Monday, January 30, 2012

"Casserole Treasury" - Baked Alaska Meat Loaf

Date I made this recipe: January 29, 2012

Casserole Treasury by Lousene Rousseau Brunner
Published by: Harper & Row, Publishers
© 1964
Recipe: Baked Alaska Meat Loaf – p. 16

When the going gets tough around here, the tough get going on making a comforting dish, like Baked Alaska Meat Loaf!

It wasn’t that the last two weeks were necessarily bad but they weren’t necessarily good, either. And the lack of sun was making this gal quite unhappy. So I was all fixed and ready to go for a casserole but then couldn’t quite nail the recipe until my husband intervened.

So I ran a few by him: “Tuna Casserole,” one of my favorites, got me that “look” and so I moved on. “Beef and Cabbage with Rice” got me a “hmm” and “Cheese-Spaghetti Casserole” got me a definite “No” (all because of the cheese). “Well, then you select something,” I said and handed the book over.

He came up with “Hearty Turkey Soup” and that earned him my first “No,” and then a few dishes with booze as a primary ingredient – intriguing, but no – and then a casserole with both blue cheese and sour cream (“So in other words, something light.”) that also earned a “No.”

Not to be deterred, he finally suggested today’s Baked Alaska Meat Loaf recipe in honor of the good people of Fairbanks, Alaska, who woke up to -50 degree temperatures. Say it with me now – “Yowza!!!” (For the record, I’ve cross-country skied in -30 but that’s as low as I go.)

Baked Alaska Meat Loaf is the perfect combination of everything I love – meatloaf and mashed potatoes. The author even suggested my favorite mashed potato accompaniment – peas!

And so we had Baked Alaska Meat Loaf and peas and watched the SAG Awards (Screen Actors Guild Awards) and life was pretty good. And we didn’t have to endure -50 degree temperatures to boot.

Baked Alaska Meat Loaf - serves 6 amply

2 pounds lean chuck ground
2 eggs slightly beaten
2 scant teaspoons salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 ½ cups soft bread crumbs
¼ cup minced onion
½ teaspoon dried oregano or 1 ½ teaspoons fresh, chopped
½ teaspoon dried sweet basil or 1 ½ teaspoons fresh, chopped
2 tablespoons minced parsley
3 ½ cups fresh mashed potato (instant will do)
2 eggs yolks
Parmesan cheese (optional)

“This is a sort of cross between a regular meat loaf and a shepherd’s pie, but to my mind better than either and more appealing to the eye.”

Blend well in a mixing bowl the meat, eggs, salt and pepper, crumbs, onion and herbs. Pack firmly into a round ovenproof bowl and bake 1 hour and 20 minutes at 400.

Drain off the liquid which will accumulate and invert the bowl on a wire rack to drain completely. Pat the loaf dry with paper towels and slide it onto a shallow casserole or a Pyrex pie plate somewhat larger than the loaf.

In the meantime, prepare the mashed potatoes. Beat them until they are fluffy and beat in the egg yolks. (Author’s note: As indicated above, you can use your favorite instant mashed – an 8-serving box.)

Frost the meat loaf thickly with the potatoes. Sprinkle with paprika and grated Parmesan cheese (if you use it) and set the loaf back in the oven 25-30 minutes, or until the surface is golden. Serves 6 amply.

Serve with green peas mixed with tiny white onions.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

"The Global Gourmet" by Concordia (College) Language Villages - Pakistani Curried Chicken

Date I made this recipe: January 15, 2012 (2012 Golden Globe Awards night)

The Global Gourmet by Concordia Language Villages
Published by: Concordia Language Villages
© 1992
Recipe: Pakistani Curried Chicken – p. 131

Never mind that baseball season is over, today was a double-header: Green Bay Packers v. NY Giants game followed by the Golden Globe Awards.

