February 9, 2010

Where Credit is Due

Beef Stroganoff
Any discussion about my love of good food and cooking must begin with my parents. And since this project, in large part, is about my love of good food and cooking, I must pay Mom and Dad tribute at the infancy of this endeavor.

Phoenix, Arizona; summer of 1969. I was an eight-year-old skinny, gangly-legged girl with a shock of blonde pixie-cut hair and bruised and band-aided knees. I was a tree-climbing, book-reading, fort-building girl. My Dad had given me a microscope the Christmas before, and that summer an inordinate amount of time was spent looking at dog hairs, moth wings, gutter water amoeba, and even my little brother's tooth scrapings on its slides.

Even children come indoors to escape the afternoon summer heat in Phoenix. That summer Arizona Public Service, the utility company, sponsored an afternoon television cooking show for kids. We sent our self-address stamped envelope away and received the show’s companion recipe booklet in order to follow along with the demonstrations on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. When all the other neighborhood kids went inside to watch "Dark Shadows", I was learning to cook.
My mother, bless her soul, cheerfully allowed me complete and free access to her kitchen, and provided me with whatever ingredients necessary to try out the simple recipes such as Sunburst Salad. That, as I recall, involved setting a canned peach half on a canned pineapple ring, making a smiley face on it with raisins and setting around it radiant spokes of celery stalk. I stood for hours at the sink filled with cool water and all my Mom's measuring cups and spoons, verifying that there were exactly three teaspoons in a tablespoon, eight ounces in a cup, two cups in a pint and two pints in a quart. The only thing Mom asked was that I clean up my own messes and to try hard not to do anything too dangerous. (Thank God flambé wasn’t suggested in the APS show, or I am sure there would have been an insurance adjuster involved in this story.) Mom conveyed that she trusted me with her tools, her stove, and her knives, something I didn't fully appreciate until I became a mother myself. Her confidence in me became my own.

That summer I prepared my very first meal for our family. Iceburg lettuce wedges with Thousand Island dressing, canned green beans, and ooh la la, the piece de resistance; Pickle-in-a-Poke Steak. That elegant focal point involved hammering out a cube steak, wrapping it around a sweet gherkin, frying it up in a skillet and dousing it with bottled barbeque sauce. Yum, right??

Well, apparently, yes, yum. Here’s where my Dad comes in. Because my Dad, God bless his soul, lapped up that monstrosity like it was something straight out of the Cordon Blue School of Cooking, saying things like, “Pammy, this is delicious; really, really good!” Those magic words were all the support I needed to move on to bigger, better, fancier dishes, like Pigs in a Blanket and Surprise! Burgers. This was no small thing on my Dad’s part, because this man knows good food. His parents were exceptional cooks, and he had grown up appreciating a fine meal. And, as evidence suggests, also appreciating the intense efforts of sincere little girls.

What a little encouragement will do for a kid. Thanks, Mom. Thanks, Dad.
This stroganoff recipe was a specialty of my Grandpa Stevens’, my Dad’s dad. It is as classically delicious today as it was all those Sunday suppers so many years ago, and is an infinitely better way to serve beef than Pickle-in-a-Poke Steak. It is incredibly delicious with the right Pinot Noir, and the one I recommend for this dish is a Palotai Vineyard and Winery Pinot Noir 2006. This Umpqua Valley vineyard and winery has a history of Hungarian-style winemaking, and is currently run by John Olson and his family. Their oaky, husky Pinot with deep cherry fruit pairs wonderfully with this Eastern European dish. Their motto is, "Do right, and fear no man, " which enamors me all the more, as I can hear my Dad give me similar advise.
Grandpa's Beef Stroganoff

1 1/2 pounds beef sirloin, well trimmed, cut into 2" x 1/2" x 1/2" strips*
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter, divided
1 small shallot, thinly sliced
1/2 yellow onion, halved lengthwise, sliced into thin half-moons
1 pound crimini mushrooms, thickly sliced

salt and white pepper to taste1/3 cup dry Sherry
1 1/2 cups (12 oz.) sour cream or crème fraîche

Heat 3 tablespoons butter in large skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add meat in single layer and cook just until brown on outside, about 1 minute per side. Transfer to meat to bowl, leaving juices behind in pan, and keep gently warm. Bring meat juices to a boil briefly to reduced a bit.

Melt remaining 3 tablespoons butter in same skillet over medium-high heat. Add sliced shallots and onions to butter and reduced meat juices. Sauté until tender, scraping up browned bits, about 4 minutes or so. Add sliced mushrooms, sautéing until liquid evaporates, another 10-12 minutes. Season to taste with salt and white pepper. Splash in the Sherry, scraping up the browned bits to deglaze the pan. Add meat and any accumulated juices from bowl. Stir in sour cream or crème fraîche. Simmer over medium-low heat until meat is heated through but still medium-rare and evenly coated with the sauce, about 2 minutes.

*It is much easier to slice the meat perfectly if it is ever so slightly frozen.

6 comments:

  1. Dear Pam,

    I want to tell you, and your readers might be interested to know, that your first gastronomical adventure came quite several years before you were eight years old.

    We were living in a two story appartment in Waterloo, Iowa. You would have been somewhere between two-and-one-half and three-and-one-quarter years old.

    It was a Sunday morning. Your mother and I were still upstairs in our room, in that sleepy haze that exists between awakening, and putting the feet on the cold floor. We heard a noise from downstairs, and your mother called out..."Pam?"

    Your immediate response was "don't come down here. I've made a mess."

    Well...your request that we remain sequestered upstairs notwithstanding, we hit that stairway, but quick. We found you in the kitchen, standing over an egg that had been dropped, and broken, on the floor. There was a stool pulled up to the stove, a frying pan setting on the stove, and it was obvious that you had decided to take your little-girl-early-morning-hunger problem into your own hands.

    While this story doesn't have a punchline or a moral, the incident was an early indication of your intrepidness, self confidence, and resolve.

    Keep these articles comming. We're enjoying every word.

    With deep and abiding love, and abundant pride,
    Dad

    P.S.: To this day, that Pickle-in-a-Poke remains one of my all-time favorite meals.

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  2. Good memory Dad. Thanks for your loving thoughts and kind support. When do I get to make you Pickle-in-a-Poke again???
    My love,
    Pam

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  3. Hi Pam,

    I love the gift you have for sharing your passion of the culinary world with us.

    Even when Pam was thinking about boy's, lipstick and other teen age girl things she was the chief brownie maker at home. Her brother made biscuits that were lighter than air.

    As a young married woman Pam made many-many loaves of heavenly delicious and nutritious bread and went on to be the Muffin Making Queen.

    For a lot of years I have said that most people go home to eat their mother's cooking but I say that I love to go to my daughters house for a fine meal.

    Good memory David. The first thing I thought about after reading, " Where Credit is Due" is the tight squeeze of us trying to get down that narrow staircase with great haste. Something like a Lucy and Ricky flashback.

    Please keep writing Pam. Your passion is a sure way to inspire other's.

    Love you so much.
    Mom

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  4. Mom, my thanks to you again for giving my my kitchen wings. You were always a creative cook and fabulous host. I learned those things from you, and a multitude of other incredible skills.

    So, when are you coming so I can feed you??
    My love,
    Pam

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  5. Happy memories are longlasting memories. I have trainloads of them.

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  6. Pam,

    What a wonderful story. I enjoyed reading about your family memories and about your passion for coooking. The kitchen is a wonderful place and if you can share mealtime memories as a family, it's a treasured keepsake forever. Look forward to sharing some exciting mealtime memories and recipes.

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