Wednesday, April 29, 2009

"Eleanora's Kitchen - 125 Fabulous Authentic Italian-American Recipes" - Nonna's Homemade Minestrone

Date I made this recipe: April 26, 2009

Eleanora’s Kitchen – 125 Fabulous Authentic Italian-American Recipes by Eleanora Russo Scarpetta with Sarah Belk King
Published by: Broadway Books
ISBN: 0-7679-1221-7 © 2004

Recipe – Nonna’s Homemade Minestrone – p. 82-83

A few years ago when I was surfing my TV for something interesting to watch (“57 channels and there’s nothing on…”), I stumbled across a Martha Stewart Living show. Martha’s guest that night, Eleanora Scarpetta was demonstrating the fine art of canning tomatoes from her garden for later use in one of her many Italian-American recipes.

Now Martha followers out there know that Martha is not the warmest of TV “talk” show personalities. If Martha was an attorney, I, for one, would squirm on the witness chair as she makes me a tad uncomfortable, even if she is a kitchen goddess. As one girlfriend said “You’ve gotta respect someone who grows their own Easter grass.” I can’t argue with that.

Apparently, Eleanora was not intimidated in the least. As I recall, she ran circles around Martha, such that you thought some kitchen fairy had waved a magic spatula and turned Eleanora into a new TV star. She was the quintessential New York Italian with her accent and a bundle of energy – in fact she was a real dynamo in the kitchen that day. I was enchanted; Martha was not amused.

Or was she? Apparently she was not as upset as she seemed because Eleanora credits her in the Acknowledgments as having encouraged her to write her first cookbook. (Well Martha, you minx you!! I never saw you as a mentor – my bad!)

So back to Eleanora - as I said, I was quite taken by her because she’s a lot like me (only she’s blonde and I’m brunette…well, sort of) – she runs on high octane, is very focused, and is very passionate about food. And so as soon as this cookbook came out on the market I had to have it.
But as I mentioned in a previous blog or two, I haven’t always been good about cooking from other Italian cookbooks, given that I tend to think that my Italian family recipes are better than anyone else’s. So let’s just say I’m glad I got over that notion and made this delicious Minestrone Soup. (Although, truth be told, I overdosed on ham and pork products over Easter and just had to change it up a bit!).

Unlike Eleanora, I most certainly did not can my own tomatoes so I used canned instead. (I am fast becoming my mother whose fear or germs and botulism rivals that of the TV character, Monk.) I think today’s canned tomatoes have come a long way from earlier versions and so the flavor was just fine.

But as per usual, I have to take exception with one of the instructions, and today, kids, it is that one cannot soften kidney beans in one hour (as called for by the recipe).

Now there are several ways that one can cook these beans to avoid having them be a bit on the al dente side (as mine were) and I’d recommend overnight soaking first or, if pressed for time, boil them for a bit (see package directions) and then let them sit for about an hour or so. Either way, you won’t end up with mush but you will end up with a softer bean. (I suppose you could use canned but canned beans are pretty mushy to being with so it’s up to you).

But our instructions here said to cook the beans and pancetta over medium heat for an hour and then add some of the vegetables and cook for 45 minutes more and that was just too short. I believe my total elapsed time on the beans was closer to 3 hours and even then I thought the beans were a bit too “raw.” But much depends on your own personal taste buds so I just wanted to give you fair warning.

We never had Minestrone soup at home but of the Italian soups we did have, almost all were topped by Parmesan or pecorino cheese and so I followed suit with this and it was molto bene. And if your nonna (“grandma” in Italian although we never, ever called her that) is like mine, she’d encourage a voracious appetite by telling you “Mangia fatta grossa” – “Eat and get fat!” (Is there any Italian grandmother out there who doesn’t think the grandchildren are too skinny? I haven’t found one!)

Nonna’s Homemade Minestrone – makes about 4 quarts; serves 6 as a main course, 8 as a first course)
½ pound dried kidney beans, picked over and rinsed (**See my comments above about the cooking time. I strongly encourage you to soak the beans overnight before adding them to the pot)
½ pound piece of pancetta (preferably spicy) or Canadian bacon
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large Vidalia or other sweet onion, finely chopped, or substitute yellow onion
6 carrots, peeled and chopped (about 3 cups)
4 large russet potatoes, peeled and diced into ½-inch cubes (about 4 cups)
4 celery stalks, with leaves, cut into ½-inch pieces and leaves finely chopped
2 cups homemade tomato puree, or 2 cups canned whole plum tomatoes with juice, pureed in a blender or food processor for 3 to 5 seconds
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
¼ pound green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch lengths, or substitute asparagus tips or diced eggplant
2 small zucchini, cut into ½-inch pieces (about 1 cup)
1 small yellow squash, cut into ½-inch pieces (about 1 cup)
6 fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf (Italian) parsley
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, optional

Place 12 cups of cold water in a large pot and bring to a boil. Add the kidney beans and pancetta and cook, partially covered, over medium heat for 1 hour. (Plan on a lot longer)

Add the olive oil, onion, carrots, potatoes, celery, tomato puree, and salt, and cook at a low boil, stirring occasionally, for 40 to 45 minutes, until the potatoes and carrots are tender but not mushy. (Note: if the soup seems too thick, add 1 to 2 cups of water to dilute to the desired consistency.)

