experiments in cooking

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Who Needs Meat When You’ve Got Homemade Soup and Breadsticks?

Soup, Salad, and Breadsticks


In my house, we eat a lot of meat. Pork chops, bacon, sausage, chicken, steak, roast, hamburger, bologna, ham, salami … the list goes on and on.

Yes, I will admit, we are one of those households that eats meat for two out of three meals every day. But I’ve been thinking it would be a good idea to have some meals in my repertoire that don’t involve meat.

Why?

Why would I want to eat a meal without meat when bacon tastes so, so good?

I know that’s what my husband wonders. And if I wanted to serve a meal without meat, I knew I’d have to make it a meal so tasty that Chris wouldn’t even notice there was no steak or pork chop on his plate.

Back to why I would want to prepare a meal with no meat main dish: First, meat costs a lot, and there are times at the end of the month when nothing is on sale and I could save a little money if I didn’t have to run out to the store to buy high-priced chicken or beef or whatever. Second, eating meat makes calories add up fast, and I like to have some “light” suppers on my list for days when I’ve had a big lunch or when I’d like to indulge a little for dessert after supper. Third, I know that decades ago, people ate a lot of meals without meat, largely because of reason #1 above (they couldn’t afford it), and now and then I like to experience what things were like for previous generations. Although I must admit my personal journey back in time would only be a partial historical re-creation; I wasn’t planning to shut off our electricity or move the bathroom out to the backyard for the night of the big Meatless Dinner.

Anyway, for my meatless meal experiment, I settled on a menu of soup, salad, and homemade breadsticks. I figured, if the breadsticks and soup turned out great, we could stuff ourselves with bread and allow the aroma of the chicken stock-based soup to fool our brains into thinking we’d feasted on chicken.

Would it work?

My Joy of Cooking includes a simple recipe for stracciatella, or Italian parmesan and egg soup that I decided to try. It’s essentially a deconstructed matzo ball soup, with egg, parmesan, breadcrumbs, and spices cooked just a couple of minutes in a simmering chicken stock.

Garnished with the magical spice nutmeg, my current favorite, the soup turned out pretty yummy. No, it wasn’t filling, but for that purpose we had—oh, yes!—steaming, buttery, parmesan-sprinkled hot homemade breadsticks.

They were beautiful. They smelled heavenly. They tasted delicious. And, as Chris pointed out, they looked, smelled, and tasted a fair bit like Crazy Bread from Little Caesar’s, the cheapest pizza chain in America.

“Is that a compliment?” I asked. I wasn’t sure.

“Well, you love Crazy Bread,” he said.

It’s true, I do.

I ate four breadsticks, one bowl of soup, and a simple side salad. And guess what? I did not miss the meat. I really didn’t.

But I have a confession to make.

While the chicken stock was coming to a simmer, while the breadsticks were baking, before the salads were made, I got worried that Chris would freak out when he figured out there wasn’t any meat for dinner. So I sliced up some summer sausage to put on his plate next to the soup. And I ate a slice myself. So help me, I did.

Below are the recipes needed to make for this simple soup and homemade breadsticks (which, incidentally, reheated well for a meal the next day).

I have left out any reference to the pre-meal summer sausage snack. I was weak … but you don’t have to be.

Italian Parmesan and Egg Soup (Stracciatella)

A Roman specialty, stracciatella derives its name from the word straccetti, little rags—describing the strands of egg that float in the broth.

Bring to a simmer in a medium saucepan:

3 cups chicken stock

Meanwhile, whisk together until blended:

1 large egg

1 ½ tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

1 tablespoon dry unseasoned breadcrumbs (I had only Italian breadcrumbs and used them instead)

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (I didn’t have any so I left this out)

1 small clove garlic, finely minced

Stir this mixture rapidly into the simmering stock and stir until the egg is set, 30 to 60 seconds. Garnish with:

Freshly grated or ground nutmeg or grated lemon zest

Ladle into warmed bowls

Homemade Pizza or Breadstick Dough (from Aunt Marilyn Hill)

1 1/3 cup warm water

1 pkg (2 ¼ tsp yeast)

1 ½ tsp salt

2 tbsp oil

3 ½ cups all-purpose flour

Dissolve yeast in water. Stir in salt, sugar, and oil. Add flour one cup at a time. Mix well. Add ½ cup flour if dough is too sticky. Allow to rise for 30–45 minutes. (You may freeze the dough at this point.)

