Second-Day Pasta

I come from a big family, one of four girls, and for most of my childhood either my grandparents on my father’s side or my grandfather on my mother’s side lived with us.

I am also half Italian, which in our family meant a lot of pasta for dinner. We enjoyed my mom’s great “sauce” on our “macaroni” on Wednesdays and Sundays. Please understand that I mean every Wednesday and every Sunday. There are rules and there are rules. This was a rule.

Not to be confused with the non-meat cheese sauce, onion sauce, ceci bean (chickpea) sauce or marinara sauce we adorned our macaroni with every Friday (good Catholics that we were, in that regard anyway), “sauce” was shorthand for what some people would call red sauce, others would call Bolognese – made with onions, garlic and meat (mostly beef but sometimes pork or lamb) browned up together, with tomatoes, basil, oregano, salt and pepper (and the occasional lamb bone or pork bone) added before a long simmer.

Sauce was noted simply as SAUCE on countless pieces of masking tape over the years, marking countless random re-used freezer containers like this. (This photo, by the way, marks Mom’s first sending of a photo via text – bravo, Mom! and thank you, Lynn, for walking her through the process.)

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So, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Practically without fail. That’s a lot of macaroni. You try, of course, to make the right amount so you don’t have a lot of leftovers, but it happens. What do you do with leftover macaroni? You make macaroni pie of course!

You take your cold leftover macaroni/pasta, chop it up, stir in a few eggs and some cheese and salt and pepper, put this mixture in a hot, oiled pan, let it brown, flip it, brown the other side and serve. It’s great hot or cold. It’s great as a main dish or a side dish. And it uses up the leftovers in a very yummy way!

Feel free to embellish however suits your fancy. A few weeks ago I made macaroni pie using leftover pasta made with my own “sauce,” but along with the eggs I added some shredded asiago cheese and left it in the pan a smidgeon longer than usual – to the not-quite-burned-but-almost stage – and Samuel said it ranked among the best ever. This weekend I made it using some leftover spaghetti carbonara, which uses bacon, cream and romano cheese in the sauce. That’s the one I’ll show you.

This is the leftover, which was about 4 cups total, chopped up in a bowl with my three eggs. You can use any sharp knife to cut it up – it cuts easily when cold.

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Adding some extra cheese (a handful or so, grated, whatever kind seems to go with whatever kind of pasta you have) and salt and pepper at this point is a good idea because once it has a crust, it’s harder to season.  After you’ve mixed it all up, put about 2 Tbsp oil in a frypan and turn on the flame to get the oil hot. Mine looked like this.

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Wait about one minute before using a rubber spatula to guide the mixture into the pan . You want to wait that minute because you want the sizzling sound. The sizzling sound of the cold pasta mixture hitting the hot oil is one of those kitchen thrills you cannot explain to the those who have not yet joined the Kitchen Club, made up, of course of those of us who get a thrill from sizzling sounds, gleaming egg whites, bubbling edges (see below) and other such marvels.

Let it cook over a medium heat for 10-15 minutes. You are not only heating the mixture, you are letting the eggs, which bind it all together, cook through. You’ll see a little bit of bubbling around the edges. Zoom in on the edge if you want the thrill.

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The tricky part of this operation is “the flip,” but a plate makes it easier. Use a spatula to peek at the browned bottom of the pie. Decide if your optimal brownness has been reached and make sure the entire bottom of the pie is loose. Run your spatula under it if need be – but if your pan is nonstick and you have used a bit of oil, there shouldn’t be any problem. The pie should be able to move as a single unit in the pan as you move the pan back and forth.

Then plate a plate on the pan like this.

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Take the handle of the pan with your one hand and place your other, open hand on the plate. Lift the pan to about chest height away from the flame.

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First time trying this – not that I expect disaster! – perhaps move over to the sink 😊.

Tilt the pan/plate while holding the plate tightly against the pan…

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…then quickly flip the whole thing so that your hand holding the plate is now under the plate and the pan is on top.

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Remove the pan from the (now) top of the pie and put it back over the flame. Slide the pie off the plate and back into the pan so it can brown on the other side.

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All this time you are of course oblivious of the begging dog (poor Coco!!) hoping something will fall. Nothing did — this time!

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Give the second side about ten minutes to brown up, then slide the whole pie onto a plate. The crispiness on both top and bottom is as good as the moist and tasty pasta inside.

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Enjoy!

Not-Kiwi Ice Cream Cake

Today is Eppie’s birthday — the Big Five she is! Before we get to the cake, a word about the present.

Naturally, when there are chickens at Eppie’s house and chickens at Oma’s house and Eppie is celebrating an important birthday, she surely needs another chicken for a present 😊 This one let’s call Silkie Boy – the bad hair day making it a silkie and the red things resembling the wattle that only the (male) roosters have. Seeing as there are no roosters at Oma’s house (none, zero) and the ones at Eppie’s house were recently “processed,” this fellow just might find a special place in her heart. You never know.

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Six days pre-birthday, i.e. this past Saturday, at the War Memorial Park in Martinsburg, West Virginia, I asked her (after she opened the chicken present) what kind of cake she would be having on her special day. She and Rise and Lincoln and Julia would be on their annual family vacation with Julia’s family this week, and I knew that somebody would surely be making her a cake.

Eppie was swinging on the swings as she answered matter-of-factly, “Kiwi.”

“Kiwi?” I was sure I wasn’t hearing her right, what with the squeaking of the swing as it swung back and forth. (I almost wrote swang, so baffled am I even now, even thinking about kiwi and cake as having any connection at all with each other!)

“Kiwi,” she repeated.

“Kiwi,” I repeated. Kiwi cake? Wait, kiwi? First, when I was five, I’m sure I didn’t even know what a kiwi was. Second, how does it come about that a child wants a kiwi cake? But okay, why not. It’s a new world. Onward we go.

Today, on her very special day, she is looking particularly angelic… (Thank you Nancy/Nana for the lovely photo!)

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And she is getting ready to eat her… (you knew this was for real)… kiwi cake! True confession here: When Eppie said kiwi cake, I imagined a light green batter flecked with small seeds perhaps (kiwi seeds of course). I did not imagine this awesome, surely delicious layer cake Kelley made with sliced kiwis (the fruit) between the layers and a super impressive image on top of a kiwi (the bird) done with frosting. See the additional slices of kiwi for decoration – and is that a chocolate-dipped kiwi slice besides??!! That’s a kiwi cake if ever there was a kiwi cake! (Eppie darling, you are very much loved!)

