Easy as Eins, Zwei, Drei

hamwiches 007      Snow pouring from the sky yet again was bringing on an alpine vibe. I was feeling like a true housefrau, stuck inside the chalet with my Hummel figurines and Wagner CDs. For lunch, it seemed only appropriate I whip up a little Deutschland-esque fare. After a quick inspection of my Old Food files, I decided upon a recipe that  matched my Stuttgart state of mind–German Poppy Seed Hamwiches.

I can’t say for certain Germans eat sandwiches exactly this way, but the ingredients—horseradish, mustard, ham, cheese and rye bread–certainly qualify as German inspired. This recipe comes from the old Home Economics department at Parkland High School, just outside Allentown, Pennsylvania. A friend of mine there, assistant principal Donna Steckel, copied the department’s entire recipe archive just for me. She reports that the PHS collection dates back to the 60s and 70s and may have been used by home ec. teacher Sarah Harding. I can understand why this recipe made the cut for her classes. It’s simple, requires only beginner-level kitchen skills, includes interesting ingredients and yields hot sandwiches with a twist. These weren’t the slightly damp, white-bread grilled cheese students found in their school cafeteria. These had a bit of zip and  incorporated condiments more associated with adult palates. There’s no way I would have voluntarily consumed horseradish or spicy mustard as a teenager, so I appreciate how this recipe took her students outside their culinary comfort zones. Come to think of it, I enjoyed this grilled cheese 2.0. A nice change from the routine.

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German Poppy Seed Hamwiches


1/4 cup soft butter

2 tablespoons horseradish mustard

2 tablespoons finely chopped onion (I used a red onion)

2 teaspoons poppy seed

(You’ll have lots left over if you’re only making a single sandwich with two slices of bread.)

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  Spread on two slices of rye bread (I used a marbled pumpernickel-rye). Top with:

1 thin slice ham

1 slice Swiss cheese

Top with another slice of rye bread. Butter tops and bottoms of sandwiches. Grill on both sides at 300 degrees on pre-heated electric griddle or fry pan until hot and cheese is melted.

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Pass extra poppy seed butter. Wunderbar.

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Snow Day Apple Pie

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My coping strategies for yet another snow day–this one coated in ice–are almost depleted. I’ve done puzzles, read several books and caught up with all the wash and my e-mail.  Naturally, I fled to the kitchen.  It was time for pie.

Apple pie, in particular. I needed comfort. I wanted cinnamon-spiced air to envelope me. I yearned for a slice of a summer day. So yeah,  pie was the answer.

This Spry recipe booklet from 1942 has been tempting me for months. The kindly older woman on the cover is Aunt Jenny, Spry’s spokesmodel of the day. She was created as part of the advertising campaign against Crisco (which is what I’m using today) and apparently had great success luring customers to Spry. Her homespun, folksy tone was featured in a popular radio show and of course, promotional materials like the booklet below.

applepie 007Aunt Jenny’s got a bit of a pastry secret inside:

applepie 003Her recipe included an extra step that was new to me, and it promised a flaky result. Since I’m far from a pastry maestro, perhaps Aunt Jenny knew something I didn’t. Here are her instructions for a one-crust pie:

Spry (or Crisco) Pie Shell

Mix 1 1/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Measure out 7 tablespoons Spry and divide into two equal parts. Two parts? Two steps? This was all new to me, but I followed along willingly.

Step 1: For Tenderness:  Cut in first half of Spry until fine as meal. Be sure to use a light cutting stroke (I used a fork).

applepie 010Step 2: For Flakiness: Cut in remaining Spry until particles are size of large peas (I went back to my best pastry-making tool—my hands).  Do not overmix.

  Add 3 tablespoons cold water (no more, no less), mixing thoroughly into a dough.

applepie 012Roll 1/8 inch thick  and place dough in a 9-inch pie plate.

Now , on to the filling:

Apple Pie

6 large tart apples (I used 8 medium and sliced in chunks)

1 cup sugar

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1 tablespoon butter

  The recipe directs you to first fill the pie shell with sliced apples. BUT I went off Aunt Jenny’s pie reservation here and did things differently. Why? Because of my mother, the best pie maker EVAH.

   She always added flour to the bottom of the pie before mounding the apples inside the pie plate. Those juicy apples will release lots of liquid and you want, you crave that thick gooey pie (plasma?) globbing around inside. So, I added 1 tablespoon of flour to the bottom of the pie and added another 1-2 tablespoons to the sugar-spice mixture above.

   Mix sugar, spices,  flour, salt and lemon juice. Sprinkle over the apple slices as you gradually layer on the fruit. Dot with butter.