For breadsticks (from Our Best Bites):

Remove dough from bowl and place on a lightly floured surface. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray. Roll into a rectangle and cut into 12 strips with a pizza cutter.

Roll out each piece of dough into a snake and then drape over your forefinger and twist the dough. Place on baking sheet and repeat with remaining 11 pieces of dough. Try to space them evenly, but it’s okay if they’re close.

Cover pan and allow dough to rise for another 30 minutes. When there’s about 15 minutes to go, preheat your oven to 425. When done rising, bake for 10–12 minutes or until golden brown. Rub some butter on top of the breadsticks (just put a Ziploc bag on your hand, grab some softened butter, and have at it) and sprinkle with garlic bread seasoning or the powdery Parmesan cheese in a can and garlic salt. Or you could sprinkle them with cinnamon sugar.

I Made German Mennonite Zwiebach (and I’m not German)

Most families have favorite recipes that have special meaning for all the kids and grandkids. In family, there’s the iced Christmas cookies my mom had us make every year and which now my sister Jenny makes with her kids and any of the nieces and nephews who are around. There’s the family brownie recipe, the family five-minute fudge recipe, the broccoli-cheese-rice casserole recipe, the chicken gumbo recipe (a mild version that suits my bland Anglo-Saxon palate), the pineapple jello salad recipe, and so on.

In my husband’s family, thanks to his mother’s side of the family, family favorites comprise an entire menu of German Mennonite dishes. To be more specific: Germans-from-Russia Mennonite dishes.

Now, my family has been in North America for so long that we don’t have any ethnic dishes in our family recipe treasure trove. Our recipes all have American names and no special ethnic history. I love our family foods; but in my husband’s family, the names themselves are unique and beloved:

Cherry Moos

Kuchen

Vareneke …

Borscht …

Zwiebach.

I’ve been learning to bake bread lately, focusing on rolls (let’s hear it for rolls!), and every time I talked about baking in the past couple of months, my husband would say, “You should make zwiebach.”

“What on earth is that?” I asked.

Or my mother-in-law would say, “Have you tried to make zwiebach?”

And my father-in-law would say, “And there’s always Oma’s zwiebach …”

I wasn’t even sure how it was spelled. Curious, I googled “zwieback” and found recipes for something like Melba toast. Then I looked up “zwiebach,” and I found it. Sure enough, it was a roll—a “double bun,” or a roll with a topknot on it.

So when the date rolled around for my husband’s grandfather’s 90th birthday, and I found myself searching for something special I could make, the answer was obvious.

I called my mother-in-law.

“Do you have a recipe for that zwiebach?” I asked.

Mom Nichols had her grandmother’s recipe in a family cookbook she worked on a few years back, so I borrowed the book and read the recipe. It raised a lot of questions for me.

Did I need to knead the dough? When exactly did I shape the rolls? What size should they be? How many rolls would the recipe make?

Because Oma went to heaven a long time ago, and since my mother-in-law has never made zwiebach herself, I scoured the Internet for advice. I read five or so zwiebach recipes, garnered tips from most of them, and then added a sheet containing the best advice to the cookbook containing Oma’s recipe.

As I looked over all the recipes, I realized I was going to have a timing problem—I wouldn’t be home most of the night before the party and wouldn’t be able to keep an eye on the dough for the first rise. Could I refrigerate the dough?

That sent me on a whole new Google adventure. I researched “refrigerating bread dough” until I had a good plan worked out.

  1. Friday after work: Mix and knead the dough and put it in the fridge.
  2. Leave for in-laws’ house for dinner and family trip to Boo at the Zoo event.
  3. Three hours later, return from Boo at the Zoo and remove dough from the fridge.
  4. Warm the chilled dough and complete the first rise.
  5. Stay up really, really late shaping dough, completing a second rise, and baking the rolls.

I own three cookie sheets, and I decided to bake all the rolls at once. I wound up with about 36 rolls. All golden brown, plump double rolls with an aroma that drew Chris into the kitchen.

He had to eat one away.

“Is this what they’re supposed to be like?” I asked.

“They taste like Oma’s!” he said.

“You’re kidding,” I said. “Really?”

“Although these are bigger than hers,” he said.

“Are they supposed to be small? Oh, dear,” I said.

“Oh, it’s fine,” he said. “Try one!”

Oh, yes, they were good. But I never had Oma’s zwiebach, so I didn’t know if I’d done what I wanted to do: reproduce a favorite.

