22 November 2008

Holiday Help

The holidays are a time when even the most kitchen phobic get the urge to bake, baste or broil. The tough thing is that those of us who do spend time in the kitchen feel our go-to recipes are bit too routine for the most wonderful time of the year. And those who don't cook, well they resort to terrible recipes that they will follow religiously no matter how insane (I apologize, Janet) -- like the legendary casserole my mother-in-law served that called for Cheez Whiz. Luckily, a close friend made her give up this particular recipe card before I married into the fold. The story, however, is still served up each holiday.

To save us all from recipe rut, I asked several friends to fork over their favorite recipes for sweet treats or brunch. It seems those are the dishes that we are likely to give as gifts or be asked to bring along to a festive meal with family or friends.

And to redeem myself and put me back in good graces with my mother-in-law I will share a recipe I got from her called Cranberry Apple Bake. It's delicious, easy and the perfect answer to the canned cranberry blob.

Early A.M. French Toast
Kim shares this yummy warm dish with us. It's the perfect fit for a busy holiday morning, and let's take it from this three-time mommy that anything that can be done ahead of time is a winner!

1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup butter
2 tablespoon corn syrup
5 eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 loaf french bread, cut into thick slices

In a medium saucepan over medium heat mix and melt butter, brown sugar and corn syrup. Spray a baking dish with non-stick veggie oil and fill with the butter mix. Mix eggs, milk and vanilla. Arrange bread slices in dish and pour egg mixture over the bread. Don't miss any area and use all of the mixture. Any extra will get soaked up by the bread. Cover dish and refrigerate over night. In the morning, simply uncover and slip into a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.

Cranberry Bread
A Thanksgiving tradition since I was in second grade: Cranberry Bread. My class made this recipe around Thanksgiving and we each got to take some home at the end of the day. My mom liked the recipe so much that she started taking it to our annual family T-day dinner in Philly. I don't actually remember making it in school that day - I just remember that we always have this on Thanksgiving! -- Liz Odar

2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 cup butter
1 egg
1 tsp grated orange peel
3/4 cup orange juice
1 1/2 cup fresh cranberries, chopped

Stir all dry ingredients in a bowl. Cut in butter until crumbly. Add egg, orange peel, and juice, stir until evenly moist. Fold in berries. Spoon into greased 9x5x3 loaf pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 70 minutes or until done. Let bread stand in pan 5 to 10 minutes before removing to cool on wire rack.
Note: This recipe doubles easily. The loafs can also be made and baked ahead of time and frozen for a couple weeks.

Chili Cheese Egg Puff
As a kid, I vibrated from sugar overload all Christmas Day. We would wake up and eat the chocolate Santas from our Christmas stockings for breakfast, and lunch usually consisted of sweet holiday breads and cookies. That's probably why, as an adult, I have made it a tradition to prepare a savory, protein-packed breakfast. I often host a Christmas brunch for my family, and this egg casserole -- a recipe I found in the newspaper -- is usually on the menu. -- Erin Middlewood

10 eggs
1/2 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 pint cottage cheese
1 pound (2 cups) shredded jack and cheddar cheese combined
1 stick butter, melted
1 7- to 8-ounce can diced green chilies
Preheat oven to 350 F. Oil 13x9x2-inch pan. Beat eggs; add all ingredients, except chilies. Mix well. Add chilies. Pour into pan. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes. Top should be lightly brown and center should be firm.

Aunt Joan’s Molasses Crinkles

We love to enjoy these cookies at holiday time—along with Russian Tea Cakes (what is it about sugared dough balls in December?)—dipped in hot chocolate, coffee, or peppermint tea (my favorite). Even though the cookies are named after Aunt Joan, I think the recipe belongs to Grandma Myrtle, who named them for the daughter who loved these cookies more than any of the other kids…though I suspect my dad would beg to differ. -- Bonnie Rough

¾ cup shortening or unsalted butter (shortening for softer cookies, butter for slightly chewier)
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg
¼ cup molasses

2 ¼ cup flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon cloves

¼ teaspoon salt
Granulated sugar to roll cookies

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cream shortening (or butter) and brown sugar. Add egg and molasses; mix well. In a separate bowl, sift together remaining ingredients. Blend dry with wet and refrigerate dough for 1 hour. Once the dough is chilled, hand-roll it into nickel- or quarter-sized balls. Roll the balls in granulated sugar to coat, then place on baking sheet. Bake 10-12 minutes.

