Our granddaughter and her father recently made a whirlwind trip to help her with her final decision about college. That meant our usual Sunday Family Dinner was changed to simple stir fry, and on return of the travelers Carol made a celebratory steak dinner for her family. Susan and I thought it was important for that to be a special time for parents and children, so we planned our own meal. A few days before that, Susan had plunked on my desk a recipe she had torn out of a magazine. It was for a combination of turkey and tater tots, and I took the message that Susan wanted to give it a try. So I went to the store for frozen tater tots and canned beans. Instead of turkey, though, I used some franks and diced ham that were in the refrigerator. The result was definitely not gourmet eating, but it wound up tasting better than either Susan or I had anticipated. The next day we got to give our granddaughter a big hug and our congratulations.
Tater Tot Casserole
- 28 ounce can baked beans
- 4 beef frankfurters, cut into ½-inch slices
- 8 ounces diced ham
- 6 small crimini mushrooms, chopped
- 4 scallions, white and green, sliced
- 2 ounces, cheddar cheese, shredded
- 1 pound frozen tater tots (about)
- Combine the baked beans, frankfurters, ham, mushrooms, and scallions and pour into a baking dish.
- Sprinkle the top of the mixture with grated cheese and arrange the tater tots on top of the cheese.
- Bake in the middle of a preheated oven at 350°F for 45 minutes or until the tater tots are browned and crisp.
- Serve while still warm.
Family Sunday dinner was off this week because Carol, her husband, and their daughter had an important school event. Susan and I spent the evening with our grandson, so I decided to fix one of his favorite meals, shrimp and grits. That Southern classic clearly needed a traditional Southern dessert to go with it. I thought about banana pudding ringed with vanilla wafers. What Southern cafeteria or Southern school lunchroom doesn’t have their own version? That led me to cream pie – in particular, banana cream pie – and as I was free-associating, bananas Foster. I know that shrimp and grits is very much part of the Low Country of South Carolina and Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill, North Carolina while bananas Foster is quintessential New Orleans and Brennan’s. Cream pie is more or less middle ground and definitely Southern, but traditional banana cream pie dressed up a bit with the flavors of bananas Foster might be tasty. This is my spin.
The topping is Swiss meringue, but you could top it with whipped cream. You could even set it ablaze with some added heated brandy like a baked Alaska. Then you would wind up with an even more authentic bananas Foster.
Bananas Foster Cream Pie
- ¾ cup dark brown sugar
- 4 tablespoons cornstarch
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 3 cups milk
- 5 egg yolks
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 2 tablespoons banana liqueur
- 2 tablespoons dark rum
- 1 9-inch baked pie shell in a pie pan
- 2 bananas
- In a heavy bottomed saucepan, combine brown sugar, cornstarch, and salt. Stir to combine evenly. Gradually whisk in milk to form a smooth mixture. Whisk in the egg yolks until they are completely incorporated.
- Place the pan over medium-low heat and stir constantly until the mixture comes to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and continue to stir for several minutes until the mixture is thickened and smooth.
- Remove from the heat. Stir in the cinnamon, banana liqueur and rum.
- Let the mixture cool for 15 minutes while you prepare the bananas.
- Peel the bananas and cut into ¼-inch slices, spreading the slices across the bottom of the baked pie shell.
- Pour the cooled filling over the banana slices. Chill the pie while you prepare meringue.
- 5 egg whites
- 8 tablespoons sugar
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- Combine the egg whites, sugar, and salt in a bowl that can be set over – not in – a saucepan of simmering water. Stir until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is warm to the touch. Remove the bowl from the water bath and beat with an electric mixer at high speed for 5 minutes or until the mixture forms stiff peaks.
- Remove the pie from the refrigerator. Spread the meringue over the pie being careful to completely cover the filling.
- Place the pie with topping under a preheated broiler for only a moment or two until the meringue is lightly browned. At this point it is very easy to burn unless you are paying constant attention.
- Remove the pie from under the broiler. Serve immediately or refrigerate until ready to serve.
Last night was Oscars Night and we headed to Carol’s house to watch the festivities and to compete in the family predicting-the-winners sweepstakes. This is a long tradition at Carol’s, and we have been invited each year since our move to California. Carol had planned to have steak and cold boiled shrimp for what was our usual Sunday family dinner, but she has been under the weather lately. I suggested that I make some odds and ends of thing so that she could stay off her feet. She insisted on the steak and shrimp – which was alright by me – but I went ahead and made some snacks that we could enjoy in front of the television. I tried to make the food simple so that nobody had to do too much cooking. This dip is simple. It takes about 30 minutes to assemble and with store-bought tortilla chips makes an attractive party platter.
