always superb

Yes, that's a table made of ice.

Visit a city like Minneapolis-St. Paul in high September, and you begin to find yourself mentally packing your bags, and imagining a life for you and yours in an idyllic Midwestern wonderland.  The streets are tidy, the people are interesting and kind, and the politics are progressive, and tempered by a kind of Lutheran good sense and practicality.  Local music is good.  Beer and cheese are plentiful.

Things get a little more Darwinian in February.  That’s when you realize that not only are the people interesting and kind, they are of a hardier stock than most.  This is Little House on the Prairie country.  Here, putting food up for the winter is more than a quaint, slightly anachronistic hobby, and ice fishing is considered recreation rather than torture.

The foodways that accompany the seasons, and the pleasures they bring are at the heart of Always Superb:  Recipes for Every Occasion (2003), a collaborative effort between the Junior Leagues of Minneapolis and St. Paul.  The editors write,

Today we are far removed from life on the prairie.  We gather with our friends and families not out of a common need but a common bond formed from generations of seasonal traditions.  We may not live in a log house, but we still go to the cabin.  Food is abundant year-round, yet we welcome thick soups and hearty meals in the winter.

In that spirit, I tried to put together an autumn menu with recipes that called for root vegetables and seasonal fruits, things that were warm and hearty, without being too heavy.  And to me, that says soup, salad, homemade bread, and a fruit crisp.

This first recipe intrigued me because two of its primary ingredients, wild rice and soybeans, are two of Minnesota’s biggest crops (at the time of this cookbook’s publication, Minnesota was the nation’s second-biggest producer of wild rice and the third-biggest of soybeans), yet they’re not things I’d necessarily put together in a dish, much less a salad.

Minnesota Salad: Wild Rice and Soybeans

wildricesalad

Minnesota Salad

SALAD:

1/2 cup frozen soybeans
Salt to taste
1 cup wild rice
2 T. chopped celery
2 T. chopped apple
2 T. chopped onion
2 T. chopped carrot
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1 cup craisins

DRESSING:

1/2 cup olive oil
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup orange juice
2 t. honey
1 T. grated orange zest
1 t. salt

For the salad, cook the soybeans using the package directions; drain. Rinse under cold running water; drain. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Sprinkle with a small amount of salt. Add the rice. Simmer for 30 to 35 minutes or until tender; drain. Rinse under cold running water; drain. Combine the cooked soybeans, cooked rice, celery, apple, onion, carrots, parsley and craisins in a large bowl.

For the dressing, whisk the olive oil, vinegar, orange juice, honey, orange zest and salt together in a small bowl.

Pour the dressing over the rice salad and mix well. Chill the salad, covered, for 2 hours or longer. Serve cold.

YIELD: 6 to 8 servings

While it’s likely that your local grocery store doesn’t stock frozen soybeans, they probably do stock frozen edamame, which is…. soybeans.  These are delicious little suckers, and make a fine snack on their own with a little salt.  They remind me of a much healthier, less messy version of boiled peanuts.  As for the salad itself, it’s excellent, unusual, and has an appealing crunchiness.  It also improves after a day in the fridge.

For the next course, I made a pureed carrot soup.  Unfortunately, I have the world’s smallest and worst food processor, so this is always a challenge, and I never get the soup as silky and smooth as I’d like.  Alas.

Carrot Ginger Soup

carrotsoup

Carrot Ginger Soup

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
2 pounds carrots, peeled and sliced
2 large onions, chopped
1 1/2 t. ground ginger
1 T. grated orange zest
1/2 t. coriander
5 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup half-and-half
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste

GARNISH:

1/2 cup (2 ounces) grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup fresh parsley sprigs, or chopped parsley

Heat the butter in a large saucepan until melted. Add the carrots and onions. Cook for 15 minutes or until tender, stirring frequently. Stir in the ginger, orange zest, coriander and 2 cups of the chicken broth. Simmer for 30 minutes.

Puree the carrot mixture in a blender or food processor. Return to the saucepan. Stir in the remaining 3 cups chicken broth, milk, and half-and-half. Season with salt and pepper. Cook over medium heat until heated through.

Ladle into soup bowls. Garnish with Parmesan cheese and parsley.

YIELD: 10 to 14 servings

As everyone knows, a bowl of soup is only as good as the bread you dunk into it. I love making bread from scratch, but almost never do it. In fact, I realized as I was making this that I hadn’t even baked with yeast since I made a King Cake – and that was during Mardi Gras. So, I was a little out of practice, but things worked out pretty well all the same.

No-Knead Braided Parmesan Bread

parmesanbread2

No-Knead Braided Parmesan Bread

PARMESAN GARLIC FILLING:

1/2 cup (2 ounces) grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
3 T. snipped parsley
1/2 t. garlic powder

BREAD:

1 envelope dry yeast
1/4 cup warm (105- to 115-degree) water
1 cup lukewarm scalded milk
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, softened
1/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 t. salt
4 to 4 1/2 cups flour
1 egg yolk
1 T. water
Sesame seeds

For the filling, combine the Parmesan cheese, butter, parsley and garlic powder in a bowl and mix well.

