Oyster Stew

An annual, holiday favorite for our family, oysters are a food I never experienced until I moved to the east coast and married Mike whose family has lived in Virginia for generations.  Raised in the midwest by an assembly line worker for Ford Motor Company back in the recession of the 70's, we didn't eat out at restaurants that served oysters and we certainly didn't have the money to buy them to cook ourselves.  Fried oysters really are not a favorite of mine, but the first time I had oyster stew, I fell in love with the taste of the oysters surrounded by rich cream and butter.  Having our own dairy cows, I think fresh milk and cream and butter makes this dish even better.  I tend to make it with straight cream instead of half and half like the original recipes states because I'm sinful that way.  Oyster stew is simple to make but elegant on the table.


Oyster Stew

2 green onions sliced thin (or I substitute approximately 1/4 cup of finely grated sweet onion such as Candy, Vidalia, Texas Sweet, etc.)
2 Tablespoons of butter
16 ounces of fresh oysters with liquid (Original recipe calls for 12 ounces of oysters with liquid)
1 quart of heavy cream (Original recipe calls for 1 quart of half and half)
1/4 teaspoon of salt.
1/4 teaspoon of pepper
Parsley for garnish

Saute onions in butter and then add oysters minus the liquid (reserve liquid).  Stir oysters until they just begin to curl around the edges.  Be careful as you do not want to overcook them.  (Many recipes call for you to simply add the oysters to your cream and other ingredients and heat until they just begin to curl.  Either way is fine, but I prefer to cook them slightly in the butter first.)  Combine your oyster/onion/butter mixture with the  cream, salt, pepper and liquid off the oysters.  Heat on a low heat until hot but not boiling.  Garnish with parsley and serve immediately.


Buttermilk Hush Puppies

If you like restaurant made hush puppies, you will like the homemade variety even better.  If you want to take them over the top, try using locally grown and ground cornmeal!  (We sell awesome locally Mennonite grown and ground cornmeal at our produce stand in the summer.)

Hush Puppies

1 cup of yellow cornmeal
1/4 cup of all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 egg lightly beaten
3/4 cup of buttermilk (Or clabbered raw milk if you have your own dairy cows)
1 small onion grated fine (I like to use Candy, Vidalia or some other ultra sweet onion)
Oil for deep frying (I use coconut oil)

Combine cornmeal, flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl.  Mix in grated onion. Whisk egg and buttermilk then stir into dry ingredients just until combined.

Heat oil for frying (Approximately 365 degrees).  An iron skillet or dutch oven works great for this but any deep skillet will do if you do not have a deep fryer.  Drop batter by teaspoon into oil.  (I like my hush puppies to come out about the same size and uniform, so I actually take about a tablespoon of batter and shape it into a ball in my hands and then drop into the hot oil.)  Cook until brown, turning several times so the hush puppies cook evenly.

Drain on paper towels and serve warm.

Serves approximately four.


Scalloped Potatoes

We grow a lot of potatoes.

We eat a lot of potatoes.

One of our favorite ways to eat them is scalloped.

The easiest way to make scalloped potatoes is simply to slice your potatoes fairly thin and place in a large casserole dish.  Sprinkle with salt (and pepper if desired), add a splash of milk, cover with aluminum foil and bake in a hot oven (350 to 400 degrees) until potatoes begin to get soft, then cover with grated cheese and finish cooking.  Nothing wrong with this simple version.  In fact, it's quite delicious.  However, if one wants to kick it up a notch, here is a great recipe.

Scalloped Potatoes

2-3 pounds of potatoes, peeled and sliced
4 Tablespoons butter
4 Tablespoons of all purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper (or more to taste)
2 cups of milk
2 cups grated cheese of your choice (I typically use colby, cheddar, and sometimes mix it with mozzarella)

Grease a large casserole dish and set aside.

In a large saucepan, melt your butter and then stir in flour, salt and pepper.  Pour your milk in all at once and stir until smooth and mixture begins to boil.

 Remove from heat.  Immediately dump grated cheese into your thickened sauce and stir until all the cheese is melted.

Put your peeled and sliced potatoes into the greased casserole dish and then cover with cheese sauce.  (You can layer potatoes and sauce if you like.)  Bake covered in a 350 degree oven for approximately 40 minutes.  Uncover and bake for 15 to 20 minutes more, or until potatoes are tender.

