Reading through a list of 'Grandma's Favorite Recipes' - meatloaf, fried chicken, green bean casserole, chicken pot pie, and pot roast has me thinking about what recipes are considered the standards at any given time.
You know how food fads are - people will jump on the bandwagon that says our lives are not complete unless we can make or locate for purchase the definitive [fill in the blank from the above list].
At one time it was stuffed French toast. Bed and Breakfast establishments and IHOPs/Perkins etc. made a big deal about coming up with the ultimate recipe for it. I think it was stuffed with cream cheese and strawberry jam, but I'm not sure because I ignored that blip in the culinary landscape.
Probably more years ago than I think (meaning I think it was 2 or 3 years ago, and it was probably at least 5 years ago), smoked paprika was all the rage. Had to put it in all those dry rubs for barbecue, and various other dishes. I got the impression that if I didn't have it on hand, don't even think about trying that particular recipe or anything like it. Now it's an over-easy fried egg that needs to go on top of hamburger on a bun or just about anything else considered 'gourmet.'
And 'lately' - meaning over the last 5 or so years - nobody can eat fried chicken unless there is waffles with it. From watching people on the cooking shows talk about how this is their grandmother's tried and true recipe, and it gets trotted out as a staple of southern dining I gather this is a long-time tradition - but I never heard of it until fairly recently. Not in all those regional cookbooks I read over the past 40 years, not in the Roadfood restaurant guides, and not on the food shows on TV.
The first I ever heard of it was watching the Pillsbury Bake Off, and a sweet black lady was telling the moderator how 'everyone loves chicken and waffles, don't they?' and I think the moderator was as puzzled as I was - never heard of chicken and waffles, so couldn't at that time agree 'everyone' loves them or gets excited at the prospect of some Poppin' Fresh refrigerator biscuits mangled by a waffle iron and served with syrup and a couple pieces of fried chicken on the side. Not very bake-off if you ask me.
And when you actually try chicken and waffles: it's fried chicken - either the best you've ever tasted, or average, or not so great. It's hard to mess up fried chicken, but when I think of so-so, I think of the Swanson TV dinners version of it. And it's some waffles. I've never seen anyone propose putting Eggo waffles heated in the toaster with fried chicken and calling it 'chicken and waffles' so apparently there is some standard that requires home-made waffles, which I'm glad to see. But it's still just chicken and just waffles. The only synergy I detect is you can dip the chicken in the accompanying pancake syrup, and I'm not all that impressed.
Another thing is bacon. Bacon, bacon, bacon. Bacon has become the passport to delectible-ness. People drool over anything with bacon in it, whether it belongs there or not. There was even a bit in Breaking Bad about bacon in cake pops. (Don't get me started on cake pops.) Yesterday my in-laws were passing around a cell phone with pictures of huge glazed donuts topped with big whole slices of fried bacon and acting like now they can all die happy knowing such things exist in the world. Maybe/probably it's really good, but all the hype wears me out.
Years ago, meaning probably decades in real world time, everything was cheese, cheese, cheese. Cheese still shows up a lot, but it's no longer the end-all and be-all because it has been replaced by bacon - or enhanced by it, as in the hugely popular macaroni and cheese that now has to be prepared with a minimum of four cheeses in order to be considered edible, and to insure its place on the table: add some bacon. Even the lowly grilled cheese sandwich has to contain 3 or 4 kinds of cheese, and be rolled in cheese before grilling so it gets a crust. If you do all that, you can charge $15 for it at the restaurants in my nearby touristy town.
So what about pot roast? I don't understand why it's considered such an icon of home cooking. Mother's (or Aunt Somebody's or Grandma's) pot roast gets praised like crazy, and to me it's just a large chunk of beef simmered with carrots and onions until the meat falls apart. It's something I make when I'm too lazy to go to more trouble. I suppose a person could develop a craving for it if they felt unable to throw some meat and vegetables into a pot and simmer it for a while.
Now, if I was going to more trouble and wanted a memorable dish, it would be what I call Marvelous Beef Pie.
Marvelous Steak Pie
2 pounds chuck steak or roast, cut in even 1 inch dice
Flour for dredging
Salt and pepper
Shortening for browning
1 small onion, diced
2 - 3 mushrooms, sliced
3 cups boiling water
2/3 cup tomato juice or V-8
1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp salt
1 bay leaf
Pinch of cloves
4 - 5 carrots, diced 1/4 inch*
4 - 5 potatoes, diced 1/4 inch
1 cup peas*
(You could use frozen peas and carrots)
1 1/2 cups flour (part whole wheat flour)
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup shortening
1/4 cup cold butter, cut in small dice
1 egg yolk
1/4 cup milk
3/4 tsp vinegar
Dredge the meat in flour that has been seasoned with salt and pepper. Brown well in shortening and remove to crock pot. Cook the onion and mushrooms in the pan until the onion is transparent but not browned. Scrape into the crockpot and put 1 cup water in the pan. Cook, stirring, to get up the browned bits in the pan. Pour it into the crockpot with the rest of the water, tomato juice, Worcestershire sauce, salt, bay leaf, and cloves. Cover and cook on high until the meat is tender. Add the vegetables and continue cooking until done.
If the broth is not thick, remove the vegetables and thicken it with 3 tablespoons flour mixed into 1/4 cup water. In the crockpot, this will take awhile to thicken up. Combine the gravy with the meat and vegetables and spoon into a large casserole. Top with biscuits or a pastry crust and bake in a 400 degree oven until done.
The stew part freezes well.
I used the food processor to make the pastry, used part whole wheat flour. It was a lovely crust.