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Sunday, July 13, 2014

The ubiquitous onion soup dip and other retro foods

My daughter had a potluck gathering last night, and I love being included in this group of forty-year-olds (though Jordan will huffily remind me that she's not forty yet!). Being lazy, my contribution was potato chips with onion soup dip. People deride it as passé, so sixties, trite, etc. but they consume every bit of it. I actually serve it fairly often, It's so easy to make. One of Jordan's friends and I actually had a whole conversation about the whole onion soup thing.
Several years ago friends and I decided to have a retro potluck dinner--we'd serve the foods of the sixties that we remembered from growing up.
I announced I would make tuna noodle casserole, and one friend asked, "Do I really have to eat it?" I assured her mine is good...and it is. Another friend made orange Jello salad with carrots and pineapple in it--remember that? And we had two batches of onion soup dip--one made with no-fat sour cream, which we pronounced a crashing failure. This was back before we realized that if the manufacturers took the fat out, they put in something to substitute, probably worse. I always buy whole sour cream, cottage cheese, and cream cheese, rarely buy anything low fat. Just eat less!
Back to the successful batch of onion soup dip--one man was so taken with it, he said to his wife, "This is delicious. Can you get the recipe?" She smiled smugly and said, "I think I can handle it."
Here's my tuna casserole recipe, which I really like (I also used to use it for leftover turkey):

One cup white wine
Handful of herbs--thyme, rosemary, tarragon, oregano, black pepper, savory, parsley, whatever strikes  your fancy, though I'd leave out cumin, chile powder and related spices
Egg noodles - maybe 5 oz. or so
1 7-oz. can chunk albacore tuna
1 can cream of mushroom soup--not low fat
Vegetable of choice--I like frozen green peas; use however much you want
Dash of Worcestershire
Salt and pepper to taste
Pinch of dry mustard if you want
French fried onion rings or other crispy topping of your preference--buttered Ritz cracker crumbs are also good (nobody said this is a weight watchers' recipe)

Boil wine and herbs hard until mixture turns black. Remove from heat and set aside.

Boil some egg noodles. Drain and rinse.

Mix tuna, noodles, soup, wine mixture, vegetable and seasonings. Top with topping of choice and bake until casserole is bubbly and topping is brown. 350 for about 25-30 minutes. Honest, it's good! But then, I like almost anything tuna.

As for onion soup dip
1 envelope original onion soup mix
2 cups (16 oz. container) sour cream--not lowfat or no fat
1 bag sturdy waffle potato chips

Mix soup seasonings and sour cream and chill in a bowl. Put chips in a separate bowl. Serve--and sit back and  laugh.

Note I wanted to post a cute picture of myself and my hostess-daughter from last night, but I can't get it out of regular email and into my photo file. Hence the picture of the onion soup box. Eye-catching, isn't it?

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The ubiquitous zucchini

One year, in another house, we had a bumper crop of zucchini and I despaired over finding new things to do with them--you can only sauté in soy sauce so often or broil with olive oil, salt and pepper, and Parmesan. I did occasionally stuff scraped-out halves with a mixture of sautéed scallions, chopped celery, the zucchini's insides, bread crumbs, and salt and pepper, topping them with grated cheddar or Parmesan. I still do that often, and a half a zucchini makes a good dinner for me.
But lately I've been reading recipes for a variety of stuffed zucchini--Italian style with capicola, lemon, ricotta topped with marinara; a Tex-Mex with garlic, jalapeno, chipotle chili powder, Muenster, a chopped tomato, scallions and cilantro. A lemon-pasta version sounds good--tiny ditalini pasta, a shallot, cream, chicken broth, Havarti, Parmesan, an egg yolk, parsley, lemon zest and breadcrumbs.
But the recipe that caught my fancy was for crab-stuffed zucchini with crabmeat, mayonnaise, Creole mustard, Worcestersire, and cayenne with cayenne pepper and scallions for topping. If you've read much of Potluck with Judy, you know I'm a big tuna fan, and it occurred to me that I could stuff one of those zucchini in my fridge with a tuna and cheddar mixture I really like. Usually I put it into pasties, using refrigerator biscuits, putting the tuna between two halves, sealing the edges and brushing with butter before baking. But I bet it would be good with zucchini and maybe a bit more healthy.

