Archive for the ‘My Family’ Category

Taffy’s Succotash

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

Taffy last year with the faithful Truffle (also a big fan of succotash!)

Tomorrow is my mother’s birthday. Jan Hallett Weisblat (a.k.a. Taffy) would have turned 94 this September 26. So naturally I’m thinking about her. And it’s only a small step from thinking about her to cooking her favorite dishes. Both the thoughts and the food make me smile.

Each year that I can remember she kept her eyes open in August and September for what she called “pink beans.” They are also known as cranberry beans; when I purchased them recently at Foster’s Supermarket in Greenfield, Massachusetts, they were labeled simply “shell beans.”

These fresh beans are encased in pink-and-white-mottled skins. When removed from their shells the beans themselves are also white with pink flecks, although they trade those colors for a less exciting uniform beige when cooked.

Whenever my mother saw them, she would buy them, take them home, and make succotash. I have a feeling the beans were grown on her grandparents’ farm when she was growing up because they represented home to her. Now they speak of home to me as well.

I made pink-bean succotash a couple of weeks ago in Taffy’s memory. She never actually measured the beans or the corn or the cream so the quantities below are approximate. If you want to dress up your succotash, add a little sautéed onion, some herbs, and/or a little bacon garnish. My mother never did so the recipe below is rather plain.

Its flavor is far from plain, however. The beans have a subtle but unmistakable nutty taste. When you throw in the corn and the cream (or half and half) and grind a small hill of pepper on top you end up with a dish fit for a queen.

The succotash embodies my mother’s ability to take joy in simple, everyday pleasures. If I can be half as joyful in my lifetime, I will count myself lucky.

Succotash à la Taffy

Ingredients:

2 cups shelled cranberry beans
2 cups water, plus more water as needed
salt to taste
the cooked kernels from 3 ears of corn
cream or half and half as needed (between 1/2 cup and 1 cup)
lots of freshly ground pepper

Instructions:

Pick over the beans, removing any that have turned brown.

In a medium saucepan bring the cranberry beans, water, and salt to a boil. Reduce the heat, and simmer until the beans are tender but not mushy. This will take between 15 and 45 minutes, depending on the age of the beans. (The younger they are, the less time it will take.)

Stir the beans from time to time while they simmer, and be sure to add more water if you need to. At the end of the simmering process the beans should still have a little—but not a lot of—liquid in their pan. Do not drain off this liquid.

Stir in corn and cream or half and half to taste. The beans should be in a gentle liquid bath but shouldn’t be drowning. Cook for another 5 minutes or so, until everything is heated through.

Grind pepper over the succotash and serve it. Serves 6 to 8 hearty eaters.

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Funeral Baked Meats

Saturday, January 21st, 2012

No comfort food in the world can compete with macaroni and cheese!

My friend Alice from Dallas and I talk from time to time about writing a book called “Food to Die For.” Like most Americans, Alice and I grew up in communities in which cooking was the natural thing to do when a friend, relative, or neighbor died.

Sometimes there isn’t much one can do for the bereaved other than feed them. Food represents all the love we feel, all the caring remarks we’d like to make, and all the memories we cherish.

And let’s face it: cooking is a heck of a lot more constructive than crying.

Alice grew up in Louisiana so her family brought gumbo, jambalaya, and pralines to the bereaved. I grew up in the northeast so my family tended toward more standard New England-y comfort food—ham, macaroni and cheese, and brownies.

I know people who bring bagels and lox to houses of mourning, as well as stews, soups, cookies, and lasagna. The trick is to identify comfort foods that can be prepared in advance and don’t take much effort to reheat.

My mother Jan often billed herself as a “specialist in funeral baked meats.” When a neighbor died she quickly and efficiently helped relatives, friends, and neighbors organize the feast after the funeral or memorial service. Sometimes this included the favorite dishes of the deceased. Sometimes the menu consisted of any foods that could be prepared in a hurry.

My mother’s funereal feasts were always well received. People liked (and still like) to munch while sharing memories and condolences.

It seems appropriate then, that my mother’s own memorial service on January 7 was followed by copious and delectable food.

Right after the speeches and hymns at the Federated Church in Charlemont, Massachusetts, the church’s pastoral care committee put on a lavish spread of both savory and sweet finger food. It lived up to my memories of the events catered by the now defunct Charlemont Ladies Aid Society.

Later in the day relatives (some by blood, some in spirit) gathered at our house to chat about Jan and life … and of course to eat and drink some more.

Not being my mother, who liked to be thorough and was highly organized, I didn’t make both a turkey and a ham. I made only a ham. (Actually, I didn’t even make it myself since when my neighbors Will and Lisa offered to do something I handed the ham to them for baking!) There was plenty of food, however.

My friend Peter, who considered himself Jan’s third child, brought a huge dish of herbed chicken meatballs. Our neighbors Stu and Cathy prepared the world’s largest bowl of salad. My mother’s honorary goddaughter, Anna, brought fabulous artisan bread. My cousin’s daughter Kyra made yummy cupcakes decorated with snowflakes. And Jan’s aide Pam contributed her dense, delicious applesauce cake.

