Friday, January 9, 2015

Who Wants Strudel?

One of the things my children have been wanting to learn is how to make Strudel.  When I lived on the Iron Range of Minnesota, an elderly friend taught me to make it.  I have never found a recipe in any cookbook that was made the same way as it was made up there in the North Country.  My Aunt Betty made delicious Apple Strudel, also, but not much of it got out of her house, with four sons and my uncle who all loved it.  My sons loved strudel so much, they would volunteer to peel the apples if I would make it, and even sometimes requested Apple Strudel instead of a birthday cake.  I remember them coming in from their paper routes at 6:00 in the morning and peeling apples on those days I agreed to make it… before apple peeler/corers were available, or if they were available, they were beyond what we could afford.  So this Christmas, my youngest son and his wife had a strudel lesson on their agenda.  I must say, it was especially fun for me, as all I had to do was sit my behind in a chair and give instructions!  Donavon complained several times about his back aching from standing and kneading the dough (we made two strudels and each needs to be kneaded for 15 or 20 minutes) and he proclaimed a new respect for all the times I made them strudel when they were children!  He had no idea it was so labor-intensive!   Of course, I sat adorned with my martyr’s crown in humble acceptance of his praise.  When it came time to stretch the second strudel, Alyssa pushed him aside and did it herself.   The photo below shows the strudel dough when she had it partially stretched.

Mix in large bowl:
4 cups flour
2 eggs
1 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons oil
2 teaspoons vinegar
1 ¼ cup warm water
I now put the ingredients in a food processor and zap it quickly several times just until the dough forms a ball, but it can be mixed in a bowl by hand, as well.  Do NOT overmix in the food processor, or the dough will break down and will not stretch properly.  Knead on lightly floured board for 15 minutes until dough is no longer sticky and very soft and elastic.   Add as little flour as necessary to keep it from being sticky.  As you knead the dough, it will become less sticky so don’t be tempted to add too much flour.  Put dough in a bowl that has a bit of oil in the bottom.  Cover strudel dough completely with oil.  The oil can be returned to the bottle after you remove the dough the next day.  Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap and set in a warm place overnight, or at least 8 hours, until dough rises and is soft and pliable.  Cover table with a large tablecloth that has been sprinkled with flour.  Lift dough out of oil and let drain over bowl for a moment.  Put dough in center of table.  Begin to carefully pull dough outward from center, and then using the palm of your hand and being careful not to tear the dough, stretch dough out to hang over the table on all sides.  The dough will be very thin and you can see where the thick spots are and can put your hand in those areas to gently stretch it thinner.  Let the stretched strudel dry for a few minutes.  Melt ½ cup butter.  Drizzle over stretched dough and then carefully pat it around so all dough is buttered.  Don’t try to rub it, as you could tear the dough.  Dough will be fragile at this point, so work quickly and carefully.  For Apple Strudel, sprinkle buttered dough with crushed cornflake crumbs or dried bread crumbs, to absorb some of the apple juice.  Skip this step of crumbs for the Cheese Strudel. Spread with filling and tear off thick edges that are hanging over the table edge.  Roll up, jelly roll style, lifting the edge of the tablecloth and gently shaking it to begin rolling.  Carefully coil strudel in shallow roaster or large baking pan.  Drizzle with another ½ cup melted butter.  Bake at 350 degrees about 40 to 60 minutes, until golden brown and filling is cooked.  Baste the top a time or two with the butter and juices that accumulate around the strudel.  The strudel will puff up somewhat, but fall a bit as it cools. 

Cheese filling: (Shown at right)
3# small curd cottage cheese, drained and rinsed in large colander

4 eggs, beaten slightly
½ cup sour cream
1 to 2 cups sugar
1 Tablespoon dill weed OR a handful of chopped fresh chives

