Sunday, August 15, 2010

Cuisine Quest from Chestertown

I spent the better part of the weekend in Chestertown, MD, with my family.  Today, I spent a few hours with my grandmother: taking her to Downey's for ice cream, taking her to and from the hospital to see my grandfather, and spending time in her house looking at her "collection" of mini perfume bottles and jewelry.  She told me many stories and made references to everything from her/our family, their houses in St. Mary's County, her time in Germany, Spain, and Mexico, furniture, stolen silver, hearing aid batteries and cookbooks.

I always loved my grandmother's cooking.  I'm not sure if it was because she served meat, or if it was because we always got ice cream right after we finished dinner, or if it was just the adventure of not being at home.  There are a few key things I remember about eating at my grandparents house: my grandfather made popovers and ate melon with salt and pepper; my grandmother kept evaporated milk in the cabinet, baby food jars for leftover bites of food, and toasted the cereal so it wouldn't be stale. I also remember that she made great sliced cucumbers, pork chops ("Grandmom, this sure is good chicken."), and my absolute favorite, spaghetti sauce.

I haven't tasted another spaghetti sauce like it.  The other day I made pasta and I overcooked the noodles, so they were pretty swollen.  Those noodles got me thinking about my grandmother's meaty pasta sauce.  I thought about sending her a note, or calling her on the phone, but I wasn't sure if she would be able to tell me the recipe.  I mentioned it to her yesterday, in passing, but this afternoon, while we were in the kitchen waiting for the rain to stop, I asked her about it again.  

I was sitting in front of their cookbook shelves, and she told me to grab the "Joy of Cooking."  It didn't have a spine any longer, but I knew which one it was.  I pulled it out, and looked up sauces, and turned to the page where it might have been.  Studying the stains on the pages, it didn't seem like this was the right book. So, she kept looking at the pages while she had me grab the "Fannie Farmer" off the shelf.  As I start flipping through the new book, I think to myself that it is incredibly clean, how can the stains tell me any story in this cookbook?  She then begins to tell me that my grandfather had bought her this new version and she never liked it.  It wasn't weathered like her older copy... but she didn't know where the other copy was.  I stopped, and moved a few boxes from the bottom shelf, and noticed two more books without spines.  I took a guess, and grabbed one from the shelf.  My lucky day, her older copy of Fannie Farmer!  

I turned to page 147, and handed her the book.  Are any of these the recipe you used? We start looking at the pages and reading the ingredients. The one in the middle of the page took her interest, and as she read the ingredients, I knew we had found the right one: "One tablespoon of sugar!?! I never used that much sugar. Maybe a half a teaspoon, at the most!" Her comments proved that it was the right recipe, but it seemed recreating it wouldn't be so easy, since each ingredient had needed a comment.  I quickly scribbled notes.

I got my notes home, along with a box full of tomatoes from my dad's garden, and began the quest. Mashed 2 cloves of garlic, diced 1 onion, and 3 tablespoons of olive oil were all added to my Le Creuset pan.

I then added just a little more than 1 lb of ground beef (I wanted it extra meaty) and waited for it to brown.  (if it had been fatty, I would have spooned off all but 3 tablespoons of fat.) Meanwhile, I diced 5 tomatoes and added them to the pot, hopefully about 2 1/2 cups. 

I stirred and added in 1 little can of tomato paste, and "rinsed" the can once with tomato juice and a little bit of red wine. I added five drops of Worcestershire sauce, about 1 teaspoon of sugar, basil, and oregano, as well as S&P.  I let it simmer for at least 30 minutes.

As the sauce simmered, I cracked the lid since my grandmother's was always a little thinner then what I had thus far.  I also started on making cornbread, Brussels sprouts, caesar salad, and a banana bread.

The Caribbean corn bread comes from "at Blanchard's Table" cookbook.  Since I agreed to make banana bread for my coworkers last day tomorrow, I only had 2 sticks of butter for 2 baked goods.  I decided to half the cornbread recipe.  

1/2 c flour, 1/2 c cornmeal, 2T baking powder, 1/2t salt in a bowl. In the mixer, 1 stick butter (room temp), 3/8c sugar (ok, so I put in a little more than 1/3c, or you could do 6 Tablespoons). Then 2 eggs, one at a time. Then add 3/4c cream-style corn and 1/4c crushed pineapple and 1/2c of cheese (although I added a little bit more of all three).  Mixed in the dry to the wet ingredients, and poured them in a small bread loaf.  If I had used the full recipe, I would have used a 9" Pyrex. 325 degrees, for an hour to hour and fifteen.

For some reason, I took the cornbread out after 30 minutes, because it was already brown. But when I cut into to it to serve, obviously, it was still gooey.  I cut off two cooked pieces, and put it back in the oven.  [JW said it was the best cornbread ever... um, hello, it's raw!]

In a saut√© pan, I added a clove of garlic, a tablespoon of butter, a tablespoon of olive oil, and halved Brussels sprouts.  I sauteed them for a few minutes until brown and flipped them to the other side.

When the pasta was more than done, I added noodles back to the pot and spooned sauce over them and tossed.  I plated everything and sprinkled Parmesan cheese on top.

ahhhh.... so good!  I think I did it.  Tomorrow will be the true test.  The leftovers were always the best part.  I also froze some of it, as that's what my grandmother did.  I can't wait to eat that one day too.

I think I remember digging bay leaves out of the pasta as a kid... next time!

1.24.11: I just found this picture online, and needed to archive it!

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