Friday, December 6, 2019

Grandma Marian's "White Salad"

As I mentioned a couple of posts ago, we hosted the traditional Thanksgiving Dinner at our house last  Thursday.  I'm sure everyone has a different list of what is considered the traditional Thanksgiving menu, but for my family it is always the same:

Turkey and Gravy
Mashed Potatoes
Candied Sweet Potatoes
Cranberry Sauce
Green Bean Casserole
Escalloped Corn
White Salad
Dinner Rolls
Pumpkin Pie with Whipped Cream

This is tradition in our family because this is always what my Grandma Marian served on Thanksgiving.  Today, I want to share with you her recipe for "White Salad."  This is my favorite fruit salad, and when Grandma was still cooking, it was hers too.  My mother and aunt were reminiscing about the fact that she used to take it everywhere.  It is delicious, and it was the first leftover to be finished off.  I don't know why I don't make it more often because it's really not difficult either.

Here is what you'll need:

  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup distilled vinegar
  • Non-dairy whipped topping (thawed) or slightly sweetened whipped cream (about a cup and a half).
  • 1 15oz. can of mandarin oranges
  • 1 15oz. can of pineapple tidbits
  • red and green grapes (at least a cup of each)
  • at least 1 cup of miniature marshmallows
  • red cherries for garnish (optional)


Early in the morning or the night before the meal, you will need to make the first part of the salad dressing.

1. Have your fire hot enough to boil a little bit of water in the bottom of a double boiler.

2. Before putting it over the hot water, lightly beat two eggs in the top part of the double boiler.

3. Beat in the 1/4 cup of sugar and the 1/4 cup of distilled vinegar.

4.  Once thoroughly combined, put the top of the double boiler over the boiling water.

5. Stirring constantly, cook until it has thickened enough that it coats a spoon.

6. Remove from the heat and cool slightly.  Cover, then chill thoroughly in the refrigerator.  (This doesn't take that long because there really isn't that much volume here.)

7. While the dressing is chilling and long before you plan to assemble the salad, wash the grapes and cut them in half.  Place them on paper towels to dry.  Also drain the cans of mandarin oranges and pineapple tidbits.  Let them rest in a colander for quite a while.  You want the fruit to be as dry as possible.

8. Once the cooked part of the dressing is thoroughly chilled, beat the whipped topping or the whipped cream into the custard part.  The directions for the amount of whipped topping literally say "until it looks right" on the recipe that I copied from Grandma.  This was the phrase that she and her mother both used when they tried to tell someone else how they cooked by guess and by golly.

I don't really think you can mess up this part.  If you want to make this salad larger by adding more fruit, you can always add more whipped topping to the custard at this step.  The only thing that will happen is that the sweet and sour flavor of the dressing will tend toward the sweeter side.

In the pictures here, I would say that I added about one and a half cups of whipped topping.

9. Combine the fruits and then fold in the dressing.

10. Add about a cup of miniature marshmallows.  DON'T SKIP THIS STEP in an effort to cut back on the calories.  The value of the marshmallows is not so much in the flavor as it is in their ability to absorb the juices which will be drawn out of the fruit.  Their primary function is to keep the salad from turning watery.

11. If desired, garnish the top of the salad with a red cherry or more.  Refrigerate until serving.

The last picture above didn't get taken until the salad had been passed around the table once.  That's why a chunk of the salad is missing on the right side.

You will note that the salad dressing doesn't appear very white.  That's because my chickens are free range, so their egg yolks are darker than what you would get out of the store.

This is really an excellent fruit salad: tangy, sweet, and colorful.  Bon appetit!

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

What Does "Back of the Stove" Mean?

200th Post!  200th Post!  200th Post!  200th Post!  200th Post!  200th Post!

Sorry.  I'm excited that this is my 200th blogpost!

A while back, I had a reader suggest to me that I write a blog post explaining the phrase "back of the stove"--as in "Let it simmer on the back of the stove for six hours" or "Cook at the back of the stove until thick."  It is a very common phrase in old recipes and cookbooks and is perhaps a little confusing to today's cooks.

