Sunday, November 11, 2012

Chips and dip

I am not sure when Pepper’s family started serving Chips and dip…. But I have no recollection of family events at Pepper’s parents house without them. I have been going over to their house since around 1986… and I can’t remember a single time. Pepper’s Mom has a special Chip and dip set that I believe had been a wedding gift. They always use that. My friend Sal has been searching second hand stores for years trying to find me one, but they are harder to find than you would think.

The dip is not a hard recipe… but there is a trick at the end that is important for optimal taste and flavor. It is basically a 16 oz container of sour cream (we use light… and 32 oz because we make a double batch) and 1 dry package of French onion soup mix. You carefully make a hole in the sour cream, pour in the envelope of onion powder and stir. To make this easy, you could pour both into a medium size container and mix, but we like to spare the dirty dish and love the challenge of not spilling the powder everywhere. The ‘trick’ I mentioned earlier is that this must be done the day before you are going to eat it. For the onions to actually un-dehydrate, they need time to soak. The pre-planning will be worth it. I’d like to note here that Pepper was in a play awhile ago where they talked about this recipe and added a “squirt” of lemon juice…. This is not needed and Pepper’s family likes it the way they have always made it.

A word about the chips. Since I mentioned that they like things the way they like them I will mention the potato chips here. I once thought that “wavy” type chips would be a great improvement because they could hold more dip and be stronger (to avoid breakage into the dip). This did not really go over well. Pepper’s mother and both brother’s commented negatively on the change. All implying that they had liked things the way they were. Did I mention they needed to be Lay’s potato chips? They do. And do not even think about skimping on this with store brand… they would know. As a side note- I have noticed that Pepper’s Mom moved to lightly salted Lay’s… this adjustment went pretty well.

My children have never known a trip to Nana and Grandpa’s house without chips and dip. That would never fly…. To them it would be like shoes without socks or television without sound- just unheard of! The adults are allowed to gather around the bowl and in a turn taking fashion, select a chip, dip then move slightly out of the way for someone else… it works well. (We’ve all had lots of practice) We had some issues with the kids dipping too heavily which either broke the chip in the dip, breaking everyone’s rhythm- or deep dipping, which meant the chip AND their fingers were covered in dip. This problem was solved by Nana providing individual cups of chip and dip for each of the kids. This solved the kid issues. Dori has graduated back to the chip and dip bowl, but Macy still likes hers separate- probably to avoid the whole turn taking situation. The boys do not seem to care…. as long as they can get refills!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Cat tails

As a kid, when I went camping we always had s’mores. When I first started camping with Jay in college she introduced me to Cat tails. Cat tails are made by using a canned biscuit (Jay says the cheap, generic brand are fine) rolled out into a “snake” then wound around the s’more stick. It is cooked by browning above the fire. (This takes patience or burned biscuits could result!)

Once the biscuit is cooked (its done when the biscuit will turn easily around the stick) you take it off and roll it around on a stick of butter (similar to the way you’d roll an ear of corn) then dipped into a mixture of cinnamon and sugar (more sugar than cinnamon). The end result tastes like a sugar-cinnamon donut.

Our kids and most of their friends now know about cat tails. Over the years anyone that has camped with us has had them. They are very good and I am sure we have shared the recipe with many people. When Dill was little he’d ask for “cotton tails” when we camped….. we knew what he meant and were happy to pull out the ingredients. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Shrimp Chips

When I was in middle school (but it was called junior high back then) my parents decided to take a cooking class together. They choose an introductory Chinese cuisine class…. But we all called it wok school. They would come home from the class and tell us all the things they learned like the right temp for the wok and why peanut oil was the ‘oil of choice’. One night they learned how to make shrimp chips. These are very common where I grew up in Ohio and came with soup at most Chinese restaurants, but they don’t seem as popular where we currently live.

When you buy them to cook at home, shrimp chips come in a small packet and look like limp potato chips. My parents carefully set their electric wok to the correct temp, measured out the right amount of peanut oil and we waited with anticipation for the oil to warm. They wanted my sisters and I to give them our undivided attention while we waited because they said it would be exciting. As a teenager, I felt it was as boring as watching paint dry. My parents chatted about their class and even as a kid I could tell that it was in my best interest to hang around and wait to find out why they were so excited.

When the oil was finally hot my Dad took a handful of the limp chips and tossed them into the oil. They immediately made a huge “Puff” and filled the wok. It was pretty impressive…. I always loved those chips and have taken my kids to Wah Fu’s… their favorite Chinese place while I was growing up. When I am there, I think of them- so happy showing us their wok skills and knowing all the ins and outs of the menu. They went back and took the “advanced” Chinese cuisine course too but none of the things they made were as impressive as those chips. J

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Clam Bake Chicken

Every year while I was growing up we had a family clam bake. At first they were held at my Grandparents farm, later they were held at my Aunt Sue and Uncle Jerry’s. The menu was pretty much always the same. There were steamed clams that were put inside this huge square cooker and cooked on site and everyone brought sides and desserts to go with them. My Mom’s job was to make baked chicken. My Aunt Sue was always so happy that my Mom would bring the chicken… she said she hated making it. My Mom once asked why and she said hers never turned out as good as my mom’s…. but I think the real issue was the mess it made in the oven. Aunt Sue was a bit fanatical about keeping her oven clean, Mom- not so much.

