What’s for Dinner? Dried Beef Gravy and . . .

“Just two generations ago, preparing meals was as much a part of life as eating,” so says Mark Bittman in an article entitled How to Eat Now published in the October 20, 2014 issue of TIME magazine. Although a recent Harris poll reveals that 79% of Americans say they enjoy cooking, probably most get at least a third of their daily calories outside the home. Bittman goes on to show how easy it is to get a nutritious home-cooked meal on the table and includes 3 simple recipes: Vegetable soup which borrows from the freezer aisle, a whole roast chicken with garlic and lemons, and skillet pear crisp recipe which makes for easy cleanup.

TIMEfood

Mother of course cooked two main meals every day. I could count on the fingers of one hand the times we ate in a restaurant. Her recipes were hearty, reflective of the PA Dutch cooking she grew up with, never skimping on the butter.

When I came back from Pennsylvania a few weeks ago, I brought on the plane frozen ham loaf and chipped beef. After the ham loaf is thawed, it’s a cinch to pop it into the oven and serve in a few hours with virtually no prep time.

Preparing chipped beef gravy though, while not enormously time consuming, does require assembling ingredients: dried/chipped beef, butter, flour, milk or cream, and a touch of pepper and then stirring in a skillet on the stove.

Last Wednesday, I pulled out my trusty Mennonite Community Cookbook by Mary Emma Showalter, a book of 1100 favorite recipes gleaned from Mennonite families all over the United States and Canada. Usually, I use Mother’s recipe in my head and knowing the ingredients to what she called dried beef gravy I add a hunk of this and two cups of that, “just what you think” as she used to say. This time though I will follow the cookbook’s recipe for creamed dried beef, which I see browns the beef with the butter.

DriedBeef RecipeNOname

RecipeDriedBeef

Next I assemble all of the ingredients and fire up the stove, beginning with melting butter in a hot skillet.

butterMelt

Adding the dried beef to the melted butter sends a hearty aroma throughout the kitchen. Then, sprinkling flour over the butter and beef, I create a roux to which I slowly add milk. Depending on your sensitivity to calories, you could use water, milk, or cream. I always use milk. Keep on stirring until the mixture becomes smooth and thick.

Dried Beef+ButterFlourStir

Finally, your creamed dried beef, which Mother always referred to as dried beef gravy, is ready to serve over toast, over mashed potatoes, as you wish.

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Typical Menu

Dried Beef Gravy over Mashed Potatoes

Garden peas

Applesauce

Mark Bittman would probably raise his eyebrows over the amount of butter and flour in the creamed dried beef recipe. And of course this menu is heartier than his lower calorie menu of vegetable soup, roast chicken with pear crisp but, oh, is it delicious!

*  *  *

For years I thought of creamed dried beef as a Pennsylvania Dutch dish. After all, it appeared on page 58 of the Mennonite Cookbook, 1972 edition. Recently, my sister-in-law Terry told me her mother made the same recipe when she was growing up in California.

How about you? Did you enjoy creamed dried beef (or a variation) growing up? Is this recipe part of your cooking repertoire now?

 Inquiring cooks want to know. . . 

Southern Friends Meet PA Dutch Dish

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Plan A

The sweet aroma of ham-loaf baking wafts through the house as I hurry to welcome my Southern friends at the front door. They are in for a real treat: ham-loaf from Wenger’s Fine Meats in Elizabethtown, PA brought shrink-wrapped in my suitcase on the plane,

hamloafBrochure

My menu will replicate my mother’s, a superb Lancaster County Mennonite cook if there ever was one. Even at 95, she still makes some family meals:

MENU

  • Melon balls with citrus mint
  • Ham-loaf
  • Dinner rolls
  • Bread and butter pickles
  • Buttered peas & carrots
  • Mashed potatoes with fresh chives
  • Frozen lemon cream pie
  • Coffee

The table is set with formal elegance: wedding china and crystal with a lemony centerpiece:

TableSetting

My friends are genuine Southern belles: Not a gray hair among them, their diamonds are real, their speech soft: “How y’all doin’? and “Bless yah heart!” is part of their verbal repertoire. They have given me an education in southern emBELLishments, so this evening I plan to guide the conversation by asking questions. Growing up, did you meet Mennonites? What was your impression? Do you know what Mennonites believe?

But my plans dissolve as I am greeted by friends with party hats, balloons, and sparkly gift bags, gleeful that they have surprised me royally. My birthday is five days away, but—bless their hearts!—they know it’s never too early to party.  They produce smart-phones and iPads to capture the moment as I embrace Plan B:

4 friends party hars

PlanBmemo

Table conversation takes a different track from the one planned, and how glad I am that it does. We dish about vacation plans, family, embarrassing moments, dreams. We don’t weigh words! Then we enjoy dessert after I open presents and read more about Plan B from the memo pad gift:

Plan A is always my first choice  . . .

the one where everything works out.

But more often than not, I find myself dealing with

the upside-down version

where nothing goes as it should.

It’s at this point the real test

of my character comes in. . .

Do I sink or do I swim?

Do I wallow in self-pity

or do I simply shift gears and

make the best of the situation?

The choice is mine.

Life really is all about

how you handle Plan B.

— Suzy Toronto

Each one of us around the table has had our taste of Plan B. We have all have had our share of heart-ache, disappointment, and loss. But all of us have learned to put a high priority on our faith, family, and friends. After all, “life really is all about how you handle Plan B.”

The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men / Gang aft agley, / An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain, / For promis’d joy!                                         – Robert Burns

Does your life experience resemble Plan A or Plan B?

How has your Plan B turned out for the better or worse? Share your story.