Monday, October 31, 2011

"The Mystery Chef's Own Cookbook" and "The Nancy Drew Cookbook" - Baked Sliced Ham and Apples & Dave's Deviled Potatoes

Date I made these recipes: October 30, 2011

The Mystery Chef’s Own Cook Book by The Mystery Chef (John McPherson)
Published by: Garden City Publishing Co., Inc.
© 1934, 1943
Recipe: Baked Sliced Ham and Apples – p. 77

The Nancy Drew Cookbook – Clues to Good Cooking by Carolyn Keene
Published by: Grosset & Dunlap
© 1973 – 1974 printing
Recipe: Dave’s Deviled Potatoes – p. 59-60

I am not a big fan of Halloween. It’s too cold, too dark and when I was growing up, it often snowed. Trust me it is not fun to wear a Halloween costume under a winter coat.

And speaking of snow, the east coast got blasted this weekend by an early (for them) snowfall. This prompted all the local media to remind us Minnesotans of our huge 1991 Halloween blizzard. I cannot believe 20 years have passed since that debacle.

On that Halloween, a rain shower quickly turned into a ton of heavy, wet snow that just kept and falling and falling and falling. While we are used to a big snowfall in these parts, it was hard to get around the cities; snow plows got stuck, roads were only half plowed, mail wasn’t delivered, schools closed and so on. In a word, folks, we were truly snowed in. Well, true confession: my husband brought me to work the next day as driving in this stuff is a challenge to him and I went in on the day after that (the weekend) to get some work done as I was under deadline. Let me just mention that while I made it there and back safely, I also managed to spin the most beautiful doughnut on the freeway without hitting a thing! (So.proud). Darned ice!!

So back to the snow, this did not deter some intrepid trick or treaters who now have a great story to tell their children when they grow up. And in the blink of an eye, Halloween is once again upon us. The sun is out and it appears we are safe from a snowstorm this year. Hooray.

Given my track record of dark, cold and snow, I usually ignore the date all together. Yes, that’s my house, as dark as dark can be. That glow you see? It’s the TV. Otherwise, we usually settle in for a couple hour’s worth of “Just ignore them and they will go away.” (That is very Scrooge of me; I’m getting an early start to Christmas.) Actually, we don’t have many kids in the neighborhood and our street is pretty much ignored by the masses. And that’s good because we never stock up on candy except for ourselves, naturally!

But as I was working on my cookbook list on Saturday, I remembered that I had recently purchased The Nancy Drew Cookbook and if that doesn’t say mystery and spooks and whatnot, then I don’t know what does.

And then, taking a little liberty with the title, I also chose to make a recipe from The Mystery Chef’s Own Cook Book.

In this instance, The Mystery Chef is a man who took the place of a friend on a radio show about cooking and food and built a following of fans although of course, his identity remained a – key point here - mystery. Well, with the advent of the internet, it is no longer a mystery—his name is John McPherson. A clever mystery problem-solver however, could also determine his identity by looking at the copyright information: “Copyright, 1934 by John McPherson.” Move over, Nancy Drew!

So while John’s book is not quite related to today’s theme, it was close enough for me.

As to Nancy Drew, I hardly know a woman in my age category who didn’t read Nancy Drew as a kid. My teeny, tiny library at Sacred Heart Catholic School (grade school) actually carried most of the Nancy Drew books and I believe I managed to read them all—twice! I still love solving a good mystery which might be why I became an attorney. Not that attorneys solve mysteries but sometimes when putting a case together, you often become your own little Nancy (or Ned) Drew.

Tonight’s meal was really easy to make and it kept with my Halloween theme: Ham and Apples (I remember getting caramel apples as a kid for Halloween) and Dave’s Deviled Potatoes for that little Halloween devil in all of us!