For something just a little bit different, you can cook approximately 3/4 cup of onion in your melted butter and then proceed to make the cheese sauce as directed.  You can also add diced ham for a delicious cheesy, ham and potato casserole.

Or, try this version with cream of mushroom soup.


Cheeseburger Soup

I attended several different auctions in Dayton, Virginia where the local Mennonite women served "Cheeseburger Soup".  Having never had it previously, I discovered it to be absolutely delicious.  I began to search for recipes, found one I thought was similar and then modified it to suit our taste. It has ended up being one of our favorites being both hearty and tasty.

Cheeseburger Soup

1 pound of ground beef
3/4 cup chopped or grated onion
3/4 cup shredded carrots
3/4 cup diced celery
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried parsley
4 cups diced/cubed potatoes
3 cups chicken broth
2 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoons flour
1 cup whole milk
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2-4 cups of shredded cheddar cheese depending on your personal taste (the cheesier the better for us)

In a large skillet, cook one pound of quality ground beef and onion, stirring and cooking until no longer pink.  Drain off grease.

Pour 3 cups of chicken broth in a large pot and heat to boiling.  Add carrots, celery, basil, parsley, cooked ground beef, salt, pepper and potatoes.  Bring to boil and reduce heat to simmer.  Cook until potatoes are done, about 12-15 minutes.

On low to medium heat, melt two Tablespoons of butter in a skillet and then add 2 Tablespoons of flour.  Stir until smooth and then add 1 cup of milk.  Continue to stir until mixture thickens and begins to bubble.

 Add your grated cheese and stir briskly until cheese has melted and mixture is smooth.

When your potatoes are tender in your soup, add the melted cheese mixture to the pot and stir thoroughly.  Turn off heat and serve immediately.

Can be served with a dollop of sour cream but is delicious without.


Angel Biscuits

While my Old Fashioned Buttermilk Biscuit recipe reminds me of my paternal grandmother from Georgia, my Angel Biscuit Recipe always reminds me of my maternal grandmother from Missouri.  I can remember her making the biscuits quite often for our family get togethers.

I have included in this post some tips to help make the rolls the best they can be, but the truth is this recipe is pretty forgiving, so if you have never made yeast rolls before, don't be put off by all the additional notes.

Angel Biscuits

5 Cups plain flour
1/4 cup sugar
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp soda
1 tsp salt
3/4 cup butter
1 pkg dry yeast (or 1 Tablspoon of bulk yeast)
2 Tablespoons of warm water (110 degrees) plus 1 teaspoon of sugar
2 Cups buttermilk (or clabbered milk)

Dissolve one package (or two Tablespoons of yeast) and one teaspoon of sugar into two Tablespoons of warm (not hot) water (approximately 110 degrees F).  Let stand 5 to 10 minutes while you start working on the rest of your recipe.  This is called "proofing your yeast.  The warm water gives the yeast the right temperature to start working and the small amount of sugar gives it something on which to feed.  If your yeast is good, it will begin to "foam up" and grow.  If your yeast is not active, there is nothing you can do to make it active.  You must get a fresh batch that is still living.  Yeast can be bought in bulk and kept in the freezer.  I have literally kept yeast for years this way.  On another note, if your water is too hot or too cold, this will keep the yeast from growing during this proofing stage.

Proofing the yeast insures your yeast is active and it gives your bread a head start.

Sift together flour, sugar, baking powder, soda and salt.  Cut butter into flour mixture. (Unlike our Buttermilk Biscuit recipe where the fat must be handled carefully to insure a flaky product, one does not have to worry about how the butter is handled in this recipe.  You can cut the butter into the flour or you can melt the butter, pour it into the flour mixture and mix thoroughly.)      Add the yeast to the buttermilk, pour into center of  flour mixture and mix well.  (You can use a large Kitchen Aid or similar mixer with a dough hook for this stage.  This actually works very well to help stimulate the gluten in the bread dough.  You want to beat for two to three minutes in mixer or about 200 to 300 strokes by hand for best results.)