Yes, well, of the first item (the game) we shall not speak except to say that the Packers were obviously overtaken by aliens. In fact, I thought that filming wrapped on Men in Black III, but apparently nobody on the Packer’s staff got the memo. (From: Hollywood, To: Packers, RE: filming – Men in Black III will be filming extra scenes at Lambeau Field on Sunday, January 15, at 3:30 p.m. Please inform your players and staff….)

So let’s turn out attention then, to something that was a little more uplifting – the 2012 Golden Globe awards ceremony.

In years past, I used to be able to keep up with all the nominated movies, miniseries and TV shows but alas, not anymore. Since I abhor going to movie theaters, I hadn’t seen a single film (although my god, I certainly saw more than my share of the same preview clips, over and over and over again). And since I don’t have HBO or Showtime, I was also unfamiliar with most of the nominated TV shows as well.

Anyway, with a lack of football recipes to make, I turned my attention to the group behind the Golden Globe Awards, the Hollywood Foreign Press, and decided to find an internationally-oriented cookbook to celebrate their event.

And so turning my eyes upward to my bookshelves, I found what I thought would be “just the thing” – The Global Gourmet – written and published by Concordia Language Villages. (Concordia Language Villages is a (foreign) language immersion (summer) camp for those wishing to learn a language or bone up on their language skills. The Villages is sponsored by Concordia College, a well-known college located in Moorhead, Minnesota (near Fargo, ND)).

Now I don’t know about you, but I’m not really seeing “foreign” in a recipe for “Spinach Salad with Chutney Dressing” or “Pomegranate and Escarole Salad.” So I flipped and flopped my way through this book until I found three recipes, two from India and this one from Pakistan and decided on the recipe from Pakistan. (Of course, even these three recipes were submitted by American cooks who got the recipe from the Indian and Pakistani women who created them.) (And for extra points and the win, please explain to me what a recipe for "Arkansas Chicken and Rice" is doing in a cookbook called The Global Gourmet.)

I liked this dish although now that I’ve made it, I’m thinking I should have substituted yogurt for the sour cream called for in this recipe. It’s not that I don’t love sour cream, but it really masked the spices and that is not a good thing. (And thank goodness I used only one cup of the recommended two or I never would have tasted anything else.) That being said, my house smelled like a spice cabinet for about two days.

The other thing I liked about this dish was that it called for very little chopping and far more measuring (of the spices) and this was a good thing seeing how I was trying to watch the football game (why, I do not know) and cook at the same time. Chopping involves knives and given how the game went down, those quickly became dangerous weapons. But a measuring spoon? Not so much.

Pakistani Curried Chicken – serves 6
¼ to ½ cup shortening or vegetable oil
1 ½ medium onions, sliced
3 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon tumeric
1 teaspoon cayenne
1 ½ teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons ginger
1 ½ teaspoons garlic powder
1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick
1 (2 ½ to 3-pound) chicken, cut up (Note: the author says you can substitute chicken pieces (thighs, breast, legs) for 1 cut-up chicken)
4 to 5 cups water
1 ½ to 2 tomatoes, thinly sliced
Salt to taste
1 to 2 cups dairy sour cream (Ann’s note: try yogurt instead)
Cooked fluffy white rice, if desired

In large stove-top casserole or Dutch oven, heat shortening until very hot; brown onions, about 15 minutes. (Ann’s Note: Whoa! I almost had burnt onions on my hands. I suggest you turn the heat down.) Stir in the seasonings.

Brown chicken pieces in spice mixture. Add water, cover and cook about 45 minutes or until chicken is done. (And again—I’m not sure whether the chicken was intended to be boiled or not so you might want to turn down the heat just a little.) Remove chicken and set aside.

Add tomatoes and cook until sauce-like, about 30 minutes. (And for the third time, check your heat! I turned my burner down to medium for this step.)

