Sunday, February 25, 2007

Community Food and Slippery Pot Pie

For Chuck and me, February has been a month full of Community Food. First there was the Second Annual Animal Shelter spaghetti dinner, where a $5.00 donation got me a plate of spaghetti, red sauce, 2 meatballs, roll, coleslaw and dessert. The next week a donation of $5.00 each to the local Girl Scouts got us spaghetti, red sauce, LOTS of meatballs, garlic bread and dessert. Last night we had slippery potpie, pepperslaw, some killer home-made bread and dessert at a local church. Wednesday will tie up the month with the County Democrats Jefferson-Jackson dinner, where a $20.00 ticket will get us a trip through a buffet, with political speeches to follow.

I like this kind of community fundraising. The food isn’t always great, but the money goes for a good cause, and it is certainly cheap enough. Since we are relative newcomers to the area (we have lived here for only 10 years) we generally are eating at a table full of people we have not met before, and that is always interesting to me. And in the case of last night’s Slippery Pot Pie, we got a local experience that really was beyond price.

My husband moved here to Central PA a few months before the kids and I did; we stayed in St. Louis to get the house sold. Within a few weeks of arriving, he called to tell me, with awe in his voice, “Wednesday night is Pot Pie night at the Select!”

He went on to say “This pot pie is like nothing you have ever had before; it is SO GOOD!” And from that point until the rest of us got moved to town, my Wednesday night phone call always mentioned pot-pie; either he got there on time and all was good, or he had to work late and when he got arrived he was told "The pot pie is all," meaning there was none left.

Slippery Pot Pie is a Pennsylvania Dutch dish, actually more like a stew than what I grew up calling a pot pie (Something in gravy, in a crust, that my mother bought 5 for a dollar at the grocery store and fed us when she and my dad were going out to dinner.) This Wikipedia article explains why it is called Pot Pie, when it is not in the least pie-like (it is made in a pot, at least.) Slippery Pot Pie can be made with beef, ham, chicken or turkey; last night we had beef. Vegetables are added at the cooks discretion, and what goes in a pot pie is apparently the source of small but fierce skirmishes among little old ladies across South Central PA.

What all Slippery Pot Pies have in common is the noodle, made from flour, fat of some sort, egg and water. The noodles are cut into 1 to 2 inch squares, and slipped into the broth to cook. The resulting stew has thick, doughy noodles in a slightly thickened broth. This recipe is an melding of a recipe from More With Less Cookbook, the recipe my son's mother-in-law shared with me for her pot pie, and my need for garlic and color in my food. The More with Less Cookbook is published by the Herald Press from recipes contributed to the Menonnite Central Committee. I’ve used this cookbook for over 20 years, and have loved it.)

Slippery Pot Pie

1 large chicken, cut into pieces, OR 1.5-2 pounds beef, pork, ham or turkey
2-3 qts water or broth, can use bouillon cubes if desired, too
salt and pepper.

Cook the meat until tender, remove from bones and cut into bite sized pieces
Prepare vegetables and set aside: (all vegetables added at the discretion of the cook, but potatoes seem to be pretty constant)
2-3 potatoes, cubed
1 onion, chopped,
2 stalks celery, chopped
(These next two are my addition, while you might see carrots somewhere, I doubt any local pot pie cook puts garlic in. And as to carrots, it is my experience that most traditional PA Dutch foods tend to be beige in color…)
2-3 carrots, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, chopped

Pot Pie Dough
2 C all purpose flour
1/4 C water
1 egg
1 Tbsp oil (Can use lard or shortening if you prefer- if so, cut in with knives or a fork)
pinch of salt and pepper

Mix flour and egg together with salt and pepper. While mixing, add the oil to it and then slowly add water. If it becomes sticky add more flour. Form into a ball, let the dough rest a few minutes.

On a floured surface, roll out as thin as possible, cut into 1 to 2 inch squares. I use a pizza cutter.

After cutting, let them lay on the counter, DO NOT stack them up because they will meld into a large lump of dough.
Add the vegetables to the chicken and broth, cook until vegetable are tender, then slip the dough squares into the broth. Cook 5-10 minutes, then serve.

