Thursday, October 2, 2008

Mom's Best Recipe Ever

Having talked about Hungarian curses, I feel like I must vindicate my mom. Growing up, I never heard of Hungarian curses, or superstitions, nor did she ever have a recipe she wouldn't share. She actually DOES write down recipes, but often she does them in short hand when she gives them to me, because she KNOWS when I see butter and sugar I will cream it, or that I know how to make a roux. She was and remains a pretty modern person. As my kids would say; Grandma is so KOOL! So when I was sitting at a family gathering, and the whole curse thing came up, I ran into my mom and said "Mom, did you ever hear about this Hungarian curse thing where you put people's names in the freezer?" She looked at me like I had grown two heads. SHE never promoted that stuff. Which was probably why I found it so fascinating. I also have two "married in's" aunts. Aunt Bunny and Aunt Ro. They are sisters. One married my mom's cousin, and at the wedding my mom's brother met Aunt Bunny and they eventually got married. These are the aunts that can still speak Hungarian, and do so frequently when they don't want someone else to know what they are saying. I grew up calling their mom Grandma, so you can guess how close our families were. I love these two aunts to death, but boy, you do NOT want to piss them off.

My mom has her own foibles, to be sure. They aren't really faults, more like quirks. Such as cleaning. When I lived in Japan the exchange rate between the dollar and the yen was great, and very much in our favor. As you can tell from that statement, it was a VERY long time ago. Most of the families had a Japanese cleaning lady come in once a week. I was working full-time, so I got one too. The first woman did not clean like my mom. There was still dirt in the corners, and the glass just didn't sparkle like my mom's house. In fact nothing was as clean as my mom's house. I decided to try another one. I used one that other people had raved about. She STILL didn't clean as good as my mom. Finally I realized. NO ONE could clean as good as my mom, cause she was nearly neurotic when it came to cleaning. Well, that realization was so liberating. From that point on I realized that if a professional cleaning person couldn't clean as well as my mom, then I didn't have to either. That's my story and I am sticking to it.

My kids can tell you that grandma carries the world in her purse. Not only could my mom probably pull all of the ingredients to make a meal out of her purse, sometimes I swear she could even pull out the microwave to cook it in. When my oldest was about two or three years old, she would pick up my mom's purse and proclaim "HEBBY!" To her, the word "heavy" was made for grandma's purse.

My mom also has the gift of hospitality. She can make ANYONE feel welcome. And when you go over to her house for She serves you on fine China, and it's usually a 5 course meal. At least. Dessert is generally three items or more. A restaurant couldn't be better. I mean that literally. She has confided in me that if it wasn't for the service, she would prefer to eat at either her house or my house more than any restaurant. And I second that motion. I was so fortunate to have a mother who cooked. And I don't mean "fixed". We grew up without considering Hamburger Helper as a meal. That was stuff other moms who didn't know how to cook made.

And now, because my mom is as generous as she is beautiful inside and out, I will share with you her BEST dessert recipe ever. She said her mom made this recipe, so I have no idea where it came from originally. I think it's pretty much our signature recipe. No one I've ever met beyond my family makes this, and every time I bring it somewhere, it gets rave reviews. The amazing thing is that it's EASY. I mix it in one larger sauce pan, and cook it in a 9"x 13", so only one dirty pan if you bake it in a "servable" dish. I usually use my smoky glass baking dish. You probably have all of the ingredients in your cupboard. Really.

Oatmeal Fruit Squares
1 cup butter, melted
1 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cups oatmeal ( I use whatever I have on hand; any kind works)
1 can of cherry pie filling, or whatever flavor you like

In a large sauce pan, melt 1 cup of butter. Remove from heat. Add 1 cup of brown sugar. Add flour, salt, and baking soda. The original recipe says to sift, but I never do. I just make sure not to pack it when I measure. Mix well. Add 1 1/2 cups of oatmeal. I have used quick oats, full cook oats, it all works. Mix again.
Reserve 3 Tablespoons of this mixture. Press the remaining mixture into a 9" x 13" pan. Top with a can of pie filing.
I must say at this step I sprinkle a few frozen blueberries on top of the pie filling. I pick them locally, and freeze them. don't put any sugar on them, just freeze them plain. This really does add to the recipe, but isn't necessary. In fact, I made it without for years. I have tried to put fresh raspberries from my patch on it, but it's just not the same, and that can get a bit mushy.
Sprinkle reserved 3 Tablespoons of mixture as a crumbled topping. Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees F.

Now for one of my mom's spiffy tricks. If you are taking this to a function, cut it into serving-sized pieces and put each piece in a cupcake paper on a platter. It makes it very easy for people to pick up, and more importantly, you can sneak a piece out and eat it before you go and no one knows.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Apple Season!