I had very little to make: a quick appetizer, the salad dressing, my grandmother’s key-lime angel pudding, and a large portion of macaroni and cheese. If I have to be honest, I must say that I didn’t make all of those either since Pam helped A LOT! But I organized them.

Macaroni and cheese was among my mother’s funereal standbys. It is easy to prepare in advance, and it pretty much defines comfort food. So I decided to make it for her.

My standard mac and cheese recipe isn’t elegant and it isn’t rocket science. It’s pretty darn tasty, however. And it comforted me not only to eat it but to prepare it in memory of my mother. She would have enjoyed her party.

The recipe below may be expanded pretty much as much as you like. I hope it graces the table at your next memorial service—or even your next cozy supper party.

Macaroni and Cheese

Ingredients:

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
4 tablespoons flour
2-1/2 cups milk
paprika to taste
salt to taste
freshly ground pepper to taste (optional)
1 cup grated cheese (sharp Cheddar or Swiss or a combination; a little Parmesan is nice in here, too), divided
1/2 pound cooked and drained macaroni (I like seashells or wagon wheels, but elbows are fine, too)
more milk to taste (optional)

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

In a heavy saucepan melt the butter, and stir in the mustard. Whisk in the flour and cook, whisking constantly, for a minute or two. You want the mixture (the roux) to cook and merge but not to get brown.

Add the milk a little at a time, whisking constantly. Bring the sauce to a boil. Add paprika to give it a pink tint plus salt and pepper to taste. I love salt, but remember that the cheese you are about to stir in is salty; I’d start with 1/2 teaspoon and add more later as needed.

Reduce the heat and cook, whisking, for 2 more minutes. Remove the mixture from the heat and use a spoon to stir in 3/4 cup of the cheese. (If you continue to whisk with the cheese, your whisk will get gummy!)

In a 1-1/2 to 2-quart casserole dish combine the macaroni and the sauce. Your casserole should be nice and moist. If for some reason it looks a little dry (this can happen if your cheese is very absorbent), stir in a little more milk. It will evaporate in the oven. Take a tiny taste of your sauce and add more salt if you need to.

Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top of the macaroni mixture, and top with a little more paprika. Cover the dish and place it in the oven.

Bake for 20 minutes; then uncover your macaroni and cheese and continue to cook until it is nice and bubbly, 10 to 15 minutes more. Serves 4 to 6.

 

Jan with the faithful Truffle

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New Year’s Changes

Saturday, January 1st, 2011

 
Greetings, readers, and happy 2011!
 
As usual at this time of year I’ve been thinking about what lies behind me and ahead of me—in general and also on this blog.
 
I have adored our time together “In Our Grandmothers’ Kitchens,” and I don’t want to end it.
 
I do intend to curtail it a bit. Here’s why.
 
My hope when I started writing here in September 2008 was that I would grow as a writer and a cook by having a regular outlet.
 
I also hoped to strengthen my “brand”—the recognition and readership of Tinky—so that when it was time to transform the blog into my second cookbook I would have a ready-made audience for that book (and thus a great argument to any publisher that I should be included in its lists).
 
I got halfway there. I think I’ve DEFINITELY improved as a writer and a cook. Nevertheless, my career hasn’t prospered as much as I hoped it would.
 
I have a small but loyal readership, for which I am grateful. But my blog’s statistics actually went down this year instead of growing. So clearly I’m doing something wrong.
 
Part of my problem, I’m sure, stems from timing. I first started writing about food more than 15 years ago because it was one of the few areas of journalism in which there seemed to be a growing demand for writers. Most newspapers had weekly food pages, and they didn’t seem to have the staff to fill those pages.
 
Since I loved cooking and knew that I could relate food to just about any topic, I was happy to move into this niche.
 
Things have changed, however. Today, the U.S. has more food writers than ever before. And it has a ton of food bloggers. So my blog and I simply don’t stand out.
 
I will keep posting here from time to time in the hope that I can figure out how to turn around my fate and that of “In Our Grandmothers’ Kitchens.”
 
Much of my creative energy will be devoted to a new project, however. As regular readers know, I have been busy lately trying to keep up with my aging mother.
 
My new writing project will explore our journey together as her dementia progresses.
 
I plan to put vignettes from our life and from this new writing project on the internet on a blog called “Pulling Taffy” (Taffy is one of my names for my mother, thanks to her affection for swimming in salt water.)
 
So please do keep up with me here and there as we try to be true to ourselves and each other.
 
Meanwhile, happy New Year to all….
 
Tinky 

P.S. You DO deserve a recipe on January 1–but since I don’t have a new one here’s something appropriate from this past year: black-eyed peas, a traditional (and hearty) new year’s dish! Enjoy……..

My Favorite Flank Steak

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

 
I don’t post a lot of meat recipes on this blog. I’m not sure why. I do eat meat. Somehow it doesn’t stimulate my memory, senses, and creative juices as vegetables, breads, desserts, and appetizers do, however.
 
