29 November 2010

Family recipe Monday: comfort foods

Small quilt in honor of a big anniversary

It's been an odd couple of weeks, with days of high activity interspersed with a few quiet moments. I really am not ready for the holidays to be upon us, but, like everyone else, I am ready for the end of the semester. Just wish that we could have a couple of months of paid leave before the next semester starts. Since no one asked me, however, I'll make do with a couple of weeks off. I have a pile of quilting and sewing projects, some of which are badly overdue, to work on.

Next month is an important anniversary for a group that is very dear to me, and that I miss out here in Dakota Territory. Quilts for Comfort is celebrating its 10th year of providing quilts for those in need in the Delaware area. Its founder, Edna Kotrola, organized hundreds of bees (with potluck lunches) and thousands of volunteer workers in the effort. They claim that 7284 quilts have been delivered to at-risk children in Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland, as well as to adults receiving dialysis and cancer care in Delaware. I helped with about 50 of these, starting literally the day before I had major surgery myself and needed something calming to do with my mother, who was up to help. We went to a bee in Newark, DE, and I was hooked. And calmed. And the surgery went very well.

Edna gave me the last quilt I worked on with her when I moved out here, as a surprise gift. It was and is indeed a comfort. I miss the bees and am looking for a local equivalent, but it won't be quite the same. I decided to do some quilting for the anniversary.

So I dragged out the fabric stash (which needed reorganizing anyway) and my grandmother's Singer Featherweight (which I only use for quilt piecing, because it is the best machine ever) and took a square from each of 48 different fabrics. I wanted it to be colorful and cheerful for the person who receives it, and reasonably well-made so that Edna does not think she wasted her time on me. If you are looking for a cause to support, you couldn't do better than hers.

It's the right time of year for thinking about warmth and comfort. Here are a couple of classics which I would take to a quilting bee potluck.


1 ½ lb. ground beef
1 ½ tsp salt
1 cup fresh bread crumbs or oats
¼ tsp pepper
1 beaten egg
½ can tomato sauce
1 medium sized onion, chopped

Lightly mix ingredients and form a loaf. Place in shallow pan in moderate (350* F) oven. While it is starting to bake, combine the following to make a tart-sweet sauce:

½ can tomato sauce
2 T brown sugar or molasses
2 T vinegar
1 cup water
2 T prepared mustard

Pour over meatloaf in oven. Continue baking for 1 ½ hours, basting occasionally.
--Vada Brooks Johnson

Note: Shirley never uses the fresh breadcrumbs, but always uses the oats and adds bell pepper.

For this next one, I would only use corn tortillas. It could also be made with chicken instead of ground beef. I would use a good white cheese instead of Velveeta, personally. This recipe can be adapted easily and enlarged to make enough for a whole roomful of busy, hungry quilters. It can be prepared in advance and reheated beautifully--that is, if you didn't use Velveeta.

Green chili enchiladas
Brown 1 lb. meat with small chopped onion--add 8 oz grated longhorn cheese and simmer. In double boiler, heat 1 can cream of chicken soup, 1 can chopped green chilis, 1 small jar chopped pimientos, 1 small can evaporated milk, and 8 oz Velveeta cheese. Heat until cheese is melted. Roll meat mixture in tortillas. Place in pan and pour green chili mixture over enchiladas. Cover with foil and cook at 400* F until mixture is bubbly.
--Vada Brooks Johnson

Happy Monday. Go make someone happy today.

27 November 2010

Lights. Camera. Brontothere.

What the...???? Read on....

I made it through high school and college without ever having to participate in making a parade float or even being in a parade. In the last 14 months, though, we have been in three parades, two of them involving a float, the most recent being tonight. This didn't involve the dreaded chicken wire and tissue paper, though. No, this involved a modified rhinoceros taxidermy form and a lot of talent and energy from our faculty, staff and students.

Remember this guy from September?