Add the green beans, zucchini, squash, basil and parsley, and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes longer or just until the newly added vegetables are al dente. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt and pepper, if desired. Discard the pancetta and serve immediately.
Variation – Pasta – such as tubettini or elbows – can be added to the minestrone for a more substantial dish. After adding the vegetables in step 3 bring a separate pot of lightly salted water to a boil and cook ½ pound of pasta according to the package directions. Drain, reserving 2 to 3 cups of the pasta water. When the vegetables are cooked, add the pasta to the minestrone. Add just enough of the pasta water to reach the desired consistency.

By the way, since I live in Minnesota, I must have typed minestrone as minnestrone countless times over before I got it right. Thank goodness for spell check!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

"Green Eggs and Ham Cookbook - Recipes Inspired by Dr. Seuss! Concocted by Georgeanne Brennan" - Green Eggs and Ham

Date I made this recipe: April 23, 2009

Green Eggs and Ham Cookbook – Recipes inspired by Dr. Seuss! Concocted by Georgeanne Brennan
Published by: Random House
ISBN: 0-679-88440-8
Recipe: Green Eggs and Ham – 8-9

When I was a kid I read a lot and one of the books I read over and over again was Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss. I can’t recall much of the book or the artwork (except that it was a little strange-agreed?) but I do recall saying “I do not like green eggs and ham, I do not like them Sam-I-Am!” I don’t believe that is the actual verse but that’s what stuck in this little Annie’s mind while reading it.

I also read Yertle the Turtle but that book was not as memorable as Green Eggs and Ham. I don’t believe my parents bought me How the Grinch Stole Christmas but they didn’t need to since I became addicted to the TV show the very first time I saw it. Okay, say it with me now “Cindy-Lou Who who was no more than two…” My favorite character on that show was not the Grinch, nor Cindy-Lou Who but rather Max, the dog. Yes, folks his name is Max and what’s not to love about the scene where he happily waves to the Grinch from the back of the sleigh? That scene cracks me up every time.

But that, folks, was it as far as Dr. Seuss was concerned. No Hop on Pop. No One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish and no Cat in the Hat; I know, I was a deprived child.

But fast forward to my 50th birthday last year when a friend of mine gave me this Green Eggs and Ham cookbook as a present. I took a walk down memory lane reading snippets from Dr. Seuss’ stories, complete with illustrations, while marveling at the creative mind of Georgeanne Brennan who concocted all these recipes.

Now I am no cooking instructor like Georgeanne Brennan but I did take a few liberties with the recipe (and that’s a first for me, let me tell you). First, the recipe calls for one fully-cooked ham but all I had was leftover ham pieces from our Easter meal. Now she indicated that I could make a little bit of the sauce and spread it on the ham slices but that didn’t seem like it would work very well. And so to make the glaze easier to spread on ham pieces, I cooked it down first until it was almost syrup and then spread it on the ham and then microwaved the meat and glaze for about two minutes. The only issue I had was that when refrigerated, the glaze turned into one gigantic apple/tomatillos lollipop, albeit a tasty one! (By the way, mint about makes me gag and so using mint apple jelly was out of the question but knock yourself out if you like the taste.)

Second, the recipe calls for fried eggs but we are scrambled egg people and so I went with scrambled eggs and then layered the dish as follows: ham with the sauce, guacamole then scrambled eggs. The overall result was just delicious even if I didn’t quite make it as directed. But then again folks Dr. Seuss was all about creativity so I say go ahead and experiment. And then go out to your nearest library or raid your kids’ room and immerse yourself in the joys of Dr. Seuss and his wonderful cast of characters.
Green Eggs and Ham – Serves 12
1 fully cooked and smoked ham, about 8 to 10 pounds
1 cup apple or mint apple jelly
3 medium tomatillos, husked and minced
1 cup minced cilantro leaves or ½ cup minced cilantro leaves and ½ cup minced parsley leaves
4 ripe avocados
Juice of 2 to 3 limes
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons white onion, minced (optional)
2 serrano chilies, seeded and minced (optional)
4 ounces butter or 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil or other light cooking oil, such as canola or sunflower
12 pasteurized eggs (pasteurization is necessary for safety when yolks aren’t fully cooked)

Heat the ham as directed by the package instructions. Let cool to almost room temperature, about 20 minutes. Mix the apple jelly and the minced tomatillos together to make a glaze. Spread the ham all over with the glaze, except on the cut side. Using your hands, gently pat the cilantro, or cilantro and parsley, into the glaze until it is solid green.