Add the chicken and heat through. (Because I bought ridiculously large chicken breasts, I shredded the chicken meat before adding it to the sauce.) Stir in salt and sour cream. Serve with rice; add whole what pocket bread, chutney and a yogurt drink if desired.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

"The Walton Family Cookbook" - Cousin Carole's Split Pea Soup

Date I made this recipe: January 8, 2012

The Walton Family Cookbook by Sylvia Resnick
Published by: Bantam Books
© 1975
Recipe: Cousin Carole’s Split Pea Soup – p. 36

“I want to be a writer, daddy.” John-Boy Walton on the TV show, The Waltons
“I want to be a writer, daddy.” Ann Verme, circa 1971, channeling John-Boy Walton!

When I first moved to Minneapolis after college, my friends teased me that I was emulating the fictional Mary Richards, played by actress Mary Tyler Moore from The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Not so. I actually wanted to be John Boy Walton—well, not really since that would have involved a sex change but you know what I mean.

For those of you who don’t know, The Waltons started out as a 1971 TV movie titled The Homecoming: A Christmas Story. In it, actress Patricia Neal played Olivia Walton before actress Michael Learned took over the role on TV. (Most of the kids in this movie though, moved over to play the same roles in the TV series.)

Anyway, I don’t remember much about the movie but I do remember that Olivia was thrilled to get a bird’s nest from her children for Christmas, even if it did have (in her words) bird poop on it.

Is that not the stuff that just warms your heart, or what? At any rate, this movie set the stage for John-Boy Walton (as played by actor Richard Thomas) to tell his father that he wanted to be a writer (make that “a writer, daddy.”)

Well, as an aspiring writer myself, this had a huge impact on me. And so for as long as the TV series ran, I walked around imitating John-Boy by telling everyone “I want to be a writer, daddy.” Mind you, by the time the series ended in 1981, I was two years out of college with a degree in what ended up being “English Literature” and living in Minneapolis.

My first job though, was as a writer but not quite in the way either John-Boy or I envisioned. I was hired as a Savings Correspondent for a local savings and loan association (remember them?!). Not only was I charged with cleaning up their standard letter file (“Dear Customer, Thank you for opening your account with us”), but I also had to write the not-so-standard letters, many of which said something like: “Dear Customer. We are sorry to inform you that we have temporarily misplaced your $10,000 deposit, but rest assured we are doing everything in our power to locate that money…”

You might think that writing something so mundane was not challenging, but it was. And I was good at it. I got lots of compliments from some of the people for whom I scribed a letter telling me what a good job I did.

And so at that point, I was thinking that maybe in a few months I could go out and find myself a real writing job. Instead, I got promoted to a New Account Representative, and started down a path that had absolutely nothing to do with writing and everything to opening up certificates of deposit for people. Believe it or not, I was rather irritated that I was promoted as I really liked my job; my employer was momentarily stymied as to why I would look a gift horse in the mouth. I know, I know—but there was John-Boy out there writing and if he could write, so could I.

Thirty-plus years later, this is what I have to show for myself: a few articles here and there in various company newsletters, the best (I’m told) thank you notes ever, a spectacular holiday letter that puts all others to shame, and this blog. Oh, and I am friends with a few journalists so there’s that.

By the way, The Waltons was loosely based on writer Earl Hamner, Jr.’s child memories of growing up in Virginia during the Depression. And this is important because while the show’s story lines stayed pretty true to that time period, this cookbook, written in the 70’s, does not. I am pretty sure that Earl’s family (and therefore the Waltons) did not munch on the following: Mexicali Bean Dip; Antipasto Special; Meatballs Ole; Nippy Hamburger in a Dish (featuring a jar of melted cheese spread) or anything closing resembling the majority of dishes found in this book. And so finding something that the Waltons would have actually eaten was a challenge.

Toward that end, I narrowed it down to Bean Soup, Beef and Vegetable Stew (“Stew a la Waltons”) and this recipe for Pea Soup. My husband nixed the idea of the bean soup, the vegetable stew sounded good but had a lot of ingredients so that left the pea soup for which I had only to buy a ham shank and barley.

Now I like barley and I like split pea soup but I can’t say as the two combined rocked my world. I would have much preferred adding potatoes but the recipe didn’t call for it so I didn’t use them.