And sure, I knew kiwis were birds, native of New Zealand they are, smallest of the rattites (whatever that means), coincidentally the size of a chicken…. Sure, uh, everyone knows that…

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So I, in my not-functioning-well-in-this-heat-wave brain, somehow had thought that Eppie would be here tonight, which of course she isn’t. But in that delusion I had – not yet having any clue as to the monumentally incredible kiwi cake that was to come, not having any clue what a kiwi cake even is – decided to make for her a simple ice cream cake with two of her favorite flavors. And this, despite the clear inferiority of my offering, I share with you for two reasons.

  1. I meant well.
  2. It’s super easy and anyone can do it (whereas your average Joe might be oh-so-slightly intimidated when it comes to monumentally incredible kiwi cakes, hats off to you, Kelley!).

This is Not a Recipe for Ice Cream Cake. It’s only kind of a recipe. It’s more like assembly instructions.

Start by taking out the ice cream from the freezer. It spreads better if it’s a little soft. This part of the instruction presumes you do not get distracted with an unexpected phone call, a natural disaster, or by reading or having to reread Mona’s hilarious/gross blog post about Cystifus (click at your own risk). Meaning the ice cream should sit out about 15 minutes (give or take, depending on how cool/warm it is in your kitchen at the time).

The crust is made with thin, crispy, dark, crushed-up chocolate wafers. I use Nabisco. I crush the whole package (9oz/255g). You should use the quantity that best suits that size of pan / amount of ice cream you are going to use.

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Crush these up fine, either in a food processor or with a rolling pin. If you choose the rolling pin (quieter and less clean up, plus muscle-building) method, put the cookie wafers in a gallon zip-lock bag first. Reserve some of these crumbs for later (¾ cup or so) and put the rest in a bowl with ¼ cup sugar and ¼ cup (½ stick/ 55g) soft butter. Mix crumbs, sugar and butter together and press (with your fingers) into a pan of your choice. This time, I used my wonderful squarish springform pan, which happens to be 9”/23cm across. A pie plate works fine. A 9×13 baking dish works fine – your call. How much ice cream do you have? Use your finely honed spatial reasoning skills to determine pan size.

After you press the buttery/sugary crumbs in the pan, gently put flattish scoops of ice cream in the pan. In this photo you also see my reserved crumbs in the small bowl.

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I used up the whole container of chocolate for the first layer, gently pressing and flattening as I went. The back of a big, flat spoon works well. Eppie told me she “loves” chocolate, so regardless of chocolate being my own personal favorite, it was a safe bet for this cake. I can’t remember how that came up in the conversation about the kiwi cake, but it did, and I am clear on this fact: Eppie “loves” chocolate.

For your ice cream cake, you pick the kinds of ice cream you like best. For some flavors it might even make sense to use graham crackers instead of the chocolate wafers in the crust (everything else would be and be done the same way).

So, yeah, the whole container – which isn’t as much as you think, certainly not as much as it used to be. They used to put ice cream into containers that held half a gallon. I’m not sure when they started making the containers smaller – and charging the same price, but I was onto that scheme and it made me mad. You have to pick your battles though, right?

So the whole not-half-gallon of chocolate ice cream, smoothed out, looks like this. Don’t be anal about how smooth this is.

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On top of the first layer, sprinkle your reserved crumbs.

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Right away (time is of the essence here), add the second layer. While still on the swing, Eppie, thankfully for me, named another flavor she “loves” and I stopped right there, didn’t need to hear more because, well, mint chocolate chip works because 1. It pairs with the plain (rich) chocolate well and 2. Because it is right up there with the not-as-good-as-chocolate-but-in-their-own-ways-amazing other flavors that I happily eat (sometimes). How handy is that! Bless you, dear child, for not naming butter pecan or some similar ugh-worthy flavor…

The second layer goes on quicker because you are able to move faster because the ice cream is softer, having been sitting out longer. This is where my mother would say, “Don’t dilly-dally!”

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For those of you who associate mint chocolate chip with an ice cream that is not only minty but also green, rest assured this is minty just the same.

Now for decorations. I added some chocolate chips because, remember, Eppie “loves” chocolate, so why not. And because it’s for her birthday, I also added some happy sprinkles. Do note that these are the multi-colored sprinkles, not the chocolate ones. I want credit for that.

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Chips and sprinkles are random on top because by now I am really in a hurry to get this thing popped into the freezer. You don’t want the ice cream get to the point of being cold soup – it just won’t freeze back up right.

To serve, I put this on a pretty plate. When the time comes, after we’ve enjoyed our homemade pizza tomorrow, I will light the five candles and burst into song as I emerge from the kitchen with my simple masterpiece in hand – hardly a kiwi cake, I know! (I am still so in awe of that!) Nonetheless I have not only made something that is 1. surely yummy (chocolate + mint chocolate chip, yeah, yummy) and 2. likely to be enjoyed (we shall see, but I’m pretty sure), I’ve also shown you how easy it is so you can make one too!

Eppie darling, don’t forget how much Oma loves you! Happy Birthday!

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Assembly Line Rou-LAH-den for Dinner

Judging by the number of views on my recent Umpteen Salad Dressings post, a fair portion of people like vinegar – or at least don’t mind it. If you like vinegar, pickles, pickled anything, vinegar-y salad dressing and you like beef – any sauerbraten fans out there?? – you just might like Rouladen (pronounced roo-LAH-den). It’s a traditional German dish that any “praktisches Kochbuch” (Practical Cookbook) will include. Here’s mine, published in 1974, a gift from my dear friend Claudia a long time ago!

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And in case you are interested, this is the recipe from the book.

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But as you might expect, I do it my way – this time combined with Claudia’s way 😊

I think of these as Assembly Line Rouladen because you get all the innards ready, lay out the thin slabs – let’s call them flats – of beef and systematically sprinkle/spread/place your innards – one at a time – on the flats. Once you’ve got each flat loaded up, you roll them tight, secure each one with a toothpick or two, sear in hot oil, add water and cook until done. If you want, you can then thicken the gravy.

