beans and then flavor with garlic or use 2 to 3 cans of cooked beans, drain and season.

Rice

For a party of 6 to 10, you’ll need 2 to 3 cups of rice, long grain or Basmati.

Orange and Red Onion salad

 

  • 4 oranges, peeled  and sliced
  • 1 medium red onion, peeled and very thinly sliced
  • Black pepper
  • Olive oil

On a large plate, arrange the orange slices and top with the red onion. Drizzle with olive oil and crack fresh pepper over all.  The fruit and onions can be cut in advance and stored separately. 

Heart of Palm Salad

  • 2 cans heart of palm, sliced into spears or rounds
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar or lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Make a vinaigrette by mixing the mustard and vinegar and slowly adding the olive oil. Pour over the heart of palm at serving time.  Season with salt and pepper.

Brazilian style Greens

  • 2 pounds greens (kale, collard or mustard – I like kale best)
  • 2 – 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic

Wash the greens. Strip off the stems.  Make a stack of several layers of the greens, roll up tightly and slice across the roll into very thin strips.  Repeat until all the greens are shredded.  Place them in a large mixing bowl and pour boiling water over them.  Drain the water.  Heat the garlic in the olive oil in a pan large enough to hold the green.  Add the greens and toss until well coated and hot.  Check for tenderness and season with salt and pepper.  Do not overcook – the greens should keep a deep green color and be a bit crisp.

Farofa

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 3-4 tablespoons finely chopped onion
  • 1 clove finely chopped garlic
  • 1 cup manioc flour
  • 1/4 cup pitted and coarsely chopped black olives
  • 1 hard-boiled egg, coarsely chopped

In a small pan, melt the butter and saute the onion and garlic until soft but not browned.  Add the manioc and stir continuously on medium heat until the manioc is very lightly browned.  Watch it carefully as it burns easily.  Add the olives and egg and remove from heat. Serve at room temperature – a few spoonfuls with the greens are heavenly.

Caramel Flan

  • 6 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup toasted almonds
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 cups light cream

Measure sugar into an 8 inch cake pan.  Place the pan over direct heat and swirl constantly until sugar melts and turns a caramel color.  Remove pan immediately and place on a cool surface or it will burn (a cold wet cloth is good).  Let the caramel harden.  Put the eggs and yolks in a blender or food processor.  Add the almonds and brown sugar.  Add cream gradually.  Pour into the prepared pan and place in a larger pan with 1/2 inch hot water. 

Bake at 325 for 45 minutes.  Cool and refrigerate overnight or several hours.

Write with any questions and have a great party!

xoxo, Mary

 


HOME COOKING II: Okay, I’ll Cook! Now what?

So let’s say you’ve decided that home cooking is a sweet deal after all and you’re giving those clam shells and pizza boxes a quiet funeral out in the back yard. But now what? How to make the switch from someone else (or hundreds of someones) feeding you to your own efforts?

Start by making dinner for a week – or let’s say, six out of seven days. To achieve this, you need some food in the house and a plan. What happens if you’re invited out during this home-cooking week? This isn’t a problem: of course, go out! The goal here is to make home cooking a desirable habit not a condition of house arrest.

This is a 5 step plan.

  1. The Master List.
  2. A Week’s Menu.
  3. A Shopping List
  4. Shopping
  5. Cooking

The Master List (you only do this part once)

The Master List contains everything you always want to have on hand. Whether it’s diapers, bird seed or aspirin, what you need in the house should be on your list. When it’s time to shop, consulting the master list will remind you what you’re out of. It will also remind you what not to buy. For example, by consulting the Master List, you will recall that you already have 3 different kinds of cheese in your refrigerator and the Frugal You will determine to use those up before buying more. Tape the list to the inside of one of your cabinets.

Here’s a brief example. Your list can be as extensive as you wish – but remember it’s not really a shopping list. It’s an inventory.

Dairy
Milk
Butter
Eggs
Yoghurt
Vegetables/Fruits
Onions, garlic
Lettuce
Lemons
Bananas
Apples
Staples
Coffee
Olive oil
Cereal
Household
Paper towels
Toilet paper
Cleaning supplies
Misc.
Tuna fish
Peanut butter
Spices, salt, pepper

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Menu

The key here is keeping your menu very, very simple. Don’t stress over recipes, cookbooks or whether you think you’ll really want eggplant on Wednesday. Just write down some basic meals. In the following example, the menus may look slightly skeletal in their simplicity. This is on purpose.

If you find yourself toiling away composing menus, you won’t get to Tuesday in your home cooking plan. So just ponder briefly: Do I want fish twice this week? What about beets? Chicken? Okay. Plug some of these general choices into your menu. Just don’t repeat meals. A couple of salads are great but don’t count on eating the same vegetable every night. You’ll feel a lot more excited seeing a range of possibilities in the crisper than of 5 pounds of limp carrots.

A good tip: Keep a small notebook. Write the week’s menus on one page and the shopping list on the other.

Monday: Chicken, rice, salad

Tuesday: Turkey tacos, broccoli

Wednesday: Fish, red peppers, slaw

Thursday: Pasta with sausage, string beans

Friday: Pork chops, potatoes, spinach

Saturday: White pizza with artichokes, salad or… Something A Lot More Exciting

Sunday: Soup, grilled cheese sandwiches

Desserts for the week: Yogurt, fruit, ice cream, cookies

On to your Shopping List

Organize your shopping list by category following your Master List . This will save a lot of time in the grocery. Here’s a short sample list using the master list and the bare bones menu.

