ground meats

I was away the beginning of July and realized today that I had forgotten to post the blog for this column, which appeared in the Aroostook Republican on July 2nd. Sorry about that.

Hamburger, ground chicken, turkey, and pork add variety and convenience to your meals. They can be frozen and available at any time and are a tasty background for herbs, spices, and vegetables, rounding out any family meal.

sweet-and-sour turkey meatballs
Whenever my daughter, Bennet, visits, she asks for this dish, and I enthusiastically comply since I love it, too. You can double the recipe for a crowd. And it is easy to make ahead and heat just before serving. Bring to room temperature first.

For the meatballs:

  • ¾ lb ground turkey
  • 1 egg
  • 10 crushed saltines
  • ½ cup canned milk
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp dry mustard
  • 1 medium chopped onion
  • ½ tsp dried savory or rosemary
  • Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 350°. Line a cookie sheet with foil coated with cooking spray. In a medium bowl, soften cracker crumbs in milk. Beat in egg. Add remaining items, mixing well. Use a cookie scoop or form balls by hand, about the size of a walnut. Place on cookie sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes or till nicely browned.

While meatballs are baking, prepare the sauce:

  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup water
  • ½ cup ketchup
  • 1 tsp lite olive oil
  • ¼ cup white sugar
  • 2 Tbs white vinegar
  • 1 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Place cooked meatballs in a casserole. Mix all sauce ingredients and pour over. Bake, uncovered, for 1 hour till bubbly. This can also be heated in a crockpot. Check your unit’s directions for temps and times. Serve over noodles with some buttered corn or green vegetable and crusty bread.

hamburger upside-down casserole
This is my mother’s recipe—simple yet delicious. The kids will gobble this right up.

Boil 1½ cups elbow macaroni or small shells according to box directions to make about 3 cups. Drain and set aside. Spray a 9 x 13” baking pan or large casserole dish with cooking spray. Preheat oven to 350°.

In a skillet over medium heat, brown:

  • ½ cup chopped onion
  • 1 lb lean hamburger
  • 3 Tbs butter
  • ½ tsp garlic powder
  • ½ tsp dried (or rubbed) sage
  • ½ tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp black pepper

Add two 8-oz cans plain tomato sauce to meat mixture and bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 5 minutes. Place in the prepared pan or dish. In a large bowl, mix 8 oz of shredded sharp cheddar with the macaroni. Place on top of meat mixture.

Beat 3 eggs with ¾ cups milk and pour over entire mix. Sprinkle with bread crumbs and grated Romano or Parmesan cheese.

Cover and bake for 25 minutes, then uncover and bake 15 minutes more till brown and bubbly.

TIP: If you’re as busy as I am, you forget to defrost things for supper like ground meat or stews and end up with a solid block of ice staring at you at 5 p.m.! Solution? Invest in some good quality zip-seal bags and pack your ground meat flat to fill the entire bag and seal well. A half-inch thick quart-size bag of ground meat will defrost in an hour, or much less if you set it under that faucet and run cold water over it for a while. Same with stew or soup. Fill a large bag about ¾-full. Seal carefully, pressing out the air, then lay it flat in the freezer. No microwave defrosting disasters. So easy to make a last minute meal decision!

white bean and chicken slow-cooker chili
This hearty dish is so easy to prepare and if made ahead, gets better when refrigerated overnight. Go ahead and freeze the leftovers.

Brown 1 large chopped onion in 2 Tbs light olive oil over medium-high heat. When onion is translucent, add 2 chopped garlic cloves, 2 lbs ground chicken, and 1 tsp salt. Cook about ten minutes, stirring often.

