Midwestern, Stick-to-Your-Ribs Yumminess

Heidi is the wife of an old boss of mine. I met her a job ago, probably at a Christmas party or charity golf tournament. I liked her immediately. Not only is she tall like me, she’s very, very funny and totally committed to her family. So is her husband, Phil.  They’re good people.

Like so many metro-Atlantans, Heidi’s not from these parts. She’s actually a real midwestern girl, from Michigan. Another reason to love her. As much as I get a kick out of being from New Jersey, both of my parents are from Chicago, and most of my kin are still out there. My mother’s kitchen reflected her midwestern sensibility. Lots of meat, lots of potatoes, lots of gravy.

When I asked Heidi to contribute a family recipe to my blog, she immediately offered up beef stroganoff. Mmmmm… my mother would make this dish once in a while on cold winter nights. Relatively inexpensive to make, not too difficult to cook and it feeds an army. Perfect for a mother of four to throw together. In fact, Heidi’s mother Betty calls this recipe “Beef Stroganoff Without Panic.” Perfect!

We arrived at Phil and Heidi’s home and the two of them had us in stitches from the get go. They’re so awesome, and so funny and so in love. Heidi had set up a tidy mis-en-place on the kitchen island. This is where I sat, listening to her tell me about her childhood in Muskegon, Michigan as she prepared dinner.

Heidi is the youngest of eight children, a combination of three families that is more complicated than I could keep up with. Suffice it to say, she lived in the same house her whole life with her parents and younger sister. Muskegon is a picturesque town of about 200,000 on Lake Michigan. Winter months were spent tobogganing and ice skating, summers were spent on the lake. Heidi referred to it as Beaver Cleaver Land.

Heidi’s mother didn’t work until Heidi was in middle school. Even so, her free time in those younger years was not focused on cooking. Heidi grew up with very simple food, often boiled, that stuck to your ribs on cold Michigan nights. The perfect scenario for beef stroganoff. Her mother would serve it to Heidi and her sister with a glass of milk. No veggies, no side salad, just like my mom.

Heidi’s mother gave her a book of family recipes when Heidi married her first husband in 1983. (This is the second person I’ve met whose mother gave her a book of recipes. I’m starting to feel cheated.) Every recipe is hand written with ad libbed instructions like, “slice the beef as wide as a finger.” Isn’t that sweet?

I watched Heidi slice the onion into the pan and add a whole stick of butter and a pint of sour cream. Heaven. She mentioned she was cheating a little on the recipe in the interest of time. Her mother would make it in the morning and leave it in the fridge all day to allow the bay leaves to infuse into the sauce.

Turns out, it didn’t make a bit of difference. When I took a bite of my steaming plate of stroganoff, I felt like I was back in my mother’s kitchen, eating dinner on a cold night after swim team practice, talking about school or cutting up with my siblings. It was rich, hearty and delicious.

It’s amazing how food does that. Brings you back to a time and place tucked away in your memory from the last time you ate that dish. I loved it, and I love Heidi and Phil. It was a pleasure sharing this meal with them and getting a peak at Heidi’s childhood. Can’t wait to do it again!

Heidi’s Mother’s Beef Stroganoff, aka, Beef Sroganoff Without Panic


1 lb onions (5 large) sliced very fine

2 lbs top round or flank steak cut in narrow strips about the size of a little finger (Love this! So cute!)

1 stick butter (This originally said margarine, but Heidi’s note reads, “Use butter, a la Julia Child. Good tip.)

1 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. pepper

1 tbsp. dry mustard

1 cup sour cream

4 bay leaves

1 tbsp. flour

1 lb package wide egg noodles

Saute onions slowly in butter until golden in color. Remove to caserole, draining to leave butter in the pan. Saute meat in pan just long enough for it to turn grey and give out its juice.

Return onions to meat and stir in salt, pepper, dry mustard and 1 tbsp. sour cream. Stir to blend well. Add bay leaves. Cover and simmer on low heat for about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, cook egg noodles accoriding to package instructions.

Sprinkle with 1 tbsp. flour. Stir well to incorporate. Add the reamining sour cream and continue cooking on very low flame, stirring constantly until well combined. Be careful not to allow it to boil.

Server over wide egg noodles.

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