Monday, August 30, 2010

Basic Vinaigrette with Lemon Juice Instead of Vinegar - It's Virtually Pain Free

Sometimes I have a reaction to eating vinegar. And sometimes I have a reaction to citrus. And sometimes I react to both! Salad dressings can be a challenge for me whenever this happens.

Fortunately, for me, this doesn't happen as much as it used to, as I get older. Guess I should file that under "good things happen to old people."

Anyway, I have two friends who have allergies to mold -- seriously negative reactions. And guess what? Mold is everywhere!

What can be called a "mild intolerance" for me -- the vinegar reaction -- can be an allergic incident for either of them, if they ingest any mold or fermented foods, like vinegar.  That means missing out on a lot of good stuff, but most notably, commercially made salad dressing and any other dressing-type condiment -- because they all contain the dreaded vinegar.

Who knew? Well, besides me and my hyper-reactive tongue, who knew?

I've known for a long time -- since I arrived on the planet, I'm guessing -- about my quirky tongue and its intolerance for vinegar, wine, mushrooms, potatoes and the real killers -- orange juice, eggplant, tomatoes, strawberries, nuts and pineapple.  And any two of these eaten at the same meal -- well, it's just a mouth full of hell!

I love tomatoes, but I will almost never eat tomatoes in a salad with vinegar-based dressing. And I won't eat most salads with fruit in them either. And I love eggplant Parmesan -- but tomato sauce and eggplant together? No way I'm going for that! There is a long list of offending foods, but you get the idea. And I see you scratching your head, wondering why I'm still alive. Remember, I said "intolerance." I don't get sick, I just have a tongue full of painful red welts than feel like raging fire in my mouth. Let's just say, I have developed a somewhat elevated tolerance for pain in the interest of tasting all kinds of things that hurt/taste so good!

I can just imagine the torture if I had severe reactions to mold and it's fermented food spin-offs.

But here's the strange thing, for me anyway. When I started making my own salad dressing with lemon juice instead of vinegar, my tongue almost never reacted to it, even though citrus usually sends me into immediate "intolerance" mode. Maybe it has something to do with coating the citrus molecules in good old olive oil. What-ever! I never had chemistry. Does it show?

And we're back to another citrus salad dressing plus. I don't have to worry so much about mixing two reactive foods at the same meal. Life got better, because salads are on my Top Five Favorite Foods list.

Lettuce love.
Making salad dressing this way is easy and fast. But best of all, it gives you more control over the foods you eat -- and don't eat! -- and exposes you to fewer processed foods and the chemicals that preserve them. Gotta love that! Both of my mold-allergy, avoid vinegar at all costs friends appreciated the salad dressings I made with lemon juice at a recent party.

So did my tongue and I!

The front row of my olive oil collection.
(It’s Vinegar Free!)

1 clove garlic
1 teaspoon kosher salt

While the clove of garlic is still inside skin, place it on a flat surface and lay the flat side of a knife or food scraper over it. Carefully give it a smack with the palm of your had to smash the garlic. Now the skin should peel easily from the clove of garlic. Place the clove of garlic in a wooden salad bowl. Using a fork, smash the garlic with the salt against the inside of the bowl until it becomes a grainy paste.

½ cup olive oil – a fruity extra virgin oil like Bertolli or Olio Santo or a lighter one, like Bertolli Extra Light
Fresh lemon juice from 1/2 to 1 lemon*, depending on size and tartness (less is more to start)

Add olive oil to the garlic paste in the bowl.** Squeeze in juice of ½ large lemon. Remove any seeds that fall into the bowl. Using a wire whisk, blend the olive oil and lemon juice thoroughly.

Pinch of Herbes de Provence**

Add a teaspoon, or so, of Herbes de Provence to the dressing. Let sit at room temperature for at least an hour before serving. Whisk again before adding to salads or using as a marinade for meat, chicken or vegetables.

