Remembering Andy Rooney and Favorite Autumn Dishes

November 18, 2011 at 6:06 pm Leave a comment

It’s difficult, with the gift of glimmering fall days stretching well into November this year, to get seriously grumpy about all those things, large and small, that drive a person crazy if you let ’em.  

Things like people being too lazy to push their shopping carts into the cart corral or drivers speeding across parking lots – diagonally while dialing their cell phones; like oblivious patrons using gross profanity in a jam-packed Taco Bell or screeching little girls who issue a piercing scream every twelve seconds during their entire recess period – God forbid they should ever be in actual distress and require assistance; like the business owner who can’t wait to star in his own television commercials, heedless of the wincing pain his amateur performance causes viewers.

Well; it’s not that difficult to get grumpy, I guess.  But then I have always identified in certain respects with the nation’s Curmudgeon Laureate, the late Andy Rooney, and his desire to comment on those elements of existence that drove him mad with frustration, or even those that simply rankled a bit.  I respected his admission of liberal bias and chuckled over some of his verbal dissections of life’s more trivial irritations. 

But I also worried about him.  In his eighties, Andy Rooney publicly expressed a bitterness about death that, although understandable in light of his professed atheism, was troubling in someone of his age.  I saw in him a man who clung to life on earth as one who is certain that letting loose his grasp on the rope will plunge him in dark nothingness, and it made me sad.  Remembering my own early decades of angry disdain for religion, I ached for him, helplessly.  One of the not-so-small frustrations. 

As Thanksgiving 2011 approaches, I have a stronger sense of purpose than I ever thought possible, and can name at least as many earthly delights as I can examples of the deplorable.  This sense of well-being and confidence is rooted in the firm and fertile ground of faith; I have the blessed reassurance that, if I got hit by a truck tomorrow, I would not have been cheated out of anything, but rather ushered into a glorious new realm of perfected existence – according to God’s timing, if not my own.  Such a simple concept:  ungraspable by ego-driven human logic, yet knowable by the moved heart and essential to one’s peace and the ability to cope with the bad stuff. 

Today, I can virtually hear the holiday season clambering up my front steps, and what a wealth of joy-inspiring opportunities it tows along behind it.  With special occasions opening the door for giving Special Thanks, socializing, and sharing good food and good cheer, I get more than a little bit excited over the chance to create memorable experiences for my guests and family, and to share the same with fellow foodies. 

I’ve been inspired most recently by the discovery of a wonderful recipe for Squash and Apple Casserole adapted from Amy Traverso’s The Apple Lover’s Cookbook; a general introduction to the spicy, Tex-Mex dish called Carne Guisada, constructed from several basic formulas found online; and a lovely idea incorporating two of my favorite flavors, regardless of the season, Pumpkin Gingerbread, from the award-winning recipe blog,

I’ve lightened and tweaked and added and subtracted to and from the above, but kudos  to the clever cooks who sparked my interest.  Now, I think I’ll immerse myself in cooking and baking, and let somebody else mutter and grouse about the many challenges to cheerfulness that lay in wait “out there.”  At least until I emerge, groundhog like, from my kitchen cave in January, ready to step back into Any Rooney’s shadow.

This squash and apple gratin dish was meant to be layered and finished off under the broiler, but I like the idea of mixing the ingredients together and simply popping the crumb-topped casserole back into the oven to heat through.  I also substituted for the rosemary and heavy cream, and used less pepper and only one-quarter the amount of butter called for.  When I saw the richness that oozed out of the Gruyère cheese after baking, I was glad for that decision.  

2 TB evaporated milk                         3 TB chicken broth

1 med butternut squash                       4 oz. Gruyère cheese

1 tsp salt                                              ½ tsp black pepper

1 TB butter, divided                           1 med yellow onion   

1 TB finely minced parsley                 2 med Honeycrisp apples

1-1/4 C wheat panko crumbs              1 clove garlic

1/8 tsp ground nutmeg

In a large bowl, whisk together the milk and broth.  Peel and seed squash and cut into 1/4” crescents enough to fill about two measuring cups.  Coarse-grate cheese.  Toss squash, cheese, salt, and pepper with milk mixture and pour into a 9×12” baking dish.  Cover with foil and bake at 350° for 45 minutes.  

Peel and cut onion into small dice.  Spray a medium skillet with cooking spray and set over medium-high heat; melt 1 tsp of butter in pan; add chopped onion.  Cook for eight-ten minutes, stirring occasionally, until golden brown.  Add parsley and apples and cook another eight-to-ten minutes, stirring occasionally.  

Blend apple mixture with baked squash mixture, right in the baking dish.  Mince garlic.  Blend 2 tsp butter with the panko crumbs, garlic, and nutmeg. (If using a blender, pulse until crumbs are coarse.)  Spread crumbs over casserole and return the pan to the oven for another 15-20 minutes. 

My husband and I love carne asada, the seasoned, grilled skirt steak our neighbors introduced us to a few summers ago, but I had never heard of carne guisada (basically, stewed beef) until I went hunting for something different to do with a package of nice, lean beef stew chunks.  We put away a full pound of meat between the two of us, so I’m betting you’ll have requests for seconds of this quick-to-assemble, slow-to-simmer, tummy-warming treat.   

2 lbs boneless beef chuck in 1-1/2” cubes       2 cups beef stock
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced                 3/4 tsp salt
1 onion, peeled and minced                            2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoons cumin                                           2 jalapeno peppers, roasted                
2 C canned, crushed tomatoes                        Mexican rice*

Spray a large (3-4 quart) stockpot lightly with cooking oil spray and place over medium high heat; add beef and saute until lightly browned on all sides.  Mince the peppers and add to the pot along with all remaining ingredients.  Stir well to combine.  Cover and simmer for 1-1/2 to 2 hours, or until the meat is tender and the liquid thickens to a rich sauce.  I served my stew over rice studded with a few corn kernels and black beans, with a side of sautéed beet greens.  Buena comida, indeed. 

The pumpkin gingerbread fits my definition of culinary genius, but of course I had to fiddle with the white flour/butter aspect of things, and further made it my own by actually adding in some indulgences, as in the last three ingredients listed.  I think you will like. 

1-1/2 C white wheat flour                               ½ tsp salt

1 tsp baking soda                                            2 tsp ground ginger

1-1/2 tsp cinnamon                                          ¼ tsp ground nutmeg

1 C pumpkin puree                                          ½ C canola oil

½ C dark brown sugar                                    ½ C molasses

2 beaten eggs                                                  3 TB water

½ C toasted coconut                                       ½ C mini chocolate chips

½ C chopped pecans 

Coat a 9x5x3” loaf pan with cooking oil spray and preheat oven to 350°.  Whisk together, in a medium-size bowl, the flour, salt, soda, and spices.  In a separate bowl, beat together the pumpkin, oil, sugar, molasses, eggs, and water until well mixed. 

Combine wet and dry ingredients, stirring only until blended; gently fold in coconut, chocolate chips, and pecans.  Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 50-60 minutes, or until the center of the loaf tests done with a wooden toothpick.  Cool in pan for five minutes before loosening from pan sides with a knife run around the sides; invert onto a wire rack to finish cooling.

You could conceivably combine all of the above suggestions into one grand meal, but I’d plan on a good workout the next day to even things out.  After all, you wouldn’t want to start feeling sluggish and curmudgeonly.

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

Three Cheers for the Irish Farmer From Sunset Into Sunrise: Year’s End Thoughts About What Really Matters

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