In actuality, this phrase even predates the most common designs for woodburning ranges, so we have to go back in history a little to understand it fully.

When household cookery began to move from open fireplaces to cast iron stoves, the stoves were built with very low fireboxes at the front, which then vented toward the rear of the stove beneath an oven, the bottom of which was even with the level of the cooktop, as in the picture below:

Photo courtesy of

This stove design then changed to have the oven be tucked under the cooktop, and the firebox was raised to a more comfortable height. Cookstoves then looked like this:

Photo Credit:

A door is open on the oven in the picture above, but the photos only show one of the two oven doors on each stove since each of these cookstoves was equipped with an oven which could be accessed from either side.

This type of cookstove was usually installed with the firebox side toward the room as in the first picture above.

Thus, the firebox side was literally the front of the stove, and the cooler, rear part was at the back.  The phrase "back of the stove" meant the cooler part of the cooktop.

As with so many things in the human experience, our tools changed before our terminology did.  More recent stove designs put the firebox on the left (only rarely on the right), and the cooler part of the range top is now on the side of the stove instead of the back.

In the pictures below, you can see the firebox on the left side of the Margin Gem, and in the second picture you see a saucepan and our teakettle "on the back of the stove."

Basically, the phrase "back of the stove" means the coolest part of the cooktop even though it is no longer necessarily at the stove's back.  The phrase indicates an area used for slow cooking and keeping things warm while still having direct heat.

I hope that clears things up for everyone who might have been wondering!

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Full Thanksgiving Dinner Cooked on the Wood Cookstove

Well, today was Marjorie the Margin Gem's first Thanksgiving.  She has baked pies for Thanksgiving every year since she was installed in 2012, but this was the first year since her installation that we hosted Thanksgiving.

Today was not our family's official Thanksgiving dinner.  That will be tomorrow when we all get together at my parents' home.  This was the year for my brother and sister's families to be with their in-laws. so since our get-together isn't until tomorrow--on a non-official holiday--my brother wanted to have one of those days where we all bring things we've never made before.  (Stay tuned for a post about one of the dishes that I'm making for the first time.)

While tomorrow will be fun and interesting, some of us were a little sad because we wouldn't have any of the traditional foods that we eat on Thanksgiving.  Therefore, Nancy and I hosted the traditional dinner today for just eight of us: Nancy's folks, my folks, my aunt and grandma, and Nancy and me.

Of course, this meant that I had the perfect opportunity to blog cooking a whole Thanksgiving dinner on a wood cookstove.  I have read a description of cooking on a wood cookstove as a "dance" as you move pots and pans around to the appropriate heat levels for where their respective foods are in their cooking process, and you can see from the movement of things in the pictures, that there are lots and lots of movements to this dance.

Last night, I cooked the cranberry sauce and put the bread for the dressing in the warming oven to dry out.

This morning, I got up early and baked the pumpkin pies.  The recipe for pumpkin pie that I used today is from my great-great-grandma, Mabel Ford.  I blogged it several years ago, and you can see it here.

This is a picture of the pumpkin pies when they first went into
the oven.  The firebox is open to prove that I'm cooking over a
wood fire.

The pumpkin pies after they were finished baking.
The next job was to make the fruit salad dressing, but since I'm going to make a separate blog post about that, I'm saving those pictures for later.

Then, I had to assemble the stuffing so that I could get some of it in the bird and put him in the oven.  First, I saute'd some celery and onion in butter.

Celery and onion frying in butter for the dressing.
After I transferred the cooked celery and onions to the bowl of the dried bread, I cut up the turkey's liver and fried it in butter too.  Yes, I know that is a large chunk of butter, but we put melted butter in the dressing anyway, and I've learned that if I fry the liver pieces in a lot of butter, they remain more tender than if they are fried in only a little.  The final dressing product is much better this way.

The turkey liver chopped fine and frying in a lot of butter.  It
will later be added to the dressing.
 Once I had some of the dressing stuffed inside the turkey, it was ready to go into the oven.  I used an oven bag this time, but I didn't think it helped make the turkey any more moist.  You can read my instructions for roasting a turkey in a wood cookstove at this post.