The next morning we got into the car with two bags of rolls and drove to Abilene, Kansas, for the birthday party. We got there at noon, and I realized right away that the news that I was bringing zwiebach had spread.

“Heard you brought zwiebach,” said one of the uncles.

“Looks like zwiebach,” said someone else.

But the big test remained. As I watched the zwiebach disappear from the serving table, I also looked around the room to find people eating it. Chris’s grandma had one. Great Aunt Noreen had one. Uncle Kevin had one. Aunt Becky had one. In fact, almost everyone had one.

Had I done it?

I started walking around the room, stopping at each table for just a moment.

“Good zwiebach!”

“Nice job.”

“These taste just like Oma’s.”

“ALMOST as good as Oma’s,” said Uncle John.

“Keep making the zwiebach,” said Uncle Kevin.

Well, Uncle Kevin, I will.

I don’t have any German blood, I’m not one of the family, but what better way to let them know I love and respect my husband’s heritage? And my boys are a quarter German. They and their future wives are going to know about zwiebach—with an “h.”

Oh, and Grandma said I can make the zwiebach any size I want.

Oma’s Zwiebach Recipe, revised by her great-granddaughter-in-law

1 cake compressed yeast [equates to 1 packet or 2 ¼ tsp]

½ cup warm water

1/3 cup sugar

3 ½ c scalded milk [I didn’t know how to scald the milk so I microwaved it until it was hot]

1 cup shortening [I used ½ cup shortening and ½ cup butter]

4 tsp salt

Dissolve yeast in warm water with part of the sugar. Pour milk on shortening. When cool, add salt and rest of sugar.

Add the yeast mixture and 10–12 cups of flour [enough to make a medium dough that may be sticky. Knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic.]

Let rise until double (about two hours at 80 degrees). SHORT COLD RISE: I let it rise in the refrigerator for three hours. When I took it out, it was almost double. At this point I boiled 1–2 cups of water in the microwave, then put the dough in the microwave with the hot water. The bread was raised double in less than an hour.

Knead down, then pinch off small to medium-sized of dough and put on greased pan. For every ball you roll, roll a second smaller one and set it on top of the first roll. Press down lightly with the knuckle of your index finger to meld the two rolls. Let rise for 30 minutes. Now bake at 375 for 20–25 minutes.

Pulled Pork Sandwiches, Slaw, and Chocolate Cake

Pulled pork sandwiches, slaw, and chocolate cake—sound good to you?

It ought to. But it’s not just good food—it’s visionary.

Don’t scoff. Every few months, I embark on a new project to improve my life, to move me toward the vision of the person I really want to be. And things like pulled pork sandwiches, slaw, and chocolate cake are part of that vision.

See, a lot of these projects have to do with my management of our home. Actively working to improve my cooking and baking skills is just the latest project. One year ago, I started making monthly menus, because I was tired of standing in my kitchen after work every night, staring blankly around a kitchen full of food and coming up with no ideas on what to make for supper. And two years ago, I started keeping a budget, tracking all my spending, paying down debt, and living more frugally.

Oh, and then there’s the hospitality project. I guess it’s not exactly a project, but “hospitality” is part of my vision. I want to be someone who entertains regularly. I want friends to come over looking forward to tasty, home-cooked meals. Which I will have made from good, affordable ingredients purchased within a budget, planned carefully as part of an organized menu that makes everyone happy and is easy to follow.

All these projects—these efforts to fulfill my vision—have become ongoing habits, and they naturally intersect. So when I read through the weekly grocery sale papers I get by email (frugality), I look for sale items I can build into my pre-planned menu (menu organization) that will challenge or strengthen my cooking skills (kitchen savvy) and enable me to entertain guests properly (hospitality).

Several weeks ago, I decided it was time to invite to dinner some friends we haven’t had over in more than a year. I contacted the wife and settled on a date. Then I started to plan a menu, even though the date was a few weeks ahead.

Here were some of my considerations:

  • Our friends have five people in their family. We have four. What could I make to serve nine people easily?
  • What was on sale that I could buy ahead in order to make an affordable meal?
  • What menu would both challenge and strengthen my cooking skills?

I made a list of a number of possible main dishes. Then I checked that week’s sale ad and found that SuperSaver had pork butt roasts on sale. I would have to buy two roasts to get the advertised special, but if it turned out to be too much food for our guests, cooked pork freezes and reheats easily. I settled on pulled pork sandwiches, and because I knew my friend makes most of her own bread, I asked if she could bring homemade sandwich rolls.

