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Happy birthday, Elliot


Last updated 6/1/2007 at Noon

Today is our son’s birthday, so you know I will be thinking about him… and foods that have become his ‘Mom’ favorites. Elliot’s wife Misty is a very fine cook. There is no doubt Elliot has favorite foods from his wife’s culinary repertoire as well. Some of these favorites date back many years.

When Elliot was a young person we lived in Chicago and he wanted to attend an Eastern Prep school. After much discussion we agreed to this choice even though both Bob and I were products of our local public schools and satisfied with our high school educational choices. Elliot chose Deerfield Academy in Deerfield, MA.

So, for four years of high school we traveled several times a year to the East Coast to visit him. In doing so we all fell in love with Boston Cream Pie, an Eastern dessert. So it evolved that in later years when Elliot would come home to visit would have a Boston Cream Pie in the refrigerator as a sort of edible memento of earlier days.

Elliot and I love French onion soup. However, we are both food snobs when it comes to this particular item. If it is not good, we have little patience or kindness in our comments. I believe it is because we both know how easy it is make good French onion soup. What it takes is time and a good recipe. If a restaurant makes a good onion soup, I often believe it is a hallmark for other good cooking. If the soup is unsatisfactory, usually the rest of the menu isn’t top-notch either. So, mostly we don’t order French onion soup when we dine out. We make it at home and love it.

This is a good soup to have an as entrée with a lovely salad, good French-style bread and a simple chocolate dessert.

Classic French Onion Soup

4 lbs. thin-sliced yellow onion

¼ cup butter

2 tbsp. cooking oil

1 tsp. salt

2 tsp. sugar

2 qt. good beef stock

1/3 cup browned flour*

½ cup dry white vermouth

Salt and pepper to taste

3 tbsp. cognac

1 ½ cups fresh shredded Gruyere cheese

8-16 slices French bread, toasted**

Melt butter with oil in a large heavy saucepan or soup pot. Add onion. Cover and cook about 15 minutes. Uncover. Increase heat. Add salt and sugar. Cook over moderate heat, stirring, until onions have turned a deep golden brown.

*Meantime, brown flour: place 1/3 cup flour in a small skillet and cook, stirring, over heat until flour browns evenly. Do not over-brown. Take from skillet and use in soup. When onions are a deep golden brown, add browned flour and blend.

Bring beef stock to a boil. Add hot stock to onion-flour mixture. Stir in vermouth and cognac. Simmer, partially covered, about 30-40 minutes.

**To serve à la gratin: ladle soup into largish oven-proof soup bowls (each 2/3 full). Float lightly toasted slices of French bread on soup. Top with a generous amount of shredded cheese. Top with a bit more soup. Bake in a 400-degree oven until cheese melts and soup is hot.

About 8 servings.

Rice Krispies Bars are so indigenous to our family I am certain Elliot must have teethed on them. They remain so popular that we all agree we are unable to let a single bar remain in our house for more than 24 hours!

I do recall one fun story about Rice Krispies Bars: Elliot was in kindergarten, so he would come home mid-day. This was also during the cooking classes I taught in my home in Minneapolis. So, Elliot would come to the kitchen and ask for a snack.

Once he came and asked for a Rice Krispies Bar in the hearing of Kitty Pillsbury (of the noted Pillsbury family). I gave him his treat. Then Kitty asked ever so seriously for the recipe.

I laughed, took the box of cereal from the shelf and ’fessed up to my treats being made straight from the recipe on the box’s label. Kitty told me later that her grandchildren loved the bars and she made them all the time.

Since those days I’ve “modernized” the recipe because I became weary of having to be wary about scorching the marshmallow mixture as dictated in the earlier recipe. Now I use the microwave and it’s a breeze.

Now, of course, those who adore Rice Krispies Bars include our adorable grandchildren Charlotte, 7, and Hannah, 8. I surely believe that very soon they will be making these treats for the family… and they will taste even better because they were made by the girls’ precious hands.

Rice Krispies Bars are so easy, it’s hard to see why anyone would buy those that are in the packages. Also, freshly made, these are almost irresistible!

“Modern” Rice Krispies Bars

1/3 cup butter

1 (16-oz.) pkg. regular marshmallows

9 cups Rice Krispies cereal

Additional soft butter

Combine 1/3 cup butter and marshmallows in a large glass microwaveable bowl. Microwave on high for one minute. Stir with a wooden spoon. Microwave again, one minute at a time, until marshmallows are melted, stirring after each minute (may take as many as 4 minutes, depending on your microwave unit).

