This week’s family Sunday dinner was different. I was excused from any cooking. The reason for the change of routine is that daughter Carol planned a very special dinner of all of her daughter’s favorite foods. Our oldest grandchild will be heading off to college this next week. She will be 2500 miles away on the East Coast so it is not likely she will get to enjoy Mom’s home cooking sooner than the holidays. Our granddaughter is very excited for this new adventure although she’s also a little anxious about the prospects of being so far from a “real beach.” An equal reality is that Mom will no longer get to cook for her daughter.
Here’s the menu: goat cheese, crackers and crudités, barbecued brisket, Hawaiian rolls, “corny corn,”caprese salad, watermelon, nectarine fruit salad, and red velvet cake for dessert. The meal was a huge success because everything on the menu is a family favorite. Carol used her own recipe for the brisket: she starts the meat on the stove in a Cameron smoker primed with wood chips, then transfers it to a slow oven for several hours, and then finishes it on the backyard grill. I’ve written about Susan’s brisket recipe here. That recipe is easy and delicious. The brisket can be cut with a fork, and the juices can be turned into a fragrant, flavorful pan sauce. Carol’s “corny corn” is best made with fresh corn cut from the cob. The summer season is perfect for that. Corn cut from six ears is sautéed in six tablespoons of butter, seasoned with salt and pepper along with the juice and zest of two limes, mixed with a half cup of mayonnaise and about two cups of grated Cheddar cheese, topped with a cup of toasted panko and more Cheddar and grated Parmesan cheese, and then browned under the broiler. The salad was a caprese with slices of mozzarella layered with basil and chunks of tomato from the farmers market. My granddaughter’s favorite ingredient in the salad is the balsamic vinegar. Chilled watermelon and a nectarine fruit salad were also on the buffet. As if that was not enough food, there was still dessert. We’ve been enjoying red velvet cake, aka Waldorf Astoria cake, since days on the farm years ago when Aunt Mary regaled us with the story, undoubtedly apocryphal, of a friend who talked her waiter in the restaurant at that fabled hotel into mailing the recipe for the cake. When the friend received the envelope, she found the recipe and a bill for $200. We have laughed at that story for years, and we are always reminded of it, Aunt Mary, and the farm whenever we get to enjoy a slice of red velvet cake.
Goat cheese and crackers
Finishing the brisket on the grill
Chopping the brisket
Out of the oven
Red velvet cake
My contribution to the feast was restricted to a big bag of Kettle® sea salt and vinegar potato chips (no other brand will do). I have bought many a small bag over the years as an after-school treat for our granddaughter since she was a little girl. They remain her favorite snack.
The next few days in Carol’s household will be filled with stories, memories, and warm words as they pack up new clothes and special treasures. Soon enough there will also be a few tears. I remember saying goodbye to my mother as I boarded the train in a freak September snow storm, and I remember getting Carol situated in her dorm room as if it were yesterday. Sending a child off to college is one of the saddest, happiest, proudest moments in life. We will all remember Carol’s farewell banquet for years to come.
Filed under Food, Recipes
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.