Monday, December 28, 2015

Christmas Meals

Well, puppy peeps, I think I am all "cooked out" - I've been "slaving"* over a stove and oven for an entire week.  Holidays are fun, but as we all know, the cooking part can be a bit of a drag when you want out of the kitchen and in on the fun!  At least I found someone else to do the dishes most of the time!!  Hope you did, too!!

*just kidding - you all know I like to cook!!

So here's my list of accomplishments on my Florida "vaycay":

Christmas cookies (for eating and for gifts)

Springerle (traditional German cookie - fabulous dunked in coffee or tea)
Chocolate Chip
White Chocolate Cherry Shortbread
Apricot Thumbprints
Soft Molasses Gingersnaps

Christmas Eve Dinner with the Neighbors

Cocktail hour - byob drinks
Kathy's Fabulous Cheeseball and crackers
Nina's Spinach and Artichoke Dip

Dinner Buffet:
Cranberry meatballs*
Roasted vegetables*
Stuffed shells
Chicken salad with cranberries, celery, grapes, and pecans*
Quiche Lorraine*

Assorted Christmas cookies, coffee, more drinks and Secret Santa Swap

Christmas Day Breakfast with the Friends

Eggs Benedict
Orange Juice

Christmas Day Dinner with the Florida Family

Cousin Frank's Baked Ham 
Suzanne's Twice-baked Potatoes
Rolls and Butter
Glazed Carrots
Mom's Southern-style Green Beans*
More chicken salad
Ambrosia salad*

Cookies and Linda's Cinnamon Bundt Cake

Nina's Birthday Celebration

Christmas Tree Pesto Appetizer*



Cranberry Meatballs

I made my own meatballs (1 lb turkey, 1 lb beef, chopped onion, S/P, 2 eggs, 1 1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs, garlic, 1 T soy sauce) and baked them on a large rimmed sheet. (Do ahead!)

The day of the party, I dumped them in the slow cooker with 1 1/2 c spicy ketchup (you could use chili sauce or barbecue sauce, also), 4 T lemon juice, 2 T brown sugar and a can of whole berry cranberry sauce. Done!

Roasted Vegetables

Toss prepared vegetables (I did broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots) with a HEAPING tablespoon of minced garlic and 4-5 T of olive oil.  Spread them out on a large baking sheet and roast them at 400° until they "stiick" tender with a sharp knife and the edges are beginning to brown.  
Best way to get kids to eat vegetable!!

Chicken salad with cranberries, celery, grapes, and pecans

3 cups cooked chicken, diced or shredded
1 cup sliced celery
1 - 2 c red grapes
1 cup pecans
1/2 c dried cranberries

toss with this dressing that has been mixed together:
1 1/2 cup sour cream
1 1/2 cups mayo
1/2 - 1 cup fresh dill, snipped

Let sit at least two hours in fridge for flavor to develop.

Garnish with dill sprigs.

Excellent plain, or as a sandwich filling.

Seriously - I've never had a complaint about this salad!!

Quiche Lorraine

1 pie shell
4 oz shredded swiss cheese
1/2 cooked, diced bacon
1/2 cup onion, sauteed in 1 T bacon grease until carmelized
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 pint half and half
pinch nutmeg
Preheat over to 375°

Layer into the pie shell:  cheese, topped by bacon, topped by onion
Mix together:  eggs, half and half, seasonings

Place the pie shell into the oven, then pour the filling slowly over the onions.  Slide the rack of the oven carefully back (NO WAVES!!)
Bake 10 minutes, turn the heat down to 325° and bake until the filling is just set (knife comes out clean in center) - about 35ish minutes.

(You may need to place a pie shield over the crust to keep it from burning.)

I couldn't believe it - ALL the guys at our table LOVE quiche!!!  REAL men!!!