For the bread, dissolve the yeast in 1/4 cup warm water in a large bowl. Stir in the milk, butter, sugar, eggs and salt. Stir in 1 cup of the flour. Stir in enough of the remaining flour to form a soft, sticky dough, scraping down the side of the bowl occasionally. Let rise, covered, in a warm place for 1 hour or until doubled in bulk.

Deflate the risen dough by stirring 25 times. Roll or pat into a 12 x 18-inch rectangle on a lightly floured surface. Spread the filling evening over the dough. Cut the dough into three 4 x 18-inch strips. Roll each strip into a rope, sealing the ends.

Place the dough ropes diagonally close together on a lightly greased baking sheet. Brain the ropes gently and loosely; do not stretch. Seal the ends and tuck under securely. Let rise for 30 minutes or until doubled in bulk.

parmesanbread1

Combine the egg yolk and 1 tablespoon water in a small bowl and mix well. Brush over the dough braid. Sprinkle with sesame seeds Place on the lower oven rack.

Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown and the bread sounds hollow when tapped.

YIELD: 8 to 10 servings

If I had to make this over again, I’d a) remember to sprinkle the sesame seeds over it before I baked it, and b) probably use about half as much sugar as the recipe calls for.  As is, it’s a very challah-ish bread, and the sweetness kind of overpowers the butter, cheese, and garlic.  And much as I like sugar, I’ll take butter, cheese, and garlic any day.  Still, it’s quite good, moist without being heavy, and it’s excellent toasted.

For dessert, I decided to make a fruit crisp because I’ve made a fruit crisp at least once every fall for the past decade, and I’d not yet met my fruit crisp quota.  And while I’ve made plenty with apples or mixed berries, I’d never made a pear crisp before.

Autumn Pear Crisp

pearcrisp

Autumn Pear Crisp

6 Anjou pears, chopped
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup sugar
1 T. cornstarch
1 t. cinnamon
2/3 cup flour
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 t. cinnamon
1 t. salt
6 T. chilled butter, cut into pieces
2/3 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Combine the pears and lemon juice in a large bowl and mix well.

Whisk the sugar, cornstarch and 1 teaspoon cinnamon together in a bowl. Add to the pears and toss gently to coat. Spoon into a 7 x 12-inch baking dish.

Place the flour, brown sugar, 2 teaspoons cinnamon and salt in a food processor container and pulse until mixed. Add the chilled butter pieces and pulse until mixed and chunky; do not pulse until smooth. Add the oats and pecans and pulse 2 times. Sprinkle over the pear mixture.

Bake at 375 degrees for 40 minutes or until the pears are tender and the topping is golden brown and bubbly. Cool for 20 minutes. Serve warm. You may serve this with cinnamon ice cream.

YIELD: 8 to 10 servings

I’d feared that the pears wouldn’t hold up well, and would just cook to mush.  However, between the cornstarch and the fact that I used pears that weren’t very ripe, they came out tender, and the crisp held its shape when served.  Of course, once the ice cream starts to melt over the warm crisp that’s a moot point, but also when the crisp is at its peak deliciousness.

It’s getting close to Thanksgiving, so next week, I’ll be going back to New England, to Rhode Island, where all the bad seed Pilgrims eventually settled after they got kicked out of Massachusetts.

Oh, and I should mention that the title of this post comes from the Hold Steady song “Stuck Between Stations,” an undeniably catchy tune that allows the listener to rock out while learning a thing or two about doomed American poet John Berryman in the process.

As I mentioned before, the Frenchified ’70s vibe of the Junior League of the City of New York’s New York Entertains is ideal if you’re hosting a retro ladies’ luncheon, a benefit for the Philharmonic, or perhaps a key party.  However, any cookbook that suggests cream of scallop soup for a tailgating menu just does not have its finger on the pulse of the sporting community.

Sure, it’s not trying to, so I don’t fault it for that.  And besides, I did truly enjoy reading all the menus, which were very much a product of their time, and very entertaining in that regard.  But I needed baseball-watching food this week, and as it would turn out, comfort food as well.  Things turned out poorly for my Dodgers.

While what I was able to round up wasn’t perfect, and certainly wasn’t very Manhattan at all, I did get one very good recipe out of it, and had an opportunity to pull out an old favorite.