One of the most important things to know about (why) this recipe (tastes so good) is that it contains bacon. As you may well agree, it’s hard to go wrong with bacon. I loved it when the servers at the Bluegrass Grill in downtown Charlottesville wore t-shirts that said “DON’T WORRY – WE HAVE BACON.” They even have bacon jam! Also, their corned beef beats all, but I am going onto a track I did not intend – ah, the power of food! Back to the bacon! Oh, right, back to the rouladen!

I generally use a bottom round cut of beef for recipes that involve slow cooking in liquid (a.k.a. braising), but you will find recipes that say to use top round. I have found that the meat department at my grocery store decides – they pick a cut, slice it thin (1/4-inch) and package it as “Beef for Bracciole” (what you could call the Italian version). Depending on where you live, it might even say For Rouladen. When in doubt, ask the butcher.

The prep for rouladen is like the prep for tacos in that you do the chopping/ preparing/ finding of this and that, put each component in a bowl or a jar or on the counter – get everything ready for assembly – then boom, boom, boom, done! (Okay, maybe there are a few more booms, but you get the idea!) Besides the thinly sliced top or bottom round, you will need mustard, bacon, onions, pickles, carrots, salt and pepper.

Mustard: I like spicy brown mustard, some people prefer Dijon – just use the one you like best.

Bacon: The leaner the better, allow one slice of bacon per piece of beef. I cook mine first to get some of the fat away, and crumble it so that as I spread it on the meat, the flavor is more evenly distributed, but you don’t have to. These will come out just fine if you simply lay the slice of raw bacon on the slab of raw meat and assemble and cook it all together.

Onions: Your call whether to lightly sauté your chopped-up onions in a little bit of olive oil before putting them in. I do because it softens them and makes the beef easier to roll. Approximately one tablespoon of chopped onion per piece of beef. I like onion, so I probably use more than that.

Pickles (dill, not sweet): For ease of spreading, you’ll want to finely chop the pickles or just get/use (pre-chopped) pickle relish, the kind you’d put on a hot dog. Allow a teaspoonful per piece of beef. You use the pickles, not the pickle juice, so try to drain the liquid from them.

Carrots: Hardly essential, but an element of color, nutrition and a tad of sweetness to balance out the vinegar. Claudia suggested adding carrot sticks a few years ago and I love it! Allow 2-4 thin sticks about 3-4 inches long for each.

Salt and Pepper: To taste.

Here are my various innards: You can tell I’m making a lot (24 to be exact) and that I like a lot of onions. My bacon and carrot sticks are in bowls and my pickles are chopped up in the jar.

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Lay out the meat on a clean, wide-open surface and put a squiggle of mustard on each one.

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Then spread the mustard out, sprinkle with salt and pepper and put a spoonful of pickles on each.

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After you spread out the pickles, put a spoonful of onion on each one. Spread out the onion.

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Next come the bacon crumbles.

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Then the carrots.

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Start at one end of each piece of meat and roll it up carefully, trying to keep all the innards in! Secure with toothpicks.

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Put a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a good frypan and sear the rollups on a medium-high flame till they are brown most of the way around. Add water to reach about halfway up the sides of the rollups, cover, turn down to a low flame and let cook at a simmer for about an hour.

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I like to take them out of the pan, set them in serving dishes, then make the gravy and pour it over top.

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It’s a good idea to take the toothpicks out (this is easier for you than for the person trying to eat it at the table). To make the gravy, figure out how much liquid you have left in the pans by pouring it into a large measuring cup. Then for each cup of liquid you have, melt a tablespoon of butter in a saucepan, whisk in one tablespoon of flour until this is smooth, then add the liquid, whisking gently until it is mixed in and looks like a thin gravy. (The gravy method is easy to remember if you keep it proportional: 1 TBSP butter plus 1 TBSP flour per 1 cup liquid.) Pour gravy over top, cover with foil and keep warm in the oven until ready to serve. These also freeze well.

Very yummy served with egg noodles or spaetzle!!

*One of my favorite parts of the praktisches Kochbuch from Claudia is the title page. In it she wrote “ – KOCHEN MACHT FREUDE – und dasselbe wünsche ich DIR” – “- Cooking brings joy – and this I wish for you.” I love that it’s in her handwriting because that makes it real and personal. I love that it’s fading because that means the gift came long ago and our friendship has grown and flourished all this time. I love that to this day, one of our favorite topics of conversation is what we made for dinner 😊

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Umpteen Salad Dressings

I haven’t bought a jar of salad dressing in years. The reasons for this include 1. Cheap runs deep – I can make my own for so much less cost, 2. Fear of the Unknown – I worry about ingredient lists on labels that are too long, lists that contain words I cannot pronounce (and therefore are mystery ingredients, though I am not a nut about this, see below*) and 3. Culinary Whimsy – I like to play with food, making my own concoctions on a whim.

(BTW, Hats off to Robin at Haphazard Homemaker for her recent Berry Vinaigrette Salad Dressing post and the inspiration she gave me to share my own method.)

Salad dressing for me starts with a jar. Pick a jar, any jar. No, not any jar. Pick a jar that fits nicely in your hand. A pint-size mason jar works well. My jar, as you might guess, is not a jar I purchased as a jar but is a jar that was left over from something else, I forget what. Use a jar that came with pickles or capers or jam (or something like that) after you have finished up the pickles or capers or jam. This is my jar. It lives in a specific corner of my cabinet that is just to the right of the stove, where other, handy, easy-to-access things like salt and pepper and (in the non-blazing-hot months) butter also live.

I will explain the ruler.

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Not including salt and pepper, a given for me, salad dressing includes four components. I will call them the base, the sour, the sweet and the embellishments. I do not always embellish. Like a balloon ride, if you took one every weekend, what would be the fun after a while? I take that back. It’s true that I do not always embellish, but in fact I almost always embellish, somehow or other. Go ahead – embellish to your heart’s content – life is short!! Also, sweet is optional, but allow me to say again: Life is short!! A little sweet cuts the sour, tempers the sour, makes more palatable the sour – that’s how I see it. (Oh, and I would love to take a balloon ride someday!)

You start with a base, meaning your first decision is whether you want your dressing creamy or not. (Possibilities for each of the components are listed in a chart below.) Creamy bases start with yogurt, sour cream or mayo; non-creamy starts with the best oil you can get (at the hotel we called it EVO or EVOO for Extra Virgin Olive Oil). Before we start combining, a word about measuring. I am not the Queen of Measuring – understatement of the year right there – when it comes to salad dressing (or some other things not presently at hand). I do, however, have eyes that see reasonably well. They, combined with the jar, have proven a perfectly adequate measuring tool for me. Thus the ruler, just to demonstrate.

