Old Fashioned Idea

Most people who like to cook and eat also collect recipes. Sometimes it’s in the form of books and sometimes it’s in the form of a mess of recipe cards, newspaper articles and general scraps of paper.

This is just a tiny fraction of my mess of a collection!

This is just a tiny fraction of my mess of a collection!

A few years back I did put together a bunch of recipes from family and friends to create one of those little homemade cookbooks. You know the kind – you make it on your home computer software and have it bound into a little book at the local copy shop. It turned out pretty good and makes nice gifts!
I would love to say that I tested every recipe that was included but that would have been an extra year and 20 pounds so I went ahead and included them even if I haven’t actually made them. (I had to believe my family and friends wouldn’t make bad stuff right?)
Recently I decided to make one of the vintage recipes that was submitted by an aunt on my father’s side. Old fashioned Persimmon cookies.
baked cookies
His side of the family hails from California so Aunt Ethel probably had a persimmon tree growing in her backyard. (circa 1958) This was a considerable undertaking as I really had no idea what a persimmon even was or tasted like. But I hunted some down at my local supermarket. (It helps that I live in a big city area with access to foods from around the world.) I bought a few, ripened them in a paper bag with a banana for a few days and then the big moment…

The flesh kinda reminded me of a tomato with thicker skin. They tasted good – mild not citrus-y.
The cookies turned out pretty good considering I am not great at baking. I made myself follow the directions EXACTLY – it was tough. These cookies seem to be the kind that are moist and cake-like. (unless I just under-cooked them.) The spices play a big role in the cookies and the persimmon is mild so maybe cutting the spice amount in half might let the fruit shine through a bit more? Also I think I should have mashed the fruit more for even distribution or perhaps they weren’t ripe/soft enough?

fruit rinds

I cleaned them out as best I could and didn’t seem to find any seeds!

The Recipe
1 cup persimmon pulp (I needed about 3-4 small ones to get this)
1 tsp baking soda
1 egg (large)
1 “cube” (stick) margarine**
2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup white sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp nutmeg
3/4 cup chopped nut of choice (I used pecans)
3/4 cup raisins (I used chopped dried cranberries instead)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl mix pulp and baking soda – set aside. In larger bowl cream the margarine and sugar together. Beat the egg lightly and add to sugar mixture. Add pulp and mix again. Sift flour, baking soda, salt and spices together and add to mix. Stir in chopped nuts and raisins/cranberries. Drop golf ball size balls onto a greased or parchment lined cookie sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes until just browning. Cool on wire rack. Store in airtight container.

**I translated a “cube” of margarine to mean 1 stick and therefore used 4 ounces of shortening (Crisco). I am pretty sure the “cube” reference probably referred to the old-fashioned margarine product named “oleo” READERS please straighten me out if you think otherwise!!

All Star Cookout

Recently I had a friend from grad school and her husband over for a cookout. They are from China and when they had us over, they gave us a full cultural experience. It was delicious and fun!

So I thought I would return the favor and have an “all American” cookout.  Featuring only “all-star” cookout items!

Cheeseburgers, hotdogs, chips and dip, deviled eggs, potato salad and for dessert… a toss-up between strawberry shortcake or apple pie!  Apple pie and ice cream won out.

even upside down - you just know this burger was delicious1

even upside down – you just know this burger was delicious!

Lettuce, tomato, Heinz 57…..you know the song! I put out all the burger fixin’s and let everybody build their own. But cheese was mandatory. Seriously who eats a burger without cheese?!

no cook out is complete without TWO kinds of chips!

TWO kinds of chips AND watermelon!

Everybody has their favorite potato salad recipe, but I went with a standard mix of mayonnaise, finely diced onion, seasoned salt, black pepper and a splash of vinegar and a couple of pinches of celery seed.

Devilishly delicious!

The secret is a little pickle juice!

I finally got to use my special deviled egg server. The thing that holds the eggs is actually filled with liquid – so you put it in the freezer until it is cold – it keeps the eggs cold while they are served!

It also has a cover so you can travel with it and the insert is reversible to accommodate veggies and dip too! It seemed like a great purchase at the time but I admit it is one of those gadgets that doesn’t get used too often! Also notice the use of paprika here…very 1970s!

You just can't beat pie and ice cream!

You just can’t beat pie and ice cream!

