Recipe: Steak Soup

Shortly after I married my husband, his mother wrote out her recipe for steak soup for me. My husband had made this soup for me already, and I knew he loved it. I liked the steak soup also, but I was very ill one evening after eating it, and I lost my taste for it.

It wasn’t the soup that made me ill, I knew, but memories of that evening kept me from eating steak soup for years. I wouldn’t order it at restaurants and only rarely bought it at the cafeteria at work, no matter how hearty and delectable it smelled. My memories of it coming back up were too vile.

I’ve slowly overcome my distaste for steak soup. Over the years we—usually my husband—made it often enough that the handwritten recipe card is spattered and stained. I made steak soup for my husband a couple of months ago using my mother-in-law’s recipe.

Well, sort of using her recipe. As I’ve written before, I often regard recipes as mere suggestions. It’s more about getting the proportions right than exactitude.

So here is my mother-in-law’s recipe:

Melt a stick of oleo, stir in 1 cup flour to make a smooth paste. Stir in 8 cups cold water slowly. Saute 1 lb hamburger, drain off grease, add to above. Parboil (10 minutes) 1 cup each sliced onions, carrots, celery, and add. Add 2 cups frozen mixed vegetables, 1 can tomatoes, 1 Tbsp Accent, 1 tsp pepper, 6 beef bouillon cubes. Bring to boil, simmer about 30 minutes.

And here is what I did:

Browned 1 lb hamburger with a diced onion, then drained it and dumped it in a crock pot. Added a package of frozen corn, another package of frozen green beans, a can of diced tomatoes, and 5 smallish red potatoes (diced). I didn’t have any Accent, so I used 2 Tbsp Montreal Steak Seasoning. And added 6 beef bouillon cubes. Covered it with 8 cups water. And cooked it in the crock pot on High for 5-6 hours.

With bread and a salad, dinner was ready.

My husband was curiously silent as we ate. Finally I asked, “Don’t you like the soup?”

“Where’d you get the recipe?”

“From your mother.”

“It doesn’t taste like Mom’s.”

The flavor was a little different than his mother’s soup. I could detect the Montreal Steak Seasoning. But the soup tasted wonderful—full-flavored and savory, with a hint of sweet—and I told him so. He still eyed it suspiciously.

Last helping of steak soup, just before husband dished it up

Rather than make him eat leftovers the next day, I froze a container of the soup, which I pulled out the other night for a quick supper.

“This isn’t so bad,” he said as he dished himself up a second bowl.

What family recipes have you altered? Did you do so intentionally or not?

Recipe — Lemon Bread

Unlike me, my father liked to cook. In fact, he paid part of his way through college as a short-order cook for his fraternity. When my father traveled and found a food item he liked, he cajoled the cook into giving him the recipe so he could make it himself.

Several years ago, my father went on a Snake River fishing trip. He stayed at the White Water Ranch along the way, and the ranch served lemon bread with breakfast. My father got the recipe, and it became one of his staples.

He passed the recipe along to me, and here it is, along with my suggestions and modifications:

Lemon Bread (makes two loaves)

1 cup oil (whatever kind you like)
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
lemon rind (I grate 2 fresh lemons)
1 cup chopped nuts (pecans, walnuts, or almonds — optional)

For the glaze:

1/4 cup lemon juice (I use juice from the 2 lemons)
2/3 cup powdered sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Cream together oil and sugar. Add eggs, beat well. Add buttermilk.
3. Combine flour, salt & soda and beat into mixture.
[NOTE: Officially, the recipe says Steps 2 and 3 are separate, but I dump everything in the bowl before mixing. So did my dad. It works just fine.]
4. Add lemon rind and fold in nuts.
[NOTE: I peel the lemons, then grind the peel in a food processor and use it all. Also, the nuts are completely optional, if you have allergies. I usually use pecans, but I used almonds recently and liked the bread even better. Some people use walnuts. I grind the nuts in the food processor until they are almost pulverized before dumping them in.]
5. Pour into two greased loaf pans.
6. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.
[NOTE: The official recipe says 40 minutes, but I have always needed to bake the bread a full hour. Probably because of all the lemon peel and nuts. Make sure you cook it completely, or it will be too doughy.]
7. After the loaves have cooled, glaze with lemon juice and powdered sugar. If you want a thicker glaze, decrease lemon juice or add more powdered sugar.
[NOTE: I usually wait several hours or overnight to glaze the loaves. I like a heavy glaze, so I only use about half the lemon juice the recipe calls for, then I add powdered sugar until it’s as thick as cake frosting.]