Now add:

  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 Tbs chili powder

Stir constantly until spices are very fragrant, being careful not to burn. Deglaze pan with ¼ cup of lime juice, scraping off brown bits from the bottom of the pan, then add 32 oz chicken broth. Mix well and place in a 3½-quart slow-cooker. Next, add 30 oz of white beans (cannelini), drained and rinsed, and mix well. Cook on low setting for at least four hours. Pass the shredded Monterey Jack, sour cream, and pickled jalapenos. Serve with warm flour tortillas.

marsha’s hamburger pie
When I lived in Silver Spring, Maryland, Marsha and her family lived in the apartment below us. She was a true Southern Belle and the cousin of actress Stella Stevens. Marsha made this for me once when I was down with a bad cold. Believe me, the flavors came through as this is very tasty. You do have to make your own pie crust for this one, but it is totally worth it. You can find Cousin Ralph’s Magical Piecrust recipe at the end of the Memorial Day post in this blog.

Ingredients

  • 1 Cousin Ralph’s top and bottom piecrust, prepared (see directions)
  • ½ cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
  • ½ tsp paprika
  • 2 or 3 dashes cayenne pepper
  • 1½ lbs ground chuck
  • 1 small onion, minced
  • 1 can beef bouillon (1¼ cups)
  • 1½ cups dry unseasoned bread crumbs
  • ½ tsp each salt and black pepper
  • ¼ tsp each dried thyme and marjoram
  • 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce

Directions
Preheat oven to 375°. Prepare pie crust adding cheese, paprika, and cayenne to the flour before stirring into shortening mixture. Divide crust in two, roll out and place in a pie pan. Cook onion and beef in a skillet till browned. Mix bread crumbs and bouillon and let sit a few minutes. Add beef mixture and remaining ingredients. Mix well, and pour into pie shell. Roll remaining crust and put over top. Pinch to seal edges. Cut vents.

Bake on the lowest shelf of your oven to set bottom crust. Bake 45 minutes or more till golden brown. Brushing the top crust with whole beaten egg imparts of wonderful sheen and makes your dish look like it was prepared by the finest chef!

PRINT THIS POST! HERE’S THE LINK:  CJ-7-3-14-GROUND MEAT

fruit

Fresh fruit, preserved fruit, frozen fruit, canned fruit—it’s all good because fruit is sweet, always available, and versatile as an ingredient in savory dishes, like ham and pineapple or pork and applesauce, as well as desserts. And now we can enjoy fresh berries and watermelon in January! My first recipe is especially for the cook who hates heating up the kitchen in the middle of summer!

no-bake berry crisp
You can use fresh or frozen fruit of any kind. No need to thaw. Serves 6.

Topping:
¾ cup sliced almonds, divided
2/3 cup flour
¼ cup white sugar
¼ cup packed light brown sugar
½ tsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp salt
6 Tbs butter, melted

Filling:
1/3 cup white sugar, divided
1 Tbs cornstarch
2 lbs berries, apples, peaches, or frozen sweet cherries
1 Tbs lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp salt

Optional: If using sweet cherries, add ¼ tsp almond extract and 2/3 cup dried cherries; for apples, add 2/3 cup raisins or dried cranberries.

Finely chop ¼ cup of the almonds. Mix them with flour, both sugars, cinnamon, salt, vanilla in a bowl. Stir in melted butter till it looks like wet sand and no dry flour remains.

In a 10-inch nonstick skillet, toast remaining ½ cup almonds over medium-low heat until just beginning to brown, about 4 minutes. Add sugar mixture and cook, stirring constantly, until lightly browned, 6-8 minutes. Transfer to a plate to cool and wipe out skillet.

Prepare the filling. Mix 2 Tbs of the sugar with the cornstarch in a small bowl. Combine fresh or frozen fruit with lemon juice, vanilla, salt, and remaining sugar in the skillet. Cover and cook over medium heat until fruit thaws and/or releases its juices. Stir about halfway through. If adding any dried fruit, do it at this time. Time will vary depending on the kind of fruit you are using, but 5-7 minutes should do it. Uncover and simmer till fruit is very tender.

