Sunday, June 22, 2014

"The Walton Family Cookbook" (from the 70's TV show, The Waltons) - Ralph Waite's Old-Fashioned Pot Roast with Potatoes (Father's Day)

Date I made this recipe:  June 15, 2014 (Father's Day)

The Walton Family Cookbook – Inspired by the Top-Rated Television Series created by Earl Hamner, Jr. by Sylvia Resnick
Published by Bantam Books
© 1975
Recipe:  Ralph Waite's Old-Fashioned Pot Roast Favorite with Potatoes – p. 71-72

Folks, timing is everything.  When actor Ralph Waite, who played John Walton, Sr. on the hit TV show The Waltons passed away earlier this year, I pulled out this cookbook intending to make his pot roast recipe but then one thing led to another and I never got it done.  But then Father's Day was upon us and I thought "How perfect!"  My dad was a pot roast kind of guy, he would have been 90 this year, five years younger than Ralph and in many ways, my relationship with my dad mirrored that of John-Boy Walton with his dad – oldest child, aiming to please yet following a path all our own.

I grew up watching The Waltons which ran from 1971 to 1981 and like John-Boy Walton, I wanted to be a writer.  Actually, I used to go around the house mimicking John-Boy's Virginia drawl:  "I want to be ay (as in the later "a") rye-tur [writer], daaaaadi [daddy]!"  I want to be a writer, daddy!

With this in mind, I moved to Minneapolis after college to hopefully begin my writing career (that never happened) and when I told people I wanted to write, thought I wanted to be more like fictional character Mary Richards (Mary Tyler Moore) from The Mary Tyler Moore Show.  I guess it was that move to the Twin Cities that prompted that remark.  (Truth be told, Mary was okay but Rhoda was my favorite.  That said, I did not aspire to be a window dresser.) Now, I loved this show as well but even though it premiered the year before The Waltons, I was fixated on John-Boy.  There was just something about him and that show that attracted my attention although I have to say that his character often irritated the heck out of me.  So thank goodness for the rest of the Walton children and Grandma and Grandpa and those hilarious Baldwin Sisters, god-fearing women who never drank except to partake of their late father's "recipe," also known as moonshine!  Well bless their hearts....

But although the supporting characters, especially grandma and grandpa, were great and fun, the glue that held everything together was "Mama," Olivia Walton, played by actress Michael Learned, and "Daddy," John Walton, Sr., as played by Ralph Waite.  In the series, John Walton, Sr., runs the family lumber mill and manages to keep his wife, all seven kids and two grandparents clothed, fed and secure from the ravages of the Great Depression and WWII.  My dad, born just before the Depression, was the same type of guy, the one who just kept it all together, worked hard but definitely enjoyed family time.  (By the way, my grandmother went to live with my dad's sister after my grandfather died, much like the Walton's grandparents).

Although my dad was a wildlife research biologist by trade, he was also a good writer.  In addition to endless research journal articles, he also penned a memoir of his time on Iwo Jima during WWII and also wrote a published a book, Hiawatha's Brothers, about the flora and fauna of Michigan's Upper Peninsula where we lived.  He also wrote a history of the wildlife research station where he worked and a couple other small articles.

Like John Walton, Sr., my dad could be kind of hard on me.  The first paper I ever wrote in college for a Composition 101 class was singled out by the instructor as being one of the best (and yet, she tore into it later on) and so I was quite chuffed until my dad read it and said "Well, it's written at about a 5th grade level...but it's good.  Not a bad start."  Well, of course I was crushed but I was a good writer.  Did I write scientific research papers, demanding a higher level of writing?  No.  Did my work qualify for inclusion in The New York Times? It did not.  Did I care?  Nope—not as long as I kept racking up those "A's!"  In the end, writing at a 5th grade level is pretty much the industry standard for business – not too low-brow, not too lofty...just right (or is that "write?")

