Bring Back Those Warm. Family Memories

Do you remember Sunday dinner? Just saying those words can take you back...perhaps to a well-loved dining room overflowing with platters of steaming fresh vegetables, homemade jams, sweet creamery butter, and the succ
Do you remember Sunday dinner? Just saying those words can take you back...perhaps to a well-loved dining room overflowing with platters of steaming fresh vegetables, homemade jams, sweet creamery butter, and the succulent Sunday roast, brown and juicy.
Bring back those memorable days
Sunday dinner was once an American institution, a strong familiar thread that ran through most our lives. Russell Cronkhite, author of A Return to Sunday Dinner, believes that we can have that again.

But even if Sunday dinner isn't part of your personal past, you can create for yourself and your children, a weekly refuge of warmth and safety, love and laughter, peace and plenty, comfort and tradition. By following Cronkhite's homey recipes and sidebar suggestions, you can create Sunday dinner traditions that will be enjoyed and remembered for years to come.

To Cronkhite, Sunday dinner represents something we secretly crave -- a regular set aside time of rest and celebration. Sunday dinner can be a touchstone to our past and a steppingstone to our own traditions, to create our own family heritage that we can pass on to generations.

"My own childhood memories of Sunday dinner often carry me back to my grandmother's table. My mother, two sisters, my brother and I would spend Sunday afternoons at our grandparents' home joined by my cousins, aunts and uncles. Birthdays and special holidays like Memorial Day, Easter and Mother's Day became much anticipated and long-remembered reunions."

"My grandparents were not rich but they ate simple, well-balanced meals freshly prepared with wholesome, but inexpensive ingredients. To them, having little never meant having less. My grandmother did most of the cooking on those Sunday afternoons although we all pitched in by helping set the table and doing the dishes to keep her Sunday workload light. My grandmother didn't dish food onto our plates in the kitchen, everything came to the table in large, steaming bowls and platters. I fondly remember her mashed potatoes that she hand-whipped, bright green broccoli dripping with golden butter, hot soft rolls fresh from the oven; and last but not least, her wonderful roast, served crusty and rare, dripping with juice. After dinner came her tall, moist chocolate cake sliced and passed from hand to hand around the table with each child hoping the biggest piece would stop with them!"

Here are some recipes from A Return to Sunday Dinner, by Russell Cronkhite (Multnomah Publishers, August 2003, $32/Hardcover). Reprinted with permission.

Slow-Cooked Beef Brisket with Mushrooms, Red Beets and Pearl Onions
Braised brisket is slow-cooked, just like any great pot roast. I prefer to use a nice variety of mushrooms as an accompaniment--especially meaty portabello and shiitake mushrooms. For the dark vinegar I use balsamic, which is readily available throughout the country. The inclusion of red beets and onions creates a dark-hued gravy with a remarkably earthy flavor.

1 4- to 5-pound beef brisket, excess fat trimmed, about 2 inches thick
Salt and pepper
Vegetable oil to season the pan
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
2 cups beef broth
1/2 cup dark raisins
2 sprigs fresh thyme
16 ounces (1 dry pint) red pearl onions
4 large red beets
2 pounds assorted mushrooms
Pinch of salt

FIRST, season the meat by rubbing it with salt and pepper.

SECOND, pour in just enough oil to coat the bottom of a Dutch oven or heavy casserole fitted with a lid. Heat the oil over medium-high heat until it just begins to smoke. Reduce the heat slightly and brown the meat on all sides, beginning with the leanest side, turning it every minute or so for about 10 minutes.

THIRD, when the meat is browned on all sides, place it in the center of the pan with the fat side up, then pour in the vinegar. Fit the lid onto the pan and simmer for five minutes, then reduce the temperature of the burner to low. Pour in the beef broth and enough water to cover the roast a little less than halfway, and add in the raisins and the thyme sprigs. Then replace the lid and allow the roast to simmer slowly over low heat on the stovetop or in a 300-degree F oven for about two hours.

Prepare the vegetables:
FIRST, put the onions in a medium bowl and cover them with boiling water (this will make them easy to peel). Steep for five minutes, then drain well; trim off the root ends with a paring knife and peel away the skin, leaving the onions whole. Peel the beets, leaving about an inch of the tops, if desired; cut the beets into quarters. Clean the mushrooms under cool running water to remove any soil, then remove and discard any woody stems. Cut the mushrooms into halves, quarters or thick slices.

