Food Memories – Grandma’s Wontons

This summer the Universe brought Lan from Angry Asian Creations into my world.  I forget the exact circumstances but it didn’t take me long to get AAC loaded into my Google Reader and start chatting with Lan via email about getting together in real life.  Having spent time with her, I would like to thank the Universe for using her influence to ever so slyly push me back towards my Bread Bible Studies.  Had we been in school together, I have a feeling that Lan and I would have been thick as thieves.  She tells it like it is and knows how to have a good time.  Check out her Live It List…inspiring.  And for the record Lan, I can totally help you out with #18.

I have a special place in my heart for Grandma’s and stories about how they love on us so when Lan offered me this story for her Food Memory, I jumped on it.  This originally appeared on Angry Asian Creations on 14 September 2009 and I’m glad to have the opportunity to share it with you here.

Comfort In A Bowl – Grandma’s Wonton Soup

did i ever tell you the story of when, at the age of 8, i ate 24 of my grandmother’s wonton dumplings? no? well allow me. 24 may not seem like a lot, or maybe it does, but at the time, i was a scrawny little shit, shorter than most of my classmates and while i never went to bed hungry, i can’t imagine it was cheap keeping me fed. i wasn’t aware of all the details, but i do recall grandmother counting pennies for my lunch money everyday and that is why she holds such prime real estate in my heart.

what i recall of that day is that grandma put a bowl of hot soup in front of me, heaping with wonton dumplings, the wrappers slick but at the same time wrinkly, clinging to the meat filling. and every time i emptied my bowl with a declaration that i wanted more, she would smile and make me more. for awhile, rather than extolling my grades (because back then, i really was a good student) or pimping my dance moves (Michael Jackson had nothing on me), she would tell anybody and everybody that i ate 24 of her wonton dumplings in one sitting. a pat on my head would follow. rather than be embarrassed, i would be comforted. yet another thing grandma was proud of me for, eating an assload of her food, something so easy and so damn good.

so when last weekend i felt like ass warmed over, i wanted comfort food. something to warm my very being, something that could possibly put more spring in my step. i spent all day saturday not only working on my DB challenge and a homemade chili concoction, i made grandma’s wonton dumplings. it is unbelievable and magical to me that despite how much my head and stomach hurt, i was able to stand in my kitchen all day and prepare this comfort food. because let me tell you, wrapping dumplings takes a hot minute! i meant it when i said on twitter that cooking/baking is such a balm for anything, especially when the end result brought such comfort to my sick body.

Grandma’s Wonton Soup
adapted from memory

*again, i don’t have exact measurements, i dumped a lot of stuff in a bowl

  • Wonton wrappers
  • about 1 lb ground pork
  • wood ear fungus, rehydrated in hot water, roughly chopped
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely diced
  • some vermicelli noodles, hydrated in hot water, roughly chopped
  • fish sauce to taste
  • 4oz pate
  • homemade chicken stock (really, you can use any kind of stock you want)

mix ground pork, fungus, onions, garlic, vermicelli, and pate together. add a dollop in the middle of wonton wrapper and make sure that you seal the meat in. i went simple and just folded the wrappers diagonally and sealed with a water/cornstarch mix. store in container covered with damp paper towel until ready to cook.

to cook, add to simmering pot of water (or stock) until wrappers are translucent. it doesn’t take long for the meat to cook thru. to serve, put in bowls and pour hot stock over dumplings. consume as is, or dipped in hoisin/chili sauce.

{printable recipe}

Food Memories – Butternut Pear Curry Bisque

So the other week when I introduced you to Debra from SmithBites, I didn’t know at the time that she was going to become the very first Food Memory contributor with multiple entries in the project. Here’s how it happened. I badgered her until she agreed to let me use The Professor’s Black Beans and Rice in the hopes that I would move on to harassing someone else. And I did. And then I made an abrupt U turn and headed back to her inbox.

Because when I read her post about Butternut Pear Curry Bisque, it was as though the Universe had taken all the good things about Food Memories and tied them up with a pretty bow. Greedy like I am, I had to have it. Ever gracious, Debra said yes.

I would like to thank her for not changing her email address or running away screaming every time she sees my name in her inbox.  I’d also like to thank her for capturing the very essence of why I believe Food Memories are important and sharing a big bowl of it with us.

