Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Best Pecan Pie

There's a pecan pie in my oven. I can only hope that it'll come out like one of Grandma's.

I apologize for letting this blog sit idle for so long, but things have been busy lately and cooking has mostly consisted of easy things from sources like Everyday Food or things I've already cooked here. Hopefully, that'll change soon. I'm sorry that I couldn't offer this recipe in time for Thanksgiving, but I really didn't need two, and I didn't want to let one sit for days before Thursday's feast. Christmas, perhaps?

In any case, this is a recipe that Grandma was definitely known for, despite the fact that I believe she got the recipe from someone else. The idea of not having her pecan pie for Thanksgiving or Christmas was heresy. I even convinced her to make one for me to take back to school with me during my freshman year in college, and if you'd blinked, you'd have missed it, it went so quickly. If the bean salad is her best recipe, this one is a very, very close second (and I'd understand anyone who would switch the two!).

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Kidney Bean Salad

I am about to share with you the single best recipe in my grandmother's box.

Well, except for the part where it's not actually in the box. It's on my hard drive. And I wouldn't have it at all if I hadn't recognized, maybe ten years ago, that one day, Gma wouldn't be around to make the stuff for me, and that I was therefore going to badger her until she wrote the recipe down. She never, ever used one, so I'm sure it was a pain to figure it all out and send it to me, but the beauty of Grandchild Immunity is that you can get away with making a pest of yourself until you get what you want, or in this case, need. I exaggerate not at all when I say that I would not want to live with the knowledge that I would never, ever have Grandma's kidney bean salad again. Fortunately, this unthinkably bleak future never came to pass.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Texas Hot Weiners

Just when you thought I'd abandoned this project, I'm back! I've had a tough time this summer coming up with recipes that wouldn't go to waste if I made them for myself, hence the delay. More on that later.

This is one of those recipes that may only appeal to people who've grown up with it, though I don't think it's too far off the beaten path. Wikipedia, if it's to be believed, claims that the Texas Hot Weiner was invented in Altoona, PA in 1918 and in Paterson, NJ in 1920. I can't speak to that, but I can say that I've been eating these hot dogs since I was a kid, and now that I live in New Jersey and only get back to York about once a year, I'd completely forgotten about them. Until I was in town a week and a half ago, that is.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Blueberry Pudding

Here’s a recipe that tends to confuse my friends who grew up with Bill Cosby’s ads for Jell-O pudding. It’s not like what most of us in the US think of as a pudding at all, but that’s what it’s called nonetheless. A quick trip to Google reveals that this is far from the only recipe for a cake-type blueberry pudding, but most of them look more elaborate than Grandma’s version. I’m not too surprised—this is a Pennsylvania Dutch recipe if ever there was one, and we’re good at food that’s good, filling, and really quite simple.

Each summer, Gma would issue an invitation to come over for either blueberry or cherry pudding for dinner one night. (I’d love to make a cherry pudding as well, but have had trouble finding sour cherries, which makes that difficult.) We’d pile into the car and head over for this annual treat. There are several recipes for either cherry or blueberry pudding in her recipe box, but I went with the one that says, “best one” in the corner. 

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Yaki Soba

If you're looking at the title of this post and thinking that it sounds a little off for this blog, you're right. Yaki soba is very definitely not anything my grandmother, or her mother, would have recognized. It is, however, my favorite dish from my favorite UK restaurant, Wagamama (which now has locations in Boston and Washington, DC--why nothing in New York I still don't understand!). Wagamama takes Japanese cuisine and puts its own spin on it. Since I have to travel pretty far to get my grubby mitts on the real thing, I have both Wagamama cookbooks, but I never had the nerve to try making yaki soba myself until two things happened:

1. I found beni shoga--also known as pickled red ginger--at my local Asian market.
2. I had a houseguest from China who loves to cook.

Yaki soba isn't Chinese, of course--it's very definitely Japanese--but I figured an Asian cook would take to it more naturally than I might. In the end, it was relatively simple and I probably should have been brave enough to give it a whirl on my own. It was more fun to do it this way, though.

Without further ado, I present the recipe from Wagamama: The Way of the Noodle (which has a recipe looks more accurate to my experience than the Wagamama cookbook does--the recipes are, for some reason, not the same, and I can say without hesitation that sushi ginger is not only NOT the same as beni shoga, but would be vastly inferior in this recipe). It's now out of print, from the look of things, probably superceded by the later cookbook.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Deep Dish Tuna Pie

It's been a month since my last post, which would be hard to believe if I hadn't spent it wrapping up two part time jobs in the last two weeks of April so I could start a new full-time gig at the beginning of this month. I also find it more fun to cook when friends come over, and it's been a few weeks since we last got together. Tonight, however, everyone was here and I decided to tackle the Deep Dish Tuna Pie.

