I grew up in Missouri, where we added a full cup of sugar to our pitcher of iced tea, and my mother made milk gravy out of the pan drippings from fried pork chops. I never even knew kale existed until I moved here. This explains the mumbo-jumbo of my palate and my culinary skills. I make delicious chickpea curry, but I’m also the one who likes to bring those little meatballs in the Crock-Pot, made with a jar of grape jelly and a bottle of chili sauce, to a potluck.
A few months ago, Cynthia Riggs suggested I borrow her copy of “Delish!” a cookbook authored by her friend Philip Craig and his wife Shirley Prada Craig, to use for recipes in the newspaper and in our daily newsletter, The Minute. As usual, I took my sweet time getting around to looking at the book, but once I did, I was hooked.
I’m a latecomer to this wonderful cookbook, but I love the idea of mixing writing and eating, so it’s got a strong appeal for me. I’ve spent the past couple of weeks asking Shirley Prada Craig if I could borrow some of the recipes, and then trying a few of them at home.
Shirley told me that all of the recipes in the book were ones her family used. The cookbook includes commentary next to the recipes attributed to either J.W. Jackson or Zee (the fictional characters in Philip’s mystery series), or to Shirley and Philip. Shirley said the publisher had the idea that readers of the mysteries would enjoy hearing from the author and his wife. I asked her if there was a favorite recipe, but she said it would be difficult to choose. I have a friend, Bridget Swartz, who lives in Parish, N.Y.; she’s a retired librarian who loves the Philip Craig mysteries. Bridget told me over the weekend how much she enjoyed reading his books, and that she made sure the little library in Parish had all of his work. “I really miss his writing. I wish good writers could write forever,” she said.
The first dish I tried at home was the Sweet and Sour Chicken. There are four ingredients: chicken, a bottle of Wish-Bone Russian salad dressing, an envelope of dried onion soup mix, and a jar of apricot preserves. It’s not so different from those meatballs made in the Crock-Pot I love so much, so I knew I’d love it. The rest of my family did too, and it only took about five minutes to put together on a work night.
Then I tackled probably the next easiest recipe I’ve ever made, Grapes with Sour Cream and Brown Sugar. Loved that one too. There are a dozen more recipes I want to try, and I’m going to ask Cynthia if I can have a couple more days with “Delish!” so I can copy them all.
Sweet and Sour Chicken
1 (8 oz.) bottle Wish-Bone Russian dressing (the red one)
1 (1⅛ oz.) envelope dried onion soup mix
1 (10 oz.) jar apricot preserves
Broiler-fryer chicken, cut up
Note: I used six boneless/skinless chicken breasts instead of a whole chicken, and it worked like a charm. This did affect the cooking time; I baked mine for 30 to 40 minutes.
Combine first three ingredients. Place chicken, skin side up, in a single layer in a large, shallow baking pan. Pour sauce over chicken. Bake at 350° for 1 to 1½ hours, or until cooked through, basting occasionally with pan drippings. Serve over rice with pan juices.
Grapes with Sour Cream and Brown Sugar
Serves 6 to 8
⅔ cup dairy sour cream
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
½ tsp. vanilla extract
¼ to ½ tsp. grated orange rind
2½ to 4 cups seedless green grapes
Mix sour cream, sugar, vanilla, and orange rind together. Beat until sugar is completely dissolved. Add washed and dried grapes to mixture and toss lightly. If grapes are sour, add a little more vanilla and sugar.
Cover mixing bowl with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until serving time. Serve in pretty serving bowl or in individual serving dishes garnished with mint sprigs.