Friday, October 9, 2015

Potluck Paradise in Suburbia!

The Minnesota Historical Society is celebrating suburban life in an exhibit that opened on October 10, 2015 and runs through March 20, 2016. The exhibit is in three parts -- Building Suburbia, Shopping in Suburbia, and most important to us here at Potluck Paradise headquarters Living in Suburbia.

If there's one thing we know about it is living and cooking in the 1950s, the era of the rise of the suburbs. As we researched the more than 100 recipes in the book, we found historical tidbits and social life insights and some really great recipes.

At-home entertaining was the foundation of 1950s social life--card parties, game nights, cocktail parties, even the new-fangled barbecues, and of course, potlucks. There were plenty of times when friends just "dropped in" and the 1950s housewife needed to be ready with a go-to entertaining pantry stocked with the fixings for tasty snacks and quick meals. Today it is easy to pull something from the freezer or call for delivery. Still those 1950s quick to make treats are just as perfect for entertaining now as they were then.

So when you come home from the exhibit hungry for more, or if you just want some really tasty, economical and easy-to-make appetizers or potluck favorites check out the goodies between our pages.

Here are a couple of our favorites to whet your appetite!

Pineapple Cranberry Sipper -- a simple refreshing drink 

2 cups unsweetened pineapple juice
2 cups cranberry juice cocktail
1/4 teaspoon whole cloves
1 teaspoon lemon juice

Combine all ingredients. Chill for at least one hour. When ready to serve, strain to remove cloves and serve over ice or in a wine glass.

Shrimp and Cucumber Spread -- 1950s homemakers would have pulled the pimento and a can of shrimp from the pantry, today we can use canned, frozen, or even fresh. 

1/2 cup finely diced peeled and seeded cucumber
1/4 cup canned pimento, drained or freshly diced red pepper
1 (3-ounce) can of shrimp, or 1/2 cup other small shrimp
1/2 cup mayonnaise

Put the cucumber in a sturdy paper towel and squeeze out the excess juice. Drain the canned shrimp, and cut in small pieces, reserving a couple for garnish. Mix with pimento and mayonnaise then chill until ready to serve.

To serve--
Shown in an avocado half, you could put in a hollowed out tomato or just a dish
toasted bread, crackers, or chips.

1950s Homemade Pizza -- almost as fast as ordering for delivery and way more tasty.

Once upon a time pizza was a rare treat. There weren't pizza places on every corner and home delivery?  No way.  You could bring home the makings from the grocery. If you were around in the 1950s you probably encountered the Chef Boy-R-Dee pizza mix in a box. It was pretty good, but this homemade pizza is easy to make and has a lovely thin crust and just enough cheese and sauce for the perfect light appetizer.

For the dough
1 package dry yeast
2 tablespoons warm water
pinch sugar
1 cup boiling water
2 tablespoons shortening-- or butter
1 1/2 teaspoons salt--optional
3 cups all purpose flour

For the topping
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
3/4 pound sliced mozzarella cheese
2 cups ripe tomatoes, sliced or 1 (14- to16-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained
1 minced clove garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

To make the dough: Sprinkle the yeast of top of the warm water add the pinch of sugar and let stand until dissolved and beginning to foam. Meanwhile pour the 1 cup boiling water over the shortening and salt in a large, heatproof, bowl. Cool to lukewarm and stir in the yeast. NOTE: If you put the yeast in water mixture that is too hot the heat will kill the yeast. Next add half the flour and mix until smooth. Add remaining flour and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic.

For 2 11-inch pizzas, divide the dough in half. Roll or hand stretch each half into an 11-inch circle. Place on lightly greased cookie sheets. Make the edges slightly thicker to keep toppings from escaping during baking.  Set aside to rest for about 10 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

For each pizza round: Brush with 1/2 tablespoon of the olive oil and sprinkle with 1/4 cup of the Parmesan cheese. Arrange one quarter of the mozzarella on top.  Combine the tomatoes, garlic, salt, and pepper and sprinkle on top. Follow with the remaining cheese. Sprinkle with dried herbs and drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the remaining olive oil. Repeat with second crust. Bake until the crust is golden brown, about 20 to 30 minutes.