SECOND, when the roast has simmered for about two hours, place it over medium heat. Add the beets to the liquid surrounding the roast and simmer for 15 minutes. Add in a little more water, if needed; then add in the onions and the mushrooms so they cover both the roast and the beets. Season them with a pinch of salt. Replace the lid and return the casserole dish to the oven or place over low heat on the stovetop and cook for 45 minutes.

THIRD, when the brisket is done cooking, the meat should be tender, just falling away from the fat, but still firm enough to slice easily. Transfer the roast to a clean cutting board and allow it to rest for 15 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the beets, mushrooms, onions and raisins from the Dutch oven to a bowl. Remove and discard thyme sprigs. Return the Dutch oven to low heat on the stovetop. Makes eight servings.

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup water
Salt and pepper to taste

In a small bowl blend the 3 tablespoons of flour with 1/4 cup of water and use a stiff wire whisk to form a smooth paste. Turn the burner heat to medium-high. When the liquid remaining in the Dutch oven begins to simmer, add in about half of the paste as you whisk constantly. Add more paste, a little at a time, until the gravy has thickened. Turn the heat to low and allow the gravy to simmer for five minutes, then season to taste with salt and pepper.

Place the brisket on a platter and artfully arrange the beets, mushrooms and onions around it; lace the platter with some of the gravy. Pass the extra gravy separately in a gravy boat.

Pennsylvania Dutch Egg Spaetzle
Spaetzle are little dumplings made from fresh egg pasta, and they are traditionally served with pot roast, brisket or short ribs. They are easy to prepare and quite delicious. The trick is to make the batter an hour ahead and have ready a pot of boiling water that is large enough to keep the little bits of batter from sticking to one another as they cook.

4 large eggs, room temperature, lightly beaten
2 cups whole milk
Pinch of nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
Pinch of ground pepper
4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter

FIRST, beat the eggs into the milk using a stiff wire whisk, then add in the nutmeg, salt and pepper; use a wooden spoon to mix in the flour, one cup at a time, beating well after each addition until the mixture is smooth and elastic; or combine the first six ingredients in a food processor fitted with a steel blade and pulse for 30 seconds. The mixture should now be the consistency of thick, slightly elastic pancake batter. Let the spaetzle batter stand at room temperature for one hour.

MEANWHILE, bring a large pot of cool salted water to a boil.

SECOND, suspend a large-holed colander or spaetzle sieve about 6 inches over the top of the boiling water. Try a test batch by first putting a couple of tablespoons of the spaetzle batter through the colander into the boiling water -- if it runs quickly through the colander, add a little flour, a tablespoon at a time, to thicken the batter; if you have to press down hard to push the batter through the holes, add a little milk.

THIRD, working in four separate batches, pour the dough into the colander, pressing it through the holes with a rubber spatula (the droplets will form little "dumplings"). When the first little dumplings begin to float, stir the water gently to keep them from sticking together. Cook the spaetzle until tender, four to five minutes.

FOURTH, carefully remove the spaetzle from the boiling water using a large slotted spoon or small strainer; submerge immediately in a bowl of cold water. When all of the spaetzle have cooled, drain thoroughly and transfer to a glass or stainless bowl. The spaetzle can be prepared a day ahead up to this point -- toss them in a little vegetable oil, cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

FIFTH, transfer the spaetzle to a colander and run under hot water for a minute, then shake off the excess water. Heat a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Cut the butter into pats and quickly add them to the hot skillet so that they melt all at once. Add the cooked spaetzle to the melted butter and toss continually with a wooden spoon to keep them from sticking to the bottom of the skillet; saut� for one minute so that the spaetzle can absorb the butter. Serve immediately. Makes eight servings.

Amish Potato Rolls
Potato breads are soft and densely textured (and a great way to use up leftover mashed potatoes). The ever-efficient Germans often used potato water to make natural yeast starters for bread. Incidentally, a variation of these rolls can be found accompanying another German-influenced American dish -- the hamburger.

