Grandma’s Beef Stroganoff

As far as I am concerned, Beef Stroganoff is the ultiamate comfort food.  I never get tired of it and am currently drooling as I think of the rich, velvety sauce that accompanies this dish.  To be quite honest, I do not care what cut of meat you choose to use in your dish, I am here for the sauce.  Rich and fattening, I like it best smothering a bed of egg noodles.  

My grandmother made this dish regularly when I was growing up, but when my parents became vegetarians in the 90s, my father altered the recipe to contain only the mushrooms so that we could still use it as a staple dish in our home.  Grandma served it over buttered egg noodles, Dad over brown rice.  I always considered this dish something that was out of my reach until I tasted the aberration that Hamburger helper considers “stroganoff”.  I’ve made my own ever since.  I’ve made a few tweaks to the original recipe, but those are only to taste.  No matter how much I love what comes out of my kitchen, it will never hold a candle to that dish served by Grandma!

Beef Stroganoff:

– 2 Tbsp. flour

– 1 tsp. salt

– 2 lbs. beef sirloin cut into 1/4 inch wide strips

– 4 Tbsp. butter

– 2 cups thinly sliced mushrooms (optional)

– 1 cup sliced onion

– 2 cloves garlic, minced– 4 Tbsp. butter

– 6 Tbs. flour

– 1 tsp. oregano

– 1 tsp. thyme

– 1 Tbsp. paprika

– 2 Tbsp. tomato paste

– 2 cans beef broth

– 2 cups sour cream

– 4 Tbsp. Port wine

Combine flour and salt. Dredge meat in the flour mixture. Heat the skillet, add the butter and melt it. Add in the meat and brown on all sides. Add in the onions, garlic and mushrooms. Cook for 3-4 minutes, until the onions are tender. When they are soft, remove the contents of the pan to a plate and start the sauce. Add in the next 4 Tbsp of butter, melt and then blend in the flour and herbs. Add in the tomato paste. The sauce will be a coppery gold, thick and bubbly. Slowly stream in the broth and cook slowly until the sauce thickens again. Return the meat mixture to the sauce. Stir in the sour cream and sherry and heat through. Serve over egg noodles or rice. Serves 8 to 10 people.

Of seeds and water and environmental things

“I sincerely believe that for the child, and for the parent seeking to guide him, it is not half so important to know as to feel when introducing a young child to the natural world. If facts are the seeds that later produce knowledge and wisdom, then the emotions and the impressions of the senses are the fertile soil in which the seeds must grow. The years of early childhood are the time to prepare the soil.”  -Rachel Carson, A Sense of Wonder
When I was in college, I took an Ecology class.   I was thrilled to be introduced to the information and to put my passion for the environment into action by helping lead the Environmental Stewardship Society with a friend who is now National Park Ranger.  During the course of the semester, I listened to lectures, read books and took plenty of exams.  I even wrote a paper on the impact that DDT still has on our communities today.  It was during this semester, though, that I realized that even though I am a primarily visual learner, I do gain a great bit from a tactile experience.  Which is why my insect collection, although one of the greatest challenges of my college career, was also one of the greatest revelations of my young adult life.  I have such serene memories of those months, punctuated by feelings of terror when I remember my misguided attempts at capturing an angry bumblebee, and they are primarily due to being outside.  I grew up outside, but I didn’t really know much about nature.  I made a declaration that I would make sure my children not only got the opportunity to experience the world around them, but also the chance to understand and appreciate it.

I have been waiting for the chance to introduce my son to the natural world.  We went outside in the snow and ice so that he could feel it, but it wasn’t really the experience that I had hoped for.  Mainly because at 6 months, there isn’t going to be the enthusiasm I feel being mirrored back at me.  But now.  Now that he is 9 months old, I am getting to watch the light bulb turn on as he realizes the difference between surfaces and substances and I knew that he would begin to enjoy our walks for a different reason.  So this week, we made trips to the compost pile where I explained how and why it works.  We even hung around and watched Daddy turn the compost so that we could see the rich, black soil at the bottom.  I took Liam to a greenhouse where we purchased some plants and then showed him the root systems as we transplanted them into our herb potters at home.  We ended our week with a trip to COSI yesterday.  We were really there to celebrate my nephew’s birthday and see the Titanic exhibit, but Liam and I got some chances to talk. 