For more information about the Suburbia exhibit:

Copyright Rae Katherine Eighmey 2015. All rights reserved

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Simplest Side Dish You'll Ever Make... and One of the Tastiest

Two Ingredient Rice Au Gratin 

If you haven't figured out that quick and easy, yet homemade from real-food ingredients is the rule of the kitchen and cuisine here at Potluck Paradise headquarters, we've not been doing our job very well.  We'd almost always rather eat something we've made than pull a microwave dish from the freezer or even go out to eat. 

When we're in a hurry we take most of our inspiration from what's in the cupboard, freezer, or fridge and we frequently fall back on the time-tested dishes we've found in our research into foods prepared and loved in kitchens dating back to the 1820s. 

We fell in love with this two-ingredient dish from the wheat and potato saving days of World War I. Back then rice was an uncommon ingredient in Midwestern kitchens. The home economics faculty members at the University of Minnesota were charged with finding ways to help homemakers "win the war with food."  They published a number of recipes. This simple dish was among them. It has a feel of macaroni and cheese, without the bother of boiling the macaroni and cooking up the cheese-laden white sauce. 

It couldn't be easier. Leftover rice and grated cheese. And a microwave... or you could use the oven. 

Rice Au Gratin

1 cup leftover rice -- we like brown rice
2 ounces grated cheese -- we like cheddar cheese 

The key to success is to have the rice in a layer not more than an inch thick.  Pat into a lightly greased  microwave safe pan. Sprinkle with cheese and microwave on medium until the cheese melts. 

Easy to increase -- using 2 ounces of cheese for each cup of rice. 

Copyright 2015 Rae Katherine Eighmey. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Two Tablespoons of Butter Convert Leftover Bits of "This and That" into Gourmet-Worthy Dinner

Herb Butter: 
Sauted onions, garlic, and celery with dried basil and diced parsley 

If you've been following our February is National Potluck Month posts you may be thinking, "I've seen this dish before.  Actually, I saw it yesterday."  

Well, you'd be right. You can scroll down to the previous post to find the simple recipe.This was not the story I planned to tell today, but I discovered with delight that making the herb butter yesterday enabled me to get dinner on the table today in ten minutes. 

We'd had a larger lunch than normal and so I thought we might just skip supper. But then we both got a bit peckish. I started rummaging about in the fridge and bumped into two small zucchini.  I could saute them in some of the herb butter. So I sliced them and tossed them into a skillet with the butter and cooked over medium heat for a few minutes and then lowered the heat and put on the lid. Needed more than just the zucchini, so I pulled out the last little bit of ham.  I had thought I'd chop and make it into a sandwich spread. Instead, I sliced it thinly and tossed it into the zucchini.  One more look in the fridge uncovered the last bits of asparagus -- maybe ten thin spears that had been "just too much" for dinner two nights ago. So into the skillet they went, too. 

The entire dish cooked in less than ten minutes. With some bread and a bit of cole slaw made for the sack of cabbage and bottled dressing, we had a fine meal. 

But we didn't eat it all. There is enough left to be combined with a couple of eggs to make a free-form omelet for lunch tomorrow. 

All made possible with a bit of herb butter that had just the right flavors to unite and elevate the simple leftovers into a delightful dinner. 

I don't know what is more Potluck Paradise Perfect than that!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Great Spice Blends Created Nearly 100 Years Apart Easily Enhance Meats and Vegetables

Spices blend following an 1857 recipe
pepper, dry mustard, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg

When we were doing research into recipes from the 1850s, 60's and 70s, we encountered a number of articles in cookbooks, and farming or women's magazines of the day offering up spice blends. These home concocted mixes of seasonings are often a fusion of herb and spice. Some featured dried herbs as well as ground spices. All of them lend a delicious difference to pots of soup, sauces, or as with the spice blend below to "forcemeats and gravy."

A forcement is a kind of small meatball with crumbs of buttered bread bound together with beaten egg. Victorian soups weren't complete unless they had a couple of forcemeat balls leading a savory spiciness to rich broth.  Well, here at Potluck Paradise headquarters we're not often into dusting off the soup tureen, but we have found that forcemeat makes a nice stuffing for broiled mushroom caps or they are quite tasty by themselves as a small appetizer meatball.