Mom's Southern-style Green Beans

4 cups green beans, washed, trimmed, and cut into pieces
1/2 cup cooked ham (or a small hambone)
1/2 cup diced onion
1 can red kidney beans

Prep all of the above
Place in saucepan with 1-2 cups of water
Simmer, covered, for an hour - the green beans should be soft and kind of mushy

Normally I like beans crisp and BRIGHT green - but the flavor of these takes me back to Mom's holiday dinners - she cooked vegetables SOFT!!! I really like recreating those memories for myself.

Ambrosia Salad

1 scant cup sour cream
1 cup coconut, grated
1 cup drained mandarin oranges
1 cup drained crushed pineapple
1 cup mini marshmallows

Mix all of the above an hour before serving.
Excellent with baked ham.
Or as a dessert.
Or just for whatever.

When my dad was in computer school back in the 60s, there were two Australian fellows from Sydney in his class.  We adopted them for the term.  They came to a picnic with us every Sunday for an entire summer.  And every week, this is what they brought - I think it might have been the only thing they knew how to prepare!!  But we didn't care.  Liked it then.  Like it now.

Christmas Tree Pesto Appetizer

one package puff pastry dough (thaw for 45 min)
one small jar pesto

Unfold one sheet of dough and spread it out on a sheet of parchment paper.

Spread the dough with the jar of pesto.
Top with the other sheet of dough.

Outline a Christmas tree shape on the dough,

then make several horizontal cuts through the dough (don't slice across the middle)

twist each of those cut pieces and press the ends down on the parchment.

(I  cut the other parts of dough that were not part of the tree into strips 
and twisted and baked those, too!)

I sprinkled mine with paprika and grated parmesan before baking.
Bake at 350° for 20 minutes.

Olive tapenade is another filling you can use.

You can also spread this with Nutella if you want a sweet version instead of savory.

This was wicked fast to make and VERY good with cocktails while sitting on the beautiful porch at Nina and Bear's house with good friends Kathy and Tom and my aunt.  We watched boats cruise in from the canal while celebrating Nina's birthday - a very special evening - best part of the whole week!!  (Of course, the fact there were two dogs to play with didn't hurt...)


Happy Holidays to all of my wonderful SDP 
and WCC friends!!!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Chili night!!!

My recipe for chili is not a recipe - I just keep throwing stuff in!!  So I don't blow my food budget on more spices this week, I'll probably pick up a packet of chili seasoning from Wick Fowler.  That way I won't lose half my spice jars on the ride back and forth from Ipswich!!  

DON'T buy the premade chili mixes from McCormick, etc.  Either buy your own jars of the various spices (and don't misplace them between one kitchen and another...) and adjust your own seasonings or get the Wick Fowler stuff (he's a war correspondent/journalist famous for winning chili cook-offs all over the place).  I like his kits because you can still control how much of each spice you're using - the spices are packaged SEPARATELY.  The premade mixes are what they are - mostly SALT.

Maybe I'll go look under the car seats and see if I can find those bottles...

Chili For a Cold Wet Day


Sear a couple of pounds of ground beef, pork, and or turkey (I see what's on sale)

Drain any fat and then add:
Lots of onions - at least 2 biggies, chopped
6 cloves (or more) of garlic - you can never have too much garlic!!
1 green pepper, finely chopped
1-4 jalapenos (probably 1 at the farm), seeded and finely chopped

Cook together about 10 minutes

Add the spices:
chili powder  3-4 T
cayenne pepper 1/2 - 1 t
cumin 1-2 T
dried cilantro 1 T
oregano 1 t
crushed red chiles - anywhere from 1t to 2 T - depends on my mood

Let the spices sizzle in the meat and veggie mixture to release their oils

Then add:
1 large can of crushed tomatoes
1 large can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 large can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained

2 T better than bouillion beef flavor

At home, I also toss in a bottle of beer

If the chili is too thick, I add more beer (or water)
If it's too thin, I add fine corn meal or corn flour I've mixed with a little water to make a paste

I don't add salt because of the bouillon, tomatoes, and beans

I DO keep tasting and adjusting as the pot simmers away on the back burner.