I don't ever remember Grandma making this. I don't really remember anything like it, either, but I could just be forgetting. I picked it because it looked pretty straightforward, I had most of the ingredients on hand, and I was thrilled to find something that looked good that wasn't a cake or a cookie. In all honesty, that's the largest section in this recipe box, and attempting to alternate those recipes with things that aren't, say, loaded with sugar can be a challenge. So this recipe looked perfect when I found it a few nights ago. It's clipped out of a newspaper, and while I made a few minor modifications, I pretty much followed the recipe as it's laid out.

Deep Dish Tuna Pie

1 can (1 pound) peas
1 can cream of celery soup
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon each pepper and thyme
1 can (4 oz.) pimiento, diced
3 cans tuna in vegetable oil
1/2 cup milk
1 cup prepared biscuit mix
1 cup grated process American cheese

Drain liquid from peas; reserve 1/2 cup. Combine reserved liquid with undiluted soup, salt, pepper, and thyme in saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, add drained peas, pimiento, and tuna. Add milk to biscuit mix. Stir with fork to make soft dough. Turn tuna-vegetable mixture into a 2-quart casserole. Spread biscuit dough over top. Sprinkle with grated cheese. Bake in a moderately hote oven (400F) 20 minutes. Serves 6.

I have to say that unless I am feeling especially nostalgic for the elementary school lunches of my childhood, I don't eat canned peas. I bought a 1-pound bag of the frozen variety instead and eyeballed about how many I might need. I thawed about 2/3 of the bag and used slightly less than that when I actually added them to the mixture. You'll know when it looks about right. I also only used one can of tuna in oil, just in case it actually made a difference (I don't think it does). And since I didn't have liquid to reserve from the peas that weren't canned, I mixed water and milk to make 1/2 cup instead. Can't imagine that made a big difference, either. Finally, the idea of grated American cheese really made me raise my eyebrows, so I used a mix of various New England sharp cheddar cheeses instead, which I'm sure tasted a whole lot better than American would have. (Does anyone actually know what American cheese is? Aside from something that I only use in grilled cheese or cheeseburgers?) I didn't bother to measure it--I just sprinkled it on top until it looked fairly well covered.

Finally, I'm not really sure who might be able to spread that dough on top of something that is essentially liquid, but I sure wasn't seeing how that idea didn't completely defy the laws of physics, so I didn't even try. I parceled it out by teaspoons, dropping it until I'd pretty much covered the top. That worked pretty well and I'm sure was less frustrating (and less messy!) than the alternative.

All told, we all thought this recipe came out quite well, and it really takes no time to put it together and bake it. I probably spent more time looking for a dish that looked like it would hold two quarts (not my trusty 8x8 pan this time!) than I did throwing it all together, so it'd be a great, easy weeknight main dish.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Absolute culinary disaster

Or...Sugar Cakes: The Nightmare. (Where's Gordon Ramsay when you need him?)

I always thought that sugar cakes were a Pennsylvania Dutch treat, so you can imagine my shock a few years ago when I asked the folks at the local Amish market (we apparently import actual Amish folks from Ronks, PA into this part of New Jersey to provide us with things like shoo-fly pie and whoopie pies) about them, and got looks that implied I had begun to channel spirits in Arabic. How could they not know about sugar cakes??

I've since concluded that sugar cakes, as I know them, must be a York County phenomenon. Lancaster has apparently never heard of them (Ronks is in Lancaster County). Neither has Linda, who grew up not far from Allentown. And alas, thanks to the aforementioned culinary disaster, I have no photographic evidence to demonstrate just what I'm talking about, so I shall have to describe them and hope for the best. (I can't even find any photos online. Rats!)

The only way I know of to describe a sugar cake is to borrow from the humble (but delicious) whoopie pie. If you're familiar with a whoopie pie, you know that it's sort of like an overgrown Oreo, where the wafers are actually small individual cakes, flat on one side and somewhat domed on the top. In between, there's a creamy filling. (If you're not from areas that have whoopie pies, the first thing I need you to understand is that these are NOT MOON PIES. They are nothing alike. Not even a little. For one, absolutely no marshmallow is harmed in the making of a whoopie pie. For another, whoopie pies look like this. Nabisco totally swiped the idea and now provides a super-processed and preservatived shelf version that they call Cakesters.)

