WHIDBEY RECIPES | What do you know, Joe? Your day is coming this month

A couple of columns ago, I rambled on about the many special days of March, but never really got to the last half of this crazy month.

For example, yesterday was not only St. Patrick’s Day, reason enough to celebrate, but it was also the anniversary of the date the rubber band was invented, in 1845. When I consider how often I reach for a rubber band, I regret not paying more attention.

Today, however, is one of my favorite March days precisely because it is the day after St. Patrick’s Day, which in this house means Reuben Sandwich Day. If there isn’t a National Reuben Sandwich Day, there should be, because nothing beats a homemade, well made, piled-high with corned beef and sauerkraut Reuben, one of my all-time favorite sandwiches. No need to tell you what’s for dinner tonight here.

But, this March week is loaded with “special” days.

Today also marks the anniversary of the first walk in space, a truly momentous event. Hard to believe it was more than 40 years ago that we all sat, holding our collective breath, listening nervously to the reports from NASA, and now there are people living in a capsule that travels around our planet every day and we barely notice.

Then, finally, the day we’ve all been waiting for arrives on Friday; first official day of spring, the long-awaited Vernal Equinox. Not that our weather will probably be proof of that, but at least we know the days will get longer and the nights shorter. The tulips and forsythia have known for some time that spring is lurking just around the corner.

If you have teenagers in the house, make note of the fact that March 21 is National Teenagers’ Day, although it often seems as though most teenagers think every day is their day.

Fittingly enough, this will be followed by National Goof-Off Day, March 22.

I don’t know who comes up with these “days,” but a day devoted just to goofing off doesn’t seem such a bad idea. There are some, however, who make a career of it, but we won’t go there.

Between now and the end of the month, we also have Chocolate Covered Raisin Day (next Tuesday), National Joe Day (when all guys can be Joe, whether that’s their name or not), Something On a Stick Day (good time to have a grill party with skewers?), Doctor’s Day, Tater Day and Cesar Chavez Day. There are also two anniversary events to be noted, the invention of Coca Cola in 1886 and the purchase of Alaska from Russia in 1867.

Who’d have thought that Coke has been around almost as long as we’ve had Alaska. I can’t help wondering, though, if Russia wishes they had it back, with or without Governor Palin.

RECIPES

I’ve eaten Reuben sandwiches in many restaurants and delis, all the way from New York to our own Holmes Harbor Rod & Gun Club, and even though it seems an easy sandwich to make, the results are often a big disappointment. Making a Reuben at home is one way to get it right, especially if you have leftover corned beef you’ve cooked yourself.

CLASSIC REUBEN SANDWICH

Sliced rye bread, dark or light (your preference; I prefer dark), or pumpernickel bread

Butter

Sauerkraut, preferably fresh-style from the deli counter, not canned

Sliced Swiss or Gruyere cheese

Cooked corn beef, thinly sliced

Russian Reuben Dressing (see note below re: dressing)

Prepared horseradish, to be served on the side (optional)

Butter two slices of bread for each sandwich. Place one slice, butter side down in a large skillet and then build the sandwich. First, spread a thin layer of dressing on the bread, then a layer of sauerkraut (thick or thin, your preference as to how much ’kraut), then a layer of cheese slices, then the sliced corned beef. How you pile it on depends on your preference and how much you have left over.

The next layer is debated by Reuben lovers. Some say another layer of cheese; others say another layer of sauerkraut; still others say just a bit of both. I personally prefer another cheese layer, no more kraut.

Spread the unbuttered side of the other slice of bread with a bit of the dressing, then place on the top of the sandwich, buttered side facing up. Turn skillet on to med. to med.-high and cook the sandwich until deep golden brown; turn carefully with a spatula and continue cooking until that side is deep golden brown. Flip it over once more briefly, just to heat up the other side again, then serve immediately, with horseradish on the side (optional). Repeat with as many sandwiches as desired

Note: There are two camps regarding Russian dressing and Reubens. Some claim a true Reuben has no “salad” dressing on it; others claim it is necessary for a real Reuben. It’s up to you whether you use it or not, but if you do, don’t overdo it; a Reuben shouldn’t be sloppy with dressing. Many Reuben lovers also like to have a bit of Dijon mustard served on the side, as well.

As long as we’re talking about Reuben dressing, here’s a recipe for a faux Russian-style dressing that I’ve used for many different foods when I have no Russian dressing on hand.

REUBEN DRESSING

­1/3 cup mayonnaise

1 T. ketchup (or catsup)

1 T. sweet pickle relish

2 t. cider vinegar (or freshly squeezed lemon juice)

Salt and pepper, to taste

Mix all ingredients together, season to taste, chill until ready to use. Keep any unused dressing refrigerated.

Note: I have used this dressing for hamburgers, salmon cakes, cooked shrimp, iceberg lettuce wedges salad as well as many other types of sandwiches. I sometimes kick it up a bit by adding a bit of prepared horseradish.

Now let’s consider what you can do if, unfortunately, you find yourself short of enough corned beef to make full, hearty sandwiches. These little Reuben bites are an excellent alternative, but a word of caution, they’re almost addictive for a Reuben lover. Don’t let the long list of ingredients throw you off, it’s actually easy to put together.

REUBEN BITES

1 cup cooked corned beef, diced

1 cup rye bread crumbs

½ cup sauerkraut, well drained (squeeze it) and reserve juice, minced

½ cup diced dill pickle, or cornichons if you have them on hand

½ cup milk, whole or

2 percent

­1/3 cup flour

¼ cup yellow cornmeal

¼ cup thinly sliced scallion

1 egg

2 T. sauerkraut juice (or juice from the pickles you used)

2 t. baking powder

2 t. dry mustard

½ t. kosher salt

½ t. sugar

½ t. cayenne

¼ t. baking soda

Swiss cheese cubes (½-inch)

Russian style dressing or 1000 Island Dressing (or use dressing recipe above)

Peanut oil or vegetable oil, for cooking

In a bowl, combine all ingredients except cheese, dressing, and cooking oil. Cover and chill mixture for at least 15 min.

In a saucepan or deep skillet, heat oil over med. heat. The oil must be about 3 inches deep and should be 350 degrees.

Using a small scoop or a tablespoon, scoop out batter about tablespoon in size; push a cube of the cheese into the scoop of batter, rounding it closed around the cheese. Fry in batches in the oil until brown, crisp and cooked through,

3-4 min., turning often. Remove with a slotted spoon or wire strainer to paper towels and allow to drain. Serve with dressing for dipping.

Margaret Walton can be reached at falwalcal@msn.com.

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