Sunday, March 26, 2006


This year West Bend is celebrating its Sesquicentennial. The preparations have been going on for at least two years, but the frenzy of getting the town ready for the celebration started really cranking up in '05. I have tried to keep myself aloof from most of the activities as I am not a native West Bender. But, since this is a really small town and they do need all the help they can get, I did volunteer to help put together the cookbook that is being published for this event. I think it will be really interesting - especially if you or your family lived in West Bend. You can find more information about the cookbook and all related Sesqui activities on their website, which I have linked to above.

This weekend I have been busy proofing the recipes from the publisher. This entails going through each of the 800-some recipes printed and comparing them to the original submitted recipe to check for mistakes and/or misspellings. (I didn't do all 800! I only did about 100 or so.) Since I was forced to read each recipe word-for-word I was struck by how the instructions differed from generation to generation. Generally, the older the submitter, the fewer the instructions. I think they just assumed that you would know what to do with the ingredients they gave! For instance:

Boston Salad
Submitted by Jean Balgeman Shey

1 small pkg. orange jello
1 small pkg. lemon jello
2 or 3 bananas
1 can crushed pineapple (2 cups)
1 can mandarin oranges
1 can apricots drained

1 cup pineapple juice
1/2 cup sugar
2 tbl. flour
1 egg

Cook and cool and add small container of Cool Whip.

Dissolve jello in 3 1/2 cups boiling water. Add rest of ingredients and put in 9 x 13 pan.

And this is just the recipe I copied (because I want to try it this week). There were others that were even more vague. (By the way - I AM going to buy the cookbook too. Just in case anyone was thinking I was "stealing" Ms. Shey's recipe!)

It started me thinking about my post regarding the "dumbing down" of cooking terms. We "older" citizens just know what to do with the ingredients listed. But I wonder if some of the younger purchasers of this book will know. Most of the younger submitters gave detailed, step-by-step instructions with their recipes. It was kind of annoying, actually. I'm sure they copied it exactly how they found it, but come on! I know how to turn my oven on!

When we closed the nursing home in 1986 I "inherited" the recipe box. There were many, many hand-written recipes in there, written on index cards or scraps of paper. Most gave scant instructions, like the following:

Escalloped Potatoes & Corn
(This looks like my MOM'S handwriting!!!!!)

3 potatoes
1 c cream corn
2 c milk
1/2 lb. sausage

Alternate potatoes and corn. Add milk, sausage, salt and pepper. Bake 1 hr. 350.

There you have it. Would you know that you're supposed to brown the sausage first? Or how to cut up the potatoes so they cook in an hour? I do, because I've cooked potatoes before. But would a 20-something working mother know? I wonder.

This cookbook should be interesting. Some of the recipes I've seen look fabulous, if for no other reason than they've been handed down from generation to generation. I can't wait to try them! And, while I'm at it, I think I'll give Mom's recipe a try too.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Blackened Shrimp Stroganoff

Everyone in my family LOVES shrimp. In the summer, when we're grilling out, we often thaw out about a dozen precooked shrimp and eat shrimp cocktail while the steaks are cooking. Even Quinten, our 6 yr. old grandson, loves shrimp. Of course, he has a very advanced palate for his age. He's loved Brie cheese forever, and his favorite sandwich is avocado, sprouts and hummus! (Blech!) So, for supper last night I fixed this:

Boy, was it good! I had a package of jumbo Tiger Shrimp to use, but any size would be good. As you can see, it makes lots of sauce to go with your noodles and the flavor was wonderful. Here's the recipe:

Blackened Shrimp Stroganoff

1 lb. fresh shrimp, peeled and deveined

1 tblsp. olive oil

1 tblsp. Cajun seasoning (didn't have any, used Cookie's Spicy Seasoning + garlic powder)

6 oz. fettuccini pasta

1 tblsp. butter (yea, riiiight - more like 4 or 5)

3 cups fresh mushrooms, sliced

1 tblsp. chopped shallots (I used green onions)

2/3 cup chicken broth

1/2 cup sour cream

1 tblsp. cornstarch

1 cup chicken broth

1 (7 oz.) jar roasted red bell peppers

1 tblsp. drained capers

1. Combine peeled shrimp, oil and Cajun seasoning in a medium bowl; set aside. (I let mine sit and marinate for about 2 hrs.)

2. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until al dente; drain.

3. Meanwhile, melt butter over medium heat in a large frying pan. Cook and stir mushrooms and shallot in butter until tender. Remove from pan. Add shrimp and cook until shrimp turn pink, about 2 to 3 minutes. Removed from pan. add 2/3 cup chicken broth to pan and bring to a boil. Cook, uncovered, until reduced to 1/4 cup (2 to 3 minutes).

4. In a small bowl, stir together sour cream and cornstarch; mix in 1 cup of chicken broth. Stir into reduced chicken broth in the pan. Cook and stir until thick and bubbly. Cook 1 minute more. Stir in shrimp, mushroom mixture, roasted red peppers and capers. Heat through and season to taste. Serve over pasta.

Thanks to Linda Johnson on Enjoy.

Monday, March 20, 2006

The Dumbing Down of Cooks

Both Kate of Accidental Hedonist and Elise of Simply Recipes wrote about and linked to this article in the Washington Post. The articles, as well as their respective comments, are well thought-out and informative. Basically, publishers and food companies feel that today's average cooks can't tell an egg from a peach and are thinking about removing terms such as "dredge" or "fold" from cooking instructions.

I've often said that if a depression or other life-altering incident were to happen in today's world, thousands (including my daughter) would starve to death. To catch, kill, skin and cook a rabbit or squirrel is simply beyond their abilities. If it's not in a box at the grocery store or on a menu somewhere, they're sunk. I realize this is a sweeping generalization, and doesn't hold true to all people everywhere. But for many people the lack of knowledge to feed themselves goes way beyond knowing how to braise or deglaze.

From the article:

"We're now two generations into a lack of culinary knowledge being passed down from our parents," said Richard Ruben, a New York cooking teacher ...

and he's right. My mother never allowed me to be in the kitchen while she cooked as I was just "in the way". Everything I've learned over the years either came from a cookbook or from experience (read "failure").

I can't remember Great-Aunt Della ever owning a cookbook. And I doubt she knew she was "deglazing the pan" when she scraped up all the good bits of chicken on the bottom of the skillet while making her gravy. She (and I) cook by smell, feel, taste and memory. The cookie dough just "felt" right to her, but she couldn't tell you how many cups of flour it had in it. And that old hen would taste much better stewed than roasted. Experience was her teacher, as it has been for countless others. I'm sure that her mother taught her much as a young girl. That's how most people used to learn how to cook. Terms just were not that important, the final product was the destination.

That's the true sorrow here. The fact that the more experienced in the family aren't teaching the less experienced the nuances of cooking (whatever the term). Anyone can pick up a cookbook and learn to cook from that - I did. What's missing is the loving hand guiding us through the most basic of tasks, like beating an egg with a fork prior to adding it to your dough. Experience, my friends, is always the best teacher. Cookbooks are useful for branching out - trying something new and out of the ordinary. (Like this Iowan trying to make the perfect jambalaya or enchiladas.) But nothing can replace your mother showing you why it's important to dust the counter with flour before rolling out that pie crust.

Publishers and food companies can use whatever fancy terms they want for basic cooking. It's still just scraping up the good bits for making your gravy.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Irish Soda Bread

Yesterday I fixed my St. Patty's Day corned beef and cabbage and I wanted to do something "new" to go with it. So I decided to make Irish soda bread. It's been a loooooong time since I've baked anything; and an even longer time since I've made bread. I don't count the bread machine bread because I'm not really "making" it. But this recipe is so simple and so good I just had to share it.

Irish Soda Bread

4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup white sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
3 eggs
1 pint sour cream
1 cup raisins

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease two 8x4 inch loaf pans.

2. Mix the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Add the eggs, sour cream and raisins and mix until just combined. Distribute batter evenly between the two pans.