Let chili cook AT LEAST an hour - more if you can manage.  Just give it a stir every now and then and adjust the liquid if you need to.  This a great in the pressure cooker and also in the slow cooker.

I usually serve this in a bowl with a scoop of rice on the bottom, topped by the chili,  a handful of shredded cheddar and  a scoop of sour cream, and garnished with a lime wedge.

Optional - forget the rice and serve with corn bread

Better optional - ditch the starches and serve with a margarita! (or two!!)

When I'm feeling really virtuous, I've been know to shred carrots and even zucchini into my chili for an extra blast of nutrition.  I've also done this leaving out the meat entirely and using about 6 different kinds of beans - whatever works and fits the budget, right?

This weeks's recipe detective was Amy

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Spaghetti Pie

This came across my Facebook feed and seemed like a really good and simple meal.  It's pretty kid-friendly, as well.  And fast!!!  I served it with some crushed red peppers on the side for those of use who like to spice things up.  I also had a little extra tomato sauce (from a jar) that I heated up like a gravy for those who liked their pasta a little saucier.  Serve this with a salad.  You can also do this and leave the meat out completely and it still works.  If you don't feel like using spaghetti, any kind of pasta will do.

I also added in two cloves of minced fresh garlic to the onion and meat mixture because, why not?

"Best Thing I Had in a Month" said Matt Lauer Spaghetti Pie


12 ounces spaghetti, cooked, ½ cup cooking water reserved
1 small yellow onion, chopped finely
1 pound ground turkey or sirloin beef
1 cup tomato paste, divided
3 large eggs
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
1½ cup shredded mozzarella
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt to taste

Preheat oven to 350.

In a large skillet, saute the onions until soft.

Add ground turkey or beef and brown

Add ¾ cup of the tomato paste. Add half the reserved pasta water and stir well. Season with salt, to taste. Consistency should be like a thick Bolognese sauce. Add more cooking water as needed.

In a large bowl, mix together the cooked spaghetti, eggs, parmesan cheese, 1 cup of the mozzarella, and ¼ cup of the tomato paste.

Grease a 9 or 10-inch pie pan with olive oil. Spread half the meat mixture over the bottom of the pan. Add the spaghetti mixture and press it down to level it. Top with the remaining meat mixture, then scatter the remaining mozzarella on top.

Bake the pie in the oven for 30 to 35 minutes. Remove from the oven and let sit about 10 minutes. Use a sharp knife or pizza slicer to cut into wedges like a pie. Serve with a green salad.

Monday, December 14, 2015

New Year's Day Special: Fig Braised Chicken with Spiced Walnuts

This recipe sounds absolutely evil!!  And not difficult - it's just marinate, bake, garnish.

I like to treat myself to spectacular meals on New Year's Day.  While I watch the Rose Parade, I make Eggs Benedict and mimosas.  Instead of "football snack food", I like to do a new meal that just screams "different"!!  This year, I am trying this one and some pilaf, some shredded Brussel sprouts, and if I'm feeling really industrious a crab bisque.  More champers, of course - it's New Year's!!!!

Fig-Braised Chicken with Spiced Walnuts

from Epicurious Magazine

For the chicken:
1 T olive oil
1/2 cup dried mission figs, diced
1/2 cup dried cherries
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 T or olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup chicken broth (bone broth if you have it)
Chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, for garnish
For the walnuts:
1/2 cup walnuts
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon paprika

Prepare the chicken: (Day before is best)

In a sauté pan over medium-high heat, add 1 tablespoon oil along with the figs and cherries and sauté for 2 minutes. Add the balsamic vinegar and Worcestershire sauce and simmer to reduce by one third, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat, pour into a bowl and cool in the freezer for 10 minutes.

