Each family has favorite dishes for dinner. I cook very similarly to your Great Grandma Beanie, so your mom grew up with menus that were much like those of my childhood. When I was growing up with my six siblings, volume was important. Grandma Beanie needed to cook a lot of food for every dinner. She never really stopped cooking for volume, and after we all moved away from home she used the excess to fill her freezer with lots of small plastic boxes of favorites for other nights. You will probably have experienced some of the dishes I am listing below, but some you may have missed. When you are big enough, you can use the below family favorites to cook for your mom and dad and Calvin!
It’s been feeling a bit like autumn this past week so I fixed chili, a family cold-weather favorite, to warm our tummies. Ozzy dear, if I think of you while eating my chili right now, and you think of me while eating your chili in the future, it will be almost like having dinner together! Be certain to have Zesta Saltines crackers and real butter along with your chili. Spread the butter on the bottom of the cracker, so that the salty side is toward your tongue when you pop it into your mouth or take a bite. It’s critical to the experience.
Hamburger Mess, Chili, Spaghetti Sauce
We make our chili from another family favorite – Hamburger Mess. Great, Great Grandma Cecelia (maiden name Doyle) taught Grandma Beanie how to prepare the hamburger mess that her Irish family loved, and Grandma Beanie taught me. When cooking for volume, I always used at least three pounds of ground chuck for my hamburger. Sometimes I would use five pounds, and then freeze many 16 oz. containers of this basic building block of the family diet.
Yellow onions – One or two medium diced per lb. ground chuck
Bell Peppers – One large diced per lb. ground chuck
Stewed or Diced Tomatoes – One 16 oz. can per lb. ground chuck
Brown the ground chuck until well done. Drain. Add onions to the cooked meat and cook until the onions are tender, to infuse the meat with onion flavor (and make the house smell yummy). Add other ingredients and simmer over low flame until peppers are tender. Peel and boil until tender 1-2 medium whole potatoes per person. Drain. Add additional cans of tomatoes or tomato sauce to increase volume and thin out your Hamburger Mess. It’s nice to have some sauce to soak into your potatoes. Serve potatoes and Hamburger Mess in separate bowls. Have each person fork-mash their potatoes (it’s a Grandma Cecelia Irish thing), then ladle Hamburger Mess over the potatoes. Top with Lawry’s Seasoned Salt. Must. Freeze extra Hamburger Mess in small containers (approximately 16 oz.) to use later, or to use for chili and spaghetti sauce.
To use your Hamburger Mess to create a wonderful chili, add diced onions if desired (in our family there is no such thing as too much onion), one 8 oz. can of tomato sauce and one can of undrained kidney beans per two small containers. Season to taste with Chili Powder from your grocery store’s spice aisle. You can find chili seasoning packages in the store too, but I never liked them as well as the chili powder. I sometimes throw in a beef bouillon cube or two for extra flavor; remember that they are salty little buggers. When I make chili from scratch I don’t usually add green peppers. I like to serve the chili with a sprinkle of shredded sharp cheddar cheese and a dollop of sour cream.
For spaghetti sauce, use your Hamburger Mess containers from the freezer (or cook ingredients listed above in a large pan). Add one small can of tomato paste and 3 cans of hot water (helps to rinse out the rest of the tomato paste from the can) per two 16 oz. containers of hamburger mess; simmer until your sauce has reached the desired consistency. During the simmering, add stewed or diced tomatoes if your sauce seems to be calling for them, and add Italian herb seasoning from the grocer’s spice aisle along with lots of extra oregano and marjoram, and lots of garlic powder, to taste. Simmer further to infuse the sauce with flavor from the herbs and garlic. In place of the Italian seasoning, use basil, rosemary and thyme in equal amounts, along with lots of marjoram and oregano. Serve your spaghetti sauce over hot pasta, cooked Al dente, or “to the tooth”, meaning firm, not smooshy, and top with grated Parmesan cheese. Serve Texas toast garlic toast on the side for total yumminess.
Kentucky Fried Chicken (by real Kentucky cooks – Dodie and Beanie)
The secrets to good fried chicken are that there really are no secrets. When Great, Great Grandma Dodie and Grandma Beanie fried chicken decades ago they dipped the chicken in flour, and we now use Drake’s mix because it fries up crispier and tastier.
Cut your whole fryer at the joints of the wings and thighs where they attach to the body, leaving two wing pieces and two thigh/leg pieces. You will need to get your fingers right against the body of the chicken to find those joints—you can feel them. Then cut the drumstick from the thigh at the joint between them, and, if desired, cut the wing pieces into three pieces each at the joints, discarding the pointed part of the wing. I like to fold my wing pieces into two triangles, using the entire wing. Fold the pointed part of the wing over the larger part of the drummette, and it will (usually) hold the entire wing in a triangle shape. Cut the remainder of the whole chicken along the ribs, retaining one large breast section; discard the back section. Split the breasts down the middle of the breast plate, leaving two large breasts for frying. This will leave you with 8 pieces – two legs, two thighs, two wings, and two breasts.
I put Drake’s mix in a gallon Ziploc bag, and after rinsing the chicken, I place the wet pieces, a few at a time, into the bag. Zip and shake to cover with Drake’s mix, then add each piece to a pan of hot vegetable oil heated to 350°. The oil should be deep enough to submerge about half of the height of the breasts as they lie in the pan. Begin with the breasts, as they will take the longest time to cook. I prefer to use an electric skillet to fry chicken, because I have better control over the heat. If the oil spits, turn it down a bit. Shake black pepper over each of the chicken pieces (salt is in the Drake’s mix, so I don’t add it at this time), and cover the pan. Allow the chicken to become slightly golden on the bottom before turning, then turn each piece again when the bottom is once again slightly golden. Turn the chicken two more times until golden brown, or darker, if desired.
Two critical things to do for the best fried chicken are:
- Cover the pan during the whole frying time; it helps the Drake’s mix to better cling to the chicken pieces.
- If the oil spits, turn it down. Chicken should fry at a moderate pace and be cooked thoroughly.
Please ask your mom to discuss the “chicken rag” and how to clean up after preparing any meat.
I will be adding other recipes to this post soon, such as Sauerkraut and Spare Ribs (or sausage), Pot Roast, Swiss Steak, Beef Stew, Bean Soup, Hawaiian Chicken, Holiday and Halloween Fare, and anything else I can recall.
We have never been secretive cooks; we are simple cooks. Your Great Grandpa John told us that the food Grandma Beanie fixed for us would “stick to your ribs and grow hair on your chest.” I think he sometimes forgot that we girls may not have wanted hair on our chests. I never did grow any, and even my brothers had about 20 chest hairs between them when it was all done. Grandpa John forgot to look as his own chest, where approximately five hairs lived. The food did, however, stick to our ribs and other places I would rather not mention.
One secret I do know is how Great Great Grandma Dodie made the edges of her fried eggs crispy brown. There was always grease from either sausage or bacon available for cooking her eggs, because Grandma Dodie didn’t know how to make a small breakfast. There was always a meat for breakfast, and there were always biscuits, and sliced tomatoes and onions, too!
With her body, she always blocked the view to the skillet she was using to cook meat and eggs. After she removed the meat to a plate, she prepared to cook the eggs. One day I caught what she was trying to hide! To brown the edges of her fried eggs, she sprinkled flour into the hot grease and then added the eggs to the skillet. The eggs sizzled and crackled and browned up every time. The flour also helped to keep the eggs from sticking to a cast iron skillet.