Beyond economy

Day 18 of the Pantry Project got me to try a new bread recipe.  Why?  Because I have admitted defeat in the dry milk arena.  Stuff’s undrinkable, in my opinion.  I literally gagged trying to drink it and ended up turning it into eggnog to mask the flavor.

Still, I can’t throw it all away, so I put a call out there and the lovely and talented Jeannelle pointed me towards King Arthur Flour and the classic white sandwich loaf which uses up to half a cup of the stuff  (more if you substitute milk for the water, less if you use half potato flakes instead.)  I was completely out of bread, unless you count flatbread, which today I wasn’t.  I wanted something to spread some peanut butter on.  So first thing this morning I took the butter and yeast out of the fridge and got the process going.

The dough came together pretty easily, and kneaded up very well with the dough hook.  I got my gluten windowpane without having to hand knead anything.  The dough uses not only dry milk but honey, so it had a heavenly aroma.  A few minutes of prep, ten to fifteen minutes of kneading, two rises for a total of three hours, and 35 minutes to bake.  What I got was a loaf with a firm, moist crumb, a soft crust and a wonderful flavor.  Half the loaf went to the housemate and what’s left of the other half will probably be gone tomorrow.  This has become my go-to sandwich loaf because it cuts like a dream and holds together perfectly.  I just had a slice with some homemade ham salad, and it was delicious.

While it was rising, I cut up an English cuke and salted it.  Then I made cucumbers in sour cream with very thinly sliced red onion and some dill.  None of it came out of my pantry except the dill and the cider vinegar, but it was exactly what I wanted, and it was all fresh.

I finally pulled the boneless ham out of the fridge and cut it up.  It wasn’t as good a ham as I’d hoped, but it wasn’t inedible, and I reasoned that with the scallions, relish and Miracle Whip, it would be fine.  I broke out the grinder and went to work.  Now I’m not a big ham salad fan.  I’m not even a big fan of ham period, but I’ve had a taste for it recently, and the salad part is really nostalgic for me.

When I was a little girl we lived in a 30s era apartment on Chicago’s NW side.  It was one of those ginormous buildings which now are often taken over by gang bangers and meth heads.  But back in the 50s there were mostly families and elderly widows.  Everyone knew everyone else, they watched out for each other.  This really doesn’t have anything to do with ham salad per se, but I’m writing it to explain some of the nostalgia.

In the kitchen there was a door in the wall and when you opened it, there was the ironing board!  When Mom wanted to make ham salad or roast beef hash, she’d lower the board and put a big, iron, hand-cranked grinder at the end of it.  Then she’d feed chunks of meat through it into a bowl.  She always let me help.  I loved turning the crank, or trying to anyway.  Sometimes it was harder than I could manage.  At the end of each batch, she’d put a few saltines through the grinder to help clean it out.  I loved that part the best.  I loved the taste of the saltines that came through at the end.

She always used Miracle Whip, and pickle relish.  I don’t recall her using onions in her ham salad.  Maybe a touch of mustard since we were a mustard-lovin’ family.  But that was it.  We’d eat it on white bakery bread, and it used up every last bit of the Easter ham.  It was a good lesson in economy.

While I was grinding today — a far easier process with the Kitchen Aid to do the hard work for me — I thought about that time.  I didn’t have any saltines, unfortunately, but it didn’t matter.  I made something from memory, something that my mother had made for me when I was little.  The process, the flavor of the ham salad on my fresh bread made me very happy.  I don’t know if I’ll ever do it again, but I’m glad I did it tonight.  I feel like I reconnected with something.

This is what I ended up eating for lunch: warm bread with good butter and a fresh pear.  Aren’t you jealous??  Also, I have five small cups of ham salad in the freezer.  That ham was bigger than I thought.
In memory of Mom and her cooking lessons, I’m going to share her cucumber salad recipe with you.  Use it wisely, my children, for it is  Good Noms.

Mom’s Cukes in Sour Cream

2 large cucumbers
1t salt
1C sour cream
2T vinegar
1T chopped chives
1 t dill seed
1/4 t sugar
Dash pepper

Peel cucumbers; slice thin.  Sprinkle with salt and let stand 30 minutes.  Drain.

Combine sour cream, vinegar, chives, dill seed, sugar and pepper.  Pour over cucumbers and toss.  Add salt to taste.

Chill in fridge for 30 minutes.

I use very thinly sliced sweet onions (I use a mandoline for the cukes and onions both.)  instead of chives, and dill weed instead of seed.  Other than that, it’s the same salad.


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