Arrrrrrrrrrrr is for Oysters

Indian Summer has finally given way to crisp chill of oyster weather.  It’s November, the third month from September through April containing an “R,” and we are well into oyster season, but it took a monster late season hurrricane/nor’easter/winter weather event to usher in the appropriate chill.  Which raises some questions:  how do oysters fare during such an extreme weather event?  Are they safely snuggled in their oysters beds while a storm rages overhead? Or are they, too, in need of disaster relief?  Will there be Blue Points for Thanksgiving?  And if not, will it be because of a lack of oysters or because the oystermen are are still pumping out their homes?

This calls for some research.  Hmm…high winds, heavy rains, and storm surge all cause problems for oyster beds.  Pounding waves can physically damage their beds; storm surge can bring damaging sedimentation; and heavy rains or ocean surge can bring about extreme changes in salinity.  Ocean surge can dramatically increase the salinity of bay oysters; storm run-off can dilute the salinity of ocean bivalves.  This does not bode well for the Blue Points this year.  Or the incredibly tasty Cape May Salts.  The Chincoteagues were spared the violent brunt of the storm, but it remains to be seen if the huge rainfall and storm water run-off impacted them.  The Susquehanna watershed is pretty big.

I partook of my first oysters of this season last month in Cape May.  The local Cape May Salts are a good briny oyster, and I thoroughly enjoyed slurping the tender, slippery, seasalty bivalves.  A couple of weeks ago we were dining in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia, and enjoyed some salty Chincoteagues.  Now our mouths are primed for oysters, and we’re pining for more, especially the Blue Points that we traditionally have on Turkey Day.

Friday night, John stopped at Gibby’s to buy oysters on his way home from work.  Being way too tired to want to shuck them himself, he bought them in a plastic container.  Normally, we prefer to eat the oyster from its own shell, but pre-shucked oysters are better than no oysters at all.  I’ve even figured out how to serve them—on deviled egg plates.  Seriously, how often do I make deviled eggs?  Once a year on Easter.  But those egg plates, shaped not-unlike an oyster shell, have twelve little scoopy spots that are just perfect for serving shell-less oysters.  I plop twelve oysters into each of the two plates and serve one to John and one to me, ideally topped with my mignonette or a bit of cocktail sauce.  Ta dah.  It sure looks nicer than a little bowl of gray oyster loogies.

(Personal note to this year’s Thanksgiving oyster initiate:  you did not just hear me compare oysters to loogies.  If you can eat tough, chewy clams, you most certainly can eat delicate oysters.)

Friday night’s oysters were fine, but they weren’t salty.  Alas, the seafood store could not attest to their origin.  They did not shuck those oysters themselves; they just accepted delivery of oyster-filled containers.  For all we know they came from the Gulf of Mexico.  They would have tasted better with a good mignonette, but I was too worn out by my Hurricane Sandy induced one-day work week to chop up the ingredients.  Anyway, by Saturday night they were destined for oyster stew, a worthy culinary fate.

John’s Oyster Stew

Here’s the recipe for John’s Oyster Stew.  The one he made Saturday was perhaps the best ever, so, even if don’t rave over a raw oyster, that does not mean I won’t rave over it in a stew.

John’s Oyster Stew

  • 1 quart shucked oysters, strained with  1 cup oyster liquid saved
  • 4 cups milk
  • 2/3  of a half-pint of heavy cream (Yeah, it’s  a weird amount but that’s what he used. I think I’d dump the whole container in, but, hey, it’s not my recipe.)
  • 6 tablespoons butter, divided
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • worcestershire to taste
  • tabasco to taste
  • fresh parsley for garnish
  • oyster crackers

Saute the strained oysters in large soup pot with the 4 T of butter until oyster edges curl and liquid has started to boil.  Add the milk, 1 cup oyster liquids (the “liquor”), and the cream.  Add the remaining butter.  Heat the stew until hot–the butter should melt, the soup should be steamy but must not boil.  Add salt, pepper, worcestershire, and tabasco to taste.  When steamy hot, remove from heat.  Serve garnished with fresh parsley and oyster crackers.

I like my stew to have a little zip to it.  John does not want to actually taste the worcestershire or the tabasco.  He wants the oyster flavor to shine, but the worcestershire and tabasco are still necessary to add interest and complexity to the milk based broth.

