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Cooking by taste, memory

By Staff | Jun 21, 2013

KAREN EICKHOFF takes a break with one of her one-hour cinnamon rolls. She said it’s a great recipe for people who like to eat cinnamon rolls, but don’t have a lot of time to make them.

SPENCER – Karen Eickhoff said she’s not a fancy cook. She doesn’t even use recipes most of the time – cooking mostly by taste and from memory.

“I like to make the basics – meat, potatoes and gravy – things like that,” she said. “I don’t think my family minds that our food here isn’t fancy.”

Eickhoff attributed her cooking skills to various people and groups. She said she learned the most as a child from her mother on a farm near Storm Lake.

“My mother taught me to make roasts and things like that, but she never cooked with very many spices like people do today,” Eickhoff said. “I was just ahead of the generation who does all of that, so I really don’t cook with any spices either,” she said.

Eickhoff also spent time in the kitchen as a Buena Vista County 4-H member, which she did until she was a junior in high school.

KAREN EICKHOFF’S cold water cake is one of her family’s favorites. She said it’s a dense, moist cake that always hits the spot.

“Back then we had 4-H years when (all the girls) did the same kinds of homemaking things,” Eickhoff said. “They didn’t have photography and all the choices kids have today.

“One year we did sewing, one year it was cooking, one year it was refinishing furniture, things like that.”

She took her fair entries to the local county fair in Alta.

Eickhoff said she made “lots of pies” as she was growing up. The shortening back in the day was lard.

“Who uses that very much anymore?” she said, adding she doesn’t use it either.

ONE OF KAREN EICHKOFF’S hobbies is gardening. She has a large vegetable garden because, she said, “I have to have my tomatoes,” but her yard is dotted with many flowers, bringing some decorative color to the outside of her home.

Eickhoff said after she and her husband, Steve Eickhoff, were married, her mother-in-law taught her important things about making pastries and different kinds of breads, rounding out her cooking repertoire.

When it came to feeding her own growing children, it was all of those basic skills that came together to create menus that her family still holds dear today.

“I still make Mom’s meatballs,” Eickhoff said, “and her hot dishes like goulash and things like that have been carried on to my family.

“The secret to good goulash is home-canned tomato juice. It doesn’t taste the same with tomato juice that you buy.”

Eickhoff said her own cooking has changed over the years as well. Having grown up on a farm where many cows were milked each day, they had fresh cream and whole milk with which to cook and drink.

KAREN EICHKHOFF scoops out some of her cold water cake. Whenever the occasion calls for cake, she said this is the recipe she reaches for most often, instead of using a boxed cake mix.

While she said she misses that, she said she doesn’t miss milking cows at all, especially those she helped milk after she was married.

The Eickhoffs moved to the Spencer area in 1972 and rented some farm ground. They teamed up be on-farm dealers for Pioneer Seed beginning in the spring of 1978, and the business continues today.

Steve Eickhoff died in 2002, but their son, Doug Eickhoff, took over his father’s place in the business. Karen Eickhoff has remained a partner, keeping the books and helping farmer customers as they arrive to pick up seed and check on their orders.

Eickhoff said she learned about the various hybrids from her husband as he would visit with customers, and she continues to learn about changing products by listening to her son as he helps farmers with their seed orders.

She said her children had their favorite recipes that she would cook. Eickhoff can recite the list of her family’s favorite foods over the years, and that she continues to make today.

“The secret to good goulash is home-canned tomato juice. It doesn’t taste the same with tomato juice that you buy.”

“They really like my chicken and dumpling soup, homemade goulash, French dip sandwiches, homemade ice cream, my cold water cake, and the pies I make,” she said. “The cake is really heavy and moist, and I don’t know why, there’s nothing special in it.”

She said her one-hour cinnamon rolls are handy for the cook who likes a tasty treat, but doesn’t have a lot of time.

“They don?t have to raise forever,” she said.

She said that time has taught her one important element of cooking.

“Always taste the food first,” she said. “You have to know if it has flavor.”

One-hour cinnamon rolls

1 package quick-rising yeast

1/2 cup lukewarm water

1/2 cup milk

1/4 cup margarine, melted

1 1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup sugar

3 1/2 cups flour, divided

2 eggs

Butter to spread

Cinnamon and sugar to taste

Mix yeast with lukewarm water and set aside. Mix together milk, melted margarine, salt and sugar, and add the yeast/water mixture.

Add and mix separately into that mixture (in order given), 1 cup flour, 2 eggs and 1 more cup of flour. Cover with waxed paper and let raise for 15 minutes.

Add an additional 1 1/2 cups flour and knead for five minutes.

Roll out into rectangle and spread with butter. Sprinkle cinnamon and sugar over butter.

Roll up, beginning at wide edge, and slice into individual rolls. Let raise for 20 minutes.

Bake in 350-degree oven for 18 to 20 minutes. Frost with powdered sugar frosting.

French dip sandwiches

2 1/2 to 3 pounds rolled roast

1 can French Onion soup

1 can beef broth

1 can beef consume soup

Place all ingredients in crock pot in the morning on low, and it will be ready for supper.

Crockpot mushrooms

4 to 5 containers of (either) sliced or whole mushrooms

1 cup butter

2 packages dry Ranch dressing

2 packages dry Italian dressing

Place all ingredients in crockpot for 2 to 2 1/2 hours on medium setting.

Can turn to low setting if they’re getting done quickly. Makes plenty of juice.

Dew apple dumplings

2 Granny Smith apples, cut into eight wedges

2 tubes crescent rolls

2 cups sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup butter

11-ounces Mountain Dew

Wrap each apple wedge in a crescent roll dough triangle and place them all in a greased 9-by-13-inch pan.

Mix sugar, cinnamon, vanilla and butter, cooking on low until butter is melted. Pour over apples.

Pour Mountain Dew over the apple dumplings and bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes, or until brown.

Caramel apple salad

1 small can crushed pineapple (do not drain)

/2 cup sugar

1 egg

1 tablespoon flour

Mix ingredients together and add:

1 8-ounce container of whipped topping (just enough to coat)

3 large Granny Smith apples, cut up

/2 cup dry roasted peanuts, ground fine

Mix and refrigerate.

Chicken wings

1 large bag Tyson chicken wings

Season with salt and pepper, then broil wings for 15 minutes on each side.

Mix for sauce:

1 1/2 cups barbecue sauce

1/4 cup honey

2 teaspoons yellow or spicy mustard

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

Tabasco sauce to taste

Place wings in crock pot, cover and mix with sauce and cook on low for 4 to 5 hours, or on high for 2 to 2 1/2 hours.

Cold water cake

Mix together:

2 cups sugar

1/2 cup margarine

1/4 cup cocoa with enough hot water to make a paste

3 eggs

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Add slowly and alternately:

1 cup cold water

2 cups flour

Pour into greased and floured 9-by-13-inch pan and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.

Frost with your favorite powdered sugar frosting.

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