The brontothere we entered as our float in the university parade in September so charmed our administration that they asked us to re-enter it in the city's annual Parade of Lights, held to kick off the holiday season on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Obviously, this is a night-time parade and  lighting is critically important. Our curator agreed to take this on.

Sometime after that, we found that our brontothere would be not only the university's representative, but actually the Grand Marshal float leading the parade, with the university president and his wife riding on the float along with the university mascot. No pressure at all, right? Oh, and the lights had to be (we were told) LEDs. And we found out less than two weeks before the event.

Here's what we did.

First things first. By a unanimous vote, the brontothere's nose horns got red lights in honor of Rudolph. Everything else was negotiable. This was not.  

Then he was lifted onto the trailer once again, gently. The platform makes it possible for us to strap him securely to the trailer.

Net lights helped us negotiate his difficult shape rather ingeniously.

Don't you think the net lights give him a strong resemblance to Durer's rhinoceros?

They used lights to outline a panel on each side for the school banners.

And they used string lights to outline his head and legs.

Rudolph had NOTHIN' on our guy. THIS is a red nose.

Front half is lit.

Adding more lights to the rear.

Pointillistic brontothere.

Brontothere reflected in the overhead door.

The artistic Michelle replaced a white bulb with a green one at each eye, to give him the laser-eyed effect.

Full body lights are working.

Room lights back on for phase II of the work.

White tarps plus multi-colored net lights = a winter snowy wonderland effect. Or so we say.

It all comes together.

Lights and sound system ready to go. Needless to say, he was a hit.

And also needless to say, we are chilled, exhausted and exhilarated after watching him move regally downtown. He was the star of a lovely and joyous hometown parade. You wouldn't see him in the Macy's parade, just as you wouldn't see the decorated horses, Harleys, rescue dogs, Lakota drummers and singing toilets we saw tonight, but I'll take this over Macy's any day.

Let the holiday season begin.

25 November 2010

Thanksgiving recipe: Texas cream pie

We were braced for a major storm the past two days, but it missed us. Thanksgiving is snow-covered under a blazing blue sky. From a low of -8*F, we have come up to 22*F. It is a glorious day to be indoors looking out. Hot tea and a warm and busy kitchen make it even better.

Thanksgiving dinner starts as soon as Gene finishes the glazed carrots, made with some truly incredible carrots from a friend's garden. Everything else is ready to go--turkey, whole-berry cranberry relish, sage-cornbread dressing, other assorted sides, and a trio of pies. We went with sweet potato, buttermilk and mincemeat pies, and everything smells wonderful up here.

In a hectic year and a tough economy, we are thankful for our supportive network of friends and family, and are grateful for everyone who is healthy, happy and safe. We cherish both the long-term friends who have put up with us for years, and the people we have met in the past three years or so up here who have become good friends as well. I am personally thankful for having the opportunity to live in this wild, beautiful and deep-rooted part of the world, and to be in a position to learn and document, and maybe even to help protect, its history.

Today's recipe is the one that my grandmother cherished most deeply and protected most fiercely. She was reluctant to give it out at all, even in her last years. As you know, I'm not sure that recipes can or should be as secret as all that; nevertheless, I had some pangs about publishing this one. Consider it a gift, our thanks for your being here.

There are two very slightly different versions of this. Texas Cream Pie is nothing like Boston Cream Pie, which is a cake, anyway. It is a gelatin-enhanced vanilla-perfumed custard with a slightly extravagant whipped topping and chocolate shavings as the final garnish.

Texas cream pie

The all-time winner for a perfect dessert. This was taken from a commercial recipe and it was years before Vada felt that she could share it. Her note reads “This is a prize winning $1,000 recipe. Guard it carefully.”

For 2 pies have ready 2 baked pie shells.