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Bake in 425 degree oven 50-60 minutes.  I lowered the oven to 400 after 45 minutes and baked the pie a total of 65-70 minutes.

The results: Aunt Jenny’s two-step method was a winner, and I believe the crust was the best I’ve ever made. It certainly was the flakiest crust I ever turned out. I should know because I did exhaustive taste testing afterward. I had pie for a late-afternoon snack and then again as a dinner entree later that night. Now don’t tsk, tsk. I’m in good company. The highly authoritative American Pie Council reports that “pie just isn’t for after-dinner dessert. Thirty-five percent of Americans say they’ve had pies for breakfast; pies as lunch (66 percent) and midnight snacks (59 percent).”

  Furthermore, I joined the tribe (32 percent of Americans) who prefer no crust on top of their pie (we all cut down where we can, don’t we?) and the 90 percent who agree that a slice of pie represents one of the simple pleasures of life. To quote a famous, fastidious food and style diva: ‘Pie–it’s a good thing.’

P.S. Thankfully, there’s a statistic I didn’t replicate today:  1 in 5  Americans have eaten an entire pie by themselves.

Diner Delights at Home

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Chicken croquettes = diner food, agree? After today’s 1948 Old Food Cooking lab–inspired by a booklet from Planter’s Peanut Oil– I’m bringing them off the interstate. From now on these croquettes will be my new go-to recipe for leftover chicken or turkey. The results bettered any croquette I’ve consumed in a diner locally, and that’s saying somethin’ considering I live in a diner hotspot in south central PA. That’s all I order whenever I eat out at Esther’s or Kumm Esse or Risser’s or Midway Diner.  They normally arrive on a plate with chicken gravy and filling/stuffing and perhaps a small dish of the vegetable special. I didn’t whip up all the sides for my lunch today, and I was wondering if I’d miss the gravy. But, no, not so much. This batch had a savory, creamy filling with a  uber-crunchy crust. In fact, these croquettes lived up to the French word  croqu, “to crunch,” which is how they got their name.  And for you deep-fry skeptics let me assure you. These were not a bit greasy.  The crust felt like sandpaper  seconds after emerging from the hot oil, and the paper towels I used to absorb grease  got only a light workout.

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I can’t say that the croquettes were a quick meal to pull together. There were several steps that I spread out over two days. Because I didn’t have any leftover meat, I roasted two, bone-in chicken breast halves. After they cooled and I removed the meat from the bones, I minced the chicken and measured out two cups.

spycroque 028Later on I needed to make a simple white sauce to bind the meat and seasonings and then allow it to chill and set. The following day I shaped and fried the croquettes, which actually took less than five minutes. Quick service, just like the diner actually.  Here’s the entire recipe:

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Chicken Croquettes

2 tablespoons Planters Peanut Oil

2 teaspoons onion, minced

4 tablespoons flour

1 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon pepper

1 cup milk

2 cups cooked chicken or turkey, minced

1 teaspoon parsley, minced

Finely ground dry bread crumbs

1 egg

2 tablespoons milk or water

Deep hot Planters Peanut Oil

  Heat Planters Peanut Oil, add minced onion and fry until lightly browned. Blend in flour, salt and pepper. Add milk gradually and cook stirring constantly until mixture thickens. Then add chicken and parsley.  Chill thoroughly (I spread the mixture in a pie plate and placed it in the refrigerator to chill).chickencro 001

   Form into croquettes. Roll in crumbs, then in beaten egg combined with the water and again in the crumbs.  (I used an ice cream scoop to portion out the chilled mixture before breading and shaping the croquettes.

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  Fry in deep Planters Peanut Oil (370 degrees) until golden brown. Drain on absorbent paper. Recipe yield: 6-8; I made mine smaller and had 10. These made a quick, delicious hot lunch. For a dinner entree, next time I’ll make a simple gravy from the roast chicken breasts and serve as an optional topping, just like at Esther’s. Mashed potatoes or stuffing plus a side veggie will round out the meal.

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Six Degrees of Desperation

cornbread 029That’s six degrees of heat, as in Fahrenheit–the temperature outside my dining room window. The one that looks out on the arctic landscape that is Pennsylvania these last two days.  Yes, these are dark, drafty, desperate times. Can you think of a better reason to crank up the oven to 425?

I planned on sharing some crock pot beef stew (sorry, no vintage connection there) with a neighbor and wanted a bread-y accompaniment.  After consulting The Calumet Book of Oven Triumphs from 1934, I found the perfect side–corn muffins. The basic recipe yielded only a dozen muffins (hey, who needs to be overrun with 24 muffins when you’ve got time to fill on a wickedly cold day? One butter-covered half leads to a second, which leads……) and was easy to prepare. The only step that ate up a few more seconds of my time was sifting the ingredients twice. Not a problem. Where was I going anyway? I had no plans to leave the igloo.