With the turkey in the oven, there was no room for anything else, and I still had lots of things that would need to be baked.  Thus, I had to get one of my stovetop ovens out.  In the picture below, it is heating up over the firebox.  On the open door of the warming oven, you see two pans of dinner rolls rising.  The turkey neck and gizzard are in the saucepan on the far right, cooking for the cats.

Then, it was time for a few more things to begin to cook.  The first pan of dinner rolls is baking in the oven on top of the stove.  The dressing is in a 9"x9" baking pan sitting on a simmering pad under the lid to the roaster. The pot on the left is the mashed potatoes, and the frying pan contains the syrup for sweet potatoes beginning to cook.

In the picture below, the potatoes had moved to the back center of the stovetop, the sweet potatoes had been added to the syrup, a pot of green beans had been added, and the dressing moved to the right because the stovetop is so busy.  The turkey was finished cooking, and was ready to be removed from the oven.

Then, the turkey was moved to the simmering pad on the back of the stove to await serving.  The dressing has been put into the stovetop oven, and the rolls have been put into the stove's oven.

I'm sorry that this next picture is a little blurry.  The dinner rolls that had been baking in the stovetop oven were nearly done when I transferred them to the cookstove oven.  However, they had not browned on top, so I put them on the top shelf of the oven.  The second pan of dinner rolls is beginning to bake on the bottom rack in the back, and the dish of scalloped corn is beginning to cook at the front of the oven.

It is important to note that the second pan of dinner rolls didn't brown very nicely on the bottom, so I later transferred them to the bottom rack of the stovetop oven beneath the dressing, and the bottoms browned perfectly.  I didn't get a picture of the little stovetop oven full of both dressing and rolls, though.

In this next picture, you will see that the green beans were removed from the stovetop and made into green bean casserole.  It is baking in the front of the oven while the scalloped corn continued to cook in the back.  All of the dinner rolls were out of the ovens by this time.

You still can't see the corn, but in this picture, you can see the edge of a round Pyrex pan on the top rack of the oven.  The sweet potatoes had been put into this pan, and marshmallows had been put on top.  The platter for the turkey was resting in the warming oven to take the chill off of it before receiving the bird.

I poured the drippings from the turkey into my Magnalite chicken fryer and made the gravy in that.  The dressing was basically done at this point, so the oven holding it was moved away from the firebox.  You can also see that the green bean casserole has the french fried onions on the top and is browning nicely.

The marshmallows on the top of the sweet potatoes had roasted to a fantastic golden brown and had been removed to the warming oven.

Meal preparations were complete when this last picture was taken.  The sweet potatoes are still in the warming oven along with the mashed potatoes and the gravy boat.  The dressing is staying warm in the stovetop oven, but the door has been opened to stop it from cooking further.  The gravy is finished and has been taken away from the firebox.  The vegetables in the oven are done, and the turkey was on the platter at the table.

Everything turned out quite delicious with the exception of the dressing, and that wasn't the cookstove's fault.  The sage that I put in the dressing was gritty.  How I figured out that the grittiness was from the sage is a long story, but has anyone else ever experienced that?  I bought the sage in a bulk foods store, and I won't be doing that again.

When my father-in-law walked in the kitchen door just before noon, he asked how the stove was working.  I told him that it was working just fine. It was, too, but I have to say that I cooked more Thanksgiving meals on the Qualified Range, and I have to admit that that was an easier stove to cook a large meal on than the Margin Gem.  I think the difference is that the Qualified responded more quickly to adjustments of the drafts and the additions of more firewood.  The Margin Gem responds to these things, but seems sluggish in comparison.  I don't know how to explain it any other way.

We had enough food for more than the eight people who were here, but to cook these same dishes for a larger crowd using only the wood cookstove would have presented some interesting challenges and demanded some different planning.  I'm looking forward to trying that sometime!

Hope you had a happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Globe Cookstove at Jamie's Coffee Mill and Deli in Mount Ayr, Iowa

When we visit Mt. Ayr, Iowa, one of my favorite places to eat is at Jamie's Coffee Mill and Deli, which is located in the old creamery at 118 West Adams Street.  The food is always delicious, the place is extremely busy, and the decor includes a vintage wood cookstove!