Butternut Pear Curry Bisque & Food Memories

They say a picture is worth a thousand words but I’m here to tell you that a recipe or a meal is also worth a thousand words.  For some, that dish might be a special birthday cake, cinnamon rolls or bread; to others it might be a meatloaf, pot roast or onions and garlic sauteing in a skillet.  A particular scene in Ratatouille captures this point so well – the hardened, stoic, food critic Anton Ego, takes a bite of Remy’s simple Ratatouille and the audience is immediately transported back to Ego’s childhood home where the boy Anton is served ratatouille while being comforted by his mother.

And for me, this bisque is one of those dishes.  I know it’s officially fall when The Professor breaks out the dutch oven, grabs a butternut squash from our garden and picks an armful of pears from our tree.  The first time he made this bisque, I was in Washington staying with my parents – my dad had been diagnosed with cancer a couple of months prior and I was helping them pack for a move.  I remember The Professor calling very early in the morning to tell me he had found a delicious recipe for a bisque that had pears and butternut squash in it . . . I also remember thinking that the recipe didn’t sound very appealing.  Notice I said I thought – I didn’t say I voiced my opinion – which is shocking I know, but he was cooking for me again, so don’t rock the boat, right?  (Plus, he was making his case for vegetarianism.) But I also remember coming home to this fabulous fall bisque – and The Professor has made it every single year since 2000.

In writing this post, we discovered something new about our relationship – he’s all about the tried and true familiar recipes while I’m all about flipping through my mountain of food magazines and/or cookbooks discovering unique and exciting ones.  He’s always the one to make Black Beans and Rice, grilled cheese sammies with tomato soup, scrambled eggs, grilled pizza, the Thanksgiving smoked turkey breast and this butternut pear curry bisque; he follows the recipe to. a. tee; always measuring exact amounts, never eyeballing an ingredient – meticulous and precise.  I, on the other hand, am racing through the directions, capturing the essence of a recipe and then I’m off doing my own ‘loose’ interpretation; and I have only a handful of recipes I’ve made more than once.

We’re all connected through food in one way or another; and while it would appear that The Professor and I would clash in the kitchen, we actually compliment one another.  There are times when I’m in charge and he’s the sous chef; then he’s in charge and I’m the support.  That is the dance.  That is the magic.  And that is how all of us create our own individual memories and stories.

What favorite food takes you back to a particular memory?

BUTTERNUT PEAR CURRY BISQUE
Cooking Light Magazine, October 2000

BAH Note: I made a few modifications to the recipe that Debra was kind enough to supply.  Since this is Debra’s memory, I’m showing the recipe she used.  But lean in and I’ll tell you what I did different.  First, I used all of pulp I got from a 3 pound squash.  I didn’t measure out exactly how many cups this was but I was happy with the results.  Next, you’ll want to remember to roast your squash cut side down.  I didn’t and had to double the oven time for my butternut.  Also, I changed up the amount of liquids.  I used a 12 ounce can of pear nectar, one can of vegetable broth, and 2 cups water.  Lastly, I didn’t have another pear to use for garnish so I improvised by crisping up some prosciutto and sprinkled it on the top like confetti.

  • 1 butternut squash (about 2 3/4 pounds)
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 cups chopped peeled Bartlett pear (about 1 pound)
  • 1 1/2 cups thinly sliced onion
  • 2 1/3 cups water
  • 1 cup pear nectar
  • 2 (14 1/2-ounce) cans vegetable broth
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons curry powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 cup half-and-half
  • 1 small Bartlett pear, cored and thinly sliced

Preheat oven to 375°.

Cut squash in half lengthwise; discard seeds and membrane. Place squash halves, cut sides down, on a baking sheet; bake at 375° for 45 minutes or until tender. Cool. Peel squash; mash pulp. Set aside 3 1/2 cups pulp, reserving remaining squash for another use.

Melt butter in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add chopped pear and onion; sauté 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Add squash pulp, water, and next 5 ingredients (water through pepper). Bring to a boil; partially cover, reduce heat, and simmer 40 minutes. Place one-third of squash mixture in a blender; process until smooth. Pour puréed mixture into a large bowl; repeat procedure with remaining squash mixture. Return squash mixture to pan; stir in half-and-half. Cook over low heat 3 minutes or until thoroughly heated. Ladle soup into bowls, and garnish with pear slices.