So support the oyster industry–go buy some (preferably local) oysters.  Or, if you really can’t swallow an oyster, show your solidarity by drinking a Flying Dog “Pearl Necklace” Oyster Stout.  I don’t know how they make beer with oysters, but this is a nice one.  Really.  And it doesn’t taste like oysters at all.  Here’s hoping–and praying– that the East Coast oystermen and their oysters make a speedy recovery from Hurricane Sandy.

Yeah, it’s made with oysters. And proceeds benefit Chesapeake Bay Oyster Restoration.

Making room for a new season of venison… and football

We know it’s hunting season when friends show up with gifts–a heart and a liver that they just harvested from a doe in our woods.  While they might normally toss them, they know that John will use them to make an amazing venison liverwurst.  The new heart and liver will join what John has in the freezer and will soon appear as John’s redneck pâté.

With bow season upon us and guys outside climbing into their tree stands, we’ve been inside noting a lack of freezer space.  We still have venison from last year.  One reason for this is that venison lends itself to stews and chilis and other slow cooking dishes that I don’t tend to cook in the summer.  However, the main reason we still have so much is because John stored it all in the man-cave freezer.  I had no idea it was down there!

Quelle bonne surprise– a freezer full of white butcher paper wrapped packages of ground meat and roasts.   Bring on the venison pasta sauce.  Let’s eat some pulled venison sandwiches. And absolutely, positively John gets busy making venison-jalapeno sausage  and Italian venison sausage.  So the freezer goes from  being full of raw venison to being full of sausage.  Not a problem.  The hunters often stop in for a beer after an evening in the woods.  A jalapeno sausage is the perfect post-hunting snack to go with a cold beer.  It’s also the perfect snack food for a Sunday afternoon Ravens game.

MomMom & little John fixing chili in their matching Ravens jerseys. Photo by Mario.

This Sunday got off to a promising start with all the kids and grandkids coming over to watch the Ravens-Eagles game.  Sixteen-month-old grandson John, whose first word was “cook,” was most eager to help whip up a huge pot of venison chili.  We were too wrapped up in the game ( and nibbling jalapeno sausage) to eat the chili until afterwards, at which point it served to console us in our loss.

Unlike liverwurst, which has a select group of devotees, chili is eaten by pretty much everyone.  It’s a good first way to get used to venison.  Substitute ground venison for ground beef and then don’t tell anyone.  They’ll love the flavor and then you can tell them what it is!

Here is one way to use up a bunch of ground venison:

Chili for a crowd

  • 5 lbs. ground venison
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 2 large cans of dark red kidney  beans
  • 2 large cans of  diced tomatoes
  • 1 can of tomato sauce
  • 1 small can of tomato paste
  • a fistful (or two) of dried oregano, crumbled
  • chili powder  to taste (for me, that would be several  tablespoonfuls or maybe half the jar)
  • cumin to taste (a little less than the chili powder)
  • salt and pepper

Before the game starts, brown the onion and the meat in a large stockpot.  Puree one can of the kidney beans (drained first) in a food processor and add the ground paste to the pot.  Add the second can of kidney beans whole (but drained).  Stir in the remaining ingredients and let simmer until half-time.  Serve with garnishes of grated cheese and sour cream or Greek yogurt.  Eat as a dip with tortilla scoops or as a dinner with corn bread.

I personally like to add green pepper with the onion, but a certain son-in-law doesn’t eat green pepper.  (Plus I didn’t have one.)  The batch of chili I made for the pathetic Ravens-Eagles game did not use my usual spices either.  I was out of chili powder so I used Black Dust Coffee & Spice Rub that I bought at Savory Spice Shop in Boulder, Colorado last June.  The interesting combination of ingredients (coffee,  black pepper, cumin, Alderwood smoked salt, brown sugar, cocoa, mustard, coriander and chipotle) made for a mellow chili.  Wanting more zip, I added some red pepper and dried jalapeno flakes.  (Don’t tell John I used his dried jalapeno!) It still wasn’t very zippy, though, and every time Kristin came upstairs the aroma tricked her into thinking that I was baking brownies.  I should have used the rest of the jar of dried jalapeno, but I might have gotten in trouble with the resident sausage maker.

For a zippier chili, I could have used Savory Spice’s Red Cloud Peak Seasoning.  I used it Saturday night to coat a round roast.  Mmmmm.  It has hot chili powder in it, but no cumin.  But I do have cumin, so I could have added that to the chili myself.

What did I learn from today’s chili?  If you want the home team to win, don’t eat mellow chili and don’t flavor your chili with seasonings from the Denver area (as good as they may be).  From now on, for Raven’s games at least,  I’ll stick with hot chili powder from the home team–McCormick.

