Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Apples and Thyme: My Kitchen Treasures

*The 110 year old cast iron skillet that my great-great grandmother started housekeeping with.

*My Nan’s mother’s silver biscuit pan.

*An old antique wooden rolling pin, my mother gave to me.

*My Dad’s old copy of the essential “Joy of Cooking” cookbook, with a crease in the binding found on page with the chocolate chip cookies recipe.

These are the things I treasure most in my kitchen. I use my great-great grandmother’s iron skillet nearly every day of the week. Sometimes I wonder at the life that skillet has seen, the foods it has contained. My great-grandmother made cornbread in that skillet nearly every day. She also made fried chicken, hamburger steak, gravy, sausage, and whatever else happened to show up on the farm. I’m blessed to know my great-grandmother, a beautiful woman with 97 years behind her. Her son and daughter-in-law live close by and with their help, my great-grandmother is able to continue to live on her own. A reminder of her strength is in that perfectly seasoned skillet, and I love using it.

I didn’t grow up in close vicinity to either of my grandmothers, but the cooking memories I treasure most were in my Nan's kitchen. Nan is my father’s mother and will gladly admit to not being a cook. She also decided that when her first grandchild was born, she didn't want to be called "Grandmother!" Nope, she was way too young for that. So she decided that we would all call her "Nan." Instead of cooking, Nan would rather read the newspaper, go for a drive, watch the news, or read a good book. Nan loves words. This is one reason I love her! But when I was little and went to visit her, Nan would always make skillet dinner. I’m sure she created this dish in the 50's, when her boys were young and she needed a quick dinner to rely on. She’s never stopped making it. All of her 14 grandchildren could tell you nearly every ingredient in this dish. I'm not sure how often she makes it now, but even when she came to visit me for the first time at our new house in August, I insisted we make her Skillet Dinner.

Skillet dinner isn’t exactly an exciting dish. It’s a simple rice and ground beef dish which probably won’t win any awards. Skillet dinner is special, not because of the meal itself, but because of how Nan involved her grandchildren when making it. It is Nan’s abiding love that makes her skillet dinner taste warm and loving, that makes me long for its simple spicy sweetness on cool autumn afternoons.

As young children, Nan let us get involved every part of creating skillet dinner. From opening the cans of tomatoes and mushrooms, to showing us how to chop the onion, to allowing us to sprinkle the Italian seasoning… and best of all, to allow US to be the taste testers! Did it need more salt? Did it need more of the secret ingredient – brown sugar? Being chosen as the taste tester was regarded as a very important job. In the simple act of making skillet dinner, Nan showed us that she valued spending time with us, she valued our opinions, and valued who we were individually. She still does this. We didn’t have to cut the onions perfectly, or measure the spices exactly, skillet dinner always tasted great no matter how we made it… because it was made in the company of a loving and wonderful woman.

I am so thankful for the lessons Nan taught me while making skillet dinner. I look forward to sharing them with my own children in the future. As I was making this memorable meal last night, Michael walked in the door after a long day at work, smiled and said, “It smells good in here honey!” That’s all it took to make my day! Thank you Nan, for always loving me deep, surrounding me with prayers, and being generous with your time. You will never know how much I love and appreciate you.

Nan’s Skillet Dinner

  • 1 lb. ground beef or ground turkey
  • 1 (14 oz.) can of crushed or petit diced tomatoes (do not drain)
  • 1 cup rice
  • 1 small chopped onion
  • 1 (6 oz.) can tomato paste
  • 1 ½ cups warm water (to mix with tomato paste)
  • ¼ cup ketchup
  • 1 can sliced mushrooms (do not drain)
  • 1 can sliced water chestnuts, drained
  • 2 tsp. Worchester sauce
  • 2 tsp. hot sauce
  • 2 Tbsp. brown sugar (to taste, I like it on the sweeter side!)
  • 1-2 tsp. Italian seasoning
  • Salt/Pepper (to taste)


  • ½ green pepper, diced
  • 2 stalks celery, finely diced
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh Italian flat leaf parsley, chopped


Brown ground beef or turkey in a LARGE stove top skillet. Drain off fat. Add chopped onions, green peppers, and celery. Sauté until onion is transparent. In a small bowl, mix tomato paste with warm water. Add to skillet. Add can of diced or crushed tomatoes, can of mushrooms, water chestnuts, and ketchup. Stir until thoroughly mixed in skillet. Add Italian seasoning, salt and pepper, Worchester sauce, hot sauce, and brown sugar. Simmer on medium high heat for 15 – 25 minutes until rice is cooked al dente. Taste and correct seasonings as needed. Serve immediately and garnish with Italian parsley. Makes 4-6 large servings.


Kudos to African Vanielje of Vaniele Kitchen, for sponsoring the Apples and Thyme Blogging Event. Here is her synopsis:

“The event which I have called Apples & Thyme (I hope Jeni will forgive me but it just seemed right) is a celebration of time spent in the kitchen with our mothers and grandmothers (or anyone else you wish to blog about) and what they did or did not pass on to us that influenced how we cook and eat today. We would love you to enter and share with us a person and a dish that celebrates your relationship with them. The closing date is 10th November, with the roundup being posted on 15th November, the first monthly Apples & Thyme Day.”

Please visit her site for more information on how to enter.

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