Sunday, August 22, 2010

Fruit Salad (?)

I hesitated before adding this beloved recipe to the blog.

Though delicious, and a staple on our holiday dinner tables, it just seems a little ummmmm, low-brow, like something out of a "white trash cooking" tome.

I've heard this called "poor man's ambrosia" or "heavenly hash. "My mother just called it fruit salad. In her mind heavenly hash was Easter candy and this has nothing in common with it except for marshmallows and Easter.

It doesn't really have anything in common with fruit or salad either, hence the question mark in the title. You will find nary a strawberry, melon chunk, banana slice nor anything fresh in it except perhaps for the sour cream. I do recommend you take a gander at the expiration date on that (although really how much worse can sour cream get).

No, this is what they call a "pantry staples dish":

1 can of fruit cocktail (in heavy syrup), drained

1 small can of pineapple tidbits (or crushed pineapple) -- again in heavy syrup, drained

1 cup and a half of miniature marshmallows

1 pint sour cream

Dump it all together in a bowl, cover and let marinate overnight. You can add a cup of flaked coconut if you're so inclined (we never were). Or add a handful of chopped maraschino cherries (as we often did) or substitute canned mandarin oranges for the pineapple (which we only did once. Pineapple's better).

Now, while this might seem like a dish for undiscriminating palates, there really are a few details you should be discriminating about if you make it.

1.) Do not attempt to upgrade the recipe by substituting fresh fruit and creme fraiche. I've tried it. It doesn't work. Your pocketbook will be poorer and so will the overall flavor.

2.) Don't make this with "lite" fruit cocktail. If you're gonna do it, do it with heavy syrup. Even after draining the fruit cocktail, the syrup that coats the "fruit", absorbs, along with the sour cream, into the marshmallows and is a really key part of the flavor.

3.) Absolutely do not use those abominable colored miniature marshmallows. That's just an insult to the recipe and your dining partners.

4.) Don't toss this together minutes before serving time. The salad will be soupy and taste like what it is -- a bunch of thrown together convenience foods. This really needs to sit in the fridge overnight to absorb all the flavors and work its magic.

5.) At serving time, the mixture should have a fluffy airy texture. Serve in a pretty cut crystal dish. Presentation is everything. You may even be able to trick people into thinking it's real food.
Say what you will about it, I defy anyone to find a better accompaniment for ham.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Can We Put the Round Bone Back in the Round Steak (Pretty Please)?

Maybe I'm just unobservant, but exactly when did supermarket butchers start leaving that little round bone out of their cuts of round steak?

As a rule, I don't much care for round steak. Yeah, yeah, I know the round cuts are leaner, and therefore better for you, than chuck, but they're also dry, tough and flavorless. Don't EVEN think of making me a hamburger with ground round.

That said, one of the favorite "everyday" summer meals of my childhood was my mom's pan-fried round steak with milk gravy served over rice with a side of fresh green beans and a slice of ripe garden tomato to make the plate pretty.

And the reason this was one of my favorite meals was the ubiquitous little round bone, filled with bone marrow, that came with every steak.

Like a hopeful puppy, I stood at my mother's elbow as she pounded the bejesus out the steak, cut it into serving pieces, dredged in seasoned flour and browned in a tablespoon or so of oil. I kept a watchful eye on the piece with the bone in it. When the meat had browned and the marrow turned creamy and pulled away from the bone, she let me gnaw on it while she made the gravy.

The marrow, creamy, sweet, nutty, went down like silky candy -- only better. And it was never enough. As far as I was concerned, the butcher could have just bundled up a whole package of those little round bones with a fifty-cent-piece size of meat attached and I would have been perfectly content.

The other day I had a hankering for round steak and gravy. I went to three grocery stores. In their meat cases, I found plenty of extremely lean, unnaturally red, unbelievably expensive, BONELESS round steak.

In the end, I wound up making do with the boneless stuff. It tasted OK, but it wasn't quite right.

I REALLY missed the bone.

In butcher shops all over America, there are heaps of those little beauties no doubt just being pitched out with the trash. If only I could get my hands on them.

Pan Fried Round Steak With Milk Gravy

Cut the round steak in to serving sized pieces. Pound with the textured side of meat mallet to tenderize the meat. This step is important. Round steak tends to cook up tough so you have to break down the muscle fibers before you add the meat to the skillet. Dredge lightly in seasoned flour. This isn't chicken-fried steak so don't worry with an egg wash or a double coating of flour.

Heat a tablespoon or two of vegetable oil in a skillet. Cook the meat on both sides until browned. Again you're not looking for a crispy golden fried coatings.

Remove to a plate. Keep warm while you prepare the gravy.

Now this milk gravy is the second reason why this was one of my favorite childhood dinners. My grandmother -- my daddy's mother in Tennessee -- routinely made this milk gravy with meat drippings, flour and milk to go with everything --pork chops, fried chicken and this round steak.

Add seasoned dredging flour (about two tablespoons, maybe a little more depending how much gravy you are making and how thick you want it) to the drippings in the skillet and lightly brown. Slowly whisk in about a cup of HOT milk. For best results, whisk a little flour from the skillet into the hot milk before adding the milk mixture to the skillet. Cook the gravy for a few minutes, scraping up the meat bits, until thickened and light brown. The texture varies. If you like thick gravy, use less milk, add more milk if your gravy is cooking up too thick. Add salt and pepper to taste. I like mine kind of peppery. Serve over rice or mashed potatoes or over the meat and hot flaky biscuits .

To be completely honest, this isn't a true Point Cadet recipe. My nona made smothered round steak with peppers and onions in a tomato gravy. But I like this kind better.