Since our move to Los Angeles, Sunday dinner with the family has become a tradition that we all enjoy and do all we can to avoid missing. The dinner was originally Carol’s suggestion, and her rules were very simple: We would rotate between our house and her house. The host was responsible for the main meal and the visitor was responsible for an appetizer with drinks along with dessert. The rules were modified when, as is our wont in this competitive family, the appetizers grew ever-more complex and caloric. They were tasty, but it became clear that our bathroom scales could not sustain the weekly onslaught to our “diets”. Thus, the appetizers were downsized to crudités or nuts. Even with this revision, there is plenty to eat, and the food is always thoughtfully planned, cooked and anticipated. Every week, my grandson begins to ask around Tuesday or Wednesday what’s planned for Sunday. The pressure is definitely on.
Even though the food is always excellent, for me – and I think for others – the highlight of the evening is the conversation. Everyone brings us up to date on their activities and news of the past week. Then we review activities of the week ahead so that schedules don’t conflict and duties are assigned. What follows is a lively, free-ranging conversation in which everyone contributes. We steer clear of politics, not because of differences but because we’re mostly politicked-out by the weekend. New movies and music are popular topics, especially with the teenagers. Current events and community activities are also included in the discussions. This last Sunday was a little melancholy. We were still enjoying the excitement of high school graduation and the anticipation of the next chapter in a young life. But the euphoria was tempered by the realization that our granddaughter would not be part of the conversation in a couple of months. She would be clear across the country, engaged with new challenges and new friends. Perhaps that made the conversation this last Sunday even livelier than usual. Still, we’ll have the rest of the summer to enjoy our granddaughter before she is off.
Frederick, South Dakota ca. 1920
Frederick, South Dakota, ca. 2000
Carol made a delicious meal: roasted pork, glazed carrots from a recipe by Ina Garten, a savory rice pilaf, and a salad that included watercress, fresh cherries, and strawberries all from the farmers market that morning. It was my turn for dessert. Cherries are just about finished for the season, so I thought of Black Forest cake, but some of the family doesn’t like cake. Stone fruits are just beginning to reach their peak at the farmers market; there were apricots, peaches, many varieties of plums, pluots, and nectarines – no lack of choices for a juicy pie. Everyone likes pie, so the basic choice was made. Looking for ideas, I turned to the beautiful cookbook, Four and Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book, written by the two sisters, Emily Elsen and Melissa Elsen, who left successful New York City careers to start their famous pie shop in Brooklyn, now with at least three outlets in the city. The sisters hail from Hecla, South Dakota (population 227) just down the road from Frederick (population 199) where my mother grew up. That makes their terrific pie recipes (and images) more neighborly and not so “big city”. I chose their version of nectarine and blueberry pie. I found both the nectarines and blueberries at one of our family’s favorite stands at the farmers market. I made a few changes in the recipe (of course) but this is essentially the recipe from Emily and Melissa.
Salad with watercress, strawberries, cherries
Nectarine and Blueberry Pie
- 3 cups sliced nectarines (about 3-4 fruit)
- 3 cups blueberries
- zest from ½ lemon
- juice from ½ lemon, strained
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- dash Angostura bitters
- two rounds of pie pastry for a nine-inch pie (I used prepared pie crust from the frozen food section of the grocery store)
- 1 egg whisked with 1 tablespoon water and pinch of salt for egg wash
- turbinado sugar
- In a large bowl, combine the nectarines, blueberries, lemon zest, lemon juice, nutmeg, cinnamon, salt, and bitters. Mix gently and set aside while you prepare the pie crust.
- Roll the pastry dough if necessary to fill a 9-inch pie pan. Arrange one of the rounds in the pan and chill for 15 minutes in the refrigerator. Then add the fruit mixture to the chilled pie shell.
- Top the filling with the remaining pastry round or you may cut the round into strips to make a lattice top. Crimp the edges of the pie and, if you are using the whole round, cut several vents near the center.
- Using a pastry brush,, paint the top crust with the egg wash and sprinkle generously with turbinado sugar. Chill in the refrigerator for 15 minutes
- In the meantime, arrange the racks in the oven so that one is at the lowest level and one is in the middle of the oven. Place a rimmed baking sheet on the lowest rack and preheat the oven to 425°F.
- Place the pie in the middle of the baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes. Then lower the oven temperature to 375°F, transfer the pie and the baking sheet to the middle rack, and bake for an additional 30 minutes.
- When the pie is golden brown, remove from the oven, transfer the baked pie to a cooking rack, and cool completely.
- Serve warm or at room temperature. Add a scoop of ice cream if you wish.
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.