Imagine there are lines on the jar. Does anyone remember the bottles that people had for Wish-Bone dressings back in the day? I think it was Wish-Bone, but the company history on their web page doesn’t note this development, so I am perhaps wrong. In any case, they had little lines/marks on the side: Pour oil up to this line, then vinegar up to the next line, then pour in the packet of seasonings, put the cap on, shake it up and dress your salad. That’s what I do: I pour in the base, then the sour, then the sweet up to the lines on the jar that I “see” because I have done this often enough. Feel free to mark your jar with colored tape or whatever works for you. You can of course buy a “salad dressing jar” with markings already on it, but maybe their markings don’t represent the proportions you prefer, and proportions are different for different dressings. Your call.

Lest you think I measure minimally or haphazardly (no offense, Robin!), please understand I did not invent the eyeballing of salad dressing ingredients and I don’t hold a candle to Claudia or my mom when it comes to winging it. Claudia puts her various ingredients one at a time into a coffee cup, then stirs it up with a spoon. Mom does not use a cup or a jar (to this day, far as I know). She just puts the lettuce, cukes, whatever into the bowl, opens the bottle of oil and pours some – in a zigzag manner – over the top, the same with the vinegar, and then takes the salt canister (the big one with the spout) and again zigzags over the top of the bowl, shakes some pepper in and tosses it up. She never uses a sweet element but I always love her salads (and Claudia’s too – oh, you want to drink the dressing that’s leftover with hers, that’s how good it always is!). It’s all good.

As with many things that are both spectacular and inexact, when you are tempted to think about the quantities, think instead about proportion. I use about the same amount of base as sour, almost always. And again that much sweet when the sweet is maple syrup (probably because I like/love(!) the flavor it adds). When the sweet is honey, I use less. When it is straight-up sugar, I don’t use much at all, a teaspoon or so. You don’t need much. But to me, a little bit of sweet cuts the sourness/ sharpness of the vinegar just enough to bring the whole salad to another level. Same as a bit of salt can make all the difference.

Some people, some recipes, suggest more base proportional to the sour, some have no sweet at all (love you, Mom!!) or just a touch of sweet, some just a hint of salt or absolutely-must-be freshly ground pepper. The point here is that you will make your own salad dressing, and it will be exactly the way you like, with the components you like, in the proportions you like.

You just have to play around a little to figure out what that is. And then practice. It might be best to consider the chart below, decide what sounds good to you, try it, try it again, try it till you feel comfortable playing with a slightly different combination or proportion. Experiment, play, practice, practice, play, experiment…

For an example (and only an example), I will show a basic dressing, one that I use quite often. Assuming a salad that will serve three or four people, and using olive oil as the base, apple cider vinegar as the sour and maple syrup as the sweet, I start with pouring the oil into my jar up to a level I know to be about right for that amount of salad. Then I add about the same amount of sour, then about the same amount of sweet (a little less, it usually turns out to be, but again, inexact here!). More or less of any ingredient changes the result slightly – play around and figure out what you like.

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Once I put in the oil, vinegar and syrup in the jar, I add salt and pepper, put the cap on the jar, shake it up, pour it over my salad and toss. Voila! Quick and simple and yummy.

If you use base or sweet components that are non-liquid (like sour cream, yogurt, mayo, sugar or jam), spoon it into the jar. Then add the rest and shake like mad. Note: if/when you use jam, you might want to break it up a little (with a fork or the back of a spoon) before you start shaking so it will end up evenly distributed in the dressing.

All right, I tried making a chart and then converting it to the right format so I could insert it here, plain and simple, but these things are not plain and simple for me so, forgive me if this is less pretty, but here are lists instead.

To dress a basic salad of lettuce, tomato, red onion, cucumber, sweet pepper (and whatever you put in it), consider the following choices:

BASE
(extra virgin) olive oil (EVO)
other oils (grapeseed, canola, etc)
(plain, unsweetened) yogurt
sour cream
mayonnaise

SOUR
vinegar (cider, red, white, balsamic, rice, etc)
lemon juice

SWEET
maple syrup
honey
jam (any berry, fig, etc)
sugar (brown or white)
boiled (reduced) apple cider

EMBELLISHMENTS
pickled cucumbers or pickled anything else (mushrooms, artichokes, okra, beets, asparagus, beans, etc)
capers
dried fruit (raisins, craisins, dried cherries, etc)
herbs (endless possibilities: basil, oregano, thyme, etc)
grapes (cut in half) or other fresh fruit like apples or strawberries
olives
cheese
ham or salami
pepperoncini

Some good combinations (and don’t forget salt and pepper):

  • EVO, cider vinegar, maple syrup (on a leafy green salad)
  • Sour cream/plain yogurt, lemon juice, bit of sugar (on shredded cucumbers)
  • EVO, cider vinegar, oregano (on cooked, peeled and shredded beets)
  • Sour cream/plain yogurt, cider vinegar, sugar or honey, embellished with raisins (on broccoli salad or shredded carrots)
  • EVO, red wine vinegar (on leafy green salad embellished with olives)
  • Mayo, cider vinegar, bit of sugar, embellished with celery seed
  • EVO, balsamic vinegar, embellished with basil
  • EVO, rice vinegar, any herbs you like…

My guess is (my hope is!) that for some of you, making your own salad dressing becomes normal, commonplace, routine. You pick a jar, use the jar, find a special place for the jar. You buy your olive oil and vinegar in large bottles (way cheaper that way), transferring portions at a time to smaller bottles that are easier to pour from. You figure out over time which combination(s) you like best and make a habit of reaching for your jar when the time comes to dress the salad.

Have fun! Good luck! Enjoy every bite!