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Corn Muffins

1 1/2 cups sifted flour

2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder

2 tablespoons sugar

3/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup yellow cornmeal

2 eggs, well beaten

1 cup milk

4 tablespoons melted butter or other shortening (I used butter)

  Sift flour once,

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measure, add baking powder, sugar, and salt, and sift again.

cornbread 017Add cornmeal and mix well. Combine eggs, milk and shortening; add to flour, stirring only enough to dampen all flour.

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Note: Don’t overmix. I actually used my fork to lightly combine the wet and dry ingredients. There is still a bit of flour visible in my batter. I get a bit paranoid and hate to overdo it.

Bake in greased muffin pans (I used cupcake liners) in 425 degree oven 25 minutes, or until done. (I baked mine only 18 minutes). Makes 12 muffins.

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And then they were done, each muffin like a miniature sun, beaming warmth aimed right at my face (I’ll do anything to keep me positive in January, even fantasize about astronomy). A few minutes later, I packed them up with the stew and was doing my best Little Red Riding Hood routine to deliver the food. The temp had risen to 8 degrees. Perfect day for a walk.

Tossie Time

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If you like gooey combined with slightly chewy all inside a tiny nest of flaky pastry, you must learn the way of the pecan tossie. Or tassie.  I acknowledge both spellings and pronunciations that refer to this Christmas cookie-pecan pie hybrid that has become my holiday cookie superstar. It claims the middle of the cookie platter I serve for dessert after our Christmas dinner and gets boxed and wrapped for many gifts. Tossies are rich, delicious, a little bit fancy and more work than a Christmas cookie should require.

But once a year, I’ll go the extra mile. The recipe is a tried and true hand-me-down from my Nana, Martha Roberts, who was without question the family’s best baker. Cakes, quick breads, cookies. She did it all and did it superbly. In other words, you can count on the source.

The recipe has two parts–the crust and the filling.  And yes, it’s the crust that you’ll need to master in order to become a tossie queen yourself. Although I don’t remember being in the kitchen when Nana made these, during the past 25 years or so I’ve developed my own little techniques and tricks that make tossie assembly and removal from the pan a lot easier than it was in the beginning. Remember to keep the dough cool when handling and don’t rush the last part. Let these little pecan pies cool a bit in the pan before you begin jabbing them with a knife. Be gentle. Be delicate. Don’t break the flake.

Martha Roberts’s Pecan Tossies


1 stick butter

3 oz. cream cheese                                                                                   Christmas 010

1 cup flour

    Mix together until ingredients are blended and form a soft ball of dough. Refrigerate for several hours.

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The dough is easier to handle when cool, and I sometimes make the dough days in advance. I allow the dough to sit at room temp for 1-2 hours before handling and forming into crusts. If the dough becomes too soft it will be impossible to mold into the mini-muffin pans.

 Each crust begins with a small ball of dough about the size of a small walnut. I use my middle finger to press the dough down and around into the muffin tin, being careful to keep the dough neither too thin or too thick. If the dough is too thin the filling may seep out; if it’s too thick there will be less room for the filling.
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 After I form the pastry shells I return the muffin tins to the refrigerator until the dough is cold.


1 extra large egg, slightly beaten

1 T. butter, softened

1 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup finely chopped pecans

Christmas 044  Combine the ingredients and fill the pastry.

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 Bake in 350 degree oven for 30 minutes or until the crusts turn a light brown. I prefer uncoated aluminum pans to those with nonstick coating.

Christmas 081After the tossies come out of the oven, allow to sit for 5-10 minutes before removing them from the pan. Use a knife to gently lift them out of the pan and transfer to a wire rack to cool. Makes two dozen tossies.

The No Canned Soup, Deluxe Tuna Casserole

tuna 014 I hope my turkey dinner on Thursday makes me as happy as this tuna noodle casserole. I kept the Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup on the shelf but grabbed my small tin of Crisco I use exclusively for pie dough. Who knew a small amount of it would be at the base of a simple white sauce that held all these new and scrumptious ingredients together. This was no flashback to a Friday in 1965 at my school cafeteria.  No kid I knew then or now would like his perfectly good casserole ruined with red and green thing-ies. Pimiento? No way. Olives? Yuck.

Oh, no, no, no. This is not the tuna noodle from my school or childhood kitchen table. My Mom served it regularly, but this is better. Dare I say luxe?  This is tuna casserole for grown ups. Even better,  I’ll have plenty leftover for tomorrow night when I begin to lose my mind preparing the stuffing and roasting extra turkey pieces in advance for the gravy. Thanksgiving Eve cooking is all about the dinner the next day. Cook supper on Wednesday? Ahhhh. No.