Next, flipping through my Joy of Cooking, I found a simple recipe for hot apple slaw. I had a surplus of apples in my basement, so I wouldn’t have to buy any apples—just cabbage, which is inexpensive. The recipe called for cider vinegar, and I had only rice vinegar on hand, but I did some research on substitutions for cider vinegar and decided I could use the rice vinegar and add a splash of apple juice.

Next, I made a short list of simple desserts for which I had ingredients on hand and asked Chris to pick from the list. He picked chocolate cake, so I planned to make a sour cream fudge cake with homemade chocolate icing.

Here was the final menu:

  • Pulled pork sandwiches served with BBQ sauce
  • Homemade sandwich rolls (brought by my friend)
  • Hot apple slaw
  • Scalloped potatoes (brought by my friend)
  • Sour cream fudge cake with chocolate icing (all made from scratch)

And here’s what I had to do for the meal:

Pulled Pork

I did not have experience slow cooking two large pork roasts, although I’ve done one before. I had to borrow my mother-in-law’s oblong roasting oven and stack the roasts side by side.

First, I had to finish defrosting the roasts and used my microwave’s Defrost setting to do so. Then I rubbed each roast with salt, pepper, and garlic powder and stood them in the roasting oven. I did not add any water. I cooked the roasts at 350 degrees for two hours, then turned the oven down to 250 and cooked them seven hours long. At 5:45 I moved the roast to a large serving bowl and shredded it with a fork. Dish done!

Hot Apple Slaw

This was a brand-new dish for me, and I have never cooked with cabbage—or used caraway seeds, which I had in my cabinet although I’d never used them. The recipe called for frying bacon in a skillet and then using the hot fat for the rest of the slaw. Instead, I melted bacon fat I keep on hand, but you could skip the bacon fat altogether and use oil. Anyway, I melted the bacon fat and then added three tablespoons of rice vinegar, a splash of apple juice, two tablespoons of water, one tablespoon of brown sugar, and one teaspoon of lightly crushed caraway seeds. (I put the seeds in a plastic bag and used a meat tenderizer mallet to beat them, a process that didn’t pulverize them but did release their aroma.)  When this mixture came to a boil, I added three cups of finely chopped red cabbage (turned out to be easy to chop) and one finely chopped peeled apple. I combined all ingredients and then cooked the mixture for two more minutes. Next I transferred the slaw to a serving dish and garnished it with real bacon pieces. Dish done!

Sour Cream Fudge Cake with Chocolate Icing (all made from scratch)

This cake was easy to make, but to make it really work I had to sift all the dry ingredients using the old sifter my mother-in-law gave me, and I had to save one fourth a cup of coffee from my breakfast that morning to add as a liquid ingredient. The cake took only 25 minutes to bake perfectly—good height, good texture, nice and moist. Dish done!

The biggest challenge I had with this cake was selecting an icing. I don’t much enjoy thick frostings. I wanted something chocolate. I didn’t want anything super sweet. I wanted something easy. I wanted an icing that would keep frozen so I could make a large batch and reuse it later for another dessert. And I wanted something that didn’t call for any ingredients or tools I didn’t have, which ruled out, among others, recipes requiring a double boiler or milk chocolate.

After evaluating all the frostings and icings in my Joy of Cooking, I selected a Chocolate Glaze that turned out to be a nice, dark chocolate icing: not too thick, not too thin, not too sweet, and easy to make. Plus, any unused glaze can be frozen for up to six months. I’m telling you, I am never going to buy store-bought frosting again.

So my family and our friends ate all this food, and we had multiple bags of pork left over.

But does it really matter? Am I crazy for putting so much thought into a single meal?

I used to think that spending a lot of time planning a meal was pointless. I mean, you eat it, and then it’s gone. And you still have the dirty dishes to do. But here’s the truth: I enjoyed every minute of the planning process, I enjoyed cooking, I enjoyed serving our friends, I enjoyed eating my own food, and right now I am enjoying thinking back on the whole thing.

I tested and improved my cooking and baking skills. I had food left over for later. I didn’t waste money on expensive convenience foods I could make myself. I served fresh food instead of processed junk. I gave people I love a good meal.

There was nothing pointless about it.

Pulled pork sandwiches, slaw and chocolate cake really are visionary. You think I’m crazy, you come over and we’ll talk about it over some cake.

