Sep 14, 2014

COMFORT FOOD From The Past

Ad published in Ladies Home Journal
In 1901
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The 20th century American kitchen was a workroom and often relatively small even in the large homes of the day. There was typically a sink with a counter or drainboard on either side, a woodburning or gas range, and table. Some cabinetry might have been built in, but not always. Shelving was often open and free-standing cupboards or larders were common.

The dictionary defines a larder as a room or cupboard where food is kept. To me it's a lot more romantic than that. It's a place from our past that our grandmothers spent a lot of time in, a cool room filled with jars full of tomato sauce, peaches and pickled this and that, bags of potatoes, and apples, grains, pasta, noodles, breads, crackers and snacks, sugar, and syrups, honey, nuts and seeds. A room that stored the bones of to so many delicious meals. 
My Old Pie Safe

But not all larders were cool rooms, there were also ventilated kitchen cabinets or pie safes. A pie safe was piece of furniture designed to store pies and other fresh food items and keep them safe from vermin and insects. This was a normal household item before iceboxes came into regular use. It was considered an important part of the American household starting in the 1700s and continuing through the 1800s because it was used to store not only pies, but also meat, bread, and other perishables. The doors, and sometimes the sides of the pie safe, had ornate tin plates on them with punched holes for ventilation.

I've had one of these old pie safes for many years. It's made of solid black walnut with original ventilated tin panels in the doors with punched holes in the design of a star. I love this old thing because it's full of not only canned goods from the market, but also memories. Taped inside the left door is a little piece of yellowed paper with a small sketch on it. A sketch of the correct way to set a table with a napkin, knife, fork and spoon. My son Jake made this sketch when he was eleven because it was his job to set the table, and he couldn't remember how it should look. I often wonder how many wonderful things were stored of my old pie safe before I got it, comfort food from the past.
"The correct way to set the table"

Naturally comfort food means different things to different people, depending on what part of the world you live. Here in Hawaii comfort food means a hot bowl of saimin, SPAM musubi, or perhaps one of many plate lunches found only in Hawaii, like kalua pork with two scoops of rice and one scoop macaroni salad, or loco moco, white rice topped with a grilled hamburger patty, a fried egg and smothered with brown gravy, or one of my favorites, poke, fresh, raw island fish like ahi tuna, cubed and marinated in sea salt, soy sauce, sesame oil, limu (seaweed) and chopped chili peppers or diced onions. These foods are a true taste of Hawaii's local culture.

Here are a few of the good ole' fashioned classic home cooking recipes that I remember.

Pot Roast with Vegetables
Ingredients:
3-1/2 to 4-pound chuck roast
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
3 tablespoons canola oil
2 cups water
1 large onion (or 2 medium onions) cut into wedges
5 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
3 or 4 medium potatoes, peeled and quartered
1/4 cup all-purpose flour

Procedure:
Rub the salt, pepper and garlic powder into the roast. Heat the oil in a large, heavy Dutch oven, and brown the roast over medium-high heat on both sides. Then pour the water around it, reduce the heat to low. Cover tightly and simmer for 2 hours.

Place the onions, carrots and potatoes around the cooked roast, sprinkle lightly with salt, cover the Dutch oven, and simmer for 30 minutes.

Remove from heat. Transfer the roast and vegetables to a platter and keep warm.

Measure the liquid remaining in the pan. Add enough water to make 3 cups of liquid. Pour about one-third of the liquid into the Dutch oven. Over medium heat, sprinkle in the flour, and stir rapidly with a whisk or wooden spoon, adding the rest of the liquid gradually, and smoothing out any lumps. Cook until gravy thickens, stirring constantly. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Sunday Meatloaf
Ingredients:
1 to 1-1/4 pounds ground beef (see Note, below)
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1/4 cup finely chopped green bell pepper
14-1/2 ounce can whole tomatoes, drained, mashed and drained again (drink the juice)
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons catsup
1 cup soft breadcrumbs
1/8 teaspoon celery seed
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 cup tomato sauce
2 or 3 strips uncooked bacon

Procedure:
Preheat oven to 350°F.

Put all ingredients except the tomato sauce and bacon in a large bowl. Mix everything with your hands until thoroughly combined.

Scoop up the meat mixture and form it with your hands until you have an oblong loaf that will fit easily into a 9x5-inch loaf pan. Don't pack the mixture into the pan. Pour the tomato sauce evenly over the meatloaf, and cover it with the bacon slices.