Cosi has a wonderful section that is for children age 5 and under (accompanied by their parents, of course).  It was here that we were able to spend quality time at the water tables playing with the simple toys and watching the water react to how he slapped it or what it was passed through.  I had hoped for a bigger reaction, but he wasn’t feel tip-top, so we will simply have to return at another time.  In the main play room, they had giant light switches.  I was super excited about this because Liam knew just what to do.  Every time we leave a room where the light is on, we turn it off.  He puts his tiny little index finger up to the switch and we “save electricity” and turn the switch off.  If you leave a room without doing so, he wants to go back and turn the light off.  I think it’s great.  Already he is aware of a routine so that when he is older and actually understands kilowatts and such, he won’t think that I’m such a nerd.  Once inside the Titanic exhibit, he fell asleep waking only just before the rooms outlining the crash and the final hours of the ill-fated ship.  It was in this room, that I realized that he’s never been outside when the stars are out.  He was fascinated by the way the “stars” twinkled in the night and I made a mental note to take him outside and show him the night sky this fall when it’s dark before his bedtime.  Before we left, we went to see the movie about Whales on the 7-story screen.  Liam hadn’t been himself much of the trip, wanting to be held and somewhat fussy, but as soon as he saw the giant mammals swimming across the screen, he lit up.  He waved his arms and called out to them as though they were right there.  I can only assume that he thought they were in an aquarium like we had seen at the zoo.  What is fun is that I had just opened a Christmas present of bath toys that had several whales in it that were featured in the movie.  So now when my little guy plays in the tub, we can talk about the Orkas and the Hammerhead sharks and he’ll have heard those words before.  
Here’s the thing, Liam doesn’t know the difference between sand and dirt yet.  He doesn’t understand the concepts of erosion and it will be some time before he does.  However, he can still listen to me explain to him why we plant trees and why I cry when I see the hawks scrounging up the carrion in the middle of the city.  We read our books and we talk about waste and it’s impact on the environment.  I showed him the recycling bins at home and told him that someday, he’d get to make a trip with me to the center to drop off our stuff.  When we go for walks, we talk about what we see.  Or rather, I talk and he babbles back his response.  Liam doesn’t talk all that much on a day to day basis, but when we are outside, he does.  He loves to watch the geese in the pond along the bike trail and he thinks it’s funny when the trees blow in the wind.  I’m hoping that through this and many other exposures we can continue to learn together about the environment and nature; and that in time, he too will learn to love it as much as I do.  And as much as I learned from my insect collection, I am honestly hoping that he doesn’t develop a real interest for that species until later.  Maybe in his own ecology class.

Pizza crust I actually want to eat

I’m not too much of a crust eater.  I generally tear mine up and give it to the dogs.  Sometimes, I dunk it in ranch dressing.  I don’t really care how thick and beautiful a pizza parlor claims to make their crust or if you can read newspaper through it.  I’m really here for the cheese.  And green peppers.  Matt had been a bachelor for some time when we met.  I never ate so much pizza as when we started dating.  Once we got married, it was his joke that when he “cooked” it came to the door in a box.  We always order Besta Fasta pizza.  I like that they make theirs fresh daily, so much so that sometimes, their sauce is super mild and other times, it’s so spicy that we are both sent searching for an antiacid!  

As much as I like the option to order pizza out, I still like to have the confidence to be able to whip up a batch at home whenever I like.  I keep pepperoni in the freezer, pizza sauce in the canning cellar and provolone in my fridge.  I like having provolone on my pizza.  If you ask, you’re going to find that many pizza places use a mixture of provolone and mozzerella on their pizzas.  I don’t know how I got started asking, but I did and was thrilled when I realized that that is why their cheese is so mouth-wateringly good!  I make this dough in my bread machine (on the dough setting) because it’s contained in there and I don’t have to worry about getting distracted by a diaper my increasingly dare-devilish child.  If you want to make this by hand, you only need to mix all the ingredients together gently, knead it well and let it rise for about 30-45 minutes in a warm place.  Nothing else needs to change.  Top it with your favorite sauce, toppings and cheese before baking it in a 450 degree oven for 20 minutes.  You can get 2 12-inch pizzas with a medium/thin crust out of this recipe or one giant, fluffy crusted one.

  • 2 1/2 tsp yeast
  • 4 1/4 cups plus 2 Tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup plus 2 Tablespoons warm water
  • 1 Tbsp. sugar
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil

**This dough is wonderful baked in the oven on a pizza stone or baking sheet.  It’s also sturdy enough to be prepared and grilled.  I also like this recipe because you don’t need to prebake it.  Just form it, top it and throw it in the oven.  The oven that is heated to 450 degrees.  This is my warning: a pizza stone coming from that oven is going to be hotBe careful.  I barely tapped my arm with fresh-from-the-oven stone 2 months ago and still have a nasty looking burn mark on my arm.  It’s embarrassing to have to explain that you were trying to go from the kitchen to the dining room and ducking around a Johnny Jump-up in the doorway when you burnt your arm.  Just so you know.