Chicken Fricasee

A few months ago, my mother-in-law served her mother’s chicken fricassee recipe at our Friday family dinner, and I was hooked. I think I was pretty giddy. In fact, everyone at the table loved it so much that we ask her to make it every few weeks.

And then, one day, I realized—it was the closest thing to my beloved Southwest Baptist University college cafeteria poppy seed chicken that I’ve ever had. I immediately determined to make it myself, with poppy seeds, to see if I’d found a match for my old favorite cafeteria dish.

This Saturday evening, I got the chance to try.

The original recipe calls for cutting up a whole chicken, but I took a tip from my mother-in-law and used boneless skinless breasts instead, cutting them into serving-sized pieces. I am not a patient woman, and me and chickens have issues. I love them, bless the yummy birds, but they frustrate me.

The recipe is an easy one, calling for using a can of cream of mushroom soup to make gravy instead of using a roux of chicken broth and flour as do some fricassee recipes I’ve seen.

The recipe also called for celery, chopped onion, and pimientos. I didn’t have any celery on hand, so I added a little celery salt. I used a shallot instead of onion, since I love the sweet, mild taste of a shallot. Also, I used poppy seeds for interest instead of pimiento. (Who keeps pimientos on hand, anyway? Although I’ve had pimientos in my mother-in-law’s ham stromboli. Mmm … maybe I should get some.)

I also added a small amount of skim milk to the sauce before baking the chicken because the mixture didn’t look liquid-y enough to me, and I wanted a lot of gravy at the end of the cooking process. The addition of milk turned out to work well for my purposes.

For this recipe, you brown chicken pieces in seasoned flour, then bake them in a soup-based sauce for a long time—1 ½ to 2 hours—at low heat (300 degrees). I cooked the dish for the minimum suggested hour and a half.

When the timer dinged and I pulled the baking dish out of the oven, then pulled off the aluminum foil I used to cover it, the chicken was fall-apart tender, swimming in chicken flavored gravy, and peppered here and there with poppy seeds. Already getting happy with anticipation—yes, we’re eating chicken fricassee!—I served it with fluffy white rice and homemade oatmeal dinner rolls.

Chris pointed out to me that his friend whom we had over for dinner ate six pieces of chicken and finally just spooned gravy into his plate to eat it solo. I think that counts as a success, yes?

Furthermore, ladies and gentlemen, I can tell you that I have found my throwback poppy seed chicken. This chicken fricassee is as good as Mellers Cafeteria’s poppy seed chicken. And because it’s not made in mass quantities using unknown ingredients for hundreds of college students—and because I get to eat it now, whenever I want, not just every eight weeks or so when the cafeteria director sees fit to serve it—and because it’s not just a memory anymore—it’s better than Mellers’ poppy seed chicken.

I am satisfied.

Below is the recipe. If any of you are Southwest Baptist University alumni who ate and enjoyed Mellers Cafeteria poppy seed chicken back in the 1990s and early 2000s, you may want to try this.

Chicken Fricasee

From Grandma Kathy Nichols and “Granny D” Dorothy Weber

Revised by Sarah Nichols

4 lbs cut-up chicken or 4-6 boneless skinless chicken breasts

¼ cup chopped celery (I used a dash of celery salt)

¼ cup chopped onion (I used 1 shallot)

1 can cream of mushroom soup

¾ cup water (I also added about ¼ cup skim milk in order to produce more gravy)

Optional: 2 pimientos, chopped

Optional: poppy seed, about 3–4 dashes

  1. Cut chicken in serving pieces and rub pieces with seasoned flour (2/3 cup flour, 1 tsp salt, pepper). I put the seasoned flour in a small bowl and turned the breasts in the flour to coat.
  2. Brown in hot fat or oil in a pan big enough to hold all the chicken. I used olive oil. If you have a Dutch oven that can go both on the range and in the oven, use it. I don’t, so I used a sauté pan with a lid. This step took me approximately 10–12 minutes.
  3. Remove chicken. Cook celery and onion (or shallot) in fat/oil until golden.
  4. If you are using a Dutch oven, drain off excess fat.  Add pimientos, soup, and water and Stir lightly to blend. Add chicken.  If you are using a sauté pan for the browning step followed by a baking dish for the baking step, place the chicken in your baking dish, then add the browned celery and onions, soup, water and milk, and pimientos or poppy seeds.
  5. Cover the dish and bake in a preheated oven (300 degrees) until tender, about 1 ½–2 hours. Arrange on platter surrounding mound of hot fluffy rice.