This first recipe comes from a menu for “An Election Night Celebration for Twelve”:

Beef With Beer

Beef With Beer

Beef With Beer

6 pounds top round of beef, cut into 2-inch cubes
1/2 cup bacon drippings or peanut oil
6 cups thinly sliced onions
4 tablespoons flour
4 1/2 cups each light and dark beer
Tied in a cheesecloth: 2 teaspoons whole allspice, 2 bay leaves, 1/2 teaspoon thyme, 6 peppercorns
4 pounds whole mushroom caps
Salt, freshly ground pepper
12 to 16 slices French bread
Seeded French mustard
Butter

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Dry meat with paper towels and brown in hot drippings in a heavy pot. Remove meat and set aside. Add the onions to oil in the pot, and cook until browned, then sprinkle with flour and stir in beer. Return the meat to the pot and simmer gently, uncovered, for 25 minutes. Add the cheesecloth bag of spices, and simmer, covered, for 1 hour. Uncover, and continue cooking for 30 minutes. Add mushroom caps 20 minutes before end of cooking time. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Spread one side of the bread with mustard, and butter other side lightly. Pour beef into a deep, heavy, ovenproof casserole, put bread on top buttered side up, and put in a 375 degree oven for 20 minutes to toast lightly. Serves 12 to 14.

beefwithbeer1

Now, I’ve made many pot roasts and beef stews and beef braised in Guinness in my day, but never once did it occur to me to serve it with good mustard.  Silly, really, because nothing tastes better with tender, cut-it-with-a-spoon beef than mustard.  It’s almost a slightly more refined take on the open-face hot roast beef sandwich.

A couple of notes on the preparation.  For my dark and light beers, I used Guinness and Pilsner Urquell, but play around with your own combinations.  And we don’t care for mushrooms in any form at the Potts-McCoy house, so I omitted them.  If you’re not planning to eat all of this in one night, I might suggest only baking the beef with as much bread as you plan to eat in one sitting.  Otherwise, the bread will mush up your leftovers.

For a side dish, I made a leeks vinaigrette so utterly unremarkable and undelicious that I won’t bother posting it here.  And what I made for dessert is also sort of unremarkable – lemon squares.  But who doesn’t like a lemon square?  They remind me of bake sales and Little League games, and for my purposes, they were just the thing.

Lemon Squares

Lemon Squares

Lemon Squares

2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 pound butter (2 sticks)
1/2 cup plus 2 teaspoons confectioners’ sugar
4 eggs
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons lemon juice
Grated zest of 2 lemons
Confectioners’ sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream together 2 cups of flour, butter, and 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar. Press into a 9 by 13-inch pan. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 15 minutes, until pale gold at edges.

Mix eggs, granulated sugar, and salt, then blend in lemon juice and grated zest. Sift remaining flour and confectioners’ sugar onto egg mixture and fold in. Pour egg mixture over crust and return to oven for 30 minutes. Sift confectioners’ sugar over top and loosen edges with a spatula. Cool, then cut into squares. Makes about 48 1 1/2-inch squares.

Who can argue with that?  Keep an eye on the lemon squares in the oven, as I found mine to be a little over-browned on top when they came out, but otherwise, it’s pretty unscrew-up-able.

Since my highly invested baseball-watching has come to an end for the year (especially if the Fall Classic winds up a match-up between the odious Yankees and the villainous Philies), I just don’t know if I have the heart to pursue my MLB postseason-themed cooking for another week.  If the Angels pull it off, I will totally dust off the Junior League of Newport Beach’s cookbook.  But otherwise, next week, I’ll be looking for a cookbook from a city that doesn’t even have a baseball team, or at least, doesn’t have one that’s broken my heart in the past five years.

meet_us_in_the_kitchenThe Dodgers pulled off a sweep of the Cardinals yesterday, making them the first team to advance to the next round of postseason play, and making this week’s meal from the Junior League of St. Louis a victory meal.  As my father put it, “You’re eating their food, and they’re eating crow.”  Or as Brady put it, “The Dodgers ate the Cardinals’s lunch, so we’re eating St. Louis’s dinner.”

But enough with the gloating.  Not only do I like and respect the Cardinals as a team, but I’m quite the fan of their city.  Almost exactly halfway between Madison, Wisconsin and Memphis, two cities that we once spent a lot of time travelling between, St. Louis made a good stopping place.  Better yet, it was the home of one of our favorite people from college, a scholar and a gentleman who was always incredibly generous with his couch and his bourbon, and also knew all the best neighborhood cafes.

St. Louis is an interesting place.  Southerners think it’s a northern city.  Northerners think it’s part of the South.  The city’s culinary traditions are a product of its diverse population, which includes African Americans and the descendants of Irish, Italian, and German immigrants who came to the city in large numbers during the 19th century.  But the thing that strikes me most about St. Louis is that it’s one of the biggest cities in the country, but feels more like a loosely knit collection of small neighborhoods rather than an urban center.

And it was that last aspect of St. Louis that helped to decide my menu this week, a big city meal with a small town feel.  The kind of meal you’d make for company, if your company was more like family, something homey and comforting, but just a little bit elegant.

There were a couple of intriguing possibilities for entrees this week.  I was running them by Brady, and when I read off the name of this dish, he said, “Ooo!  That one!”