{printable recipe}

Food Memories – The Professor’s Black Beans and Rice

Debra was one of the fabulous bloggers I met over the summer at the Potluck.  Her blog, SmithBites, was one of my summer finds.  Through our twittersations, I learned that not only is Deb the life of the party but she has a heart (and I’m guessing a house) big enough to love an entire clowder of cats.  Yes, I did have to turn to my good friend Google for that term.  Thank you very much, now we’ve all learned something today.

Her food memory originally appeared on her site, which just happens to have the tag line “Food That Connects Us”.  I had emailed her about participating in the Food Memories project and when she offered this story, the story of the first dish that her future husband ever made her, I couldn’t type out my thanks fast enough. It also came to my attention that Debra has special ninja powers protecting her posts.  The details of that discovery aren’t pertinent to anything other than I think having ninja powers is pretty cool.

The Professor’s Black Beans and Rice

There is a running joke in the family that The Professor and I never dated . . . and we didn’t . . . even though we spent quite a bit of time together, it was never, ever called ‘a date’. Once we decided we were getting married, the wedding took place within 10 days – yes, you read that correctly, 10 days and it was quite lovely.  But the first meal The Professor ever cooked for me (on a ‘non-date’ night of course) is still one of my all-time favorites and always takes me back to that house on 38th Street, the galley kitchen and the cute little dining room with hardwood floors.

Black Beans & Rice, packaged salad mix, non-fat bottled Italian dressing, a roll with ‘lite’ butter and non-fat ice cream for dessert; he was eating a low-fat, vegetarian diet and I was eating a full-on fat, lots-of-meat diet.  It gives us both a good laugh whenever we talk about it  but he cooked for me people, and he was wooing me even if he didn’t realize it.  I moved into that house after we were married and together we created a home.  There were a multitude of meals made in that kitchen – some triumphs and some major fails . . . uhm, like the dish created by The Professor which included barbecue sauce and dried chickpeas that hadn’t been soaked . . . but hey, I count myself lucky – his mother reports that, as a young boy, he used her blender to grind up worms, seeds and heaven-knows-what to feed a baby bird he had found.  And that’s exactly what I love about The Professor, he’s fearless when it comes to trying new things!

But there were also some terrific meals prepared in that kitchen as well; things like Crab Cakes with Red Pepper Remoulade, Hummingbird Cake, Strawberry Angel Food Cake, Pork Chops with Sour Cream Horseradish Sauce, coconut cream pies, strawberry jams and Spaghetti.  We had wonderful gatherings and parties in that house too:  Grandma’s 80th birthday party, Mother’s Day Brunches, a sister-in-law’s birthday that involved a ‘Jenny Gymnast’ doll (get Cheryl going and it’s laughter so hard that tears stream and you find yourself wishing you’d worn Depends), Easter suppers and a Thanksgiving meal for 15 where we were packed so tight in that dining room, that if anyone needed a potty break, everyone had to stand up to let you pass.  Happy sigh . . . such wonderful, wonderful memories and ones that I will always cherish.

I’m still a meat-eater but much, much less these days; The Professor now eats meat as well and I’ve recruited him over to the dark side of full-fat, real food (using less) rather than a bunch of artificial and chemically altered fats.  Our palettes are always eager to explore the culture and world around us.  Oysters, duck, bison and vegetables like ramp, patty-pan zucchini, kale or tomatillos and even some of the old standards like meatloaf or pot roast have been given a unique twist using a few new ingredients or techniques.  And 12 years later, he still cooks for me.

What food memories do you have about dating or ‘non-dating’ whether it’s one you cooked or ate at a restaurant?

The Professor’s Black Beans and Rice

BAH Note: I’ve never been a beans and rice gal but I really enjoyed this dish. I may have added a few items that weren’t authentic to what The Professor served Debra that night but when I told her about adding cubed turkey and sliced avocado, she was all in favor of my decision.

  • 1 small onion diced, about 1/2 cup
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 clove minced garlic
  • 1 15 oz can of black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 cup cooked rice
  • 1 teaspoon cumin (optional)
  • 1-2 tablespoons chopped green onion or cilantro (for garnish)

Heat the oil in a nonstick frying pan over medium heat and saute the onions and garlic until the onions are soft. Add the rice and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Cook for about 5 minutes, until the rice is heated, and add the beans and cumin (if using). Cook for another 3 to 5 minutes until everything is heated through, adjust seasoning, and serve garnished with green onions or cilantro.