Sugar cakes are like the cake part of the whoopie pie, only without the cocoa. They're slightly yellow, pack a bit of a vanilla hit, and are domed. They usually have granulated sugar sprinkled on the top.

Linda was curious about these treats, having heard me mention them on many occasions, and ventured forth to help concoct them. Little did she know what awaited her.

Gma's recipe is one cut out of the local newspaper. Bear's Department Store was a fixture in downtown York, right on the Square, until I was a small child (I barely remember it), and it was famous for its cafeteria. Gma clipped the recipe for Bear's sugar cakes and stuck it in her box, where I found it. It's not complicated--flour, sugar, vanilla, buttermilk, baking powder, baking soda in a little vinegar...what could possibly go wrong?

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Miss Snell's Chocolate Cake

It's been ages since I've updated, and I apologize for that--a new part-time job has eaten into my evenings and weekends, making it more difficult to find time to post, much less do the actual cooking! I'm back, though, with a real family recipe...sort of.

Janis Snell was a math teacher at my high school. I had her Algebra II class a few years before she retired; my dad had her for Trig shortly after she started there. By the time I got to York Suburban High School, she was an institution, and most of the kids were scared of her (and some flat out hated her). I, on the other hand, was doubly blessed by fate: not only did I land in a class with only 7 other students (her other Alg. II class had nearly 30), but I'd also been hearing very affectionate stories about her my entire life. She probably won me over the first time I heard her refer to the teachers on morning duty, who wouldn't let you in to see a teacher without a note, which you couldn't get because you didn't know the night before that you might need it, as "the gestapo." By the time I went off to college, she'd saved me from the heinous fate of trying to teach myself calculus from a college textbook over the summer, and I was forever in her debt.

When I got to the high school, even the kids who didn't like her were in awe of Snell Fudge. You knew you'd arrived if you were awarded with a box, either peanut butter or chocolate peanut butter. I remember the day the football team won the district championship and a special pep rally had been called to celebrate. In walked Miss Snell with a tray loaded with boxes of fudge. The whole place erupted. Back when my dad was her student, though, she was known for her chocolate cake. I couldn't figure out what was the matter with him when he first mentioned it, figuring that surely he was confused and meant chocolate fudge, but no, it was cake, as I discovered the day that I went in for help after school and was told, "Well, it seems I'm probably not going to turn you into a mathematician, so I might as well turn you into a cook instead." I walked home with a copy of the chocolate cake recipe. When I told my parents, you'd have thought she'd given me the Holy Grail instead.

My copy of this recipe is long gone, but Grandma had it in her box, and I couldn't resist giving it a whirl. The last time I'd made it was about 20 years ago, so this was a lot like making it for the first time. I followed the recipe exactly except for two things. I used Smart Balance rather than shortening, mostly because my shortening is ancient and should be tossed, though I also hear the word "shortening" and swear I can feel my arteries harden. I also, after blinking a few times in disbelief at the recipe as written, did not mix the dry ingredients into the wet ones. I just couldn't imagine that I wouldn't end up with very lumpy batter, so I mixed wet into dry, which worked just fine. (I basically kept wet with wet and dry with dry despite the directions, so the baking powder/soda went in with the flour and the vanilla went into the liquid before I mixed the two together.) The recipe doesn't specify how big the pan should be, but I was pretty sure we had used an 8x8 pan before, so that's what I went with. It worked pretty well, though I was worried about halfway through the baking that it was going to overflow the dish and make a royal mess. It turned out to be just perfect, though it did settle a bit in the middle.

Since I scanned this recipe for a friend, I'm going to include the scan here. The recipe is typed up below.

Miss Snell's Chocolate Cake

1 egg
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons shortening
4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) cocoa
dash of salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon vanilla

Cream first four items, then put in liquid and add flour and vanilla. Bake for 30 minutes at 350.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Fasnacht Day!

Now, this is a true example of Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine. It seems to have come from the Swiss rather than the Germans, but in the US, you'll have a tough time finding a fasnacht outside of PA Dutch country. (Believe me, once a year I'd give an eye tooth to find one here in Jersey, and all I get in response is a weird look from people who think I've just begun speaking in tongues.)

Fasnachts are similar to doughnuts, but are potato based. They can be made with or without holes. As with many other foods traditional to Shrove Tuesday, they were made to use up the ingredients that would not be used during Lent (in this case, lard). When I was a kid, we'd always get fasnachts on Shrove Tuesday; occasionally, they'd even have them on hand for school lunches. I have a very vague recollection of making them with my great-grandmother (not Sweetie--this one would be Gpa's mother), but if I was indeed only about three, as noted below, that certainly would explain why I don't recall it very clearly.