Dairy: Milk, yogurt, cheddar, Parmesan

Vegetables/Fruits: Onions, garlic, lettuce, cabbage, red peppers, cherry tomatoes, broccoli, potatoes, pears, bananas

Meat: Turkey, chicken breasts, pork chops, fish, sausage

Staples: Salt, cereal, peppercorns

Household: Paper towels, soap

Misc: Bread, tortillas, canned artichokes (in water)

The Actual Shopping

Here’s where things get a bit more creative. You’re in the store with your list but friends, you don’t need to be a slave to the list. Choose what looks good to you: you’ll be much more likely to cook it. You might think you want salmon but if the halibut is more appealing, that’s what you should get.

In other words, the list serves to remind you that you need food in the house. What’s available at your store really determines your choice. And be choosy: don’t buy produce that doesn’t look fresh. Don’t hesitate to make the guy in produce your friend. He will be more than happy to open a new case of string beans or (those magic words) ‘look in the back’ for more spinach.

Where to shop? If you want to get a jump on the week and cross a lot off your list, by all means, do a ‘big’ shopping trip. But once the basics are covered, you might make short trips to stores with high quality vegetables and meats. Stores like Whole Foods have quality meat, produce and fish but the prices are unreasonable and unfortunately, they’re looking more like cafeterias these days with all the troughs of prepared foods. Still, there are fewer aisles than the supermarkets. Bottom line: wherever you shop, hug the perimeter.

If you are fortunate enough to live in an area with farmers’ markets, CSAs*, food co-ops, or other stores that carry local products, your shopping may involve a few trips in order to complete your list.

How much should you buy? Not much but a lot of variety. For meat and fish, plan on 4 to 6 ounces per person. That means for a family of four, buy about 1 1/4 pounds of boneless chicken or one 3 1/2 pound roasting chicken. Pork chops? One each (not huge ones). When it comes to vegetables: indulge. Your salads can have 2 or 3 kinds of lettuce, some sliced fennel, cherry tomatoes and cucumbers. Buy lots of greens. One bunch of chard or kale will serve two generously.

What about your budget? If you cook at home for a week and limit your purchases to mostly fresh food, you’ll save money. And here’s an important part of the plan: spend more for your food but buy less of it. Anyone who has grown a tomato or eaten a fresh caught fish knows that quality counts.

Cooking

Knuckle-cracking time! There’s food in the fridge but still, dinner seems hazy. If you’re really stuck for ideas, now is the time to get out a cookbook or go to a website like Epicurious. It’s amazing how quickly you can come up with something just by typing in an ingredient. If the recipe looks good, read a few of the reviews. Some are definitely wacky but you’ll get some ideas all the same. It’s 21st century back fence neighbor talk. If the dish turns out well, save a copy – it may become a favorite and of course, easier to make each time.

Say the idea of ground turkey tacos isn’t that thrilling. A few minutes of research later… Spicy turkey burgers! (See the recipe below) Sounds promising and the broccoli is good with that too.

But maybe, plain old broccoli is beginning to pall and this is where you pull out your stash of ‘accompaniments’. Toss it with some toasted pine nuts you keep in the freezer or make a little dressing with soy sauce, lemon juice and sesame oil. Even a generous squeeze of lemon juice, a small clove of chopped garlic and a spoonful of olive oil can make a big difference.

For our hypothetical week, I have purposely kept the menu, well, nearly generic. Depending on your time and how you feel, the ‘chicken-rice-salad’ might appear on the table as a zesty stir-fry or a cozy baked dish with salad on the side. Sundays are good nights for soup and a sandwich or – as they did in my family- breakfast for dinner: waffles or pancakes. After a long weekend and looking ahead to work and school, a simple homely supper is just right.

But hang on! What about Saturday night? Why not make things a little more exciting? If you have kids, feed them the pizza (see how below) and put them to bed. Shed the sweat pants and make yourselves oysters Rockefeller!

Did I mention dessert? It’s a good idea. If you’re eating meals with less meat and more vegetables and sticking to one helping, dessert makes a satisfying finish. If there are children in your house, the thought of dessert really does help that broccoli disappear. Plain yogurt with a spoonful of jam, honey, maple syrup or cinnamon sugar along with a couple of cookies (not huge) makes a good simple dessert. I’ve included a cookie recipe below. A dollop of ice cream on cooked or fresh fruit is another sweet idea.

Final Thoughts

Home cooking means real food, un-processed and cooked by you. Heating up the fancy deli’s lasagna doesn’t count. Neither does adding water to the Tandoori Rice Bowl.

Just to be clear: I’m not battling oatmeal, smoked salmon, olive oil or dried apricots. These are, of course, processed foods. What I’m talking about is what Michael Pollan, in an article in the Sunday New York Times magazine (January 28, 2007) “Unhappy Meals” describes:

“Don’t eat anything your great-great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food. (Sorry, but at this point Moms are as confused as the rest of us, which is why we have to go back a couple of generations, to a time before the advent of modern food products.) There are a great many foodlike items in the supermarket your ancestors wouldn’t recognize as food (Go-Gurt? Breakfast-cereal bars? Nondairy creamer?); stay away from these.”

Good luck with your cooking, I hope my suggestions help and that your week of home cooking turns into a second and then a third week. This is a challenging time of year to make a big change since we’re all beginning to get a little weary of winter. But take heart! Spring is just around the corner and in many areas, that means the farmers markets will be starting up and you may be planting your own garden. Soon there will be strawberries and asparagus and mushrooms… but for now, enjoy some soups and stews and the last of the season’s juicy grapefruits. Bon appetit!

*CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. Customers buy a subscription or a ‘share’ of locally grown produce. Subscribers receive a weekly box of high quality, super fresh food directly from the farms which are, in turn, supported financially by the shareholders.

Here’s a good website to learn more:http://www.localharvest.org/csa/

Spicy Turkey Burgers

One kitchen gadget I have used constantly is the food processor. Grinding meat is one of the easiest things to do with this handy machine and you instantly have the best, freshest hamburger anywhere. Try this with turkey.

For 4

  • 1 1/4 pounds turkey filets or ground turkey
  • 2 plum (Roma) tomatoes
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 bunch cilantro, washed and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon hot sauce (or to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 tablespoon cooking oil

Chop up the tomatoes, onion, garlic and half the cilantro to make a salsa. Use a food processor for this step if you have one but don’t make the mixture too smooth. Add the olive oil and seasonings and taste, adding more seasoning if necessary. Set aside.

If you’re using fresh turkey, cut it in a few pieces, put it into the food processor and pulse until ground but not minced. Combine the turkey and the salsa and shape into 4 burgers.

Heat the oil in a skillet and saute the burgers for about 3 minutes per side. Serve with lettuce and the extra cilantro and pass the hot sauce.

String Beans with ‘Accompaniments’

It’s the middle of July. You’ve just come in from your garden, your hair flowing in the breeze, a slight flush on your cheeks. In your arms, there are green beans. Minutes later, you and your loved ones are swooning over these perfect beans which are unclothed save for a dab of butter and a little salt and pepper.

Wait a minute! Stop the cameras! It’s February: add some flavoring and texture to fully clothe your beans and help everyone have a good meal. Keep a stash of various nuts, spices, and exotic things like lime or lemon oil (a tiny bottle lasts for ages). Fresh ginger, by the way, keeps a long time in the fridge if you wrap it in paper towel and then in a small closeable plastic bag.

for 4

  • 1 pound green beans
  • 1/4 cup walnuts, almonds or hazelnuts, roughly chopped
  • 1 small piece of ginger, peeled and grated
  • A few drops of lemon oil
  • 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Bring a big pot of water to a boil. In the meantime, wash the beans and snap off the ends. Cook the beans for 5 to 8 minutes or until just tender. (Check by fishing one out and tasting it) Drain the beans and put them back in the pot.

Toss with the remaining ingredients and taste for seasoning. Can be served hot or room temperature.

Super Fast Pizza for the Kids

Grown-ups like this too!

for 2 servings

  • 1 -2 small whole wheat pitas
  • 1 can artichokes (you’ll only need 1/2 can)
  • 1 slice ham or prosciutto, diced (optional)
  • 4 tablespoons grated Parmesan or shredded mozzarella
  • Olive oil

Heat the oven to 325. Split the pita into two halves, brush with a little olive oil and warm it up a few minutes on a cookie sheet. If you have trouble separating the pita or if it’s very thin, use two. Drain and chop up about half of artichokes. Divide them between the 2 pita halves, add the optional ham or prosciutto and top with the cheese. Bake about 5 minutes or until cheese is melted and bubbly. Serve with a few cherry tomatoes on the side.

p.s. the extra artichokes? Halve them and wrap in a slice of prosciutto, ham or cheese. This can be your hors d’oeuvre while you make the oysters….

Oysters Rockefeller

This Saturday night special serves two but you can easily double it or make a lot for a party. Buy your oysters the same day you cook them. My take on this classic involves a lot of spinach. Serve with champagne.

For 2

  • 6 to 8 large fresh oysters
  • 2 slices bacon
  • 1 bunch spinach
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 tablespoons Pernod or Herbsaint liqueur
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/4 cup panko or fresh bread crumbs

Fry the bacon until it is about halfway done. Drain on a paper towel.

Wash the spinach thoroughly, cut off the stems and chop roughly. Saute the shallot in the butter until soft and add the spinach stirring until it is wilted. In a strainer, drain and squeeze out the water with the back of a spoon. Put the spinach back in the pan, warm it, stirring and add the Pernod, cooking a minute or two to evaporate the alcohol. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Turn the oven on to broil. Arrange the oysters, rounded side down, on a baking sheet. Broil just until the shells ‘pop’ or look open. Remove from the oven, loosen the oysters with a knife, taking care not to spill the juice and discard the upper flat shell.

Place a mound of spinach on each oyster, a spoonful of the crumbs and top with a square of bacon. Broil the oysters (not too close to the heat) just until the bacon is crisp. Watch it like a hawk!!

Pop the champagne cork, tuck a white napkin into your pearls and dive in!

My friend Valerie’s Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

Valerie Hill was the pastry chef at the Morrison Clark Inn in Washington, DC when I worked there. This is her incredibly good recipe, and you’ll find it makes several rolls which store well in the freezer. These are buttery but not overly sweet little cookies that melt in your mouth.

  • 1 1/2 pounds butter, unsalted, softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda
  • 5 cups (1 1/4 lbs) cake flour, sifted
  • 4 3/4 (15 oz) cups oats
  • 2 1/4 cups (12 oz) golden raisins

Cream butter and sugar. Sift baking soda over mixture and blend thorougly. Mix in the remaining ingredients. I use a mixer for this. Shape into long rolls and wrap in plastic wrap or waxed paper and refrigerate until firm. Slice into about 1/4 inch rounds and bake at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes. I bake cookies on parchment paper so I don’t have to grease the cookie sheet.

The rolls can be frozen and baked as needed.

Cheers and xoxo, Mary

HOME COOKING I: A Hard Sell or a Sweet Deal?