Turn  dough onto a floured surface and knead adding additional flour if necessary to make a soft dough.  Your goal is to have a dough that ends up not sticky or stiff, but elastic like when you work it.  You want your kneading surface to be comfortable, neither too high or too low.  People use various techniques to knead the dough.  Here is one example and here is another.  (The texture of the dough and the process used in the second video from King Arthur Flour is actually closer to the process I use.)  Kneading the dough is a process that strengthens and stretches the gluten strands in the dough which provides proper conditions for the yeast to work to make the bread rise.  Your goal is a smooth, elastic dough.  Finding your own rhythm in kneading may take time and practice.  If your first attempts at bread making are not exactly what you would like them to be, don't give up.  Making bread is as much a scientific process as it is creative and requires the right conditions for optimum results.

Goal is an "elastic" type consistency to your dough

At this point, I wash up my bowl (or grab a new one) and put a small amount of melted butter or oil in the bottom.  I form  my kneaded dough into a ball and place in the bowl with oil coating all the sides. This helps to keep the dough from drying out while it rises.  Take a clean kitchen cloth, wet it and wring it out well.  Put the damp cloth over the top of the bowl and place the bowl in a warm place free from drafts.  (I turn my oven on and bring the temp up to around  85 to 100 degrees.  Anything over 100 degrees will kill the yeast., I then turn my oven off, and set the bowl of dough in the oven with door closed to allow it to rise.  The dough should double in size)

A warm, draft free spot and a moist cloth over the bowl
creates the right  environment for the yeast to  grow.
The dough is ready for the next step when it has doubled in size.  

After the dough has risen, push the dough down and knead briefly.  Then proceed to
roll the dough out to about 1/2 inch thick.  Cut biscuits with a biscuit cutter or you can use a drinking glass.

Roll the dough out to about 1/2 inch and cut.

 Place biscuits/rolls in a lightly greased baking dish.  Let them rise again in the pan.

Bake in preheated oven at 400 degrees for approximately 15 minutes, or until they are brown on top and cooked through.  (If they have risen pretty high during the baking process, you may want to pull one apart to make sure they are completely cooked before removing from the oven.  I have had them brown on the outside but still doughy in the middle if I did not leave them in long enough.

Angel Biscuit dough can be kept in the refrigerator.  It is great for family get togethers because one can make the dough up ahead of time, refrigerate, and then make fresh rolls as needed.  You can refrigerate before the first rise or after the first rise, it doesn't matter.  When you take your dough out of the refrigerator, allow enough time after you have cut the rolls for the dough to rise.  It will take some additional time because of the dough being cold.  But don't worry, although I have given a lot of tips to make the best rolls possible, the recipe is actually pretty forgiving because it also contains baking powder and baking soda which are also leaving agents that activate when the dough is cooked.

Refrigerate leftover dough.

Another great treat to having this yeast dough on hand is that it is so versatile.  The dough from this recipe can be rolled out, coated in butter, sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar, rolled up and sliced for some delicious, homemade cinnamon rolls.  It also makes delicious pizza dough.


Old Fashioned Shortcake

Who doesn't like Strawberry Shortcake with vanilla ice cream?  It has always been a favorite of mine.  It just so happens that my birthday comes at the same time of year when strawberries are in season and I have chose strawberry shortcake for my birthday cake since I was a little girl.  While fresh strawberries are hard to beat, frozen are good too and make a great winter treat giving us a taste of warmer days.

Old Fashioned Shortcake
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
4 Tablespoons of Sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 cup of chilled cream
1 large egg
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1 Tablespoon of melted butter  

Sift dry ingredients into large bowl.  Blend cream, egg and vanilla in small bowl with for or whisk.  Add cream mixture to flour mixture, stirring to form a very soft dough.  Fill 1/4 measuring cup and drop dough on top of your fruit filling leaving a space between each.  (Makes approximately nine mounds.)

Bake dessert until filling bubbles and topping is golden brown, about 35 to 45 minutes in preheated 375 degree oven.  Brush tops of shortcake with melted butter and sprinkle with granulated sugar.  (Can also sprinkle with cinnamon depending on type of fruit being use for filling.  Cool 15 minutes.  Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream if desired.

Note:  The sky is the limit for your fruit filling.  Get imaginative.  Use fresh, canned or frozen fruit.  Mix the berries.  Use pears or peaches.  Sweeten fruit to taste and place in bottom of 8 x 8 baking dish and then proceed with shortcake instructions.