Today I’m popping a quick meat recipe on anyway. Whenever I see a flank steak at the meat counter of Avery’s General Store I’m tempted to make this truly easy dish. I love marinating things, and flank steak really rewards you with flavor and texture if you marinate it.
 
I’m sorry that the measurements aren’t exact. Luckily, you can’t really go wrong with the recipe.
 
Next time I make it I’ll try to get something written down. But this is just one of those weeks!  Lots of phone calls to make and answer, lots of recipes to test and write up, a number of songs to practice, and a bored elderly mother to entertain.
 
Earlier today in her infatuation with the autumn sun Jan made an unauthorized break from the house with her walker. I thought she was napping until the Hawley, Massachusetts, road crew showed up at the door.
 
“Your mother seems to be hiking to Charlemont,” Wayne Clark told me in his laconic drawl.
 
When I found my mother she was WAY down the street chatting unrepentantly with a man she had found while walking.
 
(Believe me, it’s not easy to find stray men here in Hawley!)
 
“I knew you’d find me,” she said with a big grin on her face. I had to grin back as I thanked the man and the road crew.
 
Thank goodness for small towns! It takes a village to care for more than just children…….
 
The Flank Steak
 
Ingredients:
 
1 flank steak (1-1/2 to 2 pounds)
several cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced into tiny slices
soy sauce as needed (enough to cover but not submerge your steak)
 
Instructions:
 
With a small sharp knife make small slits all over one side of your flank steak. Insert pieces of garlic into each slit.
 
Pour soy sauce onto the steak; then turn it over and repeat the cutting, inserting, and pouring on that side as well.
 
Allow the steak to marinate at room temperature for at least 1-1/2 hours (a little longer is best, but if you want to marinate it for several hours you’ll need to refrigerate it). Turn it every 1/2 hour or so to make sure both sides stay moist.
 
Remove the steak from the soy sauce and place it on a hot grill (or on a grill pan). Grill it for about 4 minutes on each side—maybe a little longer—so that it is rare. If you overcook your steak it will be tough. It doesn’t have to be as rare as the photo above, however. (I love rare steak!)
 
Slice the warm steak against the grain.
 
Serves 4 to 6.


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Two Grandmothers’ Cake

Thursday, September 30th, 2010

 
My mother celebrated a big birthday a few days ago. I won’t say exactly how old she is, mostly because it makes me feel incredibly old myself. Suffice it to say that she is at an age at which every birthday is a big birthday.
 
We were visiting my brother and his family and faced a couple of requirements for the birthday cake.
 
It had to be relatively small since all of us (except my mother) need to lose a little weight. And it had to be simple. My brother was in the hospital at the time. He is happily and healthily home now, but we didn’t want to make a complicated family time more complicated.
 
I had recently rediscovered my grandmother’s recipe for chocolate cake and decided it might fit the bill.
 
I recalled this cake well from my youth, when it was one of my mother’s standbys for a quick cake. She called it “Mother’s Chocolate Cake” (on my grandmother’s recipe card it is called “My Favorite Chocolate Cake”) and iced it with cream-cheese frosting. 

My mother’s own version of the recipe had long since disappeared so I was happy to find my grandmother’s. It’s a great cake—and she was a lovely person. Here is she as she looked when I was little. (I do so admire a woman who can wear hats.)

 

The recipe turned out to be a teensy bit more challenging that I had imagined. 

First, it was just old fashioned enough to be very confusing. My grandmother provided a range of oven temperatures and a range of flour quantities.
 
Second, she was unclear as to which ingredients were added when.
 
I standardized it as best I could and proceeded.
 
In hindsight, it seems to me that one could easily bake this in two layers for a bit less time, but the 8-by-8 inch pan made a nice thick cake that was easy to eat and frost.
 
According to my grandmother’s recipe card, she used a cooked icing on the cake. I stuck with my mother’s standby cream-cheese version, which is ever popular in our house.
 
My nephew Michael took charge of decorating the cake. He began with the word “Nana” written in orange lettering. He then went to town with candy corn and sprinkles. At ten, Michael takes the “more is more” school of decorating very seriously. 

The birthday girl was pleased as punch with the results.

 
Tinky’s Grandmother’s Chocolate Cake
 
Ingredients:
 
2 ounces bitter chocolate
1/2 cup boiling water
1/2 cup (1 stick) sweet butter at room temperature
1-1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups flour
1/2 cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla
 
Instructions:
 
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour an 8-by-8-inch baking pan.
 
Place the chocolate in a small saucepan, and pour the boiling water over it. Stir to dissolve, turning the heat below on very low if necessary.
 
In a mixing bowl cream together the butter and sugar. Beat in the eggs, 1 at a time. Beat in the baking soda.
 
Add the flour and milk alternately, beginning and ending with the flour. Stir in the chocolate mixture, followed by the vanilla.
 
Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 50 minutes.
 
If you want to be informal and serve the cake out of the pan, that’s just fine. To be a bit more festive, let it cool for 10 minutes and then invert it onto a cooling rack.
 
Ice with cream-cheese frosting. 

Serves 8 to 10.


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