Category Archives: Food

Welsh Cawl for St. David’s Day, the Welsh National Holiday

daffodils

Daffodils

On March 1st, I’ll be celebrating St. David’s Day.  “Who/What?”  Well, think another Celtic country celebrates its national day–David instead of Patrick, Wales instead of Ireland and leeks and daffodils instead of Shamrocks. And some home-made Welsh Cawl.

St. David's Day the day for Welsh Cawl

St. David in a St. David’s Day Parade with Welsh Flag.

You can learn more about St. David and his day from this article in The Telegraph.

Of course, my special occasion planning goes straight to “What do we eat?”

Welsh Cawl for St. David’s Day

The answer to that question for St. David’s Day seems to vary, but always includes some Welsh Skillet Cakes and the Welsh soul food, Welsh Cawl.  Pronounce it like “owl”. Make it with winter vegetables. Sup it from a bowl with some crusty bread.

Like beef vegetable soup or stew, this dish is quite flexible, so feel free to toss in what you have on hand. But the basics that make it uniquely Welsh Cawl include lamb, leeks and potatoes. If you read that article on St. David, you might have picked up that the saint recommended the Welsh wear leeks in their caps when they went into battle. Smelly, what?  However, a more practical reason for leeks in the soup is that they  are widely available in late winter/early spring.

Leeks for Welsh Cawl

Leeks, ready for harvesting

The other vegetables that might be included in your Welsh Cawl could be carrots, rutabagas, parsnips and even some greens, like spinach or kale (which I’ll toss in to mine when I reheat it.)

Although this is a simple recipe, it takes a while to make it, and everyone recommends leaving it in the fridge for a day before you eat it. So plan ahead. The flavors have a chance to meld, and to me the most important reason for the day’s delay is that the fat accumulates on top and you can skim it off.

Peasant Food Isn’t The Bargain It Used To Be

Vegetables for Welsh Cawl

Vegetables for Welsh Cawl

Our peasant ancestors made this soup for its taste–but also for its economy.  In Wales on their small farms, they always had lamb available at this time of year, and they ate every cheap cut of meat from it. Generally they used neck for the Cawl. While lamb may still be abundant in parts of Europe (and New Zealand and Australia),  lamb in 21st Century America has graduated to a luxury item.

I could not buy lamb neck, even at a specialty butcher shop, and I wanted a piece of meat a bit meatier than the second choice, lamb shanks. So I went with another cut I had seen mentioned in online recipes–lamb shoulder. It was expensive.  $24.45 for less than three pounds. And a good deal of that was gristle and fat which got trimmed away after the initial cooking.

Of course it was not Welsh lamb–it came from Australia, which is fine, because I suspect that a good number of the sheep farmers in Australia originally emigrated from Wales.

Then there were the vegetables. Potatoes and carrots are standard, but not as many people like parsnips and rutabagas as I do.  Plus they don’t grow in the winter here in the Southwest.  So I paid $1.50 for one rutabaga and $1.99 for a pair of parsnips.

But the real shock came with the leeks at 2.49 per pound, I paid 1.77, and of course, threw most of them away, because I used only the white part.

That brings me up to $29.71, which would get close to $30.00 by the time I figured out (which I’m not going to do) the price of two potatoes, an onion, and one giant carrot.

On the other hand, the combination of lamb shoulder and veggies made over a gallon of soup, which will make at least 12 servings.

Welsh Lamb Cawl

Serves 12
Prep time 1 hour
Cook time 3 hours, 30 minutes
Total time 4 hours, 30 minutes
Dietary Diabetic, Gluten Free
Meal type Soup
Misc Serve Hot
Region British
On St. David's Day in Wales, the traditional comfort food is Welsh cawl--a hearty soup of lamb and winter vegetables.

Ingredients

  • 2-3 lb lamb (See notes)
  • 1 Onion
  • 2 Leeks
  • 2-4 Potatoes
  • 1 Rhutabaga
  • 2 Parsnips
  • 2 Carrots (or one very large)
  • Herb bundle (parsley, bay leaf, rosemary, thyme)
  • 2 tablespoons Olive Oil

Directions

1. Put oil in bottom of large pot, heat and add meat to brown on all sides.
2. When meat is browned, add onion, cut in quarters and whites of leeks, chopped in 1/2" slices-- cover meat with water.
3. Cut a small piece of cheesclot;, put herbs in the center and tie opposite corners to make a packet. Add to the water in the pan.
4. Bring to a boil and simmer for two hours (depending on the size of cut of meat and type of cut). Add water if needed to keep meat covered.
5. Peel other vegetables and cut in dice. In a small amount of oil in skillet, brown each type briefly.
6. When meat is cooked, remove from pan (leave onion and leeks in broth). Set meat aside and keep warm by putting aluminum foil on top. Put rhutabaga in broth and simmer 15 minutes.
7. Add carrots and simmer another 15 minutes. Meanwhile, remove meat from bones, cut in small pieces, and remove excess fat. Add parsnips and potatoes to the broth.
8. Add meat back and cook another 20 minutes. Taste and add salt and pepper to taste. Take pot off heat, let cool slightly and put in refrigerator for one to three days.
9. To serve, reheat gently. Add greens if you desire. Serve with a spring of parsley.