The seven layer taco dip turned out to be a big hit. The first time that I ever enjoyed it was over fifty years ago at a family gathering. Susan’s sister, who was famous in the family for no-fuss party foods brought a huge platter that was devoured in short order. Like so many classics of fifty years ago, taco dip has faded into obscurity. I’m not sure why because it is tasty, a crowd pleaser, and easy to make. It was popular last night. As an aside, I was nowhere close to winning the sweepstakes. Just like last year, the teen-age film buff walked away with the prize, although she was tied by her dad, who is also a movie fan. Susan, who is oblivious to movie stars, always gives the two champs a run for their money. How does that happen?
Layer One: refried beans
Layer Two: avocado
Layer Three: sour cream and cream cheese
Layer Four: salsa
Layer Five: tomatoes, peppers, onions and lettuce
Layer Six: cheddar and jack cheese
Layer Seven: black olives
The end result
Seven Layer Taco Dip
- 14.5 ounce can refried beans
- 1 envelope taco seasoning
- 2 ripe medium avocados
- juice of 1 lime
- 8 ounces (1 brick) cream cheese, room temperature
- 1 cup sour cream
- 16 ounce bottle salsa
- 2 Roma tomatoes, diced
- ½ green bell pepper, chopped
- 3 snacking peppers seeded and chopped
- 3 green onions, thinly sliced, green tops included
- ¼ head iceberg lettuce, shredded finely
- 2 cups grated cheddar/Monterey jack cheese (packaged pre-shredded is great)
- 4 ounce can sliced black olives, drained
- salt and pepper
- hot sauce (optional)
- Layer One: Combine the refried beans and taco seasoning. Spread on a 12-16 inch serving platter.
- Layer Two: With a fork, mash the avocados, along with the lime juice, in a small bowl to your preferred consistency. Spread on top of the refried beans.
- Layer Three: Combine the cream cheese and sour cream until they are smooth and completely blended. Spread on top of the avocado.
- Layer Four: Pour the salsa over the cream cheese mixture. If the salsa is too runny, you may wish to drain it in a strainer over the sink before pouring it over the cream cheese.
- Layer Five: Combine the tomatoes, chopped peppers, and green onions. Arrange on top of the salsa and then add the shredded lettuce.
- Layer Six: Sprinkle the grated cheese over the vegetable layer.
- Layer Seven: Top with sliced black olives.
- Serve with tortilla chips. Adjust seasoning of each layer as you go with salt, pepper, and optional hot sauce.
Our stove is still unrepaired so I continue using my daughter’s slow cooker. I hope that she doesn’t ask for it back any time soon as we’re still uncertain about how much longer the stove will be out of commission. The rotisserie chicken for Sunday dinner turned out well. I had done two chickens so there were lots of leftovers for us and for Carol. I tried to think of how I could use the chicken in some slow cooker recipe. Soup immediately came to mind, but it seemed too hot outside for soup. I couldn’t figure out how to make chicken pot pie or chicken and dumplings without a stove. Old-fashioned chicken spaghetti sounded like a good option. We ate chicken spaghetti at the East Texas farm for as far back as I can remember. The recipe was a treasure of Susan’s mother and included a generous amount of Velveeta. I suspect the original recipe came from a Velveeta box and that it has been copied onto 3 x 5 cards in many families. This is not the authentic recipe. I used sharp Cheddar instead of Velveeta. I also wound up cleaning out the vegetable drawer in the refrigerator along with using up all of the leftover chicken. Since the leftover chicken had been topped with garlic butter, I did not add garlic, but you could if you like. The slow cooker was the perfect utensil for the project.
Slow Cooker Chicken Spaghetti
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- ½ medium onion, chopped
- 1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
- 2 ribs celery, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced (optional)
- 4 cups chicken stock
- 8 ounces spaghetti
- 4 ounces Cheddar cheese, shredded
- leftover roasted chicken, bones and skin removed, cut into bite-sized pieces (about 4 cups)
- salt and pepper
- Sweat onions in olive oil for about 5 minutes with slow cooker set on High. Add pepper, celery, and optional garlic. Cook for another 10 minutes. Then add chicken stock and cook for 1 hour or until the vegetables are tender.