I also am not a fan of salt and yet this recipe called for three tablespoons – whoa! So I added a tablespoon after the soup had been simmering a while, and that wasn’t enough, so I added another, and then it still wasn’t quite right so I added a little bit more (not a full tablespoon) and suddenly the recipe teetered on the edge of being too salty. I hate it when that happens so my warning to you is to taste and re-taste as you add the salt and then stop immediately when you’ve hit the jackpot!

The recipe also said to discard the onion (which, although it didn’t say, you put in whole) but I like onion and so I chopped it up and added it back to the soup.

Unlike the TV show, I am not a fan of this soup—it’s okay, but it’s not great. But you can make it for yourself and then decide – just like John-Boy and I decided we wanted to be writers, daddy!

(PS—I almost forgot to mention the Baldwin Sisters, famous on Walton’s Mountain for “the recipe”…for moonshine! But remember, it was always consumed “for medicinal purposes.” Those two ladies cracked me up to no end and made me want to be a moonshiner…but only after I became a writer, daddy, of course!)

Cousin Carole’s Split Pea Soup – serves 6

1 8-ounce package split peas
1 4-ounce package fine barley
1 onion (whole)
3 small carrots, finely chopped
3 tablespoons alt (or to taste – no kidding!)
A meaty ham bone, 1 pound short ribs or 1 pound shank meat
3 1/3 quarts cold water

Add all the ingredients to the water in heavy soup kettle, partially cover and cook over a high flame for 20 minutes. Remove cover and skim off excess fat from water with wooden spoon.

Again partially cover (allow lid to sit lopsided so pot is not completely covered) and cook over a medium flame for 45 minutes. Stir ingredients through now and then to prevent sticking. Cover tightly and simmer for 1 hour. Remove and discard the onion.

Author’s note: This soup tastes best if allowed to stand and thicken for at least an hour before serving. Stir through and reheat on a very low flame. If desired, other vegetables such as cauliflower or okra may be added during last hour of cooking.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

"The Best of Byerly's" (Byerly's is a Minnesota upscale grocery store chain) Lentil Soup

Date I made this recipe: January 1, 2012

The Best of Byerly’s – A Recipe Collection from the Test Kitchen of Byerly’s Culinary Specialists (Note: Byerly’s is a Minnesota upscale grocery store chain.)
Published by: Byerly’s
© 1996
Recipe: Lentil Soup – p. 52

Well Happy New Year, everyone!

Given what a bad year it was (my dad died) I was oh-so-happy to see 2011 bite the dust. And to make sure that 2012 started off on the right foot, I decided to make lentils as lentils (and beans and peas) are supposed to bring good luck and prosperity. (And this is because they resemble coins – who knew?).

So I wasn’t taking any chances. But I tell you what, my day almost derailed before it even got started.

My husband and I live across the street from a commercial lumber yard. Nine times out of ten, the place is pretty quiet; they don’t run a third shift and so are usually done by later in the afternoon. Every once in a while, a commercial semi comes in to load up but they are not around for very long. (Well, they used to illegally park next to the lumber yard and then run their cabs all night but that problem seems to have been solved.).

At any rate, for whatever reason, the lumber yard has this “thing” about snow. In the “old” days (and by “old” I mean “as of two years ago…”) they used to plow the snow with a fork lift truck with a big steel box attached to it but that was loud and silly. So they switched to a company-owned truck with a snow plow attachment and that was much better…

…At least until 3:45 a.m. on New Year’s Day when the plow truck woke me up from a sound sleep. We’d had a little bit of snow fall on New Year’s Eve and I guess that was cause for great concern and alarm and so the plow man was dispatched and he proceeded to scrape up the 6-8 flakes that fell as well as half the asphalt.

Now, let’s review the crucial components of this early-morning snow-scrapping expedition: 1) it was Sunday morning and the yard is not open on Sunday; 2) it was New Year’s Day and that is a holiday that is carefully observed by the company so again, no one was there and 3), it was 3 freaking 45 a.m.!!!!