Apple filling: (Shown below)
Peel and slice 3# apples
Sprinkle buttered, stretched strudel dough with dried homemade bread crumbs or crushed cornflake crumbs.  Spread apples over strudel.  Sprinkle with about 1 cup brown sugar (may substitute white granulated sugar).  Sprinkle with cinnamon.  May add chopped walnuts.
 Donavon, ever the perfectionist, was being a true worry-wort, sure that it wasn’t going to turn out as good as mine used to be.  My table here is much bigger and the strudel cannot be hung over the edges of the table, and he was sure it wasn’t working.  After stretching one batch of dough and worrying that it wasn’t going to be like mine, Alyssa firmly pushed him aside and said she would do the second one herself.  It was a good thing, because then Donavon was free to snap a few photos… not as many as we should have had, but hopefully sufficient to make your mouth water.  When the strudels were baked and cool enough to cut, Donavon absolutely beamed as he took his first bite and realized it was EXACTLY like my strudel, and tasted just as good as he remembered.  Middle son Craig and youngest daughter Tricia were also here to enjoy the fruits of their labor!  It was a very good day. 

My neighbor, Rose, taught me about making the cheese strudel, and it was one of the things that we always made when the Chives in the garden began to grow in the springtime.  When I married Ted, he taught me to make it with Dill Weed, the way his mother used to make it.  My children and I talked about how it would be interesting to sprinkle the cheese topping lightly with fresh raspberries or blueberries before rolling it up.  It will be fun to experiment with those additions.  Now, with many of my beloved friends and my husband gone, these recipes help to keep them alive and close to me in thought.  I shared many good times with them, and those thoughts are my company now when the nights are long and lonely.

Speaking of times gone by, when having their strudel lesson at Christmas, my children were coveting
my 2-cup flour sifter they remembered from their childhood… Donavon searched in stores and online and was unable to find anything like it… until he stumbled upon a couple on e-bay.  Who knew they are vintage items and no longer being made???   He bought one for himself and had one sent to his sister, also.  It delights me that they want to have these vintage items in their own homes… things that remind them of their childhood.   Older daughter Michelle wants to learn how to make strudel, also.  She lives in the area, so we will get together some weekend and she will have her lesson.  Maybe we can try one of the berry additions to the cheese strudel when we make it together.  What vintage items do you have in your kitchen that cannot be replaced?  It makes me wonder why they stop making items that are so much handier than the modern things for sale now.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Happy New Year! Food for the Soul and Body, too.

Thanks to my DVR, I just finished watching the Billy Joel tribute that aired last night, with him receiving the Library of Congress Gershwin award for popular song… what a fantastic evening of music!  And the big surprise was (to me, at least)… the talented Kevin Spacey can play harmonica and sing, as well as being one of my favorite character actors!  This was a real treat… music is food for the soul, with words that tell a story and tunes we can replay in our minds over and over again.  So much of the music today seems just noise to my aging ears… I appreciate the new artists who sing and play melodies that are uplifting instead of depressing or jarring to my senses.  When I was young, artists made appearances all over the country in small venues, and we had 45 rpm records and radio… and occasionally they were seen on television, like the Ed Sullivan Show.  Artists reach millions more listeners now, with the internet and you-tube, but the internet also fosters much misinformation.  It makes me think of how the written word once was considered “gospel”, and we youth were guided to realize that anything can be said and written, but it doesn't necessarily make it truth.  And even if it IS truth for some, it may not be truth for everyone.  I try to keep an open mind, but it saddens me when young adults are drawn into the mind of the masses, which can easily mask the ability to think for themselves.  And it seems to me that we have a need to label everything… from generations called baby boomers to millennials to generation X, Y or Z and illnesses like autism, Asperger’s, and so on.  If someone doesn't relate easily to other people, they might be pointed out as having a mental illness that prevents them from relating.  One of my friends laughingly said her family was dysfunctional by today’s standards, but they didn't know it and were happy anyway!  Life used to be simpler then… without labels, when our interaction was with our friends who had the same parental guidance as we did!  We weren't exposed to too much too soon, and I think that was a good thing.