Delicious Mashed Apples, aka Homemade Apple Sauce

I have no idea what motivated some cook years and years ago to take perfectly good stewed sliced apples and put extra time and effort into mashing them up and calling them applesauce. Really, homemade apple sauce is just stewed apples with another name. But someone somewhere decided that mashing those stewed apples was an excellent idea. And, over the years, I’ve discovered that a number of women I know have, unlike me, made homemade apple sauce at one time or another.

They obviously saw the attraction. I never did, until recently. The apple sauce at the store was good enough for me. But over recent weeks, I began to think I might try taking stewed apples to another level and make my very own apple sauce.

It sounds so rustic, so authentic. “Oh, my dear, you buy your apple sauce at the store? Not me, oh no. I make my own apple sauce—from real apples that I picked in an orchard. Yes, this apple sauce is the real thing.”

Of course, as anyone who has made homemade apple sauce should know, store-bought apple sauce and homemade apple sauce are two different foods, really. I imagine that you can get your homemade apple sauce to resemble store-bought apple sauce if you really, really spend time and effort on it. But really—admit it—your average homemade apple sauce is stewed apples that, for whatever reason, possibly boredom, a cook has decided to mash up.

I did it with a potato masher. But let me back up: First I cored and sliced six apples, a mix of Jonathan, Honeycrisp, and Empire. I dumped them in a large skillet and added a ½ cup of apple juice, some lemon juice, and cinnamon. Then I let them simmer over low heat (stirring often) for approximately 20 minutes, mixed in ½ cup Splenda and ½ tsp. nutmeg, and removed the apples from the heat. Then I mashed them up.

I don’t why I needed to mash them up. As I’ve said, I don’t know why anyone originally thought that mashing stewed apples would improve on the dish. Even if you were toothless, it wouldn’t be easier to eat mashed apples than regular stewed apples. But mash them I did, because I didn’t want to be left out of the Homemade Apple Sauce Club.

The resulting mashed apples—not apple sauce, that’s the stuff in the jar that I bought at Walmart—were delicious, I have to admit. Last night I served them warm, as a side dish to accompany French bread pizza. Tonight we are going to eat more of the mashed apples, chilled, with chicken fillet sandwiches.

Anyway, now I can say I’ve done it. I have made mashed apples—okay, apple sauce, to those of you who think it should be called that. And I am now rustic and authentic and all that enviable stuff.

Also, I am now going to find some poor person who has not made mashed-up homemade apple sauce before and make her feel that she is missing out. She really is, poor thing.

Easy Chicken Enchiladas for Those of Us Who Don’t Like Mexican Food

Back when I was a young teen, I refused to eat anything that sounded even remotely Mexican. Then my granny served some chicken enchiladas that I was required to try out of politeness—and I liked them.

Then again, I may not have been especially polite. It’s possible the conversation went something like this:

“I don’t like Mexican food.”

“But this isn’t like most Mexican food.”

“Still, I don’t like enchiladas.”

“You haven’t even tried them.”

“Why should I try something I know I don’t like?”

“You’ll eat the enchiladas if you want dessert!”

“Okay, okay, I’ll taste the enchilada.”

I hope the conversation didn’t go this way. But I’m sure I was thinking all of my side of the above conversation. And, today, I have versions of this conversation at every meal with my four-year-old.

Anyway, these enchiladas weren’t necessarily real Mexican enchiladas, but they involved tortillas and chicken and green chiles and onion and sour cream, and to my surprise, I liked them. And I stopped telling everyone that I hated all Mexican food.

This week I decided it was time to try making Granny’s chicken enchiladas myself, for my family, my parents-in-laws, and my brother-in-law at our regular Tuesday night dinner. I’d never tried to make the dish, and the recipe looked simple. And, even though I often don’t like sour cream, I remembered liking this dish a lot. Plus, I had a thrifty scheme to bake a chicken one night for dinner and use the leftover breast meat for chicken enchiladas the next night. Who doesn’t get a kick out of making really good use of leftovers?