As these things go, I did land a writing job of sorts as my first job in Minneapolis as a Savings Correspondent for a local Savings & Loan Association.  My job was to rewrite their standard letters to make them better (i.e. "Thank you for opening an account with us!") as well as pen the difficult ones such as "Dear Mr. Jones, We are very sorry that we have temporarily misplaced your $10,000 deposit but rest assured...."  It was actually a fun job and I got to be a little creative.  I do believe this counts as a writing gig so that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

And so while I did not follow John-Boy Walton's path of becoming a newspaper writer, I am not too shabby when it comes to writing about cookbooks.  It ain't Pulitzer-worthy but who cares?

With that, let's explore this pretty easy and delicious recipe for pot roast, made in honor of my late father and the late actor, Ralph Waite, better know as John Walton, Sr.

"Goodnight, Daddy...."

Ralph Waite's Old-Fashioned Pot Roast Favorite with Potatoes – serves 6-8
For the pot roast
1 clove garlic, peeled
3- to 4-pound boneless chuck or rump roast of beef
Salad oil
2 T seasoned salt
¾ cup water (more, if needed)
1 bay leaf (optional)
6-8 new potatoes, peeled and halved
For the gravy
2-4 T. flour
½ cup cold water
1 ½ cups liquid from roast (after skimming off fat) – add water if necessary
1 T onion soup mix

Rub garlic over meat.  Coast well with flour and brown slowly in a heavy pan or Dutch oven using small amount of salad oil.  Sprinkle with seasoned salt, turn and do the same on other side.  Lower flame to simmer and add water and a bay leaf.  Cover with a close fitting lid.  Cook for 2-2 ½ hours.  (Ann's Note:  I cooked it for 3 hours until it was absolutely tender).  During the final 45 minutes of cooking add potatoes that have been lightly salted.  Sprinkle roast and potatoes with paprika and add more water if necessary at this time.

To make the gravy, in a small pan blend 1-2 tablespoons flour with cold water, stirring carefully to dissolve any lumps.  Stir in pan juices, add the remaining flour and continue stirring until the flour and liquid are completely blended.  Add onion soup mix and cook over a low flame until gravy thickens.  (Ann's Note:  This was way too thick for my tastes so I tried to dilute it with more water and it didn't make much different.  But it is tasty if you like gravy with your beef.  My dad would have eschewed the gravy in flavor of horseradish!)

Thursday, June 5, 2014

"Race Day Grub - Recipes from the NASCAR Family" - Martha Nemechek's Sloppy Joes - for Memorial Day

Date I made this recipe:  May 25th, 2014 – for Memorial Day

Race Day Grub – Recipes from the NASCAR Family by Angela Skinner; foreword by Mike Skinner
Published by:  Wiley (as part of the NASCAR Library Collection)
ISBN:  0-470-09858-9
Purchased at Strand (bookstore), NYC
Recipe:  Martha Nemechek's Sloppy Joes

We are now one day away from Memorial Day, the official start of the "summer" season (technically, it starts on June 21st), and while I celebrate the start of my favorite time of year, I also dread it.  You see, I suffer from a seasonal affective disorder called "grilling anxiety."

I didn't used to be this way, perhaps because my dad took care of all the grilling growing up, mostly on our little hibachi grill.  I loved that thing, mostly because it was so portable.  And it's not like I'm afraid of fire because I was a Girl Scout and we had to build fires all the time.  (I have merit badges to prove it!).

No, the problem is with our household grill.  It's gas – not that there's anything wrong with that because our stove is gas – but it's a bit finicky and it's filthy.  Filthy as in "sat in the garage unused for a couple of years now because we haven't had time to grill" filthy.

Now my husband was not brought up with my mother's exacting sanitation standards so he wanted to haul out the grill, give it a quick scrub, and fire it up.  I told him that unless and until he sanitized it within an inch of its life by pouring scalding hot water over it – several times – I would not eat anything that came off it.  He looked at me funny and sighed.  I looked back with my "I am not kidding" visage.  He blinked first.