Tuna stuffing

1 7 oz. can tuna
1 cup shredded cheddar
1/4 c. chopped celery
1 Tbsp. chopped parsley (about the extent of my current parsley crop)
1/3 c. sour cream

I haven't tried this yet, but I guess I'd put some extra cheddar on the top and bake. More cheese never hurt anything.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Improvisation

Dark and rainy here all day. No complaints from me--Texas always needs the rain and we're grateful. Perfect day for desk work, which I did, and a nap. Made myself ham salad (I usually keep a thick slice of ham in the fridge) and accompanied it with leftover potato salad from Jacob's birthday. I'd made it according to the recipe from County Line BBQ, which you can easily find online. It calls for a whole lot of dill pickle relish--don't blink, be bold. The result is worth it. But the recipe will feed Cox's army (20?) so halve it except it extraordinary circumstances. After lunch, I went back to work for a while, and decided this dreary day called for breakfast for supper--scrambled eggs and bacon.
I went to sleep in a dark and dreary world  and woke to a bright sunny one. Somehow, scrambled eggs didn't seem quite right.
I decided I'd have creamed tuna. Now when I get a craving, very little distracts me. Not even the fact that I had no noodles and no milk for a white sauce. Chicken broth was frozen and I didn't feel like thawing just a bit. But I always have white wine on hand--so there was my sauce--melted about a Tbsp. of butter, sautéed a chopped scallion in it, added a Tbsp. of flour and, slowly, about a cup of wine. Then I threw in salt and pepper, a good pinch of thyme, and some frozen green peas. Finally added a small can of tuna. Served it on rye toast and there was dinner. Delicious.
I know some people cringe at the thought of creamed anything, but I like those dishes--even creamed chipped beef if it's made right. And in this case the wine makes an enormous difference. And there was hardly any cleanup left to do. I also use a healthy bit of wine in tuna casserole.
I forgot, as usual, to take a picture, so here are the leftovers in the skillet.
One point: I use really good, wild-caught tuna. Although tonight was a different brand, I usually use tuna (and salmon) from the Pisces Cannery in Oregon. Email me for contact information (it's more expensive than grocery store tuna) but don't order all the salmon! Save some for me.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Not my day in the kitchen

Today was one of those days I just should have stayed out of the kitchen. I was making a meatloaf that called for two eggs. Cracked one egg into the bowl and put the shell on a nearby paper towel headed for the trash; cracked the second egg--right into the paper towel. So I carried the whole sodden mess to the trash, hoping it would drip, and got a third egg--three eggs to get two. Then I was frying bacon for a one-person wilted lettuce salad--and I burned it. So two pieces of bacon to get one usable one.
I will says the meatloaf was delicious. Lamb, with a bit of ground pork--yes, greasy, and a mess to clean up after, but because I put it on a rack, the grease all dripped down and the meatloaf itself was not greasy at all. Simply seasoned with parsley, basil, parmesan, salt and pepper but it had a great flavor. And I used a trick I learned from a Paula Dean recipe--use Ritz crackers for crumbs instead of bread. Not non-fat and I know it, but it gives great texture and richness. I forgot my mom's trick of throwing in a handful of instant tapioca to make it hold together, but the meatloaf had great texture and didn't need it. Should make great sandwiches tomorrow.
There's a great history of mystery novels and cooking. The two seem to go together, and I think sometime I'll do an article on it. You can call up several theories--in a world of blood and murder, people want comfort is one of the most common. Several classic mystery sleuths have been cooks and you can get their cookbooks today--there's a Nancy Drew cookbook and one of Nero Wolfe's recipes, along with one by Patricia Cornwall. And many more. But the recipe I used tonight was a modernized version from Nero Wolfe's book. It reminded gently that you could put crackers or bread, parley, and chopped shallots in a food processor but pointed out that in Nero Wolfe's days that gadget didn't exist. Anyway, if you want to try it, the cookbook is available online and I found the actual recipe online.
With my meatloaf, I had canned corn--left over because my daughter opened too many cans for a party dip last night--and wilted lettuce.