Baked Sliced Ham and Apples (to serve 4)
2 large, thin slices raw ham (1/4 to 1/3 inch thick) Ann’s note: I used one large pre-cooked ham steak and that was sufficient for two of us.
1 teaspoon dry mustard
2 teaspoons vinegar
1 cooking apple
½ cup brown sugar

Remove bone from ham. Mix together the mustard and vinegar. Spread the mixture thinly on the ham. Slice apples very thin and spread 2 layers on the thin slices on ham. Sprinkle well with brown sugar. Now roll the ham the long way, starting from the fat side and folding the fat into the center. Hold together with metal butcher skewers. Place in baking pan and put a few dabs of butter on each ham roll. Bake in a moderate oven (375) for 25 minutes. Baste 2 or 3 times while baking.

Ann’s Note: What am I, a culinary school graduate? I didn’t bother to roll the ham slices as that is just way too much work. Besides, I couldn’t find my metal skewers, assuming I even have any. So I put the ham in a baking pan, spread the mixture mustard and vinegar mixture, put the sliced apples on top of the ham, sprinkled the sugar and then put dots of butter over the ham slice and it worked just fine. As to the apples, the instructions didn’t say to peel them or core them or anything, so I left them peeled and took out the cores when needed.

Dave’s Deviled Potatoes – serves 4
4-6 medium potatoes
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons softened butter
1/3 cup warm milk (or, in place of the above ingredients, one envelope of instant potatoes)
½ cup sour cream
1 tablespoon mustard
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons chopped green onions
(optional) 4 slices bacon for topping

Wash, pare and cut potatoes into 4 pieces each for faster cooking. Cover with boiling water, add salt and cook (covered) from 20 to 40 minutes until tender when tested with a fork. Drain. Add softened butter and warm milk. Mash until free of lumps. (If you are using instant potatoes, follow directions on package.)

Heat the sour cream in a small saucepan over a low flame. Add mustard and sugar to the sour cream and mix until well blended. Stir potatoes into the sour cream mixture. Blend in chopped onion. Put the potato mixture into a 1 quart casserole.

Heat the over to 350. Bake for 12 minutes.

“Nancy’s Topper”
Add a surprise by frying 4 slices of bacon in the skillet over low heat until crisp. Drain on paper towels, crumble, and sprinkle on top of deviled potatoes.

Monday, October 24, 2011

"The Sunday Cook Collection" (recipes from the Milwaukee Journal) - Cheddar Chowder

Date I made this recipe: October 23, 2011

The Sunday Cook Collection by Grace Howaniec (recipes compiled for the Wisconsin magazine of the Milwaukee Journal)
Published by: Amherst Press
ISBN: 0-942495-27-6; © 1993
Recipe: Cheddar Chowder – p. 37

So there I was thinking about the upcoming Packer-Viking game and wondering what I could make that was football related, and there it was—just sitting waiting for me to pick it up: The Sunday Cook Collection, written by a columnist for the Wisconsin magazine of the Milwaukee Journal. Just so we’re all on the same page, Milwaukee is in Wisconsin. And back in the day, Packer games used to be played in Green Bay and Milwaukee. So this was perfect.

And then, honestly as if I hadn’t already hit pay dirt, I opened up the book and found the recipe for Cheddar Chowder. Packers + Cheese = Wisconsin, no?

Of course, as these things go, the game was played here in Minneapolis, not Wisconsin. In what is now known as the Mall of America Field…or whatever. I can’t keep up, and more importantly, I don’t care. (This field should not be confused with the actual Mall of America where fun can be had…unlike most Vikings games these days).

Any who…the Packers won, 33-27 and that’s all I’m going to say about that or my blood pressure will go up (because to me, that was one, close call!). I’m thinking it was the fact that I made Cheddar Chowder that saved the day. That’s me—all about the team!

This dish was really easy to make although I’m not sure I was fond of chopping the vegetables in the food processor. On the other hand, it was a time saver and with a game about to start, well….

And that concludes yet another Packer-related meal, brought to you by a (sometimes) “Sunday Cook.”

Cheddar Chowder – makes 6 servings
2 medium baking potatoes
1 large carrot, peeled
1 rib celery, rinsed and drained
1 small onion, peeled
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground white pepper
2 cups water
4 tablespoons butter or margarine
4 tablespoons flour
2 cups skim milk
2 cups grated sharp Cheddar cheese (4 ounces)
6 ounces smoked, cooked ham sliced, diced (the author notes that she used Oscar Meyer 96% fat-free ham).