I go to Hillside Orchard about once a week starting the middle of July. That's when blueberries are in season, and I can pick them myself. I have been going to Hillside for about nine or ten years now, and my kids grew up picking blueberries in that patch. It's a really great family owned and operated produce stand. After blueberries comes peach season. They actually know me as "The Peach Lady" because I buy so many peaches. I can make so many things with peaches, but my favorite is just a raw peach, pealed and popped into your mouth. Red Haven peaches are probably my favorite. And after peach season comes apples. I love apples during apple season. In fact, it's the only time of year I eat apples, for the most part. I just hate a mealy apple, and love the crunch of a fresh Ohio apple. Last year at Thanksgiving with my dad's side of the family, I told my brother, Bruce, that I should have brought him a bag of Ohio apples, and he looked at me and said "yeah, you should have!". So I brought him a bag for Christmas! They close the day before Christmas at Hillside, and up until then you can still get those amazing apples. When I invested in a dehydrator this year, I read that apples are one of the best things to dry, so I was pretty geeked to try dehydrating them. I bought some of the first apples available at Hillside, and we put them on the nifty kitchen tool we have that peels, cores, and slices apples all at once. It goes so fast! I put the apples in citric acid to prevent discoloration. I sprinkled some with sugar and cinnamon, some with just cinnamon, and others were left plain. After drying I put them in a container on the counter and they were GONE in a week. Wow. Everyone loved them. So when my favorite eating apple came in season Mackintoshes, I bought two bags. The DH (dear husband) ran them through the peeler, and we put them in the dehydrator. Because no one cared if they were dark or light in color, I skipped the citric acid this time. The sugar didn't seem to make much difference, so I skipped that too. The cinnamon, however, was really a flavorful addition, so I sprinkled that on half of the apples. A gardening friend told me she left the peels on hers, so I tried that as well. I think in the future I will just peel them, as the kids preferred them that way. The dehydrator is really cool; it holds nine shelves, and I used every shelf for the apples. Skipping the citric acid was smart, these apples were much sweater than the first batch and to tell the truth, they didn't look any different to me.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Hungarian Curse, or Why you don't get my recipe for 100 Stuffed Cabbages

I think every Hungarian worth her salt knows how to make stuffed cabbage. If there was a national dish, I think that would be it. I remember eating stuffed cabbage at about every important gathering as a child. No wedding was complete without stuffed cabbage; no baby shower, no baptism, and no funeral. If we went to an important function anywhere they didn’t have stuffed cabbage, it was from one of my family’s friends who weren’t Hungarian. Or at least that’s the way I remember it. Little kids are impressionable that way.

I was asked to be in a second wedding for a good friend. They asked that you bring a dish, and no gifts, so of course I knew exactly what to make. I made approximately 100 stuffed cabbages. Not long after that, I was asked to make stuffed cabbage for a large birthday party. I made approximately 100 stuffed cabbages . That time I wrote down everything, and kept track of exactly how much of everything I needed. Of course very few people actually need 100 stuffed cabbages on a daily basis, and when I make it for my family I make less than that, but how unique is a recipe for 100 of anything? I used to joke with my best friend that when I died, I would leave her the recipe for 100 stuffed cabbages. I was intending to share that recipe, but I think my Hungarian ancestors must have rolled in their graves at my divulging such an important tradition, because no matter how hard I look, I can’t find that recipe. I gave a copy to my mom and SHE can’t even find it.

That reminds me of my Aunt Ro’s story about a cousin who did something to piss her off, and she gave a Hungarian curse that amounted to she would never, EVER make him stuffed cabbage! Now, that’s a SERIOUS business in my family. She later said that she had cursed herself with that one, because she had a whole big pot full of stuffed cabbage for a baby shower or wedding shower, or some other equivalent for this cousin, and she tripped coming down the steps and the stuffed cabbage all ended up on the floor. stuffed cabbage for them. And my other aunts were all nodding. Even the modern-minded ones. EVEN my Aunt Marie, who’s a nun! I was like no way, Aunt Marie, you believe in that Hungarian curse stuff? And she said “you bet I do”. Then she told me how she had a landlord that was giving her problems, and she put his name in the freezer. I was like ‘huh’??? Oh yes. She wrote his name on a piece of paper, put it in a jar, and put it in the freezer. Well, if you knew my Aunt Marie you would never cross her in the first place. I mean, she’s a nun, she has God on her side, right? AND she’s just this five foot ball of energy that no one can say “no” to. So the fact that this guy pissed off my Aunt Marie was bad enough for him. Then she even put his name in the FREEZER! I don’t know what happened to that guy, but I am sure it wasn’t pretty.