While it seems like this would be the sort of food served in a bowl, around here they eat it on a plate, and last night, garnished with chopped raw onion.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Cheese steak pizza

I once interviewed a foreign exchange student from Sweden for a newspaper article. When I asked her what she missed the most about home, she answered "Pizza", and went on to say "At home we can get anything we want on our pizza. I can get a salmon pizza if I want. Here, you can only get a few things; pepperoni, sausage, onion, like that." While I was surprised to find out that Sweden was apparently on the cutting edge of pizza-making, it did get me started thinking about whether or not I was in a pizza rut. Since then pizza has been a whole different meal at our house. And yes, smoked salmon pizza is delicious!

Cheese steak pizza isn't a huge detour from the typical pizza road, but it isn't the everyday, either. My family likes it because there is no tomato sauce. This one is VERY cheesy, so I make the pizza crust from the everyday bread recipe posted last, hoping against hope that in a fight between the oatmeal in the pizza dough and the cholesterol in the cheese, the oatmeal wins...

Cheese Steak Pizza
Preheat oven to 400 degrees

1/2 pound thinly sliced deli roast beef
1 TBS olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 cup sweet pepper, chopped (Green, red, yellow, orange- the more color the better, I think)
3-4 medium sized brown mushrooms, sliced
4-5 slices American Cheese (yes, the plastic kind)

crust made from 1/2 recipe of Everyday Bread recipe (about 12-14 inch diameter round)
6-8 thin slices strong provolone cheese
1/4-1/2 cup grated mozzerella or packaged Italian Cheese Blend

Cut the roast beef into strips about 1/2 inch wide.
Saute the onion, garlic, pepper and mushroom in the oil for a few minutes, then add the beef. Continue to saute until the onion is slightly soft and starting to turn transparent. Tear the cheese into chunks, add to the mixture and lightly stir until the cheese melts.

Cover the crust with the provolone slices. I like Stella Old World Provolone, and I have the deli slice it fairly thin. Spread the meat and onion mixture over the provolone, cover with the grated cheese. Bake for 15 minutes, or until cheese is well melted. I usually turn the broiler on for the last minute or two to get a nice crusty brown on the cheese.

For an extra kick, add a little hot pepper- a jalapeno or anaheim to the meat and cheese mix. I have also been known to add a few handfuls of fresh spinach to the meat mixture for a different taste. And it's perfectly acceptable to use chicken instead of beef.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Everyday Bread

Recently my husband and I had a dreadful experience in the bread aisle of the supermarket. We were looking for a loaf of bread to take to my son's house. My requirements for the bread was that it should be baked as locally as possible, and should list whole grains as far up the ingredient list as possible. A lesser requirement was that it should not horribly offend my son and his wife, who like white sandwich bread. While reading the ingredients, we found out that every loaf of bread contained High Fructose Corn Syrup.
This was a shock to me, since I try to avoid HFCS. I guess it is used in baked products to create a loaf that stays moister, longer. I've read information both pro and con HFCS, and I'm not interested in promoting or prohibiting it's use. However, I decided to take the same approach to HFCS as I do with margarine- I don't want to eat anything that is made with ingredients that don't occur naturally. I feel that our bodies have evolved over the years to digest certain things, and most of those things don't come from a laboratory.

Having taken that stand, I have been looking for a good all purpose yeast bread recipe. (In a perfect world, I would make all the bread we eat, but in reality, at this point I only make rolls and pizza crusts; I haven't yet figured out how to slice home-made bread to make nice sandwiches and toast. If my husband would build me some sort of device to help slice the bread uniformly, we'd be on the way!)

This recipe may not be the ultimate perfect bread recipe, but it is pretty close. It is not a high rising bread, but has a lovely texture. I adapted it from a recipe in The Bread Machine Cookbook, by Donna Rathmell German. The original recipe calls for sour cream- I have substituted non fat plain yogurt. I've also changed the flours since I like to add oatmeal to as many baked goods as I can; the original recipe called for white bread flour.

We had these rolls for dinner last night, along with lamb chops, baked butternut squash, and apple slices with cinnamon.

Yogurt Bread
1 TBS yeast
3 TBS water
1 and 1/3 cup plain nonfat yogurt
2/3 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
2 TBS sugar *

1 cup rolled oats (or oat bran)
1 and 1/3 cup whole wheat flour**
1 cup unbleached bread flour.