Much as I like to cook, I’ve got to admit home cooking today is a hard sell.  With so many restaurants and take-out options, rattling those pots and pans in your own kitchen is way down on the list of options.  And did I mention clean up?  Despite all kinds of gloomy news about diet, health, and mass-produced foods, home cooking will not seem like a sweet deal unless it feels convenient and easy. 

So here are some Persuasive Tips:

  • Enjoy being the Boss of your table.  Cooking at home means you control the taste, the portions and the ingredients.  Even if you aren’t in love with your own cooking now, you know what you like to eat and with a little practice, that will translate into tasty meals.

Overheard: “I love pear, spinach and gorgonzola salad but I hate the candied pecans and cranberries”.   The Home Cook thinks: “Hmmm, make it at home with salty pecans, no cranberries and save about 6 bucks.”

  •  Avoid huge weekly shopping trips.  Buy less and you’ll have less to haul in the house, put away and feel guilty about when you throw it away 10 days later.  A young professional woman I know told me this: 

 “Almost by accident, I started picking up a few things for dinner on my way home from work.  It has become a habit because I found that I could put a meal together quickly and everything was so fresh.  And here’s a bonus: I do very little impulse shopping when I’m in a hurry to get home!” 

  • Keep some ingredients on hand and have a couple of ‘pantry’ recipes so you’re never stuck without something for a meal.  What should be ‘on hand’? One or two types of pasta, some rice, canned beans, tomatoes, tuna fish, some frozen vegetables – those are staples.  Also have a small stash of  the slightly exotic (you know what you like) such as: hearts of palm, olives, capers, pine nuts and Parmesan (these last two can be frozen).

  • Instead of no time … more time.  While you’re stirring the pot, the kids can do homework, set the table or take the dog for a walk.  The thirty minutes your meal is in the oven is time for you to read the mail, call a friend or watch the news.  All of which beats sitting at a table, waiting for the pizza to arrive.

“Alex hates eating out!” my daughter-in-law told me about her 12 year old.  Not all children feel that way but for many people, regular meals at restaurants are time-consuming, stressful and so, public. 

  • Save $…. for a really nice restaurant (or a vacation or lots of other stuff)  rather than twenty trips to the ‘family friendly’ joint down the street.  Bottom line: it’s cheaper to eat at home.

So, strap on an apron and try these fast ‘n easy menus.

The Roast Chicken Meal

The Pantry Pasta Meal

The Cozy Casserole Meal

The Roast Chicken Meal

Roasting a cut-up chicken takes half the time of a whole chicken and is just as juicy and crisp. Omit the mustard to make things even simpler.  Serve this with French bread (you can keep some in the freezer), a green salad or the following green bean salad.  A simple dessert: baked bananas.

Roasted Chicken

Serves 4, generously

4 chicken leg quarters or 1 cut-up chicken

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

Salt and pepper

2 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat the over to 450 degrees.

Place the chicken in a  baking dish or roasting pan and smear each piece with a little mustard. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil.

Roast for 30 minutes. The chicken skin will be well browned and crackly. Lightly salt the chicken, remove from the oven and let sit for 5 minutes.

Green Bean salad with Walnuts and Red Onion

When I cook vegetables like green beans or broccoli, I think it’s very important to test them as they cook rather than rely on specific timing.  I like beans well cooked but a lot of people like them crunchy.  Suit yourself!

1 pound green beans, fresh or frozen

2 tablespoons walnuts, broken up

1/4 red onion, thinly sliced  (or 2 Tablespoons minced shallot or regular onion)

Vinaigrette:

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

3 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and pepper

If using fresh green beans, wash them and snip off the tips.  Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the beans for about 6 minutes.  Fish one out and check for doneness.  When done, drain the beans in a colander and run cold water over them.  If using frozen beans, follow package instructions cooking for the least recommended time and let cool a few minutes.

Toast the walnuts quickly  in the microwave for about 40 seconds.

In a bowl large enough for the beans, make the vinaigrette by stirring the olive oil into the vinegar in a thin stream.  Add a couple of good sized pinches of salt and pepper.  Add the beans, walnuts and onion and toss to coat.  Taste for seasoning, adding more salt and pepper if necessary.

Baked Bananas

for each serving: (children and light eaters will eat 1/2 a banana)

1 banana

Brown sugar

Butter

Preheat oven to 375. Slice the bananas lengthwise and then cut each half crossways into one inch sections without going through the peel.  Arrange in a baking dish, sprinkle a little brown sugar (about 1 teaspoon) on each half and dot with a little butter.  Bake about 15 minutes or until the surfaces are bubbling.  The peel will turn black.   Serve the bananas in their peel with a spoon, pouring over any of the accumulated syrup.

The Pasta Pantry Meal

The challenge? A meal in 30 minutes with what you’ve got on hand.  Guess what?  It’s no sweat!  The menu: Pasta with tomato sauce, spinach and dried fruit compote.

Pasta with Tomato Herb Sauce

This is about as simple as it gets but you end up with a tasty sauce.  Adding the extra olive oil at the end is very important for the flavor.   If you have an onion, sauté it for a few minutes before adding the tomatoes.  If you can unearth some Parmesan cheese, by all means, pass that around.

1 pound pasta (whatever you’ve got but spaghetti or linguine is a good choice)

Olive oil

1 garlic clove, crushed or ½ teaspoon garlic powder (optional)

1 can tomatoes

1 teaspoon dried herbs: oregano, basil, rosemary or marjoram (or a few pinches of each)

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  In the meantime, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil and if using fresh garlic, sauté it for a minute and then add the tomatoes and their juice, breaking them up with a spoon.  Add the dried herbs of your choice and garlic powder if desired. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. 