When I was in Nothern Ireland in 1996, I asked my mother to send me the recipe, figuring that I could make them for the day, just for fun. Then she sent the recipe and I found out it would make about 12 dozen, which was a lot even when you had seven people in the house, especially since they are, as my mom calls them, "little potato paperweights." That was the end of that idea.

I haven't had one of these in years, and would dearly love to make some, in keeping with the spirit of this blog, but I am but one lone woman, and there's no way I can handle even half of a recipe like this on my own. Alas, I can provide none of my own photos, though the links above will get you to a few, but I present the recipe anyway, for those of you more adventurous (and less concerned about appropriate Shrove Tuesday timing) than I.

And with that, I turn you over to my mother's email from 14 years ago, which contains some details about the recipe, some backstory about making them, and her own sense of humor, to boot. :)

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Egg and Olive

Egg and Olive is an old family favorite, and a very easy recipe. It's very regional--not just PA Dutch, but a subset thereof. It's popular in York County, and Google reveals that you can find it over in Lancaster, too, but Linda, who is from the Allentown area, has never heard of it. I've loved it since I was a kid, and am surprised at how violent the reaction I sometimes get from people who have never heard of it. I suppose the idea of adding olives and mustard to egg salad must sound strange if you didn't grow up with it, but it's a favorite in our family for as long as I can remember. I remember many occasions when I begged grandma to make some for me, and was very excited when she first showed me how. You can get this in many small restaurants in York County, but none of them ever served a version that was quite as good as hers. (Even in my own family, there have been disputes over the proper preparation of this dish. I confess, I'm a purist,b ut more on that later.)

This recipe, like many others, is one that Grandma made without a recipe. Fortunately, it's a very simple recipe, and it can be adjusted to taste. That said, it may be a little bit difficult for me to convey how much of any ingredient we need. I will do my best.

Egg and Olive

Hard boiled eggs (since I'm making this just for myself, I used six)
yellow prepared mustard (French's, Plochman's, etc.)
Spanish salad olives

I've discovered that the best way to get hard boil eggs without a green edge on the yolk is to put them in a pot of cold water, bring them to a boil, turn off the heat and cover them for 15 minutes once they reach the boil, and put them in ice water at the end of the 15 minutes. I've never had a problem with this method.

I used six eggs since I only wanted a small quantity. After peeling the eggs, you need to mash them with a fork. This is where I use Grandma's black fork, though I'm sure a regular dinner fork would yield similar results. My dad prefers to use an egg slicer, but I find that it makes the end result runny. I mash up the eggs into fairly small bits, which means that the mayonnaise and mustard things together better.

I used 1/4 cup of mayonnaise today. It might have been a little bit too much, but since I was trying to measure ingredients, that's where I started. I used a little less than that amount of mustard. Grandma said to me at least once that she used the mustard for color, which always seemed a bit odd to me considering that you are already going to get a yellow result. I added enough so that a hint of the flavor came through.

The difficult thing about this recipe is that the flavors don't really mingle until they've sat together for a while. That makes it hard to judge whether or not you've used enough of anything, or maybe too much. The nice thing is that you can always add another egg if you have too much of something else. Mostly, though, you do the best you can and test it a few hours later, or even the next day, and find out for sure.

I added a little bit more than 1/4 cup of olives. I always buy salad olives because they're already in pieces. This time, I noticed that they essentially seem to be sliced; in the past, they always seemed to be in more random pieces, as if this was the way the manufacturer had chosen to sell olives that were not whole and could not be neatly sliced. I prefer the olives a bit more uneven in this recipe, so I got out my Santoku knife and gave them a rough chop before I added them. Like everything else in this recipe, you can add as many or as few as you like.

In a few hours, I'll have some of this for dinner. It makes a great sandwich. You could probably also use it to make some sort of hors d'oeuvres. Either way, if the idea of green olives in your egg salad doesn't offend your palate, give it a try!

Sunday, January 31, 2010

(Yorktowne) Corn Pudding

The corn pudding is in the oven as I start this post, so I will go back in time a little bit and tell you how I put it together. This is not a recipe I remember Gma making, and the handwriting on the card is not hers. It says (Yorktowne) in the corner, which makes me suspect that it's from the Yorktowne Hotel in downtown York. If so, it was probably a popular dish there, and getting the recipe might have been something of a challenge. (The Yorktowne's restaurants, especially the Commonwealth Room, are still considered some of the best in York.) I admit that this one word is what intrigued me more than anything else about the recipe, and made me decide that I had to try it.