Note

Lamb neck is suggested as the favored cut for this recipe, in which case you would need to pick the meat off the bones after the initial cooking of the meat, and the cooking time would be shorter.

The same would be the case with lamb shanks, another possible cut of meat.

As the meat simmers, you may need to skim off fat. Add water if needed, to keep the meat covered at all times during cooking.

Foods of Home — Make Some Chili Mac

Mac and cheese, spaghetti and meatballs, chili mac–the comfort foods of the midwestern America. Pasta has a surprisingly long history in American cooking.

Macaroni swept London in the 1770s as fashionable young men did the Grand Tour of Italy and brought back macaroni dishes. The craze for Italian, art Italian fashion, and Italian food carried across the Atlantic into the colonies as well.  British satirists had a field day with Italy-crazed young men, calling the wearers of foppish fashions “Macaronis”. A drinking song satirized the stupid Yankee Doodle dolts (as they were seen in England). The American soldiers, the British sang, didn’t know the difference between a feather and fashion.

For a detailed explanation of the phrase, “Stuck a feather in his cap and called it macaroni”, see this web site on political satire of the American Revolution period.  Just as Hillary Clinton fans gleefully took the title “Nasty Woman” and Donald Trump fans adopted “Despicables” during the 2016 presidential campaign, the American revolutionaries purloined the English song that mocked them.

Our Love Affair with Pasta Goes Way Back

Meanwhile, American housewives imported macaroni (and other pastas) and found new ways to use them.  Later, Italian immigants opened restaurants where they catered to American tastes and American Italian food strayed from the original. Mrs. Beeton‘s wonderfully thorough household guide, published in 1860, explains the differece between various pastas, the wheat used to make the best pasta, and gives numeous recipes for using pasta–in soup, in macaroni with Parmesan cheese, and in macaroni puddings. According to Paul Freedma in Ten Restaurants that Changed America, macaroni was a mainstay on restaurant menus throughout the 19th century.  Even the classiest New York Society hang-outs offered macaroni and cheese.

Chili Mac and Johnny Marzetti

Although I have been able to document the absolute origin of Chili Mac, most sources seem to think it came from Cincinnati, where the famous cinnamon-flavored chili is served on spaghetti to this day.  But there is that little nagging problem of “Why is it alled Chili MAC if it is really Chili GHETTI?” The chili part is never in question. Originally, it probably depended on canned Hormel chili, a cheap and quick way to get a filling meal into a family. As you will see in my recipe, I eschew the old familiar canned stuff and strike out on my own. Cincinnati or not, there is no doubt in my mind that Chili Mac is a typical middle western dish, as is Johnny Marzetti.

Marzetti's Restaurant

Marzetti’s Restaurant Coumbus, Ohio, home of Johnny Marzetti

Johnny Marzetti is easier to trace. Marzetti’s restaurant in Columbus Ohio near the Ohio State University campus mixed noodles with canned tomatoes and tomato sauce, ground beef and cheese and baked the mixture. (That link takes you to the original recipe).  Ms. Marzetti the restaurant’s owner, named the dish for her brother Johnny.  She popularized the comfort food in the 1920s, right when my mother was attending Ohio State University. No wonder Johnny Marzetti became a staple on our dinner table.  The nutrituous, make-ahead casserole, also starred on school lunch menus (all that government donated cheese!) and still shows up on Midwestern potluck tables. Every cook may have a different recipe–my sister and I differ on the kind of noodles to use–I prefer flat noodles for Johnny Marzetti and when I use macaroni the dish becomes chili mac.

I suspect that although both variations of noodles-beef-tomatoes may have originated early in the 20th century, they both got a big boost because of the Great Depression.

Chili Mac soothes and fills the empty tummy on a chilly MidWestern winter day. It is inexpensive, easy on the cook and a perfect comfort food.