Sift together

½ cup sugar
1 heaping T flour

Add 2 cups milk. Cook slightly in double boiler. Add ¼ of this mixture to 5 egg yolks, slightly beaten. Then add yolk mixture to rest of custard. Return to double boiler and cook 3 minutes. Soften 1½ envelopes gelatin in ¼ cup cold water. When custard has cooked 3 minutes, remove from heat and stir in gelatin and 2 tsp vanilla. Cool thoroughly. Beat 4 egg whites with ¼ tsp cream of tartar and add ½ cup sugar. Fold in custard mix gently and put in baked pie shells. Set in refrigerator. Whip ½ cup cream and add 2 T powdered sugar. Spread on top of pie and decorate with grated semi-sweet chocolate over top.

There are two versions of this recipe: the older one adds 1 extra egg, ½ stick of real butter, and an extra ½ envelope of gelatin. This is the version Vada and Gladys came up with and preferred.
--Vada Brooks Johnson, Gladys Brooks Strickland

It's worth the trouble, is all I can say. Happy Thanksgiving. Squeeze your loved ones and don't be afraid to have seconds of anything.

22 November 2010

Family recipe Monday: a Simple Gifts Thanksgiving

This is the dream-team Thanksgiving dinner from the Simple Gifts project. Collectively, these recipes span over a hundred years and a goodly part of the country. I wish I could bring all these cooks together--some of them never even met each other. Family cooking keeps us together across the generations--be sure to give your loved ones an extra hug from us.

Start out with these perfect nibbles.

The Shelton-Sommers family. Ralph is on the left.
I may now be disowned for publishing this, but I think it is a great picture.

Ralph’s East Texas parched pecans
Worcestershire sauce

Melt butter in skillet. Add Worcestershire sauce and pecans. Cook on medium heat, stirring constantly, until golden. Best paired with a single-malt Scotch.
--Ralph Shelton

Use the next two recipes to put together a world-class version of Texas Cornbread Dressing.

Corn kernel cornbread
1 cup flour
1 cup cornmeal
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
¼ cup sugar
2 eggs, well beaten
1 cup milk
3 T melted margarine
1 cup yellow cream-style corn

Preheat oven to 450* F. Brush 9” square baking pan or skillet with melted shortening. Combine dry ingredients in mixing bowl, stirring to blend well. In a separate bowl, combine eggs, milk, margarine and corn. Add all at once to dry ingredients, mixing quickly and thoroughly. Pour batter into pan and bake about 30 minutes, or until bread tests done. Can also be baked as sticks or muffins. Serve hot.

Dipping biscuits

Whisk in bowl to blend:

2 ½ cups whole wheat flour
½ cup unbleached flour
2 ½ tsp baking powder
¾ tsp salt
¾ tsp onion powder
½ tsp ground thyme
½ tsp ground sage (or substitute ¾ tsp Bell’s seasoning)

Add ½ stick butter cut in ½” cubes; blend in with pastry blender until coarse meal consistency. Blend in 1 cup buttermilk, 1 large egg, mix until moist. Turn onto floured surface, knead briefly until dough comes together. Gather into ball, roll out to ¾“, cut into rounds or squares. Bake in 400o preheated oven 20-22 minutes, or until biscuit tester* comes out clean! Dip in gravy and enjoy.
--Pat Monaco

*This is an in-joke. Our friend Pat actually found a snooty gourmet magazine recipe for biscuits that required the use of a biscuit tester to determine doneness. If you can’t tell when biscuits are done, a tester will not help you much. These are great crumbled into a cornbread-sage dressing.

For a soup course, try this Pennsylvania classic.

Shaffner-Hess wedding reception, 1954.

Potato soup

Sauté gently in 2 T butter:

1 T grated carrot
1 T scraped onions

Stir in:

1 tsp salt
¼ tsp celery salt
1/8 tsp pepper
2 cups hot milk
1 cup mashed or boiled potatoes, put through a coarse sieve

Cook 20 minutes
--Dolly Shaffner Hess

For a variation on the standard cranberry jelly, try this.

