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Unique bean salad blends classic picnic flavors

| Wednesday, May 29, 2002

"How can you go wrong when you take two old-fashioned dishes and put them together?" said judge Mary Zappone of Laura Allen Fiore's Baked Bean Salad.

"She's taken the whole idea of beans and potato salad that, at a picnic, run together on the plate — I love that," Zappone added.

"And, with the simple number of ingredients, it's perfect for people who are always rushing," she said.

Actually, that combination of simple and few ingredients may have been born more of frugality than speed, said Fiore. "It was one of my great grandmother's recipes," she said. "Grandma Card ran a hotel and was a widower raising four children."

"And a good thing about this recipe is," said Fiore, "you can keep doubling or tripling it, and it doesn't cost much more to make."

The dish, said Zappone, "has a hint of a variation on the Waldorf Salad, without the nuts."

And although the ingredients are few and pure, people often guess at the ingredients when they taste it. "I'll take it to an event," said Fiore, "and people will ask, 'What's in there; are those potatoes?'"

No, they're apples.

"I think it looks better with the peels on the apples," said Fiore, "but my mother always took the peels off because she couldn't eat the skins. It really doesn't matter which way you make it."

And while the recipe states Miracle Whip or mayonnaise, Fiore makes her's with the Whip.


Baked Bean Salad
Laura Allen Fiore — Greensburg

  • 1 16-ounce can small baked beans, drained and rinsed
  • Approximately 2 tablespoons Miracle Whip Salad Dressing or mayonnaise
  • 1-2 apples (macintosh work nicely), diced
  • 2 stalks celery, finely diced

Drain and rinse beans (pick out salt pork, if included). Set beans aside in medium to large bowl. Peel away thick stalks of celery and slice tender stalks. Add sliced celery to beans.

Peel apples — although not totally necessary — (Gram always did, so I do), and core apples. Dice apples and add to beans and celery. Add salad dressing or mayonnaise a little at a time, until desired consistency. Chill in refrigerator.

Makes 6 servings.

SERVING SUGGESTION: Serve on a bed of greens to bring out the texture of the salad.


About the cook

Growing up in Connecticut, Laura Allen Fiore, 42, remembers fondly picnics on the huge porch of her childhood home. The family participants spanned generations as does her current repertoire of recipes. She feels fortunate to have known three great grandparents, two of whom died while she was in college and her father's mother who died in 2000 at the age of 104.

"Grandma Card (Fiore's maternal great grandmother) always had picnics," Fiore said. "And the house where I grew up had a huge porch with a big picnic table on it. My mother liked to have cold salad picnic meals there."

Her winning picnic bean salad originated with Grandma Card. Fiore is also a "big soup maker," with one of her favorites being a corn chowder recipe handed down from her grandfather. But, she added, "One of the things I haven't mastered yet is pie. My mother is an excellent pie baker."

Fiore moved to Greensburg from Enfield, Connecticut, five years ago to take a position at Kennametal headquarters in Unity Township. She and her husband, Sal, both grew up in Enfield but didn't know each other until they met working at a Kennametal center in that town. The couple plans to eventually move back to Connecticut. They have dreamed of opening a bed and breakfast there, but, being big blues music fans, have also discussed opening a blues cafe there. Either way, the bigger question here might be — will the beans be on the menu?

Sweet ending could also make a delicious beginning


Minute-for-minute and slice-by-slice this Oatmeal Cake by Joanne Ray rose above the rest for its ease of preparation and excellent flavor. A 20-minute lull in the action makes the difference between just another oatmeal cake and a very moist, delicious and versatile cake with a uniform texture and a full flavor.

"It was really, really easy to make." said judge Cindy Komarinski. "And soaking the oatmeal keeps it really moist. It keeps very well overnight, and you could keep it out all day at picnic without any problem."

"I really liked the coconut overtones," added judge Carl Dunkel.

"The batter was a little thicker than a pancake batter, which makes it perfect to use as a breakfast cake or breakfast muffins," said Komarinski.

"This would be excellent with a cup of coffee, or tea, for breakfast or as a nice way to finish a picnic," added judge Mary Zappone.

And even if you are looking for a more upscale presentation of dessert, this recipe could be made as a layer cake, said Komarinski.

While Ray usually prepares this cake using walnuts, all agree it can be made with walnuts, pecans or almost any kind of nut.

Ray has been making this cake for about 15 years. "It really is easy to make," Ray said. "It's perfect if you need something really fast," she added. "You always have that stuff (the cake ingredients) in your house. Well, I do."

"It's true it can sit out all day at a picnic," added Ray. "You don't have to refrigerate it because it's not there long enough to refrigerate anyway."


Oatmeal Cake
Joanne Ray — Greensburg

  • 1 stick margarine (1/2 cup)
  • 1 cup quick oats
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 1/4 cup boiling water

Put above ingredients in bowl. Cover and let stand 20 minutes.

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 1/3 cup flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon

Put these ingredients in a bowl and add oatmeal mixture. Stir with spoon. Pour in greased 9-by-13-inch cake pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes.

    TOPPING:
  • 6 tablespoons margarine
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
  • 1/4 cup coconut
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla

In a saucepan, stir together topping ingredients and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and cover. Let stand until cake is done. Spread on cake. Put under broiler for 2-3 minutes or until nuts are browned.

Makes 20 servings.

SERVING SUGGESTION: Garnish with sprigs of mint.


About the cook

Joanne Ray, 50, has lived in a little slice of Unity Township near Crabtree all her life. The area was once known to locals as Dominick Town, because generations of a family of that name lived there. Now, generations of D'Angelos live there, although they all don't share that name.

Joanne D'Angelo Ray married Dick Ray and moved two doors down from her parents. Her children Jessica, 30; Richard, 29, and Marisa, 25, all live in the neighborhood as do Ray's grandchildren aged 6, 4, 2 and 10 months.

Joanne's husband, however, is a transplant, but the two seem to have been destined to be together. They met at a wedding — he caught the garter, she caught the bouquet — a year later they were married.

Ray said she enjoys baking with her grandchildren — usually sugar cookies with sprinkles — as she did with her own children and as she did with her mother. Her son gets a special mention. "My son does real well in the kitchen," Ray said. "He recently invited us over to dinner, and he cooked and cleaned up. I said, 'What did I do wrong?'"

Wrong?

"I mean my son does that at his house, but my husband doesn't do that at our house."

In fairness, she adds that since her husband bought a turkey deep-fryer, he's in charge of the main dish at family picnics. "We don't have hamburgers and hotdogs at cookouts anymore, instead we have deep-fried turkey." Other usual picnic fare at the Ray house: potato wedges, calico beans, sweet and sour macaroni, and for dessert - "Oh yeah, the Oatmeal Cake."

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