Bake in preheated 350°F oven for approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes. Makes 4 generous servings.

Grandma's Chicken & Dumplings
Ingredients for chicken:
1 3-pound chicken
4 cups water
2 cups chicken broth
1 carrot, roughly chopped
1 medium onion, cut into quarters
1 stalk of celery, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Ingredients for dumplings:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons shortening
1 cup buttermilk

Procedure:
Place the chicken in a Dutch oven or other large pot, and add the water, broth, carrot, onion, celery and salt. Bring to a boil, cover and lower heat. Simmer for 60 to 70 minutes, or until tender and chicken is done. Remove chicken and allow it to cool enough to handle. Remove the carrot, onion and celery pieces from the broth and discard. Reserve the broth.

Bone the chicken, discarding all skin, bones and cartilage, and tear meat into bite-size pieces. Set aside. (You can do this part the day before, if you like. Just refrigerate the boned chicken -- well covered so it doesn't dry out -- and broth.)

For the dumplings, combine the flour, baking soda and 1/2 teaspoon salt; cut in the shortening with a pastry blender or two knives until mixture is consistency of coarse meal. Add the buttermilk, stirring just until dry ingredients are moistened. Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead 4 or 5 times -- no more.

For drop dumplings, pat the dough down to a 1/4-inch thickness, and pinch off 1-1/2-inch pieces.

For rolled dumplings, roll the dough to a 1/4-inch thickness, and cut into strips, no larger than about 2 x 2 inches. (The dumplings will plump up when they are cooked.)

If you have prepared the chicken in advance and refrigerated it, return it and the broth to your big pot and bring it to a boil. Then, with a very large slotted spoon or ladle, dip the boned chicken out of the broth, cover it and keep it warm. With the chicken broth at a low rolling boil, drop in the dumplings, one or two at a time, and reduce the heat to medium. Stir from time to time to make sure dumplings do not stick together. Cook dumplings 10 minutes. The flour in the dumplings will thicken the broth, and it is absolutely not necessary to thicken it further.

Return the boned chicken to the mixture and simmer until heated through. Add the freshly ground black pepper and remove from heat. Makes 4 servings.

Baking Powder Biscuits
Ingredients:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup shortening
2/3 cup milk

Procedure:
Preheat oven to 450°F. Sift dry ingredients into a bowl. Cut in the shortening with a pastry blender, and add the milk, blending quickly, just until dry ingredients are moistened. A sticky dough will result.

Turn the dough out on a floured board. Flour your hands and knead the dough 3 or 4 times. Important: Do not overhandle dough. Roll or pat to a 1/2-inch thickness. Cut with a 2-inch biscuit cutter.

For soft-sided biscuits, place close together on a lightly greased baking sheet or in a lightly greased cast iron skillet (vegetable cooking spray works just fine). For biscuits that are crusty all around, place about an inch apart on a lightly greased baking sheet.

Bake at 450°F for 12 to 15 minutes. Serve with lots of butter, jam and honey. Makes a dozen biscuits.

Buttermilk & Bacon Corn Muffins
Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups unsifted all-purpose flour
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 egg
1 cup fresh corn kernels or drained, canned whole corn kernels
4 slices cooked bacon, crumbled

Procedure:
Preheat oven to 400˚F. Generously grease ten 2 1/2-inch muffin-pan cups.

Mix together flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Beat together buttermilk, melted butter and and egg in small bowl. Stir into flour mixture just until moistened. Do not over mix; batter should be lumpy. Stir in corn and bacon. Spoon into prepared muffin-pan cups, filling three-quarters full.

Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes or until lightly browned and wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Let muffins cool in pans for 5 minutes. Remove muffins from pans to wire racks to cool complete. Makes 10 muffins.

Lemony Bread Pudding
Ingredients:
3 rounded cups of 1/2-inch bread cubes (see Note)
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 cup whipping cream
1 cup whole milk
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs, separated
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
confectioners' sugar

Procedure:
Preheat oven to 325°F. Butter the bottom only of a 2-quart casserole or soufflĂ© dish.

Combine bread cubes and lemon zest in large bowl. Set aside.

Combine whipping cream, milk, sugar, butter and salt in a heavy saucepan. Over medium heat, cook until butter melts, stirring occasionally. Pour over bread mixture, and toss. Allow to cool.