Peel and quarter potatoes. In work bowl of a food processor fitted with metal blade, dice potatoes using Pulse/Off button until potatoes are ¼-inch pieces (should make about 2 cups). (Ann’s Note: I didn’t measure so I’ll take the author’s word for it). Remove potatoes to large kettle. Rinse work bowl (hmm…didn’t do that, either), then repeat dicing process, separately, with carrots (to make ½ cup), celery (to make ½ cup) and onion (to make ¼ cup).

To potatoes in kettle, add diced carrots, celery, onion, salt, pepper and water. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat; reduce heat to medium and boil about 12 minutes; set aside. Do not drain.

In small saucepan over medium heat, melt butter. Whisk in flour gradually, stirring until smooth. Let cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Slowly whisk in milk; cook, stirring constantly, until thickened, about 3 minutes. Add grated cheese; stir sauce until cheese is melted.

Stir cheese sauce into undrained vegetables in kettle. Stir in diced ham; heat 2 minutes over medium-low heat.

Monday, October 17, 2011

"Rachel Ray 30-Minute Meals Get Together" by Rachel Ray - TV Dinner for 2

Date I made this recipe: October 16, 2011

Rachel Ray 30-Minute Meals Get Togethers
by Rachel Ray
Published by: Lake Isle Press
ISBN: 1-891105-11-6
Recipe: TV Dinner for 2: Salisbury Steak with Wild Mushroom Gravy, Smashed Potatoes with Garlic & Herb cheese and Chives, and Creamed Spinach – page 118-119

Today, for one brief shinning moment (“that was known as Camelot”) I became Rachel Ray in the kitchen.

Okay, small white lie: I tried to become Rachel Ray in the kitchen but failed.

Well, is failed the right word? Perhaps I’m being overly hard on myself. Here’s what she is that I am not: I am not overly perky, I do not make up new food words like “EVOO” (around here, we call it olive oil), “stoup” (soup and stew) or “Yummo.”

Last time I checked, I did not have a talk show although let me just say that if I did, I would be damned funny. Ask anybody. Ask me—I don’t lie!

And I do not have a staff of people to spin food plates in the air because without “people,” I honestly don’t know how she can make three different things to eat at the same time without burning them. Not that I did that, but I came close.

Frankly, any recipe that starts with the word “meanwhile,” as these did, should be eyeballed carefully. I do not do “meanwhile”—as in “meanwhile, while the steak is cooking, start the potatoes.” Or “meanwhile, while those two things are cooking, start the spinach.”

No. Just say no.

Today’s “TV dinner for 2” was a delicious dinner of Salisbury steak, potatoes and creamed spinach. But ala Rachel, one had to start one recipe, then another and then another until voila—the entire meal was done at the same time.

To this I say “This is why God invented the microwave.” A little plate touchup at 30 seconds and you are ready to go. And this means you can take your time and do things right, because people, there were a few landmines in this recipe.

Let’s start with the steak. On its face, the recipe was easy enough. Mix the meat and condiments together, pour 1 tablespoon olive oil into the pan, cook for 6 minutes on each side and you’re done.

In practice, I put the olive oil in the pan, then the meat and about three minutes in, a cloud of greasy smoke (not a kitchen fire smoke, but just a meat-singing smoke) erupted over my stove. So I turned on our kitchen fan, a/k/a “turbo prop,” opened a window, and one day later, I am here to tell you that our kitchen still smells like greasy burgers.

I am happy to report though, that the steaks did not turn into hockey pucks. And they tasted good. But the pan was something else again. Let’s just say it had a good soak.

So my advice to you is to use more than one tablespoon olive oil, to lower the heat from medium-high to medium and to be ready to air-condition your house in an instant.

As to the gravy, all was well until I put the flour into the pan and then for one, brief shinning moment I almost had a glue ball.

Now I’ve told you readers that I follow recipes to the letter so I dutifully readied my tablespoon of flour to add to the mushrooms. But then Rachel said “add a sprinkle of flour.” So did this mean don’t use the entire thing or use the entire thing? This was unclear. And so I added the entire tablespoon, got the glue ball but then saved the day by adding the broth. But let me tell you folks, it was touch and go for a minute there.

