Food Memory: Sweet Potatoes and Cincinnati Chili

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Even though many people don’t think it is a delicious food at all, the best comfort food for Husband is Cincinnati chili, a meat sauce with twinges of cinnamon and chocolate that is somewhat unremarkable but is quite elevated when layered on a bun with a huge quantity of sharp cheddar cheese on top. We made it even better by frying sweet potatoes in butter, pouring on the chili, and adding the cheese garnish, and it’s now become out go-to dish for friends with a Cincinnati connection or just for ourselves, eaten in a bowl while watching a movie. For such a savory dish, it also satisfies the little sweet tooth quite well.

36. L and G’s Ham and Cheese Sliders

One of the most peaceful things I’ve been doing lately is spending time with friends’ children. Granted, there are bouts of intense wailing and raw need, but when these babies are asleep (which they are, frequently, if not for long enough for their parents to sleep) they really are incredibly calming, all folds and softness and vulnerability. In many social situations, I usually bring crocheting to work on as my friends and I talk for hours, but holding a sleepy little one has become my default as I sit on a comfy couch and unconsciously sway back and forth.

L and G are family friends of Husbands’ (they have a lot of them!) who live on a lake and own a boat. Some of my favorite memories from the summer of 2014 are swimming in the lake, sunning on the boat, and playing darts in their garage. That memory of ease and summer relaxation seems connected to this simple but flavorful tiny-sandwiches recipe.

I had been saving the recipe for these sliders for an outdoor picnic or some other context that needed many tiny sandwiches, but quick hot sandwiches turned out to be perfect while everyone passed the sleepy baby around – I used turkey rather than ham and cut out the mustard, but they turned out browned, savory, and perfect. More an assembly than a real, scary-consequences cooking job, this kind of recipe is perfect for someone who wants to up their sandwich game but isn’t quite trying chicken cordon bleu any time soon. Also, anything I can eat one handed while my other arm falls asleep under a cute baby’s soft head is a winner in my book.IMG_3981

Ham and Cheese Sliders

24 mini sandwich Hawaiian rolls

1 lb ham sliced

1 lb swiss cheese sliced

¾ c melted butter

1 ½ tbsp. dijon mustard

1 ½ tsp worchestershire sauce

1 ½ tbsp poppyseeds

1 tbsp dried minced onion


Mix and pour over sandwiches. Build sandwiches first, and then bake uncovered for 20-25 min.

Food Memory: Authentic Cuisine!

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My friend S insisted on making traditional Chinese food for me, my friend E, and Husband a few years ago, and it was so good – authentic, simple flavors and textures, with hints of vinegar and salt but mostly the taste of the tomato, the egg, the short ribs. It was at a time when I was eating way too much processed food and needed nourishment more than average, but even more so I needed to eat with others, with people I cared about. I thought that S and I had become close in vain, because she moved back to China when each of us finished our graduate school program. However, a year later, she returned from China to take a PhD degree, and I get to see her every month or two – a surprising positive in a world when sometimes you have to think that this might be the last meal you share with a close friend. 

35. Z’s Sugar Cookies

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Cookie dough!

Z and I worked together when I used to work for a summer camp – it was my last year working there and his first, and spending time with him and the other new counselors made me feel young and amused and happy that such jobs existed. There were very difficult things about working at camp that bonded all the workers together, and there were wonderful moments, like when Z’s friend P set up a telescope after the children went to bed and we all took turns looking at the moon.

When I started this blog, I asked for recipes from many friends, and Z surprised me by responding even though we haven’t seen each other in years. He’s making a name for himself as a musician, and it was so nice to hear about his childhood story (quoted here below) about making cookies and growing up.

I’m always looking for excuses to eat cookies, and I took these over to my friends J and E, where we ate them while passing around their little baby. I hope the story warms you the way eating cookies and cooing over a child warmed me up.

Mom’s Sugar Cookies

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. vanilla
2 ¾ cups flour

Directions:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Add baking powder and flour, one cup at a time, mixing after each addition. The dough will be stiff, blend last flour in by hand. Do not chill dough. Divide dough into 2 balls. On a floured surface, roll each ball in a circle approx. 12” in diameter and ⅛” thick. Dip cutters in flour before each use. Bake cookies on ungreased cookie sheet on top rack of oven for 6-7 minutes, or until cookies are lightly browned. (Mom recommends parchment paper on pans)

Icing (not mom’s recipe) made with 4 tsps. milk and 1 cup of powdered sugar.