Mix, serve and store in one container!
* Substitute Meyer lemons, limes, Key limes, oranges, Blood oranges, tangerines, grapefruit etc.
** Sometimes I make this in a mini food processor, after I’ve mashed the garlic and salt mixture. Other times I use this handy salad dressing mixer/dispenser. The center blade rotates to emulsify the dressing when the handle is squeezed and then dressing can be poured from the spout. Really good for those who prefer to add dressing to salads themselves!

*** You may substitute other herbs or spices to alter the flavor to suit your salad. Cumin is good for taco salad. Cinnamon is good for salads with sliced apple or pears and blue or goat cheese. Greek herb blends are good for Greek salads. Basil and oregano are good for sliced fresh tomatoes and fresh goat cheese. Just start with a small amount of herbs and taste before you add more – until you reach the intensity of herb flavor you want. Remember the flavor with become a bit stronger as it sits at room temperature before serving.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Hamwiches for Working Dinner

Class of '70 Reunion Update:

We're only one month away from our big weekend!

Last week our reunion committee met to put together the faculty invitations and run down the reports on the final details, including the first reservations received.

Before, it was an idea...but now it's a reality! People are putting their money where their mouth is and we've got to make it happen. Yikes!

Despite all the work involved with planning a reunion, I really am loving the chance to cook for my friends! Last week's working dinner menu was another blast from the past - Hamwiches.

I've been making these since the early 70's, mostly for groups and parties. I usually make them on those cute little Pepperidge Farms Party Rolls that are oh-so-perfect for heavy hors d'oeuvres or pick-up buffets. But Hamwiches also work well when made on larger sandwich buns to make a meal with soups or salads. It's one of those things that makes My Favorite Husband say, "Oh good! We haven't had those in ages!"

The Hamwiches make up in no time and can even be made well in advance and kept in the freezer for a quick dinner or snack - for one or a crowd!

If you've never had these tasty morsels - like you weren't around in the 70's and missed them in their heyday - file them under Tailgate, Make Ahead, Quick & Easy, Party, Guy Food and any other time you need something tasty without much fuss. A bag of foil-wrapped sandwiches in the freezer means easy dinner in a hurry - for any night during a busy week.

2 lbs. thinly sliced ham (Black Forest is good)
12 slices cheese (Swiss, Sharp Cheddar, Muenster)
¼ lb. salted butter
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup mustard (I like Dijon)
2 tsp. poppy seeds
12 hamburger buns

Melt butter and saut̩ chopped onions. Stir in mustard and poppy seeds to blend. Allow mixture to cool slightly. Place ham on bottom piece of bun, cover with cheese slice. Spread top half of bun with 1 spoonful of onion-mustard mixture. Place sandwich halves together and wrap in foil. To serve: Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Place foil-wrapped sandwiches in a single layer on large baking sheet and heat for 20-30 minutes. Sandwiches may be frozen before heating Рallow extra 15 minutes to heat frozen sandwiches. Serve warm.
Note: For hors d'oeuvre size or small appetites, make these on Pepperidge Farms Party Rolls. Slice the entire pan of rolls in half horizontally, fill bottom half of rolls in tray with sandwich ingredients, replace top of rolls and slice to divide into individual roll sandwiches. Leave individual sandwiches on tray and wrap tightly in foil. Store in ziploc bags in freezer until ready to bake and serve as directed above.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Best-Ever Italian Beef

Next month is my 40th High School Reunion!

Wait just a minute there! How did that happen?

Let's see ... I remember ... High School.
Tenth Reunion.
Baby - when will he ever sleep?
Toddler - when will he ever sit still?
Twenty-fifth Reunion.
Teenager - when will he ever get home?
College kid - when will he ever get a job?
The Wedding!
Fortieth Reunion.

Some days did seem a lot longer than others, but now I am left to wonder how they all passed so quickly?

The Reunion Committee on The Wall at CCHS
That last move on the list was back home, where my story began, and where I went to high school. I've been lucky since then to spend the last few months hanging out with some high school friends and planning our 40th reunion. We've met once a month at a local restaurant, where we could share a drink, reminisce and plan a get together for 300+/- of our oldest friends.