Meanwhile, cut the avocados in half and remove the pits. With a spoon, scoop the flesh out into a bowl. Mash it with a folk, then add the lime juice and salt and, if you want, the onions and chilies. Mix again.

In a large frying pan, melt the butter or heat the oil over medium heat. When hot, crack the eggs into the pan. Cover the pan and cook until the yolk has a pale white film over it and is slightly to very firm.

With a spatula, gently slide the eggs onto plates or a serving platter. Spoon the guacamole over each yolk, covering it. Serve immediately.

Note: Green eggs and ham is the cover photo of this book in case you're wondering what this should look like.

Friday, April 24, 2009

"The Des Moines Register Cookbook" - Top-Secret Tamale Pie

Date I made this recipe: April 20, 2009

The Des Moines Register Cookbook by Carol McGarvey, Marie McCartan, and C.R. Mitchell
Published by: University of Iowa Press
ISBN: 0-87745-515-5; © 1995
Recipe: Top-Secret Tamale Pie, submitted by Jennifer Phelps of Carlisle, Iowa – p. 168

I have to say that in all the years I’ve asked someone what they did over the weekend, I’ve never heard the answer I gave to a few people on Monday: “I was in Des Moines judging the final round of the American Collegiate Mock Trial Association competition.”

Yup, that’s right, I drove all the way to Iowa to judge something the majority of you have never heard of unless you’ve competed in them yourself and to my surprise, the young lady checking us in at our hotel said that she participated in this competition in middle school - go figure!

So a word about the competition because I know you are all dying to know(and if you’re not, too bad!): starting in October, over 600 college teams (emphasis on “college”—you cannot believe how young some of these people are) compete against each other in a mock trial around the United States; the 48 remaining teams left standing at the end compete for the national title.

In previous years, my law school alma mater hosted the semi-final and final rounds and that is how I got involved, but this year (the 25th anniversary), the competition moved to Des Moines, Iowa.

Des Moines is only a four hour road trip from the Twin Cities (yes, I know, that seems long to some of you, but to those of us here in Minnesota, it’s a Sunday drive) and so I decided to give it a go. My husband was out of town but I enlisted a friend, Andrea, to go on the trip with me and we had a great time.

I told Andrea that I thought she would be surprised by the caliber of some of these individuals and indeed she was. In these mock trials, two teams, each made up of student “attorneys” and “witnesses,” battle out a case as if they were in an actual courtroom. A presiding judge (often a real judge) oversees the case while two scoring judges such as me rate the performances of the individuals including everything from clothing (it should be court-appropriate) to eye contact (you should engage in it, most especially with me) to tone of voice (as my girlfriend, Laura says, you should not scare the kitty with your tone of voice)—even hairstyles can factor into the believability and persuasiveness of a contestant. I once told some very stylish young ladies that while their hairstyles were cute as all get-out, the minute some locks of hair fell in the middle of their forehead I quit listening and started obsessing about the hair. This may sound like frivolous feedback (and perhaps even mean) but the scoring judge acts as a member of the jury and if I quit listening, a real jury member probably will as well.

To be clear, although tempting, I do not do this to be evil or to seek redress for the harm done unto me in law school (that’s the job for a well-trained therapist); I genuinely like doing this and am blown away by some of the performances and face it, this is as close to a real judicial bench as I’m ever going to get. But some of these people have great careers in front of them and I like to be encouraging. One guy so blew me and my friend (and co-judge) away that it seemed as if he had been a practicing trial lawyer his whole life. When we told him that, he beamed from ear to ear and eventually went on to take top honors. I often wonder what happened to him but alas, his name is long forgotten.

So anyway, we came, we saw and we judged. I will say that a “What Not to Wear “admonition extended all the way to some of the fellow judges. I mean, Jeeze Louise, who on earth thinks it is acceptable to wear a summer suit with flip flops? I kid you not—this one woman arrived in a seersucker suit and flip flops. Granted, she was a third year law student, but we about died. And wouldn’t you know this woman turned out to be one of the scoring judges along with me. Too bad there wasn’t a scoring form for her…. (Like I should talk—the hem on one of my pants came down and I had to emergency hem it and then my shoes were looking particularly battered and so a trip to a shoe doctor is in order. And yesterday, I went out to eat with a friend and wore one black shoe with a 2.5 inch heel and one similar looking shoe in a 3 inch heel. But still….)