Layered Ziti with Asparagus and Prosciutto

A delicious make-ahead pasta dish suitable for company.

Layered Ziti with Asparagus and Prosciutto

Layered Ziti with Asparagus and Prosciutto

1 pound asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 medium white onion, cut into long thin strips
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 (8-ounce) package frozen green peas
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 cup white wine
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper to taste
1 pound ziti, cooked and drained
4 ounces prosciutto, minced
8 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded
2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated
Bread crumbs

Saute the asparagus, onion, garlic, and green peas in the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat until tender. Add the red pepper flakes. Saute for 4 to 5 minutes. Add the wine. Saute for 3 minutes. Add the chicken stock and cream. Cook until liquid is reduced by one third. Season with salt and pepper. Add the pasta and mix well.

Layer the pasta mixture, prosciutto, mozzarella cheese and Parmesan cheese 1/2 at a time in a baking pan greased with olive oil. Sprinkle with bread crumbs. May prepare ahead and chill, covered, until serving time. Bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes or until the top is brown and the cheeses are melted.

Serves 4

While I had mixed feelings about the peas, the ziti was otherwise delicious, with a crisp, cheesy crust and layers of vegetables, delicate sauce, and pasta beneath.  Nothing was too soggy or overcooked, and the prosciutto tastes absolutely heavenly with the mozzarella and asparagus.  I did deviate a tad from the recipe by lightly sauteeing the prosciutto in a skillet to crisp it up before layering it into the ziti.

Ever since my little sister shamed me about the lack of vegetables and greens in our meals, I’ve tried to do better.  However, this tasty side dish could almost pass for dessert.

Honey Ginger Carrots Elegante

Serve this very festive-looking dish at Thanksgiving or any other holiday.

Honey Ginger Carrots Elegante

Honey Ginger Carrots Elegante

1 pound carrots, thinly sliced
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) margarine
3 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 cup sliced almonds

Cook the carrots in 1/2 inch of boiling water in a large saucepan for 8 minutes; drain.

Combine the raisins, margarine, honey, lemon juice and ginger in a small microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on medium for 1 minute or until the margarine is melted; mix well. Add to the carrots and toss to coat. Add the almonds and toss to mix well. Spoon into a 1-quart baking dish.

I don't have a microwave, so I made the sauce stovetop.  And I loathe margarine, so I used butter.

If I wrote the SATs: microwave is to stovetop as margarine is to butter.

Bake, uncovered, at 375 degrees for 35 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Serves 4 to 6

Besides being very very pretty, these carrots are quite tasty.  The flavor of the raisins, ginger, and honey reminded me a little bit of Moroccan food, and it occurred to me that vegetarians might throw in a couple more types of vegetables and serve this over couscous as a main course.  The carrots were tender, yet firm, and despite the sweetness, the whole thing tasted very wholesome.

Instead of a dessert, I decided to make bread to go along with our meal.  It wasn’t that I was skeptical of this recipe, I just had absolutely no idea how it was supposed to work without yeast.  Would it taste like a biscuit?  A quick bread?  Would the texture be too heavy?  The result was a pleasant surprise.

Parmesan Herb Bread

This moist bread is a wonderful accompaniment to Tortellini Soup and a fresh green salad.

Parmesan Herb Bread

Parmesan Herb Bread

1 cup sour cream
1/3 cup milk
3 tablespoons butter, melted
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon minced onion
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
1 egg white, lightly beaten
Grated Parmesan cheese to taste
Italian seasoning to taste

Combine the sour cream, milk and butter in a small bowl and mix well. Combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, 1/3 cup of Parmesan cheese, onion, and 2 teaspoons of Italian seasoning in a large bowl and mix well. Add the sour cream mixture and stir until moistened. Knead on a lightly floured surface for 1 minute or until smooth. Divide the dough into 2 equal portions. Shape each portion into a round loaf. Place the loaves on a greased baking sheet. Brush the tops with egg white. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and Italian seasoning to taste. Cut an “X” 1/2 inch through the top of each loaf. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes or until golden brown.

parmesan herb bread1

Makes 2 loaves

The egg wash and cheese gives each loaf a crispy crust, and the inside, is dense and chewy, but not heavy.  It’s something like a cross between a biscuit and a cornbread, and the combination of herbs in the Italian seasoning (marjoram, thyme, rosemary, savory, sage, oregano, and basil) is quite nice.  While we enjoyed it with our meal, I can imagine it would be very, very good indeed with some kind of vegetable soup.

The whole time I’ve been cooking, eating, and writing about this meal, I’ve had the radio on in the background, and have been treated to an Angels sweep of the Red Sox, a Yankees sweep of the Twins (which is too bad because a) the Yankees are a force for evil, and b) I’ve really been eager to try out the cookbook from the Junior League of Minneapolis-St. Paul), and now, a fierce arctic battle between the Rockies and Phillies.  Seeing as I’ve already done Denver, next week, it’s looking like a meal from New York City, Orange County, or Philadelphia, if they play their cards right.

