Try these delicious standby meals and desserts the next time you need something quick and easy to serve guests.
Cooking On The Go
By Janet Groene
If you’re a longtime motorhomer, you remember meals eaten while you gazed out at snowcapped mountains and seaside sunsets. You talk now about disasters and triumphs. You reminisce about the time that you were so tired and hungry after a long day’s hike that a can of beef stew tasted as good as filet mignon.
Remember the first time you made Hobo Stew, roasted hot dogs on a stick over an open fire, or tasted s’mores? I look back on many meals served to VIP guests (a snooty editor from New York City; my husband’s former boss; a wealthy cousin) in our humble RV. We don’t have china dishes, but the million-dollar views from our table wowed “˜em every time.
Let’s take a recipe ramble down memory lane with these old-time favorites.
Old-Fashioned Southern Cornbread
The popular Jiffy-brand cornbread mix is deliciously sweet, the way Yankees like it. Southern-style cornbread is baked in a skillet and has little wheat flour and no sweetener. If you want sweeter bread, serve it with molasses, jam, sorghum syrup, or honey. The cornmeal can be yellow or white but should be stone ground.
1/4 cup vegetable oil or bacon fat
1 ½ cups stone ground cornmeal
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
About 1 cup buttermilk
Set the oven for 450 degrees. Put half the fat or oil in an oven-proof skillet. Whisk the dry ingredients in a bowl, then stir in the remaining fat or oil and enough buttermilk to make a thick batter. Place the skillet over a burner and heat the oil until it is shimmering “” but not smoking “” then quickly pour in the batter. Put the skillet in the 450-degree oven for 25 to 30 minutes or until the cornbread is firm and springy. It should be crusty on the edges and moist and tender in the middle. Cut into wedges and serve hot.
This is still a favorite for times when we are using the solar oven or skimping on fuel. Because the vegetables are diced and the meat is ground, it cooks very quickly.
1 pound lean ground beef
1 large onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
4 medium carrots, peeled and finely chopped
2 large potatoes, scrubbed and diced
1/4 cup water
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
Fry the ground beef in a sprayed or nonstick deep skillet over high heat, gradually stirring in the vegetables to coat with the brown bits. Add the water and tomato sauce; cover; and cook over low heat for 10 to 15 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Season to taste. This recipe makes four servings.
Variations: Substitute a can of diced tomatoes for tomato sauce. No water is needed. For a gravy-based stew, do not use tomatoes or tomato sauce. Cook until the vegetables are tender, then stir in a can or jar of gravy to heat through. A scattering of frozen peas adds a fresh, green color to the mix.
Red Flannel Hash
This recipe is from my oldest file of “desperation dinners.” It’s best made with fresh potatoes and onions, but I keep canned potatoes and a bottle of small, boiled onions on hand just in case. When prepared with canned ingredients, it can be on the table in minutes. Grandmother made it in a big iron skillet, using the end of an opened tin can to chop the ingredients as they fried. She also used plenty of black pepper. Go easy on the salt, because corned beef is very salty.
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon minced garlic (optional)
1 medium onion, diced
2 potatoes, scrubbed and diced
1 12-ounce can corned beef
1 12-ounce can julienne beets, well drained
Heat the oil in a nonstick skillet and fry the garlic, onion, and potatoes. When they’re glossy and beginning to brown, stir in the corned beef. Break up the corned beef to mix well; cover; and cook over low heat until the vegetables are tender and the bottom is crusty. Stir in the beets; heat through; and serve at once. This recipe makes three to four servings.
Mom’s Lemon Squares, Updated
If you have a hand mixer, fine. If not, use a whisk to make the crust and a fork to mix the cream cheese.
1 box lemon cake mix
½ cup vegetable oil
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup sugar
Juice from a large lemon
Mix or whisk the cake mix, oil, and one egg, and spread the mixture in a greased 9-inch-by-13-inch baking pan. Bake the crust for 13 minutes at 350 degrees. In the same bowl, mix the cream cheese, sugar, remaining egg, and lemon juice. Spread the cream cheese mixture evenly over the crust and bake for another 15 minutes, or until set. Cool and cut into two dozen bars.
I still fall back on this oldie but goodie. It was a staple for hot weather. We have air-conditioning now in our RV, so it’s never too hot to bake, but these cookies are quick, easy, and just plain good. Use a three-quart saucepan. The mixture boils up, and you’ll also need room to mix in the remaining ingredients.
1 stick butter
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup dry, unsweetened cocoa
1/2 cup milk
3 cups one-minute oats
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup creamy or chunky peanut butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Put the butter, sugar, cocoa, and milk in a saucepan and heat to boiling, stirring frequently. While the butter mixture is heating, combine the oats, nuts, and coconut in a plastic or paper bag to mix well. Once the butter mixture comes to a boil, time it for exactly one minute. Turn off the heat; stir in the peanut butter to melt it; then quickly add in the dry ingredients and vanilla extract, stirring until everything is evenly moistened. Drop by teaspoons on waxed paper and cool until set.