Chili Mac

Serves 12
Prep time 20 minutes
Cook time 25 minutes
Total time 45 minutes
Allergy Wheat
Meal type Main Dish
Misc Child Friendly, Freezable, Pre-preparable, Serve Hot
Region American
Comfort food form the mid-west, Chili Mac makes an easy economical and filling meal.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 bag Macaroni (uncooked)
  • 1/2lb ground beef
  • 1 bell pepper (diced)
  • 1 stalk celery (diced)
  • 1 can beans (kidney beans or black beans, seasoned or unseasoned)
  • 8oz canned corn (optional)
  • 1 can tomatoes (diced)
  • chili powder or hot sauce (to taste (I use Cholula hot sauce))
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • garlic salt and pepper (to taste)
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro (chopped)
  • 1/2-1 cup grated parmesan/romano cheese

Optional

  • 1 onion (chopped)
  • 1 can kchopped Hatch green chilis

Directions

1. Cook macaroni according to package directions, drain and set aside. (Under cook slightly since the noodles will be cooking for a short time in the sauce.)
2. Meanwhile, saute the bell pepper and celery and onion in a large skillet, using a small amount of olive oil.
3. Add ground beef, crumbled, to the vegetables in the skillet and cook until browned. Pour off grease if accumulated.
4. Add the canned beans, tomatoes and corn (if using) to the browned hamburger and stir in the seasonings. Stir in the macaroni. Taste and correct seasonings if needed.
5. Sprinkle cheese on top and put a lid on, turning stove down to low. Leave until cheese is melted into the rest. This dish will hold until everyone gets to the table, and can be served diretly from the skillet.
6. If you do not have a very large skillet that will hold all these ingredients, put the cooked macaroni in a casserole dish and then stir in the cooked hamburger and other ingredients. Add cheese on top, and put in 350 degree oven for about 15 minutes--until cheese is melted in.

Note

Feel free to adapt and use what you have on hand. This recipe is abundantly flexible.

Grandma’s Lemon Sponge Pie or Chess Pie?

Lemon pies

Grandma Vera’s Lemon Sponge pie squares off with Joy of Cooking’s Lemon Chess pie.

When a neighbor offered to let me pick as many lemons as I wanted from his lemon tree, I went a little crazy.  As I juiced those lemons on a 55-year-old electric  juicer, I pondered how I would use these lemons. I wanted to try something other than the standard custard lemon pie with meringue. The winners were: Lemon Bars, Lemon Chess pie, and Grandma Vera Anderson’s Lemon Sponge Pie. The two pies held a competition. By the way, I would have made my favorite lemon pie with whole slices of lemon rather than a custard filling. But these lemons were small, and seed-filled.  Not appropriate for that pie. So let the Bake-Off begin.

Read below the recipes what the taste-testers had to say.

electric juicer

Proctor-Silex electric juicer 1960

 

 

I got my electric juicer for a wedding present, and other than the fact that the strainer insert melted when it dropped onto the heating element in the dishwasher, the juicer is still kicking.  It is much easier than juicing by hand, and I have no need for those enormous juicers that are all the fashion now.

I wish I could find another one of these, just like the vintage version. (Gives me pause to realize something I have used personally all its life is now vintage.)

 

Perfect Pie Crust

Both these recipes were made with my not-so-secret recipe for perfect pie crust, but with the chess pie the crust turned cumbly and more like a cookie crust. All that butter and those eggs. However, the pie dough was as easy as ever to make and manipulate. So if you haven’t tried it, take a look at the most popular recipe on this site–perfect pie crust.

 

Lemon Chess Pie

In Joy of Cooking, I found a recipe for Chess Pie, followed by a version that makes it Lemon Chess Pie. It is described as having a “sparkling translucency and a smooth, soft, and melting texture.”   That wasn’t the way I saw it. It was translucent, but so sticky sweet I could only eat two bites. Others who ate it actually loved it, though.

Basic Chess Pie (without lemon) comes from the Southern states, where it is a staple. Although I searched and searched, I could find no definitive explanation of the name. Several theories, but no one knows for sure from whence came the name for this sweet Southern treat.  The Joy of Cooking recipe diverges from traditional Chess Pie recipes I found on line, particularly in the method of dotting butter on top instead of mixing it in.

Recipe follows.

Lemon Chess Pie

Serves 10
Prep time 25 minutes
Cook time 45 minutes
Total time 1 hours, 10 minutes
Allergy Egg, Milk, Wheat
Dietary Vegetarian
Meal type Dessert
Misc Child Friendly, Serve Cold
From book Joy of cooking.
This recipe for Chess Pie from Joy of cooking is very rich. You will want to serve it in small slices.