For the past couple of months though, as the big weekend draws near, we've moved our meetings back home. All the brainstorming, searching for lost classmates and making arrangements is done. We're down to the hands-on, get-'er-done work -- invitations, scanning pictures, name tags, decorations, reservations, t-shirts and posters. We needed more space to spread out and more time to work.

Stuffing Envelopes With Invitations
Our classmate, Nancy, who literally has spent the last year on iTunes, downloading dozens hundreds thousands of songs from our school years, plays them in the background to inspire us as we put the finishing touches on our plans.

And in addition to the music, it only seemed natural that last week's dinner-while-we-work should have a touch of nostalgia too. I made a big batch of Italian Beef sandwiches, a local favorite, and a  salad to fuel us for hands-on projects. Nancy brought homemade peach cobbler from Flamm's Orchards in Cobden and we were set for an evening of stuffing -- ourselves and the invitation envelopes!

Lingering in the kitchen to fill my plate after everyone was seated, I heard a few moments of silence fall over the dining room as everyone dug into dinner. Then I heard a chorus of "this Italian Beef is really good, it tastes even better than Italian Village's Italian Beef!"

Italian Village was a favorite hangout of ours from junior high off-campus lunch hours through high school late-nights after games and dances. It is probably the first place we all ever tasted Italian Beef sandwiches, so it is the yardstick by which we measure all others. I've worked for years to achieve that memorable taste! It was music to my ears to hear my friends liked my take on Italian Beef as well, or maybe better, than our favorite.

Now, most sources you read will say Italian Beef originated in Chicago, but we're at the opposite end of the state and we've been eating it here as long as we can remember -- but only with pepperoncini on the side -- not peppers and onions or giardiniera like they do in Chicago! And I've never tasted any Italian Beef in Chicago that is as good as our own Italian Village version -- although Portillo's, in Villa Park, is really good.

For those of you who may not be familiar with Italian Beef, I am truly sorry. You'll just have to imagine beef, slow-cooked with Italian seasonings, sliced thinly or shredded, served on a warm crusty Italian roll and accompanied by pepperoncini (or peppers and onions or giardiniera, if you go Chicago-style.) 

Oh, wait! You could make some with this recipe and taste just how good it is for yourself.

You can thank me later. I'm off to finish the faculty invitations for tomorrow's reunion meeting.


4 tbsp. olive oil
1 6-7 lb. rump roast (leave fat on!)
1 tbsp.Lawry’s Seasoned Salt
26 oz. beef stock, or more
1 can beer
8 oz. jar chopped pepperoncini, with juice
½ pkg. Good Seasons Italian Salad Dressing Mix
2 tbsp. minced garlic
1 tsp. Italian seasoning
Italian Sub Rolls

Heat olive oil in heavy pan or Dutch oven. Sprinkle roast with Lawry’s Seasoned Salt. Brown roast on all sides. Add remaining ingredients to slow cooker and stir to blend. Place browned roast in slow cooker. Cover and cook on low or medium for 6 to 8 hours. At the end of cooking time, turn off slow cooker and allow meat to cool. Remove meat from slow cooker and shred meat with a fork.   After all meat is shredded, add it back to stock in the slow cooker and set on low to heat. Serve on lightly toasted Italian sub rolls (I like warmed Cobblestone Mills White Sub Rolls) with additional meat juices and more pepperoncini on the side. Makes 10 to 12 sandwiches.

After using all the Italian beef for sandwiches, use the leftover meat juices as an excellent base for making Minestrone soup. Add a blend of vegetables, cannellini or kidney beans, canned tomatoes, cooked pasta and more beef stock to the pot and simmer for 1 to 2 hours. Stir in freshly grated Parmesan before serving with crusty Italian bread.


Friday, August 6, 2010

South By Midwest - Biscuits and Cornbread

(my monthly food column for Heartland Women)
July 2010

I came of age in a time and place where food was simply prepared, served three times a day and usually eaten at home. My mother filled our plates with well-balanced and nourishing meals every night and we were happy and satisfied to eat what was put in front of us.