Cook’s note: Use raisins or other dried fruit in place of nuts and/or coconut.
Steve’s Burger Bundles
This recipe is from Rescued Recipes (see below). It’s delicious for small batches and can be multiplied easily for a potluck. A charming, old-time story goes with this recipe and others, so the book makes a good armchair read.
1 cup herb-seasoned stuffing mix
1 pound lean ground beef
1/3 cup evaporated milk
1 10-ounce can cream of mushroom soup
1 cup milk
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon ketchup
Prepare the stuffing mix according to package directions and set aside. Add evaporated milk to the ground beef and divide into four balls. Flatten each ball to a circle and place a quarter of the dressing in the middle. Bring up the edges to seal and arrange the bundles in a baking dish.
Whisk the soup, milk, Worcestershire sauce, and ketchup to make a smooth sauce and pour it over the bundles. Cook at 350 degrees, uncovered, for 50 minutes or until the bundles test done with an instant-read thermometer. This recipe makes four servings.
Momma And Jan’s Signature Salad Dressing
From the cookbook Momma & Me & You (see below), this recipe makes a delightfully different dressing. If you don’t have a blender or food processor, mince the onions and garlic very, very fine.
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
½ cup marsala wine
½ cup balsamic vinegar
4 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons chopped onion
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons pepper
2 tablespoons sugar
Blend all of the ingredients and refrigerate.
Long ago, a “taffy pull” was a team sport enjoyed at parties. This homemade candy was cooked, then stretched repeatedly until it was light and airy. Saltwater taffy machines that pulled and paddled taffy were popular attractions at fairs. When making this recipe, start small with two or more people. It takes a lot of pulling and stretching to reach the desired lightness.
1 cup light molasses
3/4 cup sugar
2/3 stick butter
1 teaspoon vanilla flavoring
Use a three-quart pot, because this mixture foams up. Stir the molasses, sugar, and butter over low heat until the butter dissolves. Then bring to a boil, without stirring, until it measures 275 degrees on a candy thermometer. Remove from heat and add the vanilla flavoring. Let the mixture cool until you can handle it. Divide into two portions.
Two or more people with buttered hands pull the ball of candy into long strands, then fold it back on itself time and again. With each pull it gathers air, making it lighter in color. When the taffy is firm and light but still malleable enough to stretch into a rope 1 inch thick, use buttered scissors to cut it into bite-size pieces. Arrange on wax paper to dry and wrap individually in waxed paper.
Cook’s note: If you don’t have a candy thermometer, drop a little of the hot syrup into cold water. If it forms a firm, sticky ball, it’s at the hard ball stage.
Mother’s Refrigerator Cookies
Use the toaster oven to bake only a few cookies a day and you’ll always have fresh, hot shortbread. Make a double batch for future travels. Logs keep in the freezer for up to a month.
2 sticks butter
3/4 cup powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla flavoring
2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Using an electric mixer or a wooden spoon, beat the softened butter, gradually adding the sugar. When the mixture is smooth, stir in the vanilla flavoring and the dry ingredients. Mix very well. Turn out the dough in two portions, forming each into a log about 2 inches around. Roll in wax paper and chill for at least four hours. Cut into thin slices (about two dozen cookies per log) and place on a lightly sprayed sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 10 minutes. The edges should be light brown and the tops golden. If the logs are frozen, let them stand for 10 minutes before slicing.
Books for cooks. The sweetest keepsake book in ages is Clara’s Kitchen ($21.99, St. Martin’s Press), a compact, hardcover book crammed with homespun advice. It’s written by 94-year-old Clara Cannucciari, a YouTube favorite, and her grandson, Christopher. It’s a plus for any RV kitchen, small but filled with great recipes. If you love Italian food that stretches the dollar, the book is a must-have and a must-give. Clara tells many warm, family stories, so it’s an armchair read even if you don’t cook.
Two other new books that make the nostalgia hit parade while providing practical recipes that are sure to please are Momma & Me & You and Rescued Recipes, by Jan and Livia D’Atri ($24.95 each). Jan has appeared on numerous Phoenix, Arizona, area television programs and her mother, Livia, emerged from post-war Italy to found D’Atris at Lake Tahoe, a restaurant known for its celebrity guests and its rum cake, meatballs with meat sauce, and gnocchi. Their cookbooks are filled with great recipes that are authentic and fun to try. Color photos are mouthwatering, and the stories that go with each recipe are warm, loving, nostalgic, and real. The books can be ordered through bookstores, online booksellers, or at www.jandatri.com.