Sprinkle in cornstarch mixture and stir till thickened, about 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and distribute topping evenly over filling. Return skillet to heat and cook till filling is bubbling around edges. Let cool at least 30 minutes before serving.

nathalie’s apple squares
Nathalie Lagerstrom was an incredible woman. She spoke fluent Swedish and was a passionate gardener and volunteer. When my mother died, Nathalie brought these to the reception at Faith Lutheran Church. Of course I had to ask her for the recipe, which she knew by heart! Now Nathalie is gone, and we will miss her spirit. This is quick and easy to prepare using stuff you already have around. Apples can be substituted with any other fruit, and this can be doubled to fill a 9×13 pan for a crowd.

Ingredients
1 egg, well beaten with 1 cup of sugar
1/3 cup canned milk
1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 cup peeled, chopped apple

Topping
2 Tbs sugar
½ tsp cinnamon
2 Tbs chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°. In a large bowl, place ingredients in order given and mix well. Grease an 8×8 pan. Pour batter into pan. Mix topping ingredients together and sprinkle over batter. Bake about a half hour or until golden brown. Cool completely. Cut into squares.

granny cake
This is so delicious. Keep in the refrigerator—IF any is left, that is!

2 cups sugar, divided
2 cups flour
½ tsp salt
2 eggs
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup evaporated milk OR coconut milk
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
1 tsp vanilla
1 20-oz can crushed pineapple, undrained
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350°. Grease and flour a 9×13-inch pan. Mix 1½ cups of the sugar, flour, salt, soda, eggs, and pineapple in a medium size bowl, pour into the pan, and top with a mixture of the brown sugar and pecans. Bake 45 minutes.

Mix ½ cup of the sugar, milk, butter, and vanilla in a saucepan and bring to a rolling boil. As soon as cake is out of the oven, pour the mixture over entire cake.

one-dish apple pudding
This is from the Shakers of Sabbathday Lake, Maine. I met these wonderful folks when they came to Caribou to do a history presentation at the Nylander Museum in 1986. Part of the program was a cooking demonstration. It was so much fun. Now you can enjoy this great recipe, which I make often. It’s so easy, but my family thinks I spend hours on it. Yours will, too!

2 eggs
1 cup white sugar
3 Tbs flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla or rose water
Dash of salt
¼ cup raisins
¼ cup finely chopped nuts like walnuts or pecans (optional)
2 medium apples, peeled and finely diced
Plain cream, whipped cream, or ice cream

Break eggs into a 1½-quart casserole and beat well. (Do NOT use a smaller dish as mixture rises and will go over in the oven.) Stir in all remaining ingredients except cream. Bake at 350° for about 35 minutes till golden on top. Might take up to another 10 minutes if needed. Serve warm with cream of choice.

Other ideas:
Substitute brown sugar for white.
Top with wheat germ, drizzle with melted butter, and sprinkle on nutmeg or mace for more flavor
Serve with lemon yogurt or sour cream.

blueberry lemon pound cake
Just right for your holiday celebrations, big enough for a crowd, and blueberries are local and fresh right about now. Can be made a day or two ahead to save you rushing around at the last minute. Historical factoid: pound cake recipes go back to before colonial days when a pound of butter, a pound of eggs, a pound of sugar, and a pound of flour was mixed to create a cake. I like the modern measurements much more. And not many of us has a scale in the kitchen anymore nor do we cook over an open fire either!

For the cake:
1/3 cup whole milk
6 large eggs
1 ½ Tbs vanilla
2 2/3 cups flour plus more for flouring baking pan
1 tsp baking powder
1 ¼ tsp salt (double if using kosher salt)
3 sticks (1 ½ cups) unsalted butter, softened plus more for greasing baking pan
½ cup white sugar
¾ cup light brown sugar
¼ cup freshly grated lemon zest
3 cups picked over blueberries, tossed with 1½ Tbs flour (Wild blueberries are preferred and frozen is fine if fresh is not available.)