Mashed Potato Cinnamon Rolls
I make these cinnamon rolls for Christmas morning. I usually serve it with sausage and fresh fruit. -- Dina Hovde

1 teaspoon sugar
1 package yeast
1/2 cup warm water (110 degreesish)
2 cups scalded milk
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, very soft
1 cup mashed potatoes (or substitute 1 cup of prepared instant potatoes)
1 egg, well beaten
5 cups flour (it usually takes more, for me)
2 cups brown sugar
1 cup flour
1 cup cold margarine (not butter)
2 tablespoons cinnamon (or more)

Mix sugar and yeast together with warm water. Let sit 10 minutes. In large bowl, stir next four ingredients. Stir mashed potatos and egg into that. Then add yeast water to the large bowl. Add the flour after that. Knead 10 mins on a floured surface; adding flour as needed (up to 2 cups, sometimes) to keep it from sticking to you. Grease another large bowl and plop dough into it and turn it over and around once to coat the surface of dough with the fat. Cover and let rise (either at room temp for 2 hours or until double in bulk). My friend Hope says she has let it double in the refrigerator overnight, though I have never tried this. After dough has risen, place on floured surface again and roll into a large rectangle (about 1/4" thick). Cover the surface with the following mixed ingredients (use forks or pastry blender). Roll up dough like a jelly roll. Slice about 1" thick (this is easy to do using a string so you don't smoosh each little roll into awkward shape with too much force). Lay rolls on side in greased 9x13 and 9x9 pans. (Sometimes I use two 9x13s, depending on size of rolls). There should be a little space (not much) between rolls to allow for more rising. Cover with a cloth/dish towel and let rise about an hour or so. (About even with tops of pans.) Bake at 375 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes or until they look dry on top. Cool for 20 minutes (if at all possible), then add the icing. Recipe below. You should know that sometimes I skip the icing, opting for just butter.

1/4 cup melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons milk
1/2 cup (or more) powdered sugar, to desired consistency
Whisk ingredients until they come together.

Butter Cookies and Jan Hagel
My grandmother's butter cookies. I LOVE THEM. They are around the entire season. They are a hit with kids because of the colored sugar rim. Then there's my mom's Jan Hagel recipe. We are Dutch, so they are a must during the holidays. Can never decide which of these cookies I love more.
-- Dina Hovde

Butter Cookies
2 cups flour
3/4 cups sugar
1 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
Sugar for rolling

Mix all together. Form into a log and then roll in colored or plain sugar. Slice with knife carefully to maintain a circular cookie. Bake at 375 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes or until slightly golden.

Jan Hagel
1/2 pound butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 egg, separated

Mix first four ingredients plus egg yolk together in bowl and press onto 9x13 cookie sheet. Brush with 1 unbeaten egg white (spread thin). Sprinkle top with slivered almonds or almond pieces. Bake at 375 for 15 minutes or until golden brown.

Quiche Lorraine
My mom made this quiche for weeknight dinners occasionally when I was a kid. I always loved the recipe, and I found it even more endearing when she told me that a friend gave it to her in college. The friend, she said, was in a French class. Maybe that's why we can't learn a second language in this country! -- Amy Prince

1 small onion, diced
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 cup grated Swiss cheese
1/2 cup milk
1 cup whipping cream
3 eggs, beaten
6 slices of bacon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Unbaked 9-inch pie crust

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place pie dough in 9-inch pie plate and pierce bottom with fork or knife to prevent puffing. Blind bake pie crust for 5 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside. Reduce oven to 375 degrees. Cook bacon; remove from pan an place on paper towels to drain. Reserve about 2 tablespoons of grease and saute onion in same pan with reserved bacon fat. Crumble cooled bacon. Spread bacon, onions and cheese evenly in pie shell. In a mixing bowl, combine milk, cream, eggs and seasoning. Pour liquid mixture into pie shell. Bake at 375 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes. Quiche should be set in center, and slightly golden. Cool slightly before slicing.

Cranberry Apple Bake
Here is my mother-in-law, Janet's, Cranberry Apple Bake recipe. It's one I happily adopted to my own holiday table and with good reason. It's tasty, and, as Janet says, "If I can make it, anybody can." - Amy Prince

3 cups apples, finely chopped
1 cup sugar
2 cups whole, fresh cranberries
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 cup chopped nuts
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix apples, cranberries and sugar in a bowl and set aside. In a second bowl, mix butter, brown sugar, flour and nuts. Transfer fruit mixture to a 9-by-9-inch casserole or baking pan; spread evenly. Top with butter and brown sugar mixture. Bake for about 1 hour and cool slightly before serving.

19 November 2008

What do you call Chilaquiles?

