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Peggy Tim cooks hometown favorites

By Lucie R. Willsie Lifestyles Reporter

December 3, 2013

Editor’s Note: This is the second of two stories on local cook Peggy Tim.


“Every Christmas as we gathered at my grandparent home with all the family we would look forward to these special Italian Fig Cookies (See recipe that follows later in this article.) my aunts would gather to make,” Peggy Tim said. “If we were lucky, they would double or triple the recipe and keep some in the freezer for later in the year. Several years have passed, along with all the elders of our small family. None of the cousins take the time to make these cookies. A few years ago, in remembrance to those we loved so dearly and now have passed on, I attempted my aunt’s recipe for a family reunion. After making them, I realize how much costly they were and what a labor of love they were. The memories we all share over the cookies at the family reunion were priceless and worth the investment to make our favorite cookies. It is my privilege to share the LaPlaca family recipe with you.”


Continuing the food advice Peggy Tim, the program assistant for the Healthy Families Program through the N.C. Cooperative Extension office in Dobson, gave in last week’s “Cook of the Week” article, the next important bit of information Tim gave was how critical it is to have the skills to make a menu.


“Start with some favorite family food items,” she suggested. And to help make menu-creation easier, write down the family’s favorite food dishes “to have at the ready.”


Make sure to include plenty of fruits and veggies and other versatile foods that can be combined to create a whole new second meal.


Oh, and don’t call them “leftovers” she advised. They are now called “planovers.” For example, what remains of Tim’s Caribbean Casserole recipe (See original recipe in PART I of this “Cook of the Week” from Dec. 4.) can be mixed with an egg, placed in a floured tortilla, with more shredded cheese sprinkled on top, for a delightful yet different meal the next day.


More advice for the savvy and economical cook is to substitute ingredients whenever possible, such as buying and using pork when on sale, instead of beef, to save money and yet still make the dishes tasty.


“There’s an art to substitution,” Tim said. “It comes with practice tasting different ingredient combinations. That’s how you develop an educated palate.”


Another “planover” is made using what remains from the original Cabbage Comfort. (See recipe that follows later in this article.) Mix what cabbage remains with some cream and shredded carrots for a delightful, hearty and delectable soup especially suited for this time of the year. Just cook the carrots first before adding and making the new soup dish.


Another tasty cooking tidbit is using spices, Tim said. In fact, Tim has created a recipe that will not only add much more to everyday dishes, but save money in the process. And, spices, like the recipe Tim gives, can last for months.


“For my $6 investment, I have created at least a quart and a half of spice mix,” she said. “This same amount would cost me $60 in the store.”


Another time-saving, money-saving, yet tasty dish “helper” suggestion from Tim is what she calls Frozen Burger Crumbles. (See recipe that follows later in this article.) The first step is to buy some lean ground beef, of whatever is on special that is similar, and get an idea of how you are going to use it, what dishes you plan on making with it.


“Then fry it up,” she said. “… A good quantity … I like to add peppers and onions and garlic … I’m Italian … Then I drain it. Next, I rinse it with hot water. Then I put the mixture in a colander and place it on a platter in the refrigerator so the excess water can drip away. After draining sufficiently, I separate the meat mixture into individual portions to be used for different dishes, put in freezer bags, date them, and use within 30 days.”


If you think you will want to keep it longer than 30 days, however, Tim says this also is doable. Just vacuum seal each package.


When ready to make some lasagna, chili, tacos, or similar meals, take out a package, microwave or break into chunks on the edge of the kitchen counter until it just loosens up. Put it in a pan with some Fiesta Spice Mix (See recipe that follows later in this article.), add some of your favorite beans — chili, kidney, and or black beans, — and some diced or crushed tomatoes, and, “Voilà, you have dinner,” Tim said. “It makes a meal in no time at all.”


Tim learned a lot of her secret food dishes and techniques because her mom had to work outside of the home. As Tim was growing up and just learning how to cook, her mom would leave her notes like: Put the potatoes on high until they come to a boil. Or a note something like: Put the meat in the oven at 4:30 p.m. Or maybe: Prepare the veggies by 5 p.m. and then start boiling them in a pot of water at that time.


“Timing is one of the most important things I learned,” she said. Around the age of 10 or 11, Tim’s mom started leaving her whole recipes. But Tim never did learn how to make bread from scratch that her mom made every week. “I also vividly remember I was so proud one day when I tried to make a pie … My dad sat right there, waiting … I took out the pie from the oven and tried to cut the crust. I couldn’t. The crust was just way too tough. We all just sat there and just ate up all the innards … and laughed and laughed and laughed.”


Tim also confessed that it took her until the age of 35 to learn how to make a pie correctly.


“The key, I now know, is to learn how to cut the shortening into pea-sized pieces,” Tim said.


RECIPES


CABBAGE COMFORT


BY PEGGY TIM


HEALTHY FAMILIES PROGRAM


NC COOPERATIVE EXTENSION IN DOBSON


INGREDIENTS


1 onion, thinly sliced


1 teaspoon of olive oil


1 pound of cabbage, thinly sliced


¼ teaspoon of garlic powder


¼ teaspoon of black pepper


¼ cup of water or chicken stock


1 Tablespoon of soy sauce


(1 teaspoon of caraway seeds, optional)


DIRECTIONS


Heat the oil in large skillet. Sauté the onions over medium heat, until lightly brown (about 5-6 minutes). Add the sliced cabbage, the garlic powder and the pepper (and caraway seeds, if desired), and the water. Stir and cook 30 minutes until tender. Add the soy sauce and serve immediately. Yields 4 servings.