Ingredients

  • 1 egg (large)
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 1/3 cup sugar
  • zest of one lemon
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice
  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 1 pie crust, baked

Directions

1. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Warm pie crust in oven while you are mixing filling.
2. Mix egg, egg yolks, sugar and lemon zest in bowl and whisk (Joy of Cooking suggests setting the bowl in a skillet with simmering water as you whisk.)
3. Whisk in liquids
4. Lemon Chess Pie
Pour into pie shell and dot the butter over the top. (The dotted butter resulted in a freckled top for me. Alternately, you may follow the more traditional method of mixing softened butter into the sugar before step one.)
5. Bake at 350 degrees, until edges are firm and center quiers like Jell-o when shaken gently. ( Joy of Cooking called for 45 minutes at 250 degrees, but I don't think that is warm enough. My oven took over an hour and I raised the temperature to 350 for the last 15 minutes.)
6. Top with meringue if you wish.

Grandma Vera’s Lemon Sponge Pie

Unfortunately, I have far too few recipes from my grandmother, but I have had this recipe for lemon sponge pie in my recipe box for years, and just never got around to trying it out. In checking for other versions of this pie, I found an identical recipe on line labeled as a traditional Amish recipe. I do not know where Grandma got the recipe, but the probable Amish source did not surprise me.  Killbuck, Ohio, where Grandma lived, lies in an area of Ohio settled by German and Amish immigrants,and familiar foods there tend to come from either England or Germany.

I doubled the recipe for my larger pie pan and got a bonus of two dishes of custard. I also reduced the sugar a bit, knowing that grandma had an insatiable sweet tooth.  I prefer to emphasize the lemon in lemon desserts.

When I make a dish with egg whites folded in, I always want to call all my friends and relatives to see it the moment it comes out of the oven. Because they beautiful pillowy effect is going to disappear in a minute.

Lemon Sponge Pie

Serves 8-10
Prep time 25 minutes
Cook time 30 minutes
Total time 55 minutes
Allergy Egg, Milk, Wheat
Dietary Vegetarian
Meal type Dessert
Misc Child Friendly, Pre-preparable, Serve Cold
A vintage Lemon Sponge Pie from my grandmother's recipe.

Ingredients

  • 1 pie shell, unbaked
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 2 heaped tablespoons flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • lemon peel (from one lemon (lemon zest, grated fine))

Directions

1. Put pie shell in refrigerator while you prepare the filling.
2. Mix sugar and melted butter.
3. Whisk in egg yolks
4. .Stir in half the milk, add the flour, then stir in the rest of milk
5. In clean bowl with clean beaters on electric mixer, beat egg whites until stiff.
6. Mix the lemon juice and peel into the batter. Then fold in the egg whites until there are no streaks of white.
7. Pour into pie shell and bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. Raise temperature to 375 degrees for another 15 minutes.

Note

The recipe as Grandma wrote it looked a bit small for my 9" pie pans, so I doubled the recipe. That way it yielded one large pie and two dessert dishes of custard. The only thing I did not double was the sugar. I like the lemon to shine through, so I used 1 1/2 cups of sugar instead of the full 2 cups. Your call.

Grandmother's instructions for making the pie were simply, "Cream together like cake. Add milk and fold in egg whites beaten stiff." I went into more detail than Grandma, just in case readers needed more help.

Grandma calls for "lemon peel", which we nowadays call lemon zest. That's what she meant--just the yellow part of the lemon peel, grated fine. I don't recall ever hearing the word "zest" in Ohio when I was growing up--it was always "lemon peel" and everyone knew that didn't include the bitter white lining of the peeling.

Don't be alarmed when the pie raises very high and then quickly sinks. That's the nature of the beast with puddings with so much beaten egg white.

The Votes Are In

Male #1: The sponge pie doesn’t taste lemony enough. It is not nearly as good as the other pie. The crust on the other pie was delicious. [As I mentioned above, it was actually the same crust on both pies, but  the ingredients made the Chess Pie crust more sugary.]

Female #1: The Sponge Pie sort of had the texture of a cheesecake, but lighter. But the Chess Pie was more lemony. I liked the crust of the Chess Pie–it was crispier and thinner. Definitely preferred the Chess Pie. It was like a Lemon Bar cookie.

Male #2: Definitely preferred the Chess Pie.  The crust was better and it tasted more strongly of lemons.  The texture of the Sponge Pie looked nice, but it was a let down after the Chess Pie. There really was no comparison.

Female #2: Preferred the Chess Pie.  Both were good, but I liked the calories (ha,ha) in the Chess pie. [the sweetness] The Sponge Pie had a tangy, lemony aftertaste which I enjoyed. The Sponge Pie was kind of like eating cheesecake, with a lemon flavor.

So there you have it. Sorry, Grandma Vera, I’m the only person who actually preferred your pie. I thought the Chess pie was cloyingly sweet (you would have loved it!). I would have preferred a stronger lemon flavor in the Sponge Pie but it would take some experimenting to see how to get that without messing up the texture.