Anyone who grew up in a house where someone cooked regularly knows what it meant to discover the way their mom makes a beloved dish isn't at all what you're served when a neighbor kid invited you over for the same meal.

For me, one of those memorable moments happened when I moved to Fresno from Oklahoma for a summer internship in college. I'd befriended a crazy but fun page designer who sat next to me. She was about 10 years older and had just moved from the East Coast for the job. Both of us looking for friends in the office, we often ate lunch together in the company cafeteria. One day she brought leftover tuna casserole, and I mentioned that the homey casserole was one of my favorite comfort foods. She said the next time she made it that she'd bring me some for lunch.

I was excited at the thought, well, at least of the memory of my mom's dish. While the leftovers my friend brought me weren't horrible, it just wasn't what I was used to. I smelled the cream-of-something-soup and was immediately disappointed that it hadn't occurred to me that someone would make the dish without a homemade white sauce.

I made a dish tonight that I now know as chilaquiles. I was introduced to it after Karly and Jose brought us a huge and delicious pan of it after Jasper was born. After searching online for a recipe, I realized that there are probably no two people who make this dish the same way. It's even gone chic with a deconstructed blue-corn version created by Bobby Flay.

Chilaquiles is a common Mexican dish often served for breakfast. It's basically a leftover scramble or casserole. The common ingredient in all of the recipes I came across is tortillas. Some called for tortilla chips and others for stale corn tortillas. After that, the recipes start looking as varied as the versions of tuna casserole. Some call for eggs, others for chicken; some produce a nacho-like dish and others a scramble. The heart of the dish is that the tortillas soak up a sauce and become soft chunks.

I attempted to replicate the dish I was served. In my mind, the dish Karly and Jose brought will always be what I call chilaquiles. It uses beans for the protein, but, of course, feel free to add or substitute as you like.

This is the type of dish that is produced by home cooks in every culture around the world. Cooks take an inventory of what they've got on hand an improvise. Eventually, that dish turns into Mom's go-to meal, often making them the comfort foods that remind us of childhood. It's resourceful and practical, and it's something we've forgotten. Many of us go to the grocery store to buy a list of ingredients to make one meal. Of course there are times when that's needed, but if we could take a lesson from the great pantry cooks, we'd learn to waste less, spend less and create some heavenly dishes.


1 pound dried pinto beans
1 medium onion, diced
1 15-ounce can of diced tomatoes
1 8-ounce can of tomato paste
1 10-ounce can of red enchilada sauce
1 4-ounce can of green chiles
12 corn tortillas
3/4 cup sour cream
Cheese for topping (cheddar or jack)

Seasoning to taste (salt, pepper, chili powder)
Corn or other oil for frying

Cook the dried beans in generously salted water until tender. Drain cooking liquid from beans, reserving for later use. If tortillas are not stale, place on sheet pans in a single layer in a 300 degree oven until beginning to crisp. They will need to be turned over once. This process should take about 12 to 15 minutes. Remove from oven and let tortillas cool -- they should harden once cooled. In a heavy-bottomed skillet add enough corn oil to fill the pan about 1/2 inch deep. Heat oil until it bubbles rapidly when a small piece of tortilla is added. Fry the tortillas about 30 to 45 seconds per side. They should become slightly golden on the edges. Place fried tortillas on paper towels to drain and sprinkle with salt. In another pot, saute onion just until it begins to soften. Add canned ingredients and about 2 cups of the reserved cooking liquid from beans. Let ingredients come together and slightly thicken over a low heat for about 15 minutes. Taste for seasoning. Remove from heat. Add beans and sour cream; stir until combined. In a 13-by-9-inch casserole, use six tortillas to cover pan. Top with half of the bean mixture. Repeat the process, layer the remaining six tortillas and then the remainder of the bean mixture. Place in a 350-degree oven for 25 minutes or until heated through. Remove from oven and top with shredded cheese. Melt cheese under the broiler and serve warm.

Note: Canned beans could be substituted for the dried beans, adding both the beans and liquid to the mixture.

17 November 2008

To stuff or not to stuff?

I know some people are purists when it comes to stuffing the actual bird. After all, it's called stuffing, right?

The reason that is frowned upon these days is that during the butchering process, the cavity of the bird is exposed, making it susceptible to bad germs. To kill those germs, the temperature must reach 160 degrees inside the middle of that stuffing.

Basic science says that if you pack the cavity full of bread, by the time the inside is 160 degrees, the outside of the bird will be well above that temperature, drying out the meat.

So, do what you wish, but I prefer to bake mine in a casserole dish and save my guests the possible stomach ache.

