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Every day seems to offer something to celebrate in my own way. Not only is it time to welcome what April 4 offers in Wisconsin, but also because the number 4 happens to be my lucky number. Add a simple thought about everything four seasons offer, and it becomes a gift in disguise to enjoy throughout the year. Taking vacations is healthy, too, but returning home is the best gift of all.

Today, we’ll take a vacation from the land of meatloaves, where we have been visiting in recent columns. Your responses were something to celebrate, too, and today we’ll move on with other flavors and ingredients to capture a few stories along the way.

Writing cookbooks with favorite recipes, memories, and old photographs featuring the old Greenbush neighborhood became one of life’s many great pleasures for me. One day I received a call from a woman who was making Joe Brusca’s mother’s bread recipe from the “Grandmothers of Greenbush” cookbook. With dough already made, the final instruction was to make the sign of the cross before placing it in the oven. She wondered if it meant to carve a cross with a knife along the top of the dough. I explained that Brusca’s mother, being Catholic, always made the sign of the cross before baking bread.

Being very proud of my immigrant parents, Daddy from Sicily, and Mother from Hungary, and what they endured and accomplished in America, I’ve become aware of how many people today are checking their DNA with genealogy kits to learn more about their own ethnic backgrounds. Deb T., McFarland, just discovered she’s also a bit’o Irish and wondered about an authentic Irish recipe to explore. Here is one from “Blue Ribbon Family Favorites” that includes more than 200 delicious recipes from Food Fairs and Festivals across the nation.

Described as being a “winner,” the recipe belonged to Irene Holmes’ Irish grandmother and dates back to the 20th century. From the Tunbridge World’s Fair, in Tunbridge, Vermont, it also includes the following instructions that “a cross was traditionally cut in the top to keep the evil spirits away, while making for a pretty loaf.”

Irish bread

5 cups unbleached or all-purpose flour

½ cup sugar

1 tablespoon caraway seeds

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

2 cups buttermilk or sour milk

1 tablespoon butter, melted plus additional for brushing on loaf

1 ¼ cups raisins

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Coat a 12-inch cast iron pan with cooking spray and set it aside. Place flour, sugar, seeds, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl and whisk to blend them. Add milk, butter, and raisins and beat well. Place dough in the prepared pan. With a sharp knife, cut a large X in the surface of the dough. Bake for about 1 hour until the top is golden brown. Butter the top of the loaf as soon as it comes out of the oven. Cut the bread into wedges and serve.

A few years ago, Phil Brickson, Monona, asked for a biscuit and gravy recipe as it’s a favorite way to begin the day. A recipe from a Florida restaurant owner didn’t turn out as expected, nor did it the second time around. Here is another one to try from the “Blue Plate Special” cookbook featuring favorites from beloved diners throughout the country.

Biscuits n’ gravy

1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons baking powder

¼ teaspoon unsalted butter, softened

1/3 cup plain yogurt

½ cup milk

1 ½ pounds lean pork sausage

1/8 teaspoon coarse black pepper

1 teaspoon dried sage

¼ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon paprika

¼ teaspoon allspice

¼ cup unsalted butter

¼ cup all-purpose flour

¼ cup water

2 ¼ cups milk

Salt and pepper to taste

In a large mixing bowl, sift flour with salt and baking powder. Using your fingers, blend in butter until texture resembles coarse meal. Gradually mix in yogurt and milk. Do not overwork the dough.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured board. Knead for 30 seconds. Roll out to 1 ¼ inch thickness. Cut into 2-inch rounds to make 8 biscuits. Place on a baking sheet. Bake at 425 for 18 minutes or until golden brown.

In a large mixing bowl, blend sausage with pepper, sage, salt, paprika, and allspice. Shape into 8 patties. In a heavy skillet over medium heat, cook sausage for 8 minutes per side. Set sausage patties aside.

In the same skillet used for the sausage, melt butter. Stir and scrape skillet to release the browned pieces from the pan. Reduce the heat.

Blend flour with water. Add the mixture to the skillet, stirring constantly. Cook until flour mixture turns golden brown. Slowly add milk. Continue stirring until the gravy thickens; season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve over biscuits with a sausage patty.

Serves 4.

Old diners are known for using a slang of their own, Waitresses shouted out orders loud enough for short-order cooks to prepare food with finger-snapping speed. A “G.A.C.” meant a grilled American cheese sandwich, “Clean Up the Kitchen” was hash, “a bowl of red” meant chili con carne, and shouting “brown bellies!” was an order for baked beans.

Betty’s baked beans

2 16-ounce cans baked beans

2 tablespoons mustard

¼ cup dark molasses

2 tablespoons packed brown sugar

½ cup ketchup

1 cup grated sharp Cheddar cheese

1 cup chopped onion

8 slices bacon, chopped

Place beans in a large soup pot or casserole dish. In a mixing bowl, blend together mustard, molasses, brown sugar, and ketchup. Add mixture to the beans with cheese, onions, and bacon. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Let stand for 15 minutes before serving.

Serves 8

A few months ago, I came across a simple rice recipe in Jim Loyd’s “The Best of the Best of the Open Line” cookbook that stirred my interest. It was simple, sounded delicious, and a favorite from his Open Line on WMT daily radio program back in the mid-1960s from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Everyone enjoyed this and I’ll definitely make it again.

Onion rice bake

1 can consommé soup

1 can onion soup

1 ¼ cups uncooked rice (do not use instant rice)

1 can mushrooms, drained

½ stick butter

Mix and bake this in a casserole dish for 1 hour at 350 degrees, stirring after 30 minutes.

Note: The next time I make this, I might sprinkle the top with chopped walnuts about 10 minutes before removing it from the oven.

Do you have a delicious egg bake recipe you’d like to share with others? Here is one from a “Taste of Home” April/May, 2008, magazine. LaVonne Hegland, St. Michael, Minnesota, described it as a delicious creamy egg bake that you can prepare ahead of time.

Deluxe breakfast bake

6-ounce package of onion and garlic salad croutons

2 cups (8 ounces) shredded cheddar cheese

1 ½ cups cubed fully cooked ham

4 eggs

2 ¾ cups milk, divided

¾ teaspoon ground mustard

10-ounce can condensed cream of mushroom soup, undiluted

26-ounce package frozen shredded hash brown potatoes, thawed

½ teaspoon paprika

¼ teaspoon pepper

Place croutons in a greased 3-quart baking dish. Sprinkle with cheese and ham. In a large bowl, whisk eggs, 2 ½ cups milk and mustard; pour over ham and cheese. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Remove from refrigerator 30 minutes before baking. Combine soup and remaining milk until blended; spread over casserole. Top with hash browns; sprinkle with paprika and pepper. Bake covered at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Uncover. Bake 35-40 minutes longer or until edges are browned. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

Yield: 12 servings

[Editor's note: This story has been updated to add the baking temperature and correct the baking time of the deluxe breakfast bake.]

Contact the Cooks’ Exchange in care of the Wisconsin State Journal, P.O. Box 8058, Madison, WI, 53708 or by email at greenbush4@aol.com.

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