A Tale of Haggis

Take a close look....vegetarian haggis? Isn't that an oxymoron?

Strolling through the Notting Hill market during my recent trip to London, I did not see Hugh Grant or Julia Roberts.  I did, however, see a sign in a butcher’s stall for haggis.  I had to take a picture of the sign.  Then I peered around to the front of the stall to see if there actually was haggis for sale.  Well, lo and behold, there it was.

Microwavable haggis.

I had to buy it.  Discovering that the two-slice package cost just one pound, I had to buy two.  I told the butcher that my husband has been threatening for years to make haggis.  The butcher laughed, “That’s quite a threat.”  He sold me the haggis, assuring me that it would be fine for the flight home.   And it was.  I…..um…..did not declare it when I went through customs.  (It was hermetically sealed.  It was fine.)  Come to find out, though, that until 2010 haggis was not permitted to come into the country.  It may have had something to do with mad cow disease, or perhaps U.S. Customs decided that we just have certain aesthetic standards to uphold.

The friendly haggis-selling butcher

John was delighted with my gift to him.  For all his culinary threats, he had never actually tasted haggis before.  So now he has.  As have I.  It’s basically Scottish scrapple.  He loves it.  I am happy for him.

And who knew there were so many ways to serve it?  According to the serving suggestions on the package, it is not only great as an accompaniment to bacon and eggs (although a bit redundant), it makes a great topper on baked potatoes, or for lunch served on a hamburger bun.  The inside label contains the MacSween Original Award Winning Recipe for Haggis Nachos.  Who knew haggis was so versatile?

For those uninitiated folk who are wondering what the heck haggis is, I offer the ingredients list from the MacSween (Guardians of Scotland’s National Dish) Haggis package:  lamb offal, beef fat, oatmeal, water, onion, salt, pepper, spices.  Except for that first ingredient, it sounds pretty tame.

Offal.  Hmm…a little foray into denotation and conotation is in order.  According to the Meriam-Webster dictionary, offal is “the waste or by-product of a process, esp. the viscera and trimmings of a butchered animal removed in dressing.”  That would sound an “awful” like what goes into scrapple or hotdogs.  According to our in-house haggis researcher John, the MacSween company would probably narrow that down to organ meats such as heart, liver, and lungs.  Americans throw that stuff away, but the rest of the world does eat it.  Anything that sounds that awful and is pronounced as such gets a bit of a negative connotation on this side of the Pond.

Ah, but haggis is what makes Scotland great.  (I know I was in England, but so were the Greeks, the Arabs, the Poles, the Irish, the French, and every one else on the planet.)  Haggis is so important to the Scots (and there are six million people of Scottish descent in the U.S., including the Hereford Zone), that the famous Scot poet Robert Burns wrote a poem about it.  Bear with me as we get literary…

Address To A Haggis

Fair full your honest, jolly face,

Great chieftain of the sausage race!

Above them all you take your place,

Stomach, tripe, or intestines:

Well are you worthy of a grace

As long as my arm.

(The rhymes work better in the original version, but you can get a feel for it nonetheless.  After some delightful verses about buttocks, “gushing entrails bright,” and swollen bellies, Burns goes on to compare the pathetic food that the “Master of the house” eats to the hearty haggis that the clearly superior rustic Scotch labourer eats…)

Poor devil!  see him over his trash,

As feeble as a withered rush,

His thin legs a good whip-lash,

His fist a nut;

Through bloody flood or field to dash,

O how unfit.

But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,

The trembling earth resounds his tread,

Clap in his ample fist a blade,

He will make it whistle;

And legs, and arms, and heads will crop

Like tops of thistle.

You powers, who make mankind your care,

And dish them out their bill of fare,

Old Scotland want no watery ware,

That splashes in small wooden dishes;

But if you wish her grateful prayer,

Give her a haggis!

This should really be read with a hearty voice and a Scottish accent, preferably with a glass of single malt in hand.