“Here’s my mom’s sugar cookie recipe. My first memory of this recipe was when I was three or four. I was in the kitchen one day when my mom was about to start making a batch, and I begged her to let me help. I think this experience set my predilection for baking which I retain to this day. I learned how finicky eggs were to crack, how impossible it was to keep flour off of the counter and your clothes, and the difference between measuring cups and measuring spoons. I distinctly recall being unable to wrap my head around the concept of two and two-thirds cups (I was four, after all…). Regardless, I found a great joy in the mess that ensued when one endeavors to bake. I became acquainted with mom’s collection of old cookie cutters passed down from her grandparents. We rolled out the dough on the counter with my mom’s old rolling pin, which bore faint signatures of departed family members, and made great art with our array of cookie cutters: hearts, alligators, wolves, angels, dinosaurs, flags, trees.

“This recipe lives with me still, bearing a heartfull familiarity. I enjoying making them for friends who need a bit of warmth in their lives. After all, as Emma Thompson says in Stranger Than Fiction, “Sometimes, when we loves ourselves in fear and despair, in routine and constancy, in hopelessness and tragedy, we can thank God for Bavarian sugar cookies.” Though this recipe isn’t necessarily Bavarian, the same sentiment applies. Curiously, I’ve found little to no success when I use any sugar cookie recipe other than my mom’s. You stick to what you know, I suppose. Or perhaps certain recipes are meant for certain people. Either way, this recipe is one of my most cherished, and I do hope you enjoy it”(Z’s words).

Do you have a favorite recipe that started you towards knowing how to cook? Feel free to share in the comments, and I’ll give it a shot.

Food Memory: Classy Asian Cuisine

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One of my favorite things about knowing people from all over is that when we happen to be passing through a town or city, I can text someone and ask “where should we eat here?” We were given this Southern-Asian fusion restaurant from Husband’s cousin, and the memory of the surprising foods on the menu (chorizo with rice and greens and a creamy sauce? Okay!) made the experience notable even if it wasn’t just piles and piles of food. I am coming around to eating out less often and in smaller portions – if it’s truly memorable, I don’t mind leaving with no take-out box for later. 🙂

34. J’s Sausage Gravy

I don’t remember when I met Husband’s aunt J – it feels like I’ve always known her. She’s the family member who lives closest to us (though she is moving away soon!) and one of the sassiest, strongest women I’ve ever met. She works a management job, which I have very few female role models who do this; she’s also a blast to hang out with and provided us with a good bit of the furniture in our house. Clearly, a wonderful person to know.

For breakfast last weekend, I whipped up this sausage gravy – I was worried that using coconut milk would make it weird and it sort of did; the mixture was a lot thicker than I expected from my Mom’s gravy as a kid, and the tiny back-of-throat sweetness of the gravy was not normal, but the flavor over all was so good that I devoured those biscuits like they were going out of style. I was never a big gravy girl, always a little picky and dubious about sauces, but I’m coming around to this one, especially when it has so much actual sausage in it and isn’t just a roux made of drippings. I would see this as part of a main course over biscuits or toast, not just a sauce on the side. Kept me full and happy for a whole morning of gardening and cleaning.

J’s Sausage Gravy

 

 

  • 1 lb. spicy pork sausage
  • 2-3 tablespoons flour
  • 2-3 tablespoons butter
  • ½ to 1 cup of milk
  • salt and pepper, cayenne pepper.

 

Brown sausage; when fully cooked add butter and let it melt. Add flour 1 tbsp. at a time until all sausage covered lightly. Slowly add salt, pepper, cayenne, to your liking. Cook over medium-low heat; serve over biscuits/toast; top with your favorite hot sauce.

Food Memory: Foil Campfire Dinners

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Nothing feels quite so “whole” as putting a few chunks of burger meat, a strip of bacon, and a bunch of coarse-chopped veggies in a piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil and cooking them in hot coals by a fire. A little salt and pepper and then just letting everything cook together makes for a meal that is surprisingly harmonious, no matter what you happened to throw into the campfire dinner. It doesn’t hurt that the process of starting a fire, chopping veggies, setting up tents, and hiking around all day usually makes me more hungry than I ever am in regular life, so this food has a super-positive memory palette for me, more from the simplicity of a meal in the woods than from any one fancy ingredient.

33. J’s Chicken Scampi

I didn’t really have a bachelorette party – Husband’s father, brother, and uncle wanted to take him out for a night of go-karting and eating hot wings. So that I’d have something to do, my future mother-in-law, her best friend J, and Husband’s grandmother all took me out for pedicures and a night of chatting and enjoying the beautiful scenery around their home. It wasn’t some kind of rager, but it bonded me to my mother-in-law’s best friend, J. She generously bought the bouquets for my wedding, which were insanely beautiful and somehow all the exact perfect shades for the wood of the barn and the green grass for the outdoor ceremony and the sunset over the mountains. She, like many others I met or got to know better because of marrying Husband, reminded me how honored I was to be joining the family, and how undeserved so much kindness really is.