The only cookbook in my mother’s 1950s kitchen was a slightly worn copy of the Better Homes and Gardens red and white gingham ring binder. In those days, new recipes usually came into our home, and onto our dinner table, in Woman’s Day or Family Circle magazines, the newspaper or on hastily scrawled bits of paper or bank deposit slips passed between friends. Most women learned to cook from their mothers and grandmothers and little changed from generation to generation.

Then along came cooking on television! I remember when Julia Child showed up in our home via PBS and we, as well as the entire country, began to dabble in the wide world of food. We may not have jumped into French cooking with both feet, but we were fascinated by all the fuss and the passion Julia had for good food. Around that time, my mother also acquired a copy of The Joy of Cooking and it became our new, more sophisticated cooking reference. BH&G was out and TJofC was in!

Most of the time, though, written recipes were not needed to put supper on our table. The food we ate was much the same as it had been for generations, reaching back to our ancestors who arrived in the New World from the British Isles and Germany. Settling first in Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia, Tennessee and Kentucky, they became restless as the population grew and set out for a newer frontier. Those who found their home in Southern Illinois farmed, hunted, fished and raised cash crops like tobacco and cotton, just as they had on the other side of the Appalachian Mountains.

Many years of living in both North Carolina and Georgia, confirmed what I’d always believed growing up. The “southern” in Southern Illinois is more than just our geographical location within our own Midwestern state. We are truly Southerners, cut from the same cloth as those still living in the first Southern states. Our heritage and culture are the same. We come from the same people.

And when it comes to food, we are at our most Southern. We celebrate the foods we grow in our gardens or purchase directly from farmers and orchards. We’ve known where our food comes from since long before eating local was cool.

We like meat and fish that are roasted, smoked or breaded and fried. We do vegetables in a thousand different ways – with butter or seasoned meat for flavor, along with salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar. Fruits are suspended in gelatin salads or baked into cakes and pies. We’ll pickle, preserve or “put up” just about anything. And we can do amazing things with a little flour and cornmeal – feather-light biscuits and crispy cornbread being first among the favorites. Southern food is truly the cuisine of America.

The foods we choose to prepare and eat most often are, indeed, a reflection of where we come from, where we’ve been, where we’re going and what we eat along the way. I may not be able to find my own tiny little spot on the historical timeline of food, but I can taste it. And there is no doubt in my mind that my food is mostly Southern, mostly simple, and mostly straight from the garden, farm or orchard. Oh! And definitely at its peak during the summer!

There are two great things about eating fresh-from-the-garden all summer long. The first is having a plate so full of vegetables that the meat is almost an afterthought, if it’s there at all. True Southerners can make a meal of a plate full of fresh summer vegetables -- period!

Well, almost. All those vegetables need only one other item on the plate to make it a complete Southern meal. And that’s what I’m here to tell you about this month – don’t forget the bread!

Let’s say you’ve gone to the garden or the farmers' market. You’re loaded down with bags of fresh vegetables and fruits that tempted you beyond all reason. Now you want to eat them, but you fear you may have overbought for the week. Not to worry! Just celebrate your bounty with an entire meal of vegetables – cook up a mess of greens, boil some corn, stew some cabbage, put on a pot of beans, sauté some zucchini and yellow squash with onions, mash some new potatoes with herbs and butter, and slice up some real tomatoes. Oh yeah – and serve up some peaches or berries for dessert. But above all, don't forget what every Southern cook serves with a meal this good – biscuits or cornbread. My mouth is watering already!

You’re really going to want some cornbread for sopping up the pot liquor from the greens. And you’ll need some biscuits, just in case there’s some gravy on that plate, or maybe some fresh preserves. I personally like my biscuits with a chunk of butter all mashed up with some sorghum and slathered on each half to double the pleasure. And how about a little shortcake for those berries and a nice pie crust to wrap around some sweet, juicy peaches? Heavy on the whipped cream, please!

*Just one more way you know you’re really Southern – it’s supper, not dinner, for the last meal of the day. Dinner is served on Sunday, in the middle of the day, and, if it’s done right, you won’t have any room left for supper. We’ll talk more about that another time.