If you want to read the full poem, I direct you to http://www.worldburnsclub.com/poems/translations/address_t0_a_haggis.htm

In Search of London: Gin &Tonic Sorbet and Pasties

The last time I had high tea in London I was with a group of mothers and daughters.  We went to Harrod’s and had a grand time.  We ate a bazillion cute little pastries and drank so much tea that it led to Kristin’s famous bed-time utterance “My little heart is beating very fast.”  This time Kristin booked us for tea at the Kensington Hotel in Princess Di’s old neighborhood.  The Kensington is a gorgeous five star hotel that I can only afford to have tea in.  It reminds me of my grandmother Noona.  My sister Theresa would love it.  My cousin Denise would love it.  We loved it. We only had four cups of tea and a glass of champagne but Kristin’s face turned a really cute pink and I’m pretty darn sure it was not from the champagne.  She seems to be caffeine impaired.

But I’m still searching for London.  The tea sandwiches were quite British and the gin & tonic sorbet was quintessentially British, but the waiter was French.  He served us Moet champagne and concombre sandwiches with a very French accent.  At the table to my right a couple conversed in French.  Then two women were seated directly to my left and they were conversing in French.  I had a hard time eavesdropping while still maintaining an intelligent conversation with Kristin, but an awful lot of things were apparently jolie.  At the end of our delightful tea I asked Gregoire for directions to the ladies room.

“????????? said he.   (I don’t know what he said, but it was unintelligible English.)

“Les toilettes?” said I.

“Ah oui, les toilettes!” said he.

“Le français, c’est plus pratique!” said I.

“Bonne journée, Madame.”

A meal of pasties

On our way home via the Tube, we stopped at a pasty store to pick up dinner.  Pasties are not things ladies wear at the Folies Bergères in Paris.  They are individual meat pies that you can eat like a sandwich or taco,  but they are wrapped in pastry like a pie.  We got four:  a traditional Cornish meat and potato, a lamb and mint, a cheese and veggie, and  an onion cheese.  Yum.  They were just the right kind of savory for after a sweet high tea.

Little lord of the pasties

So Kristin and I are now scheming on how to make a gin & tonic sorbet.  The waiter consulted the chef for us, who said it was just a simple sorbet with gin & tonic added and processed in an ice cream maker.  Methinks there will be some experimentation going on when I get home.  The sorbet was topped with a garnish of sweet crunchy mint leaves.  After a long analytical discussion over the mint leaves (That’s part of why we were at tea for four hours, Mario), we think the leaves were dipped in a simple syrup and then frozen and crumbled over the sorbet.  More experimentation to do at home.  Ah, ah, those mint leaves would be great on so many things…vanilla ice cream, starters.

By now daughter Shelley is drooling and saying, “Mom, come home quick!”  Ok, ok, but right now I have to dash out the door to see the Greek Orthodox Good Friday procession across the street.  Tomorrow we’re off to Notting Hill in the ongoing search for London.

The little lord with his scepter--and he knows how to use it

Meditations on a Grilled Cheese Sandwich (with a recipe for Winter White Martinis)

I already ate the grilled cheese.

Sometimes you just need a grilled cheese sandwich.   You have a hunger in the pit of your stomach and you’re stressed out.  A grilled cheese sandwich is comfortably warm and creamy while also offering a most satisfying crunch.  (Crunch is important for releasing stress and anger.)

So you get it into your head that your hunger will only be satisfied by grilled cheese.  Not tuna.  Not peanut butter.  Not roasted veggies on ciabatta bread. Grilled cheese.   And you want it now.  You are so hungry you can feel your blood sugar dropping.

You know you have cheese slices because you just bought a package three days ago.  So you get out two slices of bread, observe that the butter is already soft, and open the fridge to get the cheese.

You pull out the orange square.  (This being a household that does not buy them individually wrapped.)  You attempt to peel off a slice.  You can’t find a “line” defining the slices.  You turn the block of cheese around looking for a place to peel off a slice and realize that there are no lines.  There are no slices.

Who left the cheese slices out to melt into one solid blob?

Oh, wait.  This isn’t the block of cheese slices.  This is just a block of cheddar cheese.  So you return to the fridge to get out the cheese slices.   Except that there aren’t any. No slices.  Nowhere.  Gone.  Disappeared.  Devoured by someone else!

But you must have a grilled cheese sandwich!  Nothing else will do!  Well, there is a block of cheddar.  You’ll just have to use half a muscle and slice it yourself.  So you do.  And, after an unnecessary amount of emotional angst, you enjoy an immensely satisfying creamy, crunchy sandwich.

This grilled cheese sandwich, dear readers, is a metaphor.  Oh, it was a real sandwich, but the experience of making it was paralleling my week with health insurance benefits.  When you are ten days away from a particular surgery at a particular in-network hospital with a particular in-network doctor and your insurance company says that the procedure is not in-network–well, that can get you really upset.  But they are fine with your in-network doctor providing the same procedure at a different hospital.