Now before I left town I decided to make something in honor of Iowa but honestly, I couldn’t stomach any more ham or pork, products that have put Iowa on the map, and so when I got home, I revisited my initial selection and changed it up to the tamale pie. But as per usual, kids, this seemingly innocent recipe was fraught with peril! Okay, true confession, I am apparently losing my “attention to detail” superpowers because I misread this recipe and it almost tanked on me.

Now I bet many of you would do what I did: I saw “1 pound beef chuck and 1 pound pork” and translated that into “ground beef and ground pork” and this was incorrect. Although I noted ahead of time that I was supposed to cover the meat and simmer it with water, I neglected to focus on the “dice meat” directive in the instructions. Shoot. Of course, I already purchased ground beef and pork and now had to decide whether I should freeze that meat and purchase anew or tweak the recipe. I went with “tweak the recipe.”

My husband suggested that I brown the meat and then strain it before I covered it with water and I did that and it was just fine but I think I ended up with more meat than expected and therefore more water and that may have made a difference in the final product.

And then (in retrospect), I’m not sure I should have added all the water (1 cup) to the cornmeal (1 cup) called for in the recipe. The recipe said to moisten the cornmeal but that’s all it said and when I added the water, it was pretty runny. In the end, the cornmeal didn’t set as I expected it to—the flavor was fine but I expected a layer of cornmeal to cover the top of the meat mixture and that is not what happened. After all, I don’t think it’s an accident that the recipe is named Tamale Pie, not tamale mush!

But luckily, folks the end result was just fine although a little top-heavy on the olives for my taste. And yes, despite being rather tired of pork, I did use it in this recipe but it wasn’t so bad and frankly, should always be included in a salute to Iowa. (But I’m thinking a chicken is in order any day now…).

And if you ever get a chance to participate in or judge or observe a mock trial (even high schools have them), I recommend you do so. You could very well be looking at a future Supreme Court justice in the making!

Top-Secret Tamale Pie – makes 6 to 8 servings
1 pound beef chuck (not ground)
1 pound pork (not ground)
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup water
1 can cream-style corn
1 can whole kernel corn
1 can tomato paste
1 (8-ounce) can ripe olives
1 cup Cheddar cheese, shredded

Dice meat and simmer for 30 minutes in water to cover. Add chili powder, onion, garlic, salt and pepper. Simmer 30 minutes. Moisten cornmeal in water. Add to meat. Stir in corn, tomato paste and ripe olives.

In the meantime, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Transfer the mixture to a large casserole and bake, uncovered, 1 ½ hours stirring occasionally and adding more water if needed. Cover with cheese and return to oven until cheese is melted, about 10 minutes.

Monday, April 20, 2009

"Unique Creative Cooking" (Mason City, IA church cookbook) & "Blondie's Soups.Salads.Sandwiches Cookbook" - Ham and Green Noodles and Split Pea Soup

Date I made these recipes: April 16, 2009

Unique Creative Cooking – Heavenly Pleasures from Old First Church—The First Congregational United Church of Christ – Mason City, Iowa
Published by: The First Congregational Church
© 1987
Recipe: Ham and Green Noodles (submitted by Marilynn Ellers) – p. 79

Blondie’s Soups.Salads.Sandwiches Cookbook – Selected and Illustrated by Chic Young (Blondie comic strip creator)
Published by: David McKay Company
© 1947
Recipe: Split Pea Soup – p. 69

Today’s lesson, kids, is this: What to do with leftover ham?

One of my friends marveled at how I baked a 9-pound ham for Easter given that there are only two of us in the house, but I like ham leftovers and so I had ham recipes lined up before the ham even hit the oven.

The first dish I made almost sounded like something Lynne Rossetto Kasper would make on the “Stump the Cook” portion of her weekly radio program, The Splendid Table. In that segment, a caller gives Lynne a list of three ingredients currently found in the refrigerator and Lynne has to come up with a dish. Cookbook author Christopher Kimball decides whether or not Lynne hit the jackpot or lost it all in an attempt to create something edible. I have to hand it to her, she’s usually pretty creative.

Now the title Ham and Green Noodles might be off-putting to some but don’t let the “green” scare you; green is for green spinach noodles, not for anything that went bad in your refrigerator or cupboard. (Don’t laugh. My friend, Mary, loves to tell the story of how her mom stockpiled Twinkies for so long that the filling turned green. I can’t even phantom how that is possible but it’s true.)

Several other ingredients did not scare me, either, as we had a lineup of ham, noodles, Cheddar cheese soup and sour cream – what’s not to love about that combo!

But folks, the rest of the ingredients were a little spooky: sliced mushrooms (not bad but I didn’t see how they would work); chopped (black) ripe olives (???) and then a complete head-scratcher – ½ cup of dry roasted peanuts.


Even more off-putting, though, was the way the dish looked before I put it in the oven. It was very thick making it difficult to spoon out of my mixing bowl, and those little black olive flecks looked like…well, I will leave that to your imagination!

