We lost my stepdad late last year and this Father's Day didn't seem very important. As it got closer, I found that instead of making me feel sad, it was a chance to savour years of great family memories, many of them around the table.
Sharing some of the dishes that made him happy just seemed the right thing to do, so this one is for my pop.
No matter what I cooked for him, he would say it was the best he'd ever eaten, so it was always difficult to pick his favourites. But he truly did enjoy a good feed, and this menu would have brought on plenty of oohs and aahs.
Chicken rice and spinach soup
Any meal that started with soup was a big hit, but if it had chicken, noodles and some kind of greens, it just didn't matter what followed. The best chicken soup starts with a carcass, but a boxed broth won't ruin this recipe. Whenever I have a rotisserie or stuffed chicken, I throw the bones in the freezer and when I get three or four, I make a big batch of stock and freeze that. I know it's nearly summer, but how often is it too hot here for a nice bowl of soup?
bones from 1 or 2 whole chickens
1 each onion, carrot, celery stalk and garlic clove, all quartered
2 bay leaves
1 tsp. each dried thyme and savoury
1 tsp. each salt and pepper
10 cups cold water
1 cup long-grain rice
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
1/2 small turnip, peeled and diced
3 cups diced cooked chicken
4 cups rinsed and drained baby spinach leaves
4 green onions, finely chopped
1/2 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
Place stock ingredients in a heavy pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer together at least an hour, preferably two. Strain and discard the solids. If you aren't making your own stock then use about 8 cups of instant, canned or boxed. Add rice, carrot and turnip to pot and cook together about 10 minutes. Add chicken and spinach and bring back up to a simmer. Cook until everything is tender. Stir in green onions and parsley and adjust the salt and pepper.
Cheesy beef and mushroom lasagna
Pop had diabetes and a bad heart for years, and he was one of the most disciplined human beings I've ever known, but a small serving of cheesy pasta was one of the loves of his life. I know you usually make lasagna with a meat sauce, but keeping the layers separate allows the beef and mushrooms to shine. Mixing the tomato and white sauces gives a blush effect - unusual and wonderful. The different cheeses are important here, but if you have a particular favourite then feel free to substitute. This makes a large lasagna and is plenty to serve a crowd, but it also freezes well in both the raw and cooked forms.
1/2 cup butter or margarine (divided)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
4 cups milk
1/4 tsp. nutmeg, preferably freshly grated
2 cups good quality bottled tomato sauce
1-1/2 tsp. each salt and pepper (divided)
1 tsp. vegetable oil
1 lb. lean ground beef
4 cups sliced fresh mushrooms
1 tsp. Italian seasoning
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 cups (16 oz.) ricotta cheese
8 oz. goat cheese, crumbled
1 pound lasagna noodles, cooked according to package instructions
4 cups shredded mozzarella
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Make a white sauce first. In a large heavy pot, melt 6 tbsp. of the butter. Stir in flour and cook a minute. Gradually whisk in milk. Simmer, stirring constantly, until thick, smooth and creamy - it should coat the back of a spoon. Remove from heat and add nutmeg and tomato sauce, stirring until the colour is uniform - no streaks. Stir in half a teaspoon each of the salt and pepper - taste for seasoning because every bottled brand is different; set aside.
Add oil to a frying pan and brown beef. Add mushrooms, Italian seasoning and another half teaspoon of the salt and pepper and cook, stirring, until mushrooms have released their moisture and it has evaporated, and meat has no hint of pink.
Add garlic and cook together 1 minute. Taste again and add salt and pepper if necessary - every layer must be well seasoned.
Whisk together ricotta, goat cheese, eggs and remaining half teaspoon of salt and pepper. Spread a third of the white and tomato sauce mixture in the bottom of a lasagna dish. Arrange one layer of noodles on top. Spread ricotta mixture evenly over the noodles. Top with another layer of noodles then all the beef and mushrooms. Layer on half the mozzarella then another third of the blush sauce. Top with a final layer of lasagna noodles, then remaining third of white and tomato sauce mixture, remaining mozzarella and the Parmesan. Dot the top with remaining 2 tbsp. butter (in small pieces), top with foil or cover, and bake at 375 F for 30 minutes. Remove cover and bake another 15 minutes. Allow to rest 15 minutes before cutting.
Lemon filled sponge cake
I've already shared this sponge cake recipe with you, but because it was always on my pop's wish list, I have to include it today. Your dad will like it, too. Fill this with chocolate, whipped cream or sliced berries - whatever you like - but lemon is classic. You will have half a recipe of lemon pie filling left over so bake off half a dozen frozen tart shells and have lemon tarts tomorrow. Yes, you can use it all, but the cake will probably topple over.
6 eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup cold water
1-1/2 cups sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. lemon extract
1-1/4 cups flour
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. cream of tartar
2 packages lemon pie filling and ingredients to make it
lots of lightly sweetened whipping cream
Separate the eggs carefully - don't get any yolk in the whites. Beat yolks until thick and creamy and lighter in colour - about 5 minutes. Add water and continue beating until very thick, about 10 minutes in total. Gradually beat in sugar. Stir in vanilla and lemon extract. Sift flour twice with salt and fold into egg yolk mixture. Beat egg whites until foamy, then add cream of tartar. Beat until stiff, moist, glossy peaks form. Fold in egg yolk mixture carefully - you want to preserve as much air as you can. Spoon into a 10-inch ungreased tube pan. Bake at 325 F for 1 hour. Turn pan upside down and cool completely. Run a thin bladed knife around the edge of the pan and turn out the cake. Cut into three layers. While cake is baking, prepare lemon filling and allow to cool completely. Divide into thirds - you will use only two for the cake. Spread the filling carefully between the layers. Use as much whipping cream as you like to cover the entire cake - I suggest 2 cups. Beat in sugar to taste - about 3 tbsp. - and 1/2 tsp. of vanilla. Spread on cake at last minute.
Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor and teacher in St. John's. Questions may be sent to her c-o The Telegram, P.O. Box 86, St. John's, NL, A1E 4N1.