So you talk yourself into believing that is is just a question of making your sandwich with pre-sliced cheese or slicing it yourself.   Even though you really, really prefer pre-sliced cheese, you try really hard to adjust your attitude to accept that the other way will still result in the same positive outcome.

Ah…but then the surgical coordinator says that Hospital B won’t give your doctor a slot for your surgery.  And then the insurance company says, “Oh, you can have your surgery at Hospital A, but for out-of-network costs.”

This is like saying you can have your pre-sliced cheese but you will pay ten times as much for the experience.  This is where you start slashing your vacation and other planned expenses.  You call the insurance company to find out how expensive this could be and they tell you, “Oh, we decided that you can have it done in-network after all.”  In other words, “you can have your pre-sliced cheese and eat it, too.”

And that, dear readers, is why I needed a grilled cheese sandwich in the first place.  And a chocolate mint truffle to go with it.  To be followed this evening with a Winter White martini.  And then a good long soak in the tub with Lavendar Bath Bubbles.

If there is no Mondays at Maywood posting next week, it will be because I am at Hospital A with my in-network doctor getting my preferred procedure the way I want it.

In the meantime, you might join me in a Winter White Martini.  This drink was introduced to me by my sister-in-law Kathe, who first loved it at Bonefish Restaurant.  She made some tweaks (freezing it) and I made some tweaks (flavor) and here you go.

Winter White Martini

For one:

  • 2 shots of white cranberry juice (white cranberry-peach is ok, too)
  • 1 shot of cranberry or pomegrante vodka
  • a splash of triple sec
  • a couple of fresh whole cranberries or pomegranate pearls for garnish
  • Directions:  shake over ice and pour into martini glass.  Serve over ice.

For a crowd or to have on hand for health insurance claim emergencies:

Make  this in a half-empty cranberry juice bottle

  • fill (or empty, as the case may be!) the bottle to the almost half-way mark with white cranberry juice
  • add the vodka to the 3/4 mark
  • add some triple sec, leaving room at the top of the bottle for freezing
  • Directions:  combine the ingredients in the bottle, shake, and store in the freezer until it is slushy.  When completely frozen, it will have a texture like a granita.  Scoop into martini glasses and garnish with the cranberry or pomegranate pearls.  This is quite delightful sipped in front of a roaring fire. 

Cleaning the Chocolate Fountain

T-day 2010 with the fountain in the kitchen

A chocolate fountain really adds “wow” factor to a party.  We’ve included a chocolate fountain in our holiday parties for several years now.  If you acknowledge up front that the massive amounts of chocolate are mostly going to be tossed out and that you ought to have an empty dishwasher when you put chocolate-coated parts in it to be cleaned, then you can enjoy the extravagant fun of serving a fountain of chocolate to your guests.

However, as I write, my chocolate fountain bowl is set on “warm” to melt the 80 ounces of chocolate that solidified when the fountain was turned off Thanksgiving night.  I have never done this before.  Every Thanksgiving, no matter how late, I don my rubber gloves, empty the chocolate, rinse the fountain parts in hot water, and load them into the dishwasher.  It must be done, because I have always feared the consequences of just turning off the fountain.  This year, alas, I was just too tired to deal with it.

But Thanksgiving was over a week ago!  I know, I know.  Here’s my excuse.  First of all, I staged the fountain down in the mancave this year.  So let’s just blame that on the Ravens game.   I thought the fountain should be where the people would be.  Usually the fountain is the star attraction on the kitchen island where it reigns over pumpkin pies, sugar cookies, and Vienna Cake, and also happens to be two feet from the sink and the dishwasher.   I made a strategic error in moving it downstairs.  People watching football do not dip into chocolate fountains.  They chug beer and hoot and holler.  And then, well, I forgot it was down there.  I guess I should just be glad someone turned the thing off at the end of the game.

Emily Margaret Reber on her birth-day

Then my daughter Julie had a baby.  Minor little family event.  NOT!!! Just kidding, Julie!!!  Emily Margaret Reber was born on Tuesday, weighing in at a perfect 8 lbs 1 ounce and measuring a perfect 21 and 1/4 inches.  Nothing will knock a chocolate fountain out of the forefront of your brain like a sweet new grandbaby who looks just like her daddy and makes faces just like her mommy.  Between spending time with her and attending to my teaching, I didn’t even get around to emailing her birth announcement, so you can imagine how far back in my brain thoughts of the chocolate fountain have been.  As it is, Julie is going to be annoyed that Emily isn’t getting a full post like her cousin John did and she’s going to add this to the list of things that she will never do as a mother, like not taking pictures of the third child and accidentally throwing away her Christmas stocking.