Corn Pudding

1 lb. corn
1 pint half-and-half cream and milk (less milk)
4 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons butter
salt to taste

Cook corn and drain. Grind in food grinder. Beat eggs and cream or milk and melted butter and salt. Dissolve cornstarch in small amount of the cream. Add along with sugar. Combine above with corn and put in casserole. Place casserole in pan of hot water which should be 1 inch deep, and bake in 350 oven for one hour or until firm.

Details after the jump.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Grinding food

This weekend, I want to make a corn pudding recipe that I don't ever remember Gma making, but is in her recipe box just the same. I was going to make it today, but spent the whole day cleaning and am just exhausted, so it'll have to be tomorrow. It's a pretty straightforward recipe, but after you cook the corn, you're supposed to grind it.

How many of us have food grinders these days? Aside from the KitchenAid mixer attachment, I don't recall ever seeing them in a store. I do remember my mother grinding vegetables to make baby food for my brother way back in the mid-70s, but beyond that? No clue. If Gma had one, she must have stopped using it by the time I was old enough to hang out in the kitchen. Either that, or I've just forgotten it.

I assume I can put the corn in a food processor and get roughly the same result, but that part will definitely be an experiment in pulsing, I suspect. I don't want to end up with corn puree, after all, but judging how big the bits should be may come as a challenge. Any suggestions?

This is not the only recipe in the box that tells you to grind an ingredient or two, which makes me wonder what the history of the food grinder is. Is it basically the early version of a food processor, or was there something else to it? Another reason? I was surprised to see how often it came up in the recipe box, so if anyone out there knows anything about grinding food in the old days, I'm all ears!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Dry Beef Casserole, Part Two

So, the moment of truth arrived. First, we took the casserole out of the fridge and let it sit for about an hour so it would be somewhere near room temperature when we put it in the oven. I used to work at a Pfaltzgraff store, and distinctly recall the stories of people who would complain that we said you could freeze the stoneware and put it in the oven, and couldn't understand that going straight from freezer to preheated oven could very well be why the casserole cracked. Even though this was only in the fridge, I still decided it'd be best to let it warm up a bit, and to put it in the oven while it was still preheating. When I took it out of the fridge, the liquid had largely soaked into the macaroni, as you can see.

I dusted it with bread crumbs and topped it with a thin layer of cheese, just for fun and to give it a little crunch. It was in perhaps a bit too long for that extra topping, so while the cheese didn't burn, it was starting to flirt with disaster. Nonetheless, it was quite good. Next time I might wait to add the cheese five or ten minutes before it's finished cooking.

The finished product was much as I remembered. The idea of including hard-boiled eggs in a casserole is a bit odd on paper, and yet it works quite well in practice. Linda suggested we let it sit for a few minutes before we dished it out, but I suspect three minutes wasn't quite enough. Because there's not much to hold it all together, it was a bit messy to dish out. After it cooled, the pieces came out quite well, so it seems I should have left it in the pan a bit longer. Still, not a bad main dish. And while I don't think it's traditional Pennsylvania Dutch (though I could be wrong), it still fits in that there's nothing green involved, unless you count that tiny bit of onion.

As a fast, cheap, easy dish you can prepare for a no-fuss supper the following day, it's tough to beat. Ice Station Zebra wasn't bad, either, though at 2.5 hours, it far exceeds the total prep time for this casserole!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Dry Beef Casserole, Part One

Casseroles are such great winter dinners. You can usually put one together fairly quickly, throw it in the oven, and go take a load off while it bakes into a wonderful warm treat. Unfortunately, Gma's recipe box only contains about five casserole recipes, three of which are for the exact same thing (I'm really not sure why, but then I very strongly disliked that seven-layer casserole when I was a kid, possibly because I hadn't yet learned to love green peppers, so it's no mystery why I wouldn't have kept three copies!).

Fortunately, one of the other recipes is for Dry Beef Casserole, a dish I'd completely forgotten until I found the recipe a week or so ago. Dry beef is the same thing as chipped beef (I'm guessing the nomenclature is regional, but I'm not sure), but you don't always have to put it in a gravy. I'm not sure that we had the casserole all that often, but since I remember it, it must've made an impression, and not a bad one.We used to be able to find it at the deli--or perhaps it was the farmer's market in downtown York, where you shopped by food type. The fact that I just plain don't like steak probably means I'll never be considered a true carnivore, but the stands at market had some amazing things that I can't find in New Jersey, like dry beef, butcher bologna, and Lebanon sweet bologna, which is to Oscar Meyer what Ferrari is to Chevrolet. They are so different as to be almost completely unrelated. (I've been able to find Lebanon bologna in one or two stores here, but the only way to get dry beef is in a pouch in the cold cuts section of the dairy case, and some stores don't even have that--they just sell the pre-made dry beef gravy. And I think I would faint if I found butcher bologna, though I sure wouldn't mind.)