A little early in the season for apple pie but oh what a wonderful preview of fall – which is just around the corner now!

From Hungary With Love…

hot paprika

hot paprika

My parents traveled quite a bit and although I was the lucky recipient of many of these trips, I did not accompany them on a trip to Hungary a couple of years back. But they did bring me back some of Hungary’s possibly most famous souvenir… Paprika.

I keep it sealed tight in a dark cabinet and it has continued to keep its bright, pungent, hot flavor.

And what better to make with Hungarian paprika than “Hungarian goulash” of course!! Now if you grew up in the northeast than surely you know this dish as “American Chop Suey” or perhaps as a form of “Marzetti” or maybe you have no idea at all what I am rambling about!

Just brown up some beef, diced sweet green pepper and onion. Add the spices: I used a liberal amount (3 heaping tablespoons to my pound of beef) of SWEET smoky paprika and about a teaspoon of my HOT smoky paprika. Use more if you like it spicy! I also added some black pepper and salt, ground cumin and garlic powder – just a 1/2 tsp or so of each.

along with a few other spices...goulash often contains browned ground beef, sauteed green peppers and onions with chopped tomatoes and of course plenty of paprika!

along with a few other spices…goulash often contains browned ground beef, sautéed green peppers and onions with chopped tomatoes and of course plenty of paprika!

De-glaze the pan with a hefty splash of Worcestershire sauce and 1 can ( 28oz) of whole tomatoes with juice that I broke up first. Add in a 1/4 cup of ketchup for sweetness and tang. Let it simmer for 20 mins if you want to serve right away over hot buttered egg noodles or rice. I like to mix mine with a box of pasta cooked “al dente” and then top the oven-proof dish with a bit of cheese and bake in the oven (350 degrees) for 30 mins.

It gives it that nice crusty top and edges that everybody loves! Kinda like the crispy lasagna edges!

Anyway if you have never explored the wide world of paprika, you should. It goes way beyond just a sprinkle onto deviled eggs! A specialty spice store ( online or actual) would be a great place to start.

ready for the oven with cheese on top!

ready for the oven with cheese on top!

Production notes

You can adjust the amount of noodles or beef according to your budget and desires. “Stretch” this dish with lots of pasta for a big family or a local potluck event. “Make it meaty” with lots of ground beef or even ground turkey or pork.

Chasing JoJos

Still trying to recreate the mythical JoJos of my youth.

If you haven’t had or heard of JoJos – you can read my last posting about them here or if that is too much clicking here is a short review…

Potatoes, scrubbed but skin on, cut length-wise, quarters and maybe quarters again. Coated in a delicious crispy coating, crunchy on the outside, fluffy on the inside.

But these are not steak fries. They are JoJos – think “chicken fried potatoes.” Except the real ones are “broasted!”

But on this JoJo day I was inspired to make some crispy coated, oven-baked versions.

Mary was my husband’s uncle’s mother-in-law (better take a minute on that one) and she apparently made the best potatoes. One time last summer I actually had the pleasure of meeting her and of course I managed to work the topic into conversation and although no real recipe was given – I gleaned enough to get the idea that she was basically making an Italian oven-baked JoJo.

From what I could gather there was butter and lots of it. Some breadcrumbs. The seasoning – Italian blend in her case. And don’t “fahget the Paaaarmm Ma.” (That is Massachusetts vernacular for “don’t leave out the Parmesan cheese mom.”) And plenty of tossing and turning in the pan during cooking time.

So I blended up a mix of seasoned bread crumbs, grated Parmesan cheese, some seasonings (mostly Italian in nature) that I annoyingly and uncharacteristically forgot to write down and tossed the raw potato wedges in hot melted butter before coating them in the breadcrumb mix and baking in a hot (400-425 degrees) oven. I tossed them carefully, several times, during cooking to ensure even crispy-ness and to make sure no butter got left behind in the pan. About a total of 30 mins +/- Basically until the thickest wedge is fork tender.

They were delicious!

Crispy and delicious, but definitely not "broasted!"

Crispy and delicious, but definitely not “broasted!”

Seven Fish Dinner

Over the last several years I have had the pleasure of attending and eating several Italian “seven fish dinners.” Not all on the same night of course :-)

The Italian seven fish dinner is a traditional Christmas eve feast served in many variations in many Italian and sometimes non-Italian households. You can read about its history at the reliable Wikipedia here.