Stir cereal into melted marshmallow mixture until well coated.

Lightly butter 15x10-inch jellyroll pan. Turn mixture into butter pan and press evenly with a buttered spatula or waxed pan. Cool thoroughly, then cut into squares.

Who knows why most kids seem to like their mom’s cooking? Maybe it is just the ongoing familiarity of growing up with certain flavors and textures. I know, for example, that Elliot has probably never said “no” to a meatloaf I’ve made. He just seems to like it VERY well.

Then, too, there were all those years that tonight’s meatloaf became tomorrow’s meatloaf sandwich. Once he took a meatloaf sandwich on a plane trip east and was offered good money for it. He said he was tempted but refused. “After all,” he said, “I knew it was going to be some time before I had another and the money just didn’t seem as important as enjoying that sandwich right then.”

My meatloaf evolved from my mother’s meatloaf. Everyone in our family, however, makes a different version. I wonder if someday we might all make a meatloaf and check on the theory of culinary evolution.

Bell’s Family-Style Meatloaf

1 ½ cups milk

6 slices home-style bread

2 lbs. ground beef

4 eggs

1 ½ tsp. salt


½ cup catsup

Additional catsup for topping

Tear bread into pieces and pour milk over bread. Allow to stand about 30 minutes. Beat with a fork to make a smooth mixture.

Place ground beef in a medium bowl. Beat eggs slightly and add to meat. Add bread mixture. Add salt, pepper and catsup and mix well.

Turn into a 9x5-inch glass loaf dish, smoothing top and rounding up to create a depression around the edge of the meat for excess fat to accumulate. Spread top thickly with catsup. Bake in a 350-degree oven about 1 ½ hours or until set. Pour off excess fat. Set aside to cool and set for about 10-15 minutes. Slice and serve. About 8 servings.

In most recent years, Boston Cream Pie is the official choice for the birthday cake. Some years I make it and some years it’s purchased at a local bakery.

Here, my version of Boston Cream Pie. I use a quality cake mix for the “pie” and usually freeze the extra layer to use as a base for Strawberry Shortcake on another day.

Bell’s Boston Cream Pie

One baked 8- or 9-inch round yellow layer cake

1 (1 ¾ oz.) pkg. vanilla pudding and pie filling mix

1 ¾ cups milk

3 tbsp. semi-sweet chocolate chip pieces

1 tbsp. butter

1 ½ tbsp. hot milk

¾ cup sifted confectioners’ sugar

Split cake to make 2 horizontal layers. Prepare pudding mix using 1 ¾ cups milk. Cool. When pudding is cool, spread between layers of cake.

Combine semi-sweet chocolate and butter in a glass bowl. Microwave to melt, about 30-45 seconds. Or, melt chocolate and butter in a small saucepan. Combine hot milk, sugar and salt in a medium bowl. Add melted chocolate and blend well. Spread the chocolate mixture quickly over the top of the cake and encourage dribbles down the edge of the cake. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

When Elliot was a teenager we made some lifestyle changes and removed a lot of fat and red meat from our diet. He went right along with the new program and soon this version of Mom’s Chili became one of his favorites. It remains a family favorite today. The spice trio of chili powder, cumin and cinnamon is great in other casseroles, too.

Mom’s Healthy Chili

2 onions, chopped

4 carrots, coarsely shredded

2 cans vegetarian chili with beans

3 cups cooked pinto beans (or equivalent canned pintos)

¼ cup catsup

1 ½ tsp. chili powder

1 ½ tsp. ground cumin

1 ½ tsp. ground cinnamon

1 ½ tsp. paprika

2 bay leaves

1 (28-oz.) can plum tomatoes

2-4 cups tomato juice

1 lb. soy protein crumbles or 1 lb. lean ground beef

Garnishes: chopped onion, sour cream, shredded cheese, fresh cooked corn, chopped parsley, chopped red and green pepper

Put onion and carrot in a large pot. Turn on heat. Cover pot and “sweat” the vegetables until onion is transparent. Remove cover. Cook, stirring, until vegetables are lightly browned.

Add remaining ingredients except tomato juice and soy protein (or meat). Simmer, covered, about 45 minutes.

Sautee ground beef and add to chili mixture. Or, if using soy protein product, heat in microwave oven according to package directions. Add to chili mixture.

Add tomato juice as needed to the desired consistency. Bring to a simmer. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve with desired garnishes.


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