{printable recipe}

Food Memories – Russian Tea Cakes

I discovered Ali and her blog 3 Baking Sheet to the Wind earlier this year on one of my rabbit hole trips on the interwebs. At first, I could not quite believe there was another person out there who devoted massive amounts of mental storage capacity to pop culture phenomenons such as Teen Witch, Heathers, The Breakfast Club, Willy Wonka (the original), and Summer Rental. It’s like she’s the voice inside my head telling me to click over to these time sucks when I see them in my Tivo Channel Guide. Not only does Ali know and lurv these movies, she finds ways to tie them to a recipe in her ‘Sugared Cinema’ selection each and every Friday. The other days of the week, she’s rocking out fabulous decorated cakes, cookies, and throwing down some serious beer.  The tag line of her blog isn’t “I like baking and drinking craft beer…sometimes simultaneously” for nothing. So it wasn’t too long before I started pestering Ali for a Food Memory. She kindly obliged with the following memory for one of the easiest, tastiest cookies I’ve ever made.

Russian Tea Cakes

During the Christmas season, my mom and her best friend would pick a day to get together in our kitchen and spend the entire day baking.  They started the tradition when I was around 5 or 6 years old and carried out the tradition for a good 10 years or so.  My mom would get experimental and try out a new recipe every now and then but for the most part, they would stick to the old faithfuls:  red and green sprinkled sugar cookies, chocolate chip cookies, oatmeal cookies, fudge, date bars and Russian tea cookies.

As a kid, I had pretty typical tastes when it came to sweets.  The sugar cookies were my favorite (she could have thrown sprinkles on a stapler and I would’ve eaten it.)  I never could understand why she insisted on making those powdery Russian tea ball things, though.

As I got older, I found myself sneaking cookies from the Russian tea container.  They were so wonderfully buttery (even more so than the sugar cookies) and I was addicted to them, right down to the powdery residue it left on my fingers.  After a long hiatus, we decided to bring back the Baking Day tradition last Christmas.  There were a lot of new additions, some from me and some from my sister, but we knew the day wouldn’t be the same without my Mom making those Russian tea cookies.

Russian Tea Cookies

Adapted from AllRecipes.com

BAH Note:  Ali didn’t have her mom’s exact recipe but she poked around online until she found one that was close to what she remembered.  I tweeted to Ali that I was kicking myself for scaling the recipe down and only making a half batch.  I could not stop eating these morsels.  At 12 minutes, they are perfectly undercooked so that the center is still slightly moist while the outside is crisp.  The decision to omit the walnuts completely and  substitute almond for vanilla was mine and mine alone.  And I stick by it.  I can’t eat nuts, period. And I’m not usually big on almond flavor but in these cookies it was the perfect counter to the buttery, sugary goodness.  I can see why these would have become a favorite in Ali’s house growing up.

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 6 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar

Heat the oven to 350 degrees and line two sheet pans with parchment paper.

Combine the flour and 6 tablespoons of powdered sugar in a medium bowl and whisk until combined.

In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and almond extract until it is smooth.  Slowly add the flour mixture and mix until fully combined.

Roll the dough in to 1 inch balls and place them about 1 inch apart on the prepared sheets.  Bake for 12 minutes.  Allow the cookies to cool completely before rolling them in the 1/3 cup powdered sugar.

{printable recipe}

Food Memories – Pork with Carrots and Potatoes

Jennifer Walker, the force behind My Morning Chocolate, perfectly illustrates the point of this project. She has a great memory of a dish with only the vaguest notion of the workings of the dish. I’m like that. I know other people are like that too. My point is that we’re not alone in this.  We all have our own personal food stories. I’ll let Jennifer tell you about hers.

Remember when Will Ferrell in the movie Elf says that elves have four food groups: candy, candy canes, candy corns, and maple syrup?  As a child who willingly ate very few healthy foods, I would have fit right in with this sugar happy family from the North Pole.

I had my own four food groups then: Skittles, candy corns, jelly beans, and Cheerios.  (The plain kind only, please.  Hey, something had to sop up all of that sugar!)

I could have eaten anyone under the table in these foods.  A pound of Skittles?  I could put them away in an evening.  A box of Cheerios?  I ate straight from the box, handful after handful, while watching TV.

And even though I don’t remember the last names of all of my high school friends, I can still see with absolute clarity the time my Mom came home from the Giant with a bulk food bag of candy corns.  I was playing on my neighbor Phillip’s driveway while waiting for my Mom to return from the store.  When I saw her pull up, I ran across the street with a pep in my step, picked up the candy corns, and quickly returned to the driveway to eat my first one.