I whipped up some dry beef casserole this evening, and it's currently sitting in the fridge, as per the recipe, but I figure I'll let you in on the process so far, and will report back tomorrow night after I've sampled the results.

Dry Beef Casserole

1 can condensed cream of mushroom soup
1 cup milk
1 cup finely cut cheddar cheese (about 1/4 pound)
1 cup uncooked elbow macaroni
3 tablespoons finely chopped onion
1/4 (4 oz) pound dried beef, cut in bite-size pieces
2 hard-cooked eggs, sliced

Stir milk into soup. Add remaining ingredients, folding the eggs in last. Turn into a buttered 1.5 quart baking dish. Store covered in refrigerator at least 3-4 hours or overnight. Bake 1 hour uncovered at 350. Serves 6.

This recipe is clipped from the newspaper and credited to a Mrs. Ronald Cosgrove of York. It's also in a fundraising recipe collection sold to benefit the York Symphony back in 1980, in two variations. One says to dice the cheese, which might be better (I used finely grated cheese, thinking that's what "finely cut" meant, but I could be wrong), and another uses slightly different proportions.

The latter also addresses a question I had when looking at these recipes--shouldn't there be some sort of topping? It seems to me that it'll look awfully naked otherwise. The second variation says to top the dish with buttered bread crumbs, and I'm probably going to top mine with bread crumbs and maybe a little leftover cheese, just for decoration. I also just tore the beef into small pieces, which seemed easier and maybe even more fun. I wasn't sure just how big a dish I was going to need, since I tend to think in inches rather than quarts, but it fit in an 8x8 Pyrex dish just fine. It took about five minutes to put the whole thing together, not counting the time to boil the eggs.

Here's what it looks like right now:

Tomorrow night, I'll top it and toss it in the oven for an hour so it's ready when Linda comes over to watch Ice Station Zebra, which should be an adventure in itself. Stay tuned!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Drop Sand Tarts

--Or, In Which Cookies Are Made, Via Highly Scientific Means, Despite Our Heroine's Cluelessness--

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I sort of cheated this week. I plan to choose recipes each week that are seasonal, for those that are associated with particular times of year, so holiday things should be made sometime during/near that holiday, etc. But this week, I went ahead and made Christmas cookies anyway. At least, they were always Christmas cookies in my house, and since Linda came over to help and sample, and was familiar with sand tarts, I asked her when she'd had them--only at Christmas. I'm not really sure what it is that makes these Christmas cookies. Maybe the cinnamon sprinkled on top? I really think you could make them any time (though I would, now that I've cheated, wouldn't I?), but apparently they do have a seasonal connection. The cookie category is the largest single category in this recipe box, so I may occasionally make one out of season just because there are so many to go through, and there won't be enough time for anywhere near all of them in December.

 I decided to make sand tarts this week for two reasons:

1. I had most of the ingredients, and
2. I'd wanted to make them at Christmas but could not find anyone who was of like mind, and I always find it's more fun to make Christmas cookies with other people.

So, sand tarts it was. These are another traditional item in our house, passed down from Grandma and Great-Grandma (my grandfather's mother, whose name I never had trouble with, so don't ask me why I called the other one Sweetie). The interesting thing is that the recipe box contains two recipes for sand tarts, one that's listed as Great-Grandma's Sand Tarts, and the one I've always known. Grandma had a habit of copying recipes clipped from the newspaper onto recipe cards, and then stuffing the clipping into the card sleeve. She also left notes on the recipes in either format--sometimes dates, sometimes a word or two of opinion after she made it or a note on how she changed it. As a result, I can report that she thought these were "real good," and that this was a pretty popular recipe in the York area at some point, because she clipped it not once but twice. One says, "You will never use a rolled Sand Tart recipe after using this one," which got my attention because I hadn't realized there was another kind. Great-Grandma's recipe, though, appears to be rolled, as the batter is to stand overnight. Notes on the back of that card say, "350, 8 min, not too good, puff up too much."

I doubt I've ever had cookies made from that recipe, and I have to admit that being able to drop these right on the cookie sheet rather than refrigerating, rolling, and cutting sure sounds good to me. I only remember making these at home when I was a kid, not at Grandma's. I'm not sure she even made them anymore by the time I was around. We would make some Christmas cookies, and Grandma would make some, and then we'd trade, so we must have inherited this recipe while she went on to make others that she shared with us, unless my memory is faulty.