For the syrup:
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
½ cup white sugar

TIP: One medium lemon yields approximately 1 tablespoon of lemon zest (rind) and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice. Be sure your lemons are at room temperature for maximum juice.

Make the syrup while cake is baking:
In a small saucepan, combine the lemon juice and sugar, stirring till dissolved. Let cool a bit.

To bake the cake:
Grease and flour a 10-inch bundt or tube pan with butter. Preheat oven to 350°. In a small bowl, whisk together the milk, eggs, and vanilla. Into another bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to cream the butter with the sugars and zest till light and fluffy. Next, add the flour and egg mixture alternately, beating after each addition until just combined. Fold in 1½ cups of the berries.

Spoon one-third of the batter into the baking pan, spread evenly, and then sprinkle ½ cup of remaining blueberries over it.

Spoon half of remaining batter into pan, spreading evenly over blueberries on top. Sprinkle ½ cup of remaining berries over it. Repeat to finish with last layer of blueberries on top.

Bake in the middle of the oven for 1 hour to 1 hour and ten minutes or till golden and a toothpick inserted in the middle of cake is clean.

Remove from oven, and immediately poke top evenly all over with a wooden skewer or cooking fork and brush with the prepared syrup. Let cake cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes, invert on to rack, remove pan, and poke all over with the skewer or fork. Brush with remaining syrup. Yummy!

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memorial day ideas

Remembering loved ones, and especially those who have died for us, deserves a special meal and appreciation of family, friends, and country. Memorial Day weekend here is the time for raking the yard, getting the garden in, spreading the last of the snow around to melt, and unofficially welcoming in the summer season. With hopes the black flies haven’t started biting yet, we head outdoors to enjoy the warm air and share a meal or two.

I hope these dishes will bring a smile to your face as they are unconventional but delicious, and can become a tradition you can repeat year after year.

homemade onion dip
Once you’ve made your own, you’ll never go back to the old onion-soup-mix glop again! This one’s much less salty and tastes a lot better, too! All it asks of you is a bit of your time—and it’s totally worth it. Make this a day or two ahead for convenience. It tastes much better if the flavors have time to marry.

  • 2 large Spanish or Vidalia onions (2 cups diced)
  • 2 Tbs light olive oil
  • 2 pinches salt
  • 1 16-oz. container sour cream, brought to room temperature
  • 1 8-oz. block cream cheese, softened
  • 1 Tbs Gravy Master
  • ½ tsp garlic powder or use fresh 2 garlic cloves, finely minced (even better)
  • ½ tsp white pepper
  • Dash or three of your favorite hot sauce (optional)

Remove cream cheese and sour cream from the ‘fridge at least two hours before starting. Brown onions in oil over medium-high heat, taking care not to burn, till brown and well done. Set aside to cool.

Place all other ingredients in a medium bowl and mix well. Add cooled onions. Refrigerate, covered, overnight, or at least 4-6 hours. Serve at room temperature with chips, crackers, or pita bread wedges, then watch it disappear!

chinese chicken salad
I got this recipe from my friend, Dawn King and tweaked it a bit. It is so delicious your kids will gobble it up while getting some veggies in the process! You’ll need a tight-fitting plastic container—low, flat, and rectangular in shape—that’ll hold about 6-8 cups. You’ll need to get a small bottle of toasted sesame oil in the ethnic section of the supermarket, but it is totally worth it. It imparts a most memorable flavor.