In the same bowl or a resealable zip-top bag, combine the chicken and marinade. Mix thoroughly to coat the chicken evenly, cover if using a bowl, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or up to 24 hours.

When you are ready to eat, preheat the oven to 400°F.

Transfer the chicken from the marinade to a plate. Reserve the marinade.

Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Season the chicken thighs with the sea salt and cook the chicken in the hot oil until browned, about 3 minutes per side. 

Add the reserved marinade and broth and bring to a simmer. Reduce the liquid by half, about 10 minutes, turning the chicken periodically to ensure even cooking.

Make the spiced walnuts:
On a baking sheet or in an oven-safe sauté pan, toss the walnuts with the olive oil, sea salt, and paprika. Spread out in an even layer and toast in the oven for about 10 minutes.
Transfer the skillet or pan with the chicken to the oven and cook for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and let sit for 10 minutes. Serve the chicken, garnished with toasted walnuts and chopped fresh parsley.
Cooks' note
Store leftovers, refrigerated, for up to 1 week, or frozen for up to a year.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Chicken Lasagna

Fast and Easy Chicken Lasagna

10-15 no-boil lasagna noodles
3 cups cooked, shredded chicken (use rotisserie chicken for lots of yummy flavor)
12 ounces frozen peas
½ cup Parmesan cheese
½ cup Swiss cheese
1 cup water
¼ cup seasoned breadcrumbs
fresh herbs for topping - parsley / thyme

6 tablespoons butter
1½ tablespoons minced garlic
6 -7 tablespoons flour
½ teaspoon poultry seasoning
¾ teaspoon salt
5 cups milk

* I sauteed some baby bellas to add another layer to the flavor - Portobellos have more taste, imho, than their button mushroom counterparts.  I mixed the chicken with the mushrooms to make it easier to assemble. I also drained and added a small jar of pimientos to get a lovely red and green contrast in each serving. I just put half the jar in with the first pea layer and the other half with the second.  I also use parmesan, Swiss and Mozzarella for my cheese layers.


Make the sauce: 
  • Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium high heat. 
  • Add the garlic and saute (don't let it burn!!)
  • Add the flour, poultry seasoning, and salt. 
  • Whisk and cook for 1-2 minutes. 
  • Add the milk, one cup at a time, whisking after each addition and allowing it to thicken slightly each time before adding the next cup. 
  • When the sauce is smooth and thick, remove from heat and set aside. 

Layer the lasagna: 
  • Grease a 9x13 pan 
  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees
  • Cover the bottom of the pan with (about 5) broken lasagna noodles, half of the chicken and mushrooms, half of the peas and pimientos, ¼ cup Parmesan1/2 c Mozzarella, 1/2 c Swiss, ⅓ cup water*, and 1½ cups sauce. 
  • Repeat this layer once more. 
  • Top with a layer of broken noodles, ⅓ cup water*, 1½ cups sauce, and ½ cup Swiss cheese. Cover with foil and bake for 40 minutes. 

Remove the foil, sprinkle evenly with breadcrumbs, and bake for an additional 5-10 minutes until the top is golden brown and bubbly. 
Sprinkle with fresh herbs like parsley and/or thyme - or dry - this really is just a "make it pretty" step!!!.
Let stand 10 minutes or more before cutting and serving.

*The water gets soaked up by those "no-cook" noodles

Like most lasagnas, this is a little pricier than my usual budget - but you do get 9-12 servings as it is RICH.

This week's recipe detective was Jaye!

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Chicken Teriyaki Casserole

One of my good friends from college introduced me to homemade Chinese food, which was great as I never was a huge fan of restaurant Chinese. Her family's love of Chinese food was from a long-standing tradition of her dad's family - on Christmas Day they all went and ate Chinese. And since they were so fond of Chinese food, they had learned to make their own to save some pennies.