3. Bake loaves at 325 degrees F for 1 hour.

That's it. Simple and tasty. Oh, and for a great corned beef, try putting it in the crock pot with about a cup of brown sugar on it and pour a Michelob Amber Bock over all. Let it cook for about 7 hrs. on low and it just falls apart. Great flavor too. I hope you give these two recipes a try.


Friday, March 17, 2006


For the last two years DH and I have been in a local Chili Cookoff here in town. When you think about it, the idea of a bunch of Iowans trying to make the "best" Texas style chili is a little silly. But it's something to do on the down-side of winter and another excuse to party. So I guess that can't be all bad.

In my experience chili can be divided into two categories: "with beans" or "without beans". According to legend, chili originated with the cowboys (maybe in Texas) and they didn't use no stinkin' beans. I was always under the impression that beans made up the staple cowboy diet, so I would think that the first chili cooker would have probably thrown a handful of beans into the mess that has come to be known as chili. If for no other reason than to have it go further to feed everyone hungry. DH and I come down on the side of beans. We prefer our chili to have some beans in it for the flavor and texture it brings to the soup.

And that's another distinction that divides or confuses people. Is chili a soup? Or is it something you put over your hotdog? To me, chili is a soup made to be eaten in a bowl with a spoon. I sure as hell don't want it over rice. As you might have noticed, I use a lot. I really like reading the comments and ratings on the recipes and I am continually amazed when people say it's "too runny" or some such thing. I agree that I want my chili to have some body, but that comes when you reheat it the next day. You eat chili with a spoon not a fork! I wish there were a way to distinguish chili "soup" and chili "gravy".

ANYWAY.... I've gotten off topic here a little...for the last two years we've made the following recipe for the Chili Cookoff. We didn't win either time, but that's understandable as you will see when you look at the recipe. Why we made it two years in a row is beyond me - probably a stupid thing to do. We thought maybe new judges would view it differently. We wanted to make something a little "different", a little out of the ordinary. I think it was too out of the ordinary for most people. Although we really like this soup, most people were put off by the cauliflower. (Except of course for little Jordan who ate like six bowls of it!)

Here is the recipe - sorry, no pictures:

Beef and Sausage Stew

1 tblsp. olive oil
1 lb. sausage (meat pushed out of casing) (I used chorizo - that's what makes this spicy)
1 lb. stew meat
1 14 oz. can beef broth
2 tblsp. tomato paste
1 10 oz. pkg. white mushrooms, quartered
2 celery stalks, sliced thinly
2 cubes beef bullion
1 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. oregano
1 head cauliflower, halved, cored and cut into bite-sized pieces (about 4 cups)
1 tblsp. minced garlic
1 tblsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp. Tabasco sauce (about 4 shakes)

1. In a skillet over medium heat, warm olive oil; brown sausage and stew meat until thoroughly cooked; drain off fat and set aside.

2. Whisk together the beef broth and tomato paste in the slow cooker crock. Add all remaining ingredients as well as cooked meat and stir together.

3. Cover and cook on low for 8 hr. Stir well before serving.

I looked up the definition of chili before using this and it said chili was a soup made with various peppers. So I figured "hey! Its got black pepper in it!" and it would qualify. I imagine if I would have tried this in Texas they would have booted me out of the building!

So, we're looking for a new recipe to use at this year's Chili Cookoff. Keeping in mind that the final result can have no beans in it, I've been trying various recipes to see how each would hold up under the "no beans" rule. Is it good enough to stand on its own? Today I'm making the following recipe. It's cold and snowy, so I figured it would be a perfect day to try it. I'll have to let you know if this is "IT" - the ultimate Chili Cookoff Contest Winner.

The Ultimate Chili

1 lb. lean ground beef
salt and pepper to taste
3 15 oz. cans dark red kidney beans (I used 2 of Mrs. Grimes Chili Beans)
3 14.5 oz. cans Mexican-style stewed tomatoes (I used Rotel)
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped (I used a combination of red, yellow and green)
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 tblsp. chili powder
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. dried parsley
1 tsp. dried basil
1 dash Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup red wine

1. Brown ground beef until evenly browned (I threw in a half an onion, too). Drain off grease and season to taste with salt and pepper.

