Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Meatball Skillet Supper

I am of the opinion that some words just should not be used in recipe titles.  Surprise, for instance.  Nothing associated with my meal should be a "surprise."  What if it's surprisingly good, you might ask?  No, still not cool.  I don't want to be surprised that my food tastes good.  I don't want to look at it and think, "Boy, that sure looks awful but it's surprisingly good!"  No, I want to be very confident that my meal is going to taste great and then be rewarded accordingly for my faith.  In the course of reading a lot of old cookbooks for VKR, any number of recipes claim to be a surprise.  I suspect not in a good way.

I'm sure this is not an exhaustive list as I will certainly encounter more of these taboo food words as I continue my old recipe research, but the following should also never be used in recipe titles: mock, jellied, anything in quotations marks, and balls.

But today I'm going to make an exception and make some delicious meatballs.  The scientist in me, along with the part of me that doesn't like the word balls associated with my food, would like to call them meatspheres, but I don't suppose many people would get on that trolley.  Oh well....

This is another great classic from my Grandma, Marguerite.  The story is that Grandma and Grandpa, along with their 2 sons, my dad and his brother, were ice skating on a pond near their home in Spanish Lake, Missouri, when Grandma fell and broke her wrist.  With all the crazy shenanigans that my dad and my Uncle Larry pulled when they were kids, this had to be a difficult time for poor Grandma.  Luckily, a very sweet neighbor named Jan showed up one day with a tasty dish of meatballs, carrots and green peppers, served over mashed potatoes.  If nothing else, at least a good dinner came out of that injury.  It became a recipe that Grandma made quite often, and eventually my parents made it in our house quite often, as well.  For Christmas in 1992 (I know the year because she inscribed it on the inside of the book) Grandma gave me a blank cookbook where you could write in your own recipes.  She wrote a bunch of things in there by hand, and I added some of my own as well.  That book is such a treasure to me because it has her handwriting in it, along with some of her favorite recipes that she lovingly chose for me.  One of the recipes she wrote in was Jan's Skillet Supper.  Since it is such a family classic, and because I always like to try to eliminate things like canned gravy and pre-packaged dried breadcrumbs, and because at the latest it is early 60s vintage, I thought I would try my hand at a couple of changes.

One ingredient I did not change was dry spaghetti sauce mix.  It is so important to the way the dish tastes that I really felt like it had to be left in or it would change the entire character of the dish, and I dare not insult Jan that way.  I never met the woman, but who am I to tell her that her skillet supper needs that much retooling?  Other changes that I made were mostly to the meatballs.  The dry breadcrumbs got the axe in favor of a panade made with bread and whole milk.  I also went for a 50/50 mixture of ground beef and ground pork instead of all ground beef, and added garlic and fresh chopped parsley for a little extra flavor.  In Jan's version, the onions go in raw along with the carrots and green peppers.  In my version, I sauteed them first after removing the meatballs from the pan, scraping up all those good browned bits that the meatballs leave behind and letting the onions caramelize a bit.  In the end, my version kept to the character of the original, but had a bit more flavor and juicier, tastier meatballs.  Which was exactly what I was going for. 

So here's to you, Jan.  I'll bet you never guessed that neighborly food drop would be remembered through generations of my family!

Meatball Skillet Supper

Use a nonstick skillet for this recipe or you may never get the meatballs out of the pan intact.  The meatballs will all fit in a 12" skillet, but you might have to leave a few out in the beginning until some of them get cooked well enough that they won't fall apart when you move them.  They are pretty delicate when they're raw.  Once they've browned up a bit you can kind of pile them on top of each other to make room for the last few meatballs.   And all this stuff simmers for an hour, so if you think the meatballs may not have cooked through during that initial browning phase, don't worry.  They will be done by the end of the simmering time.  Serve this up with mashed potatoes or even some egg noodles.


