Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Chief Banks' Stroganoff

When my Dad achieved the rank of rear admiral, the Navy immediately sent him to Argentia, Newfoundland to shrink his ego back down to manageable size. Argentia was considered a hardship post but we have rarely had such a happy family situation as we did there.

Yes, the weather sucked big time but our quarters on the naval station were large enough that my sister and I no longer had to share a bedroom, a cause for mutual celebration. 

 The house was furnished; we didn't have to take our furniture along. The living room furniture was truly luxurious, nearly every stick of it covered in slippery damask in a rainbow of pastel colors, so funky it almost seemed like the decorator had a sense of humor. 

Dad had a den upholstered entirely in red - as I recall even the walls were red - we'd gather in there in the evening to watch the news and, once a week, the Huckleberry Hound show was on the snowy, fuzzy single black and white TV station. We never missed it - my usually gregarious family would even refuse social invitations on Huckleberry Hound night or invite others to join us to laugh at the antics of Yogi Bear, Boo-Boo and Huck.

We all learned how to bowl, as it was a sport that could be enjoyed indoors, and we spent many happy family hours at the bowling alley. There was a terrific and active teen club on base where my sister and I learned to dance and flirt.  

Best of all, Dad finally rated a steward.

Stewards, in those days, did everything from keeping Dad's uniforms in great shape to cleaning house and preparing meals. They are the ultimate perq, in my mother's estimation, although she still insisted that her children clean their own rooms and do their own laundry.

Our first-ever steward was a young, 
gentle, African American man named Benjamin Banks. Just typing his name fills my eyes with fond tears. He was more than heaven-sent household help - in four separate duty stations, he was a member of our family. In some ways, he was as much of a male role model to myself and my younger brother as our Dad was in those days. He dried my adolescent tears when I lost my first love and danced at my wedding when I finally started to live again. He vetted all my boyfriends and let me know which ones he considered to be keepers. He even re-enlisted in the Navy in order to stay with our family until Dad retired, attaining the rank of Chief early in his career.

Chief Banks and his wife Elizabeth had a true love match. 'Way back in Argentia, he showed me the love poem he wrote to her and had printed on a little blue card to carry with him always. I had never heard of anything so romantic in my life - I still haven't. When we were stationed in Japan, he and Elizabeth adopted a little girl from Korea, Kwan, who rapidly wrapped us all around her tiny fingers.

Chief Banks was a wonderful cook. He made me "smashed eggs" most mornings - scrambled eggs with real bacon bits mixed in. He invented a wonderful cold curried rice salad with lobster, pineapple, raisins and celery. He even prepared his signature beef stroganoff for me to serve at an early dinner for my soon-to-be-fiancé and let me pretend I made it; needless to say, it was a successful dinner.
Talk about bait and switch!

I still make this dish to his recipe, even though the ingredients are a little rich for modern cooking and quite expensive. But, every now and then, I like to sit down to a plate of Chief Banks' stroganoff and remember all the lovely things he was to me and my family.

Chief Banks' Beef Stroganoff

2 lbs. filet of beef, cut into 1/2" thick bite-size strips
1 cup chopped onion
1 clove minced garlic
2 cups beef bouillon
1-1/2 cups sour cream
1/2 lb. fresh mushrooms, sliced
2 bay leaves
1/4 tsp. dill weed (I use more)
2 Tbs. butter
3 Tbs. flour
1/4 cup dry red wine
salt, pepper to taste

Heat 2 Tbs butter in a frying pan, add just enough beef strips at a time to cover the skillet bottom. Don't crowd them or they won't brown properly. Sear quickly on all sides, removing beef as it browns. It should be rare on the inside, brown on the outside. In the remaining hot butter, saute' onions, garlic and mushrooms about 5 minutes (I do the mushrooms separately first, then add the onions and garlic). Remove from heat, add flour, salt and pepper, stirring until smooth. Back on the heat, cook the flour mixture briefly before gradually adding the beef stock, bring to a boil and keep stirring as the sauce thickens. Reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes.

Over low heat, add 1/4 cup dry red wine, dill weed, bay leaves and simmer for a few minutes. To this point, it can be made ahead and will wait for the finishing touches, covered. Then, add sour cream and stir until incorporated - don't boil! When you are ready to serve, add the beef and heat just until the sauce and beef are hot. Serve over rice or flat noodles.

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Blogger namastenancy said...

What a lovely, charming story. This merits a chapter in your book in progress, I hope. I love this story and the one about your Mom and Robert Moldavi. You sure grew up around some wonderful people.

Monday, May 19, 2008  
Blogger Zoomie said...

Nancy, yes, I was fortunate all my life that I grew up around such lovely people.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008  
Blogger cookiecrumb said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012  
Anonymous Katie said...

Lovely story, indeed... and lovely stroganoff - in all it's decadence.

Thursday, May 03, 2012  
Blogger Zoomie said...

Katie, thanks. Hope you will make the stroganoff one day, for a splurge.

Thursday, May 03, 2012  

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