Cook the pasta according to package directions but be sure to taste it for doneness rather than rely slavishly on the instruction time.  Drain and put in a large bowl or on individual plates.

Add 2 additional tablespoons of olive oil to the sauce, stir and pour over the pasta.

Spinach

For a pantry meal, I always try to have some kind of frozen vegetable on hand and spinach is a favorite.  I cook it as little as possible, drain it and serve with a drizzle of olive oil, a dash of vinegar and a pinch of dry red pepper flakes.

Dried Fruit Compote

This can simmer alongside your tomato sauce and be ready in time for dessert.

2 cups dried fruits: apricots, apples, pears, prunes

1 fresh apple or pear (optional), peeled, cored and chopped

2 tablespoons chopped almonds, walnuts or pecans

A piece of cinnamon stick, orange peel or vanilla bean

Juice, wine or water

Put the fruits (a mix of your choice), the optional fresh fruit and flavorings in a saucepan.  Cover barely with water, juice (diluted by half with water) or wine.  Simmer gently until softened.  Serve warm or cold.  A dollop of ice cream or yogurt is good on top.

The Cozy Casserole Meal

It takes several minutes of sauteeing to put this together, but it’s still a speedy dinner.  Serve with a green salad and chocolate pudding.

Sausage Gratin*

A cozy winter or autumn meal.  This is another recipe can be adapted for what you have on hand. The mushrooms, leeks and apples give the dish a very smooth texture and good taste but you can substitute 2 onions for the leeks and omit the mushrooms if you wish.

Serves 4 

1 pound Italian sausages (pork or turkey)

¼ pound mushrooms, quartered

4 medium leeks

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 apples, peeled, cored and chopped roughly

½ cup grated cheese (Gruyère or Swiss are good choices) 

In a skillet, brown the sausages briefly and set aside.  Sauté mushrooms lightly in the same pan, adding a little olive oil if necessary. Set aside.

Wash off the leeks, cut off the green ends and slice the white and pale green parts into thin rounds.  Put the sliced leeks in a big bowl of water and stir them around with your hands. Let soak a minute or two so that any remaining sand will fall to the bottom of the bowl.  Scoop the leeks up and out of the water.

Using the same pan as for the mushrooms and sausages,  heat the olive oil and cook the leeks covered on low/medium heat until soft, about 10 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.

In a baking or gratin dish, place a layer of cooked leeks followed by the sautéed mushrooms, the chopped apple, the sausages and the cheese. Bake at 350 for 20 to 30 minutes or until lightly browned and bubbling.  

* French Lesson! ‘Gratin’ in French means crust.  A dish that is ‘au gratin’ often has melted cheese or breadcrumbs on top.  In English, we have an expression ‘the upper crust’ for rich people.  In French, it is similar: high society folks are referred to as the ‘gratin’. 

 Chocolate Pudding: Homemade and Speedy The famous chef, Michel Richard, has a recipe called ‘Happy Kid Pudding’ in his recent book Happy in the Kitchen and my recipe closely follows his.  It is simple and delicious.Serves 4 

2 cups milk

4 egg yolks

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1/2 cup honey

4 ounces dark chocolate, cut in small pieces

In a big bowl (microwaveable), mix the milk, egg yolks, cornstarch and honey together, stirring with a whisk until well-blended.  Add the chocolate and microwave on high for 2 minutes.  Whisk up the mixture and microwave again for 2 minutes.  Stir again well and by now, the chocolate should be melted.  Microwave again for 2 minutes.

At this point, the mixture should be boiling and thick but if not, microwave again for about a minute.  Cool for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Enjoy your home-cooking and write with any questions!

Cheers, and xoxo, Mary

Hashing over the Holidays with some Festive Recipes

Okay, the holidays are over but I am still relishing the memories.  And the leftovers. 

My friend Bonny Wolf’s book Talking With My Mouth Full was about my favorite gift and it’s great reading.  Here’s a quote:

“We cook and eat for comfort, nurture and companionship.  We cook and eat to mark the seasons and celebrate important events.  We cook and eat to connect with family and friends and with ancestors we never knew.  And through this baking and breaking bread together, we come to know who we are and where we came from.”

My son-in-law JB’s sauerkraut balls, daughter Jessie’s walnut spread, the cut-out Christmas cookies produced by grandchildren aged 4 to 12 and my friend Katy’s Nuts and Bolts  all played a part in celebrating and connecting with our family and friends.  These recipes are not about healthy eating or fashion.  They are all about familiarity.  

Today, New Year’s Day, my husband Paul is making his father’s stew.  The house smells wonderful and we expect to have a fine time this afternoon with friends and family drifting in for a bowl of stew and a glass of wine.  Across town, my daughter Jessica is putting together her New Year’s black-eyed pea casserole.  Maybe tomorrow we’ll exchange leftovers.

Happy New Year!   

xoxo, Mary

JB’s Sauerkraut Balls

“Marrying a man who owns his own deep fat fryer is a leap of faith” said daughter Rachael recently as JB was preparing his famed sauerkraut balls.  A deep fat fryer does say something.  Something about commitment to the glory of crunch. You can fry these babies up in a heavy skillet as well. Just be sure to have enough oil, heat it up hot and don’t crowd the pan.

1/2 pound mild Italian sausage

1/4 cup onion, minced

16 oz sauerkraut, well drained

3 oz cream cheese (not low fat)

1 tablespoon parsley, minced

2 tablespoons bread crumbs

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1/2 teaspoon garlic salt

2 eggs, beaten

1 cup flour

2 cups breadcrumbs (panko Japanese crumbs are good)

Saute the sausage with the minced onion, breaking up the sausage so that there are no large lumps. Drain.