Chicken Parmigiana

I judge an Italian restaurant by it’s lasagna and by it’s parmigiana.  And if I like it, I go back.  If I don’t, well… I don’t.  I love eggplant parmigiana since that is the traditional Sicilian dish I grew up with.  My husband hates eggplant.  Loathes eggplant.  The only way I can get eggplant into a dish is to make it part of my tomato sauce and run it through a food mill.  I’m not kidding.  Since he is so adverse to the whole idea of eggplant parmigiana, I decided to compromise and settle for being really good at chicken parmigiana.  There is some debate over whether the dish is named for the Parmesan cheese in the breading or if it’s because it originated in the region of Parma, but I’m not really concerned over that.  My greatest concern is always the breading.  I’ve learned to take my time and season all the layers, but I wanted to come up with a recipe that works.  Every.  Single.  Time.  Below is the result of all my trial and error and the cause of the few extra pounds around my middle.  Apparently, the fact that I always serve this dish with green beans does not negate the fact that I always over indulge.

Chicken Parmigiana

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 2 cups finely ground bread crumbs
  • 2 oz parmesan cheese
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 eggs
  • flour
  • Pasta and basic tomato sauce to finish the dish
  • Fresh mozzarella

The first step in this recipe is to pound out the chicken so that it is about half of it’s original thickness.  This of course, is specific to each piece of meat, but it’s easiest done if you first put the chicken in a large freezer bag, seal it and then pound it out with a meat hammer or heavy ladle.  Once the meat is to the desired thickness, season it lightly with the salt and pepper and set aside while you prepare the breading.  You will note that I call for 2 oz of cheese and by that I mean a hunk of cheese, not the kind in the shaker can from the grocery.  You can use that, but it won’t be as good.  I’ve tried.  It’s not the same.

Cut the cheese up into smallish pieces and whiz them in a food processor until they are finely ground.  Then mix them in with the bread crumbs.  Whisk the eggs together until they are well beaten.  Heat a small amount of oil in a saute pan until it is hot.  Then, coat the chicken first in the flour, then the egg and finally the breading as pictured here.  Place each piece of meat in the pan and cook until it’s nicely browned.  Then, remove the meat to a baking dish.  I don’t recommend cooking more than 2 pieces of meat at a time so as not to crowd the pan and drop the oil temperature.  This part of the dish requires some time and loving care, but it’s worth it in the end.  Once all the meat has been browned and the breading has formed a lovely golden crust, it’s time to put it into a 375 degree oven for about 15 minutes.  Don’t cover the pan, don’t poke the chicken, just put it in there and prepare some pasta to go along with the chicken.  The less you mess with the meat, the more tender and juicy it will be.  If you are serving this meal to people who must have their chicken parm smothered in cheese a la most restaurants, wait until the chicken is done cooking, them slice a bit of fresh mozzarella and run the chicken under a broiler until the cheese is melted.  This is a nice finish to the dish, but I didn’t feel it was totally necessary.  I liked it just with the tomato sauce and pasta.  But to each his own. 

Challenge update

 Pear blossoms

I had signed up for the No Waste challenge in an attempt to get myself back on track after being so lax in my efforts.  I signed up, approached my kitchen with greater purpose and have thrown nothing away in the last 2 months.  Nothing.  I have never been so proud of myself for actually using each and every item I purchased.  This week, however, I did have to pitch some questionable food in my fridge that a relative had sent over and my husband stuck in the fridge without telling me.  I never knew it was there until the fridge smelled odd.  Last night, a bag of scary looking potatoes went to the compost as well.  There was little I could do to rescue them.  Also, I bought a few bags of Sunchips since they now have the nifty compostable bag!  I’m super excited to see how they break down!  I checked into the research that Sunchips posted on their site, so I won’t be able to actually report on the progress for a while yet, but it’s exciting to see each trip I make to our little pile.  Also, I think the compost at the bottom of the pile is ready (finally!  It only took about 2 years to get everything broken down.), so we will be adding it to the garden this spring.

Transplanted Rhubarb that seems to really be doing well!