But I can tell you personally that there is often more than seven dishes and each household does it a little differently. One year I attended one that contained pasta with anchovy cream sauce as one course and stuffed lobsters tails as another course, among the many other courses.

I have also attended dinners with more rustic dishes including baked haddock and seafood Newburgh.

Recently we have started going to some extended family on my husband’s side for Christmas eve. It is a big Italian Medford, MA family with lots of other food besides the traditional seven fish dinner, a Yankee swap and of course pastries from Boston’s North End bakeries.

Here are some photos of the buffet




There was a spiral ham, antipasti salad and baked stuffed ziti among the seven fish dishes.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        The seven dishes….Medford style!

1. Fried Smelts

2. Lobster Fra Diavolo

3. Baked Stuffed Shrimp

4. Clams Casino

5. Boiled Shrimp with Cocktail Sauce

6. Calamari

7. Scallops Wrapped in Bacon.

“Dress Rehearsal”

Christmas is coming up and we are not sure the ham will arrive!

It is a long story but  for many years we have been given a beautiful spiral cut ham as a gift at the holidays, which we enjoyed as our Christmas day dinner. Sadly current circumstances indicate that we may have eaten our last ham.

Before the Christmas ham deliveries and the current restaurant thanksgiving tradition; and as soon as I was old enough to lift a whole roast; I was producing all of the holiday cooking. Don’t get me wrong Mom was and still is a great cook but as soon as she taught me – I took over!

So this year, with the ham crisis looming, I have decided to return to my formative years and plan on cooking Christmas dinner.

I haven’t produced the “big show” in a while and things have changed over the years. The folks are older and have some health concerns. Everybody is dieting. Some new friends come to the table and some no longer attend. I thought about what to cook. Something everybody likes, something reliable and not too exotic. Something reasonably sized that could be purchased in “feed under 10 people” size.


I will admit that I was inspired the other day when I sat down to watch some DVR’d Food Network. I found out that I could take an economically priced cut of beef and make it magical.

AND this would give me a chance to cure my husband of his childhood phobia of putting garlic into the slits of a roast beef. Seems there was an incident with a ruined beef one holiday in his house. Very traumatic apparently.

Another bonus: he has never had roasted chestnuts and/or chestnut stuffing. So I could use this as an excuse to perform the ridiculously time-consuming task of buying, slitting, roasting and peeling of actual chestnuts. I have to put these in the same category as pomegranates and pistachios – yummy but lots of work and willing to pay extra for someone else to do all that!

Roast beef with mushroom pan sauce, chestnut stuffing on the side and peas! That was the menu I cooked today – 2 weeks before Christmas – to practice.

A full dress rehearsal!

(oh don’t worry my husband and I will gladly eat the same thing 2 weeks later!)

Learn from my dress rehearsal….
  • I put a peeled and sliced potato under the roast to raise it up a bit as my rack sits quite close to the pan bottom but I am going to change it next time to thick sliced onions.
  • Also I added some broth, water and wine to the pan to keep the roast drippings from burning up and to provide flavorful pan drippings for a sauce later. I think a slice of bacon would really ramp things up.
  • I will bury the garlic deeper next time as some of the exposed tips of garlic did get a bit charred and a tiny bit bitter.
  • I will make the effort to create a thicker pan sauce next time using a flour slurry.

Sunday Gravy

Sunday gravy is not your typical brown beef gravy around here. Sunday gravy is actually spaghetti sauce. “Marinara” if you’re feeling fancy. “Red sauce” if you’re not.

I must have been Italian in my last life because I love the food and according to my Irish husband from Massachusetts; which we all know makes him an Italian food expert; he says my Italian is the best.

I picked up most of my Italian cooking skills from keeping my eyes,ears and nose open.

For example I learned to make lasagna from watching someone’s sister who happen to be making it when I stopped by. I watched her add 1 egg, salt, pepper, grated parmesan and dried oregano to the ricotta. This is what made that layer in the lasagna flavorful and just the right texture. Of course they layered it with homemade sauce and noodles.  I never got a bite of her lasagna, but I filed away those observations for later. It wasn’t until several years later that I started making my own lasagna using her techniques.