2. In a slow cooker, combine the cooked beef, kidney beans, tomatoes, celery, bell pepper and red wine vinegar. Season with chili powder, cumin, parsley, basil and Worcestershire sauce. Stir to distribute ingredients evenly.

3. Cook on high for 6 hours or on low for 8 hours. Pour in the wine during the last 2 hours.

And here's what it looks like -


Monday, March 13, 2006

Dustin's Party

Yesterday was Dustin's going away party. He's joined the Air Force and leaves for basic training today. I'm so proud of him! He's turned out to be a fine young man in spite of the "mail box incident". He was part of the West Bend/Mallard juggernaut that won the State football championship this past year. And, up until last week when the Air Force signed him on, he was a student at Iowa Central Community College in Fort Dodge majoring in Auto (and motorcycle) Mechanics. His decision to join the Air Force was based mainly on his desire to get a good technical training while seeing some of this world. His parents back him 100% in his decision and everyone is extremely happy for him (except maybe Amy, his girlfriend).

To celebrate his new career his parents threw a party for him. Family and friends ate, drank, laughed and visited all day. His dad made a BBQ pork loin that was to die for. His aunt made her famous Cheesy Potatoes. Jackie brought four (!!) pies. Sister Nicole even joined in the spirit and made a chocolate cream pie. (Way to go, Nicole!) Deb brought a salad of cherry tomatoes and cucumbers which made us look wistfully out the window at the March wind-driven, cold, rain-before-the-snow (the blizzard is raging outside now...) and talk about the gardens we're going to plant this year. Bettina made BBQ Meatballs, Baked Beans, Green Bean Salad and a really good cheeseball. And I brought this Spinach Dip in a bread bowl as well as a fruit dip (which I didn't get a picture of).

This isn't a very good picture of it as I took it right before loading it into the car to head over to the party. From the reactions at the party, I guess everyone liked it. I thought it was pretty good, too. I didn't make the bread though - I bought it at Hy-Vee. But, hey! I tried something new and it was a hit! So, I thought I'd share the recipe with whoever is interested. It's from Shawna over at

Best Spinach Dip Ever

1 cup mayonnaise
1 (16 oz.) container sour cream
1 (1.8 oz.) package dry leek soup mix
1 (4 oz.) can water chestnuts, drained and chopped
1/2 (10 oz.) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained (I used the whole thing.)
1 loaf round bread (Sourdough, rye, whatever. I used pesto.)


1. In a medium bowl, mix together mayonnaise, sour cream, dry leek soup mix, water chestnuts and chopped spinach. Chill in the refrigerator 6 hours or overnight.

2. Remove the top and interior of the bread. Fill with spinach mixture. Tear removed bread chunks into pieces for dipping.

Weekend Cookbook Challenge

Alicat and Sara have cooked up a fun challenge over at Weekend Cookbook Challenge. Challenge No. 3 (which just ended) was "Something Orange". That's it. You had to make something orange (in color, at least) and submit it, along with a photo, to them for posting. Check out the entries - amazing!

Now I really regret giving away most of my cookbooks in a "decluttering" fit of hormone-induced cleaning. I gave three bookshelves (about 50-60 books) to my daughter to use or give to friends and charities. And there were some in there that I'd had and used for years! Now I'll never be able to replace them. Damn.

Their next challenge is Easter Breakfast/Brunch. Maybe I'll even be brave enough to enter! I wonder what "Treasures and Measures of West Bend" has in it.... hmmmmm....

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Food and Feminism

Barbara over at Tigers & Strawberries had an extremely interesting post. I urge you to click on the link and read her wonderful article, along with the thought-provoking comments. In responding to her commenters, Barbara said something that really hit home with me. She said "...when there is unvalued work to be done in the household, the lower-status individual is the one to whom it falls."

For years (and even sometimes now) I was resentful and angry that household "chores" fell upon my shoulders. I'd just worked an 8 hr. day too and would like nothing better than to flop in front of the television set with a cold beer while someone made supper. Then, after supper go back to the living room for some more tube time while someone cleaned up the kitchen. No matter how much bitching and complaining I did, it never changed. Even through 3 (!) husbands. Both husband #1 and husband #2 were better cooks than me (much better in the case of #2), so why was I the one standing in front of the open refrigerator at 5:30 wonder just what the hell I was going to have for supper?