FIESTA SPICE MIX


BY PEGGY TIM


HEALTHY FAMILIES PROGRAM


NC COOPERATIVE EXTENSION IN DOBSON


INGREDIENTS


1 2.5-ounce container of garlic powder


1 2.5-ounce container of ground cumin powder


2 2.5-ounce containers of chili powder


2 2.5-ounce containers of onion powder


DIRECTIONS


In clean glass quart jar add all the spices. Cover and shake till well blended. Store in a cool dry place. Use whenever you need a salt-free southwestern spice blend. COOK’S NOTE: Some suggested uses are for taco seasoning, chili, burritos, for casseroles and for dry rub for roasted or grilled chicken.


FROZEN BURGER CRUMBLES


BY PEGGY TIM


HEALTHY FAMILIES PROGRAM


NC COOPERATIVE EXTENSION IN DOBSON


INGREDIENTS


For each pound of ground beef


Add ½ chopped onion


½ green pepper


1 teaspoon garlic powder


DIRECTIONS


Place all ingredients into a large pan and slowly cook over medium heat, stirring often. Cook the meat until thoroughly cooked and there is no pink neat or until the meat reaches 165-degrees Fahrenheit. Drain off the excess fat, place in colander, and gently rinse with hot water to remove more fat. Place the colander on a plate and cool in the refrigerator before packaging. When cooled, place the desired amounts of meat in freezer bags and put a date on the package. COOK’S NOTE: Ice crystals may form inside the bag. This is caused by moisture and will not affect the quality. Place in the freezer for use in soups, casseroles, sauces, sloppy Joes or tacos. Just remove from the freezer when needed and smack it on a hard surface to loosen, place in a pan and add other desired ingredients. COOK’S NOTE: This recipe is a convenient time saver in the kitchen. You will want to make this up in larger amounts for your freezer. Save money by purchasing lean ground beef when it is on sale.


DUMP CAKE


BY PEGGY TIM


HEALTHY FAMILIES PROGRAM


NC COOPERATIVE EXTENSION IN DOBSON


INGREDIENTS


1 can of cherry pie filling


1 can of crushed pineapple


1 yellow cake mix (dry)


2 sticks of margarine, melted


DIRECTIONS


Layer each ingredient as listed in a greased 9x13 baking pan. DO NOT STIR. Bake at 350-degrees Fahrenheit for 1 hour.


CUCIDATI (ITALIAN FIG COOKIES)


BY PEGGY TIM


HEALTHY FAMILIES PROGRAM


NC COOPERATIVE EXTENSION IN DOBSON


INGREDIENTS


DOUGH


4 cups of flour


1 ½ Tablespoons of baking powder


¼ teaspoon of salt


½ cup of sugar


1 cup of vegetable shortening


1 egg


1 Tablespoon of vanilla extract


½ cup of milk


FILLING


1 cup of dried figs (cut “tails” off)


1 cup of dried dates


¾ cup of raisins


½ cup of walnuts chopped


½ teaspoon of ground cinnamon


¼ cup of honey


¼ cup of orange marmalade


2 Tablespoons of whiskey or rum (this cooks away but helps preserve)


ICING


2 cups of powdered sugar


1 teaspoon of vanilla extract


4 Tablespoons of milk (approximately)


Colored sprinkles


DIRECTIONS


Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl. Whisk in the sugar and combine well. Cut in the shortening with a pastry blender and work it until it resembles cornmeal. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg, milk and vanilla. Add the egg mixture to the dry mixture and mix with an electric mixer for 3 minutes. The dough will be soft. Remove the dough and knead by hand on lightly floured surface for 5 minutes. Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for several hours. To make the filling, grind the figs, dates and raisins in a food processor until course. (COOK’S NOTE: Bakers used a hand crank meat grinder years ago.) Place this mixture into a bowl. Add the remaining filling ingredients. (COOK’S NOTE: This filling is very thick and sticky.) Preheat the oven to 375-degrees Fahrenheit and line the two cookie sheets with parchment paper. Work with one piece of dough at a time, leaving the remainder in the refrigerator until needed. On a floured surface, roll the dough into a 12-inch square. Cut the dough into 2x3 inch rectangles. Spoon about 1 teaspoon of the filling into the middle of each rectangle. Carefully fold the short edges over to meet in the middle and pinch to seal. Seal the sides as well. Place each cookie, seam side down, leaving about 1 to 2 inches between each cookie. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes until they are golden brown. Cool on a wire cooling rack until completely cooled. Continue in the same fashion to finish the cookies. Mix the ingredients for the icing, adding the milk a bit at a time to keep it smooth. Add enough milk to make a frosting thick enough not to run. Sprinkle with colored sprinkles and let the icing completely set up. Store in airtight container.


QUICK ITALIAN SOUP (PASTA DE FAGOLI)


BY PEGGY TIM


HEALTHY FAMILIES PROGRAM


NC COOPERATIVE EXTENSION IN DOBSON


INGREDIENTS


1 link of medium or hot Italian sausage, removed from casing


1 Tablespoon of olive oil


1 small onion, chopped


2 cloves of garlic, minced (or 1 teaspoon of garlic powder)


1 chicken bouillon cube


1 teaspoon of Italian spice


1 14.5-ounce can of crushed tomatoes


2 cups of water


1 14.5-ounce can of white beans (or bean of your choice), drained and rinsed


1 10-ounce package of frozen chopped spinach


½ cup of whole grain elbow macaroni (uncooked)


DIRECTIONS


In a large sauce pan, sauté the sausage, onion, and garlic in the olive oil until cooked. Add the tomatoes, spices, bouillon cube, beans, water and uncooked macaroni. Bring to boil, then reduce to a simmer, cover and cook 6 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. When the macaroni is tender, remove from the heat and stir in the frozen spinach. Return to heat and cook just until all ingredients are hot. Do not overcook. Serve immediately with fresh, grated Parmesan cheese.