For the salad, prepare the following:

  • 2 large or 3 small boneless, skinless chicken breasts, gently poached, cooled, and diced
  • ¼ cup sesame seeds
  • 1 cup slivered almonds sautéed in oil till golden brown and cooled
  • 1 sweet onion (Vidalia, if available, is best)
  • ½ head of medium size cabbage, finely shredded
  • 2 packages of Ramen noodles (discard seasoning pack)

For the dressing, mix together in a shaker:

  • 3/4 cup white vinegar
  • ½ cup light olive or peanut oil
  • ½ cup water
  • 4 Tbs sugar
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 3 Tbs toasted sesame oil
  • 1 Tbs soy sauce

Directions:
In a plastic container, break up squares of ramen noodles into 4-6 pieces. Pour mixed dressing over noodles, then add tossed remaining ingredients over. Cover and shake vigorously. Flip over and refrigerate at least overnight. If you are worried the lid will leak, be sure to enclose in a large plastic bag. Check in the morning to test that noodles are soft. Remove from refrigerator two hours before serving. Can be served in lettuce cups. Crunchy good!

mamie’s blubarb pie
A divine concoction of blueberries and rhubarb makes this pie a true celebration. Serve with a scoop of lemon sherbet!

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup quick-cooking tapioca
  • 3 cups diced rhubarb
  • 3 cups blueberries
  • Pastry dough, for double-crust 9-inch pie*

Directions:
Preheat oven to 400°. Combine sugars, salt and tapioca in a large bowl and mix well. Add fruit and toss until well coated.

Place fruit mixture in 9-inch pie pan lined with pastry dough. Top with second crust, and trim so the top crust hangs 1/2 inch beyond rim, then tuck edge of top crust under bottom crust and crimp or pinch to finish.

Bake 20 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350° and bake an additional 25-30 minutes, until pie is golden and the juices are bubbling. Let cool 2 hours and then serve.

*See my magical pie crust recipe below, OR use prepared rolled pie dough.

tip: crumb topping can replace top crust
My mother didn’t much like using a top crust on a pie. She loved to make a crumb topping—sweet, rich, and crunchy. I’ve kind of gone over to her side. This recipe can be mixed up quickly and doubled or tripled, always ready in your ‘fridge or freezer in a container with a tight-fitting lid. Keeps for a month or more. PLUS it’s delicious.

  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ cup flour
  • ½ stick soft butter (do NOT use margarine)
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • ½ cup old-fashioned oats (optional)

Mix with fingers till crumbly.

cousin ralph’s magical pie crust
This recipe first appeared on cans of Spry—a solid shortening—back in the 1960s. My wonderfully creative cousin ripped the label off his Spry can and gave it to me when I raved about the crust on the pie he’d served me in 1963. I can’t understand why this method never caught on with the pastry crowd or with anyone, for that matter. When I tell you this is the easiest crust you’ll ever make, I mean it. You’ve probably never made crust like this, and the process flies in the face of all those pastry experts and seasoned bakers out there who’ve always preached that pie crust must be prepared cold—very cold—and that is a real pain to do correctly. This crust uses hot liquids, but it works and is a snap to prepare. It is easily doubled, tripled, or quadrupled and freezes well, so you can make it two months ahead and pull it out to prepare a delicious homemade pie any time! Great for chicken or beef pot pies, too. You’ll never go back to that pastry blender!

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup solid shortening (plain, NOT butter-flavored)
  • 6 Tbs water
  • 2 tsp milk
  • 2 ½ cups flour
  • 1 tsp salt

Directions:
Measure out flour and salt; mix and set aside. Place shortening in a medium bowl and spread it evenly over the bottom. In a small saucepan, bring water and milk to a boil, and pour over shortening. Beat with a fork till smooth and thick. Add flour and salt. Stir gently with the fork, then mix with fingers gently so as not to toughen till well blended.

Form two equal balls of dough, which will be soft and warm. I like to roll it out between two sheets of wax paper to a thickness of about ¼-inch. It’s easy to peel off the top paper, pick the whole mess up and flip it on to the pie pan. Carefully peel the other paper off,. If you tear the crust, it is easily patched. Position, trim and pinch taking care to eliminate any air bubbles. (I prick them with a fork then pat it to close the holes.)

Makes 2 crusts

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I’d love to hear from you if you try this or any other recipes on A Cook’s Journal. Just scroll down to the end of this post to comment. Happy cooking!