A loaf of lemon bread out of the freezer, ready to slice

The hardest part is getting the bread out of the pans without the bottom sticking, even when the pans were thoroughly greased. If anyone has any secret tips on how to do this easily, please post in the comments.

Bread can be frozen. In fact, it is easier to slice if frozen, so I freeze the loaves right after I make them, then pull out a loaf about 30 minutes before I need to slice it.


Godetta: A Mexican Casserole

MP900432760As I’ve written before, I am not a fan of green peppers. In fact, I detest them. So a lot of Mexican food is off-limits for me. I’ve been given many Mexican recipes over the years. I smile politely, and, if the recipe contains green peppers, I throw it in the trash as soon as I can.

But one Mexican casserole dish has passed my pepperless standard. It’s called Godetta, though I have no idea where the name came from. There are no green peppers—nor any added peppers—in Godetta. Moreover, it also meets my flexibility standard. In other words, many substitutions of ingredients work, though you will get a slightly different consistency and taste, depending on what you use.

Here are the ingredients:

1 pound of ground beef (I use as much as 1.5 pounds)
1 medium onion, chopped
6 or so tortillas (flour or corn)
1 can of enchilada sauce
1 can (14 oz) diced tomatoes (or 16 oz tomato sauce)
1 small can of sliced olives
16 oz grated cheese (Mexican preferred, but any will work)

And here are the instructions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Brown the meat and onions until meat is cooked and onions are translucent. Drain the meat (though with 93% fat-free meat, I find little draining is needed).
3. Add the enchilada sauce, tomatoes (or tomato sauce) and olives to the meat mixture. Heat until bubbling.
4. Meanwhile, line 9×13 pan with a layer of tortillas (3 soft taco size is probably enough for each layer).
5. Add a layer of 1/2 of the meat mixture to the pan.
6. Add a layer of 1/2 the cheese.
7. Repeat with second layers of tortillas, the rest of the meat mixture, and topped with the rest of the cheese.
8. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes. Let sit for about ten minutes before cutting.

Makes 8-12 servings, depending how big you make them. I usually get 12 servings.

So that’s the basic recipe. Served with a salad, it makes a good meal.

But there are many ways to alter the recipe, and I do so often, depending what my cupboard contains. As indicated above, either corn or flour tortillas work. I prefer flour, but I’ve used corn. I’ve also used large corn chips when I haven’t had tortillas. And I’ve even used crackers for the middle layer when I ran out of tortillas, though I think tortillas are better for the bottom

When I haven’t had any enchilada sauce, I’ve used taco seasoning with the meat and more tomato sauce.

Any cheese will work. If I have Mexican grated cheese on hand, I use it. But I’ve used Italian mixes of cheese, or just plain cheddar.

I have never used any meat other than ground beef, though I think ground turkey would be fine. You might even try chorizo, if you are more adventuresome than I am. (Post a comment as to how this works.) I like using about 1.5 pounds of meat, but then the 9×13 pan is quite full.

Sometimes I skip the olives, which I don’t really like, though they do add some nice color to the dish.

The point is, layer your tortillas (or substitute), meat mixture, and cheese. You’ll end up with something warm and edible, without peppers, good for a winter evening. And plenty of leftovers. This casserole is pretty good warmed through, and it even holds together as leftovers better than on the first night.

I don’t have a picture of this casserole, but it looks like any casserole with cheese on top.

What flexible recipes do you use?

The Squash Dish

squash dishOne of our family’s go-to recipes is what we call “the squash dish.” I don’t have any better name for it.