I wish the pictures of this stove did it justice and allowed me to better show you how petite this little baby is.  Her art deco lines and handles indicate that she is a late 1920s/early1930s model.

You can see from the picture that the cooktop is the width of two bus tubs (about 36 inches), and then the water reservoir hangs on the right side.  I have no idea what its internal condition is, and I also don't know if they still have the boot for the back where the stovepipe would have been attached.

The oven thermometer tells me that the stove is a Globe.  I've heard of Globe brand cookstoves before, but this is the first of that brand that I have seen in person.  This prompted me to do a little research.

The Globe Stove and Range Company in Kokomo, Indiana, began in 1902 after the company took over Fisher Steel Ranges.  In just ten short years, the company had expanded to offering eighteen different cooking ranges and six different models of baseburners.  During World War One, "the company manufactured mortar shells rather than stoves and almost went bankrupt," but the company was saved by an investment team and new manager Mark Brown (100 Objects, 2018).  The company reached its peak in 1922 with over 400 workers and expanded to produce electric ranges as well.

During the 1930s, Globe Stove and Range Company merged with American Steel Products to become Globe American Corp., and they began to shift from manufacturing solid fuel cookstoves to gas stoves, pioneering a new steel gas range called the Dutch oven.  Does that sound familiar to you vintage stove enthusiasts?  It ought to because just before WWII, during which the company built steel lifeboats, Globe struck an agreement with the Maytag Corporation and began manufacturing the Maytag Dutch Oven Range, many of which are still in use today.

Eventually, the Globe American Corp. was sold to outside interests and permanently closed down in 1957.

Interesting what you can find with a little digging!

Works Cited

“100 Objects: 13. Globe Stove and Range Co.” Kokomo Tribune, 21 Apr. 

Hamilton, Barb and Tom. “Remembering Globe American Co.” Kokomo
        Perspective, 7 Oct. 2010,

Friday, November 22, 2019

Cauliflower Parmesan on the Wood Cookstove

I have come up with a new method of cooking cauliflower that Nancy and I both love.  The recipe is light but flavorful, and it is extremely easy.

First, you need a good hot cooking fire.  Directly over the firebox of the stove, melt a tablespoon of butter in a non-stick pan.  I used my el-cheapo red ceramic frying pan purchased a few years ago from our now-defunct Kmart store.

Once the butter is melted and hot, put as much frozen cauliflower in the pan as you like.  Add a VERY LIGHT sprinkling of seasoned salt.  I would be surprised if in total I added an 1/8 tsp. of Lawry's.

Cook the cauliflower briskly and turn frequently as the florets begin to brown on the bottom.  Continue this process until each piece of cauliflower has browned on several sides.

Once the cauliflower has browned on several sides, sprinkle grated parmesan cheese over it.  I would say that I added no more than a quarter cup over this particular batch, but you can put as much as you want on. Stir the cheese and cauliflower around until all of the cheese has stuck onto the cauliflower.

You can serve immediately, or I have discovered that this holds very well if transferred to a serving dish and placed in the warming oven until the rest of the meal is ready.

With pork chops (which were cooking in the cast iron frying pan with the aluminum lid on it in the pictures above) and macaroni, cauliflower cooked this way made a delicious but simple supper last night.  This was the third time I've made cauliflower this way, and it has been well-received each time.  

Long-time blog readers will remember that I also posted a recipe for oven-roasted cauliflower about six years ago.  The end product of the two recipes is not dissimilar, but this one is much simpler and faster, and can be made with frozen cauliflower.  I hope you enjoy it!

Friday, October 18, 2019

Fried Cabbage on the Wood Cookstove

Well, we are back into the wood cookstove season here.  We didn't start daily firing until Friday, October 11, which is the latest we've ever begun the wood cookstove season.  It wasn't due to the temperature, either.  It was due to the fact that we've had such a wet autumn that keeping dry fuel around has been quite a challenge.

