Friday, July 30, 2010

Company for Dinner: Swiss Steak and Creamed Potatoes

This entry features two items which could easily be made for dinner guests. Part of the package of traditions that I inherited is that of having company for dinner. I remember many meals spent either at the homes of others or in our own home when we shared a meal with friends, relatives or out of town guests to whom we extended some homemade hospitality. I remember when we were the hosts, there would be a kind of buzz around the house. "What is going on?" one of my brothers or I might ask. "We are having company," would be the reply. Ah yes, of course. That explains the increase in noises and smells from the kitchen, the table extensions, the unfolding of the tablecloth. None of us were excused from the preparations and we knew that. We may be called upon to polish silver, scrub potatoes, cut flowers, or help set the table.

When we were the guests, there was preparation as well. Take a bath, wear clean clothes, comb your hair. On the way there... the manners discussion. Say please and thank you. Try everything. Ask to be excused and use, use, use your napkin. Any questions? "Yes" squeaked a voice from the backseat, "Do we have to eat spinach or liver if they have it?" Take a little and try it. Never say you don't like it, just say no thank you if you are offered more. These lessons in etiquette were delivered firmly but not unkindly by our parents when we were freshly scrubbed and earnestly hungry, a captive audience of three in the backseat.

The benefits of being guests and having guests for dinner are many: good food is shared, conversation can be enlightening and entertaining, and bonds develop or are strengthened around the table. We learn, we give, we are nourished in body and spirit. Recently, I was a guest along with my mother, at Cousin Elizabeth's house. She is a double cousin to my mother. I found out that this means that their mothers were sisters and their fathers were brothers. Cousin Elizabeth lives near Hutchinson now and recently invited my mom and I to enjoy lunch in her home. The food was homemade or homegrown and the joyful hospitality was wonderful. We shared stories new and old and a bit more of my Grandma Yutzy's personality was revealed to me through a story from Cousin Elizabeth. Just as I thought, Grandma was a spunky character. I left blessed and full, better from having had this visit and meal.

These recipes are two from the Mennonite Community Cookbook that I have made in the recent past for company dinners.
Swiss Steak
2 pounds round steak
3 T oil
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 onion, sliced
1/4 tsp pepper
1/2 cup flour
1 can mushroom soup diluted with 1 can milk
Rub salt and pepper into steak and dredge with flour.
Brown quickly on both sides in hot oil with the onions.
Pour the mushroom soup mixed with milk over the top.
Bake in a covered pan at 350 for 1 hour.

Creamed Potatoes with Parsley
3 cups new potatoes
1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
3/4 cup half and half
2 T fresh parsley
Cook potatoes in salt water until soft. Add cream, seasoning and chopped parsely and bring to a boil.

Both recipes are adapted from the Mennonite Community Cookbook (1950) and have been tested on guests. They are polite people (having endured the manners talk) so of course they said they liked these dishes! I liked them too though and will likely make them again.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

What you can hear : Fried Corn

There were railroad tracks close by grandparent's house in Ohio. When we would go visit Grandma and Grandpa, trains would often stir me awake during the night. I was somewhat fascinated as well intimidated by the trains and I wanted to watch them whenever I could. I wanted to get close, but not too close. I remember one time I went somewhere with Grandma, and rather than drive, she suggested we walk. Our path? The railroad track. "Grandma, isn't this dangerous?" I'd ask. "What if a train comes?" She would tell me that she had good ears and that she would hear a train in plenty of time to keep me safe. She had learned to listen for faraway sounds that announced the impending arrival of a train.

Listening is, I believe, an acquired skill. On this cooking journey, I am often alone in my kitchen. Rather than turn on music or let myself fret about the day's schedule or latest challenge, I intentionally quiet the room and try to turn off my own thoughts. I want to hear what comes. What memory, what wisdom. I want to hear the corn sizzling in the pan, to hear the soft patter of my hands on the bread dough. I want to learn to listen and to be present. It is a wonderful time that restores my soul and keeps me from getting lost in the world. Memories are my companion, new perspectives my guide.

As I made fried corn today, I listened for what would come. The memory of Grandma promising to listen so that I would be safe is what I heard (besides the great sounds coming from the pan)and remembered. For this recipe, I took ideas from two recipes found in the cookbook and came up with something I found very enjoyable to eat. If corn is plentiful for you right now or it's just too difficult to eat on the cob, you might enjoy this variation.

Fried Corn
2 cups corn, cut from the cob
3 T butter(make it real!)
2 green onions
2 eggs
1 1/2 T flour
3/4 tsp salt
2/3 cup half and half or whole milk
Heat butter in a skillet. Add the corn and green onions and stir over moderate heat. Keep turning the corn so it doesn't burn.
Beat eggs and add flour, salt, and half and half.
When the corn begins to brown, add the egg mixture. Simmer slowly until mixture becomes thick.

This recipe is adapted from recipes found in The Mennonite Community Cookbook (1950).


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Out on the Ocean with God: Buttercup Cake

My birthday was a week ago and so my mom baked a cake while the family was assembled for the wedding of my daughter. We celebrated as we usually do in our family on special occasions, with homemade ice cream. My parents still hand crank a wonderful freezer of ice cream. My mother found a cake recipe from the Mennonite Community Cookbook that she brought along to wish me well on my last 40-something birthday. Which means I am looking 50 straight in the eyes! With no fear or trembling on my part, I might add. I am grateful for life and health and a body that still works on my behalf. It bends, lifts, runs (if it has to) and houses my spirit which is, I believe, getting stronger with age.