14 November 2008

A great meal from a modest soup

I was in my early 20s before I ever tasted split pea soup. It was at one of the better restaurants in the dinky town where I had my first newspaper job. It was a cafe decorated in country kitsch. But not that country-blue-and-duck theme. It was an updated twist with lots of reds, blacks and whites and the classic camping enamelware dishes. They had great soups and sandwiches, and a group of us young news reporters would escape on dreary Northwest winter days for a long lunch to gossip and bitch.

It was at this cafe that I discovered I really loved split pea soup. It felt like a hearty soup for a cool day -- thick and rich with an appealing simplicity. And it is simple. It can be made with merely water, dried peas and seasoning. But add a few more ingredients and this humble dish can be elevated to a great meal.

Ham is the classic pairing with this soup, and smoked ham hocks would be a lovely addition.

I made a version by frying a few slices of bacon. Then I caramelized onions in the bacon drippings and reserved both ingredients for later. Deglaze the pot with stock and add the peas. Cook on a low heat, slowly bubbling for about an hour. Season soup as needed, and finish off with a little milk or half and half. Crumble bacon and warm it along with the onions. Top soup with a generous mound of the sweet onions and salty bacon. I also added some small croutons made with some leftover bread, olive oil, salt and pepper.

The dish was a welcome meal on a cool night, and the richness of the simple ingredients made it feel like a dish far from its humble roots.

11 November 2008

Roast Chicken

This posting is more practical than poetic.

The economy is in the tank, and, for the time being, at least, we're down to one income. Oh yeah, and I have a much different allotment of time to devote to cooking since Jasper's arrival. That means a shift in my meal prep habits -- instead of spending an hour after work on dinner, I now have 10 to 15-minute blocks throughout the day that I can spend doing little bits of prep. I also have to be mindful of when I can afford to leave something on the stovetop or in the oven, and when I can't.

So, in an attempt to feed my family well on a budget and with little time, I resorted to one of the oldest tricks in the home cook's book: the roast chicken. I did roast my own, just gave him a healthy dose of salt, pepper and olive oil and put him in the oven until he hit 150 degrees (poultry should be cooked to 160, so remove your bird at 150 and let it rest for 15 or so minutes under some foil, and it'll hit the right temp). Then, after the chicken cooled, I removed all the meat and into a plastic container it went. My mom recently told me she roasts a whole chicken in her slow cooker. Haven't tried it yet, but I will next time.

Of course, there's no shame in picking up one of the roasted chickens they sell in the grocery store. It cuts down on your time in the kitchen, and they are pretty affordable.

So what's next? Well, you could serve a perfectly acceptable Sunday dinner of roast chicken, a starch and a veg. Then use your leftovers later in the week. Here's what I did with mine. I got three dinners out of the bird, plus a lunch or two of the dinner leftovers. Not bad for $5 worth of chicken. Aside from the chickens, each of these meals basically has one other main ingredient: noodles, flour or rice. Notice these are all pantry staples. And for the list of veggies that go with each meal, it's pretty easy to simply substitute with whatever you've got on hand.

Meal 1
Peanut noodles topped with sliced red peppers, carrot ribbons, green onions, chicken and black sesame seeds
This dish is easily made in stages, and since it's best served room temp, it's ready whenever you are. The sauce for the noodles sounds complicated, but if you've got a food processor, it's actually very easy. There are lots of recipes out there, but click here for the one I use. Boil the noodles to al dente and let them soak up the sauce for a couple of hours for best results. Spend five minutes slicing the veggies, and then come dinner time it's just a quick assembly.

Meal 2
Chicken Pot Pie
This is a favorite of mine. A quick roux turns into a white sauce to create the heart of this dish. A quick steam of carrots and potatoes gives them a jump start on cooking. To the sauce, add the steamed carrots, potatoes, corn and peas (I use frozen for both of these). Then add diced chicken. Pour into a baking dish and refrigerate if not cooking immediately. Make a biscuit dough and cut out thin rounds. I then freeze my biscuits as you get the best rise and layers from super cold butter. Use store bought biscuit dough if you prefer. Bake the filling until warmed through and bubbling. Remove from oven, top with unbaked biscuits and return to oven to bake biscuits. Leave any leftover biscuit rounds in the freezer for breakfast.

Meal 3
Southwest Chicken Bowl
This recipe is from Mike. He made it for us on a trip to the coast a few years ago. It's basically a rice bowl with corn, black beans, onion, red pepper, lime, avocado and chicken. It's quite good and easy to make. It, too, can be made in stages and refrigerated. It is great served room temp or warm. If you have it on hand, add cilantro and sour cream for garnish.