- Break the spaghetti into pieces that will fit into the slow cooker and stir into the pot. Cook for 20 minutes on High or until the spaghetti is just al dente.
- Reduce the heat to Low. Stir in the grated cheese until it is melted. Add the chicken and cook just long enough to warm it thoroughly. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.
Things just came together. Our range and oven have been out of service for over two weeks while we await a back-ordered replacement computer board. We have been relying on ancillary kitchen appliances: the microwave, an induction plate that I bought, a George Forman grill, etc. We had not yet used our waffle iron, so it was time. Peter and René had brought us a bottle of Canadian maple syrup from a recent visit to Montreal. Finally, the cupboard was nearly bare as I had been putting off going to the grocery store. A waffle supper with fried eggs done on the induction plate, bacon cooked in the microwave, and waffles in the iron seemed obvious.
This is an old family recipe. Carol made these many years ago for a family gathering in Santa Fe. The waffles were so good that I asked her to contribute the recipe to the family cook book. She called them the best ever, so I titled the recipe, “Carol’s Best-Ever Raised Waffles”.
Actually, the recipe is not original. It came from Marion Cunningham’s masterful revision of The Fanny Farmer Cookbook. Since then the recipe has been reprinted countless times, often verbatim, and including the internet sites, Epicurious and Food52. Most of the internet reviews are glowing, with some notable exceptions. One writer said that the waffles were so limp and tasteless that she threw the remaining batter down the disposal. While it is true that the waffles will not be as crisp as what you might be used to, my hunch is that she used bad yeast or forgot to add the eggs in the morning or something. Other writers substituted oil for melted butter, vanilla-flavored almond milk for milk. or gluten-free flour for all-purpose flour. Some complained that the batter was too thin and added ¾ cup of flour. You could do any or all of those things, but then you would have a different recipe and a different waffle.
If you follow the recipe as written, you will wind up with a waffle that has the yeasty aroma of a French boulangerie, the taste of a fresh sweet roll straight from the oven, and a lightness that absorbs the unctuous flavors of added melted butter and maple syrup. My latest effort resulted in waffles just as I remembered them from Carol’s introduction years ago. Keep in mind that if you plan on breakfast waffles, you need to start the night before; if you plan on a waffle supper, start in the morning.
- ½ cup warm water
- 1 package dry yeast
- 2 cups warm milk
- ½ cup (1 stick) melted butter
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 eggs
- ¼ teaspoon baking soda
- Pour the warm water into a large bowl. Sprinkle the yeast over the water and let stand for 5 minutes to dissolve.
- Add the milk, butter, salt, sugar, and flour. Beat with a hand-held electric mixer until smooth and blended.
- Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature over night or all day. The batter should rise to about double its volume.
- Just before cooking the waffles, beat in the eggs and baking soda, stirring until well mixed. The batter will be very thin.
- Pour ½ to ¾ cups of batter into each mold of a very hot waffle iron. Bake the waffles until they are golden and crisp. Serve immediately or cool on a baking rack to prevent then from getting soggy.
What a surprise to find authentic Hatch chiles in busy Los Angeles. My daughter, Carol, told me that a local grocery store brings in a big shipment every summer. On a certain Saturday they have a chile roaster operating in the parking lot – just like Santa Fe! Unfortunately we missed the roaster, but we bought a supply of green chiles. I roasted them in two batches: first with my trusty fail-safe portable device. (I have written about it several times in the past. It is available at the Santa Fe School of Cooking, and they ship.) I wound up going to Carol’s house because she has a gas stove – and our stove at the apartment is out of commission with a sick electronic board. (My grandmother’s wood-burning stove always worked if you could chop the wood. To my knowledge, it never required a board replacement. End of rant.) I roasted the second batch on the gas grill in our apartment common area.
When I first learned of the availability of Hatch chiles in Los Angeles, I made the rash commitment to make chiles rellenos. That effort is widely recognized as an affirmation of a grandparent’s love for his or her family. That is because making chiles rellenos is a multi-step process – nothing really difficult, but definitely labor intensive. Still, it is always worth the work. The enthusiasm of the diners is much appreciated by the tired cook. Make plenty. Two to three per person is a good target, but serve them quickly after you fry them. A fresh, fluffy, crispy chile relleno is a thing to savor; an old soggy version is forgettable in an unforgettable way. We ate ours for Sunday family dinner along with Margaritas, Mexican rice, refried black beans, and de-constructed Caesar salad. Everyone seemed to enjoy the meal. And then Carol served an ice cream tart with a delicious nectarine sauce. The perfect ending.
