• deborahreinhardt

This menu has everything for a traditional Lenten dinner you can enjoy without leaving the house.


Fried cod and my family's zingy cole slaw are the stars of this fish fry plate.

If it was a Friday in March, there was no question where my mother would be. You’d find her and about a dozen other ladies in the basement kitchen of Trinity United Church of Christ on South Grand Boulevard in St. Louis, Missouri. While Mom was in the kitchen, Dad and his buddies manned the room for take out orders.


The church has since moved to a suburbs, and my folks and most of their friends are now gone, but oh, the Lenten fish dry dinners they created! These weekly meals fed church members and the wider Dutchtown community, while nourishing friendships that my folks carried on for years.


The menu never really varied; you had a choice of fried cod or jack salmon, mac ‘n’ cheese or spaghetti in red sauce, green beans, and our family’s own recipe for coleslaw. To this day, I can picture the cafeteria line and people holding trays waiting for a plate packed with great food. As a teen, I—and other youth group friends—bussed tables. Good times. Good memories.


And that’s one of the best attributes of food; it connects our memories to present day. Whenever I attend a fish fry, my body might be at Sacred Heart Catholic Church near my house, but my mind is back to Trinity on South Grand and I’m 14 years old again.


What’s Lent and what does fish have to do with it?

A Christian observance, Lent lasts for 40 days (not counting Sundays) that begins on Ash Wednesday and continues through Holy Saturday. Some Christian traditions really focus on fasting and “giving up something for Lent,” while others concentrate more on baptism vows, self-examination, and reflection. It’s a time for repentance and preparation for Easter.


Roman Catholic communities require its members to abstain from eating flesh meat on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and all Fridays during Lent. It seems traditions of long ago allowed fish to be eaten, maybe because of the symbolism found in the early years of the church.


At any rate, when Catholic immigrants came to the United States—especially in Midwestern states like Wisconsin and Ohio where there is an abundance of good, local fish—fish fry dinners started popping up around the 1920s. Some stories point to Prohibition playing a part in the fish fry popularity. Local taverns, to stay afloat, served these inexpensive meals for Lent-observing Christian friends.


It didn’t take long for churches across the country to realize they could turn this tradition into a fundraiser, and it didn’t matter if the church was of the Catholic or Protestant persuasion. The good old American fish fry was here to stay.


It was interesting to me that a colleague on the West Coast, however, had never heard of a fish fry. I had to explain to her what it was all about and how my city (like many others) regularly updates where the dinners can be found and calls out what’s special about the various locations. It’s like a pub crawl but with fish, not beer, although some Catholic churches and VFW halls serve alcohol at their dinners. She was fascinated, and asked me several weeks in a row what fish fry I’d be visiting.


This year, COVID has put a big damper on the fish fry fire, but you can make tasty fried fish at home with all the sides. Heck, follow up dinner with a game of family bingo if you’re feeling particularly nostalgic for a church gathering.



How to cook up your own fish fry

Start with a good piece of fish. In the Midwest, cod is the most popular for a fish fry. This fish has white flesh with large flakes. Most of the time, you’ll find this fish cleaned and filleted, ready to cook. If purchasing fresh to take home and cook right away, look for firm flesh that’s either translucent or light pink in color. It should not have a strong odor.


Frozen fillets are super convenient. Look for the MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) seal to ensure it has been sustainably harvested. The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) recommends you inspect packages for any tears or crushed edges. Avoid packages that have evidence of ice crystals because it could have thawed and refrozen. Obviously, you shouldn’t be able to bend a package of frozen fish. Personally, I like to see the fish inside a package because I’ve purchased frozen fish without this visual element only to come home to tiny, thin fillets.


After good fish, you need a good batter (something with some flavor that will stick well to the fish). The above recipe comes from Diane Wiggins, former St. Louis Globe-Democrat food editor. If you follow the Kitchen’s Facebook page, you recognize this recipe that was featured in a cookbook, Food Editors' Hometown Favorites, from 1984. In the cookbook, Diane mentioned this was her mother's (Dorothy Raab) recipe.


I made this recipe to fry cod earlier this month and it turned out well. The beer and garlic powder gives the batter a good flavor but doesn’t overpower the delicate cod. However, a friend of mine commented that “no one fries in oil anymore” and asked if this could be used in an air fryer. I referred her to a recipe by Meredith Laurence (Blue Jean Chef), in which Meredith mentions battered foods can be a challenge in an air fryer, but the trick is to dredge it in flour after the batter.


Instead of Meredith's recipe, however, I tried one from Taste of Home's website. I tweaked it slightly, swapping crushed cornflakes for Panko bread crumbs and omitting 1 tablespoon of Parmesan cheese, replacing it with garlic powder. If your fillet is thin, turn the fryer down to 375 degrees.


You’re going to need sides for your at-home fish fry. To keep with tradition, if you choose spaghetti, do a meatless marinara (it is Friday, after all), but mac ‘n’ cheese or french fries work beautifully.


