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December 11, 2017
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community living

Simple Fare: From my mother’s kitchen

For those who prefer the vegetarian version, this chicken-of-the-woods burger, coleslaw and last year’s yellow squash pickles make a simple and satisfying meal.
TRR photo by Laurie Stuart


When I was a child growing up, we always sat down for dinner. Not only did we sit down together, we had a rule that no one could leave the table until everyone was done with their meal. Our meals always ended with dessert—mostly ice cream or pudding—that I tended to eat very slowly. And this would drive my older brother crazy.

I can’t remember if my mother excused him or hurried me through my dessert. But what I do remember is the relatively simple home-cooked meals that we enjoyed together.

Nowadays, it’s harder to sit down to dinner together. Between sports schedules and teenagers with after-school jobs that go into the evening, the family ritual of dinner at home around 6 p.m. has gone the way of encyclopedias and CDs. Still, it’s nice to have home-cooked leftovers in the frig for evening dining.

My childhood meals were simple fare: things like tuna noodle casserole (see column 6/2/2016), spaghetti, goulash, pea soup, canned ham, sloppy joes, hamburgers…. All relatively plain, nutritious, and designed to minimize expensive ingredients. As an example, my mother made lasagna with cottage cheese rather than ricotta because it was cheaper.

It wasn’t until I was an adult that I learned that not everyone used cottage cheese in lasagna and not everyone added eggs, bread crumbs, ketchup, mustard, Worcestershire sauce and spices to ground beef to make hamburgers. (I have to admit that knowing those ingredients came in very handy when I was a vegetarian, as I simply substituted some chopped walnuts for the meat.)

What I found out today, in asking around the office, is that many families stretched their meat by adding bread crumbs and eggs. Eileen said that her mother added minced onions to the meat mixture and sometimes would make something called a “surprise” burger. She would make a hole in the center and put in ingredients such as cheese, corn or beets. Eileen said she liked when she got the cheese surprise but not the beets.

With that concept in mind, she created a garlic burger when she worked at the former Pete’s Pub in Lake Huntington, which was very popular. There, she and owner/chef Anita Toscano would take butter and blend it with fresh garlic and salt and pepper. After freezing that mixture, they would take a tablespoon of it and form the hamburger patty around it. As it cooked, she said, the butter melted and garlic flavored the burger.

Amanda, whose family supplements their meat with fresh game, mentioned that ground deer meat or bear can be added to the meat mixture for a tasty burger. I, myself, substituted one pound of shredded chicken of the woods mushrooms in place of meat for a very tasty burger.

When I was a child, we often had our hamburgers on buns, with a very simple coleslaw (see recipe below).

My mother’s hamburgers
Serves 6
1 pound ground beef $3.29*
1 egg $0.15
½ cup bread crumbs $0.22
¼ cup ketchup* $0.16
1 Tbs. mustard* $0.04
½ cup of minced onion or ¼ cup of dried onions $0.33
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce $0.02
2 Tbs. dried or fresh parsley $0.16 (dried)
Salt and pepper to taste
Mix together (hands work best) and form into 6 patties. Cook in an oiled skillet on the top of the stove or on a grill, 3-5 minutes per side, depending on the desired doneness.

Simple coleslaw

4 cups cabbage $0.79
1/3 cup sugar $0.12
1/2 cup mayonnaise $0.96
1/4 cup onion $0.17
Thinly slice 4 cups of green cabbage. Stir in 1/3 cup of sugar and cover with a plate and weigh down with a jar of water. Let sit for several hours until cabbage has released some of its liquid. Add ½ cup of mayonnaise (we based our cost on Hellmann’s; you can cut this almost in half if you stock up at the $2.99 sales held periodically throughout the year). For more color or more flavor, add ¼ cup of onion and/or 2 grated carrots.