Now we're in full cookstove swing, though, and each meal we've eaten at home has been cooked exclusively on the Margin Gem.  A couple days ago, I made a vegetable dish that I had never prepared before: fried cabbage.

I had heard of fried cabbage, but it wasn't until last month that I finally got to try some.  You see, we were invited to the fourteenth birthday party for a lovely set of twin girls who belong to my friend Leah and her husband Jason.  The girls chose the majority of the supper menu, which was all very delicious.  Whether the fried cabbage was their choice or their mother's, I don't know, but I was excited to try it.

Now, it is important to note that Leah and I come from very different culinary backgrounds.  My family's food traditions are usually carbohydrate-laden dishes leftover from the days before central heating and highly automated farming.  Leah, on the other hand, grew up with a sister who is a Type 1 diabetic, so she is naturally a much more health-conscious cook than I have ever been.  Thus, while I am usually the one in our relationship who introduces Leah to things like aebleskiver, she would be the one to introduce me to a new vegetable dish.

Unfortunately, I wasn't in the kitchen at the birthday party to see what magic Leah worked to create her version of fried cabbage, but I really liked the result and decided that I would strike out on my own sometime in the near future.

Well, the future arrived this week.  Here is what I did:

1) In a non-stick ceramic skillet, I fried a little bacon.  I had cut the strips in half and wanted to use up what was left of a pound that had been open for a while, so I don't remember how much bacon I actually had.  Three strips would have been more than sufficient for a whole head of cabbage, though.

2) Once the bacon was cooked to near crispy, remove it from the skillet and put it in the warming oven to drain on a paper towel-covered plate.

3) While the bacon was frying, I sliced a head of cabbage.  It was a large cabbage, and there are only the two of us, so I only used about half of it.  I cut it into slices that were a little less than a half-inch wide.

4) The next step is to pour the bacon grease out of the pan, reserving a tablespoon or less.  If you want to skip the bacon, I would recommend using a tablespoon of butter to help facilitate the browning of the cabbage. You don't need much fat at all.

5) I returned the skillet to the fire and laid the cabbage slices down in the dab of bacon grease.  I think this part should be done over a pretty hot fire because the taste and texture will be better if this part is done in a hurry. Stir and turn the cabbage frequently to encourage uniform browning.

6) While the cabbage was beginning to fry, I seasoned it with just a light dusting of seasoned salt and a whisper of pepper.  Because things seemed to be pretty dry, I also added perhaps a tablespoon of hot water from the teakettle.  Let the cabbage cook until it shrinks down in the pan before going on to the next steps.

7) I removed the bacon from the warming oven and crumbled it into the cabbage, and then I added a half handful of dried cranberries and a half handful of raisins.  (I know, I know.  That was basically the same as adding sugar, but old habits are hard to break.)  I think I will cut back on the amount of dried fruit next time.  It was a little much.

8) Cook all together until it reaches the desired brownness or limpness you want and serve immediately.  It is delicious!

Once again, I forgot to take pictures of the process.  This is actually
a photo of the leftovers being re-warmed on the Margin Gem a
few days later.  Even the leftovers were fantastic!

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Answer to Request for a Diagram of the Cookstove Hot Water System

Yesterday, I received a request for a diagram of our hot water system from a reader who is installing a similar system.  I apologize for my extremely poor artistic ability, but here it is.  I put together two views since the plumbing is divided up that way.  Below the diagrams, you will see a key to the red letters in case the words on the diagrams are too difficult to read. The scan is long, though, so you'll have to scroll down through quite a bit of white space in order to see the key.

A. Temperature Pressure Relief (TPR) Valves
B. Hot Water Line which exits the top of the waterfront on the cookstove, carrying hot water into the top portion of the boiler.
C. Check Valve which allows cool water from the bottom of the boiler to only flow toward the stove, not vice versa.
D. Cool Water Line through which cool water from the bottom of the boiler flows into the bottom of the waterfront on the cookstove.
E. (left side diagram) All TPR valves are connected to a common drain pipe which empties toward the floor drain in the basement.

