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Stories and Stovies
Beef Dishes

Jack Sprat could eat no fat;
His wife could eat no lean –
And so betwixt the pair of them,
They licked the platter clean!

Charlotte's Meatloaf

I always like to make all my dishes with a minimum of two pounds of meat so we can have leftovers – but maybe it’s because we really are a family of cholesterolic carnivores!. We like lots of onions, and only a little celery as fillers in our dishes.

So start with browning your onions and celery. When I can, I try to sneak in some mushrooms depending on which kid is around to moan about the mushrooms going into the meat loaf - but it's been so long since I cooked home cooking stuff that the moaning is definitely kept to a minimum these days.

Have a couple of beaten eggs and some oatmeal and bread crumbs handy - you'll see why in a moment. My goodness, these recipes that begin with Charlotte all seem to have "some" as a basic measure, don't they? But, don't worry, after you've experimented in the kitchen with these for a while you'll figure out how much is in your own special "some"!

Anyhow back to the meatloaf:

Take your 2 lbs of mince, top choice (if on payday) ground beef or regular hamburger (if two days from payday) and put it into a nice, big bowl. (Remember that ground chicken or turkey is drier than hamburger - so add extra moisture if you have some "fowl play" with your meatloaf.)

Let the onions and the good stuff that you have browned in some butter cook a little bit then mix it in with the meat. Stir it with a wooden spoon, if you like, (by the way, I got a wooden spoon when I got married – spurtles are traditional wedding gifts so the bride can always make a good pot of porridge – and it said "Kissin’ don’t last – Cookin’ do." – and as you know we lost John to a brain hemorrhage, but at least I still have the spoon, proving the saying right!) but that really won't be enough stirring. You’ll have to get your hands into it at some point.. Add your beaten eggs, maybe some milk, definitely some ketchup or barbecue sauce and your filler of breadcrumbs or oatmeal - a little can of tomato paste does a really good job of holding it together, too.

When you realize that your wooden spoon is useless with this bowlful, take your nice clean hands and mix it all around, squish it all up together, just like you used to when you were a little kid playing in the mud or wet sand at the beach. It really feels good, but the first time I made meat loaf I thought it was disgusting. But, you'll get used to it because, after all, meatloaf is an America comfort food.

Mix that meat real good. Pat it into a couple of loaf pans and bake at, guess what? Yes, you're right, Charlotte's favorite 350 to 400 degree oven. I would sometimes pour barbecue sauce on top for extra flavor, or add some cheeses towards the end of cooking time to give the loaf a crispy coating. Try some of those ideas.

If you didn't wear kitchen or food serving gloves while you mixed the loaf you might like to, somewhere between this and the next step, take a minute to wash your hands and clean the meat loaf mixture out from under your nails. Add baked potatoes and beans to the oven and you've got a really great dinner for the man and kids you love. Or, stop at the Boston Market, if that franchise hasn't gone totally belly up, and get some of theirs to go. I hear it's pretty good, too.

John Bleh's Steaks for a Clueless Bride

This is a "Kids', don't try this at home" recipe. When we were newly married and finally in our first apartment after living for six months in a little kitchenette motel room on US 1 outside of Laurel, Md., John decided he wanted steak. I'd never cooked American steaks in my life, so I figured I would just do what he told me. So, he went out and bought these great big, monstrous, juicy pieces of dead cow and brought them home. I asked him how to cook them. He said, "Just put them under the broiler." I asked how long. He said "Oh, about 15 minutes." I asked if he meant each side and he said "Yes." So, clueless young bride here (I wasn't even 19, you know) did just that. They started to smell pretty good pretty soon, but John did say 15 minutes each side. So I didn't go near that broiler. When after 10 minutes they were sounding like they were crackling, I began to get a little worried. But John knew everything, you know, and he was American, and so I trusted him. Well, when smoke started to pour out of the oven I decided not to wait for fifteen minutes! And I never let John teach me how to cook anything ever again!!!

But if you really want to know about kitchen disasters, ask the kids about the time I spilt the chili powder into the chili and thought that if I just stirred it up really well no one would ever notice the difference; or when I made these great big beautiful looking cinnamon rolls but mistook the salt container for the sugar bowl when I was mixing up the cinnamon sugar – but what was far worse than that was our dinner guest who really dived into one before any one else did because they really looked so good, and ate the whole darn roll because he was too polite to tell me how truly horrible it was!