There were so many good fall recipes in the Junior League of Rochester‘s Applehood and Motherpie, that I had no choice but to make two dinners to accommodate all of them.

The first meal began with an impossibly decadent, brilliant twist on that old standby, beef stew.

Batter-Up Beef Pie

The batter bakes up to a golden, cheesy circle around the pie.

Batter-Up Beef Pie

Batter-Up Beef Pie

2 cups cooked beef, cut in 1/2 to 1-inch pieces
1/2 cup cooked onions
1 cup cooked carrots, cut in chunks
1 cup cooked potatoes, cut in chunks
1 cup beef gravy
1/4 cup butter
1 1/2 cups flour
2 t. baking powder
1 t. salt
1 1/2 cups milk
1 cup (4-ounce package) grated Cheddar cheese
1 T. dried minced onion
1 T. sugar

1. Combine beef, onions, carrots, potatoes, and gravy. Set aside.
2. Melt butter in bottom of 8-inch square baking dish in oven.
3. Combine remaining ingredients in mixing bowl. Stir until blended and pour into baking dish.
4. Pour beef mixture over batter. Do not stir.
5. Bake and serve.

Temperature: 350 degrees
Time: 60 minutes
Yield: 6 servings

Hint: Leftover beef stew can be substituted for first five ingredients.

— Priscilla L. Minster

Surprisingly, this dish is a lot more wholesome, and a lot less heavy than you might expect.  The cheesy crust is like two treats in one:  the parts on the bottom soak up the beef gravy and juices like dumplings, and the parts around the edges of the pan are crisp on the outside and tender and light inside, like good cheese biscuits.

For a side dish, I made this squash and apple casserole, which could easily pull double duty as dessert.

Baked Squash and Apple Casserole

Easy, different, with good blend of spices.

Baked Squash and Apple Casserole

Baked Squash and Apple Casserole

1 small butternut squash (2 pounds or less)
2 apples (cored, peeled, and sliced)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup cold margarine
1 T. flour
1 t. salt
1/4 t. cinnamon
1/4 t. nutmeg

1. Pare, seed, and cut squash into small slices.
2. Place squash and apple slices in oblong baking dish (7 x 11-inch).
3. Blend rest of ingredients with fork, fingers, or pastry cutter until crumbly.
4. Distribute over squash and apple. Prepare to here until ready to bake.
5. Cover and bake.

Temperature: 350 degrees
Time: 45 to 50 minutes
Yield: 6 to 8 servings

— Phyllis Connelly

I didn’t realize my camera lens had fogged up when I took this picture, so unfortunately, the photo doesn’t do justice to how pretty this dish is when it comes out of the oven.  But here’s what it looked like before I sprinkled the brown sugar crumblies over top.

squash and apple unbaked

And, of course, with that combination of butternut squash, apples, brown sugar and spices, it smells amazing.  With this and the beef pie in the oven at the same time, I would not have been the least bit surprised if a gang of trick-or-treaters had materialized on my door, and taken me on a hayride to a corn maze.

And if they had, I would have had treats ready for them.

Til McCutcheon’s Ginger Cookies

My mother’s aunt Til had a bake shop in Valois, New York in the mid-1800s. This is the ginger cookie recipe from her shop.

Til McCutcheon's Ginger Cookies (with a little tribute to former Rochesteran Emma Goldman)

Til McCutcheon's Ginger Cookies (with a little tribute to former Rochesteran Emma Goldman)

8 cups sifted flour
3 t. ginger
1 heaping teaspoon cinnamon
1 t. salt
1 cup sugar
2 cups molasses
1 cup shortening
3 t. baking soda
2/3 cup hot water
1 egg

1. Combine flour, ginger, cinnamon, and salt. Make a well in center.
2. Stir in sugar and molasses.
3. Add shortening. Pour in hot water that has been combined with soda, and mix.
4. Add egg. Stir until completely blended. Dough will be soft and sticky.
5. Chill thoroughly.
6. Roll out on floured pastry cloth or board until 1/4-inch thick. Cut with large round cookie cutter.
7. Sprinkle with sugar. For an added touch, place a dab of jam in center of each cookie. Bake on greased cookie sheet.

Temperature: 400 degrees
Time: 10 minutes
Yield: 5 dozen

Hint: These keep a long time in airtight containers.

— Bernice Bridges

My absolute favorite Junior League recipes are ones that have an interesting family history to go along with them.  If they’re over 150 years old, and delicious, too, well, that’s just icing on top.

Fittingly, it was a ginger cookie that got me into old cookbooks in the first place.  When I was 11, my parents took my sister and I on a family vacation to Colonial Williamsburg, where we learned how wheels and barrels were made in olden times (and lest you think my parents are the kind of people who substitute chocolate with carob, give oranges as Christmas presents, and force their kids to go on educational vacations, there was a trip to Virginia Beach and Busch Gardens in there, too).  I was fascinated by all of it, but my eyes really lit up when we got to the bakery, learned about Colonial kitchens, and bought ginger cookies.