Now faithful readers know that I often (always?) take issue with something in the recipe and today I have two gripes: first, ALL ingredients should be listed in the recipe list because if you’re like me, this becomes your grocery list, right? (Although I have to confess that I forgot my recipe at home and so shopped from total recall). And had I seen that I needed 8 ounces of grated Cheddar cheese, I probably would have bought it when I got the rest of the ingredients, but no. I was about ready to pop the thing in the oven when I read the instruction that said “Top with 8 ounces of Cheddar cheese (grated).” Well what the ???! I had to drop everything, run up to my local gas station to purchase an overly-inflated brick of cheese for this recipe. I hate it when that happens.

Gripe number two has to do with the vague instruction “Bake at 350 until bubbly and brown on top.”

Huh. And that would be approximately how many minutes? I really had no idea and I am not one to open oven doors to peek while cooking so I glanced at the next recipe in the book and it said “350 for about an hour.” So that’s what I went with and the dish was fine but the cheese had formed a hard crust, probably just to tick me off for having (almost) left it out in the first place!

As to the taste, my husband liked it but I dunno – I think we could have ditched the peanuts (in my opinion, they added nothing) and the olives but used everything else. As my friend, Andrea says, “It’s a texture thing.”

And now on to the soup…years ago, I purchased Blondie’s Cook Book – Soups. Salads.Sandwiches from Bonnie Slotnick’s Cookbooks in New York and when I found myself with a ham bone, I went on the Hunt for Red October to find a soup recipe. I had a bit of trouble until I unearthed this cookbook.

Some of the younger generation might not be familiar with the comic strip, Blondie, nor with the TV series of the same name that aired in 1957. Although Blondie is the title of the comic strip, it’s really about Blondie’s husband, Dagwood Bumstead. Dagwood works in an office for Mr. Dithers, a rather crotchety old man, has great best friends named Herb and Cookie, and in his spare time loves baths and making sandwiches. Huge sandwiches. In fact, if you see a sandwich named Dagwood on a menu, you know you’ll be getting one gigantic sandwich, filled with all kinds of meats and cheeses.

So you’d think, wouldn’t you, that I’d make a sandwich from the cookbook, seeing as how that is Dagwood’s specialty? Well, sorry folks, the sandwich recipes didn’t grab my attention and seeing as how I was on the hunt for a ham-bone soup, I went with Split Pea.

This recipe is good but it definitely needed more time to cook; the recipe said 1 hour and that is way too short unless you like eating raw split peas. I think I left it on the stove about 2 ½ hours and that worked just fine seeing as how I like a thicker pea soup. I hate to say but my mother’s pea soup is the standard to which I hold all other pea soups—so thick you could stand a spoon it in, loaded with potatoes and carrots and one delicious ham bone because my mother never liked to throw anything out…and neither should you!

Ham and Green Noodles (serving size not indicated)
3 cups chopped ham (small cubes)
2 cups cooked spinach noodles
½ cup sliced mushrooms
½ cup chopped ripe olives
½ cup dry roasted peanuts
1 can Cheddar cheese soup
1 tsp. prepared mustard
1 cup sour cream
8 ounces Cheddar cheese, grated

Mix ingredients and put in a greased 9x13” pan. Top with 8 ounces Cheddar cheese (grated). Bake at 350 until bubbly and brown on top.

Split Pea Soup – serves 6
1 ham bone
1 pound split peas
2 carrots
½ onion

Cover cooked ham bone with water; simmer slowly 2 hours, remove bone and add any meat clinging to bone to soup stock. Add peas; scrub carrots and dice. Chop onion, and add carrot and onion to the stock. Cover and simmer slowly 1 hour, then add salt and pepper to taste.

Monday, April 13, 2009

"Virginia Cookery - Past and Present" & "McCalls' Cook Book" - Champagne Ham and Scalloped Potatoes

Date I made these recipes: April 12, 2009 (Easter Sunday)

Virginia Cookery – Past and Present - Including A Manuscript Cook Book of The Lee and Washington Families Published for the first time – by The Woman’s Auxiliary of Olivet Episcopal Church, Franconia, Virginia
Published by The Woman’s Auxiliary of Olivet Episcopal Church, Franconia, Virginia
© 1957; Twelfth printing, February 1994
Recipe: Champagne Ham from “Key to the Pantry,” Danville, Virginia, 1898 – p. 137

McCall’s Cook Book – The Absolutely Complete Step-By-Step Cooking and Serving Guide by McCall’s magazine
Published by: Random House
© 1963 (8th printing)
Recipe: Scalloped Potatoes – p. 593

But first, a headline: Cookbook Blogger Felled by Falling Roasting Rack. Details at 10….