If using a bread machine, follow the machine instructions. I like to use the dough cycle and then remove the dough for pizza or rolls. I discovered a really nice way to pre-make individual pizza shells is to pat them out and then cook them on the griddle, like pancakes. I've never made this without a bread machine, so I can't offer steps for doing that.

*I use Sucanat, because it is less refined than other sugars. Whether or not it is better than refined sugar, I don't know. Somewhere I read that it had a lower glycemic index that refined white sugar, but I can't find the reference now.

**I like to use white whole wheat flour, made from hard white wheat instead of hard red wheat. Sometimes red wheat has a slightly bitter taste that I don't care for.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Pseudo Greek Food- Gyro Burgers

I went to Greece in 1974 with my sister and my mother, and fell in love with the food. We especially liked the street food- gyros and souvlakia bought along with a Greek lemon flavored soft drink in the agora. When we got back to the US, we found it difficult to get the ingredients to make them at home.

Now, more that 30 years later, feta cheese and pita bread is available in most grocery stores, and Greek salads are on just about every menu.

This burger doesn't have the same tight, small-grained texture of the classic gyro but the flavor is delicious. To approximate that texture, I will sometimes put the meat in the food processor to mix the ingredients. You could also put the meat through a meat grinder again. You can stuff it in a pita, or eat on a bun as shown here.

They are Chuck's Gyro Burgers because my husband, Chuck is particular about how his burger patties are made, so he always does them.

Chuck's Gyro Burger

1 pound bround beef
pound ground lamb
4 oz feta cheese crumbles
2-3 green onions or scallions, chopped small
1-4 garlic cloves, chopped fine (we like a lot of garlic)
1 tablespoon dried Greek oregano.

Mix the ingredients very well, and form into 6 to 8 burgers. Grill and serve with slices of onion, tomato and lettuce if desired. We put mayonaise on these, but if I were putting the patty in a pita, I would dress it with tzitziki sauce.

Tzitziki sauce

1/2 c plain nonfat yogurt
1/4 c cucumber, peeled and chopped fine
lemon juice or vinegar
pinch of salt

Mix together. Spoon over burger.

(By the way, gyro is pronounced Yee row except for here in Central PA, where they are called jEYE rows, like in gyroscope!)

Here's a picture of me, probably on the Acropolis, in March, 1974. Since I don't remember taking any long skirts with me, I am a little scared about those pants! But it was a different time, different fashions....

FYI, buildings on the Acropolis are being threatened by acid rain. The picture below is one of my favorite buildings, the Porch of the Maidens on the Erectheum. According to this article, the caryatids have been replaced by replicas.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Soup for a cold winter day

I don't much like soup. Well, let me edit that a little bit. I like thick soups, chowdery soups, soups with a lot of texture. A bowl of cream of tomato with a grilled cheese sandwich is OK, too. But just regular old soup doesn't do much for me, especially not vegetable beef, or chicken noodle. And DEFINITELY not miso soup.

But I've read some articles that says that eating a bowl of soup is helpful in weight loss, so I have been trying to cultivate a taste for them. I've been making a pot of soup a week for the past 5 or 6 months. Some are pretty good, some not so much. This posole, a recipe I have been using and refining for a couple of years, is one of the best. And since A Veggie Venture has a soup challenge going on for the month of February, I thought it was a good way to launch my Foodie Blog.

I love my crockpot, and I use it a lot in the winter. This Posole is not quick, but it couldn't be easier when made in the crockpot. You can use fresh, local ingredients, or canned.

CrockPot Posole
Before you go to bed one night, put in the crockpot (best to use the kind with the removable crock)
1-2 pounds pork- preferably shoulder roast (This time I used some pork chops I had in the freezer)
2 quarts chicken broth, water or vegetable broth

The next morning, put the crock into the refrigerator for the day. When you come home from work, skim the fat off, take the meat off the bones and chop into bite size chunks.

2 onions, chopped
5-6 cloves of garlic, chopped
2-3 mild anaheim peppers, roasted, peeled and chopped. (Or use 2 cans chopped anaheim peppers)
1 Tablespoon salt
1 Tablespoon cumin
2 20 oz cans hominy

Cook on low until you come home from work- the house will smell terrific and dinner will be ready. Good served with guacamole, and tortilla chips or warm flour tortillas. This has next to no heat, so if you like spicy, add some pepper flakes at the end.