Anyway, there’s a time commitment involved with melting eighty ounces of chocolate on “warm.”  This requires the weekend.  I designate Sunday as fountain clean-up day.

I’ll carry the fountain up to the kitchen and melt the chocolate up there, where it will be easier to clean up the mess.

If I turn it on right after church, it might be melted by dinner time.  Sunday was a little rough, though.  I had a lot of trouble focusing on the sermon (could someone please explain what the video clip about Cinderella’s lost slipper had to do with the geneology of Jesus?).  I came home and immediately passed out for a long nap.

My first thought upon awakening was, “Crap!  The fountain!”  I dashed to the mancave to discover a fountain full of melted chocolate.

“I did my part,” says John.  “I melted the chocolate for you.  Now you can do the rest.”

Thanks, John, for turning a knob.

The good news is that it worked.  Engantée*  in one-use plastic gloves, I ladled the chocolate into a disposable container and then loaded all the fountain parts into a plastic bag to carry up to the dishwasher where they are now being liberated from their chocolate coating.  Using the technique I learned from our school nurse in our annual blood-bourne pathogen seminar, I slipped off the gloves without getting any chocolate on my hands.

The bad news is that it worked.  Now I’ll never be able to convince my helpers to give once last push of energy to clean the fountain.  I can hear them now, “Just turn it off, Mom, and deal with it in December like you did last year.”

**************************************************************************************

Engantée–to have gloves on. (Sorry, but it’s just better in French.)

Heirloom Mashed Potatoes

Passing the baton...um...potato peeler...

I have asked daughter Shelley to make the mashed potato casserole for Thanksgiving.

Her response was: “You want me to make your mashed potato casserole?”

Um…yeah.  My hip hurts, and I dread the thought of standing at the sink peeling ten pounds of potatoes and then standing at the counter mashing them.  And for those of you thinking, “Hey, just sit on a stool”–really, that is harder on the back than standing is on the hip.  Yes, I know I’m announcing geezerdom, but that’s just how it is this year and your turn is coming, so zip your lip.

But here’s my real point.  At some point, someone (nephews Andrew and Brendan) designated my mashed potato casserole as  Aunt Kathy’s special, classic, traditional, gotta-have-it-on-Thanksgiving dish.  Shelley feels entrusted with the honor of making it this year, like I’m passing it along to the next generation.

Really?

It’s just mashed potatoes.  It’s a recipe I found in Cooking Light a few years ago and tried because it was a way to have mashed potatoes prepared in advance of Turkey Day.   They also happen to be low-fat and absolutely yummy.  I quadrupled or quintupled the recipe to feed a crowd of forty and, ta-da, it’s now a family heirloom recipe.

Really?

Heirloom  recipes are passed from one generation to the next… Oh.

You get heirloom recipes from people who are grandmothers… Oh.

But, heirloom recipes are really old and came over with the Pilgrims on the Mayflower or, according to an international student at our school, the Titanic.  Well, maybe not so much.  My mother’s heirloom recipe for Vienna Cake was one she started making from her Fanny Farmer’s Cookbook.  My grandmother’s famous raisin bread recipe was clipped from the newspaper.

Heirloom recipes are also enshrouded with the mystique that no one can make them like the originator or  the designated heir to the recipe.   Furthermore, no one has permission to make them except the originator or the designated heir to the recipe.  Some people protect their recipes because they want to be needed.  Others like the honor of being recognized for excellence. For whatever reason, heirloom recipes are supposedly closely guarded family secrets.

Secret or not, eventually heirloom recipes get passed along, even if one has to steal the deceased cook’s recipe file.  But I propose to you that the Number One reason for passing down an heirloom recipe is this:  The cook is too daggone tired to do it!

Here’s Aunt Kathy’s Famous Mashed Potato Casserole recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 10 lbs. russet baking pototoes, peeled and cut into small pieces
  • 5    8 oz. packages of fat-free cream cheese
  • 40 oz. fat free plain yogurt (in 8 oz. containers, that’s 5!)
  • 2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 1 stick of butter
  • paprika

Directions:

Cook the potatoes, covered in water, in a stockpot until very soft (about 20 minutes).  Drain.  Return the potatoes to the nice warm cooking pot and add the cream cheese, yogurt, garlic powder, and salt.  Mash well and then beat well with a mixer.  (This is too much to fit into a stand mixer, so it’s best to use the cooking pot and a hand mixer.)