So...I wanted to share my recipe, and I think it was just not going to happen. So, instead, you will see some nice pictures of my stuffed cabbage made for my family. And you will pray you don’t piss off any Hungarian aunts.
Late September 08 008
This blue roasting pan gets used at Thanksgiving for the turkey, and for whenever I make stuffed cabbage. This is about how much you get when you use one head of cabbage. Don't these look really cool all in the pan like this? The sauce goes over top. I like to make this at the end of the summer. It's cool enough that you don't mind heating up your kitchen a little when you use the oven, and you still have all of the wonderful ingredients to pull out of the garden to make it fresh. I use celery, peppers, parsley, garlic and tomatoes for the sauce.
Late September 08 011

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Hungarian Eggplant Parmesan

So what is Hungarian Eggplant Parmesan you ask? It's just eggplant parmesan made by a Hungarian, which means there is no real recipe, you just 'put it together'. I suppose I need to explain that to you non-Hungarians out there. Whenever I ask my mom or my aunts how they make something, they kind of give me a blank stare that says 'what do you mean you need a RECIPE? I just make it!' We tend to just 'know' how to make stuff. I learned to make stuffed cabbage by making it with my mom. I would watch her with fascination as she turned that lump of meat and a cabbage leaf into some wondrous little bundle, then snugged it in the pan with all of his little cabbage roll buddies. And when I asked to try it, she didn't 'shoo me off to play and get out of her hair, even though she knew it would now take her two times longer to finish because I was going to get my hands in the mix. Nope, she patiently showed me how to cut the rib off of the back of the cabbage leaf so it would roll nicely, then how too much meat would make too big of a roll, so you had to hold back a bit. Then she rolled it and tucked in the ends. She suffered through me still putting in too much meat, and tucking in my ends so the leaf split. She just unwrapped it and let me try again. My mom was so patient. I still don't know how she did that. She taught me so many things with that ultimate patience. She even taught my kids how to cut up veggies for salad with a knife when I was too scared to let them near anything that sharp or pointy. Now they are both pretty darn good at making salad. My mom rocks.

So here is my Hungarian eggplant Parmesan. Take about 4 eggplant; the long skinny ones. I grow those because I think I get more production from either 'Little Fingers' or 'Ichiban'. The long, skinny variety seems to grow faster and produce more than the conventional eggplant. I just cut them diagonally to get more surface space and thus, larger slices than if I cut them across.
Mid September 023
I salt them and put them in a colander to drain. Dip in flour, then egg wash, then seasoned breadcrumbs. Fry until brown on both sides. Coat the bottom of a pan with your favorite red sauce . Layer a row of the fried eggplant, then put on more sauce, parmesan, then mozzarella or provolone, more eggplant, more sauce, more parmesan, and more mozzarella. Then send your husband out to the garden for more eggplant because you don't have enough to do three whole layers. Take picture while hub is in the garden.
Mid September 024
Finish and bake at 325 degrees for about 45 minutes.
Mid September 029

Fall is on it's way

It feels like an early fall, so I am rushing trying to put up what I can before it turns really cold. This is the first year for these raspberries, and I didn't think they would produce very much, but they have. It was a nice surprise.
Early September 008
Mid September 002
The grapes are ready too. My first batch of jelly was white grape/raspberry. It turned out to be a nice combination.
Mid September 008
I made juice from the concord grapes today. I should have enough for at least three batches of grape jelly. I am trying the universal pectin, and learning how to use it has been trial and error. One batch of jelly came out a syrup consistency, but since we sometimes melt the jelly anyway to put on pancakes, I am just going to label it syrup. Because I am making low-sugar versions, the jelly isn't crystal clear like you see in the stores. I would rather have a more fruitful jelly and settle for the more opaque jelly. It seems the more sugar you add, the less flavor there is. This jelly is pure flavor.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Preserving the Bounty

Early September 076
Someone on put this as the title for a thread and I just loved the way it explains it all. I'm knee deep in every kind of preserving this time of year. Today I canned pickled peppers. I wasn't at all thrilled with the smell of the brine. I grimaced when I added the 'called for' prepared horseradish, and I think I should have gone with my instincts and omitted it. It's only six pints though. I had hoped to surprise my mom's husband at Christmas with some of these pickled peppers, as one year my mom asked me to make some for him, and I remembered.

We picked 3-4 quart buckets of Niagara grapes today. They are washed and I will pick them off the stems while I watch a movie with the family tonight. I am hoping to make some more white grape jelly from the juice.
Early September 079