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*Re: I am not a nut about mystery ingredients: It has always seemed impracticable on my end and surely must irritating on the other end when a “diet” is so restrictive that I/you/anyone can’t even go to a neighborhood barbeque because the food there would no way be within the scope of what’s currently allowable/ fashionable/ desirable. My son Lincoln recently gave his own version of Anthony Bourdain’s enjoy-food-and-don’t-impose-your-inane-restrictions-on-everyone-else: “Nothing wrong with having your own preferences or boundaries, but I follow the 80/20 rule on that. 80% of the time (or more) I can control what I eat but I allow for 20% to be determined by the people I’m with or the social situation.” No one likes a fanatic. So as much as I can, within reason, I eat what I feel good about, what seems reasonable to me, but if I am out and about in a restaurant or someone’s home, and they didn’t make that bread with the best flour or there’s some ingredient I wish weren’t there, it’s probably not going to kill me.

Glorified Onion Soup

It all started with a pork roast. I had a small one in the freezer last week and needed something easy on a day of porch-building. Pork roast is easy: Thaw, top with chopped fresh garlic and salt and pepper and bake at 400F until just done (between 145F and 160F depending on how done you like it). Bake a few Yukon gold potatoes at the same time, make a simple gravy and serve with a salad. Done!

Except for the four slices leftover.

I put them in a small container along with the leftover gravy. Saturday came along. Mom and Jerry were coming for dinner and I had yummy, somewhat special (on account of being less often served) “rouladen,” which I realize now I intended to post the recipe for – half a year ago in my post about Mom’s bracciole! – but forgot! I promise to show you how to make them soon. The eleven yummy (but little) rouladen I made, even with spaetzle and salad on the side, seemed tight for five people. So what else can I make??

When you have onions like this growing in the garden…

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…you should be thinking of onion soup – but I didn’t. I was thinking of the rouladen and that I didn’t have enough. That was the problem!

In such situations I would sometimes just add a baguette or another salad, but somehow soup came to mind. Not onion soup, just soup. Starting a meal with soup is lovely, even in the summer. I took out a marvelous SOUPS & STEWS* cookbook my daughter gave me a few years ago (she particularly likes the Greek Lamb Stew on page 125). I leafed through the book but nothing jumped at me. This is possibly because I was determined to use that bit of leftover pork roast and none of the recipes I saw asked for four slices of leftover pork roast with gravy. Imagine!

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Onions. For me it often comes back to onions and this time was no exception.  Onions you have on hand (or in the garden). Onions are so amazingly delicious in so many ways. Looking through a book of great soups I couldn’t help but remember the onion soup I had at Mt. Vernon at the end of last summer – the day it rained almost the whole day and my feet were wet through and oh, how good that soup tasted! Hey, why not just finely chop the leftover pork roast and add it (along with the gravy) to onion soup? The gravy will act as the bit of thickener that made the Mt. Vernon soup so marvelous.

That’ll work. In the morning I chopped enough onions to make about 1 ½ cups and sautéed it slowly in 6 tablespoons of butter in my Dutch oven pot. When I say slowly I mean this took about an hour, at least an hour, maybe a little more than an hour. S – l – o – w – l – y. Anyway I got busy working on the porch. Shortly after lunchtime, as we were cutting the last of the decking boards – the edge pieces that require the jigsaw and more precision and measuring than the rest – I asked Samuel to finish the rest. I couldn’t switch gears at that point and come in and make food.

“Add enough water to fill the pot about halfway,” I told him. “Get some rosemary and thyme from the garden. I don’t have any chicken broth in the freezer so just add three each of the chicken bouillon cubes and three of the beef. Oh, and a splash of sherry. And chop up that leftover pork roast real fine and throw that in there too.”

The vagueness of my instructions was not clear to me. Some rosemary and thyme? Let’s see, the leaves from two 6” lengths of rosemary and enough thyme to fill in the balled-up palm of your hand. Chop up the pork real fine? Smaller than bite-size. I suspected it would break up smaller than that as it cooked (it did). A splash of sherry? Say about two tablespoons. Uh, Mom, I don’t see sherry… Right, well you’ll have to use that good port. It had been perfect in the Mt. Vernon soup…

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Now don’t forget that the pork had been cooked with fresh garlic, so that flavor was in there too. This concoction simmered away s – l – o – w – l – y all afternoon while I was outside trying not to be afraid of the chop saw. By the time I came in at 4 or so, the soup had reduced some, though I can’t tell you how much. Oh, also, I had had corn on the cob this past week and one ear was leftover. I had sliced off the kernels into a small container. Saw those in the fridge and said Sure, why not? and added them to the soup as well. Salt and pepper to taste of course.

It wasn’t the prettiest soup, but oh, Onion Soup with Pork and Corn (and those spectacular fresh herbs) is soooooo tasty!!

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If I had been smarter, if I had had more time, if I did not still have half of my brain thinking about soffit boxes and decking boards, etc, etc, I might have thought to make some cheesy croutons and sprinkle them on the soup before serving it when Mom and Jerry came to dinner. Oh well!

Wouldn’t you know, when I took out the SOUPS & STEWS cookbook to take a picture of it for this post, I said to myself, I bet there’s a recipe in there for onion soup. Sure thing, and not one but four recipes, including one that includes beef! Okay, not leftover pork roast with gravy, but still! You might want to try it.

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Oh and by the way, after the meal with Mom and Jerry, I had leftovers of everything except salad. As my mother would say, at least I knew I had enough food!

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*Big Book of Soups & Stews by Maryana Vollstedt, Chronicle Books, 2001.

Best Brownies Ever

After making such a fuss about chocolate the other day, I thought it only right to post my favorite brownie recipe. To me they are the best brownies ever because they are not straight-up brownies. They combine the best, richest, most-perfect-brownie-texture brownie part with two other elements that set them apart: dried cranberries, with their sweetness/zing and oatmeal cookie, with its delicate crunch and isn’t-it-kind-of-good-for-you draw.

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Basically you make what seems like a very small amount of oatmeal cookie dough, press it into the bottom of the pan, bake that for ten minutes while (in the meantime) preparing the chocolate part, to which you add the cranberries, pour it over the now-baked-for-ten-minutes cookie base, and bake for another 40 minutes. Done! Chocolate heaven awaits!

This is now the third blog post that expounds on a recipe found in my Williams Sonoma Cookies & Biscotti cookbook,* clearly a favorite from my library.book (2).2mp.jpg

I am old enough to have actual cookbooks on a shelf, and they are dear to me! I copied the recipe into my loose-leaf recipe binder at some point, possibly afraid I’d loan the cookbook to someone and then – horrors!! – not have the recipe on hand when nothing in the world will due except these brownies.