(In the case of husband #3, his idea of lunch is Oscar Meyer Bologna and French's Mustard on white bread with Campbell's Tomato Soup! For him, there's a reason why I cook all of the meals. And (bless his heart) he cleans up the kitchen after supper. Third time's the charm, I guess.)

If my work has value in the workplace, why doesn't it in the home? Is this just the male mindset? It's both our home, so why am I the one to have to: cook, clean, do laundry, mow the lawn, take the pets to the vet, put the doorknob back on the door again, plant the garden, make the appointments for the car service, hair cuts, doctor's visits, etc., etc., etc. Is it beneath a man's dignity to pick up dog poop, socks on the floor, towels on the chair? And yes I know, lots of men do lots of these things. Even DH does some of them.

My point is that all of these "chores" have value. They keep your home and your life clean and smooth running. Instead of being delegated to the least valued individual, it should be a priority for the entire household. Work shared is work halved. I heard that somewhere, and it's so true.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Clay Pot Chicken

Several years ago my niece gave me a Romertopf Clay Baker for Christmas. To say I was surprised would be an understatement. Sure I'd heard of clay pot cooking, but I never, ever thought of actually buying one. But, I thought, what the heck - it's a low-fat, healthy way of cooking, so why not give it a try. After making my first chicken in it, I've never roasted chicken any other way. As you can see, my clay pot has been used a bunch. In all honesty, chicken is the only thing I make in it even though the recipe brochure that came with it claims you can bake a cake in one. I doubt if a chicken-flavored chocolate cake would be all that yummy.

The first time I used the pot the lid cracked (see^^). I was devastated. We really liked that chicken! So I contacted the company and learned that I couldn't get just a replacement lid and would have to buy the whole thing brand new. I thought, forget that - I didn't want the damn thing to begin with! So I just used it with the cracked lid and I haven't noticed any difference in the performance of the pot or the flavor of the bird.

Here's how you use it:

Soak the pot in a sink full of water. (The instructions say to soak for about 15 minutes - I soak mine for at least an hour. I figure longer is better - right?) After preparing your food, place it in the pot and put the pot in a cold oven and gradually raise the temperature to what you want to cook it at. (Since I have a new gas oven that has a pre-heat feature, I skip this part and just turn it to 450 degrees.) 85 minutes later, I have a perfect roast chicken. (See? I'm making stock from the bones right now.)

Here's the recipe:

  • 3 lb. chicken
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 yellow onion
  • parsley
  • celery tops
  • 2 tablespoon. melted butter (optional)
  • thyme
  • white wine (optional)
  • small vegetables (potatoes, carrots, turnips, etc.)

Wash the chicken and rub the inside with salt and pepper. Place the onion, parsley sprigs and celery tops in the cavity. Place in bottom of pot and brush with melted butter, if desired. (You really, really don't need to do this. It gets plenty brown without and you sure don't need any more fat.) Season with salt, pepper and thyme. Wine may be added for flavor. Place vegetables around chicken. Sprinkle all with minced parsley. Cover pot and place in a cold oven. Bake at 450 degrees F for about 85 minutes. If you prefer a very crisp chicken, remove the pot from the oven after 85 minutes. Take the vegetables out and pour the pot juices into a saucepan for gravy making. Then return the pot and chicken (without the lid) to the oven for crisping. (Again, I never do this as I feel it gets crisp enough without this step.)

And that's it! Easy and delicious. The only hard part is figuring out where to store the darn thing. It is so fragile when it's dry any bump could shatter it. I keep mine wrapped in tea towels at the very top of my cupboard where I have to use a step stool to retrieve it. I've had, and used, mine for years now and I'm certainly glad Cassy thought to give it to me. I know you're not going to run out and buy a clay pot cooker, but if you should get one as a gift some day, thank the giver profusely and use it! I think you'll agree that it is a wonderful way to cook.