It was either my sister’s or my brother’s family that started making this, and I don’t know where they found it. But once we tried it at a family gathering, my father, my siblings, and I all adopted it as an easy way to feed a large crowd. It’s flexible, easy to double, and can simmer for some period of time while people gather after a long day of vacation activities. It can be made meatless, or with extra meat (the way I like it).

Here is the usual variant of the recipe (I’ll give you my adaptations below):

1 onion (chopped)
2 pounds cooked brats or Polish sausage (sliced)
2 medium zucchini (sliced)
2 medium yellow summer squash (sliced)
2 cans diced tomatoes (or use 2 cups fresh tomatoes chopped)
1-2 cups water
2 Tbsp. Italian seasoning (more or less to taste)
Salt and pepper to taste

It’s easy to remember, because there’s essentially two of everything, except the onion—and I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to put in two onions.

In a large pot, saute the chopped onion in oil or with the sliced sausage until the onion is translucent. Then add in all other ingredients. Simmer until squash is tender (it can hold a while after the squash is cooked).

Ladle over rice or polenta or pasta. Or serve alone with bread.

I’ve found that this recipe (in the proportions listed above) served over rice, with bread and salad on the side, makes a hearty meal that can be expanded to fit a crowd of 8-12 people.

My variation for just my husband and myself is

1 onion (chopped)
2 pounds cooked Polish sausage (sliced) (I prefer to brats, but I’ve used andouille sausage also)
1 medium zucchini (sliced)
1 medium yellow summer squash (sliced)
1 can diced tomatoes
1 cup water
2 Tbsp. Italian seasoning
Dash of pepper (I rarely cook with salt)

Follow the same directions as above.

I made this variation and served it over fried polenta last week. It made at least six servings with lots of meat in each (we ran out of polenta sooner, but not the squash and sausage!). So we had lots of leftovers. I think it could have fed eight in a pinch, with more sides.

If you want a vegetarian option, leave out the sausage and increase the squash, or substitute eggplant and/or mushrooms for the meat.

What’s a quick and easy recipe your family relies on?

Time for Lentil Soup

20150128_152012As autumn approaches each year, I think about soup. I will eat soup any time of year, but on cool evenings, it is sustaining and comforting. Add bread and salad, and you’re ready to eat.

I make most of my soups in a crock pot, so it’s a quick and easy dinner (though does require some thought around lunch time about what’s for supper). A crock pot full of soup makes enough for several lunches and dinners later in the week. Or to freeze. And all afternoon, you get to smell it cooking.

Lentil soup is one of my favorites. It’s tasty, full of protein (particularly when I add meat, which I usually do), and requires no advance soaking like beans do. It’s my go-to meal when I’m busy throughout the day but have responsibility for dinner.

I don’t really have a recipe for lentil soup—I throw whatever I have on hand in with a bag of lentils and let it simmer for hours.

Here’s the way I made it most recently:

1 pound lentils

1 onion, diced

1 can of diced tomatoes

1 package of diced ham

1 package of Polish kielbasa, sliced

2 Tbsp of Italian seasoning

1/4 tsp of garlic salt

Some leftover fresh basil (I’ve never put this in before)

1/2 cup of sliced carrots (Yes, even though I hate cooked carrots. I pick them out when I eat it.)

A bottle of beer (I usually use wine, but the beer was getting old)

2 cups of water (you may need more—lentils are thirsty little legumes)

I think that’s all.

It was really good. Anything with kielbasa and beer will turn out fine.

What is your favorite quick and easy meal?

KLWN Radio Interview and Cooking on the Oregon Trail

MTH on radio 2

Me on KLWN, June 20, 2015

Those of you who follow me on Facebook might know that on June 20 I was interviewed by Jeremy Taylor on his program “About The House” on KLWN AM-1320 in Lawrence, Kansas. It was great fun! Jeremy had prepared well for our discussion of the Oregon Trail and my forthcoming novel. We had an excellent conversation about why emigrants set out for Oregon, the dangers they faced, and their preparations for the trip. As a Brit, Jeremy had a refreshing perspective on some of these issues.  We Americans forget how much Western lore and myth we absorbed through our education and constant exposure to television and movies.