My version, slightly simplified (i.e. this is the way I do it). Note the five stars at the bottom!

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And the book’s version (with metric equivalents, which I know is much appreciated by some of you and I’m sorry I don’t always convert…):

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As noted above, the combined oats, brown sugar, flour, baking soda, salt and melted butter doesn’t seem like much, certainly not in the bowl, and even when you transfer it from the bowl to your buttered, foil-lined pan…

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…but with your fingers you can spread this out to all corners. My pan, by the way, is a wonderful Kaiser springform pan that Claudia gave me years ago and is also perfect for my chocolate cheesecake. But I have not always made this recipe in this pan. An 8” or 9” square pan works just as well. The wonder of the foil lining is that you can just lift the entire thing out when it has finished baking and cooled slightly.

So here is the oat mixture spread out…

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… and here it is after the ten minutes in the oven.

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During the ten minutes that the base is baking, you wouldn’t want to be idle of course, so that’s when you make the chocolate part. A better idea is to melt the ½ cup (one stick) of butter and the two ounces/half package unsweetened chocolate (I use this Baker’s brand) …

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…before you even start with the oatmeal part.

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Do get it all the way melted before you let it cool a bit, and then add it to the rest of the other ingredients. BTW I do not use the espresso powder as the original (note not my copied version) suggests, though you are welcome to.

The combined eggs, sugar, flour, vanilla and salt will cream together beautifully with a whisk – is there anything more basic in baking, anything more sublime? (I do this in the same bowl I mixed up the oatmeal cookie dough in. If a stray, left-behind oat happens to mix with the chocolate part, it is not the end of the world.) Then you add the melted-and-slightly-cooled chocolate/butter followed by the cranberries and bake it 40 minutes longer until it looks about like this.

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After ten minutes or so of cooling, I unhinged/took away the side part of the pan (or you can lift it out holding the foil) and peeled the foil back from the sides like this.

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I cut through it right then and there because I wanted you to see the side view.

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And then I cut it into 36 little squares. I am playing with numbers for my own benefit here, you see. If the brownies are smaller, I can have two, but if they are bigger, I will tell myself that one is enough. And you know how it is (or trust me that this is how it will be with these brownies) – you will want more!

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Voila! I hope you like them. And even if you don’t, for some reason I cannot fathom, your friends and family will! Being as rich and moist as they are, these brownies also travel well – I sent them on a Thursday a few weeks ago to my friend Fred in Kentucky; they arrived on Saturday and he waited till Sunday to eat them – how a person could wait, I have no idea, but that is another conversation.… He ate them with his coffee for breakfast and called them delicious 😊.

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*Some of you might recall the Lemon-Anise-Almond Biscotti and the Chocolate Chip Walnut Biscotti.

Zucchini Surprise Pie

It’s been busy around here: building an extension to the front porch (and dealing with the accompanying mess), preparing for company (another good reason to deal with the construction mess) and enjoying company (how nice to have cleaned up that mess!). With all of this activity, I go inevitably in and out through the front door a lot, meaning recently that I get to see certain precious images over and over – this is one of the notes of greeting that 6-year-old Rise made last week and taped to my front door. How can you see this and not smile??

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When it’s busy I forget about things, but routine is handy for calling us back. I have a garden. I planted stuff. But it’s been so busy I’ve hardly been out there except for a quick oregano-snipping or weed-lamenting visit.

Anyone who has grown zucchini knows what a zucchini surprise is. For those who are unfamiliar with this fast-growing vegetable, it’s when you are casually checking under the leaves of your various, viney garden plants to see what’s hiding, and come upon – Oh, look at that! – a baseball bat of a zucchini that you didn’t see when you were in said garden two days earlier (!). Such a surprise was mine last week when giving a mini-tour of the garden to some recent Airbnb guests.

Carrots, beets, onions, melons, cabbages and almost all herbs will reach their optimal point of harvesting and nicely wait for you to come along and take them to the kitchen. Not zucchini. It is among the most impatient of vegetables. You don’t care enough to look for me when I am in my tender prime? Fine. I will grow bigger, bigger, bigger, past my prime, and you will have a baseball bat on your hands before long!

So, yeah, past their perfect prime were those first two zucchinis, though you couldn’t call them bats yet. I gave the smaller of the two to my guests and put the other in my fridge, after checking to make sure there were no babies hiding there too, looking to expand into zucchini monsters if I were negligent again. I gave them a few days, did remember to go check, and there found four new ones, only one of which was still prime (i.e. three were already bigger than that!).

Guess it’s time to do something with zucchini! Right about then, Claudia sent me a new zucchini pie recipe called Schafskäse Zucchini Quiche. (It’s the zucchini time of year apparently!) I was intrigued by the parmesan in the crust and the goat cheese and sunflower seeds in the mixture. (Never mind that Schafskäse means sheep’s milk cheese, not goat’s milk cheese – this is unimportant.) I asked Mom if she had sunflower seeds; she didn’t, and I didn’t want to go to the store. So in the end the recipe was simply inspiration and I created my own Zucchini Surprise Pie.

For the crust I cut ½ cup cold butter into 1/3 cup finely grated romano cheese mixed with 1 ½ cups flour and ¼ tsp salt (with my pastry blender). It looked like typical pie crust crumbs, but I knew it would have an extra special taste on account of the cheese in there.

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I added ¼ cup of ice cold water (you can make it cold by adding ice cubes to the water, or use water from the fridge, or take your chances that the water coming out of your faucet is cold enough). Mix this quickly (don’t overmix) till it pulls from the sides of the bowl; make a nice ball. Roll this out on a floured surface, big enough to fit your dish – I used an oval dish that’s 12×8 inches. Best way to see if the dough is the right size is by placing your dish on top, as I did (see below). If there is enough to fit in there and come up the sides, you are good to go!

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Fold the dough in half and gently lift it up and into the dish; unfold and drape the edges over the sides. This keeps them out of the way for now. Later, you can be fancy with a scalloped edge or just flop the excess on top.