2 medium potatoes, scrubbed and peeled
1/2 cup reserved warm potato water (about 110�F)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
2/3 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon salt
1 large egg, room temperature, lightly beaten
4-1/2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted

FIRST, cook the potatoes in boiling salted water until they are tender when pierced with a fork. Drain them completely, reserving 1/2 cup of the potato water; cool the potato water to lukewarm. Mash the potatoes and measure out 1 cup for making the rolls. Cool the mashed potatoes to room temperature.

SECOND, dissolve the sugar in the lukewarm potato water and sprinkle the yeast over the surface. Let the yeast mixture stand until it becomes foamy, about five minutes; then stir to dissolve.

THIRD, combine the butter, milk and salt in a small heavy-bottomed saucepan and heat until the butter is just melted. Remove from heat and use a wooden spoon to mix in the 1 cup of reserved mashed potatoes; add in the lightly beaten egg, then the dissolved yeast.

FOURTH, transfer the dough to the bowl of a mixer fitted with a dough hook. Slowly add in 4 cups of the sifted flour, one cup at a time; scrape down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Knead on low speed until the dough is smooth and elastic, four to five minutes. Then cover the bowl with a clean tea towel and set it in a draft-free place until it has doubled in size, about one hour.

FIFTH, punch the dough down. Knead in the remaining 1/2 cup flour, as needed. The dough should be soft and slightly sticky, but firm enough to just hold its shape. Cover the bowl with a clean tea towel and allow it to rise in a draft-free place for another 30 minutes. (Note: At this point you can refrigerate the dough for up to two hours before shaping the rolls.)

SIXTH, place the dough on a clean cutting board that has been dusted with a little flour and divide into two dozen equal pieces. Dust each piece with a little more flour and roll into a ball.

SEVENTH, place the balls about 1-inch apart on a well-greased baking sheet. Cover the pan with a clean tea towel and let the rolls rise for another 15 to 20 minutes (or for about 40 minutes if the dough was refrigerated). Use a pastry brush to lightly brush the tops of the rolls with a little milk, then bake them in a 400-degree F oven for 10 to 12 minutes. Makes two dozen rolls.

Butter Brussel Sprouts with Parsley and Chives
Tender baby brussels sprouts are the best choice when available, so look for nice small ones that are bright green. Their wonderful flavor is enhanced by sweet creamery butter, fresh parsley and zesty chives Ingredients:
2 pounds brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
6 tablespoons (1 stick) butter
Salt to taste
1 tablespoon fresh snipped chives
1/2 tablespoon fresh chopped parsley

FIRST, bring a large pot of salted water to a full boil. Drop the brussels sprouts into the water and cook them until they are bright green and tender, about eight minutes. Drain the brussels sprouts thoroughly.

SECOND, melt the butter in a small skillet over low heat; when the butter begins to bubble, add in the brussels sprouts and season to taste with salt. Cover the skillet with a tight-fitting lid and steam the sprouts in the butter for three to four minutes. Just before serving, toss in the chives and parsley. Makes eight servings.

Baked Apples with Walnuts and Cream
This is one of my very favorite childhood desserts -- simply wonderful. It is best to use a crisp, sweet-tart variety of apple, such as the Cox Pippin, McIntosh, Winesap or Jonathan (Granny Smith are generally too tart). Combined with fresh cream, the cinnamon-apple syrup imbues the flavor of warm caramel.

8 medium sweet-tart apples
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
2/3 cup apple cider, room temperature
1 quart heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

FIRST, wash, dry and core the apples.

SECOND, combine the chopped walnuts, brown sugar, allspice and cinnamon in a small bowl. Fill the center of each apple with an equal amount of this mixture and place it into a deep baking pan. The pan should be large enough to ensure that the apples do not touch one another.

THIRD, dot the top of each apple with 1 tablespoon of butter, pour the apple cider into the pan and sprinkle any remaining filling over the top of the apples. Bake them for 45 to 50 minutes. The apples are done when the skin is just beginning to split around the top and they are easily pierced with a fork.

FOURTH, remove the apples from the oven and baste them with the natural syrup. Just before serving, use a large spoon to transfer each apple to a wide serving bowl. Pour some of the remaining syrup from the bottom of the pan and 1/2 cup heavy cream over each apple. Serve immediately. Makes eight servings.


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