John Bleh's Swiss Steak

This is one of the first things John successfully taught me to make for him when we were newly weds.

I would take cube steak, dip in a beaten egg, then into crushed saltine crackers and fry in vegetable oil along with the usual onions we love. He never was big on mushrooms like I am, but sometimes I would sneak those and peppers in the mix.

John liked this with mashed potatoes and his favorite pork and beans. He was definitely a meat and potatoes man.

Charlotte's Granny's Yorkshire Pudding

No comments, please, but Yorkshire really isn't England. In fact, my Granny told me my great grandmother's people, or ancestors, (Caroline Fisher Thomas) were from Yorkshire. Anyhow, we never had roast beef at home in Dundee without Yorkshire Pudding.

This recipe is adapted from the Lion House Cook Book and my memory of my Granny's pudding is just like this:

2 eggs
1 cup milk
1 cup sifted flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons roast beef drippings

Beat eggs, milk, flour, and salt until batter is smooth and creamy. Pour the 2 tablespoons drippings into a 10" pie pan or your roasting pan if you're not using it to make your gravy. Tilt pan to coat with the fat. Pour in batter. Bake about 25 minutes, or until pudding is "puffed" and nicely browned.

Serve immediately with roast beef. Pour gravy over it on the plates. Makes 8 servings.

Just a thought, here. I never ate cornbread until I got to this country. In fact I don't believe I ever saw "maize" even growing in Scotland. What you called wheat, we called corn and grew as cattle fodder. (Isn’t it interesting that the turnips we ate so much of in Scotland, have an equivelant grown in this country as cattle fodder!). I imagine Yorkshire Pudding is the equivelant of cornbread - but I certainly enjoy both.

Another thought - I just love mashed turnips, but I think here they're called rutabagas for people food. John never liked either, and the kids just refuse to consider eating them. I think this is because, as I said, in this country turnips are cow fodder. In Scotland, there was a different kind of turnip grown for cattle.

We had a lot of turnips in the winter. In fact, our Hallowe'en lanterns were turnips. I remember my mother carving turnips for me, adding a string so I could carry it with its lighted candle inside to give some light on those dark Scottish Hallowe'en nights.

By the way, Hallowe'en in Scotland was a lot different from here in America. We went "guisin'". Guising meant we got together as a group, usually 3 to 6 children, and created a plan for entertaining our neighbors. The year I remember best was when I dressed up as a gipsy and my act was to perform poetry, my friend Linda Stein sang "Scarlet Ribbons" and there was another girl who danced and I think a boy who did magic tricks. When we were invited in to a house we were expected to put on a good show and at the end we would be paid - no paper money, only coins (sixpences, thrupennies, and even a shilling or half-crown or two) that we eagerly divided up at night's end.

I'm sure this is why I dislike American Hallowe'en. We earned our treats in Scotland, whereas here, I think, it's an excuse for mooching, a night of gimme, gimme, gimme. The other part I don't like is the thought that here we are, careful and protective parents, all year long telling our children not to take candy from strangers. But what do we do every year on October 31st? That's right, we take our kids, or even worse let them go by themselves, knocking on doors of total strangers and actually asking and even demanding candy. Oh, well, enough said, because I know my seven are saying, "Oh, dear, will we ever not hear this on Hallowe'en?" In fact, as I revise this book for Electric Scotland, I’m reminded that it was only this past Halllowe’en (1999) that Stephanie (who is now about 26) basically told me to sit down, shut up, butt out because she "never got to go Hallowe’ening and she’s now going to enjoy it with Nathan!’ Well, that’s not true – I did take them out mooching, but it was definitely under protest. So, last Hallowe’en I had to content myself by asking kids who came up to the door several friendly questions – if they were older kids, I asked them if they weren’t a little too old to still be mooching; if they were younger kids and they were out on their own, I asked them where their parents were; and I was an equal opportunity grouch to the kids who came by with pillow cases and asked them if they weren’t just a wee bit on the greedy side. Ah, well, I had fun, and what would Hallowe’en be like if there weren’t a witch around! (Talk to me about Tam O’Shanter and Cutty Sark, to make sure I put that story in another book.)

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