2 slices white sandwich bread
1/2 cup whole milk
1 egg
1 1/2 Tbs. dry spaghetti sauce mix
1 Tbs. fresh chopped parsley
1 garlic clove, pressed through a garlic press
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
3/4 lb. ground beef
3/4 lb. ground pork

2 tsp. oil


1 medium sized onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, pressed through a garlic press
1 1/2 Tbs. dry spaghetti sauce mix
1 Tbs. tomato paste
1 (14.5 oz.) can reduced sodium beef broth
3 Tbs. flour
1 (8 oz.) can tomato sauce
4 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4" coins
1 large green bell pepper, cut into 1" squares (my peppers were small, so I used 2)

Cut the crusts off of the sandwich bread and discard (or feed to your dog, who is staring into your soul because she thinks she's so hungry).  Cut the bread into cubes and place in a mixing bowl.  Add the milk to the bread and stir to make sure all the bread is well coated with milk.  Let soak for 10 minutes.  Use a wooden spoon to mash the bread into a paste.  Add the egg, spaghetti sauce mix, parsley, garlic, salt and pepper to the milk and bread mixture and stir until it is well combined.  Add the ground beef and pork and mix thoroughly into the bread mixture with your hands.  Form meatballs using 1 Tbs. of meat mixture each.  I like to place them on a wax paper-lined sheet pan as I form them.  This yields approximately 40 meatballs.

Heat the oil in a 12" nonstick skillet over medium high heat.  Add the meatballs and brown all over.  Remove meatballs from the pan and set aside.  Depending on how much fat is in your meat, the meatballs might look a little greasy.  (Mine did.)  If this happens you can put them on some paper towels when you remove them from the pan to drain a bit.  Also, if there is a lot of fat left in your pan, you'll want to pour some off before you put the onions in.  You only need about a teaspoon or two in there.

Add the onions to the hot skillet along with a sprinkling of salt.  Cook until well softened, scraping up the meaty bits of fond on the bottom of the pan.  Your onions should be a nice dark, golden color when you are done.  Add the garlic and spaghetti sauce mix, stirring into onions and cooking until you can smell the garlic, about 1 minute.  Add the tomato paste and cook another minute or 2.  At this point, if there is anything beginning to stick on the bottom of the skillet, add just a splash of the beef broth and scrape up whatever is sticking to the bottom of the pan.  Add the flour and stir, coating all the onions with flour, and cook for 1 minute.  Using a nonstick friendly whisk, slowly whisk the rest of the beef broth into the skillet.  If you don't have a nonstick friendly whisk, use a wooden spoon and just stir vigorously while you slowly add the broth.  Add the tomato sauce and stir until well combined into the gravy.  Return the meatballs to the pan and add the carrots and green peppers.  Bring to a simmer, cover and simmer over low heat for one hour, stirring occasionally.  Serve over mashed potatoes with a sprinkling of fresh chopped parsley.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Bacon Cheddar Quiche

Besides cocktails, another great thing about the weekend at our house is breakfast.  Marc and I are both everyday breakfast eaters, but of course through the week we try to stick with things like high fiber cereal and granola.  When Saturday morning rolls around, it's always good to indulge in some custardy french toast made from challah bread, some homemade buttermilk pancakes with Stonewall Kitchen's butter pecan syrup, or a bunch of eggs and cheese with a side of crispy hash browns.  This Saturday was an eggs and cheese day.  And because we had an open package of bacon in the fridge, there was no question that it would also have to be incorporated into whatever we made.

The weekend is also the only time I allow myself to indulge in coffee.  Why is coffee an indulgence, you might ask?  It's not the caffeine.  I actually drink decaf.  It's because in order to stand the taste of coffee, the only way I will drink it is if it's so loaded with cream and sugar that the coffee flavor is kind of an idea, hidden somewhere in the background.  When I'm the barista, coffee is about a thousand calorie affair, so, as my sister-in-law tells her children, it's definitely a "sometimes" food, not an "everyday" food.  So what could go better with a steaming hot mug full of vanilla caramel creamer, sugar and a splash of coffee than a beautiful slice of quiche?

Most quiches I've had use gruyere as the cheese, which I absolutely love.  But gruyere is expensive, and I don't typically keep it in the house.  I had cheddar and some green onions on hand, and since both go well with bacon, the answer seemed pretty obvious.  I kept the custard portion of the dish pretty standard.  I did make it very rich, using a full cup of heavy cream and another cup of skim milk, which is slightly fattier than 2 cups of half-and-half.  You could absolutely use the 2 cups of half-and-half, but I would not cut back on the fattiness of the dairy anymore than that or it might get watery and weepy.