It goes without saying that I about killed that driver who then spent the next hour plowing and therefore keeping me up. I was this close to going outside to confront the man but figured I was just too scary looking at that hour and so I’m saving it for when the yard is open again.

So I dealt with the snowplow serenade as best I could, and by “best I could,” I mean that I posted all about this on Facebook, including the fact that I awarded the company my Corporate Jackass of The Year award. Oh yeah, I was just a little ticked!

So I read for a while and then turned off the light and was just about asleep when I heard the “thump, thump, thump...thump, thump, thump” of the paper delivery person’s car stereo.

Sigh. (You should know the thumping stereo is also an ongoing problem that we are working on with the newspaper company.)

So okay, fine, I finally decided that I should just get up and get on with my day, thinking to myself “at least I can watch the Packers play the Lions.”

Right. For whatever reason, instead of broadcasting a pivotal game between the Packers who clinched the division (and are defending Super Bowl Champions) and the Lions who oddly enough are in playoff contention, they showed those hapless Vikings (Vike-Queens) versus the Bears. I mean…what? WHAT? Sure, the Vikings are the local team, but for those of you who don’t know, the Wisconsin border is 45 minutes away; there are Minneapolis-St. Paul suburbs that are further out than that.

At any rate, I was not a happy camper. But thanks to modern technology (i.e. the Internet), I was able to track how my team was doing online, although the longer the game went on, the more nervous I got that this, too, would not end well. It was quite the shootout, with both teams scoring one after the other, but in the end, the Packers won in a very close game and I felt like my New Year’s was back on track. And when I finally got around to making this soup, it sealed the deal.

You should know that this is one of my favorite soups, ever. It’s ridiculously easy to make and although I’ve never done it, can be made vegetarian by eliminating the Canadian bacon and using vegetable broth instead of chicken broth.

The other thing you should know is that although I’ve made this soup several times over, this is the first time I’ve posted a recipe from this cookbook, one of the two Byerly’s cookbooks I own.

As I noted at the top of this blog, Byerly’s is a local, upscale grocery store chain. When I first moved here, everyone said “You have to go to the Byerly’s in St. Louis Park (suburb)” and when I did, I could see why—they had (have) chandeliers over the frozen food section, they had carpeting on the floor, they had their own in-house home economist, a huge deli and takeout section and so on and so on. In fact, it used to be (and maybe still is) that Byerly’s was a “must see” stop on bus tours of the Twin Cities.

Eventually, Don Byerly, Byerly’s founder, sold his business to the Lund family that still runs Lunds grocery stores. Lunds is another upscale grocery store (alas, no chandeliers). To avoid large-scale meltdown by the grocery-shopping public, each store retained its own name so Byerly’s stores retained their Byerly’s name and Lunds stores retained theirs and so all was well with the world.

And so to recap, despite a rocky start to the New Year, all is well with the world if a) the Packers win and b) if you make this “lucky” soup. But take it from me, this soup is just so darned good, you’ll want to make it just for any old reason, any old time.

Lentil Soup – makes 16 cups
1 (16-ounce) package dried lentils
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup chopped Canadian bacon
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped celery
2 cups thinly sliced carrots
1 ½ teaspoons minced garlic
1 (14 ½ -ounce) can diced tomatoes
2 (46-ounce) cans chicken broth (Note: this is a lot of broth but I’ve always found it cooks off pretty quickly so have extra on hand)
¾ cups uncooked rosamarina (Orzo) pasta
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
-freshly grated Parmesan cheese (if desired)

Rinse lentils in strainer. Heat oil in Dutch oven. Cook bacon, onion, celery, carrots and garlic 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in lentils, tomatoes and chicken broth. Simmer, covered, 45 minutes. Stir in rosamarina, salt and pepper. Simmer, covered, until lentils and rosamarina are tender (about 15 minutes). Ladle into soup bowls; sprinkle with Parmesan.

Ann’s note: unbeknownst to me, my husband used up all our celery on another dish so I checked the Internet and discovered I could use 1 teaspoon celery seed to equal 1 cup chopped (fresh) celery.