Well, there I was, trying to grab my large roasting pan from a top shelf without using a step stool to do so when all of a sudden, the pan crashed to the floor and the roasting rack inside the roaster fell on my head. Since I was not wearing a helmet (not that I would, I’m just saying…), I feared major injury and so reached into my freezer for my (ever-ready) trusty ice pack that I then Velcroed to the top of my head for a bit of time. (It looked ridiculous—as if I was nursing a mega hangover! – but dang it, it works great on killer headaches) It still hurts like hell but as long as I don’t die from the injury, I’ll be okay; I can’t help but think, though, of poor Natasha Richardson, the actress who died from a head injury while learning to ski on a bunny hill. Head injuries of any form are nothing to sneeze at! (By the way, in case you didn’t know, cooking is a hazardous job—many severe injuries occur in the kitchen and being a restaurant chef almost requires combat pay. Beware of falling pans, falling knifes and hot liquids!)

Okay, injury aside, it’s Easter and so that means either ham or lamb and since I don’t like lamb, I settled for ham.

Now ham is not necessarily a hard thing to bake but as usual, finding a suitable recipe took some time. I don’t know of any grocery stores around here that sell “fresh” ham, nor do I know of any that carry the famous Smithfield hams but the minute they do, I have a Smithfield cookbook all ready to roll.

So my options were now whittled down to making either a pre-cooked or a ready-to-cook ham and so I bought a ready-to-cook ham. But as per usual, kids, I ran into technical difficulties right up front.

I told my sister-in-law that I was so focused on the ingredients of my ham recipe (okay, specifically champagne) that I didn’t make note of the cooking instructions, or lack thereof, until after I bought the ham and so had to make some alterations. For example, this recipe called for me to cook the ham in a “slow” oven; what does that mean??!! Nancy laughed and said “Didn’t you run into the same problem with that “patriotic meal” you made?” (She’s actually referring to a meal I made for the 2006 elections but it was close enough. In that case, the cookbook I used said to cook something in a “hot” oven.)

So anyway, here’s what this recipe said: “Boil ham until tender.” Okay, let’s parse that sentence: how much ham are we talking here, and boil for how long? How long is tender, folks? Then, after the ham is done boiling, I’m supposed to bake “slowly” for 1 hour. And the temperature we’re looking for here is ????! (For the record, Google shows that the temperature of a slow oven is between 250 and 300 degrees Fahrenheit).

Now, those expecting my usual rant will be disappointed because the cookbook I used, Virginia Cookery – Past and Present – indicates that the source of this recipe was “Key to the Pantry,” Danville, Virginia, 1898. I’m more than willing to cut some slack to a recipe created in 1898; 1998 is another story altogether. At any rate, with instructions like these (or lack thereof), I decided to use the instructions on the ham wrapper and bake it at 325 degrees for 2.75 hours and then the last hour of cooking (determined by the size of the ham x 25 minutes/pound) bake it “slowly” with all of the yummy ingredients added.

As to the potatoes, sure, it’s traditional to go with yams (preferably candied although my mother never did the marshmallow thing) but I’m not overly fond of yams. I am, however, extremely fond of scalloped potatoes and so searched the world over until I found an easy recipe in the McCall’s Cookbook.

And speaking of McCall’s, my mother was a big fan of “ladies” magazines and so we always had Good Housekeeping, McCall’s, Ladies Home Journal, Women’s Day and Family Circle in our house. We were not, however, Redbook people – I think my mother thought that magazine was a little bit too modern for her tastes (although I must confess that my favorite column in the Ladies Home Journal, then and now, is “Can This Marriage Be Saved” – something my mom probably skipped over as being entirely too revealing of people’s personal lives even if the names were changed to protect the innocent.)

At any rate, I have several of those women’s magazine’s compilations in my collection (along with The Seventeen Cookbook – ah, shades of my youth) that will show up eventually in this blog as they are good for showcasing basic, “housewife” cooking—nothing too fancy and nothing too difficult.

Well, the ham is out of the oven and it is very tasty even if I didn’t exactly cook it to “code,” and the potatoes are a success as well although with more onions that I usually like. I started cooking them at 275 along with the ham and just ramped the temperature up to 400 (the recommended temperature) to finish them off. I’m going to add some peas to the mix because I love peas, and we’re going to call it a day. But before I go, let me just say that while I’m not a major fan of musicals, I do love the 1948 movie, Easter Parade with Judy Garland and Fred Astaire. I’ve been whistling the tune “Happy Easter” around the house all day (likely to the great annoyance of my husband). I’ve also been singing “When the Midnight Choo-Choo Leaves for Alabam’” but that’s another story for another day.