So the recipe my mom used was to buy split halves of chicken from her local Pick-N-Pay, then use a sharp knife to cut them in half so she had 4 large pieces per chicken (and she bought LOTS of them for the clam bake) She put them on deep cookie sheets and slathered them with Italian salad dressing. (Everyone loved the flavor and thought it was marinated in something mysterious!) They would drip and ooze and spark a bit and mom would pull them out and put them in a huge roasting pan. She made them all on the morning of the clam bake so the huge pan was still warm when we got into the car and smelled great all the way to the party.

Every year I was expected to eat one clam and take a sip of clam juice (which looked like dirty water) then I could have chicken… and corn on the cob. I will still make chicken this way sometimes. Why not? I have a self-cleaning oven! J

Monday, November 5, 2012

Grandma's Potato Salad

I always thought my Grandmother made really good potato salad. I don’t know if it would ever win awards or become a published recipe… but everyone in my family liked it. Once, when I was just out of college I asked her if she’d show me how she made it. I drove down to her house and after a fantastic dinner of Büƒ we started boiling the potatoes. Grandma washed them off in water, but did not peel them. She just plunked them all into the hot water. We played pinochle while they cooked with my grandfather and a neighbor. Both the neighbor and I knew, without even talking, to let my grandparents win. Grandpa didn’t care, but grandma did! 

Once the potatoes were cooked and cooled we peeled them. This is done without a knife or peeler because they are so soft from cooking that the peel just peels right off by rubbing the skin with your thumb. The potatoes are then roughly cut with a butter knife with the potato held in the palm of the hand and put into a large bowl. (This feels weird and sort of tickles!) We then added diced onion, a couple diced hard-boiled eggs and her secret ingredient. This ingredient actually grossed me out… so I don’t use it. But since this is her recipe I will tell you what it was: She added very old, brownish, somewhat slimy celery.  She felt “fresh” celery gave it too much crunch. I like crunch, so I use fresh. She then added pepper, seasoning salt, celery salt and Miracle whip (not Mayonnaise) and stirred it well with a large spoon. On top she’d decorate by laying slices of hard-boiled eggs and sprinkle with paprika. Last secret…. It had to sit over night in the fridge. The next day, it was very good potato salad. J

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Stuffed Green Peppers

My father’s favorite dinner was stuffed green peppers. I hate the taste, smell and look of green peppers. Always have, always will. As an adult now, recalling what the Green Peppers looked like and how she made them… I think it was a very well prepared dish.  Meaning she made it well. I may have some day grown to like green peppers but my parents always insisted that I had to eat the insides of the green pepper and could skip eating the actual pepper before I could leave the table. The problem was that the green pepper taste permeated the whole dish. The meat and the rice and everything else inside the green pepper tasted like green pepper!  I pretty much chocked, gagged and held my nose through the ordeal every time she made it.

Even now I do not like the taste of peppers. If I see them whole… I don’t like red or yellow ones either.  It amazes me how smells can bring back vivid old memories…. Even walking through a farmers market where there are bins of green peppers I have to resist the urge to plug my nose and yell “Yuck!”

Saturday, November 3, 2012


November brings to my mind… food. So this month I’m going to blog about food. Dishes and meals from my childhood and adulthood that have become traditions or fond memories.

The first is reaching way, way back… to a dish called Büƒ. My Grandmother made this dish for me when I was a kid. It was my favorite thing she made. Now, a couple important details about this…. I liked very PLAIN food as a kid. In fact in college Jay gave me Big Red chewing gum for the first time and I thought I was going to die! The other fact is that my Grandmother (GG) was not a very good cook. She tried, but I don’t think it was an interest to her.

So,  Büƒ is made from ground hamburger made into fat, little patties and pan fried in onions. GG always tasted the raw meat before she bought it at the store. Many, many cashiers gave her funny looks when the package came by with a hunk missing. They told her she’d get botchelism or worms…. I am pretty sure she outlived them all. 

After the patties are cooked Grandma would make gravy with flour and cold water added to the drippings. She served the patties and gravy over potatoes that were whipped. She told me that when she was a child this was served over mashed potatoes (same as whipped but no butter or milk added to “cream” them up) but she liked whipped much better so that’s how she made them now.

I have tried to make this dish many times and it never turns out as good as when my grandmother made it for me. The times she made it were on special over night visits when I was the only grandchild that visited. A few times in high school and while I was in college I would drive over to her house and spend the evening with her and my grandfather and she’d always have this dish ready when I’d get there.  It was always fabulous. Maybe it was because she tasted that raw meat in the store and knew it was fresh and tasty. J