Spray  2 extra-large  (14 x 10) baking dishes with cooking spray.   Spoon the potato mixture into each.  Melt the butter and drizzle over both casseroles.  Sprinkle paprika on top.

(Note: I do not recommend trying aluminum disposable pans for this.  The potatoes are runny when they come out of the oven, and a disposable pan may not be sturdy enough.)

Cover the casseroles with plastic wrap and store in fridge.

The next day, remove the casseroles from the fridge early enough (30 minutes) that they are not cold when they go into the oven.  (Pyrex does indeed crack!).  Cook in preheated 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes or until hot and bubbly.

Do not expect leftovers.

Friday Night at the Hunting Lodge

I must begin by saying that we do not run a hunting lodge, bed-and-breakfast, boarding house, retreat center, target practice range, catering service, or wedding reception venue.  It just feels that way.  If we really were doing all those things I would not have to limp into work everyday and deal with sleepy teenagers who are completely unproductive until the end of quarter when they will literally interrupt a life-and-death conversation to ask for extra credit points.   So I resist the urge to beat the student over the head with my cane until I can drive my weary self home, where the hills are alive with the sound of…black powder rifles.

We’re full swing into hunting season here at Maywood.  That means the Lodge is open and busy.  We don’t take reservations.  This is strictly a pop-in-if-the-lights-are-on place. (Leaving me this option: The lights are OFF but somebody’s home.)   The Lodge mainly acts as a post-hunting bar, although I must say it’s a classy one–no dead animals on the walls quite yet.  We’re not full-service.  There’s always coffee and beer, but alas, soda is hard to come by. ( I keep forgetting that the lads are hunting with their dads now and they are too young for beer.)  We don’t serve dinner, but snacks are sometimes available.  It gets a little awkward when hunters show up as I’m serving dinner, which is often the case on Fridays.

Last Friday night the place was hopping.  Everyone was out here: Mike and Tim and their boys and cousin Don.  John got a tender doe, Don gutted it, and they all came down to the mancave to tell their hunting tales over a cold drink while having text message arguments with their wives.

“We just popped in to have a quick beer.”

“I know what that means!  You’ll be there another hour!”

This particular Friday I had planned to cook up a big batch of corn chowder.  While John and the others were off in various corners of the woods, I busied myself in the kitchen.  When they all came in, there was a huge stockpot of soup ready to eat.   Shelley and I sat on the sofa with our bowls of chowder.  The lads entertained Harper with new phone apps and the old guys gathered ’round the bar slurping chowder and brewskis and out-yapping each other.  It was fun.

And I won the amazing wife award for pulling off a delicious soup at the end of a grueling week–just to make John happy.  I’ll tell ya…it’s amazing what the right pain meds can do for you.

Here’s the chowder recipe.  I got the original recipe from Allrecipes but have made some changes.  The original recipe was rather bland.  It truly does make full stockpot of chowder.  After feeding six adults, I still had plenty to tuck away in the freezer.

Corn Chowder

2 lbs of  bacon, cooked til crispy and then chopped.  (Or you could chop and then cook til crispy)  Set aside some of the bacon to use as a garnish.

1 onion, chopped and cooked in bacon grease til translucent

4 large baking potatoes, peeled, diced, and boiled til soft ( just barely cover the potatoes with water to cook, and save the water to add to the soup)

3 cans of creamed corn ( I used creamed corn I had frozen from summer corn–about 6 ears worth.  If using plain corn, I would increase the flour and a bit of bacon grease with the onions in the soup.)

1/4 cup flour

8 cups  milk

fresh dried thyme leaves

Tabasco sauce

salt and pepper

Heat the cooked onions and the flour in a stockpot until hot and blended.  Add the milk, and heat until hot and steamy.  Mash 1/2 the potatoes and stir them into the milk along with the potato water.  Add the remaining potato chunks, the corn,  the bacon, a fistful of crumbled thyme leaves, a few shakes of Tabasco sauce, and salt and pepper to taste.  Simmer to allow the flavors to blend.  Stir frequently or the milk will burn on the bottom of the pot.  Serve garnished with remaining bacon pieces.

Under less fatiguing circumstances, I would serve this with a fresh sweet cornbread and crispy salad.

