Okay, the holidays are over but I am still relishing the memories. And the leftovers.
My friend Bonny Wolf’s book Talking With My Mouth Full was about my favorite gift and it’s great reading. Here’s a quote:
“We cook and eat for comfort, nurture and companionship. We cook and eat to mark the seasons and celebrate important events. We cook and eat to connect with family and friends and with ancestors we never knew. And through this baking and breaking bread together, we come to know who we are and where we came from.”
My son-in-law JB’s sauerkraut balls, daughter Jessie’s walnut spread, the cut-out Christmas cookies produced by grandchildren aged 4 to 12 and my friend Katy’s Nuts and Bolts all played a part in celebrating and connecting with our family and friends. These recipes are not about healthy eating or fashion. They are all about familiarity.
Today, New Year’s Day, my husband Paul is making his father’s stew. The house smells wonderful and we expect to have a fine time this afternoon with friends and family drifting in for a bowl of stew and a glass of wine. Across town, my daughter Jessica is putting together her New Year’s black-eyed pea casserole. Maybe tomorrow we’ll exchange leftovers.
Happy New Year!
JB’s Sauerkraut Balls
“Marrying a man who owns his own deep fat fryer is a leap of faith” said daughter Rachael recently as JB was preparing his famed sauerkraut balls. A deep fat fryer does say something. Something about commitment to the glory of crunch. You can fry these babies up in a heavy skillet as well. Just be sure to have enough oil, heat it up hot and don’t crowd the pan.
1/2 pound mild Italian sausage
1/4 cup onion, minced
16 oz sauerkraut, well drained
3 oz cream cheese (not low fat)
1 tablespoon parsley, minced
2 tablespoons bread crumbs
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup flour
2 cups breadcrumbs (panko Japanese crumbs are good)
Saute the sausage with the minced onion, breaking up the sausage so that there are no large lumps. Drain.
Chop the well-drained sauerkraut finely and mix with the sausage, cream cheese, parsley, crumbs, mustard and garlic salt. Chill for at least one hour or overnight.
Roll into small balls (a melon baller works well for this). Dip each ball sucessively into the flour, the beaten egg and finally the bread crumbs.
Heat oil in a deep fat fryer or a heavy skillet and fry the sauerkraut balls for about 2 minutes or until lightly browned. Drain and eat right away. They can be made in advance and reheated at 300 degrees for about 10 minutes.
Serve with a dipping sauce of half mayonnaise and half mustard.
Makes about 2 dozen balls.
Jessie’s Walnut Spread (“Real Sweet Totally Nuts!”)
“I got a huge amount of walnuts from my brother’s tree, cracked them, ground them and made this spread. It was a fun project to do with the kids; cost pennies and made great gifts.”
Shell and grind walnuts either by chopping or in a food processor. Add honey (that’s runny) to cover. Pack into small jars.
Note: one pound of walnuts in the shell equals about 2 cups of nuts.
Katy’s (and Margaret’s) Nuts and Bolts
Talk about an old chesnut! Back in the glory days of the cocktail hour, Nuts and Bolts was a favorite nibble alongside that icy Martini. My friend Katy Bayless tells me she makes it every Christmas for her neighbors. Her recipe is exactly like my grandmother’s friend Margaret Edmonds from Columbus, Ohio.
1 cup Rice Chex
1 cup Wheat Chex
1 cup Cheerios
1 cup pretzel sticks
1 cups mixed nuts
1/2 pound butter
To taste: garlic or onion salt*, dash of Tabasco, Worcestershire sauce and salt.
Melt butter in a large pan (an iron frying pan is good) and add the cereals, nuts and seasonings. Mix thoroughly.
Put in a 250 degree oven and stir every 15 minutes for 1 hour. Cool down and store in air tight containers or plastic close-able bags.
*Katy omits the garlic and onion salts but adds several dashes of Worchestershire. She also doubles the cheerios because her husband is crazy about them. Suit yourself.
Grandfather Leo Allman’s Beef Stew
More of a soup than a stew, this recipe is homespun comfort itself. It is one of those hand-me-down family recipes that instantly takes you back to a wintry day at home watching a good movie, that party with your best pals, or a night at the kitchen table with your grandparents.
2 pounds stewing beef, cut in cubes
2 tablespoons oil
Beef stock or bouillon cubes in hot water – about 2 cups liquid
2 large cans whole tomatoes (or stewed tomatoes)
3 carrots, peeled and sliced
5 potatoes, peeled and cubed
3 stalks celery, peeled and sliced
3 cabbage leaves, whole
3 bay leaves
Salt, pepper, miscellaneous seasonings*
Pat dry the beef cubes with paper towels. In a big stew pot, heat the oil and sear the meat a few pieces at a time. As each batch lightly browns, remove to a plate.* Put all the meat back in the pot and cover by about 2 inches with beef broth or hot water with beef bouillon cubes dissolved in it. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for about 15 minutes.