Her recipe, written in her beautiful script, told me that I could make it ahead of time for an impressive dinner party food – I intend to make this one for a dinner party soon but I also wanted to test it out. I bought some panko breadcrumbs and used lemon juice from a bottle, but the recipe still turned out so flavorful, rich, yet light that I totally understood why it was a favorite for her. The wine and the olive oil combine to make a light sauce that infuses the lemon into the chicken. I made this alongside the one-pan pasta and it makes for a wonderful balance – a lot of veggies and pasta on the one side, a flavorful protein in the other.

I made the chicken in a pyrex dish with a plastic, tight-fitting lid, so I admit to having enjoyed mixing everything up before leaving it to marinade by shaking it a bunch. After that part, the whole thing is really quite marvelously simple. I recommend giving it a quick broil right at the end for browned breadcrumb topping, but make sure you watch it so it doesn’t burn – one or two minutes will do it.

J’s Chicken Scampi

3-4 chicken breasts cut in about 1 inch pieces

1 clove garlic

1 cup olive oil

½ cup white wine

parsley (a dried tablespoon or so)

salt and pepper
Combine this and then squeeze the juice of two lemons and let marinade a couple of hours. Take this mixture and put it in a baking dish and sprinkle the top with breadcrumbs. Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes. Serve over pasta. This is a great dish for company because it can be made ahead of time and is ready to go in the oven!

 

Food Memory: Candied Bacon and Being Bad at Trivia

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The memory of how truly awful me and my friends are at music trivia is nicely overshadowed by the memory that we tried, that same evening, the most decadent food known to man: pecan-candied bacon. The bacon was every combination of bad-for-you that I can think of, and given that I recently read that the most craveable combination is fat+sweet, it makes sense that just looking at this picture makes me hungry. Like food purchased at state fairs, such treats must be a once a year (or once in a lifetime?) kind of experience, or they lose their luster and make us feel terrible, but I’m still a bit in awe of whoever came up with this snack and served it up to us while we listened, mistified, to clips of songs we could not identify at all.

32. C’s Banana Bread

When we were kids, my mom would make banana nut bread that she gave to the neighbors for Christmas. She also made some for us, thankfully, but I remember that while she wouldn’t necessarily stand at the fence and chat for hours with our neighbors, that one time each year she ventured over with foil-wrapped loaves and shared with them. My mother taught me how to have neighbors, which I’m now learning in my own house, in a new city, where that can sometimes be a challenge.

I really don’t know how to make friends with people just because they live next door to me, it turns out. What I do know, however, is that the outside of banana nut bread, when done right, is chewy, not really crunchy or soft but instead almost caramelized. It’s the best part of the bread, though obviously the moist interior is as good or better than any fancy-store muffin or sweet bread you can find.

From my kitchen, I can see my neighbor’s dog tearing around the square of lawn like a banshee. From my kitchen, I can see my other neighbor working on his truck, or another neighbor grilling some dinner. From here, I can take the overly ripe bananas that have somehow survived Husband’s fruit obsession and mash them with other foods, creating the pasty mixture that browns up into that enviable chewy crust. 

This particular recipe isn’t my mother’s; I found one online, substituted pecans for walnuts, and made a brown butter glaze to make sure the top was extra rich. It turned out thick and sturdy, able to hold up in a toaster, and because I had only one banana ready, I added applesauce and so it’s a two-fruit treat.

C’s Banana Bread

2 Bananas, very ripe (or one banana and one little single-serving tub of applesauce)

2 Eggs, large

1 1/3 cups All-purpose flour

1/4 tsp Baking powder

1/2 tsp Baking soda

3/4 tsp Salt, fine grain

2/3 cup Sugar

1/2 cup Pecans

5 1/3 tbsp Butter, unsalted

Combine sugar and butter; cream together. Add the eggs one at a time, and mix the baking powder, baking soda, and flour in a separate bowl. Add slowly while stirring to the butter mixture. Mash bananas and add with the pecans to the mixture; put into a loaf pan and bake at 350 for 50-60 minutes.

 

If you want to brown butter, here’s a technique to use; I added sugar to mine once it was done, to make a glaze, but I just eyeballed it and would suggest you do the same. http://www.thekitchn.com/basic-techniques-how-to-brown-77018