Wilted lettuce is an old and simple recipe from my mom:

Fry bacon (and try not to burn it--classic wisdom is when you fry bacon, stand there and watch it; do not wander away to your computer).
Drain bacon
Tear up fresh leaf lettuce into bite size pieces
Put vinegar in the bacon drippings (about 2/3 drippings to 1/3 vinegar); heat
Pour hot oil/vinegar over greens.
Crumble bacon into salad.

Optional: after bacon is fried, sauté a chopped scallion or two in the grease.

You can do this with fresh spinach, and my son-in-law, Christian, particularly likes it if I do it with canned green beans.

Happy cooking--and watch your bacon!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Eating Locally


Please welcome my guest, locavore Edith Maxwell. Her Local Foods Mystery series (Kensington Publishing) lets her relive her days as an organic farmer in Massachusetts, although she never had a murder in the greenhouse. A fourth-generation Californian, she has also published short stories of murderous revenge, most recently in Best New England Crime Stories 2014: Stone Cold (Level Best Books, 2013) and  Fish Nets (Wildside, 2013).
 
Edith’s alter-ego Tace Baker writes the Speaking of Mystery series, which features Quaker linguistics professor Lauren Rousseau (Barking Rain Press). Edith is a long-time Quaker and holds a long-unused doctorate in linguistics. The second in the series, Bluffing is Murder, releases in November, 2014.
 
A mother and former technical writer, Edith is a fourth-generation Californian but lives north of Boston in an antique house with her beau and three cats. She blogs every weekday with the other Wicked Cozy Authors, and you can also find her at @edithmaxwell, on Facebook, and at www.edithmaxwell.com
 
****
  
Thanks for letting me contribute to Potluck with Judy!
 
I write a local foods mystery series, and the books follow organic farmer Cam Flaherty through the vagaries of growing and selling locally. Most of her farm customers are eager to make local foods as much of their diet as they can.
 
Traditionally, of course, everybody ate local. If it didn’t grow in your region, you didn’t have access to it. New Englanders didn’t eat oranges and southern Californians didn’t eat apples. And if a crop could be harvested only in June and it was January, you still didn’t have access to it unless you had canned it or stored it in the root cellar. Slowly, with transcontinental transport systems, like trains and trucks, we started being able to buy anything we wanted any time of the year we wanted it. Now, of course, you can get grapes from Chile, clementines from Morocco, shrimp from Thailand.
 
These days more and more folks are interested in eating primarily foods that come from within, say, a fifty- or hundred-mile radius of where they live. Barbara Kingsolver’s non-fiction book, Animal, Vegetable, Mineral, describes the story of her family doing exactly that in Tennessee (with one exception for each person: Coffee! Chocolate! Olive oil!). They belong to a local farm-share program like Cam’s, they shop at the weekly farmers’ market. They even seek out locally brewed wines and beers. They are locavores.
 
I love this idea, although I don’t love eating sagging root crops out of storage in March or not being able to have some fresh citrus fruits in December. But I do try to use as many local crops as possible, and several local farms in my area have been growing fresh greens all winter long in high tunnels (greenhouses).
 
The second book in my series, ‘Til Dirt Do Us Part, came out at the end of May (Kensington Publishing, 2013). It starts at a fall Farm-to-Table dinner, with a local chef cooking Cam’s produce in her barn and a bunch of guests eating under a big rented tent on the farm. Days are getting short and the mood at the dinner is unseasonably chilly.
 
When one of the guests turns up dead on a neighboring farm the next day, even an amateur detective like Cam can figure out that one of the resident locavores went loco – at least temporarily – and settled a score with the victim. The closer she gets to weeding out the culprit, the more Cam feels like someone is out to cut her harvest short. But to keep her own body out of the compost pile, she has to wrap this case up quickly. A subplot features rescue chickens, which Cam finds both delightful and problematic, but at least she’ll have local eggs to sell.
 
I hosted a Labor Day cookout last fall and was pleased that I could present my guests with all kinds of locally based dishes. And doubly pleased that nobody turned up dead the next day!
 
One of the dishes I served was one I call Fall Locavore Orzo. Use fresh local ingredients wherever possible. We don’t grow wheat in New England, so the pasta is never going to be local!
 