Cranberry salad

1 lb. cranberries
1 whole apple

Grind in food chopper. Cover with 1 cup sugar. Add:

1 small can crushed pineapple
Pinch salt
1/2 cup nuts

Mix into 2 pkg. Jell-O (cherry or raspberry) in 3 cups water. Chill.
--Vada Brooks Johnson, Shirley Johnson Shelton

And here is a quartet of great side dishes:

Vada’s marinated carrots

2 lb. carrots, cut in 1” pieces

Cook until tender; drain and set aside. Bring to boil:

1 cup sugar
1 8-oz. can tomato sauce
1/3 cup oil
½ cup vinegar

When boiling, add 1 onion (sliced) and 1 green pepper (sliced). Bring back to good hard boil and pour over carrots.
--Vada Brooks Johnson

Rice-broccoli casserole

1 package chopped broccoli
½ cup chopped onion
½ cup chopped celery
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 small jar Cheddar cheese spread
1 cup cooked rice

Cook broccoli according to package directions. Sauté onion and celery in small amount of oil. Mix with broccoli. Add soups and cheese spread. Line a casserole dish with rice. Pour broccoli mixture over rice and bake at 375* F for 10 minutes.
--Vada Brooks Johnson

Pennsylvania red cabbage

2 tbsp bacon drippings heated in skillet (oil may be substituted)

Stir into drippings or oil:

¼ cup brown sugar
¼ cup cider vinegar
½ tsp caraway seed
¼ cup water
1 ¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper

Stir in to coat:

4 cups shredded red cabbage
2 cups cubed unpeeled red apple

Cover and cook on low heat about 15 min until cooked but still crisp. Stir occasionally.
--Dolly Shaffner Hess

Perfect baked sweet potatoes

4 medium to large sweet potatoes
Safflower oil

Preheat oven to 400* F. Wash and scrub potatoes. Dry thoroughly. Coat potatoes lightly with oil. Prick surface with fork. Bake until tender (40-60 minutes, depending on size).

The best rolls of all time for the dinner are Bran Rolls and Potato Rolls. I'd serve these with Honey Jelly.

Honey jelly

3 cups honey
1 cup water
½ bottle liquid fruit pectin (Certo)

Measure honey and water into large saucepan and mix well. Place over high heat and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. At once stir in pectin. Then bring to a full rolling boil and boil hard 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, skim off foam with metal spoon, and pour quickly into glasses. Cover jelly at once with 1/8” hot paraffin wax. This will make five glasses.

Here are a couple of options for the main course, in addition to the Shrimp Creole we love for holidays. Because we just do, that's why.

Basic roast turkey

18 to 22-lb. turkey
2 oranges or 4 lemons, halved
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
Salt, pepper, paprika
4 T corn oil

Clean turkey with damp paper towels. Dry well inside and out. Squeeze orange or lemon juice over the inside and outside of cavity. Fill neck cavity with one stuffing and body cavity with another, if desired. Don’t pack too tightly. Close cavities by sewing or skewering. Rub 1½ sticks of butter over outside of turkey. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and paprika. Drape cheesecloth over top of turkey. Place breast side up on rack in roasting pan. Bake 4½ to 5 ½ hours at 325* F or until turkey tests done. Baste every 30 minutes with corn oil which has been mixed with remaining butter (melted). Baste without lifting cheesecloth, but check periodically to make sure it is not stuck to skin. If it is, gently lift and baste under cheesecloth. If breast gets too dark, tent with a piece of foil.

The Brooks family. Vada is the taller of the two little girls.

