Southern Connections and Northern Casseroles

February 2, 2010 at 11:24 pm Leave a comment

   We recently returned from a five-day trip to Texas, courtesy of a dear friend who gave us the gift of airline passes.  What a joy to see – and gain a new appreciation for – children and grandchildren we hadn’t visited for several years; to spend hours on end chatting, catching up, and stepping into each other’s everyday lives; to take long walks in shirtsleeve weather, and share precious moments with the “little ones at home” before they become “big ones, fully grown.”   

While there, I supplemented those long walks with several YMCA workouts to balance the effects of too much good hospitality and the luncheon specials at Molinas Mexican restaurant.  When we returned home to the shock of wind chill factors and icy sidewalks, easing back into a more intense regular daily exercise routine helped me decompress from the emotional withdrawal pains and sleep-loss fatigue we toted back up north with us along with our carry-on luggage. 

What also helps is immersing myself in winter menu planning, and the comfort of a hearty pot of Gingered Beef with White Beans and Apricots, adapted from the Reader’s Digest Live Longer Cookbook©.  Along with it, a classic Spinach Salad, a loaf of Grapenuts Bread, and a homey dessert of Old Fashioned Tapioca Pudding sprinkled with coarsely chopped pecans and garnished with a few dried cranberries.

My first step is to make a loaf of whole grain quick bread, which complements the stew and the salad beautifully.  I’ve had this recipe in my files for years.  Along the way, it’s been tweaked more often than Joan Rivers’ jowls, but this incarnation is my all-time favorite: 

1 C Grapenuts™ cereal   1 C buttermilk            1 tsp baking soda

1 ultra ripe banana             2 beaten eggs                  1/2 C brown sugar

1 tsp baking powder                        1 C unbleached flour     1/2 C whole-wheat flour

1/2 C dark rye flour                 1/2 C ground flaxseed 

Combine cereal with buttermilk and baking soda and let sit for at least 5 minutes, or up to 15 minutes.  Mix in banana and eggs until well blended, then blend in brown sugar.  In a separate bowl, whisk together baking powder, flour, whole-wheat flour, stone ground dark rye flour, and ground flaxseed.  Fold flour mixture into cereal mixture, just until dry ingredients are completely moistened.  Pour into a well-greased metal loaf pan and bake at 350 for 45 minutes.  Cool on a wire rack and serve with room-temperature butter, into which you have mixed ,greate orange zest.  (A tiny dab of softened butter goes a long way, so you can use less of it.) 

Allow at least two hours from start to serving for the stew

1 C chopped apricots                        3 C boiling water            24 oz beef stew meat

1 tsp olive oil                            1 C chopped onion            6 cloves garlic

1 TB minced ginger root            2 TB tomato paste            1 Tb apricot jam      

2 tsp beef soup base                 3 C white beans            2 generous C cubed potato 

Begin by steeping apricots in boiling water for 30 minutes, then drain and reserve water.  In a large, heavy saucepan over moderate heat brown 1″ cubes of well-trimmed stew meat on all sides in 1 tsp olive oil; remove meat to a bowl and lower heat.  Add chopped yellow onion, minced garlic cloves, and minced, peeled fresh ginger root.  Cook stirring frequently for 5-8 minutes – until onion is transparent.  Stir in apricot steeping liquid, cover, and cook another 10 minutes.  Stir in 2 TB tomato paste, apricot jam (I use All Fruit), and beef base (or 2 cubes bouillon). Open 2 – 14.5 ounce cans (3 cups) of great northern or other white beans and drain off the liquid from the beans into the stew pot.  Cover, bring to a simmer, reduce heat, and cook for 45 minutes.  Add 2 generous cups of cubed white potato, cover, and cook an additional 20 minutes, then add the white beans and heat through, another 10-15 minutes.  

I often use dried beans because they are so much more economical.  However, for certain uses, I want that “pot likker” that comes with the canned version that I can’t seem to duplicate when I re-hydrate the beans myself at home, so I always stock up the pantry – or stack it to the ceiling, more accurately – when the canned beans go on sale. 

The spinach salad is a simple combination of: 

6 C baby spinach leaves            1/2 ripe avocado            2 hard-cooked eggs

2 slices ultra crisp bacon            balsamic salad spritzer 

Toss spinach leaves with peeled, cubed avocado, peeled, cubed eggs, and well-drained crumbled bacon.  Salt and pepper to taste and spritz lightly with salad dressing. 

And for the dessert pudding, I use the easy recipe on the Kraft Minute Tapioca box:

1/3 C sugar                              3 TB tapioca                          3 C milk

1 egg                                        1/4 C broken pecans            2 TB dried cranberries 

Mix sugar with tapioca and milk (I used evaporated, for a rich, creamy result) and well-beaten egg in a medium saucepan and let stand five minutes.  Cook mixture over medium heat until it comes to a full boil, stirring continuously.  Remove from heat, stir in 1 tsp vanilla, pour into 5 or 6 individual ramekins or custard cups, and let cool 20 minutes.  Sprinkle with pecans and cranberries. 

And so we settle back in with our Minnesota family, offering thanks for good food and for good people – both far north and far south – who bless and enrich our lives.

Entry filed under: Musings of a Midwestern Foodie. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , .

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