Not only had Jeremy prepared, but he brought in a chef for the latter part of the program to talk about the food that the emigrants ate along the western trails. With samples!

The chef!

Chef, Jeremy Taylor, and me

My fellow writer (Write Brain Trust member Pamela Boles Eglinski) and I were treated to some wonderful food, including a rice pilaf dish (more frequently seen along the Santa Fe Trail, but the Oregon emigrants often did take rice along), spider cake (more on that below), spotted dog, and a rice pudding. If the pioneers always ate this well on the trail, they might not have cared if they ever reached Oregon.

Spider cake is not anything that should alarm arachnophobes like me. “Spider” refers to the type of skillet the cake is cooked in. A spider dish is a cast iron skillet on legs to sit about a campfire. But this cake can be made in any cast iron skillet. With a little syrup over it, it was my favorite dish of the day.

Here is the spider cake recipe from

Spotted dog (and, no, Diet Coke was not on the menu on the Oregon Trail)

Spotted dog (and, no, Diet Coke was not on the menu on the Oregon Trail)

The spotted dog recipe was also wonderful. For those of you who have never heard of spotted dog, the “spots” refer to raisins. This dish is like a bread pudding, but in addition to bread, apples, raisins, and eggs, the version that Chef offered me had onion and bacon in it, so it was both savory and sweet.

I didn’t want much lunch after sampling all these dishes.

Although we ate well on this summer Saturday morning in 2015, the emigrants didn’t always have such feasts. Sometimes they had plenty, but often they scraped the bottom of their barrels well before they reached Oregon and had to live off the land.

Frankly, I had expected venison and buffalo meat when I first learned that Jeremy and his chef planned to feed me. But Chef told me the Lawrence authorities frown on killing deer that pass through the yards in town.

What old-fashioned foods do you enjoy?

Dad’s Buttermilk Pancake Recipe

My husband and I are creatures of habit when it comes to breakfast. I usually have Carnation Instant Breakfast and a Diet Coke; he eats hot cereal—oatmeal or Malt-o-Meal or something similar. When I’m in a hurry, I’ll eat granola bars, and sometimes he will have Shredded Wheat or another cold cereal.

But occasionally on a Sunday morning, my husband makes pancakes and bacon. I try not to mix up my instant breakfast until I see if we are having a pancake Sunday, because I wouldn’t want to miss out on my share. He uses a pancake mix—one of a variety that we have been given as gifts or that he has purchased to try out. His favorite is a mix from College of the Ozarks (buy it here), which is fine if you like a whole wheat flour that isn’t too heavy.

My favorite pancakes are not from a mix at all, but are my father’s buttermilk pancakes. On weekend mornings when I was a child, I’d stay in bed until I smelled the bacon cooking. No microwaved bacon then—my father fried it on the stove. One morning when I was about seven or eight, I leaned over the pan, and the grease popped and burned my forehead. I had a small round scar there for years.

After he fried the bacon, he mixed up the pancake batter. There was a variation of the batter for waffles, but I preferred pancakes, so that’s what I hoped for. These pancakes were light enough I could eat eight to ten. They were sweet, but with a little tang of buttermilk. Topped with maple syrup or sometimes raspberry jam. Mmm.

The taste still says childhood and weekend and comfort to me.

When I married and my mother typed up a box of recipes for me to have, the pancake recipe was one I made sure she included. Unfortunately, my husband prefers a heartier pancake to these light as a feather buttermilk ones, so we rarely make them.

And my father made them less often once the children were gone, preferring instead to make omelets to accompany the bacon. But he still fried his bacon on the stove, even after microwaves were available. I know, because when I visited, I had to clean the stove afterward. He never did like to clean.

Here’s the Buttermilk Pancake recipe:

pancake recipe 20150625_185334

It doubles well, if you have lots of people around. Sometimes my father had to make second batches, even after doubling it.

What foods say childhood and comfort to you?