One day our Italian dry cleaner came out from behind the racks of shirts with some homemade sauce on a chunk of Scali bread. “Taste this, it’s the best!” he said. It was. And without asking, he told me that the secret to a great slow cooked “gravy” was to put a big piece of beef chuck into it. Gives it a meaty richness. He knows what he is talking about since he cooks gallons of  “gravy” every year for the local Italian festival. You can bet I put some pork or beef in mine every time. They even sell “gravy boats” (pieces of meat) at the butcher around here just for cooking in the sauce.

One summer I worked off and on for a family friend in her Italian restaurant located in Northern NH.  I actually got to observe her making huge vats of red sauce. She told me she had learned the recipe from watching her Italian mother-in-law back in Providence, RI when she was married. The extended family still makes the 2+ hour trip get a taste of the family recipes. What I learned from her was the importance of texture. I saw that she didn’t just use all one kind of tomato but some crushed, some whole, and some already sauced. After adding all the usual spices and flavorings known only to her – she blends the sauce to just the right consistency and it will simmer on the stove all day.

Around my house “Sunday gravy” is a bit of a cabinet stew. Most folks make something traditional the same way every time. But I like to tinker. And I like to use up odds and ends. And leftovers.  So my “gravy” starts with the usual items of a large can of crushed tomatoes, a small can of tomato paste, garlic, onion and Italian seasoning. But that is where tradition ends and the sauce starts getting tinkered with. And I never write it down.

Sometimes I have a piece of pork roast in the freezer – trimmed off before cooking from a bigger roast to save for sauce. Thanks to my friend Lydia I now freeze the rinds of my Parmesan cheese pieces to throw in the simmering sauce to thicken and flavor. Sometimes I have a few ounces of leftover homemade beef “jus” from the last time I made a pot roast. Many times I throw in a small container of leftover red sauce that I made before.

I like to call this my “clean out the freezer” gravy!

That is what I made today. I added a quart of frozen homemade beef broth, some homemade sauce from another day, a frozen parm rind and of course the usual items of onion, garlic and seasoning.

Here is a tip – if you want a rich meaty taste from your store-bought sauce because you don’t have all day to simmer a piece of meat in your homemade – add a couple of tablespoons of A-1. It gives it a subtle, yummy, beefy flavor. (A-1 please send the royalties care of this blog!)

I let my gravy simmer slowly all day while I decide on a pasta. Maybe even make meatballs. And guess what I will do with the leftovers? Yep I will freeze it for another day. Maybe I will use it for a different dish or maybe I will throw it in my next sauce. Kinda like how sourdough starter is kept and starts every loaf in a bakery. My gravy has its own starter. That makes it a different, yet traditional cabinet stew every time.

Mom’s Cabinet Stew: American Chop Suey Vs. Goulash

Let me clarify first that I am neither Chinese nor Hungarian in descent and yet  my mother made this dish weekly for dinner. A culinary fact that she wishes I wouldn’t talk about, but is true. During the late 70s and 80s, she was a working mom with 2 kids and a hard-working husband. She needed to get a quick week night meal on the table and this fit the bill. I even mastered the recipe by the time I was 12 years old!

Let’s compare the differences…

Goulash – loosely defined as a tomato sauce, noodles and beef casserole that usually contained some veggies and uses paprika to give it a sweet, smokey flavor. This comfort food probably came down through generations of immigrant grandmothers.

American Chop Suey – loosely defined as a tomato sauce, noodles and beef casserole that usually had some veggies in it and folks like to top it with cheese, usually Parmesan. It has nothing to do with the Chinese variety you get at the local takeout place!

So which one did my mother make?

Neither.  She would brown a pound of ground beef, drain off excess fat, combine the beef with 1/2 box of Mueller’s elbow noodles cooked according to directions and 1 can (15.5oz) of Manwich. Combine all in oven-proof dish and bake uncovered at 375 degrees for 30 mins.

Why use Manwich you ask?  Why not use a jar or can of plain tomato sauce? What about sauteing onion, green pepper and celery with the beef?  Well I think she needed to get dinner on the table in a hurry one night and darn-it she didn’t have any tomato sauce on hand. “Hmm…” she thought – “here is a can of that Manwich stuff we use for Sloppy Joes; I will just use that instead, it looks all the same!”  This is the part where I reveal that she has been a hardcore vegetarian for over 40 years and counting. She never touched the stuff she made for us unless it was fruit or vegetables. Yep – she eats nothing with a face! So I think she thought Manwich was really just the same as any canned tomato sauce. Or maybe she was smarter than all of us knowing that the sautéed peppers and onions were already in the sauce!