Over the years, I've learned so many of the beautiful traditions of the Jewish faith from my friends and students - and added some to my own celebrations of this Season of Light.  Since the reclaiming and purification of the Temple in Jerusalem is also part of the history of the Christian church (I heard a rabbi once refer to Judaism as the "Mother Church" - I loved that), I have my beautiful little menorah ready to go to remember:
  • the miracle of the oil
  • the celebration of religious freedom as the Jews had retained theirs despite their Babylonian captors
  • the celebration of  political freedom as the Jews had won theirs from the occupying Greeks
  • and to remember that the holiday celebrations in the religions of the Middle East hark back to the pagan worship of the Winter Solstice - it's all about the Light
Over the next week, I'll be re-reading the books of the Maccabees for my meditation.

Sunday night - the first night of Hanukkah - I'll be feasting on latkes.  But I'll include some Chinese later in the week and think about all my dear Jewish friends.  Chanukah Sameach!

Chicken Teriyaki Casserole

1 lb chicken breast, cut into bite-sized chunks
3/4 c soy sauce (low sodium )
1/2 c water
1/3 c brown sugar, packed
1 T honey (or agave)
1 t ground ginger (or finely minced fresh)
1 T minced garlic
2 T corn starch
2 T water

fried rice - see below

32 oz precooked frozen mixed vegetables - water chestnuts, broccoli, peapods, etc.

2 green onions, chopped for garnish

Fried Rice Ingredients:
2 eggs
4 cups cooked rice - cook the rice at LEAST one day ahead and chill.  (1 1/3 c dry + water to cook)
2 tablespoons oil
1/3 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon white sugar
1/8 teaspoon ginger
1 pinch crushed red pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. 

In a small saucepan, mix soy sauce, water, brown sugar, honey, ginger, extra virgin olive oil, and garlic and boil for 1 minute over medium heat.

While teriyaki sauce cooks, mix corn starch and water in a small bowl. 

Pour corn starch mixture into teriyaki sauce, and whisk until the sauce begins to thicken (about 1 minute). Take the sauce off the heat.

Arrange chicken breasts in casserole (9x13 or similar size) and pour 1 cup of the teriyaki sauce on the chicken. Bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes. 

While chicken cooks, make the fried rice:

Heat a little oil in a non-stick skillet and quick fry the beaten eggs until they are set.  Remove and slice into strips.

Whisk together the oil, soy, brown sugar, white sugar, ginger and red pepper flakes.

In a large nonstick pan, saute the cold rice in a bit of oil until the rice is hot and you hear it begin to "pop".

Add the sauce and mix.  Add the chopped egg and stir gently

Add the fried rice and cooked mixed vegetables to dish with the chicken. Add another 2-3 tablespoons of teriyaki sauce and stir all ingredients together to coat. 

Return dish to oven and bake for another 15 minutes. 

Remove from oven and drizzle the remaining teriyaki sauce on top, if desired. Garnish with the green onion pieces.  Serve immediately.

Speed hint!!  Do your prep work the night before and store everything in the fridge.  This comes together quickly if you just have to dump and stir the next night!!!


Blessing for Hanukkah:
Blessed are you, Lord, our God, king of the universe, who performed miracles for our ancestors in those days at this time.

The Shehechyanu (This is only said the first night.)
Blessed are you, Lord, our God, king of the universe, who has kept us alive, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this season.

Blessing for the candles:
Blessed are you, Lord, our God, king of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to light the candles of Hanukkah.


Homemade Chinese - not difficult - just use leftover rice from some other meal - or make a batch a rice and put it in the fridge for a day before you start this. This is much healthier than restaurant food and SO much cheaper!!!

BTW - this method of fried rice is just as good (actually, I think better) than restaurant Chinese. You can also add cooked mixed veggies, bits of ham, pork, shrimp, chicken, and if you want, some heated bean sprouts right at the end with the cooked egg.

Try to use short or medium grain rice.  The long grain rice doesn't have the same amount of starch on the grains after cooking and fries up differently.  I made fried rice once with the black "royal" rice and loved that version, too.