The recipe we used, and the details of our scientific experience in success-in-spite-of-ourselves, are after the jump:

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Tools of the Trade

I'm still trying to decide which recipe to make this week (leaning toward cookies, because they're easy and the oven warms up the house on a cold winter night and I have friends who'd be happy to help eat them. Are you all in a cookie mood?), so I thought I would share some cooking tools I inherited from my grandmother and great-grandmothers.

I'm not sure how long I've had the rather dangerous-looking implement at the top of this picture. Grandma gave it to me a while back--I'd guess sometime within the last dozen years. I'm pretty sure this one belonged not to her mother, but to my grandfather's mother. It's a potato smasher; that bell-like end is solid wood. I have to confess that I've never used it, but maybe I'll give it a shot the next time I need to mash some potatoes. I suspect it's harder to push than a modern potato masher precisely because of that solid piece of wood, which doesn't give the potatoes anywhere to go. I have to confess that I've often thought it could double as a blunt instrument with which to defend myself should the need ever arise!

In our house, there were always two old tools known simply as "the black knife" or "the black fork." There were several forks, but apparently only one knife, which is currently at my parents' house. I have one of the forks, though, which you can see above. I realized last night that while I don't know for sure how old it is, it is probably pretty close to 100 years. For all I know, it could be more. Grandma used it to mash eggs for egg salad, to great effect, where a regular fork just wouldn't do. I think it's the length of the tines and the fact that they're rather thin that makes the difference. We also used it, if I correctly recall, to top sand tarts with a bit of beaten egg, much like you would press down the dough for peanut butter cookies, to glue on a bit of pecan or walnut. (I don't see any reason why a regular fork couldn't do that job just as well.)

How about you? Have you inherited any old-fashioned kitchen gadgets? Anything with a story attached? Please tell us about them in the comments!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Variations on a Theme: More on Pork und Kraut

This morning, my friend Linda sent me a link to a Salon article about pork and sauerkraut. Salon! Imagine, this lowly Dutchie dish being lauded in the virtual pages of Salon! Ian Knauer presents his family recipe and his "test" of its luck-bearing properties.

Knauer appears to be a Pennsylvania native, so he should know what he's talking about. (For one thing, he's more familiar with the lore behind pork-related good luck dishes than I am.) But if you look at his recipe, you'll notice it's very different from mine. His includes onions, Gala apples, and butter. Mine is a simple three-piece meal. So who's right?

In that way that "tradition" has of being lost in the mists of time (as I said to a friend who'd been hoping for more stories of occasions upon which my family ate this meal, it happened so reliably each year that it was just one of those things we did, without any real sense of occasion and thus, without associated tales), and of being all things to all people...we both are.

I've often heard of making sauerkraut, with or without pork, by including apples, so Knauer's version isn't a surprise. It sweetens the kraut and moderates some of the tang. Certainly, for many people, less of that strong sauerkraut zip is highly desirable. I would be lying, though, if I said it sounded at all good to me. I'm so used to sauerkraut plain and simple, for all its faults, that I can't even fathom the idea of someone sweetening it, even with something as innocuous as an apple. I don't know if this preference marks me as a particularly hearty (or perhaps particularly insane) Pennsylvania girl or not. (I'm pretty sure Grandma once said she'd had it with apples and didn't like it, and since Sweetie made her own sauerkraut, I'm going to imagine she was a purist until/unless I'm told otherwise.) I do suspect that, like so many things in life, the variations are not better or worse, just different.

If you poke around Google, you can find many variations on the basic recipe I presented here. Some are fancy; mine is decidedly not. There's one that includes beer, garlic, and dill weed, and another which purports to be from "The Food Channel" (which seems odd to me since they have their own website and call themselves Food Network, but no matter) that calls for thyme, brown sugar, and white wine. I know I saw one that included caraway seeds (and in fact, I've seen fresh Silver Floss kraut that comes with caraway seeds, so there must be a fair market for that version). I'm sure you can find as many variations on this recipe as there are families who cook it.