Lightly beat the egg yolks, then beat in the lemon juice, and stir into the bread mixture. Set aside.

Beat egg whites in large bowl of electric mixer until stiff peaks form. Do not overbeat. Gently fold egg whites into bread mixture.

Pour bread mixture into prepared dish, and bake for 1 hour, or until a knife inserted 1 inch from center comes out clean. The top of the pudding should be golden brown.

Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Dust with confectioners' sugar, if desired. Serve warm, at room temperature or chilled.

Note: French or Italian bread, with crusts removed, works well with this recipe. If your bread is less than a day old, you can "age" it by placing slices in a 300°F oven for 15 or 20 minutes, or until some of the moisture is baked out. Makes 8 servings.

Honey Apple Crumble
Ingredients:
4 cups peeled, sliced apples (Golden Delicious, Jonathan, or Granny Smith)
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar, divided
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick)
1/2 cup sifted all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Procedure:
Preheat oven to 375°F, and butter a 1-1/2 quart baking dish.

In a medium bowl, combine the apples, 1/4 cup brown sugar, lemon juice and honey. Toss to coat apple slices, and pour into baking dish.

In a small bowl, cut the butter into the remaining 1/4 cup brown sugar and flour until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in cinnamon and salt. Sprinkle mixture over apples, and top with pecans.

Bake in preheated 375°F oven for 30 to 40 minutes, until bubbly and brown on top. Serve warm. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Banana Cream Pie
Ingredients:
1 cup chopped macadamia nuts or cashews
1/2 cup flaked coconut
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 egg white

3 egg yolks
5 teaspoons cornstarch
3/4 cup sugar
1-1/2 cups whole milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
2 ripe bananas
1/2 cup finely chopped macadamia nuts or cashews

Procedure:
For the crust, preheat oven to 375°F. In a bowl, combine the nuts, coconut and sugar. Beat the egg white until stiff, and fold into nut mixture. Press mixture evenly into and up the sides of an 8-inch pie pan. Bake for 7 minutes or until crust is lightly browned. Cool on rack. Crust will tighten up as it cools.

For the filling, beat the egg yolks in a heavy medium saucepan. Stir in the cornstarch and sugar until well combined. Then stir in the milk, salt and butter.

Cook mixture slowly over medium heat, stirring constantly for 5 to 7 minutes, until filling is thick and bubbly.

Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Transfer filling to a glass bowl, cover with plastic wrap and chill for 2 hours.

Two hours before serving, whip the heavy cream until stiff peaks form. Fold into chilled filling. Peel and slice 1 banana. Arrange banana slices evenly on bottom of crust. Spoon half of the filling over the banana slices. Peel and slice the second banana, and arrange slices evenly over the filling. Top with remaining half of the filling. Top with plastic wrap and return to the refrigerator for two hours.

Before serving, remove the plastic wrap and sprinkle the chopped nuts over the filling. Garnish with additional banana slices if desired. Serve immediately. Makes 1 pie.

Country Buttermilk Pie
Ingredients:
11/2 cups sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 stick of butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 unbaked 9-inch pie shells

Procedure:
Preheat oven to 400°F. Combine all ingredients in large bowl. Mix well. Pour into 2 unbaked pie shells. Bake 10 minutes at 400°F. Reduce heat to 350°F and bake for 45 minutes. Makes 1 pie.

Apple Butter
Ingredients:
8 or 9 medium apples (Golden Delicious, McIntosh)
1 teaspoon water
1 pound brown sugar
1 orange

Procedure:
Core the apples and cut into quarters. Place in a Dutch oven with the teaspoon of water. Cover and simmer over low heat for 30 minutes or until apples are soft. Turn apples about halfway through the cooking time.

Grate the orange and put the orange zest into a measuring cup. Juice the orange into the measuring cup. You should have 1/2 to 3/4 cup juice.

Put the cooked apples through a food mill. Return the apple pulp to the saucepan and stir in the brown sugar and reserved apple juice/zest.

Simmer over low heat, stirring frequently, until mixture is thick (about 1-12; hours), or pour mixture into a large baking dish and bake, uncovered, in a 350°F oven, stirring occasionally, for 1 hour; reduce heat to 250°F and bake for another 2 to 3 hours until mixture is thick.

Remove from heat and ladle into 2 hot, sterilized pint jars, attach sterilized and screw rims. Process jars for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath. Makes 2 pints.
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