Ingredients:
½ box orzo
2 T good olive oil
1 pound washed and drained kale leaves stripped off stems, cut into ribbons
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ lb green beans, cut into inch-long pieces
1 handful fresh basil, cut into ribbons
1 T. rice wine vinegar
bottled hot sauce
 
Directions:
  1. Cook orzo according to directions on box until al dente, then rinse in cool water and drain. Transfer to medium serving bowl.
  2. Heat oil in a sauté pan over medium heat.
  3. Sauté the beans and kale in the oil until tender.
  4. Add the garlic and sauté one more minute. Do not let brown.
  5. Remove from heat and add vegetables to the orzo.
  6. Add basil, salt and pepper to taste, and a shake of hot sauce.
  7. Add 1 T. vinegar and toss all. Add more oil or vinegar to taste.
  8. Serve at room temperature.
 
Good as a side dish. To make into a main course salad, add cubed feta cheese or some diced ham or chicken. Can also serve hot if you omit the vinegar.
 
Readers, what’s your favorite local food? Or the one you most like to read about?
 
 
 


 

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Two spllinters, three burns, and a great educaiton


Please welcome my guest,KB Inglee, with a really fascinating contribution to my potluck posts. KB writes short historical mystery fiction and is currently at work on a collection of stories set between 1870 and 1890. She works at two living history museums where she learns what she needs for her writing. The staff historians and an archaeologist are founts of information. She tends a flock of heritage sheep and works a water-powered gristmill that was built in 1704. Her joy is showing off the sheep, the mill and the miller's house to school kids. For more pictures check out: Newlin Grist Mill at www.newlingristmill.org and Greenbank Mill and Philips Farm at www.greenbankmill.org. Leave her a message.

 "Joseph's Captivity," her story, set in Colonial America, is a combination of Bible story and myth about colonial life. Joseph is a grumpy hero who undervalues what he has until he is about to lose it. You can find it at: http://store.untreedreads.com/index.php?main_page=advanced_search_result&search_in_description=1&keyword=KB+Inglee

 KB lives in Wilmington, Delaware with her family, one dog, four cats, three birds and four turtles. She has been a member of Sisters in Crime, and two chapters, Delaware Valley and Guppies, for ages.

 Two Splinters, Three Burns and a Great Education

First off let me tell you that I am not a cook. I can’t light and maintain a fire, nor can I get the lumps out of cake batter.

Never let it be said that this failure ever held me back from doing anything historical. For years I taught kids how to make Jumbles (snickerdoodles) in a Dutch oven and soap over an open fire. I believe that I can’t write historical fiction successfully unless I have done what my characters do and live as they have lived. I actually believe that no one can. I often find errors in historical fiction that wouldn’t be there if the authors had spent a little time in the century they are writing about.

I was delighted when the mill where I worked added a wood-fired oven. I cherished the opportunity to help fire it up (see above about lighting fires), to clean it out for baking and especially to eat anything baked in it. If you are going to bake at nine in the morning you have to start firing it at five. I am an early riser so this was no problem for me.

All of us who used the oven got together to experiment. We brought our favorite recipes (or to be historically accurate, receipts) from home, along with all the equipment we needed. We mixed up whatever we chose to make and cooked it in the oven. I chose a spice cake that my protagonist Emily makes for special occasions (c 1890). I brought a leg of lamb as well. When everything was done we feasted. The food was spectacular. Maybe it was because we had labored long and hard in the cold, because we all had burns and splinters, or because we were in good company. While all of those are true, it may have been simply that food cooked in a wood-fired oven tastes better.

Making cornmeal mush is great fun. You mix cornmeal, salt and water, then sit by the fire and stir it constantly for two to four hours until it is done. I learned something unexpected from doing it. I was wearing jeans and the fire heated the cloth that was right next to my skin to unbearable. I had to keep shifting sides to avoid real burns. When I cook at the mill, I wear a petticoat which doesn’t touch my skin and so I am protected from the heat. Who knew?

I once trekked with Lewis and Clark. I was the head cook for this weekend adventure. The kids learned surveying and mapping, how to keep a journal, do cyphers, and how to keep a camp. The biggest eye-opener for us all was that they had to barter for food. There was nothing in the camp kitchen, so if they didn’t get it we didn’t eat. The trader was kind enough to remind them that food tastes better with salt. He explained the other reasons we use salt in cooking. I’m sure they wouldn’t have thought to get salt, especially since it cost one knife. I'm also sure they would have complained about the taste.

