By Patrick F. Cannon
I have previously written about my mother’s culinary prowess, but I’m afraid I failed to do little more than mention some of her triumphs, without giving full instructions as to their preparation. With apologies to my dear friend and mentor, Jacques Piepan, I will here attempt to atone.
Perhaps my favorite dish was her noodle/ketchup/sausage casserole. The joy of this dish is that you probably have the ingredients at hand – egg noodles, ketchup and breakfast sausage. I would choose ½-inch wide noodles. Don’t be tempted to substitute egg-free noodles. They get their color from “yellow dye 978,” which is a known Carthaginian. My many followers will be shocked that I recommend Hunt’s Tomato Ketchup instead of Heinz’s. I do so because Hunt’s flows more easily and thus can be more readily mixed with the noodles (and also because I have a nephew-in-law who works for the company that makes the stuff).
My mother always used Oscar Mayer breakfast sausage, which was just the right size and had no particular taste. I’m afraid it’s no longer available, so you might want to substitute something from Mr. Bob Evans or the Johnsonville group (despite the commercials, Jimmie Dean is actually dead, so I’d steer clear of that brand). If they are pre-cooked, so much the better – it saves a step. This is a one-dish meal; in this case, a 9x4x3-inch glass loaf casserole. If you don’t have a glass one, you could substitute a metal loaf pan, but the presentation would be less visually impressive.
Fill a pan with water and a bit of salt. Turn on the burner. When the water comes to a boil, toss the noodles in, stirring occasionally. When they’re suitably soft, drain and pour into the casserole. Pour the Hunt’s over the noodles, mixing until all the noodles have a lovely reddish cast. Arrange the sausages – perhaps a dozen? – on top, then put the whole shebang in a 325-degree oven. Twenty minutes later, perfection. As a side dish, you could quarter a head of Iceberg Lettuce. Place each quarter on a salad plate, and pour on a liberal amount of Kraft French Dressing. Its lovely orange color adds a festive note to a notable meal. Some people prefer Thousand Island dressing, but I’m not sure why.
You ham lovers will embrace this other Cannon delight, Jambon a la Cerise (ham with cherry sauce). This is another one-pan delight, in this case, a cast-iron frying pan. For this dish, you must purchase a ham steak, typically a large slice of ham about ½-inch thick. My wife Jeanette cubes just such a steak to make a delicious quiche-like creation. Jambon a la Cerise is a simpler, but no less satisfying, dish.
In addition to the cast-iron frying pan, you will require a jar of Maraschino Cherries. Heat the pan until really hot, then place the ham in it. Do not use any oil or butter, as this will tend to inhibit the desired crustiness. Fry on one side until a crust forms, as near to black as you can get it. Turn over and do the same to the other side. When both sides are crusty and the ham dried out, pour in the jar of cherries. When they are heated through, transfer the ham onto a serving platter, and pour on the colorful sauce. This should serve four lucky people.
To my amazement, I find that many people don’t seem to like organ meat. Some will tolerate liver, but draw the line at brains, hearts, gizzards, intestines and kidneys. As a child, I always asked for the turkey gizzard, but the modern birds don’t seem to have one. But my very favorite is kidneys. A stew of lamb kidneys was a staple of the Cannon menu. Preparation could not be simpler.
Ask your butcher for a pair of lamb kidneys. Chop them into bite-sized pieces, removing any gristly stuff as you go. Fill a cauldron with water, adding chopped onion, carrots and celery. Add the kidneys and bring the water to a simmer. Open the windows, and turn on an exhaust fan if you have one. This will permit your neighbors to share in the heady aromas. As the mixture simmers, you will notice a whitish crud forming on the top. Skim this off until it ceases to appear. Add cut-up potatoes and continue cooking until the spuds are tender. Ladle into bowls and serve your anxious family.
Speaking of spuds, my mother served mashed potatoes almost every day. Occasionally, there were leftovers, which, properly transformed, could be served the next day. Many of you, I’m sure, have eaten potato pancakes. Some recipes I’ve seen mix the spud mash with an egg, onions, salt, pepper, flour and assorted spices. All of this conspires to destroy the pure essence of the noble potato. All you really need do is form the mashed potatoes into patties and throw them into your faithful cast-iron frying pan. Again, you’re looking for that crusty surface that always satisfies.
In closing, I should mention that my father was born in Ireland, as were my mother’s grandparents. As you may know, the Irish favor simple, hearty food. I fully subscribe to their general policy of never eating food from a country one has never heard of, or whose name one can’t pronounce.
Copyright 2020, Patrick F. Cannon