When I was a wee thing, we sat at the table, seen but not heard, and ate what was put in front of us. The variety was dazzling. Tuna noodle casserole Mondays. Spam slathered with brown sugar Wednesday. Take out fish and chips on Friday. New England Boiled dinner on Saturdays. Pot Roast on Sundays. Tuesday and Thursday evenings my mother went to school so my father alternated his repertoire of two meals: Open Face (A slice of Wonder Bread with either peanut butter or mayonnaise) and tuna and egg cakes. These seven meals rotated like clockwork. Twin Pines Dairy filled in the gaps by leaving- twice a week, in the milk chute- 3 1/2 gallons of milk, 2 # of butter, 1 pint of sour cream, and 1 quart of cottage cheese. Times two for a family of five people. The highlight in our lives was the weekly pass of the Awrey Bakery truck; the driver would sometimes let us hitch a ride in the back and eat stale cookies. My favorite was guess what? Awreys molasses cookies (Yes, Lu, I was promiscuous early.) And every night my father was not on the road selling tractors we had popcorn, the staple of my childhood diet.
Needless to say, my mother was not an imaginative cook. Other than those happy Fridays when my Dad brought home yellow stapled paper plates from Suzy-Q’s Fish and Chips dinner was mostly a drag. My father took the clean plate club to new heights and many a Monday night I sat in the dark trying to gag down tuna noodle casserole, my Dad the overseer while the rest of the family slept. As a result of this food struggle it took me an extra dozen years after leaving home to venture out into the world of food, variety and cooking. (Two other things happened. I never forced my children to eat a single thing they didn’t want and they both LOVE to eat, will try anything and are lean and healthy. The other is that tuna noodle casserole has never been served in this house and it will never, if it’s the last food on earth, cross my lips again.)
Nowadays I cook in fits and starts. When I choose to cook- several times a week- I would humbly allow as to how I am a great cook. My family and friends enjoy my cooking. I really enjoy good food. I love trying new things, I rarely follow recipes to the letter and I’ve fairly creative. If I won the lottery the first thing I would do is buy myself a live-in sous chef and then I would cook everyday, all the time.
Often, I do my best cooking after traveling. So when I got back from visiting Abby I decided to cook a nice meal for my family and then, as mentioned, since you were all so kind to drop by I decided to share it with you.
Ham and Cheese Croquettes with creamy mustard sauce
Basmati Rice with saffron and a hint of curry
Baby Romaine salad with pinenuts, Traverse City dried cherries, served in a Parmesan cheese bowl.
Elk Cove Vineyards Pinot Gris from the Willamette Valley
Whole Paycheck One-Bite Brownies
Since I often cook by the seat of my pants, I’ll give you the recipe highlights and suggest that you open the wine early, stretch out the kinks, relax, drop your shoulders and see what happens.
The ham and cheese croquette recipe originates with me. My family likes them and I can do everything but cook them ahead of time. The picture (click to enlarge) shows the precise ingredients and amounts- it’s that simple and these amounts make a 14-16 (serving size is 2-3) with a few tablespoons left over for the best next day omelet filling ever.
I love the Leerdammer Lightlife Swiss cheese. It is just about the sweetest, nuttiest Swiss available and it’s low fat. I mix one half emmentaler but you could use all one or the other, the key thing being a high quality Swiss with no saltiness. Likewise, use a really good ham with a brown sugar or maple coating and throw the edge in, too. (Not the plastic wrap, dummy- the rind). This dinner is inexpensive to start so use the best ingredients.
Chop ham and cheese into one inch cubes and then, first one and then the other, coarse chop in the food processor. Don’t over do it. Toss together in a bowl with 2 tablespoons fresh fine chop parsley. Use fresh egg roll skins. Lay a skin out, point towards you, use about 3 big tablespoons of filling, roll the bottom point up, then the sides in, then the far point down, sealing with a drop of water. If you have never rolled eggrolls before you’ll get the hang of this after a couple; what you don’t want is a lot of flappy ends or so much stuffing that the skin splits. You want a nice snug roll and I’m sorry the picture didn’t come out. You can put these in a single layer on a plate with parchment paper and refrigerate until ready to cook.
To cook the croquettes, fry them fast and hot in about an inch of good oil, turning once, until the skin is a light brown. Then put them on paper towel in a pie plate and place in a warm oven (not so hot you burn the paper) for ten minutes to get the insides nice and hot. Fast and hot frying means that they absorb very little oil (really- almost none), and they stay crispy in the oven.
The sauce: Prepare one envelope package of Knorr Hollandaise sauce as instructed, add two tablespoons lemon juice and two teaspoons good quality dry mustard. This sauce has a nice bite but isn’t overwhelmingly hot.
Ready for more calories? The Salad
Teeny tiny black seeds planted in early September result in lovely baby greens from the garden during October- a final burst of fresh! You can also find nice baby romaine in the produce department right now. You will also need pinenuts and dried red cherries. Dried cherries are a specialty of the Lake Michigan northern shoreline so we use them for nice color and delightful flavor.
You know how to make a really nice balsamic vinaigrette. I use the best olive oil and vinegar, a teaspoon of sugar, a bit of garlic, salt, black pepper and whip it in my friendly food processor for a moment and then refrigerate it until tossing the salad in a bowl. This way it hangs together and doesn’t separate.
Parmesan Cheese Bowls
These are fun, simple and easy enough once you get the hang of it. Use coarse shredded- altogether now- GOOD QUALITY- Parmesan cheese. Heat the skillet to a steady medium heat. Look at the picture and spread your cheese accordingly. It should take about 2 minutes for the bottom to lightly brown. Remove the skillet from the heat and leave it alone for a bit while you do something else. When the cheese is mostly cool (not still melted but still malleable) use a spatula and carefully remove it from pan and drape over a small round bowl, brown side up.
Gently shape. Let cool. These are a little bit trial and error but simple once you get the hang of it. Just be patient.
Just before serving, toss salad and fill cheese bowls. Add pine nuts and cherries.
Basmati Rice makes a nice side to the croquettes. I cook it with just a few strands of saffron for color and then right at the end add a bit of butter, about a teaspoon of good Madras Curry powder, stir well and keep hot in a covered bowl until serving.
The Elk Cove Pinot Gris we discovered when we were out in Horsetail’s neck of the woods and it is the perfect wine for this meal. I was all set to take a picture of your lovely meal and the beautiful table complete with fall blooming anemones but while I was snapping the salad, Daniel and Rich got halfway through your dinner. Sorry about that. And Bon Appetite!