My family’s zingy coleslaw will take the plate to the next level. I give this recipe that once was guarded by the Trinity church ladies to the world! I know you’ll love it.


In the end, a fish fry—whether at a church hall or around your kitchen table—is as much about fellowship as it is the food, so savor the time together and have fun.



Looking for more meatless dinner ideas?

Try this pasta dish with roasted butternut squash or chocolate pasta with mushrooms. This pasta dish features shrimp and orzo.





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  • deborahreinhardt

This easy recipe delivers a flavor-packed family dinner.


Those of us who are “a certain age” remember the fast food advertising catch phrase, “Where’s the beef?” Short answer: It’s in my slow-cooker, and it smells wonderful!


This recipe for beef short ribs employs a set-it-and-forget-it approach, giving you six to eight hours to go about your day, knowing in the end, you’re coming home to a delicious dinner.


Beef short ribs will be fork-tender when braised in the oven for a couple of hours or cooked low and slow in a slow cooker.

I don’t know what your weather in late February is like, but in Missouri, we just emerged from the deep freeze (like so much of the country) and did a week of 50- and 60-degree days. Today, it’s drizzling and cloudy. Somehow, hearty dishes like short ribs with vegetables fit the bill right now; it’s like when you don’t know what the next day will bring, comfort food dishes like this can anchor you.


For cooks who aren’t familiar with this cut of meat, beef short ribs come from the chuck of an animal located near the breastbone. The ribs are cut into two ways: English-style (familiar to most home cooks) and barbecue-style, which are thinner. You can also purchase boneless short ribs. Either cut has a good amount of fat marbling and deep beef flavor.


Because the rib muscles get a good workout from the animal, the best way to cook the English-cut short ribs are low and slow, either by braising in the oven or, as we do here, in a slow-cooker, to ensure a tender result. And holy cow (no pun intended), this method produces amazing gravy.


It’s usually recommended when purchasing short ribs to plan for one pound per person. If you’re doing boneless, you could probably cut it down to ½ to ¾ pound per serving, but I always cook to have leftovers to freeze for another week.


And the vegetables that cook along with the ribs really make this a one-pot meal. This recipe uses onions and carrots—as most do—but I’ve also peeled and chopped a rutabaga in the past to throw in with the beef and it’s wonderful.


Short ribs should be given at least 6-1/2 hours in a slow cooker, but can go up to 8 hours without a problem. It's a perfect dish to set in the morning so it's ready for dinner.

If you don’t have a slow-cooker, you can certainly braise the ribs in your oven. Set it at 325 degrees and get out your Dutch oven. Brown the beef, add the vegetables to start their cooking, add liquid and bring to a simmer, then cover and braise in the oven for about two hours or until the meat pulls away from the bone.


And if you use the bone-in ribs, don’t toss them. Freeze and use later to make beef stock. You’ll probably need to buy a few fresh soup bones to augment the flavor, but they can be used to make stock.


Quick food trivia: In 1971, Rival Manufacturing—a Kansas City, Missouri, company— bought the patent for the crock-pot from Irving Naxon (Nachumsohn) and successfully marketed this kitchen appliance to cooks who were looking for convenience. My mom had an avocado-green Rival crock-pot for many years.


Will this dish freeze well? Any leftovers you may have will absolutely freeze well. When you’re serving the short ribs and veggies, a classic side is creamy mashed potatoes, but polenta or wide egg noodles will work, too.


Are short ribs inexpensive to buy? Well, that depends. A quick online price search revealed this cut at Walmart to be $5.64 per pound, while a St. Louis supermarket chain came in at $7.39; I paid over $7 per pound when purchased from a local farm. The price per pound in my area is comparative to a chuck roast, but I think the ribs have more flavor.



Hearty Slow-Cooker Short Ribs

(Yield: 4–6 servings; about a 30-minute prep; cooks for 6½ hours.)

Ingredients:

3 pounds bone-in beef short ribs, about 3-inch thickness

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon pepper

½ teaspoon garlic powder

1 tablespoon olive oil

4 medium carrots cut into 1-inch pieces

1 cup beef broth

2 fresh rosemary springs

1 bay leaf

2 large onions cut into 1/2-inch wedges

6 garlic cloves, minced

1 tablespoon tomato paste

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

2 tablespoons brown sugar

2 cups dry red wine

4 teaspoons cornstarch

Cold water

Salt and pepper to taste


Directions:

1. Sprinkle ribs with garlic powder, salt, and pepper. In a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat. In batches (don’t crowd ribs), brown meat on all sides. Transfer to a 4- or 5-quart slow cooker.

2. Add carrots, broth, rosemary, and bay leaf to ribs.

3. In same skillet used to brown meat, add onions and cook over medium heat for 8 minutes. Add garlic, tomato paste, Worcestershire, and brown sugar. Stir and cook 1 minute longer. Stir in wine.

4. Bring to a boil and cook about 8 minutes or until liquid is reduced by half. Add to slow cooker. Cover and cook on low 6 to 8 hours or until meat is fork-tender.