Those who know me well might be shocked to learn that I actually used a pre-made refrigerated pie crust for this quiche.  This was partly because I don't really enjoy making pie crust from scratch, partly because I had a crust that had been hanging around for a while and needed to be used, and mostly because I wanted to be able to eat my breakfast before dinner time rolled around.  Often if you use a pre-made crust (and sometimes even when you make one from scratch) and bake it for a little bit first before the filling goes in, you might end up with cracks in the crust.  The best way I've found to deal with this is to brush a little bit of beaten egg on the cracks while the crust is still hot, and that should seal the cracks up pretty well.  You can even throw the crust back in the hot oven for a few minutes to really make sure that egg sets up before you add your pie filling.  If you don't take this easy step, your filling will run underneath the crust and your pie or quiche will stick to the pie pan and become a giant, ugly mess.  (No, I've never had this happen, why do you ask?)  You might have already noticed in the picture above a fault line in the side of my crust that was somewhat akin to the San Andreas.  Even that crack sealed up nicely with a few generous coats of egg.

I should warn you that this is not a good thing to make if you're hungry right now.  The crust needs to bake on its own for a little bit, and then the quiche bakes for nearly an hour, followed by an hour of cooling.  It is a great brunch dish, though, and if you're not starving, it's kind of nice for one to slowly sip and enjoy her calorie intensive coffee while it bakes, or, say, run to the farmer's market while it cools.

Bacon Cheddar Quiche

Please do not be tempted to skip the cooling part of this recipe or your eggs will run all over.  I was using a very deep pie dish.  If yours is a bit more shallow, you may have too much filling.  Remember, eggs tend to souffle, so don't overfill!  If you have a pie crust shield (see mine in the photo above) this is a great place to use it.  Bake the crust for the first 20 to 25 minutes without the shield on, then add the shield after you put the quiche filling in the crust.  I think it really helps keep the crust from getting too dark, since it's in the oven for such a long time when all is said and done.  My husband claims this would be even better with some mushrooms as well, but because of my aforementioned hatred of them, I'll let you figure that out on your own.

pie dough for a single crust pie, pre-made or make your own

2 green onions, chopped
4 slices thick-cut bacon, diced
1 large garlic clove, minced
5 eggs
1 cup heavy cream + 1 cup skim milk, or 2 cups half-and-half
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Fit the pie dough into a pie plate and finish the edges as you like.  Place 2 layers of heavy duty foil in the pie plate and fill with pie weights or a bunch of pennies.  This will keep the empty pie crust from slumping into the pie plate as it bakes.  Bake the pie crust for about 20 to 25 minutes, until it's just slightly colored.  Remove the layers of foil and pie weights.

While the crust is baking, cook the bacon in a 10" skillet over medium-high heat.  Once the fat has begun to render and the bacon is beginning to crisp, pour off most of the fat, leaving a small amount in the pan.  Add the green onions and cook for several minutes until softened.  Add the garlic clove and cook until fragrant, about a minute.  Remove the bacon, onions and garlic from the heat and set aside.

Whisk the eggs, milk, cream, salt and pepper together in a 4 cup or larger liquid measuring cup.  Set aside until the crust is done baking.

Once the crust is done, sprinkle the bacon/onion/garlic mixture evenly across the bottom, then sprinkle the cheese over the bacon mixture in an even layer.  Give the egg mixture one more quick whisk and then slowly pour it into the crust. 

Bake for about 45 minutes, or until a knife inserted about an inch from the edge of the crust comes out clean.  Let cool for at least one hour.  A sprinkling of fresh chives on each slice is pretty and tasty!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Cocktail Night! - Old-Fashioned Pioneer & Summer Berry Julep

Who doesn’t love Friday night? Marc and I especially love them because of 2 things: (1) I back off of my healthy weekday eating rules and let us eat abominations for dinner like a massive bowl of homemade tortilla chips and pre-packaged cheese dip goo, and (2) cocktails!!!

Marc and I love a good mixed drink. As visual proof, may I present our “bar.”

We like to boast that we have the best selection outside of the Class 6. (The Class 6 is the general term for the place on an Army post where you go to buy your liquor at pretty reasonable prices.) Before we got married, when I was still living in St. Louis, every weekend that I went to visit Marc at Fort Campbell we would go to the Class 6 and pick out a bottle of liquor for our future bar. Since we were just buying one bottle here or there, we chose the good stuff, and after many months of this we had a stunning collection of Grey Goose Vodka, Disaronno Amaretto, Grand Marnier, Milagro Tequila, Knob Creek Bourbon and other beauties. Having amassed such a selection of goodies, who wouldn’t want to try them out every once in a while? So it has become somewhat of a custom that on Friday nights we try a new recipe, and quite often, make up one of our own. Even though this site is dedicated to old recipes, sometime I might have to post a few of our own concoctions, like the Time Out, or the Caribbean Elephant. Aren’t the names intriguing? :D

But for now, back to the old timey stuff, and nothing says “been around for a while” like an Old-Fashioned. If you’ve never had one, and especially if you like bourbon, do yourself a favor and order one next time you’re out. I think you will be pleased. Or, you could really do yourself a favor and make your own at home! That way if you have too many, you only have to navigate your way from your living room to your bed at the end of the night.