E. (right side diagram, sorry!) Hot Water Pipe exiting the top of the boiler.
F. Tempering Valve-Hot water from the top pipe enters this valve and is mixed with cold water from the supply line in order to have control over the temperature of the water in the household system.
G. Cold water enters the boiler at the mid point opening.
H. Hot Water Line to household system.
I. Cold Water Supply Line

Here are some actual pictures of the system:

I hope this answer's the reader's question.  If not, let me know in the comments what more I could help with.  The system certainly works well!

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Some Vintage Instructions for Roasting Beef in a Wood Cookstove

I'm beginning to feel the itch to cook on the wood cookstove.  I had hoped that I would get the Riverside Bakewell, the Hayes-Custer, or even my brother's Montgomery Ward hooked up in the summer kitchen over the last few months, but this whole being a new author thing has taken up far more time than I imagined (very excited about it, though).

It is too warm and humid to fire up the Margin Gem, and the forecast for the next few days looks like that trend is going to continue.  However, on my way to school the last couple of days, I've been watching fields of corn and soybeans that are beginning to turn, so my mind is looking ahead to the days when a fire will be burning in the kitchen stove once again.

As I was thinking about this, I ran across a recipe from 1872 that I copied from the Anita, Iowa, centennial cookbook late last school year.  Really, I wouldn't call it a recipe so much as it is directions for how to cook a roast in a wood cookstove, and even at that, the directions are pretty sparse.  What I do think it shows well is how efficient cooks thought of ways to stretch the meat and how one might have handled the lack of refrigeration in the early 1870s.  I've been told before that beef was the early cook's friend because of its relative shelf stability compared to other meats.

These directions were shared by Mrs. William A. Suplee.

To roast in a cooking stove, the fire must have careful attention lest the meat should burn.  Lay it, well floured and seasoned, into a dripping pan, with rather more than enough water to cover the bottom.  Turn the pan around often, that all parts may be equally roasted, and baste frequently.  The oven should be quite hot when the beef is first put in that the outside may cook quickly and thus retain the juices.  A large roast of 8 or 10 pounds is much better and more economical than a small one, even in a small family.  The first day it can be served rare; that which is near the outside will be well enough done for anyone.  It can be re-roasted the next day.  If much remains, serve cold on the next, or cut in very thin slices, dip each one in flour, then chop 2 onions fine.  Place a layer of meat in a baking dish and sprinkle with salt, pepper and onion.  Above this, place a layer of sliced or canned tomatoes.  Alternate layers until the dish is nearly full, moistening with the gravy.  Place a layer of tomatoes upon the top.  Fill with boiling water, cover with a plate, and bake 2 hours.

I don't think I'll be trying to stretch one roast over three days like this because Nancy isn't fond of leftovers, and the method of serving it the third day doesn't appeal to me because I'm not that fond of tomatoes cooked like that.  Thus, I'll stick to my method of roasting beef in the cookstove, which you can find at this link, but it is fun to read vintage pieces of kitchen advice.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Big News! But It Doesn't Have Much to Do with Cookstoves

I have hinted to some of you that I haven't been posting on this blog as regularly as I liked because I was spending all of my writing time working on a different extensive writing project that I would share with you all later. Well, it is later!

I have written and published a novel, and it is now available for sale. Published through WestBow Press, it will be available in bookstores soon, but it is already available online in hardcover, paperback, and e-book formats.  Copies can be purchased at the following links:

Here is the back text:

On the run after committing a crime and deserting the Civilian Conservation Corp in 1935, Harlan Jensen has been riding the rails and living in fear that someone will recognize him. Hunger causes him to jump off a train at the Meyer farm in rural West Pottawattamie County, Iowa, where he plans to work just long enough to earn a square meal and then be on his way. Elsie Meyer, the farmwife who feeds him, knows more about God's plan for his life than he does, though. Harlan is the answer to her prayers. Just before harvest, her husband suffered a stroke which left him paralyzed and mute, so the Meyers had asked God to send a farmhand. Harlan is surprised to discover a family's love, an unexpected romance, and the grace of Jesus. But everything in his life changes as he learns the truth of Proverbs 28:13: "He that covereth his sins shall not prosper."