5. Remove ribs and vegetables and keep warm.

6. To make gravy, transfer cooking juices to a small saucepan, skimming fat. Discard rosemary and bay leaf. Bring juices to a boil. In a small bowl, mix cornstarch and cold water together into a slurry. Stir into saucepan and cook about 2 minutes until thickened.

7. Place meat and vegetables on a platter with gravy on the side.


Try this other slow-cooker recipe

Classic Bolognese

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  • deborahreinhardt

If you have an hour, you can make this easy dessert that everyone will love.



Seriously, who doesn't want a hunk of this banana chocolate chip monkey bread right now?

My daughter moved home in October; lately, many households across our country have welcomed their adult children back. As we continue to navigate our way through this pandemic, I’m grateful she can work from home; equally grateful I’ve retired from working full-time to pursue my interests and writing projects.


Recently, she came upstairs from her office. It was clear she wasn’t having a great afternoon. Smelling the aroma coming from my oven, she asked what was I making. Here was the rest of that conversation.


Me: “Banana and chocolate chip monkey bread.”

Daughter: “I love you.”


It’s true that the mere mention of some of our favorite foods almost instantly lifts our mood. During the early days of COVID stay-at-home orders, one of the most popular recipe searches was banana bread, according to Google. Now, there’s nothing wrong with banana bread—I just took a loaf out of the oven today, the coldest day so far this winter—but if Bananas Foster and banana bread had a baby, it would be this dessert.


Soft, sweet bananas are nestled in pillow-soft dough that’s bathed in butter and brown sugar. Add chocolate chips that melt into the pull-apart dough and you have one of the most addicting desserts you’ve enjoyed in a while. If you want to pull out all the stops, add a small scoop of vanilla ice cream or a dollop of whipped cream on the side. Jesus, take the wheel!


It’s easy to see why we go ape over monkey bread. One reason has to be how the bread is eaten: with our fingers. Set the plate down in the middle of the table, pour cold glasses of milk, and call the kids in from the backyard. How fun is that?


It’s also one of those foods that many people remember from childhood, although you may have known it under a different name: pull-apart bread, bubble bread, even Hungarian coffee cake, a moniker given by the folks at Betty Crocker in the 1940s. (However, we made Hungarian coffee cake and it looked nothing like monkey bread.) There is a Hungarian dish called aranygaluska or Golden Dumpling Cake that was brought to the U.S. in the late 19th century by Jewish immigrants. Maybe my material grandmother enjoyed Golden Dumpling Cake; I can only guess.


Another writer with a passion for historical recipes, Tori Avey, suggested the idea of small balls of yeast dough baked together in a pan dates to the 19th century, and while they were buttery, they were not sweet. Think Parker House Rolls, developed in the 1870s by the Boston hotel (now called Omni Parker House Hotel).


Although money bread—in its buttery and sweetened form—has been in American cookbooks since the 1950s, the recipe received renewed attention when then First Lady Nancy Reagan included her buttery recipe as part of a White House Christmas.


Naturally, there are recipes for monkey bread that calls for the home baker to make the yeast dough from scratch, and that’s perfectly acceptable. But I’m all about shortcuts when it doesn’t compromise the outcome of the recipe, and monkey bread using refrigerated biscuits is a perfect example. I'll wager that most home cooks will make monkey bread using refrigerated dough, and we have Lively B. Willoughby to thank for that shortcut.


Willoughby teamed with Lowell Armstrong, a chemist with the Ballard & Ballard Co. of Louisville, Kentucky, came up with the idea for a refrigerated, packaged dough. Willoughby developed the product that was marketed as Ye Old Kentuckie Buttermilk Biscuits.


After the original patent expired in 1948, any company could manufacture refrigerated biscuits. In 1951, Pillsbury bought Ballard & Ballard and expanded the refrigerated dough product line. You can get more of the story here.


TIPS FROM THE KITCHEN


Unlike banana bread—usually the last stop for a banana before the trash bin or blender—you’ll want the fruit to still have some bite to it for this recipe because it softens during baking. I recently used some older bananas in this recipe and it didn’t look as pretty or taste as “clean” as it could have.


You can bake this bread either in a bundt cake pan or an angel food pan (any fluted tube cake pan will work). Be sure to use the cooking spray so it turns out without sticking.


And to keep the cinnamon sugar mess to a minimum, I prefer using a plastic zip top bag to shake the cut up biscuits in the mixture. But you also can use a bowl to roll the dough in the sugar and cinnamon; just avoid a flat plate to make the kitchen clean up easier.


Should there be any leftovers of this dessert, store in an air-tight container in your refrigerator. It can always be lightly warmed in a microwave the next day.


Finally, I've also made this with a 1/3 cup of chopped walnuts, which added a nice texture. If you're not a fan, certainly fine to leave them out. The recipe below makes six servings, enough for a family to enjoy while watching their favorite television program.




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