For my part, I'm sticking with my old familiar, though I wouldn't say no to a sample of someone else's, just for the sake of satisfying my curiosity. If you're inclined to experiment, there are plenty of options out there, but it might be interesting to start with the simple and work your way from there. :)

And whatever you do, I wouldn't recommend jumping over a bonfire whether you're testing your luck or not!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Pork and Sauerkraut

Every year for as long as I can remember, New Year's Day dinner was pork and sauerkraut. Every year for a very long time, I whined about having to eat the stuff, even though I usually had to endure it only once a year. Then, as happens with so many things as you get older, I realized that I missed it, and maybe even kinda liked it, and decided to introduce one of my friends here in New Jersey to the concept that sauerkraut is not merely a condiment for hot dogs, but can serve as, very nearly, a meal in and of itself.

I don't even remember who made it for me first--Grandma, or maybe even Sweetie, though mostly I remember Mom cooking it in the crock pot each year. It's such a longstanding tradition in the family, and in York County/PA Dutch areas on the whole, that it almost defies definition in terms of time. It was always there. It will always be there. It's what you eat on New Year's Day to bring good luck throughout the year. Why would you even consider anything else? (You may scoff at the idea that a meal will bring you good luck, but last year was the first time in several years that I did not make pork and sauerkraut for New Year's, because I was traveling and didn't feel like dealing with it when I got home. Three months later, I found out my job was being eliminated. I suppose it could be a coincidence, but I am no longer willing to take the chance!)

New Year's Day is past, but you might still be able to appease the gods of PA Dutch New Year's luck if you act fast! Here's what you need to know to make authentic York County pork and sauerkraut, one of the easiest meals ever made.

You'll need:

Center cut pork chops
Sauerkraut (we always use Silver Floss; I now buy their fresh stuff that's usually in the fridge near the hot dogs, because it's somewhat less processed than the canned sauerkraut and has a nice crunch to it)

I'm not including quantities here because it really depends on how many people you want to feed. I will, however, tell you that 1.75 pounds of pork, 4 pounds of kraut, and 7(!) good-size Russet potatoes was more than enough for three of us last night, with probably about four servings of leftovers. I've never frozen the leftovers myself, but my mother says they freeze well, so I wouldn't be afraid to have some extra.

I always use my crock pot, but I imagine you could cook the pork and kraut over a low heat on the stove if you want results more quickly. The two go into the crock pot together at least six hours before you want to eat. If your crock pot has a shift feature that automatically switches between high and low, you might want to start it there, especially if your time is limited. Low probably won't cook the meat on its own, at least not for a while. Because you are putting raw meat in there, you want to check it and give things a stir every so often so you know how it's progressing. It will get pretty juicy as the kraut cooks (and the kraut will lighten in color somewhat as it heats, too). A few strands of sauerkraut will stick to the sides of the crock pot and brown, but there's no need to worry about them--though you will want to soak the stoneware overnight before you clean it.

About half an hour before dinnertime, cook the potatoes and mash them according to your own taste. Nothing elaborate is necessary here, since the potatoes traditionally go under the pork/kraut.

To serve, use large soup bowls. Potatoes go on the bottom, and the pork and sauerkraut on top. You can include the juice from the kraut or not as you see fit. Don't forget the bones--it should be pretty easy to get the meat off the bone, but I have many memories of chomping down on a small one that had missed notice.

That's all there is to it. Happy New Year!

Saturday, January 2, 2010


Hello, and welcome to Rediscovering Grandma!

This blog will be the account of my journey through the recipes of my grandmother, Helen, and her mother, Anna. There may be occasional appearances by other relatives or family friends (Gma was pretty good about noting who gave her a recipe), and if I encounter something fabulous from the likes of Real Simple, Everyday Food, or even a good friend, I may well include it here, but mostly, this blog is an extended trip down Memory Lane. Gma didn't cook much in the last 20-25 years of her life, so a lot of my memories of them will be from when I was very young, if I remember them at all. Her mother, (I've always called her Sweetie) died when I was not quite eight, so most of her recipes will be new to me, with a few exceptions. Many of the recipes will be Pennsylvania Dutch, since I grew up in York, PA, as did Gma and Sweetie and generations before them. I don't have a provenance for every recipe, though, so I can't guarantee a focus there. I plan to post 1-2 recipes per week in order to keep things manageable.

It's not really about the food, though. The recipes are a vehicle through which to stir up old memories and learn more from the rest of my family about whether a particular dish was made for a special occasion, was someone's particular favorite (or perhaps the bane of his/her existence!), or any stories associated with the cooking/baking or the times when they were served. I hope this blog will give me the chance to learn new things about these two women and the lives they led while I catalog the food they cooked for the enjoyment of anyone who cares to try it out. I'll post my first recipe tomorrow, for pork and sauerkraut, the traditional New Year's/good luck meal in York County, and possibly in Pennsylvania Dutch country in general.

I hope you'll come along for the ride!
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