STEPS IN THE MANUFACTURE OF CHILES RELLENOS
Roasting the chiles
- Turn on your heat source and top with any special roasting device you might have. A gas flame works better than an electric range. You could use a wood fire. A broiler in your oven will also work. In any event, it is important that the source be very hot.
- Arrange chiles on the roasting surface. If you are using the broiler in your oven, use a heavy pan that will not warp with the high heat.
- With long tongs, turn the chiles frequently as they roast. The chiles will become blistered, charred, and black. Don’t be alarmed. That is what you want. Adjust the chiles over the flame so that all sides and all parts become charred.
- As the chiles become charred to your wishes, move them to a plastic bag that can be folded over to contain the heat. REMEMBER: the chiles are hot at this point, so be careful not to burn yourself.
- Add more chiles until you have roasted your supply, and they have all been transferred to a plastic bag.
- Allow the chiles to cool completely in the bag. This may take thirty minutes or longer.
- Remove the chiles from the bag. Under a thin stream of cold water, use your fingers to pull the charred skin off of each chile. The char should pull off easily, and you will have a smooth, olive-colored chile for the next step in the process. Repeat the process until all of the chiles have been peeled.
Preparing the chiles for stuffing
- With a sharp, pointed paring knife make a slit along one of the edges of the chile. Start at the stem and extend the slit about 3 inches.
- Under a stream of cold water, gently open the slit, and with your finger pull out the seed bundle located directly under the stem. The paring knife may help in the process. Rinse free any loose seeds. Pat dry with paper towels or a dish towel.
- Cut “fingers” of good melting cheese – Monterey jack, cheddar, mozzarella, Chihuahua, asadero – about ¼ inch x ¼ inch x 4 inches. I like to use fingers of two different cheeses for each stuffed chile. Slide the cheese fingers gently into the chile through the slit. Don’t pack the cheese too tightly or the chile will burst. Not enough cheese and the chile will be undistinguished.
- Fold the loose sides of the slit over the cheese so that it is completely covered.
- Refrigerate until you are ready to fry the chiles.
Coating and frying the chiles
Ingredients (enough batter for about 12 chiles)
- 3 eggs, room temperature, separated
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 cup flour
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- 1½ tablespoons vegetable oil
- flour for dusting chiles
- vegetable oil for frying
- In a large, wide bowl, whisk the egg yolks. Then stir in the milk, flour, salt and vegetable oil. Whisk together until most of the lumps are gone. Let rest for 30 minutes and whisk again. You should have a smooth mixture.
- Meanwhile, whip the egg whites with a rotary beater or hand mixer until they form peaks. Fold the stiffened egg whites into the batter mixture. Let rest for 30 minutes and then stir gently to incorporate any fluffs of egg white that may remain.
- When you are ready to fry the chiles, heat about 2 inches of vegetable oil to 375°F in a sturdy, deep pot. Dust the stuffed chiles with flour. Then, working one by one, use the stem as a handle to dip a chile into the batter, making sure the cheese is completely enclosed and the chile is covered with batter.
- Carefully lower the chile into the hot oil. Be very careful not to burn yourself. If there is room in the pot, add more chiles, but do not crowd them.
- When the chile is well-browned on one side, turn with long tongs, and brown the other side. Remove browned chiles to a plate lined with paper towels to keep warm in the oven until all of the chiles have been fried. Replenish the oil as needed.
- Serve immediately with your favorite salsa.
Fried chicken has always been popular in our family. Probably it is in most families. And there have been lots of family cooks who have staked their reputation on their version of the delicacy.
My mother was celebrated among her family contemporaries as the champion, and her special family dinner was always fried chicken, mashed potatoes and cream gravy. A picnic in the mountains was an anticipated treat of childhood. My mother would fry up two chickens, pack them into a big glass jar that she reserved for the occasion, and arrange the jar in the back window of our Willys Overland Americar to keep the chicken warm until we reached our destination. (Why none of us ever came down with a fatal food-borne illness I will never know.) At the picnic table we would reach into the jar and pull out a favorite piece – or the back if we were too late. There was never any chicken left.