Tonight’s supper was just so much better than what I was expecting. I think I would have preferred a bit more creaminess, but the flavors and textures were perfect. I loved the salty additions of the green olives, as well as the  crunch from the chips on top (my mother would have never gone for the chips. And my brother, Dad and I would have probably demolished the chips before supper. We were wolves, really.)

I found the recipe in the “Feeding the Crowd” chapter of a spiral bound, 1959 Crisco  publication called “Praise the Cook.” My husband bought it at a flea market a few months ago, and I happily added it to the Old Food library. Many of its 120 pages are yellowed and stained and spotted—almost like the cook who owned it before is giving me a sign. The smudgier the book, the greater likelihood of good stuff inside.

tuna 001   There were two versions of the recipe–one to feed 12 and one to feed 24.  But there was only my husband and I, and I wanted leftovers. Cutting the 12 servings in half made sense. If you’re squeamish about using the Crisco, 2013’s version of the product has 0 grams of trans fat and half the saturated fat of butter. And, my reduced-serving recipe required only 1 1/2 tablespoons. For six servings? A pittance.

I bought Bumble Bee solid white tuna in water (American Heart Association certified), and assembled the remaining ingredients from my pantry: green olives, chopped pimientos, and peas. I never missed the cream of mushroom soup either, although next time I’ll add more milk to make the casserole wetter. Here’s my version, which will serve 6

Tuna Noodle Casserole

4 oz. noodles ( I upped it to 6 oz.)

1 1/2 tablespoons Crisco

1 1/2 tablespoons flour

1 1/2 c. milk (I’ll use 2 next time)

1 1/2 cups tuna (I used two, five-oz. cans of solid white in water)

2 tablespoons chopped pimiento

2 tablespoons chopped green olives

1 cup  petite peas (original recipe called for peas to be cooked and drained; I just added them frozen)

salt and pepper to taste

1/2 cup corn flakes (I used kettle-cooked potato chips with cracked black pepper. So good)

   Cook noodles in boiling salted water until tender (I undercooked them by a minute or two). Drain. Melt Crisco in saucepan, stir in flour and add milk. Cook until sauce comes to a boil and is slightly thickened. Combine with tuna, pimiento, olives, peas, salt and pepper.

tuna 002Place alternate layers of cooked noodles (I started with noodles) and tuna mixture in a baking dish that has been rubbed with Crisco (Geez, I can remember my Mom doing that but I used cooking spray). Bake in moderate oven, 350 degrees, for 30-35 minutes.

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Happy National Indian Pudding Day

novemberpics 021Aw, you didn’t get your cards out?

No worries. There’s always next year. But you can still have your pudding if you’ve got a well-stocked pantry, a quart of milk in the fridge, and a block of time this afternoon to mix it up and throw it in the oven. If it’s the first time you’re celebrating, better continue reading. Ye olde Indian pudding has deep connections to early America and our Thanksgiving traditions. This is Old, Old, Old Food cooking today.

Now, if you’re from the Northeast, the taste and tale of Indian pudding is probably old hat. You grew up with the stuff, and according to Kathleen Wall, culinary historian at Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, Massachusetts, even John Adams relished a warm bowl of it back in the day. She explained that the first settlers in New England couldn’t duplicate their hasty pudding from home because they had no grain. Cornmeal—or Indian meal–was available, so a new dessert was born with a title venerating its essential new ingredient.

Indian Pudding recipes have been passed down through the ages, and Wall told me that if you’re a a true New England  foodie,  you’ll serve apple, pumpkin, mince and cranberry pies plus an Indian Pudding on Thanksgiving day. I’ve always lived in Pennsylvania and never heard of Indian Pudding. Being a Thanksgiving traditionalist myself, I wanted to catch up. A few days ago I made a trial batch and loved it. Notice that crust on the pudding? It tastes just like a chewy molasses cookie. I used a deep-flavored molasses and next time (yes, there will be a next time) I’ll try a gentler version for a milder molasses kick.

The following recipe comes compliments of the Metropolitan Insurance Co. Cookbook, 1948.  Despite its custard-y finish, this recipe has no eggs.

Indian Pudding

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4 cups milk

1/3 cup cornmeal

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup molasses

2 tablespoons butter

     Scald 3 cups of the milk in the top of a double boiler. Add cornmeal, sugar, spices, salt, molasses and butter. Cook over boiling water, stirring constantly until the mixture thickens or for about 20 minutes. Pour into a greased baking pan. Add the remaining cup of milk, without stirring. Bake in a slow oven (300 degrees) for about 2 1/2 hours. Serve warm with milk or cream or ice cream. Yield: 6-8 servings.

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