When my family celebrates my birthday, we always reminisce about a declaration I made when I was a young one. "Before I was born," I would state resolutely, "I was out on the ocean with God." I was totally convinced of this, still am actually. I don't know what led to this formulation of thought or how I knew or if it contradicted any theological beliefs I was taught. I do know that I liked telling my family that before they were honored with my presence, I had been in some pretty awesome company. I also enjoyed the thought that I had been somewhere beautiful and calm and natural. As I grow older, I am still calmed by water in natural places.

I do seek those places where God seems only a whisper away. I have felt a holy presence in an airport, classroom or sanctuary but it takes more of a conscious effort. When looking at a vast expanse of water, hearing the wind move over the water and through the trees, and seeing the dappled light on the surface, I believe that we, along with the rest of the natural world, were born from a creative and loving source of life. For me, connecting to that source, is what breathes new life into old veins, damaged cells, and fragmented thoughts.

When we celebrate it is fun to hear stories around our birth. This is one my family tells and it always makes me smile. Because before I was born, I was out on the ocean with God. Part of me still is.

Buttercup Cake
1/2 cup shortening
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 cup buttermilk or sour milk
2 eggs
1/2 tsp salt
2 1/3 cups cake flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla or 1/2 tsp each of lemon, orange, and almond extract
Cream shortening and add sugar gradually. When mixture is fluffy, add well beaten eggs and beat thoroughly. Sift flour; measure and add salt, baking powder and soda. Sift again. Add dry ingredients alternately with milk and flavoring. Beat thoroughly after each addition. Pour into greased layer pans.
Bake at 350 for 30 to 35 minutes.

This recipe is from the Mennonite Community Cookbook (1950).


Saturday, July 10, 2010

Delicious Reverie: Peach Skillet Pie

This is a wonderful way to use peaches which are in season right now. I have found that the peach has a very small window of opportunity when it is just perfect for eating. Our neighbors brought over some freshly picked peaches that were just right that day. We didn't get to them all in time so I flipped open the cookbook and found a great recipe for peach skillet pie. It was, no kidding, delicious. Really good. In fact, we liked it so much, I made another one again today.

We ate it warm, with half and half poured over the top and listened to each other making those happy noises that escape our lips when we are caught in eating reverie.

Here is the recipe. I heartily endorse this selection. I didn't have a skillet that I can bake in (that's on my kitchen wish list though) so I just used a pie plate. I am not artful with dough so it was a bit patched together but no matter. The taste more than made up for the presentation.

Peach Skillet Pie
2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
4 tsp baking powder
1/3 cup shortening
1/3 to 1/2 cup milk (I used half and half)
8 fresh peaches

Add salt and baking powder to two cups of flour. Sift.
Cut in shortening as for pastry.
Add milk all at once, just enough to make a soft dough. Turn the dough onto a floured dough and roll 1/4 inch thick and several inches larger in diameter than the skillet used. Place dough in the bottom of the skillet and let the edges hang over. Then fill with the ripe sliced peaches. Sprinkle 3/4 cup sugar and 1/2 tsp cinnamon over the peaches.
Dot with butter.
Fold edges back toward center to partially cover.
Leave center of pie uncovered.
Bake at 400 for 25-30 minutes.
Serve warm with rich milk.

This recipe was adapted from the Mennonite Community Cookbook (1950).


Thursday, July 1, 2010

A nuttiness all our own: Chocolate Surprise

The suprise is kind of about the nuts. No, actually it is all about the nuts. The collectivity of family gatherings spawns laughter and nuttiness unique to the gene pools and years of traditions which we claim as ours. This past week was my daughter's wedding, a lovely celebration of love and commitment. We were so lucky to have so much family around which made it all the more memorable. We ate, laughed, danced, took walks, and shared memories. We also made a few new memories.

In anticipation of my family's arrival I pored over the pages of grandma's cookbook for a recipe that would be light, sweet, and welcoming. I found "Chocolate Surprise." Always game for a surprise, I thought I'd try it. I like it, no surprise as almost anything chocolate is a friend of mine. It contains nuts and graham cracker crumbs. It is easy to make and it gets quite thick rather quickly. It is somewhere between pudding and mousse. I ventured to guess that my brother, Karl, himself rather nuts in the very best way possible, would like it. And he did.

Families are wonderful and it is the nutty times we treasure. Anne Lamott, commenting on family times, said that "things go wrong every time we visit. But more things go right.' I love that. So, over the course of events I pledged to enjoy the unique nuttiness of each family member and to let my own special brand of nuttiness show. I vowed to realize that it can be good and fun to be together if not perfect or spotless or completely organized. Each person is a gift and each so surprisingly special. The amalgam of Herr/ Awe/ Vogts/ McElhiney/ Metcalf is ours now and we treasure them every one. I am deeply greatful to be part of a clan that celebrates, laughs, and remembers that we are all of us, connected, to each other and to the world.

Chocolate Surprise
1 cup sugar
3 T cocoa
3 T cornstarch
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup half and half
1 cup milk
3 eggs, beaten
3 T butter
6 graham crackers
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup chopped pecans
Combine sugar, cocoa, cornstarch and salt.
Add mixture to beaten eggs and mix thoroughly.
Add to scalded milk and cook until smooth and thickened, stirring constantly.
Remove from heat and add butter, vanilla, graham cracker crumbs, and chopped nuts.
Chill until firm.
Serve with whipped cream.

This recipe was adapted from the Mennonite Community Cookbook (1950)

With gratefulness for the love of family,