When we were studying kitchens and homemaking during the 1950s, we found other kinds of blends to dress up cooked vegetables. Here, busy cooks seeking to add a bit of elegance to fresh or canned vegetables could toss the pound of carrots with a quarter of a cup of mint jelly. Or they could cook up this compound butter to toss with green beans, asparagus, or other green vegetable.  Once made, it is easy to keep on hand in the refrigerator for a couple of days or in the freezer for weeks. Freeze it in a flat container and then you can easily slice off a gold and green "bar" to toss into the drained vegetables.

1857 Herb Blend for Forcemeat and Gravy

1/2 cup ground black pepper
1/4 cup ground ginger
1/4 cup ground nutmeg
1/4 cup ground cinnamon
1/8 cup cloves

Mix the spices in a container and store in a dry place. When ready to use add a half teaspoon to a cup of gravy. For making meatballs with a pound of meat, start with 1/2 teaspoon for mild and 1 teaspoon for strong flavor.

1950s Herb Butter Blend

1 stick butter
1/4 cup minced celery
3/4 cup minced onion
1 clove of garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon dried basel
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley

Melt the butter in a medium frying pan. Add the celery and onion and cook about five minutes until the onion is transparent. Add the remaining ingredients, lower heat and cover. Cook for ten minutes, stirring from time to time.  Store in refrigerator of freezer. Use about a tablespoon to a serving of vegetables.

The Two-Quart Glass Bowl -- Potluck and Cooking Essential

Here at Potluck Paradise headquarters our favorite piece of cooking equipment is our classic Pyrex casserole dish.

We actually have several.  We picked up the one in the picture in the 1980s when we were toting loads of food to potlucks. We have a couple of smaller ones in fashionable smoked-looking glass. We even have one from our mother's kitchen back in the 1960s. We use them for basic casserole making--scalloped potatoes, tater tot hot dish, corn and tomato casserole. We use them to microwave leftovers. 

They are also the perfect thing to cook broccoli and cauliflower in the microwave. Break up into pieces, put a bit of water in the bowl, cover and microwave on medium until done. Again, one of our multi-tasking tricks. No need to stand around in the kitchen watching a pot on the stove when there are loads of other things to do around the house. 

These versatile dishes can stand in as a mixing bowl or even a rustic centerpiece. Just don't use them to cook on top of the stove!!

Our "February is National Potluck Month 2015" is coming to an end.

We've covered a fair amount of ground during these three weeks. We've offered up desserts and treats, non-alcoholic beverages, main dishes that are inexpensive and darn tasty, and offered some thoughts for getting the most from your cooking endeavors. 

During this last week we'll have some more quick ideas for spiffing up leftovers and meals, a take on a classic dish everyone loves, and a totally magic cake.  

Thanks for coming along with us.  As we like to say here at headquarters: 
"Potluck Paradise -- It's a book!  It's a blog! It's a state of mind!"

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Turning Dessert into Veggie Side Dish-- Hint from a Well-Stocked Freezer

So we're seriously patting ourselves on the back over this genius insight here at Potluck Paradise headquarters. We sang the praises of our quick-from-the-freezer Apple Crisp earlier in the month (February 11 to be exact -- you can link from the blog topic below in the right column)

We do really love this dessert, but lately thoughts of pending swimsuit season have had us skipping treats as an unnecessary added course.  So what were we to do with the 37 bags of quick pie filling taking up space in the freezer?  Sure, it will be some months before we have fresh, local, picked-from-the-orchard pie apples and working in the garden will burn off calories so we can indulge again. Maybe there was a way to use some of them up.

And then... we spied the two small sweet potatoes in the veggie bin, hardly a serving and a half between them. Apples and sweet potatoes are a great combination.  So we quickly peeled, diced, and steamed in the microwave. Then cooked the pie filling in the microwave as well and tossed the two together. Some pecan bits on top!  A superior side dish in a microwave minute -- or ten.

We had converted those two potatoes and pie filling into at least four servings. Not bad.