March can feel endless, with its grey skies, dirty snow and a damp chilliness that seeps into my joints. This year, April’s showers have arrived early, making it easy for me to abandon my plans to get back to my long-abandoned walking routine.
My partner has spent considerable time outside, picking up the detritus that the winter’s snow has kept covered until recently. It’s remarkable what accumulates under that blanket of whiteness. (Can someone please tell me why people bag their dog poop and then dump it in other people’s yards?!)
I, on the other hand, have remained inside, filling the house with anticipatory bright colours of spring flowers. With the comfort provided by a vase of flowers on my desk, I can almost feel the spring, even if the wood stove is still blasting out heat and I keep a blanket handy to wrap around myself for extra warmth while I am working.
I have also dug out some much loved comfort food recipes that haven’t had much use recently, starting with a recipe for chocolate chip cookies from Harrowsmith Magazine’s Kitchen Wisdom, which I authored in 1991.
I hadn’t used that recipe for a long time but, last week, a colleague told me that a friend of hers had delivered a batch of delicious cookies to cheer her up while she was quarantined with a COVID-infected kid. Always interested in possible new recipes, I asked her what kind of cookies were getting her through this crisis: chocolate chip, she replied, made from a recipe I had given her friend when we attended law school together three decades ago. The friend claims these to be the best cookies in the world and has since passed the recipe on to her daughter, who has added her own touches to make them, apparently, even better.
My copy of Kitchen Wisdom has been well loved. The front cover is beginning to peel; the page containing the mayonnaise recipe has been made forever illegible by drips of egg yolk and oil; the curry powder recipe page smells like cumin every time I turn to it; two other pages are permanently glued together because of ingredients that have been dropped on them.
Whether or not the chocolate chip cookie recipe is the best in the world, at least the page containing it is still legible, so I made a batch.
Since Kitchen Wisdom is long since out of print, here’s the recipe, which makes about 5 dozen cookies.
Cream 1 cup butter, add ½ cup white sugar and 1 cup brown sugar and continue creaming until well mixed, then mix in 1 egg and I tsp vanilla. In a different bowl, combine 1 ½ cups each flour and rolled oats, ¾ cup coconut, 1 tsp. each baking soda and baking powder and a dash of salt, then mix thoroughly into creamed ingredients. Stir in 1 cup chocolate chips, drop by spoonfuls onto cookie sheets lined with parchment paper and bake at 375 degrees F for 10 – 12 minutes. While the original recipe doesn’t call for pecans, I added 1 cup of them, finely chopped.
I continued my walk down recipe memory lane with a revised version of what was a standby supper dish when my kids were little: tuna casserole. I’ve replaced the tuna with ground beef because we have ready access to large quantities of it from my son’s herd of beef cattle. And, I have made it richer by throwing in some sour cream and cream cheese, for no reason other than it is March, and I want to beat the gloom. Here’s how I made enough for six people, with leftovers for lunch:
Cook 500 grams egg noodles until tender, drain, rinse and place in greased casserole dish. Heat 4 Tbsp. olive oil in heavy skillet, add 1 chopped onion and saute over medium high heat for 2 minutes. Add 2 chopped cloves garlic and continue to saute for another minute. Add 1 ½ lbs. ground beef, stirring it into the onions and garlic until completely broken up. When meat is almost cooked through, add 2 cups thickly sliced mushrooms and continue cooking until meat is thoroughly cooked. Season with salt and pepper to taste, then stir mixture into noodles. Add 2 cups grated Cheddar cheese, ½ cup cream cheese and 1 cup sour cream, stirring well until cream cheese is melted and all ingredients are well combined. Bake at 350 degrees F until hot through and cheese is completely melted.
You can add almost anything to this – peas, smoked paprika, a bit of Worcestershire sauce, for example – or use Swiss cheese in place of Cheddar. I sometimes top it with panko and parmesan cheese if I am looking for a really crunchy texture.
My daughter and her partner are coming for dinner tomorrow, and I will be serving both the ground beef casserole, accompanied by a green salad to make the meal a bit healthy and, for dessert, chocolate chip cookies – with ice cream, because in this last week of March, it’s all about comfort.