And so, the win goes to Ann!  And I won because at the end of the day, we did what we always do and that is ignore the problem rather than just clean the thing and just let the grill sit in the garage.  Clearly, we are not enamored with this "sport."  This decision then freed me up from the second component of my "grilling anxiety" – selecting the grill recipe.  Since we use gas, I flip past all the pages that require us to use coals or wood chips and those recipes that require long-time marinades.  And although hamburgers and hot dogs are not exactly off the table, grilling them always seems like a cop-out.  Within minutes, I was exhausted and had exhausted all brilliant grilling ideas. And so...Sloppy Joes.  (By the way, the third component of my "grilling anxiety" is the overabundance of mosquitoes, which, in this state are required to file a flight plan with the FAA.)

Now, these are not just any Sloppy Joes, these Sloppy Joes are from a NASCAR cookbook.  And that's because Memorial Day weekend is also race day weekend as Indy 500 and NSACAR drives get behind the wheel to hurtle themselves around a track at speeds in excess of 200mph.  And trust me, this is far more enjoyable to watch than standing outside, swatting at mosquitoes, tending to a grill.  That said, Andy and I were busy all day and so we missed both races. (But we caught the recaps later on so...half points awarded).

I'm not sure I have an Indiana cookbook in this house ( by the way, "Indy" stands for Indianapolis) but wouldn't you know I have two – count 'em – two NASCAR cookbooks in my house, purchased last year at Strand Bookstore in NYC.  I always like to be prepared for any occasion and see, didn't I just call that right?  You need a race car cookbook, you see me.

When it comes to car racing, while Indy Racing is the Big Daddy of them all, with the Indy 500 (500 miles) taking place every Memorial Day weekend for the past 103 years, NASCAR (National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing) should never be dismissed like a fly on your arm during a BBQ.  NASCAR's following is absolutely huge compared to Indy.  And although there are more Indy races than just the famous 500, it is a rare moment when you cannot find a NASCAR race on TV. 

And although Indy drives tend to just drive that circuit and no other, over the years, a couple of NASCAR racers ran Indy.  As my husband can spend endless hours telling you, everything about those races are different – cars, driving, driving style, etc.  But we both kind of liked the "mix and match" that took place.

My absolute favorite thing about watching NASCAR is listening to the announcer call the race.  The minute I hear commentator Larry McReynold's southern accent and Darrell Waltrip's (former champion) "boogity, boggity, boogity" catch phrase, I know that Andy has switched the TV to a NASCAR race and we are in for a fun and entertaining time. 

There was also something about this recipe that made me select it, mainly that you added two cans of Campbell's Vegetable Soup with Alphabets.  Well this is new!  (I'm not sure the soup added anything one way or the other but Andy liked it.) The other thing that sealed the deal is that this recipe was submitted by Martha Nemechek, mom to race driver Joe Nemechek, and both Martha and her husband, "Big Joe," are huge supporters of soldiers in the U.S. Army.  Martha is even pictured in the book wearing Army fatigues.  And so a non-grilled item + NASCAR + Memorial Day + Army aficionados = a great way to celebrate the first weekend of summer.  Inside.  Without bugs.

PS—Congratulations to this year's Indy 500 winner, Ryan Hunter-Reay who managed to hold off challenger (as in "hot on his tail"), Helio Castroneves by 0.060 seconds.  And Congratulations to four-time NASCAR Coca-Cola 600 winner (a/k/a "Charlotte 600"), Jimmie Johnson. Johnson took a page from the Indy race, beating out second place finished, Kevin Harvick, by 1.272 seconds.

And here I get all nervous when someone comes within 5 feet of my bumper!

Martha Nemechek's Sloppy Joes – makes 2 to 4 servings
1 pound ground beef
½ small onion, chopped
Garlic powder
½ cup ketchup
½ cup water
Two 10 ½-ounce cans Campbell's ABC vegetable soup
One 1.4-ounce packet Sloppy Joe seasoning
2-4 hamburger buns

Mix the ground beef and chopped onions in a skillet over medium heat.  Sprinkle in the garlic powder, salt and pepper to taste.  Cook until the meat is brown and drain off the liquid.

Put the meat back in the pan and add the ketchup, water, soup and seasoning packet.  Reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes.

Serve on your favorite buns and enjoy!

Ann's Note:  I had to chuckle at the instruction to "salt and pepper to taste" because the soup contained a lot of sodium as did the seasoning packet.  So I peppered only and perhaps you should, too!