I spend a lot of time trying to convince people that food doesn’t start out wrapped in plastic. When I tell kids that the cute fluffy white animals in the pasture are both meat and wool sheep, they are appalled. Most of them have never eaten lamb or mutton; most of them don’t believe food lives in
pastures and is cute. On the same Lewis and Clark adventure we had to butcher chickens. Every one of the kids was excited and volunteered to help. When it actually came down to doing harm to the birds, or worse yet putting your hand inside to get the guts out, they were nowhere to be found. They did show up at the dinner table.

Me? Cook? Never! I do experimental culinary archeology.
 
 
Reciepts

This is my own version of Lobscouse. I believe the copy I got from another museum interpreter was based on the receipt from Lobscouse and Spotted Dog: Which It's a Gastronomic Companion to the Aubrey/Maturin Novels, by Anne Chotzinoff Grossman.

I like the spice mixture so much that I make it up in quantity and keep a jar around. This stew is much better the second day.

 Lobscouse

2 lbs. beef cut in 2 inch cubes                           

2 lbs. smoked ham

1 bay leaf                                                        

6 lg. potatoes   

3 ½ cups ship's biscuit (around 8 oz.)   

½ tsp. ground cardamom

1 tsp. ground allspice                          

1 tsp. mace      

salt                                                                  

4 lg. onions

4 leeks                                                            

1 tsp. ground nutmeg

½ tsp. ground cloves                                        

dash cayenne

freshly ground pepper

I leave out the ground cardamom. The original calls for ship's biscuit. You can actually buy or you can get or make yourself. I use stale bread crumbs or saltines.

[Editor’s note: ship biscuits are hard, non-perishable biscuits good for long sea voyages; also known as hardtack.)

Place the meat in a pot with bay leaf and cold water to cover. Bring to a boil and cook, covered, over medium-low heat until tender (2 ½ to 3 hours). Remove the meat from the pot and discard the bay leaf. Skim and reserve the slush (fat). Reserve 3 cups of the cooking liquid.

(If you are using smoked ham instead of corned pork, the texture will be improved by pre-cooking it with the beef for an hour.)

Trim the meat and cut it into ¼ inch dice. Peel the onions and potatoes and cut them into ¼ inch dice. Put the potatoes in cold water to cover.

Remove the root tips and the tough green ends of the leeks. Cut the remaining portion in quarters, lengthwise, and wash thoroughly under running water, separating the layers to remove any grit. Cut into ¼ inch slices.

Place the Ships’ Biscuit in a plastic bag and pound it into coarse crumbs.

Heat 6 Tbsp. of slush in a large frying pan over high heat. Add the meat and cook, stirring occasionally, until it begins to brown (10 – 15 minutes). Remove the meat from the pan and set aside, draining as much fat as possible back into the pan.

Sauté the onions over medium heat in the same pan (adding a little more slush--I use bacon fat if needed) until they start to soften. Add the leeks and cook until the onions start to brown. Drain the potatoes, add to the onion mixture, and cook, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Add the browned meat. Cover and cook over medium-low heat until the potatoes are almost tender (5 - 10 minutes).

Stir in the pounded biscuit and 1 ½ cups of the reserved cooking liquid. Add the spices, and salt and pepper to taste. Mix well. Cover and cook another five minutes.

 Aunt Caddie's Cake

From Boston Cooking School Cookbook by Fannie Farmer, 1896, as updated in 1962. Miss Farmer is considered the mother of the level measure.

Sift together

            2 cups flour

            1 tsp cinnamon

            1 tsp powdered cloves

            ½ tsp allspice

            ½ tsp salt

            1 tsp baking soda

            2 tsp baking powder

Beat two eggs until thick and lemon colored

Beat into the eggs

            1 cup sugar

            2 tablespoons molasses

Beat alternately into the egg mixture the flour mixture and 1 cup sour milk or buttermilk

Stir in lightly 2/3 cup melted shortening or oil

Bake in a moderate wood-fired oven 'til done, or in a modern oven set at 375 degrees for 25 minutes. Chocolate frosting makes it perfect.

[Editor’s note: No sour milk on hand? Stir on tsp. vinegar into a cup of milk.]