Christmas is past… I spent weeks wrapping gifts, literally, and boxes for each family lined my dining room wall.  This photo was taken after my oldest son had already taken their boxes from the room at
Thanksgiving.  I have a large family, and I think I have a tendency to overdo things a bit.  Every year I resolve not to do that, but it just seems to happen somewhere midst the holiday spirit!  A new year is beginning… 2015, with new ideas, new music, and new labels.  Our world has become smaller… through my internet quilting lists, I have friends in South Africa, England, France, Australia, and many other countries.  I will most likely never meet them, but we share bits of the fabric of our lives with each other. Instead of mailing a letter and the recipient getting the news days later, we can send an instant e-mail or Skype and see our loved ones as we talk to them, wherever they are.  Although the ease of internet connections brings with it some things to be wary of, I cannot imagine my life without that link to my friends and family.  Long distance telephone calls that used to be expensive and rare, now are free for most people, and my children in other states call me almost daily, as I call my own parents.  It is a good thing, progress, in many ways.  Sometimes I wonder what will come next… I've already seen a lot of changes in my 72 years!   I remember my grandfather telling me that when I was a child, and now I understand what he was saying.  My oldest son said to me about 30 years ago… “Do you realize that these times are MY ‘good old days’?”  This year, three of my children will be in their 50’s.  I wonder where the years have gone…

The holidays were fabulous this year!  It seemed we never stopped having family gatherings, and that is always what I most look forward to.  One of the hits this year was a recipe my internet friend, Sara, told me about, and my family loved it… right down to 4-year old Lucas!  Here’s my version of it.

Cream of Mushroom/Prime Rib Soup:
Melt 1 stick (1/2 cup) butter in a soup pot.
Slice 1 package (8 oz.) Baby Bella mushrooms and sauté in the butter over low heat.
When mushrooms are cooked, add ½ cup flour to the pot to make a rue, leaving the mushrooms and butter in the pot.  Stir to incorporate the flour into the butter.
Add 6 cups of milk, stirring in a little at a time, heating over low heat until the soup thickens a bit.
Add 1 teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon black pepper, 1 teaspoon garlic powder, 1 teaspoon onion powder.
Dice 1 nice slice of leftover prime rib and add that to the soup.
Stir in 2 cups of whipping cream
Cover and continue to cook on low heat, stirring occasionally so it does not scorch.  It can be made ahead and transferred to a slow cooker set on warm, if you prefer.  It’s definitely not low fat, but it is delicious!  If you don’t like mushrooms, it probably isn’t the soup for you, however.  I think it would be wonderful without the prime rib, also.  It only takes a few minutes to make it, and it can be ready to eat in about 15 minutes.  Very good served with a crusty artisan bread or fresh garlic breadsticks.

And in case you are in the mood for a little something sweet to top it off, try this.

Dreamsicle Salad: (but it’s really more like a dessert!)
2 small packages of orange jello, made with 2 cups of boiling water, stirring well until jello is dissolved.
Add 1 cup of ice and stir in.  Chill in the refrigerator until the jello begins to thicken slightly.
Pour jello into a large mixing bowl and beat in 2 small packages of dry vanilla instant pudding mix.  Beat until it is smooth and pudding mix is thoroughly incorporated.  Fold in one large container (16 oz.) of thawed frozen topping, such as Cool Whip, and two 15 oz. cans of mandarin oranges, drained.  Cover and refrigerate.  This is a double batch, but you can halve the ingredients and make a smaller batch, if you don’t have many to feed.  However… it keeps well in the refrigerator for several days and makes a tasty snack.  I think it could easily be put into a graham cracker crust and served as a pie, also, but it’s very good just plain, and is a nice, light treat.

The folding tote bags were a big hit with everyone, and a lot of fun to make.  I think I’ll make a few up to have handy for gifts when I need one in a hurry.  The Advent banners were enjoyed by the grandchildren, as well.  My oldest son laughed as he recounted this story to me:  Charlotte’s 6th birthday was on December 22nd, and they had birthday cake that evening at her family party.  Quentin, age 9, asked Mark if they could still have their Advent candy, since they’d already had an ample supply of sugar.  Ava, age 13, instantly reacted, telling Quentin he should not ask because then they might be told no!  My guess is they still had their Advent candy, along with the birthday cake.  One of the gifts I sent those grandchildren was their own snack mat with matching napkin, assorted hot chocolate mixes, and their very own mug… stuffed with candy!  The gift all three were most excited about and thanked me for first was… the CANDY MUG!  I think it must be in the Grandma’s Rule Book that we are allowed to spoil our grandchildren!  If you haven’t got a grandchild to spoil, see if you can find someone who will share theirs with you.  Happy New Year, my friends and family… may you have your best year yet!