Chop the well-drained sauerkraut finely and mix with the sausage, cream cheese, parsley, crumbs, mustard and garlic salt. Chill for at least one hour or overnight.

Roll into small balls (a melon baller works well for this).  Dip each ball sucessively into the flour, the beaten egg and finally the bread crumbs. 

Heat oil in a deep fat fryer or a heavy skillet and fry the sauerkraut balls for about 2 minutes or until lightly browned.  Drain and eat right away.  They can be made in advance and reheated at 300 degrees for about 10 minutes.

Serve with a dipping sauce of half mayonnaise and half mustard.

Makes about 2 dozen balls.

Jessie’s Walnut Spread (“Real Sweet Totally Nuts!”)

“I got a huge amount of walnuts from my brother’s tree, cracked them, ground them and made this spread.  It was a fun project to do with the kids; cost pennies and made great gifts.” 

Shell and grind walnuts either by chopping or in a food processor. Add honey (that’s runny) to cover. Pack into small jars. 

Note: one pound of walnuts in the shell equals about 2 cups of nuts.

Katy’s (and Margaret’s) Nuts and Bolts

Talk about an old chesnut! Back in the glory days of the cocktail hour, Nuts and Bolts was a favorite nibble alongside that icy Martini.  My friend Katy Bayless tells me she makes it every Christmas for her neighbors.  Her recipe is exactly like my grandmother’s friend Margaret Edmonds from Columbus, Ohio.  

1 cup Rice Chex

1 cup Wheat Chex

1 cup Cheerios

1 cup pretzel sticks

1 cups mixed nuts

1/2 pound butter

To taste: garlic or onion salt*, dash of Tabasco, Worcestershire sauce and salt.

Melt butter in a large pan (an iron frying pan is good) and add the cereals, nuts and seasonings.  Mix thoroughly.

Put in a 250 degree oven and stir every 15 minutes for 1 hour. Cool down and store in air tight containers or plastic close-able bags.

*Katy omits the garlic and onion salts but adds several dashes of Worchestershire. She also doubles the cheerios because her husband is crazy about them.  Suit yourself. 

Grandfather Leo Allman’s Beef Stew  

More of a soup than a stew, this recipe is homespun comfort itself.  It is one of those hand-me-down family recipes that instantly takes you back to a wintry day at home watching a good movie, that party with your best pals, or a night at the kitchen table with your grandparents.

2 pounds stewing beef, cut in cubes

2 tablespoons oil

Beef stock or bouillon cubes in hot water – about 2 cups liquid

2 large cans whole tomatoes (or stewed tomatoes)

3 carrots, peeled and sliced

5 potatoes, peeled and cubed

3 stalks celery, peeled and sliced

3 cabbage leaves, whole

3 bay leaves

Salt, pepper, miscellaneous seasonings*

Pat dry the beef cubes with paper towels.  In a big stew pot, heat the oil and sear the meat a few pieces at a time.  As each batch lightly browns, remove to a plate.* Put all the meat back in the pot and cover by about 2 inches with beef broth or hot water with beef bouillon cubes dissolved in it.  Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for about 15 minutes.

Add everything else and simmer very slowly for about 2 or 3 hours.  For seasoning, add about 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, 1/2 teaspoon of sage or thyme and 1/2 teaspoon paprika.  Check for salt before serving.

Serve in bowls with french bread.

Serves 4 to 6

* A word about searing. This process is intended to quickly brown meat without cooking it through.  If the meat is wet, or the oil is not hot enough or too much is put into the pan, the result will be a lot of gray meat with a lot of juice pouring out.  It will still be good in the stew but it won’t be seared.  So: Dry meat. Hot pan with some hot oil. No crowding. 

Jessie’s Lucky New Year’s Casserole

In her own words…

You cook greens (collard, mustard, chard, etc.) in a pan with bacon and jalapenos and water and apple cider vinegar.  Cook rice with jalapenos and bacon (sounding like a theme?) and cook black-eyed peas with anything hot you can find (pepper flakes, jalapenos, etc.) plus garlic and …Bacon!  Layer: rice on the bottom, then greens, then black-eyed peas.  Top generously with pepper jack cheese.  I like a little extra vinegar on top.

It’s Lucky!!

Here are a few more details:

1 cup dried black-eyed peas, soaked the night before (or 2 cans black-eyed peas) 

1 bunch (about 1 pound) fresh greens, washed and chopped

1/2 pound bacon

1 cup rice

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 cup (or more) apple cider vinegar

Jalapenos – fresh or pickled to taste

1 cup shredded jack cheese

If using dried peas, drain after soaking and cook in a large pan with about 2 inches of water to cover.  Add one jalapeno or 1/2 teaspoon pepper flakes, the chopped garlic and 2 slices of bacon, chopped.  Cook until peas are tender.  For canned peas, add the seasonings and a little water and simmer about 15 minutes.

Saute a few slices of bacon in a pan, drain some of the fat and add the chopped greens, jalapeno, a little water and about 2 tablespoons of vinegar.  Cook until tender.

Saute another slice or two of bacon in a pot and drain off some of the fat. Add the rice, stir to coat and add 1 1/2 cups of water (for jasmine or basmati rice or 2 cups for long grain).  Add some jalapeno, lower the heat to a simmer, cover and cook rice for 15 to 20 minutes until done.

In a large casserole dish, make layers starting with the rice, the greens, the peas and finally the cheese.  Sprinkle with a tablespoon or two of the vinegar. 