My mother-in-law often served fried chicken when family had gathered around her table at the farm. The crispy skin and juicy meat stimulated sibling rivalry at the table, sometimes triggereing mild rebuke from PopPop, the patriarch, who had high expectations for table manners.
Sarah, also known as Sally Hurricane, has for years made fried chicken for family meals at the restaurants where she has worked. Now she serves an off-menu treat at RT Rotisserie that is known as Sally Hurricane’s Southern Fried Chicken. I have written about it in this journal, and there is a story about it in the San Francisco Chronicle.
Susan and Carol also make some mean versions of fried chicken, but Susan has largely turned from cooking to gardening, and Carol doesn’t like to fry things. So, for a recent Sunday family dinner I decided to make fried chicken (one of Carol’s all-time favorite foods) with salt-crusted fingerling potatoes instead of the usual mashers but keeping the traditional cream gravy.
Sprigs of rosemary
Welsh smoked sea salt
Salt-crusted fingerling potatoes
Inspired by a recent visit to RT Rotisserie, I have been thinking about fried chicken a lot lately. RT ages its chickens before roasting them on the rotisserie. The cooks arrange trussed chickens on big racks in a large cold room in order to dry them a bit and make the skin crispier. That’s similar to what is done to make the skin on Peking duck so crispy.
Also, I have become interested in slower cooking: a potato baked longer at a lower temperature seems fluffier, and a braise at a lower temperature seems more flavorful. (Think crock pot?) Usually I start frying chicken at a high temperature until it is brown and then reduce the temperature to complete the cooking. I thought that I would give “slow from the start” a chance. All in all, my experiments turned out ok. I thought the chicken was crispy and tasty. What more can one ask? One important thing I did learn was that when you fry chicken at a lower temperature be sure to get the skin as dark as you want it before you turn it. Turn each chicken piece only once; otherwise it will stick to the pan and you’ll lose the crispy skin that you have been trying so hard to achieve.
In the frying pan
Ready to serve
Fried Chicken and Cream Gravy
- 1 whole chicken
- ¾ cup flour
- 2 tablespoons salt
- 2 tablespoons pepper
- 2 teaspoons paprika
- 2 teaspoons poultry seasoning
- 3 tablespoons canola or peanut oil for frying
- 1 cup milk
- 1 cup chicken stock
- Using a very sharp large chef’s knife, cut the chicken into serving pieces. You should wind up with 2 wings, 2 thighs, 2 drumsticks, 2 or 3 pieces of breast meat depending on how you cut it up, and the back, which you can fry after cutting into 2 pieces or for some other purpose such as making chicken stock. If you prefer, you can buy ready-prepared chicken parts.
- Place the cut-up chicken in a large pie plate and set in the refrigerator, uncovered, overnight. Turn occasionally while it rests.
- When you are ready to fry the chicken, combine the flour, salt, pepper, paprika, and poultry seasoning in a sealable quart plastic bag. Mix well, then reserve 2 tablespoons in a separate bowl to be used later for making cream gravy.
- Heat the oil in a large heavy-bottomed frying pan over medium-low heat. Make sure it is up to heat before you add the chicken. (I used a ceramic cooktop set at 2.4 with a full range of 10)
- When the frying pan is heated, add one piece of chicken to the plastic bag, seal and shake. Remove the chicken from the bag, shake loose any excess flour mixture and place in the hot oil, skin side down.
- Repeat the process until all of the pieces of chicken have been floured and added to the frying pan. If you have one, cover with a spatter shield. Do not cover with a lid.
- Fry the chicken without turning for 15 minutes or until the skin has browned to your liking. Turn the chicken pieces and continue to fry, again not turning, for another 15 minutes or until the chicken is well browned and cooked through. An instant-read thermometer may be useful at this point. The internal temperature of the chicken should read 170°F.
- Transfer the fried chicken to a large plate and place in a warm oven until the gravy is made.
- Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the frying oil and return the pan to the heat. In a Mason jar, combine the reserved flour mixture, milk and chicken stock, seal with a screw lid and shake until completely mixed. Add the mixture to the heated frying oil.
- Stirring constantly, bring the mixture to a low boil and cook until it thickens, about 3 minutes. Correct the seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve while still warm along with the fried chicken.