No complaints here – my brother and I loved it – still do. Although I have explored many other more homemade options for “American Chop Suey” I still make the original Manwich version once in a while.

I researched American Chop Suey for this post – because you have to wonder why is it called that. Nobody seems to know for sure why it is called that. The answers are vague and consist mostly of “urban legend.” I did find out that most of the country would call it “goulash” with some choosing the more straight forward “macaroni and beef” and it seems to be only a New England thing to call it “American Chop Suey.” There is a small niche that would call it “Marzetti.”  There are rare few mentions of “American Chop Suey” and Manwich out there in the World Wide Web but I don’t think my mother was alone in this concept. Mostly I just found innuendo of this marriage. I think I am the first one to confirm it publicly. Frankly I think Con-Agra foods should pay me some royalties for giving them yet another use for their product.

No matter what you call it…

… it is mom’s cabinet stew – born of necessity and made  with convenience.

“Dinty Moore” – The original cabinet stew.

I have been slowly working on a “friends and family” cookbook. I asked everyone I know to send me some of their favorite family recipes so I could compile them into one volume and mail one out to everyone.  The response was kinda low -but I did get some gems.

The most interesting one came from my father’s side of the family; who all hail from California. They lived on the fringe of  the “dust-bowl” in Ohio and traveled west in the 1920’s  for a better life. My father’s family started out very poor, but thanks to the frugality of my grandmother, the kids were raised in the 30’s and 40’s on the best they could find – including oranges right off the trees, mushrooms found in the local area, and hunting efforts by my grandfather.

Several of his family members sent me a recipe for “Dinty Moore.” When someone hears “Dinty Moore” they automatically think of the canned beef stew from Hormel Brands. (Whether you eat it or not is another blog.) Well that canned stew; according to www.hormelfoods.com was introduced to America in 1935; and by the 1950’s, canned convenience foods in post-war America were all the rage! It is still the #1 selling canned stew product.

Well this “Dinty Moore” recipe was not like the canned stew at all! It has hamburg, corn, cheese and black olives among other things. Kinda like a “South-West American Chop Suey!” In fact I can’t even figure out why it has the name “Dinty Moore.” Here is the excerpt from the family member….

I remember Grandma Hope, Aunt Betty and Aunt JoAnn always made their favorite versions by adding more or less of each ingredient and even sometimes substituting ketchup for the tomato sauce.

No one remembers where the recipe originated from or why it has the same name as the famous canned beef stew.  “Dinty Moore” was probably used as a generic name to describe this “stew-like” dish because it was such a popular brand at the time.  The last time I remember having “Dinty Moore” with the family was in July 1972. My husband at the time had returned from his 3rd tour in Vietnam and we spent several days in California with my family before traveling onto Oklahoma to see his family.  In California, Grandma Hope had a family get together to welcome Jerry home and of course there were a few pans of “Dinty Moore” around!

I think Grandma Hope was just trying to get dinner on the table with whatever ingredients she had on hand. (sound familiar). I can envision the kids clamoring for the very popular “Dinty Moore” and her saying “I’ll give you my version of Dinty Moore!”

Not wanting to risk embarrassment by publishing my “friends and family cookbook” with an un-tested recipe; I made it recently. It was good! You definitely have to like olives and of course be opened minded enough to eat process cheese, but it was surprisingly good! Even my husband thought so and he is a very discriminating eater!

So there you have it – Grandma Hope with the original “Cabinet Stew” in the family!  -Carol

Here is the recipe:

1 large onion chopped

1 lb lean ground beef

2 small cans tomato sauce (4.5 oz)

½ lb process cheese, chunked– American or Velveeta

1 “pint” ripe olives (equal to aprox 1 6oz cans of chopped black olives drained)

3 cups cooked and drained macaroni or small pasta

1 small can corn (4.5 oz)

Preheat oven 350. Brown onion in small amount of bacon fat*. Add ground beef, cook until done. Pour into oven proof dish and mix in other ingredients. Bake  30 Mins.  or until hot and bubbly. *1-2 tbsp of oil can be used instead.