I’ve been going over my garden plans a lot, but haven’t really settled on my official plan.  Today, I did get some herbs in, but it started storming before I was able to get my deck boxes ready for the lettuce I’m anxious to plant.   The grand plan is for Matt and I to work on the gardens/flower beds/yard over the next week (culminating with a big work day next Saturday) and then I will plant as I am able through the following weeks.  I decided not to do peas this year since we just haven’t been able to get rolling with the prep work and I’m not certain that it’s all that worth it for me to plant them when every year I wind up finding plenty at the farmer’s market.  Also, by not planting the peas, I can get down to business and try broccoli and brussel sprouts since I’ve been dying to do those but never have the room.  Also, I’m not doing potatoes.  I tried them 2 years ago and they were a total bust.  I was really frustrated since we worked so hard on them and only got a few potatoes back.  I’ve found a local farm that sells 50 pounds for 10 dollars, so I feel that it is a good choice for now. 

 Helping Mama plant Basil

Also this week, I’ve been taking Liam to the compost pile and talking about the fine art of vermicomposting.  He is mainly interested in throwing things into the pile and not so much in my lecture, but we’re still talking about it, right?  Which then brings me to my next challenge update.  I decided to participate in Abbie’s Environmental Education Week Challenge since I can actually start the environmental education with Liam now.  I’ve got a post percolating about what all we’ve done this week and some photos to share.  But I’m saving that until after tomorrow’s trip to COSI (the Center of Science and Industry) since I’m sure there will be something to talk about there as well!

Potatoes Anna

My youngest niece turns 5 this weekend.  It’s funny how fast time passes.  It honestly seems just like yesterday, I was driving up to the Akron hospital where she was born to hold her for the first time.  I had never visited anyone in the hospital for a new baby and I was nervous.  I took lots of photos of her little feet.  Today she is a petite blond with tiny feet but plenty of personality.  It is in honor of her, I chose to post about this recipe today.

The original recipe is credited to a chef in the Napoleon era who created the dish in honor of the dictator’s lady friends.  Whether or not this is officially true, I’m not sure we’ll ever be certain of, but if it is… thank goodness for the need to impress!  This dish is consisted of 3 ingredients: butter, potatoes and salt.  It’s time consuming and slightly labor-intensive (if you don’t have a mandoline), but the end result is like heaven.  Crispy, buttery, potatoey heaven.  First you smell the butter and potatoes marrying the oven and then you see them and then… ahem.  Sorry, had to wipe the drool off the keyboard.  I will take this moment to inform you that the French have a special pan for making these potatoes.  It’s made out of copper and is roughly the cost of an arm or a leg.  I kid.  I couldn’t actually find a price for any of the pans I found online, so I assume they expect sticker shock when people read it.  Despite the fact that it was a little bit ghetto, shall we say, I rigged up my own version out of twp 9-inch pie plates and a foil covered brick.  

 

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees and melt 2 sticks of butter.  Then, using a mandoline, slice the potatoes on the thinnest slice and then set to work arranging them in the bottom of a buttered pie dish. Beginning in the middle of your pie pan, layer the potatoes around the pan, overlapping the slices.  Sprinkle some salt (and pepper as well if you like) and then pour in a bit of the butter, just to coat the tops of the potatoes.  Continue doing this sequence until you have filled you pie pan about 3/4 of the way.  Make sure that you have thoroughly coated all the potatoes with butter.  If you are skimpy with the butter, they will not crisp up and will be dry and disappointing when you serve them.  You certainly don’t want that!  Place the second pie plate on top of the potatoes and if you want, cover a brick with tin foil and place that on top of the second plate.  You don’t have to do this part, I just wanted my potatoes to be pressed together well so that they came out a little like a cake.  Bake for 20 minutes with the second pie plate and brick, then remove them and bake for an additional 20 minutes.  If you want the bottom to be really brown, you can add more butter in between the 2 bakings.  

Once you are pleased with the brownness of the potatoes, remove them from the oven and allow them to cool just a bit.  Then, brace yourself.  Get 2 oven mitts and a serving plate.  Place the serving plate upside-down over the bottom of the potatoes.  Get a good grip on the pie plate and the serving plate together and flip them over so that the potatoes come out of the pie pan and onto the serving plate.  It is wise to do this over the sink because any excess butter may dribble and make a mess on your floor.  It was a stressful moment, but sooooo worth it in the end!  To serve, you simply slice wedges of the potatoes from the round and enjoy.  I served mine with beef brisket, without a sauce or additional flavoring of any kind.  They don’t need it.  Butter is, in fact, the nectar of the gods and combined with the potatoes in this way, you will find all sorts of reasons to indulge in this rich and unexpected side.