Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Patti's Pantry: Hamburger Roll

Someone always makes the joke. "Your mother's cooking is so good you should do a review of it." Inevitably, one or another cousin, aunt or step-tag-along will say it at every family gathering; I think I've even said it myself a few times. I'd actually love to do it, but Mom's Kitchen just isn't set up for the hordes of hungry natives that would flock to her front door begging to sample some of her masterpieces post-publication every Sunday. I always tell her to make life easy for everyone and just open a damn restaurant but that fantasy is too far beyond our budgets and energy levels to ever come to pass.

Lately, the woman has been spoiling me rotten by inviting me over for dinner once a week and she's been taking me on a fantastic trip through the comfort foods of my childhood by resurrecting a few dishes she hasn't served in many long moons. I've decided to start documenting her episodes of culinary brilliance, pretty much for my own amusement. Only a scant few of you will ever be lucky enough to enjoy Lady Patricia's finest; for the rest of you, beg nicely and maybe I can get her to share some of the recipes.

Date: Wednesday, June 24
Menu: Hamburger Roll-Up, Creamy Peas & Carrots, Orange Jello with Shredded Cheese, Bud Light.

What ever did we do before Bisquick? My God, can you imagine the travails of bakers back in ancient times actually mixing separate amounts of flour, shortening, salt, and baking powder together? Thanks goodness for those visionaries at General Mills, who by inventing Bisquick in 1930 literally cut seconds off the typical biscuit bakers workload. Okay, it is kind of a lazy person's product, but we always had a big yellow box in the cupboard ready to go. In fact, I think my mother discovered the recipe for her marvelous Hamburger Roll-Up on the back of one of those yellow boxes in the early 1970's.

A basic Bisquick dough is made and rolled out into a rectangle about 10 x 20 inches. Meanwhile, a couple pounds of grown beef and some chopped onions are browned in a skillet. A few tablespoons of flour are added to the hamburger to soak up the grease and provide a thicker texture to the filling, which is spread in an even pile in the center of the rolled dough rectangle. The dough edges are pulled up around the beef and onions and finger-sealed to create a big stuffed thingy, which is then brushed with melted butter and baked in the oven until it turns a lovely flaky golden brown.

To add some extra jazz, frozen peas and cubed carrots are cooked in a saucepan with a basic flour-salt-milk white sauce (I think paprika is also somehow involved) then poured generously atop individual slices of the hamburger roll. There's nothing gourmet about this soul-satisfying, stick-to-your-ribs affair, but I think I'd take it any day over whatever the special du jour is at Brix or Beverly's. It's completely filling and gives me a pleasant case of the warm fuzzies. It's a simple recipe, and I've attempted it on my own but it was a total episode of fail compared to my mom's version, which she can cook blindfolded, drunk and while simultaneously smoking and doing her hair and makeup and still have it turn out perfectly. I've seen her do it.

A meal is never really complete without Jello, and my mother has mastered at least 947 ways to prepare it. This evening's choice is Orange Jello, stirred from a solid into loose chunks along with some canned Mandarin oranges, covered in a healthy layer of Cool Whip, then...wait for it...sprinkled with thin-shredded medium cheddar cheese. Yes, cheese and Jell0 sound like a truly awful combination, but somehow, in this case it works out really well. The slight sharpness and savory of the cheddar provides a wonderful counterpoint to the tart of the oranges and the sugary sweetness of the cool whip, and adds an interesting element texturally as well. It's one of her classics, something that various family members always ask her to make when they find out they're coming over to eat.

Other than the occasional bottle of wine or spirits, the only thing ever available for a beverage at Mom's Kitchen is Diet Pepsi and Bud Light. I'm not particularly a fan of either, but I usually choose Bud Light because at least I might catch a slight buzz. Other than that, this meal was the exactly same as it was when I loved it 25 (or more) years ago.

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