What do you do with pumpkin seeds?

Pumpkin seed donors

Here’s the dilemma du jour.  Do you have to soak pumpkin seeds before roasting them?  I have toasted them straight from the pumpkin with resulting tough, chewy seeds.  Daughter Shelley, culinary queen in her own right, has either soaked them overnight or boiled them in salt water, both yielding excellent results.  Friday night she was too daggone tired from carving pumpkins to bother with soaking.  She took  a risk, eliminated the pre-soak, and the next morning I could not resist eating her pumpkin seeds for breakfast.  Delicately crisp and addictively salty, they actually went well with my morning coffee–not that I’m planning on doing that very often.  (A pumpkin muffin would be more to my liking!)

So here’s a question.  An interactive show-me-you-care survey.

Since this is jack-o-lantern week and dear readers will have a plethora of pumpkin seeds on and in their hands, here is how Shelley creates pumpkin seed magic at our house:

1.  Cut off the top of the pumpkin.

2.  Get a kid to scoop out the insides.  Boys are preferred because they don’t mind getting their hands all goopy.

3.  (This is optional from the seed standpoint, but since the seeds are really the optional part, do this.)  Get the kid to draw a jack-o-lantern template and then you, the grown-up, carve it into the face of the pumpkin.  If the kid has recently had visits from the tooth fairy, the jack-o-lantern should resemble the kid.

4.  Ok…the seeds.  Rinse them in a colander, picking off the goopy pumpkin innards.

5.  Put the seeds on a paper towel.  Blot the seeds with more paper towels to absorb the water.

6.  Move the seeds to a cookie sheet coated in olive oil. Sprinkle with more olive oil and sea salt.  You can add other seasonings if you like–Old Bay, chili powder, curry powder, etc.

7. Roast in the oven at 375 degrees, stirring occasionally until the seeds are golden and crunchy, about 10 minutes.

8.  Remove from oven.  Sprinkle with more seasoning.  Cool. 

9.  Store in an air-tight container.

Just for the record, there will not be any handmade pumpkin parchment place cards at our Thanksgiving.  But if you are planning on doing so, you can skip the Old Bay seasoning when you roast your seeds.

Feed me!

This is a shout-out to Soup’r Natural on York Road in Hereford.  (And a thank you for the thank you from neighbors Glenn and Kelly!) I’m still thinking fond thoughts about a meal we had there over a week ago.  When you consider that I can’t remember what I had for lunch today or even what I’m currently wearing, that’s really saying something.

I am a believer in home-cooking.  Somewhere along the way, life got ridiculously complicated and my energy levels dropped and some nights the thought of cleaning up dinner just does me in.  Pizza has its place and a juicy rotisserie chicken from Graul’s can often really do the trick, but there are nights when I just want someone to feed me food like I would make (or better!) and clean it all up.  And after a long commute home, I don’t want to drive to Cockeysville or Shrewsbury to eat dinner.

One recent frazzled evening, John and I decided to use a gift certificate we had been given to Soup’r Natural.  First off, it was so nice to drive just a couple of miles.  Woo hoo!  Next, the clean timber aroma of the restaurant naturally made us loghome dwellers feel right at home.  And then the food just made us really happy.

John was quite content with his beef bourgignon.  It was nice and manly for him.  I ordered three specials of the day: tomato tart, spaghetti squash, and cranberry bread pudding.  Since this is my blog and because I didn’t really pay attention to John’s food, I’m going to gush about what I ate.   This will sound silly, but the tart was very cheesy and tomato-ey.  It began with a really good tomato, seasoned with fresh herbs.  I know they were fresh because the herb gardens, growing all my favorite herbs, are right outside the building.  The spaghetti squash was served in the skin, topped on one half with very nutty pesto and on the other half with a marinara sauce.   Piping hot and  very tender, the squash flaked easily with the fork.  And then the bread pudding…well, cranberries are just the thing to add pop to a typically heavy dessert.  Yum, yum, yum…I love cranberries.

I think this meal resonated so deeply with me because when life gets stressful, we eat poorly.  Restaurants do not typically help.  My body wanted vegetables and the vegetables were the stars of my meal.  (John, of course, wanted meat and meat was the star of his meal, too. )  So the food made my body happy and the ambiance made my soul happy.  My wallet was pretty happy too.

A notice out front clued us in that we could have brought a bottle of wine and we saw other diners enjoying their wine with their meals.  We’ll keep that in mind for next time.  Troyers’ is just a stone’s throw away.