Champagne Ham (serving size varies depending on how large of a ham you buy!)
1 ham
Brown sugar
1 tablespoon allspice
1 teaspoon cloves
1 cup vinegar
½ cup sugar
1 pint champagne

Original instructions:
Boil ham until tender then skin. Rub with brown sugar. Place in baking pan and cover top with 1 tablespoon allspice, 1 teaspoon cloves, 1 cup vinegar, 1 cup champagne and ½ cup sugar mixed together. Bake slowly 1 hour. Add another cup of champagne. Serve gravy with ham.

My instructions:
Bake ham according to instructions on the label. In my case, I had a 9-pound ham and the instructions were to bake at 325 degrees for 25 minutes per pound. This brought me to 3.75 hours. I baked it for 2.75 hours, then lowered the oven temperature to a “slow oven” (275 degrees), poured the spice/champagne mixture on the ham (I honestly don’t know how one would “cover top” with a liquid glaze so I didn’t) and baked it at that temperature for the final hour.

Scalloped Potatoes – Make 6 to 8 servings
3 pound potatoes
4 medium onion, thinly sliced
Boiling water
3 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons butter or margarine
2 tablespoons flour
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1/8 teaspoon paprika
2 ¼ cups milk
2 tablespoons chopped parsley

Preheat the oven to 400F. Lightly grease 2-quart casserole.

Wash, pare and thinly slice potatoes; measure 8 cups.

Cook potatoes and onions, covered in a small amount of boiling water (I used 2 cups), with 2 teaspoons salt, about 5 minutes, or until slightly tender. Drain.

Melt butter in saucepan. Remove from heat. Stir in flour, pepper, paprika, and remaining salt until smooth. Blend in milk.

Cook, stirring, over medium heat, to boiling point, or until thickened and smooth.

In prepared casserole, layer one third of potatoes and onions. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon parsley; top with one third of the sauce. Repeat. Then add remaining potatoes and onions and top with remaining sauce.

Bake, uncovered, 35 minutes, or until top is browned and potatoes are tender when pierced with fork.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

"The America's Test Kitchen Family Book" - Skillet Tuna Noodle Casserole

Date I made this recipe: April 10, 2009 (Good Friday)

The America’s Test Kitchen Family Book by the Editors at America’s Test Kitchen
Published by: America’s Test Kitchen
ISBN: 0-936184-87-6
Recipe: Skillet Tuna Noodle Casserole – p. 243

I am not a fish fan, nor am I a practicing Catholic (“incredibly lapsed” is what comes to mind) but hey, it’s Good Friday and so in honor of the occasion (and to knock off another recipe for my blog), I selected a tuna noodle casserole for tonight’s dinner.

I mean, who doesn’t like a tuna noodle casserole? Apparently, many a cookbook author because I tell you what, there was a decided lack of tuna recipes in several of the cookbooks I looked at. Sure, there were a few in some of the community cookbooks I looked at, but I honestly don’t think that tuna, macaroni, cream of mushroom soup and (possibly) potato chips is a bona fide tuna casserole recipe. And so I went all highbrow on you and decided to go with one that had one of my favorite tuna noodle casserole “must-haves” and that is peas. Peas and tuna just go together, don’t they? One of my favorites from my mother’s summer repertoire was tuna salad made with tuna, macaroni, onion, celery, peas… and Miracle Whip. Yes, I know there are Miracle Whip snobs out there but it was the only thing available in my small town and so Miracle Whip it was.

This recipe is not your traditional take on a tuna casserole since you cook the pasta in the skillet but I wouldn’t expect anything less out of America’s Test Kitchen. The show of the same name is on PBS on Saturday mornings (at least in the Minneapolis market) and I enjoy seeing cookbook and magazine author Christopher Kimball and his staff tweak old favorites. This dish was fun to make because it was so different in nature and might tasty, too.

Since summer is almost upon us (once it quits snowing, that is), don’t be surprised if tuna and peas makes it back on the docket in the very near future! I can taste them now…

Skillet Tuna Noodle Casserole – Serves 4-6
Prep time: 10 minutes Total time: 40 minutes
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
10 ounces white button mushrooms, trimmed and sliced thin
1 onion, minced
8 ounces egg noodles (3 cups)
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup frozen peas
2 (7-ounce) foil pouches solid white tuna, flaked
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
Lemon wedges (for serving)
Crushed Ritz or Saltine crackers (for topping, if desired)

Melt the butter in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Add the mushrooms, onion, and ½ teaspoon salt. Cook until the mushrooms are browned, about 15 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a bowl.

Sprinkle the noodles into the skillet. Pour the broth and cream over the noodles. Cover and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low and continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, until the noodles are tender, about 10 minutes.

Stir in the peas, tuna, mushroom mixture, and parsley and allow to heat through, about 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve, passing the lemon wedges separately.