For the mixture, start by grating your zucchini (not the smallest holes you have on your grater, and not the largest). I used about 2 ½ cups in this recipe, but if you have a little more or a little less, I don’t think it would matter. To this I added 4 eggs, 8 deli slices of genoa salami (cut up), 4 oz crumbled up (by hand) goat cheese…

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… as well as 1 cup grated Jarlsberg (swiss) cheese, ¼ cup flour, 1 tsp salt, a few shakes of pepper, 3 fresh sage leaves (chopped) and the leaves off 2 stems of fresh thyme (which would amount to 2 teaspoons probably, hard to tell when it’s so fresh and not pressed down – again a little more or less won’t hurt anything). These are the herbs I used because they seemed good to me, and you know that Simon and Garfunkel song:

Are you going to Scarborough fair?
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.
Remember me to one who lives there.
She once was a true love of mine.

What parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme have to do with the fair and the love I haven’t a clue (never did). But because of that song I always thought that any/all of these herbs could be used in a recipe that calls for one or another, that they go well together and that various combinations are acceptable. See what you learn from music?? Anyway, the fresher, the better, and mine came straight from the garden into the bowl and that makes me smile. 😊

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Right about at this point I turned on my oven so it would get hot while I finished up. I set it to 375F, then mixed all of this up and poured it into my crust. Normally you put milk or cream in a quiche but the goat cheese is so creamy, you don’t need it.

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I was not in the mood to be fancy with the edges (chomping at the bit, one might say, to go lay more deck boards on the new porch) so I flopped them over and popped it in the oven. Ovens are different and people like different levels of golden-brownness; my pie stayed in my oven about 40 minutes and looked like this.

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It smelled so good!! My sister was coming and I knew she would love this, but we had decided to go out to dinner – enjoyed Rhett’s River Grill which, it turns out, is relocating by the end of the year and will be waaaay closer to my house!!

So I let the zucchini pie cool, covered it with plastic before refrigerating it, and reheated it the next day at 300F for half an hour. Delish! I love the cheese in the crust too. Taking leftovers as part of a picnic lunch to the Science Museum in Richmond the next day gave us a chance to try it cold – just as good!!

Not bad for an experiment, I’d say. Thank you, Claudia, for the inspiration! Now whoever among you has too many zucchinis…

Blueberry Snacktime!

The Ben & Jerry’s Pfish Food is gone. I enjoy it sooooo much every now and then, counting it as very special, meaning I don’t make a habit of having it around because 1. Too much Ben & Jerry’s would make me a whale and 2. I don’t want to be a whale. I’m not too keen on the lowfat or calorically-modified versions of things though because mystery ingredients make me nervous. Within the range of reason, I like to know what I’m eating.

So where does that leave me when I want something like ice cream – cold, sweet and dairy – but have met my quota of fudgy fish mixed in with the richest chocolate ice cream and luscious marshmallowy goo? (Oh, for a free pass on Pfish Food!)

It leaves me with one of my all-time favorite snacks – simple as can be AND cold, sweet and dairy.

“My blueberries,” I call it. “I’m going to have my blueberries.” By this I mean I walk to my freezer, take out the package of frozen wild Maine blueberries (the tiny ones these are, and this concoction works better with the tiny ones as compared to the giant cultivated berries), pour a little maple syrup or honey over them (say, about a tablespoon), making it look like this…

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…pour some milk over it, like this…

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…and wait five minutes or so for the frozen hardness of the berries to seep into the liquid milk, resulting in softer berries and sweet, slushy milk, which you then mix up and eat with a spoon. Oh yum! Not too heavy, just sweet enough, and I forget all about the Pfish Food!

The berries I use are Wyman’s and you can see I got the 3-pound bag of them this last time because they were on sale. Snacks don’t have to be complicated to be very, very good!

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What Do You Do With a Brisket?

I was in the meat section the other day and saw beef brisket at half price. Half price! I have never cooked a beef brisket before, but for half price, I can learn.

Brisket sounds old school to me, substantial, hearty. But I really wasn’t sure what to do with it. I turned to my trusted sources first: The Fanny Farmer Cookbook (12th edition), Joy of Cooking (22nd printing), and The New James Beard (first printing). You can’t go wrong with trusted sources, right? Can you tell which one I’ve used the most?

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I started with Fanny of course. She will tell me, I was sure. This tried-and-true cookbook falls open to the quick breads section (so often have I made muffins, pancakes, etc!) and has a section about every kind of basic cooking and baking. Surely Fanny will at least get me started.

But no. Nothing on brisket.

James Beard is out there in a weirder realm as far as my tastes are concerned, always has been. I just don’t make roast Cornish hens or pigs’ feet or sautéed brains. But that’s precisely why I had my highest hopes with him – if I don’t make it as a rule, he probably covers it. C’mon, James. Even if you give me a twist on brisket, I can work with that. Again no. Hmmm.

All right. Joy of Cooking is probably the most comprehensive of the three, as well as the easiest to follow. Titles of recipes and “About” sections ARE IN BOLD CAPS, ingredients are in lower case bold, (optional ingredients in parentheses.) Thank you, Joy of Cooking (!) – I did find BEEF BRISKET WITH SAUERKRAUT.

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But I was not in the mood for sauerkraut. You can see, though, that Joy of Cooking added “…or other boneless stewing beef” which told me I was working with meat that would need to cook for several hours in liquid. Some meats you cook fast, some you cook slow. Stew beef I understand. Stew beef I can do.

Reminds me of a time I stood in line in the dining hall where mom lives. They had meatloaf that day, and the man in front of me – at least 80 years old I’d say – was waiting for it also. We stood in front of the posted menu that included any number of rather unconventional, one could say faddish, items/ingredients.  While the staff were running to the back to get the next meatloaf coming out of the oven (clearly it was a popular choice that evening), I said to the man, “Nothing like meatloaf.”

Clearly I gave him an opportunity to vent. “They give us all this stuff, weird stuff, food I can’t pronounce. Meatloaf… meatloaf I understand. Why can’t they just give us more meatloaf?”

I learned from Joy of Cooking that brisket was stewing beef. Now we’re getting somewhere. Next I did what any sensible person in my position in 2019 would do (but sometimes avoid because of the inundation factor) – I googled beef brisket. Pick a recipe, any recipe. Ah, here’s one that starts with sautéing onion in oil, searing the meat, adding some herbs, covering it with water and letting it cook in a slow oven for a long time. Sounds simple, but it was actually way more complicated than that, and included some other ingredients I didn’t like.

All right, forget about it. Let’s sauté onion in oil, sear the meat, add some herbs, cover it with water and let it cook in a slow oven until it’s done.