Heat thoroughly in a 325 oven until bubbly.

Serves 6

The Cut-Out Sugar Cookie 

Christmas is over but Valentine’s Day, President’s weekend, and spring break are on the horizon which means, for some of you, a few days at home with the kids in not-so-great weather without a plan.  A seasonal and cozy activity might just help. 

Here’s the challenge: the cut-out sugar cookie. Children really like making cookies with cutters but they always seem like such a pain. How do you make dough that’s not a sticky mess? How do they get  onto the cookie sheet and still sort of resemble what was cut out? Making cookies once a year or once every two years, I always forgot just how awful that whole process was.  But finally, I’ve figured out how to do it without a lot of teeth gnashing.

  1.  Make the dough the night before.  Have the kids help with the stirring and measuring if you must but remember, what they really like is the decorating so I suggest you start them out fresh the following day with the dough all ready to go.
  2. Roll the dough out on lightly floured wax paper.  Be sure your rolling pin is floured and the surface of the dough is floured.  Don’t use a lot of flour but keep adding just a little to keep things smooth.  Don’t dawdle with the rolling.
  3. Cut out the cookies with the cutters and then put the whole sheet of paper in the freezer for about 5 or ten minutes.  Once they’ve firmed up, it’s a snap to peel them off the paper and onto the cookie sheet.
  4. Line the cookie sheet. Parchment or non-stick baking paper is the best thing to have happened to home bakers that I can think of.  You can use your sheet pans over and over without washing in between and there’s no more prying the cookies off the sheet. Don’t even consider baking without this marvellous stuff.
  5. Set up a decorating station.  I use my dining room table, covered with a sheet.  For unbaked cookies:  Put various colored sugars in small bowls (the shaker tops are just frustrating). For baked and cooled cookies: Make colored icing (kids 5 and up can do this) using confectioners sugar, food coloring and a few drops of water to a spreadable consistency.  Have toothpicks or small brushes for painting.  Each child needs a little elbow room for their creations and to cut down on the squabbling.     

Cut-Out Sugar Cookies

This recipe can easily be doubled.  Once the first batch is started, you can get a kind of assembly line going and have the kids alternate cutting out cookies and decorating.  About decorating: colored sugar needs to be sprinkled on before baking.  Use icing after the cookies are baked and cooled.

1 cup butter, room temperature

1 cup packed brown sugar

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 2/3 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

Wax paper

Various cutters

Sprinkles, colored sugar, silver balls

For colored icings: small bowls of confectioners’ sugar mixed with a tiny bit of water. Add food coloring.

Toothpicks or small kid’s brushes

In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar using an electric mixer until fluffy (this takes a few minutes).  Add the egg and vanilla and continue to beat.  Sift the flour with the baking powder, salt and nutmeg and stir into the butter mixture.

Shape the dough into a large (1/2 inch) square and cut into 4 equal pieces.  Wrap each piece in plastic and refrigerate overnight (or at least 3 hours).  Let soften about 10 minutes before rolling.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Using once piece at a time, roll the dough on a floured piece of wax paper to about a 1/8 inch thickness. Cut out cookies with the cutters (if they stick, dip them in flour) and put the whole sheet of paper in the refrigerator to firm up. 

Pull away the dough surrounding the cookies. Transfer the cookies to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and space them about 1 inch apart.  Put the scraps together and refrigerate them to reroll later.  At this point, the cookies can be decorated with sprinkles and colored sugar.

Bake until light brown, about 10-12 minutes.  Cool.  Plain cookies can now be decorated with confectioners’ sugar icing using toothpicks or small brushes.

Continue rolling and baking the remaining dough.  Store the cookies in large tins or other airtight container. 

Makes about 3 dozen cookies

Thanksgiving – Yikes!

It’s just a few days away and you’ve been asked to bring ‘something’… I suggest my friend Pat Devine’s potato dish.  One of the least exciting elements of getting the feast to table is how to keep things hot.  On Thursday, in thousands of households, there will be nail biting over last minute mashed potatoes.  But hold on there, pilgrims!

Pat’s potatoes can actually be made in advance and while you’re sawing through that turkey, her ‘souffle’ can be quietly heating up.  Try it!

I’m also including my sister Claudia’s turkey roasting method in case you misplaced it.  It does require that you stick around the house but that’s part of the holiday, right?

Careful readers will immediately scream “Retreads!” at these recipes but be charitable: 

Right now, I’m in Paris and cooking Thanksgiving dinner for 100 people who come to Jim Haynes’ house.  Jim has dinners every Sunday night for about 100 people and has been doing it for the past 30 years.  The cooks are volunteers and anyone can come for a modest contribution.  Thanksgiving is a lot of fun with a huge crowd of American, French, English and assorted other nationalities who either are homesick, hungry, curious or a mixture of all three. 

Jim admits he’s no cook but at Thanksgiving, he does have a favorite and this will appeal to the Southerner in all of you… If you’re having a hundred folks in your cozy living room, this should feed them nicely.  (But I’ll cut down the recipe just to be fair.)

Following are the recipes.  Gotta go and find some cranberries in this town!  Happy Thanksgiving!

Mary

MASHED POTATO SOUFFLE

I got this originally from Pat Devine, my neighborhood friend. It isn’t really a souffle but I call it that because it does puff up and get nice and brown on top.  It’s unusual to find a hot potato dish that can be made in advance and actually be reheated.  In fact, Pat used to freeze this. A great dish if you have to bring something for Thanksgiving dinner.  Don’t overdo the garlic.    