For the poultry-averse:


6 lb. brisket
3 T garlic salt
3 T onion salt
3 T celery salt
½ bottle dark smoke (liquid smoke), 3-oz bottle

Wrap in foil and marinate overnight. Cook 6 hours at 275* F.
--Vada Brooks Johnson

Finally, if you are still able to move, we recommend a nice selection of pies for dessert. You can never have too many of these. Some already-printed classics include Pumpkin-Chiffon Pie, Buttermilk Pie, Pecan Pie and Caramel Pie. Here are a few other dessert options:

Sour cream dried cherry pie

2 cups sour cream
3 egg yolks
½ cup brown sugar
3 T flour
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp cinnamon
1 ½--2 cups dried sour cherries
½ cup water

Put the cherries in a small saucepan with the water and plump them over low heat about 5 minutes. Cool and drain. Combine the flour and sugar. Add the beaten egg yolks, sour cream, vanilla and cinnamon. Cook the custard in a double boiler until it just starts to thicken, stirring continuously. Mix in the cherries and divide between two pre-baked piecrusts. Bake at 350* until just golden, 10-12 minutes.
--Pat Monaco and Sally Shelton

Chocolate chip cheesecake

1 ½ cup finely crushed Oreo cookies
¼ cup oleo or butter, melted
3 8-oz packages cream cheese, softened
1 14-oz can Eagle Brand condensed milk (not evaporated)
3 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
1 cup mini-chocolate chips
1 tsp flour

Preheat oven to 300* F (important). Combine crumbs and oleo; pat firmly on bottom of 9” springform pan. In a large bowl, beat cream cheese until fluffy. Add Eagle Brand milk and beat well. Add eggs and vanilla; mix well. In a small bowl, toss together ½ cup chocolate chips, 1 tsp flour to coat. Stir into cheese mixture. Pour into pan. Sprinkle ½ cup chocolate chips on top. Bake 1 hour or until cake springs back when lightly touched. Cool to room temperature. Chill and remove side of pan. Serves 10-12.
--Marcie Nelson

I'll post another pie recipe on Thanksgiving Day. Happy Monday.

21 November 2010

Thanksgiving thoughts: "in Wildness is the preservation of the World"

Bald eagle, Sturgis

"If I wished to see a mountain or other scenery under the most favorable auspices, I would go to it in foul weather, so as to be there when it cleared up; we are then in the most suitable mood, and nature is most fresh and inspiring."

Today I am celebrating the wildlife sharing this complex part of the world. The photographs come from a year or more of exploring the Black Hills and Badlands; I'm letting Henry David Thoreau take over the writing. He says it all so much better. I would not want to live in a world without wildness. Thankfully, there is still something of the wild up here.

Avocets wheeling

"The West of which I speak is but another name for the Wild, and what I have been preparing to say is, that in Wildness is the preservation of the World. Every tree sends its fibers forth in search of the Wild."

Cedar waxwing, Canyon Lake

"I do not know of any poetry to quote which adequately expresses this yearning for the Wild. Approached from this side the best poetry is tame. I do not know where to find in any literature, ancient or modern, any account which contents me, of that Nature with which even I am acquainted."

Floating grebe nest with eggs

"Life consists with Wildness. The most alive is the wildest."

Butterfly, Iron Creek

"Nature has from the first expanded the minute blossoms of the forest only toward the heavens, above men’s heads and unobserved by them. We see only the flowers that are under our feet in the meadows."

Tundra swan

"The merit of this bird’s strain is in its freedom from all plaintiveness. The singer can easily move us to tears or to laughter, but where is he who can excite in us a pure morning joy?"

Le Conte's sparrow, Spirit Mound

"We walked in so pure and bright a light, gilding the withered grass and leaves, so softly and serenely bright — I thought I had never bathed in such a golden flood, without a ripple or a murmur to it."

Chipmunk, Needles Highway

"I believe that there is a subtile magnetism in Nature, which, if we unconsciously yield to it, will direct us aright. It is not indifferent to us which way we walk."

Bison, Custer

"To preserve wild animals, implies generally the creation of a forest for them to dwell in or resort to."

Pronghorn, Custer

"Nature is a personality so vast and universal that we have never seen one of her features."

Distant coyote, Custer

"In short, all good things are wild and free."