One of the things I like best about the holiday season is having our son come home for an extended period. The college he attends, Plymouth (N.H.) State University, retains the winter study break, where students have the option of returning to campus early in January and taking an intensive four-week-long course or two. As a result, he's home for five to six weeks after Christmas.
David has never opted to take a winter course, preferring to work at the plumbing business that employs him during college breaks and summer vacations. I like the working option, too. The First Bank of Mom is saved from covering insufficient funds during the semester -- well, most of it anyway. And I enjoy having him home and having our family together around the dinner table.
It takes a few days to get back into the family routine -- especially David and I vying for the shower first thing in the morning to get to work on time -- but eventually things work out.
Like when the Prodigal Son in the Bible returned to the fold, I make David's favorite dishes, which fortunately don't require the Biblical "fatted calf." Last night was creamed chipped beef, or as the veterans of World War II and the Korean War called it, "sh** on a shingle." (I don't know what it cost then, but by my calculations, a pound of dried beef is now in the $13 to $14 range. I would much rather have a good steak at that price, but David likes what he likes.)
I use my Mom's technique for preparing it, which takes only about 5 to 10 minutes. It begins by slicing two 6-ounce jars or pouches of sliced dried beef (found near the canned tuna fish and Spam in the market) into smaller pieces. Once sliced, put the beef into a strainer or colander and rinse, rinse, rinse under cold water to get most of the salt off.
While the beef is draining in the colander, melt four tablespoons butter over medium heat. When it is melted, add 4 tablespoons flour and whisk into a smooth paste. Do not let it brown! Add 4 cups milk and whisk constantly, until the sauce is thick and bubbly. Add 1/2 teaspoons black or white pepper. Add the rinsed dried beef and mix to coat thoroughly.
Serve over mashed potatoes or toasted bread.
Another of David's favorites is from a TV friend. He's even made the recipe himself several times for us!
Super Sloppy Joes
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, 1 turn of the pan
1 1/4 pounds ground beef sirloin
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons to 1 tablespoon steak seasoning blend, such as McCormick brand Montreal Seasoning
1 medium onion, chopped
1 small red bell pepper, chopped
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 cups tomato sauce
2 tablespoons tomato paste
4 crusty rolls, split, toasted, and lightly buttered
Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Add oil and meat to the pan. Spread the meat around the pan and begin to break it up. Combine brown sugar and steak seasoning. Add sugar and spice mixture to the skillet and combine.
When the meat has browned, add onion and red peppers to the skillet. Reduce heat to medium and cook onions, peppers, red wine vinegar and Worcestershire sauce with meat for 5 minutes. Add tomato sauce and paste to pan. Stir to combine. Reduce heat to simmer and cook Sloppy Joe mixture 5 minutes longer.
Using a large spoon or ice cream scoop, pile sloppy meat onto toasted, buttered bun bottoms and cover with bun tops.
This spicier version of Sloppy Joes is from the same TV friend. My advice is to try the 1/4 cup hot sauce the first time. If it's not spicy enough, you can always add more.
Sloppy Buffalo Joes
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 pounds ground chicken or turkey breast
1 carrot, peeled and chopped or grated
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
2 to 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped or grated
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 to 1/3 cup hot sauce (recommended: Frank's Red Hot)
1 cup tomato sauce
1 cup chicken stock
8 good quality burger rolls, split and toasted
1 cup blue cheese crumbles
2 large dill pickles, chopped
Heat a large skillet with extra-virgin olive oil over medium-high heat. Add meat and break it up with wooden spoon, cook 5 to 6 minutes. Add in carrots, celery, onions and garlic, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, cook 7 to 8 minutes more.
In a bowl combine the vinegar, sugar, Worcestershire, hot sauce, tomato sauce and stock. Pour into the pan and stir to combine. Simmer a few minutes more.
Pile sloppy Buffalo filling onto buns and top with blue cheese and chopped pickles.
Margaret Button is the city editor of the North Adams Transcript. Send recipes for inclusion in future columns to the North Adams Transcript, 85 Main St., Suite 2, North Adams, Mass. 01247 or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.