Green beans and apron strings
By Angie Sutton
I’m standing by the stove stirring a pot of what will be dinner this evening at Sutton Central. A place of mass chaos, yet complete organization for this family of seven. I opened a Mason jar filled with green beans snapped months ago and the pop sound made by the seal breaking revived memories of my great-grandmother’s home from many years earlier.
When I was a young child, we loaded the car, a huge silver four-door Ford, and set out for Great Grandma’s house in the country. It was not an impressive house, just one of those simple and sturdy farm houses built in the 1880s that dot the countryside throughout Kansas. It’s not the architecture that I remember so much as the smells and the tastes that were familiar to those visits.
Most memorable was a trip to the outdoor cellar. Great-Grandma, in her sturdy home-sewn work dress, would raise the giant white cellar door slowly. We would carefully peer beneath waiting for her to knock down the cobwebs and make the first assessment of uninvited guests that may be lurking below. The pungent earthy smell of a dark, damp storage crypt attacked the senses as we descended the stairs with guidance from a small flashlight beam. Great-Grandma would then carefully collect a few jars and shoo us back up to the daylight. Our reward was hearing the popping sound when she broke the seals and getting to sneak a taste of the green beans hours before they would be served.
There were a couple of things that certainly were off-limits to those under the age of 10 years while visiting. Touching the giant loom that overwhelmed the small living room was top on the list. If we were lucky, she would take a moment to demonstrate how to make a rug for her young audience. Second on the list was the upstairs bedroom that contained the circular lye cakes used for washing clothes. There was no doubt that we would indeed be touching these before we ever exited the car on our visits. It was just a one-finger-touch, and just for a second with our breath held. Weren’t we relieved when this exposure indeed did not cause a horrific reaction to our skin as we’d been told it might!
Before our visit came to an end, we could always count on Great-Grandma to make a cold coffee for us. What is now considered a trendy drink was, in 1975, a symbol of being a grown-up five-year-old. Frankly it tasted disgusting. I’m fairly certain it was instant coffee crystals dissolved in water straight from the well with no ice added. But we drank every last drop with enthusiasm as she watched us smiling.
In the heart of my kitchen hangs a poem framed with a century of experience watching over the culinary escapades of generations of my family. It’s not terribly attractive. In fact, I found it abandoned on the wall not long before Great-Grandma’s old farmhouse was torn down.
The poem is called “Mother’s Apron Strings” and pays homage to the uncomputed strength of those apron ties. I happen to be an apron junkie. I love the pockets and, frankly, I’m kind of messy so it works out.
I look forward to sharing real recipes with real ingredients and the adventure of what I pretend is controlled chaos in my home. This week I’m including some of my “go to” family-pleasing recipes. I hope you will find my test kitchen helpful, the recipes inviting and the conversations meaningful.
These three pasta-based main dish recipes provide a hearty staple that is simple to pull together on a busy night. They lend themselves well to preparing some, or all, of the ingredients in advance. Best of all, you can cut the recipes in half or utilize the leftovers as a meal the next day or stash them in the freezer. Add a green vegetable and a fruit salad to provide a nutritious well-rounded plate.
Cheesy Ziti and Ground Beef
1 pound dry ziti pasta
Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add pasta and boil until al dente, drain. In a large skillet, brown onion and ground beef. Add spaghetti sauce and simmer 15 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9- by 13-inch casserole dish. Layer in this order: 1/2 of the pasta, Provolone cheese spread to cover pasta, sour cream, 1/2 of the sauce mixture, remaining pasta, mozzarella cheese and remaining sauce mixture. Top with grated Parmesan cheese. Bake uncovered for 30 minutes or until heated through. Remove from oven and let rest for 5 minutes before serving.
Chicken Bacon Ranch Casserole
1 pound bacon, fried and crumbled, grease saved
Cut chicken into bite-sized cubes, coat with 1 1/2 tablespoon ranch seasoning mix. Saute in skillet with 1 tablespoon of reserved bacon grease, bell peppers and garlic. When chicken is cooked through, drain grease and liquid from skillet. Return chicken and vegetables to skillet. Pour half the Alfredo sauce and milk into skillet with chicken. Stir in one teaspoon of ranch seasoning mix. Simmer for 5 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Begin layering casserole with half of the remaining Alfredo sauce on the bottom of a 9-by 13-inch glass casserole dish. Then layer 1/3 of each of the following: pasta, chicken mixture and tomatoes. Use 1/4 of the fried bacon. Spread 1 cup of mozzarella cheese over that layer. Repeat two more times. After the third layer, cover with the remaining Alfredo sauce, 1 cup of mozzarella cheese and remaining bacon. Bake uncovered for 30 minutes or until heated through. Remove from oven and let rest for 5 minutes before serving.
Italian Sausage Soup with Tortellini
1 pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
In a 5-quart Dutch oven, brown sausage. Remove sausage and drain, reserving 1 tablespoon of the drippings. Saute onions and garlic in drippings. Stir in beef broth, water, wine, tomatoes, carrots, basil, oregano, tomato sauce and sausage. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer uncovered for 30 minutes. Skim fat from the soup. Stir in zucchini and parsley. Simmer covered for 30 minutes. Add tortellini during the last 10 minutes. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese on top of each serving.