Okay, faithful readers know that I often take issue with one of the instructions. Here’s today’s: If I’m supposed to cover and bring the noodle mixture to a simmer, how will I know it’s at simmer unless I uncover the pot? Think about that.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

"Homemade is Better from Tupperware Home Parties" - Meatless Italian Lasagna

Date I made this recipe: April 5, 2009

Homemade is Better from Tupperware® Home Parties (Special 30th Anniversary Edition)
Published by: Meredith Publishing Services (Better Homes and Gardens)
© 1981
Recipe: Meatless Italian Lasagna – p. 107

Ah Tuppeware®! Was there anything like a Tuppeware® party in the 60’s and 70’s? I think not! You had your beehived ladies presenting the latest in harvest-colored plastic storage bins known for their “burping” seal (not to be confused with a burping seal of the animal kind--if indeed such an animal exists!). The demonstration of the proper technique to burp that container was the best part of the Tupperware® party--right up there with the lovely display of the latest and greatest in Tupperware® inventions, usually piled high on a tablecloth-covered card table. (My favorite item was the Popsicle molds although sadly, my mother never brought those home from a party, likely fearing massive tooth decay if she made them for us.)

I have to credit Joy Behar of TV’s The View for reminding me that I had this cookbook (purchased on – just a great place to find unique books). She made an offhanded remark one morning about Tupperware® and before they hit the next commercial, I had this cookbook in hand and started my hunt for the recipe du jour.

Now my mother was not a really into the Tupperware® party scene and she always hated the “ask” at the end of the demonstration but don’t you know, she had quite the collection of Tupperware® items in her house. The best item that she had (that I will probably bring to my house one of these days) is the (vintage) 1965 pastry sheet. That sheet was the best thing since sliced bread-- it had circles of various widths laid out so that the home cook could accurately measure a pie crust. It sure as heck beats eyeballing the crust!

I also have a few Tupperware® items in my kitchen, my personal favorite being my golden yellow Tupperware® bowl, circa the early ‘80’s. The best part about the bowl is that it has a plastic lid and let me say that that bowl has been to many a potluck!! (Have Tuppeware®, will travel!) My mother, who feared salmonella more than she feared death, would probably be appalled to learn that I’ve stored raw meat (mostly meatballs) in the bowl as well as used it to make cake and cookie mixes. I always thoroughly clean the bowl and after all these years, have yet to get sick – so there!

As to this recipe, it was very yummy and easy to make once the veggies were all chopped. My vegetables were probably closer to a dice than a chop, making my lasagna a little bit crunchier than I would have liked but I could have remedied that just by cooking them a little longer. And as per usual, it seems I can’t make a recipe without finding at least one unclear instruction. Here’s today’s: “2 cups cream-style cottage cheese, drained.”

Let’s parse this sentence: first, what does “cream-style” cottage cheese mean? There were several choices available to me in the grocery store but none had this designation so I bought something that looked like it would be creamy. And I tried to drain it as directed but this did not work in the least. The cottage cheese sat in the strainer forever and a day so I gave up. I’m happy to report that the lasagna was no worse for the wear.

For those of you who want to relive your youth, you can find Tupperware® items on eBay. Not all of them are vintage but it’s just fun to see what’s out there. The American Experience TV show (on PBS) showcased Tupperware a few year’s back; the video is available on their website at . Be sure to pay special attention to the “burping” seal demonstration!!

Meatless Italian Lasagna – Serves 8 to 10
1 cup chopped carrots
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped green pepper (I had a red pepper on hand and used that)
1 cup chopped onion
¼ cup butter or margarine
2 cups sliced zucchini
1 16-ounce can tomatoes, cut up (I bought diced tomatoes)
1 12-ounce (or two, 6-ounce) cans tomato paste
2 bay leaves
2 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup snipped parsley
1 teaspoon dried basil, crushed
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon each – dried oregano and dried thyme, crushed
¼ teaspoon pepper
10 lasagna noodles, cooked, rinsed and drained (about 8 ounces)
2 cups cream-style cottage cheese, drained (Note: I would double this. I had to really stretch this out to make it last and while the lasagna tasted okay, it could have been creamier.)
8 slices mozzarella cheese, torn (8 ounces) (Note: that is not even close to being enough cheese to please me so I bought shredded and went to town!)
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

In a large saucepan, cook carrots, celery, green pepper, and onion in butter till tender but not brown. Add zucchini, undrained tomatoes, tomato paste, bay leaves, garlic, parsley, and seasoning. Simmer, covered 30 minutes; simmer, uncovered, 15 to 20 minutes more or till thickened. Discard bay leaves. (Note: You may need to add water at some point or your sauce will be too thick.)

In a 13x9x2-inch baking pan, layer one-third of the noodles, vegetable sauce, cottage cheese, and mozzarella. Repeat twice, ending with mozzarella. Sprinkle with Parmesan. Cover with foil; place on baking sheet. Bake in 350 oven 45 minutes. Uncover; bake 10 minutes more. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.