2/3 cup shortening
2 cups self-rising flour
2/3 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Cut shortening into flour until it is the size of small crumbs. Add buttermilk. Turn onto floured surface and knead lightly by folding dough over itself a couple of times – about 20 seconds is enough. Press dough with fingertips to ½-inch thickness. Cut biscuits into circles with biscuit cutter or glass. Place on baking sheet and bake for about 12 minutes, until golden brown. Serve with homemade preserves, jelly or honey butter.

1 stick butter, melted
1 cup sour cream
1 cup self-rising flour

Mix all ingredients in a small bowl. Spoon into lightly greased mini-muffin pans. Bake at 450 degrees for 15 minutes. Serve hot.

2 eggs
1/3 cup corn or olive oil
8 oz. sour cream
1 pkg. Jiffy Cornbread Mix

Mix all liquid ingredients; add cornbread mix. Mix well and spoon into mini muffin pans. Bake at 450 degrees for 10 minutes or until golden brown.

3/4 cup white self-rising corn meal
1 c. all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 cup milk
1 egg, well-beaten
2 tbsp. butter, melted
1 tbsp. shortening

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Mix and sift dry ingredients. Add milk, egg and butter. Add shortening to cast iron skillet (large skillet for thin cornbread, small skillet for thicker cornbread) and place in oven to heat skillet and melt shortening. Carefully remove skillet and pour in cornbread batter. Return skillet to oven and bake for about 20 minutes, until top is golden brown. Serve warm.

(adapted from
½ cup mashed cooked sweet potato
2 cups Bisquick
6 slices meaty bacon, cooked and chopped
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves (stems removed) OR ½ tsp. dried thyme
½ cup milk
2 tbsp. brown sugar
all-purpose flour for dusting counter

Preheat oven to 450 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Peel and cut sweet potato into chunks and boil until tender. Remove from water and place in a small mixing bowl to cool. In a medium bowl, combine Bisquick, chopped bacon and chopped thyme. Add milk and brown sugar to the mashed sweet potato and whisk until well blended. Pour sweet potato mixture into dry mixture and stir until just combined. Dump mixture onto the floured counter top and knead a few times, just until dough is blended. Pat dough with fingertips to ½-inch thickness and cut with biscuit cutter. Place biscuit rounds onto parchment lined baking sheet. Bake at 450 degrees for 8 – 10 minutes, or until just lightly browned on top. Serve warm with butter. Makes 8 – 10 2-inch biscuits.

For pie crust:
2 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup Crisco
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 egg
1 ½ tbsp. vinegar
¼ cup water

For fruit filling:
4 cups fruit – raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, sliced peaches, etc.
½ c. flour
½ cup sugar (if needed)
¼ cup sugar for topping

In a medium bowl, blend flour, Crisco and salt with a pastry blender, or two knives, until crumbly. Stir together egg, vinegar and water; add to flour mixture and blend. Shape dough into a disk; wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before rolling out. Remove pie crust from refrigerator and cut into 4 equal size pieces. Roll out each piece on a floured surface. Fold each crust round in half and then in half again. Gently place crust into a small custard cup or ramekin and fit into bottom of dish. Divide fruit into 4 equal amounts and fill crusts. Gently fold edges of dough back over fruit filling, leaving a hole in the center. Sprinkle ¼ c. sugar lightly over the top of pies. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place baking dishes on a baking sheet and bake until top of crust is golden brown, about 20 – 30 minutes. Serve warm or room temperature with ice cream.

2 cup self-rising flour
8 oz. sour cream
½ cup butter, melted
4 oz. crumbled blue cheese
sliced sweet strawberries
honey or whipped cream

Stir together all ingredients just until blended. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Pat dough to a 3/4-inch thickness; cut into desired size biscuits with biscuit cutter or glass. Place dough biscuit rounds on a lightly greased baking sheet. Bake at 425° for 15-18 minutes, or until lightly browned on top. Split biscuits and serve with sliced strawberries and honey or whipped cream for a deliciously different Strawberry Shortcake dessert. Makes 12 biscuits.