When I saw that there was a Colonial cookbook for sale, AND it included the recipe for the ginger cookies I’d just eaten, I was shelling out my hard-earned lawn-mowing, house-cleaning, babysitting cash before my parents could raise an eyebrow over the fact that their preteen daughter was buying a cookbook written in whirly-scripted King’s English (e.g. “Fift the flour”), and would probably force them to choke down many an ill-fated Sally Lunn before the summer was out.

I am pleased to see that they still sell it in the Williamsburg souvenir shops.

raleighrecipesFor our second meal from Applehood and Motherpie, I made another fall recipe featuring one of my favorite flavor combinations in the universe.  If ever I were taken with the notion to open a restaurant with an overly precious name, I would call it Apple & Onion, and I would serve Batter-Up Beef Pie, Baked Squash and Apple Casserole, and this.

Apple Sausage Jumble

A piquant palate pleaser.

Apple Sausage Jumble

Apple Sausage Jumble

2 pounds Kielbasa (sausage)
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 35-ounce jar chunky applesauce
1/4 cup finely chopped onion (or 1 tablespoon dried onion flakes)

1. Cut sausage into 1/2-inch pieces.
2. Combine sugar, applesauce, and onion in an oven-proof casserole.
3. Mix in sausage pieces; bake.
4. Transfer to a chafing dish or fondue pot at serving time.

Temperature: 325 degrees
Time: 1 1/2 to 2 hours
Yield: 8 to 10 servings

— Ginny Y. Gray

Though the recipe calls for jarred applesauce, my feelings on applesauce are similar to my feelings on pie crust:  just man up and make it yourself.

There’s nothing to it – just peel, core, and dice up about 8-10 apples (Macintosh and Northern Spy are my favorite cooking apples, but Fuji or Granny Smith will do in a pinch), and cook them in a Dutch oven with a little brown sugar and cinnamon for 40 minutes.  Mash them with a potato masher, or puree in a food processor, and you’re all set.  It will make enough for this recipe, and if you’re halving it like I did, you’ll have a little applesauce leftover for lunch.

The last recipe from the Junior League of Rochester that I made this week is not technically a fall recipe, but as, technically, it’s barely fall, I figured it could slide.  Besides, I like asparagus, I like tomatoes, and I like bacon, so what’s not to like?

Asparagus-Tomato Skillet

Refreshing and light.

Asparagus-Tomato Skillet

Asparagus-Tomato Skillet

3 slices bacon
1/4 cup sliced green onions
3 T. vinegar
1 T. water
2 t. sugar
1/4 t. salt
1 1/2 pounds fresh asparagus
2 medium tomatoes

1. Cook bacon until crisp. Remove and crumble.
2. Saute onion in drippings until tender.
3. Add bacon, vinegar, water, sugar, and salt. Bring to a boil.
4. Add asparagus. Cover and cook five minutes.
5. Cut tomatoes in eighths. Add to skillet and cook, covered, for 3 minutes.
6. Serve immediately.

Yield: 6 servings

— Alice K. Smith

On Top Chef, I’ve noticed that at Judges’ Table, one of the judges (usually Gail) will sometimes remark that a dish is “really within his/her comfort zone,” and say it like that’s a bad thing.  After nearly six months of cooking things that are, for the most part, not within my comfort zone, can I just say how pleasant and refreshingly easy it was to spend this week cooking food that I knew would be delicious the second I read the recipe?

Though I grew up about three hours away from you, people of Rochester, I say to you now:  You are my kind of people.  And I like the way you cook.

bess collectionMy dear friend, Gwen, is one of my favorite people in the universe.  In addition to writing and co-editing a popular, high profile sociology blog (yes, there is such a thing), she’s an academic who can make her own pickles, herd cattle, tell a funny story better than David Sedaris, and rescue any stray animal that happens to wander into her neighborhood, even if it’s a goat.

Gwen is also no slouch in the kitchen, and has been really supportive of me throughout this project, always quick with a comment, a tip, or an encouraging word (she even edited some of my first posts).

However, Gwen is a vegetarian, and as a result, would not eat approximately 75% of the things I’ve cooked so far.  I feel bad about this.

And so, my goals for this meal were two-fold.  First, to make a couple of former First Lady Bess Truman’s recipes from the Junior Service League of Independence, Missouri’s The Bess Collection.  And second, to make something from the cookbook that my dear friend might actually enjoy cooking for herself.

So Gwen, this one’s for you.

Stuffed Vidalia Onions

Stuffed Vidalia Onions

Stuffed Vidalia Onions

4 medium Vidalia onions
2 T. oil-free Italian dressing
1/2 cup sweet red pepper, chopped
1 cup zucchini, chopped
1/2 cup soft bread crumbs
1/2 cup part-skim Mozzarella cheese, shredded
2 T. fresh parsley, minced
1/4 t. dried oregano
Dash Tabasco
Paprika, optional
Fresh parsley sprigs, optional

Peel onions. Cut a slice from the top and the bottom; chop slices and set aside.