The cover looks like this:

As it is set on an Iowa farm in 1935, I do mention the woodburning cookstove a couple of times because I couldn't resist, of course.  However, it is certainly not the main focus of the novel.

We will be having the formal book launch on Monday evening, Sept. 9, at the Underwood Monday Market, which runs from 6:00 - 7:30 p.m. south of UMBA Hall in Underwood, Iowa.  Copies will be available for purchase there, but if you can't wait that long to get yours, just bring your copy to the market and I will be glad to sign it then if you wish.

I apologize to any of my readers who may be offended that I used this post as a shameless plug rather than writing about wood cookstoves, but I promise that more on-topic posts are coming!

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Roast Lamb Grandma Marian Style

When I was little, my grandparents on my mom's side raised sheep.  Cattle were always their main focus, but they still had sheep around from when my aunt Cheri raised them during her 4-H career.  We even got in on it one spring when they had a bottle lamb that my grandparents thought we kids would enjoy taking care of.  "Linda the Lamb" came to live with us in a big cardboard box in the basement garage of the little house, and eventually she moved to a pen to the west of the driveway where a second garage now sits.

I raised sheep when I was in 4-H, too, and in fact, I didn't get rid of them until shortly after Nancy and I were married.  Thus, at various points in my life, lamb has been a common item on the menu.  

Grandma Marian was a fantastic cook in her day, as I've mentioned several times on this blog, and when she served lamb, no one ever turned their nose up at it.  It was always delicious!  Of course, she wasn't using a wood cookstove by the time I came along, but that would have only improved the flavor.

Here is what she did:

1. Place the lamb roast in an enamel roaster that has a lid.  If you want, you can brown the roast in a little bit of butter over a brisk fire to begin with. Sometimes Grandma did this, and other times she did not.  When I cooked the roast in the pictures for this post, I did not brown it before putting it in the oven.

2. Season the roast with salt and pepper, being a little less generous with the salt and more generous with the pepper.

3. (This was one of her secrets.)  Sprinkle the roast with marjoram leaves. Whenever she cooked any kind of lamb, she insisted it ALWAYS be seasoned with marjoram.

4. On top of the marjoram, place several bay leaves.  She would always put bay leaves on a beef roast, too.

5. Then, she would drape the lamb roast in slices of bacon.  The bacon is the reason that one can get away with using less salt in step two above.  I operate under the premise that "Bacon and butter make everything better," and it certainly holds true in this case.  As my own addition, I sprinkle a little pepper over it all once more because I am very fond of peppered bacon.

6. Put the lid on the roaster and put it in a moderately slow oven (about 325ºF) until it reaches the doneness you desire.  I prefer lamb roast to be well done.  In the picture below, I baked potatoes in the same oven for the same amount of time, and everything was cooked in a little over an hour and a half.

The roast and potatoes were accompanied with the broccoli that you see over the firebox at the left in the photo below.  The roast was very good, but the bacon was awesome!

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Homemade Chicken Nuggets on the Wood Cookstove: A Gluten Free Meat Stretcher

This is the first time that I've ever posted a recipe on my blog that involves deep-fat frying on the wood cookstove.  We don't deep-fat fry often at all, but I'd like to.  I have to admit that I enjoy fried foods.  I always say that if someone deep-fat fried rocks, I'd eat them.

Historically, wood cookstove cooks were very willing to deep-fat fry foods (especially breads) because it is easier to manage the temperature of the cooking oil than the temperature of the oven.  Now, please don't read the last sentence and believe that it is difficult to bake in a wood cookstove. We do have to consider, however, the fact some stove designs are better than others; and no matter what design the stove is, stovetop cooking is easier than baking.  Of course, people also didn't consider fried foods as unhealthy as they do now.

So, for my first post about deep-fat frying on a wood cookstove, I'd like to share with you my method for making homemade chicken nuggets.  You might find it odd that I called chicken nuggets a meat stretcher, and I can assure you that I was very surprised to find out that this was so.  Here's how it works: If Nancy and I were going to have Poor Man's Chicken Monterey, I would cook two chicken breasts.  However, if we were going to have homemade chicken nuggets, one chicken breast would be more than sufficient.  Thus, you can stretch a small amount of chicken over quite a few people by using this method of preparing it.

