Favorite "Mom" Meals - Or Not
by Kimberley Thompson, Tastemaker in Residence
Memories surrounding food are one of my strongest of childhood memories: Christmas, birthdays, family reunions, Sunday dinners and road trips all were blessed with an abundance of great food. Whether the table was graced with family favorites or new recipes being given a "test drive;" the conversations were lively in discussing the meal. I learned at an early age to always appreciate the endeavors of the cook regardless of the outcome.
Which leads to what might be the explanation of my favorite of Mom's meals: Swiss Steak and Herb Dumplings. For over 45 years it remains on my leader board of "Best Meals Ever!" How it got there, though, takes a bit of back ground history.
My Mom and Dad struggled (though as children, we never realized we were living in tight times) to feed a family of 6 during the 60's. Dad had started for the airlines as a mechanic; but was working his way up to second officer with the goal of pilot someday. He would just get ahead when yet another labor dispute and/or strike would waylay his forward progression for a few months or years. During those times, Mom was a firm believer in the 1955 Home Economics Teachers' Casserole Cookbook with it's emphasis on generous portions achieved through inexpensive ingredients.
Rather than randomly skip around the chapters, Mom would literally take each section week by week and try everything on those pages until she exhausted each subject. She figured it saved her time and money; plus our memories would be clearer about which recipe was best in said category. Ground beef, ham, chicken thighs, organ meats, etc....all were covered in detail.
Odd system; but it worked well. Until Mom hit the section on liver. LIVER. Liver 7 DAYS in a row. Liver CASSEROLES 7 days in a row. And the grand finale was....liver casserole with the dubious title of Italian Liver Casserole Surprise. And it certainly lived up to its "Surprise."
Liver which one had dredged in Italian herbs (the Lawrys pre-mixed one in the shaker), gently browned in olive oil before immersing in a layered bed of pasta sauce (from a can), sour cream mixed with Kraft's Parmesan cheese (from the green can) and lasagna noodles. Cover and bake for 2 hours. Dear Lord...the smell was incredible...and not in a good way.
Did you know that liver baked in the above manner takes on the color and texture of boiled cow tongue? And that the Kraft Parmesan cheese solidifies with the sour cream into a gelatinous mass of putty? Add the red sauce puddled throughout the layers and it ends up looking like some bizarre food autopsy table remnants.
There was silence at the table. Dad looked steely eyed at each one of us kids and said "Looks and smells wonderful, Honey." We all knew right then that there was to be no argument, no "not hungry," no pushing it around on the plate to make it look like it was being eaten. And the servings would be normal sized.
So we all chimed "Looks great Mom. Thanks Mom." And proceeded to gobble up as much of the salad and garlic bread as we could. But avoidance only lasted so long.
Forks poised. Knives at the ready. Eyeballs darting to see who was the bravest and actually get a bite to their lips. Could not even contemplate swallowing the forked morsel quite yet.
Dad's eyes said it all. "EAT. NOW." And to give all of us full credit...the first bites stayed down. My over powering thought was of canned dog food. And I will not elaborate beyond that memory.
I remember the meal as being desperately conversant; we all tried to fill up the quiet created out of the void of normal dining sounds. No "mmmmmm's", "yums" or "more please" broke the silence.
Dad put his fork down after 4 bites and remarked "What a filling meal...I feel like I have eaten a banquet already." And that ceased ALL fork movement from us kids. Mom bravely hung unto her fork, looking at each of us. "I don't know. Do you think it is too dry?"
As one entity, four heads turned towards Dad and said nothing. He sighed. Picked up his fork once more and carefully speared the smallest morsel left on his plate. With the briefest of chews and a quick swallow; he managed to choke out a "Not too dry, dear."
Mom sat very still. She looked around the table at each of our faces and then to our plates. She glanced over to the large amount of Italian Liver Casserole Surpris lingering in her Corning Ware.
Drawing a deep breathe, she chirruped, "Who would like ice cream?"
So, that is the back ground on my Mom's "must have," "looking forward to," and all time favorite recipe of Swiss Steak with Herb Dumpling.
For the following chapter in the 1955 Home Economics Teachers' Casserole Cookbook was "Round Steak." And Mom's next day adventure was....you guessed it.....Swiss Steak and Herb Dumpling.