  • 10 (about 2 ½ lbs) medium red potatoes
  • 8 oz cream cheese
  • 8 oz sour cream
  • Garlic – 1 clove, minced
  • Chives (optional) – 1 – 2 teaspoons minced
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • Butter 

Cook and mash potatoes.   Mix the cream cheese and sour cream and add to the hot potatoes.  Add the garlic,chives and baking powder  and put the mixture into a greased 8 inch baking dish or round souffle pan.  Dot with butter. Bake at 350 for 1 hour.  This can be made in advance.Serves 4 – 6 

LARGE RECIPE

To make the peeling simpler, I sometimes use russets instead of the smaller red potatoes.

  • 12 large baking potatoes or 5 pounds of medium red potatoes
  • 1 lb. cream cheese
  • 1 lb. sour cream
  • Garlic – 1 large clove, minced
  • Chives (optional) – 1 heaping tablespoon, minced
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • Butter 

 

Proceed as above using two pans or one large oblong baking dish (13 x 9).

This will serve at least a dozen people.  It’s rich so just a spoonful will do if there are other vegetables.

 

CLAUDIA BUSHEE’S MOST DELICIOUS ROAST TURKEY

(Also, gravy)

Claudia’s method – which was her father, Derak Ward’s method first – is suitable for any size turkey.  It produces a beautifully browned bird that is perfectly moist. A package of Cheesecloth is an essential purchase. 

In her own words…

Clean and stuff bird.  Fold a large piece of cheese cloth so that it completely covers the turkey.  If the cloth is triple, that is fine.  Remove cheesecloth but keep it in its form.You are going to need at least a pound of butter, if not more.  Melt ½ pound in a little bowl.  Spread some on the naked uncooked bird.  Then immerse the cloth in the bowl o’ butter.  Slap the cheesecloth on the bird.

Every half hour, you must do some thing.  At the first half hour check, baste with butter on top of the cheesecloth.  Don’t be stingy with the butter.  The next half hour interval (so the bird has been in an hour), remove the cheesecloth.  Dip in water.  Get fairly wet but don’t wash all the butter out of the cloth.  Pour more butter over the cheesecloth once the cloth has been draped over the bird again.Alternate between just basting and pulling the whole thing off on the half hour.  Remove the cloth the last half hour to allow turkey to brown.

I follow the New York Times cookbook low temp roasting method to know how long to cook. 

Mary’s note: The low temp method is 325 degrees throughout; length of time depends on whether your turkey is stuffed or not (stuffed is usually an extra ½ hour cooking) and its weight.     

Turkey Stock

Plan to make this stock the day before Thanksgiving so that you can use it for the gravy. 

Neck, giblets, liver of the turkey

2 large onions, peeled and chopped in a rough dice

2carrots, peeled and chopped in a rough dice

3 stalks celery, chopped in a rough dice

Handful of celery leaves

A few garlic cloves

2 bay leaves

3 sprigs fresh thyme

5 sprigs fresh parsley

4 or 5 pepper corns

Place all ingredients in a large stock pot and cover with cold water.  Bring just to a boil and skim the accumulated foam from the surface.  Reduce heat and simmer very slowly for two hours.  The broth should have a robust taste but will be somewhat insipid due to lack of salt.  Strain and discard the meat and vegetables.  Stir in several spoons of salt or to taste.  Cool and refrigerate.  When cold, skim off the fat. 

Turkey Gravy

Turkey stock (see preceding recipe) – about 6-8 Cups

Pan drippings

¾ to 1 Cup flour

Salt and pepper

Bring the turkey stock to a simmer in a large pot and keep warm. Combine the accumulated pan drippings from the turkeys into one roasting pan, warm the pan over medium heat and add the flour (shaking it in through a sieve to remove lumps) whisking continuously.  Cook this mixture – the roux – until the flour is cooked (about 8 to 10 minutes, approximately).  Add the heated broth several cups at a time stirring with each addition. When the gravy reaches the desired thickness, lower the heat and simmer several minutes.  Check the seasoning, adding salt and pepper as necessary.  Let cool and reheat for serving.

Jim’s Glazed Carrots

This is less of a recipe and more of an engineering marvel.  Jim Haynes somehow perfected a method of packing a large pot with row after row of carrots, standing on top of each other end to end.  Once that’s done, the rest is easy.  

For 100 servings                                               For 25 servings 

22 lbs carrots                                         5 ½ lbs carrots            

2 lbs light brown sugar                          ½ lb light brown sugar  

1 lb butter, unsalted                              4 oz butter, unsalted

5 cinnamon sticks                                1-2 cinnamon sticks     

Salt and pepper                                    Salt and pepper

Water                                                               Water 

Wash and peel the carrots. Slice into julienne strips about 3 inches long and 1/2 inch wide. (Another general way to think of it is: cut the carrots in half, then each half in eighths)  They will not all be the same but take care not to cut the carrots too thinly or they will be too soft when cooked.

Now, the engineering part.  In the large pot, (we use a very tall-sided pot, but a fat will one do as well), stack the carrots in bunches on end.  Continue until the bottom of the pot is covered with a tight row of carrots.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Repeat with a second row on top of the first.  Continue in this manner until all the carrots are tightly pack in the pot.  There should be about 2 to 3 inches remaining at the top.Add water to the pot just to the top of the carrots. Strew on top of this:   the butter, sugar, cinnamon sticks, and a generous amount of salt and pepper.Bring the contents to a boil. (This will take quite some time)  Immediately turn off the heat. Keep the pot covered, leaving the carrots to cook as they cool down. They can simply sit there stewing in their juices for a couple of hours.  Reheat before serving if necessary but they stay hot quite a long time.