This drink is every bit of 100 years old, and I’ve seen some sources that claim it was created as long ago as the 1880s. Versions today might be made with whiskey or brandy, but the original was made with bourbon. I believe it was also made with a sugar cube, which most of us don’t keep around today. So I went with superfine sugar which is easy to find, and dissolves quickly. This drink is great as-is, and there is no need to mess with perfection, so the only changes I made were the aforementioned superfine sugar instead of a sugar cube, and I used a local, Kansas made whiskey called Most Wanted. Where else would you expect to find a great corn whiskey than Kansas? In honor of my current home state, I called it an Old-Fashioned Pioneer.

Side note: even though the chips and cheese we were eating at the time really cried out for a beer, this drink was a great accompaniment to our guilty pleasure snacking. I would be happy to drink one of these anytime, no matter what was on my plate.

Old-Fashioned Pioneer

I will fully admit that I don’t know how to make a pretty lemon twist, like a real bartender. I’m a home bartender, and a lemon zest peeled with my vegetable peeler is going to have to be good enough. When I made these, I put the zest in last, but if I had it to do over again, I would squeeze the lemon zest in the glass to get a bit of the oils out, and then throw it in the glass right away and build the drink on top of it. Since you can learn from my mistakes, that is how I’m going to write up the directions. I operate under the assumption that a “dash” in bartending terms means the small amount that comes out if you quickly turn the bottle over and back upright again.

A note about old-fashioned glasses – this should be a short glass tumbler that holds somewhere around 6 to 8 ounces. Our glasses are a bit big for this, but when my drink was done, it probably had a total volume of about 8 ounces. I’m telling you this because I know it’s a little vague to tell you to “top up” with the club soda. If you have the wrong sized glass and you top up, you could accidentally end up with a really watered down drink, and then you’ll be emailing me and asking what was so great about this lousy drink? None of us want that. You’ve heard of a highball glass, right? Well, my husband always accidentally calls an old-fashioned glass a “lowball.” He’s so funny when he’s not trying to be.

1 ½ oz. Most Wanted Bourbon Mash Whiskey*

1 dash of Angostura bitters

1 tsp. superfine sugar

Club soda

Twist of lemon

Squeeze / pinch the lemon zest into an old-fashioned glass to release some of the oils and drop the lemon zest into the glass. Add the sugar, and then add the dash of bitters on top of the sugar. Stir around a little so that the bitters are mixed into the sugar a bit. Add the whiskey or bourbon and top up with soda. Stir and enjoy!

* Obviously not everyone can get whiskey made in Atchison, Kansas, so use the bourbon or whiskey of your choice.

But wait! Cocktail night is not over yet! Might I interest you in a Summer Berry Julep?

I was in whiskey / bourbon mode, and another very old recipe involving bourbon is the mint julep. The strawberries at the grocery store were gorgeous, so I thought, why not throw those into a julep? I think good, sweet raspberries would be equally tasty. Or blueberries. Mmmm…..

The lore that I’ve heard is that these were often made with brandy, until after the Civil War when bourbon was easier to come by. So if they were being made well before the Civil War, this drink certainly has a place in the Vintage Kitchen.

Summer Berry Julep

Muddling means to crush the ingredients, and I usually use the handle end of a wooden spoon. In this case, I also ended up using the business end of the spoon so that I could mash the berries. In the last picture, you can see that the glass on the left has already been muddled, and the one on the right has not.

1 ½ oz. bourbon

6 to 8 fresh mint leaves (don’t skimp!)

2 strawberries, tops cut off and diced

1 tsp. superfine sugar

1 Tbs. water

Club soda

Strawberry and mint leaves for garnish

Add the sugar, mint and water to an old-fashioned glass. Muddle with the handle end of a wooden spoon until most of the sugar is dissolved. Add the diced strawberries and use the spoon to mash against the side of the glass and muddle with the mint leaves. Add the bourbon and fill the glass with ice. Top up with club soda. Stir a bit and garnish with the strawberry and a sprig of mint.