I cleaned and sliced three onions and browned them in about 2 tablespoons olive oil (always use extra virgin). I chose oregano and thyme for my herbs since they are doing well in the garden right now.

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I removed these from the pan when the onions were soft enough to have lost their shape and looked at my piece of beef – too big for the pan as is. So I quartered it.

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I put another tablespoon or two of oil in the now-hot pan, turned up the heat to almost high, and let each side sizzle in the hot oil for a few minutes until nicely browned. I noticed when I stuck my large cooking fork into each piece (to put it in the pan or pull it from the bottom to turn it to another side) that the fork did not go in easily. Having to jam it in there told me that this meat would require a long cook time to get tender. Stewing beef it is.

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Three choices for the slow cooking part of this experiment stood before me: stovetop, crockpot or oven. It would have been easiest (and less clean-up) to just put the onions/herbs and water right in this pot, cover it and let it cook slowly. But it was a hot day and I didn’t want a flame on for hours. Using my crock pot seemed a good alternative, but it is not very big. But by the time I put the everything in, it was nearly overflowing. Not a good plan.

Oh, this might be a good occasion for the Lodge cast iron Dutch oven! I retrieved it from its home on top of the fridge in the basement, and everything fit nicely. Besides the meat, sautéed onions/herbs and water (enough to just cover the meat), I added salt and pepper of course, a moderate sprinkling (you can always add more later if you want). I covered the pot, put it in the oven, turned the temp to 325F, shut the door and walked away.

The aroma of the slowly cooking beef in the house all afternoon would have been reward enough, but the taste of the broth was heavenly and the fork went into that meat like nothing after four hours (during which time I might have basted the meat or in some other way tended it, but didn’t, must have been busy elsewhere). Success!

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Notice the liquid cooked way down, concentrating the flavors and softening the meat. I can (you can!) do something with a brisket. This works – it’s simple and delicious. Your call to decide about adding roasted potatoes or spaetzle or whatever side dish would gladly share the savory juices. I am quite pleased about it. Next time you see a half-price brisket, go for it!

Best Beet Salad

In our family you get to say what you want for your birthday dinner. The process starts about a week before the birthday with me saying, “So, what do you want for your birthday dinner?” A few days later, when I ask again, I get an answer and proceed. This year, along with herbed salmon (a recipe I got twenty years ago and have made countless times since) and mushroom risotto (which I have never made because I am not fond of mushrooms), he asked for beet salad.

My mom made beet salad when I was a kid. In retrospect I see it was one of those salads you can make without having anything fresh in the fridge. If you want, you can open a can of whole beets, drain and grate them, add the dressing (oil, vinegar, salt, pepper and dried oregano, see below) and serve. But if you want it best, use fresh beets and fresh oregano.

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The ones I got were about as big as baseballs. I have not found a difference in flavor – big beets vs. small beets – so get what looks fresh. Look at the greens. If the greens look fresh, as in not wilting, the beets (which look the same regardless) are fresh. I cut the greens off (for chickens in my case, though some people would cook them separately) and put them in a pot.

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Notice how clear the water is. This does not last long. As soon as they start cooking, the water will get pink/red. Turn on the flame, bring to a boil, then turn down and let simmer. Cook the beets until you can put a knife into them easily, which could be 20 minutes and could be 40, depending on the size of the beets. Mine took 40. I was doing other things so just turned the flame off when they were done and walked away. An hour or so later, Samuel said Hey, look at the rings in the water.

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If anyone knows what that is, I’d be curious. I don’t think it’s bad. We all ate the salad yesterday and live to tell about it.

When you are ready, drain the beets and fill your pot again with cold water. If you have let some time go by, all the better because you handle these with your hands and if they are cooler, you will have an easier time of it. (If you are pressed for time and the beets are hot, you can do the job of getting the skins off while holding the beet under cold running water.)

Your thumbs are the best tool in the kitchen for this job. You can use a knife, but you will forfeit part of the beet. With your thumbs, exert pressure and push, slightly to the side. The skin should pop off. If you dunk the beet in the water now and then to give the sloughed-off skin a place to go (it likes to swim in the red water of the pot), you can see your progress more easily. You will need a knife for stubborn parts and for the end that the greens had been attached to. Beets are generally loath to give up all their skin without some resistance, a good reminder to us all, right? Don’t be a total pushover.

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Now notice that my hand is clean in the photo above. Duh, you say, of course you would work with clean hands. Yes, I work with clean hands. But this was the first beet. Remember how the water in the pot became red? So will your hands become red, which is actually kind of cool if it doesn’t gross you out.

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Which is to say – and this is a warning – do not wear that new white shirt you have, nor anything you might be sorry you splashed beet juice on. Wearing an apron when working with beets is a good idea. You could stain wood with beet juice.

Now don’t worry. Your hands will wash clean soon afterwards. The white shirt I can’t promise anything about.

When all the beets are skinless, rinse your hands and get out your grater. Here’s mine that I love (and my mother hates for reasons I will never understand). It’s a perfectly fine grater and whatever you grate ends up in the container below.

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Next, if you are fortunate to have fresh oregano in your garden…

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… go get eight to ten stems, take the leaves off and chop it up fine. That’s what I needed for the about 8 cups of beets I had for my salad. Remember it was Samuel’s birthday, meaning there would be extra people for dinner, and beet salad keeps very well in the fridge (wide-mouth mason jars are perfect for storage), so I like making a big bowlful. I had a full quart leftover.

Add the chopped up, fresh oregano to your grated beets as well as a small onion, chopped fine. It doesn’t matter if you use red onion or white onion. You will not be able to find the onion in the salad once the beet juice stains it red anyway. If you are partial to the flavor of onion, you can add more onion. No one will get in your way. In the rare, practically unthinkable instance that you don’t have any onion in the house, carry on without it. The oregano is what makes the difference in this dressing. If you don’t have fresh oregano, use dried. I would use one full teaspoon per four cups of grated beets.

The rest is simple: olive oil (extra virgin is best), apple cider vinegar, salt and pepper.

The basic proportion of oil to vinegar in this salad is almost 1:1 but not quite. Use somewhat more oil than vinegar. Per four cups of grated beets, use 1/3 cup oil and ¼ cup vinegar. Salt and pepper to taste. It’s yummy at room temperature or chilled. It’s yummy as a side dish or a snack. It’s yummy!