In a large skillet, steam onions in a small amount of boiling water for 15-20 minutes or until tender. Cool. Remove center of onions, leaving shells intact. Reserve centers for use in other recipes. Set onion shells aside.

Steaming the onions

Steamy

Heat Italian dressing in medium skillet until hot. Add reserved chopped onion, red pepper, and zucchini; saute until tender. Remove from heat; stir in bread crumbs, cheese, minced parsley, oregano, and Tabasco.

Onions with centers removed and filling

Onions with centers removed and filling

Fill each shell with 1/2 cup vegetable mixture. Place in an 8-inch square baking dish coated with cooking spray. Cover and bake at 350 for 20 minutes. Uncover and bake additional 5 minutes. Garnish with paprika and parsley sprigs.

Serves 4

This dish was good, and we enjoyed it, but I think it could become great with a few minor tweaks.  Most obviously, I think it should bake longer, at a higher temperature, so that the onions can really roast and soften and caramelize a little bit.  And in the future, I’d probably skip the Italian dressing, and instead, saute the vegetables in olive oil with a few simple seasonings and herbs – salt, pepper, garlic, fresh chopped oregano and basil, and a few red pepper flakes.  Maybe I’d play around with the cheese, too – Gruyere might be nice, or parmesan.

Still, the fundamentals of the dish – sweet, veggie and cheese-stuffed onions – are sound, and it can be easily tailored to your tastes.

Next up, I prepared Bess Truman’s take on a true American standby – meatloaf.

Mrs. Truman’s Meat Loaf

Dab of butter on the peas, check.  Parsley garnish, check.  Radish roses... maybe next time.

Dab of butter on the peas, check. Parsley garnish, check. Radish roses... maybe next time.

2 pounds ground beef
2 egg yolks
4 tablespoons parsley, minced fine
2 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup bread crumbs
3 tablespoons chili sauce
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon onion juice

For Basting

1/2 cup melted butter
1 cup boiling water
Parsley and radish roses (for garnish)
Tomato sauce (can be bought in cans)
1 can frozen peas
Butter

Combine the ingredients and shape in a loaf. Butter a loaf pan, and place meat in pan. Bake in a moderate oven (350 degrees) for 1 hour, basting frequently with butter and water combination. Remove from loaf pan onto heated platter. Garnish with sprigs of parsley and radish roses. Serve with tomato sauce and green peas, to which a dab of butter is added when served.

The recipe for Stuffed Vidalia Onions said to keep the steamed centers of the onion for other recipes.  So I did.

The recipe for Stuffed Vidalia Onions suggested you keep the steamed centers of the onion for other recipes. So I did.

Serves 4

Basting a meatloaf with butter?!?  Mrs. Truman was a genius.

This slightly unorthodox method helps keep the meatloaf moist, even if you’re using a lean ground beef, and gives the top a nice color when it comes out of the oven.  I’ll also admit to being a little skeptical about the plain tomato sauce.  Where I come from, we put Heinz Ketchup on our meatloaf, as all decent, right-thinking folk do.  But I have to admit, Bess was on to something.

As meatloafs go, this one was fairly ordinary.  But ordinary is kind of what you’re shooting for with meatloaf anyways, and being ordinary has never, in recorded culinary history, kept a meatloaf from being very good, which this one was.

For dessert, I decided to test another of Bess’s favorites. Brady has been agitating of late for me to make a key lime pie. Or rather, Brady is always agitating for me to make a key lime pie. I would not be surprised if one day I came home to find he’d been disseminating inflammatory pamphlets to the cats and calling for a work stoppage unless key lime pie production is up 50% by the end of the year.

This seemed very close in spirit to my key lime pie recipe, and I figured it might satisfy his key lime jones.

Mrs. Truman’s Frozen Lemon Pie

Mrs. Truman's Frozen Lemon Pie

Mrs. Truman's Frozen Lemon Pie

2 eggs, separated
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon grated lemon rind
1 cup whipped cream
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup crumbled graham crackers

Beat egg yolks. Add lemon juice, rind and all, with two tablespoons of the sugar. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly. Cool.

Beat egg whites, add two more tablespoons of the sugar, fold into cooked mixture, then fold in whipped cream.

Line greased pie or refrigerator pan with graham cracker crumbs. Save some to sprinkle on top. Pour filling into pan and freeze.

Serves 4

Now, my contempt for the frozen pie crust has been previously documented, but ironically, I have no problem whatsoever with a store-bought graham cracker crust.  So, that’s what I used here.  I also added a little bit more sugar than the recipe calls for, but only one or two extra tablespoons.