Next, we have the potatoes. Rachel suggests cooking them for 8-10 minutes. I went with 11 and a half minutes and thought they were just a bit underdone. The Boursin cheese was a yummy (not to be confused with Rachel’s term,“Yummo”) addition such that I probably used a little more than suggested but no harm, no foul. And to clarify, I did the meat, then made the potatoes in their entirety and then moved on to the spinach.

Now, I don’t want to call Rachel a liar (because there’d go my chances for my own show), but a quarter cup of cream (or half and half) was way too stingy for the creamed spinach. For one thing, it started to evaporate before I even had a chance to add the spinach to the pan. So I added more and more until what do you know—I finished off the container. And yet it still seemed a little dry (as opposed to creamy). And it was a little flat in the taste department although that can probably be perked up by the addition of some onion or even nutmeg. If Rachel was here, she’d know what to do but since I am not Rachel, I just forged ahead with her recipe, almost as written.

But I do believe I nailed one thing of Rachel’s and that is the thirty-minute meal. Or okay, maybe 40 minutes but even Rachel has said that 30 minutes is a challenge. But I came darned close. And “close” for a home cook is almost as good as nailing it all together.

As to the TV dinner theme, I blogged a few years ago about my love for TV dinners and when I saw this dinner for two, I just had to have it. What is not to love about a three- or four-part meal (depends on whether you get dessert or not), in a tin-foil tray wrapped in tin foil? And you get to watch it in front of, wait for it, a TV set! Isn’t it great that these dinners were invented specifically for this purpose?

Tray tables anyone?

Recipe: TV Dinner for 2: Salisbury Steak with Wild Mushroom Gravy, Smashed Potatoes with Garlic & Herb cheese and Chives, and Creamed Spinach

1 pound russet potatoes (2 large potatoes), peeled and chunked
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
¼ cup half-and-half or cream (eyeball it)
3 ounces (1/3 cup or half of one small container), garlic and herb cheese, such as Boursin
2 tablespoons chopped chives (6 blades), or 1 scallion, thinly sliced

Meat and gravy
¾ pound ground beef sirloin
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce (eyeball it)
½ small onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon steak seasoning blend, such as Montreal Seasoning by McCormick, or coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Extra-virgin olive oil (evoo), 3 tablespoons (3 times around the pan—but Ann’s note: not all at once!)
1 tablespoon butter
6 crimini or baby Portobello mushrooms, sliced
6 shiitake mushrooms, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to state
1 tablespoon flour
½ cup beef stock

1 box (10 ounces) chopped spinach, defrosted in microwave
1 tablespoon butter, cut into pieces
¼ cup half-and-half or heavy cream (Ann’s note: I suggest adding a lot more than this)
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Ann’s Note: I’m going to list the steps to make each dish separately from start to finish: if you want to emulate Rachel, go to page 119 of her book

To make the potatoes

Place them in a pot with water. Cover pot, bring to a boil and lightly salt. Leave uncovered and simmer at rolling boil until tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain the potatoes and return them to hot pot. Smash potatoes with a little half-and-half or cream and garlic herb cheese. Smash and incorporate chives. Add salt and pepper to taste.

To make the steak and gravy
Combine the meat, Worcestershire, onion and steak seasoning or salt and pepper. Form 2 large, oval patties, 1 inch thick.

Preheat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add a tablespoon of evoo and meat patties to hot pan. Cook 6 minutes on each side until meat is evenly carmelized on the outside and juices run clear. Remove meat and cover with loose aluminum foil to keep warm.

Add 1 more tablespoon evoo and the butter to the pan, then the mushrooms. Season with salt and pepper and sauté until tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Add a sprinkle of flour to the pan and cook 2 minutes more. Whisk in stock and thicken 1 minute

To make the spinach
To a small skillet, add butter and cream and heat to bubble over moderate heat. Add the defrosted and “dried” spinach and salt and pepper. Cook until spinach thickens with cream, 3 to 5 minutes.