Here is what you need:

Baking Powder
Pepper and Seasoned Salt (or whatever seasonings you want)
Chicken (We use either boneless breasts or thighs.)

Now, the first thing to do is to build a hot fire in the wood cookstove. Whenever you deep-fat fry, you  need a very hot fire.

Second, put an inch of oil in the bottom of some kind of pan with tall sides. I like to deep-fat fry in a cast iron chicken fryer.  You want something with tall sides so that the hot oil doesn't slosh or splatter out onto the cooktop of the stove.  Place the pan of oil on the hottest part of the cooktop to begin heating.  It goes without saying that whenever you have oil heating for deep-fat frying, you want to keep an eye on it.  This is especially true when you are heating oil on any kind of stove where the heat beneath the oil is not under thermostatic control.

Usually, the hottest part of the cooktop on the Margin Gem is
right between the two lids over the firebox and slightly to the
right. Thus, this is where the pan of oil for frying the chicken
 nuggets was placed.
The third thing to do is cut the chicken up into small pieces.  Usually, I try to cut the pieces into 1" x 2" pieces that are about 3/8" thick.  You can make them as large as you want, but the smaller they are, the quicker they will cook and the further you can stretch the meat.

The chicken cut into small pieces for making the nuggets.  We
were using boneless thighs in this picture.
Next, beat two eggs in a medium to large mixing bowl.  (I prefer to use a bowl that has a fairly flat bottom to make coating the chicken easier, so I usually use our 8-cup glass Pyrex measuring cup.)

Add 1 cup of cornstarch, about 3/4 tsp. baking powder, pepper and seasoned salt to taste, and enough buttermilk to make a batter that is a little thicker than pancake and waffle batter.  Using cornstarch instead of flour is what makes this recipe gluten-free, and it also allows the batter to cling to the chicken better.

Dip the chicken pieces into the batter, being sure to coat them on all sides. Place them in the hot oil and begin frying them on one side.

Fry them until they are a deep golden brown on the bottom side.  The fire should be kept very hot during the entire time that the nuggets are frying.

I moved the pan a little so that I could get a shot of the raging
fire I had under the chicken nuggets.

Turn the nuggets over with a fork so that they can fry on the other side.  As long as the size of the chicken pieces has been kept fairly thin, there won't be any trouble with the chicken being thoroughly cooked in the same amount of time it takes for the outside of them to become a nice golden brown.

Remove the chicken nuggets to a paper-towel-covered plate to drain and cool a little before they are eaten.

Finished chicken nuggets.

I like to dip my chicken nuggets in sweet and sour sauce, whereas Nancy prefers barbecue sauce or ranch dressing.  Either way, these are cheap and quick.

Some words of caution about deep-fat frying on a wood cookstove:

1. Oil spilled on the cooktop can easily ignite.  At the very least, it will smoke horribly, so be careful to prevent that.

2. In order to adjust the heat beneath the frying oil, you may need to move the pan around on the stovetop.  This can be dangerous, so be careful!

3. As soon as you are done frying, you'll need to remove the pan of hot oil from the stove.  This also can be dangerous, so plan accordingly.

And a hint:

In order to get the oil for deep-fat frying hot enough, I sometimes have had to remove one of the lids over the fire and place the pan directly above the flames.  This does perhaps elevate the level of danger, but I'm not sure that it would be any worse than deep-fat frying over a gas flame.

I hope to eventually share a few more deep-fat fried recipes, but even though I enjoy fried foods, I don't make them at home very often.

As a record-keeping side note, we operated the Margin Gem daily from September 21, 2018, to May 14, 2019.  I would have liked to continue using the stove daily well after the fourteenth of May, but though we haven't been affected at all by the local flooding, we have had a very wet spring, and we just plain ran out of dry fuel.  We have run the stove a couple of times in the month of June, too, since it's been pretty cool a lot of the summer.