This is a fine summer pie – light and refreshing, tart and sweet.  I had some qualms about the fact that it involved uncooked egg whites – my key lime pie recipe calls for a similar folding of egg whites into a cooked mixture, but then you bake it and put the whipped cream on top.

But then I realized that I’ve been dying to make an icebox cake for ages, and the only thing that’s stopped me is the fact that every authentic period recipe I’ve found calls for uncooked eggs.  Reading old cookbooks, it seems that our grandparents were a lot less squeamish about salmonella than we are today, and I decided that if it was good enough for the First Family, circa 1945, it was good enough for me.  The addition of the lemon juice and the freezing process also helped calm my nerves.

And look!  I’m writing this, and not dead or in any gastrointestinal distress!

Sometimes I believe that any meal that can be described thusly should be counted as a success.

bess collection“You might not have guessed it, but I’ve been crazy about you ever since we went to Sunday School together.”

— Harry Truman, in a letter to Bess Wallace, June 22, 1911

Like many people, Bess Wallace Truman died in the same town where she was born.  Like some, she came from a wealthy family.  Like a few, she married someone from a lower social class, a farmer’s son, because she loved him.  And like almost no one else, she also happened to occupy 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue along the way.

There have been unlikelier First Ladies than Bess Truman, but few I like more.

And so, despite the fact that this cookbook dedicated to Truman’s life and to her cooking, was published by the Junior Service League of Independence, Missouri, and not an affiliate of the Association of Junior Leagues International, I was too attached to it not to devote a little time to it.

Why am I so fond of Bess Truman?  One story, related by the authors of The Bess Collection, sums it up pretty well:

She once rescued her brothers’ [baseball] team from sure defeat in a sandlot game.  Losing by three runs in the last inning, the brothers recruited Bess to pinch hit with the bases loaded.  She promptly lashed a home run and got a good dress dirty in the process.

Harry and Bess, on their wedding day

Harry and Bess, on their wedding day

And then there’s her courtship with Harry, which got its start over a cake plate.  Harry had long been infatuated with Bess Wallace, and had cousins who lived across the street from her.  When one of the cousins, who knew about Harry’s crush, mentioned that this cake plate needed to go back to the Wallace’s, he volunteered for the job, and returned two hours later saying, “Well, I saw her.”  This meeting kicked off a voluminous correspondence – between 1910 and 1959, Harry wrote Bess over 1200 letters, just about all of which she saved.

She could whistle through her front teeth, she wrote down her recipes in handwriting that makes mine look like calligraphy, and she cooked just like my grandma.  Tuna noodle casserole, meatloaf, congealed salad, and ginger ale punch – if it’s in Bess’s recipe file, chances are good that my Grandma McCoy has made it for our family.

Bess Truman's recipe for coconut cookies

Bess Truman's recipe for coconut cookies

During her service as First Lady, Bess’s signature recipe was one for Ozark Pudding.  There was quite a stink when one Virginia woman claimed that she’d made Bess’s dessert for her family and they pronounced it inedible.  Then, the recipe was published with a typo in the ingredients and more people groused, at which point, Bess simply stopped giving it out.

However, she would be forever associated with the recipe.  At a 1954 dinner of the Women’s National Press Club attended by the Eisenhowers, female journalists participated in skit where “Mamie Eisenhower” was interrupted while giving instructions on how to prepare a Tex-Mex meal by a phone call from “Bess Truman,” who demanded equal time for a demonstration of her Ozark Pudding.

Ozark Pudding

1 egg
3/4 cup sugar
3 heaping T. flour (1/3 cup)
1 1/4 t. baking powder
1/8 t. salt
1/2 cup chopped apples
1/2 cup chopped nuts
1 t. vanilla
1 cup cream, whipped

Beat eggs well and add sugar, beating until light and creamy Sift flour, baking powder, salt, and add to egg mixture; blend well. Fold in apples and nuts; add vanilla. Pour into a greased paper-lined dish; bake in a slow oven (325 degrees) for 30 minutes. Serve with whipped cream.

A lifelong learner, Bess also took Spanish classes while she was First Lady.  When it was her turn to host the monthly class luncheon, she and her teacher, Professor Ramon Ramos, took over the White House kitchen and made Piccadillo, a Spanish meat and rice stew, garnished with pimento, olives, and raisins.  Mrs. Dean Acheson, among others, assisted with the kitchen prep, while Mrs. Hugo Black and Mrs. Eisenhower helped serve.

This week, I’ll be cooking a meal that includes some of Bess Truman’s favorite dishes, as well as some other recipes collected by the Junior Service League of Independence.  Having heard that Harry Truman was something of a poker fanatic, I thought about doing a menu of appetizers and hosting a poker night, but after reading more about Bess (whose cookbook it is anyways), a nice family supper seemed more in keeping with the spirit of things.

For more of Bess Truman’s recipes, in her own handwriting, visit the National Park Service Museum Collection, which includes a virtual tour of the Truman’s kitchen.