 
Cranberry Corn Bread

I have a friend who sends me a pound or so of cranberries from a local bog every year and I send him two pounds of corn meal ground at the 1704 water-owered gristmill where I work. This is a pleasant combination of both gifts.

About one cup of cranberries, cleaned and sorted

About half a cup of molasses

About half cup of water

Any standard cornbread recipe

Boil the cranberries in the molasses adding enough water to keep it from caramelizing. Cook until the berries have popped, and it has thickened. Stir the sweetened cranberries into the cornbread mixture once it is in the pan and bake as directed.

If you find errors in these recipes, remember I already told you I am not a cook.

 

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Quick summer meal


 
Please welcome my guest chef, Judy Copek. An information systems nerd for twenty-plus years, Judy is a survivor of Dilbert-like re-engineering projects, 3:00 a.m. computer crashes and the Millennium Bug. In her writing, she likes to show technology’s humor and quirkiness along with its scary aspects.
Occasionally Judy takes a vacation that spins off into a novel. World of Mirrors was born when Judy and her husband visited the Baltic island of Rugen shortly after the reunification of East and West Germany. Time stood still on the idyllic island, yet all the elements of suspense were there: the Soviet Navy, ex-Stasi, Vietnamese “guest workers,” a dog that had formerly patrolled the Wall, and bad vibes from the days of the DDR.
 Judy is a member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, New England Pen, and Toastmasters International. She has published poems, short stories and memoir as well as an earlier novel, The Shadow Warriors.
 ****
Sometimes one needs to produce a tasty meal when the “to do” list is long and devoting a lot of time to the task is impossible. Steak on the grill?  What about veggies? Salad? Dessert?

 Browsing through the newspaper ads, I saw shish-kebab meat on sale for $3.99 and I recalled an excellent recipe from days of yore, a recipe I have kept for over thirty years and still resurrect at least once a year. When I found the recipe, it was only for the marinade, not the cooking itself, with a cryptic note: Marinate 2 hours. 

 Not only did our local supermarket have the meat on sale, they had red bell peppers, baby bella whole mushrooms, cherry tomatoes and Vidalia onions on sale, too. I had some cooked rice in the freezers and a whole garden full of fresh herbs. Lots of lettuce, and a ready-made piecrust with some fresh rhubarb, strawberries and raspberries.  The fastest dessert ever is a crostata. 

 I’d make rice aux fines herbes, (sauté herbs with a little spring onion and garlic, add rice and heat). We are talking easy here.

 Sad experience has taught me that the vegetables I use for kebabs don’t always cook evenly. What happens is that the tomatoes fall off the skewers and the onion and peppers are half-cooked. A remedy is at hand. But first:  the ever-important marinade.

 Shish-Kebab Marinade for four shish kebabs

 Juice of ½ lemon

1/3 c. olive oil

½ cup sherry  (you can use white vermouth if no sherry)

1 T. Worcestershire sauce

1 T. salt  (I use about half that much).

½ t. freshly ground black pepper

1 t. curry powder

1 clove garlic (I’ll use two and smash them)

½ t. ground ginger  (by all means use fresh if you have it—this recipe predates assuming you can get fresh ginger)

1 small onion grated

Mix everything together in a large bowl, add cubed meat and toss. Marinate two hours.  Refrigerate, but remove ½ hour before you plan to grill.  Drain meat. There’s something about this combination of ingredients in the marinade that makes me keep coming back to it.

 About the grilling:

Cook the meat, the tomatoes, the onions and the red (you can use any color) pepper on separate skewers. This solves the problem of the overcooked tomatoes and undercooked onions. We remove everything from the skewers and serve meat and veggies together on a large wooden platter. 

 Let’s review the menu:

Shish kebab with onions, peppers, mushrooms and tomatoes

Rice aux fines herbes (chives, thyme, oregano and a leaf or two of sage)

Green salad (your favorite lettuce)

Crostata of rhubarb, raspberries and strawberries

For the crostata, I always mix sugar to taste and either cornstarch or instant tapioca with the fruit so the juices don’t run all over creation. This is the time to line your baking sheet with baking paper for easy cleaning and ten put pie dish on the baking sheet. 

 The meat is lean and you’re ingesting lots of fruits and vegetables. Tastes terrific, too! 
Bon Appétit!