To make the enchiladas, I first preheated the oven to 350 degrees and sprayed a large baking pan with canola oil. Next I shredded the chicken breast meat, chopped a single green onion, and then mixed the green onion and a small can of green chiles into the chicken. Then I thoroughly mixed one can of reduced sodium cream of chicken soup and eight ounces of light sour cream. I added three soup spoons full of the soup mixture to the chicken and mixed it together to bind the onion and chiles to the chicken. Next I divided the chicken mixture evenly into eight tortillas. I rolled up each tortilla and placed them, seam side down, into the baking dish. Then I poured the rest of the soup mixture over the tortillas and, finally, sprinkled a small amount of cheese (shredded fiesta blend) over the top to add a little color and texture. I put the dish in the oven and baked it for exactly 45 minutes. I served them with medium salsa on the side, along with a lettuce salad.

My chicken enchiladas turned out tasting exactly as I remember Granny’s enchiladas tasting years ago. Delicious! I noticed, pleased, that my father-in-law ate two of them, and my husband ate two and a half. I don’t like to encourage overeating, but I have to admit I liked to see the enchiladas disappearing.

Oh, and the way I figured it, everyone who ate one enchilada or two definitely earned their dessert. Everyone, that is, except my four-year-old, Jonah, who did not try an enchilada at all. Like a teenager I once knew, the kid doesn’t like Mexican food, doesn’t eat enchiladas, and doesn’t want to try anything he knows he won’t like.

The Michelangelo of Rolls

Before starting to assemble and bake my first apple pandowdy this past Saturday, I thought, Wouldn’t it be fun to have homemade rolls with dinner?

Only, I’d never made my own rolls before.

I wasn’t sure where to start. I bought some quick-rise yeast recently, but I didn’t have a favorite recipe of my own, or even one I was sure I could do. Then I remembered that Angela Zeller, a student who worked in an office with me several years ago, was proud of her family’s favorite roll recipes and had photocopied a page from an old Home Economics Teachers’ Cookbook for me. On it I found a recipe titled “One-Hour Rolls.”

That’s the recipe for me, I thought.

Here is the recipe:

One-Hour Rolls

2 pkgs dry yeast

1 ½ cup lukewarm buttermilk

¼ cup sugar

½ c. melted shortening

1 tsp salt
4 ½ cups sifted flour
½ tsp baking soda
 
Dissolve yeast in ¼ cup warm water.

Combine buttermilk, sugar, shortening and salt in bowl. Stir in yeast, mixing well.

Sift in flour and soda, mixing well.

Let stand for 10 minutes.

Shape into rolls and place in greased baking dishes.

Let rise for 30 minutes.

Bake at 400 degrees for 15–20 min until brown.

As I set out everything I would need to make the rolls, I realized the recipe said nothing about what type of dish to bake the rolls in. I decided to use a baking dish and bake the rolls with their sides touching, as pull-apart rolls. But I didn’t know what size to use.

First I pulled out a 8-inch round dish, but it looked too small. Next I set out an 8×8 square dish, but it looked too small too. So I set out a 8×11-inch dish and sprayed it with canola oil, then set to work making my dough.

When I had the dough ready, I began rolling it gently into balls and dropping them in the baking pan. After one row of rolls was in the dish, I got a feeling this dish wasn’t going to be big enough either. So I set it aside, pulled out my largest cake pan, and put the rolls into it instead. To my surprise, in a few minutes, I had filled the big cake pan with rolls and was filling the previous dish too. I guess with most older recipes, you were cooking for a crowd—not a family of four, including one child who gags on rolls because they might be gross.

I wondered if the rolls would rise much, since the recipe calls for letting them rise for just 30 minutes. But, they did rise, albeit not to twice their original size. And it was a good thing I hadn’t crammed them all into one baking dish.

In just 20 minutes at 400, the rolls were done—golden brown and smelling delicious.

The finished rolls tasted slightly biscuit-y, because they aren’t allowed to rise long and contain buttermilk. But they are definitely real rolls. They remind me of rolls I’ve had at many little Baptist church potluck dinners over the years.

Is it wrong that I feel so proud of myself? I mean, I made rolls! I rather feel that now, I am one with my ancestors, with my mother’s mother’s mother’s mother and my father’s mother’s mother’s mother … Are they looking down on me now, pleased about the baking talents of this female descendent of their line?

Oh, to be honest, I suppose that if they do see me, they’re probably laughing—because they could have made rolls in their sleep. While churning butter, trimming the kerosene lamp, and the sow out of the kitchen. And here I am, thinking I’m Michelangelo of the kitchen.

I know, I know.

But, hey, I made rolls!

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