I ate one candy corn at a time, taking a small bite off the top, letting the soft sugar melt in my mouth, then working my way down.  As I chewed, I thought about how this lovely candy tasted like maple syrup.  With all the happiness that candy brought me, you can imagine how hard it was to get me to eat healthy food.

My Mom tried, probably the hardest with eggs.  “I made them really special this time,” she would say, handing me a plate of eggs with a pool of Ketchup on the side.  But the healthy foods just never took for me.   Except for Mom’s pork with carrots and potatoes.  Then I would pile my plate, sit next to my brother on the barstools at the kitchen counter, and systemically chow down.

The carrots and potatoes had a good flavor because of the pork juices.  But they were still vegetables, and that made them less fun than pork.  So I ate them all first.

Then I would move on to the headliner, my favorite part, the pork.  It’s been about 20 years since I’ve had that pork, and yet I can still taste the tender meat melting in my mouth, and the salty sweetness of the onion topping.  I know I ate other real meals back then, but the pork is the only dish I remember.

I don’t eat much meat these days, but I know that I won’t be able to resist pork with carrots and potatoes if my Mom ever makes it again.  Sometimes the best flavors are the ones we remember from when we were young.

Pork with Carrots and Potato

BAH Note:  In true Food Memories fashion, the “recipe” is merely a whisper of an idea.  Jennifer said that her mom didn’t have exact amounts for any of the ingredients and referred her to the soup mix box for specifics.  Sadly, neither Google nor Lipton’s had this exact recipe posted so I had to make some educated guesses as I tried to recreate this dish.  I’m not sure how close I got to what Jennifer remembers.  But the combination of pork, carrots, potato, and onion soup mix is pretty forgiving, even though I made a hot mess of it all.  Seriously, I cannot show you what this looked like…you’d never again trust my cooking skillz.  The instructions on the cooking bags said to use 1 tablespoon of flour to prevent the bag from bursting.  I used 2 additional tablespoons to try and thicken the juices into gravy.  After 90 minutes in the oven, I removed the pork and vegetables to a tray and carefully emptied the juices into a saucepan.  I simmered the juices over a medium low flame for about 8 minutes until they had reduced and thickened.

  • Pork Tenderloin
  • Onion Soup Mix (I used both envelopes that came in the box)
  • Water (I used maybe 1/4 cup)
  • Orange Slices (I used a can of Mandarin orange slices in no sugar added syrup)
  • Carrots (I used one bag of baby cut carrots)
  • Potatoes (I used two sweet potatoes)

Cut the carrots and potatoes so they are a similar size.

Put the pork tenderloin in a cooking bag, then add onion soup mix, water, orange slices, and the cut-up  carrots and potatoes.

Bake at 350.

“The time depends on the size of the roast,” according to Jennifer’s Mom.  “It usually gives you the time on the package.”

Food Memories – D’s Buttermilk Pancakes

I have the Interwebz and this here blog to thank for bringing me together, in real life as well as in a virtual sense, with some fascinating, talented, incredible people.  And when they aren’t scared off by my requests for their Food Memories, I know they are good people.  Take Katie of You Are What You Eat…Or Reheat.  Known to many as an upstanding member of Corporate America.  Known to me as the Queen of White Trash Wednesday and who I want to be when I grow up.  She is witty and clever and is the keeper of a kick ass pancake recipe.  But because she’s good people, she’s letting me tell y’all about it here.

When I emailed her to be part of the Food Memories project, she gave me a little backstory about the recipe.  She said, I love the whole idea of relating food to memories.  It’s just so sweet, isn’t it?  As for a recipe, this one’s great and easy. And it’s something my mom made for my sister and me growing up. Every morning before our junior tennis tournaments.  And it was torturous.  For years I couldn’t eat pancakes because they reminded me of years and years of hot summer tennis.  But now, I love them. After all, my granddad, D, created this recipe.”  How can you not love a woman who keeps the memory of her granddad alive through his pancakes? Continue reading “Food Memories – D’s Buttermilk Pancakes”

Food Memories – Aunt Nellie’s Candy

Have you met Shutterboo?  Well you should.  She takes incredible pictures and is disciplined enough to complete one photo assignment each week.  She also did that fantastic tutorial on how to make a light box which led me to make my own.  She’s got a wicked sharp sense of humor and the warmest heart.  The girl has one flaw, I could not get her to send me a Food Memory. Continue reading “Food Memories – Aunt Nellie’s Candy”