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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Sunday night suppers

My mom used to fix Sunday night supper when I was a kid. My brother was long out of the house, so Mom, Dad, and I had supper on a tea cart that she rolled in front of the living room fireplace. We had light meals--spinach soufflé (to this day I wish I had the recipe), cheese strata, sometimes Welsh rarebit, and always a big salad. Those were calm, peaceful evenings, and I remember them fondly.

But when I had a houseful of teenagers and Mom was no longer able to cook for all of us, Sunday dinner moved to my house and could include as many as twenty people. It was rowdy, noisy, and anything but the peaceful suppers of my childhood--I loved it. Over the years various individuals have said to me that they remember so well having Sunday dinner at my house--I guess I lost track of who joined us when. But it was always my four kids, Mom, my brother and his two kids, and assorted boyfriends, girlfriends, etc. Frequently Carole and Bill, a couple I was very fond of, joined us with their infant, my god-daughter Kate (now twenty-three)--we swore Bill would never learn to stand still because he stood in the corner and bounced the baby all evening. My longtime friend Mary Lu usually joined us.

We always held hands and said the grace the chldren had learned in preschool. John would say, "Start 'em out Jame," and we'd all recite,

“God is great, God is good;

Let us thank him for this food.

By his hand we are fed;

Give us, Lord, our daily bread.”

My brother, John, made it a habit to go around the table, asking everyone to tell about their week. And then there was that notorious Thanksgiving when Megan brought a new boyfriend. John asked us all to tell what we were thankful for. Megan had brought a new boyfriend to dinner, and when it was his turn, he stood and said, "I am thankful for Megan and her beauty." Well, her siblings and cousins had to cover their mouths to keep from guffawing, and to this day someone will say, "I'm thankful for Megan and her beauty," and everyone is off in gales of laughter, Megan included.

I cooked a lot of soups, stews, and casseroles in those years. Once when I was working on a historical cookbook, I fixed hamburger corn bread from the manuscript. John looked at me and asked, "Sis, is the budget the problem?" Sometimes I fixed leg of lamb (I must have been feeling plush) or such standards as King Ranch Chicken or a Tex-Mex casserole that feeds an army. I remember stuffed turkey breasts (a lot of work) and a stuffed pork roast.

But one recipe I wish I'd had in those days is now a favorite of mine.

Tamale pie with polenta

1 lb. ground sirloin, as fat-free as possible (now I use buffalo)

1½ Tbsp. chili powder

1 Tbsp. ground cumin

1 16-oz. bottle medium hot salsa (Pace picante preferred)

1 15-oz. can refried beans (original flavor or lowfat)

1¾ c. chicken broth (preferably from organic carton rather than canned)

½ c. chopped cilantro

2 1-lb. rolls prepared polenta, sliced ¼ inch thick

3½ c. shredded sharp cheddar

Brown beef, breaking up clumps. Add chili powder and cumin. Stir briefly. Add salsa, beans, and broth. Simmer until thick, about 10 minutes. Add the cilantro. Salt and pepper to taste.

Layer half the polenta in a greased 9x13 baking dish. Top with sauce and 1½ c. cheese. Top with remaining polenta and then remaining cheddar. Bake uncovered at 350° for 35 minutes. Let it sit a minute before serving.

Serves 8 generously.

I still like to make an occasion out of Sunday supper. Jordan, Christian, and Jacob often join me and I try to cook things that both Christian (a challenged eater, particularly of veggies) and 5-year-old Jacob will eat. If they're not coming to supper, I usually invite company. This Sunday, they're coming, and I think a longtime good friend will join us. I'm going to try Cleo Coyle's recipe for chicken parmesan from that wonderful blog, Mystery Lovers Kitchen. .

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