Add everything else and simmer very slowly for about 2 or 3 hours. For seasoning, add about 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, 1/2 teaspoon of sage or thyme and 1/2 teaspoon paprika. Check for salt before serving.
Serve in bowls with french bread.
Serves 4 to 6
* A word about searing. This process is intended to quickly brown meat without cooking it through. If the meat is wet, or the oil is not hot enough or too much is put into the pan, the result will be a lot of gray meat with a lot of juice pouring out. It will still be good in the stew but it won’t be seared. So: Dry meat. Hot pan with some hot oil. No crowding.
Jessie’s Lucky New Year’s Casserole
In her own words…
You cook greens (collard, mustard, chard, etc.) in a pan with bacon and jalapenos and water and apple cider vinegar. Cook rice with jalapenos and bacon (sounding like a theme?) and cook black-eyed peas with anything hot you can find (pepper flakes, jalapenos, etc.) plus garlic and …Bacon! Layer: rice on the bottom, then greens, then black-eyed peas. Top generously with pepper jack cheese. I like a little extra vinegar on top.
Here are a few more details:
1 cup dried black-eyed peas, soaked the night before (or 2 cans black-eyed peas)
1 bunch (about 1 pound) fresh greens, washed and chopped
1/2 pound bacon
1 cup rice
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup (or more) apple cider vinegar
Jalapenos – fresh or pickled to taste
1 cup shredded jack cheese
If using dried peas, drain after soaking and cook in a large pan with about 2 inches of water to cover. Add one jalapeno or 1/2 teaspoon pepper flakes, the chopped garlic and 2 slices of bacon, chopped. Cook until peas are tender. For canned peas, add the seasonings and a little water and simmer about 15 minutes.
Saute a few slices of bacon in a pan, drain some of the fat and add the chopped greens, jalapeno, a little water and about 2 tablespoons of vinegar. Cook until tender.
Saute another slice or two of bacon in a pot and drain off some of the fat. Add the rice, stir to coat and add 1 1/2 cups of water (for jasmine or basmati rice or 2 cups for long grain). Add some jalapeno, lower the heat to a simmer, cover and cook rice for 15 to 20 minutes until done.
In a large casserole dish, make layers starting with the rice, the greens, the peas and finally the cheese. Sprinkle with a tablespoon or two of the vinegar.
Heat thoroughly in a 325 oven until bubbly.
The Cut-Out Sugar Cookie
Christmas is over but Valentine’s Day, President’s weekend, and spring break are on the horizon which means, for some of you, a few days at home with the kids in not-so-great weather without a plan. A seasonal and cozy activity might just help.
Here’s the challenge: the cut-out sugar cookie. Children really like making cookies with cutters but they always seem like such a pain. How do you make dough that’s not a sticky mess? How do they get onto the cookie sheet and still sort of resemble what was cut out? Making cookies once a year or once every two years, I always forgot just how awful that whole process was. But finally, I’ve figured out how to do it without a lot of teeth gnashing.
- Make the dough the night before. Have the kids help with the stirring and measuring if you must but remember, what they really like is the decorating so I suggest you start them out fresh the following day with the dough all ready to go.
- Roll the dough out on lightly floured wax paper. Be sure your rolling pin is floured and the surface of the dough is floured. Don’t use a lot of flour but keep adding just a little to keep things smooth. Don’t dawdle with the rolling.
- Cut out the cookies with the cutters and then put the whole sheet of paper in the freezer for about 5 or ten minutes. Once they’ve firmed up, it’s a snap to peel them off the paper and onto the cookie sheet.
- Line the cookie sheet. Parchment or non-stick baking paper is the best thing to have happened to home bakers that I can think of. You can use your sheet pans over and over without washing in between and there’s no more prying the cookies off the sheet. Don’t even consider baking without this marvellous stuff.
- Set up a decorating station. I use my dining room table, covered with a sheet. For unbaked cookies: Put various colored sugars in small bowls (the shaker tops are just frustrating). For baked and cooled cookies: Make colored icing (kids 5 and up can do this) using confectioners sugar, food coloring and a few drops of water to a spreadable consistency. Have toothpicks or small brushes for painting. Each child needs a little elbow room for their creations and to cut down on the squabbling.
Cut-Out Sugar Cookies
This recipe can easily be doubled. Once the first batch is started, you can get a kind of assembly line going and have the kids alternate cutting out cookies and decorating. About decorating: colored sugar needs to be sprinkled on before baking. Use icing after the cookies are baked and cooled.
1 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 2/3 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
Sprinkles, colored sugar, silver balls
For colored icings: small bowls of confectioners’ sugar mixed with a tiny bit of water. Add food coloring.
Toothpicks or small kid’s brushes
In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar using an electric mixer until fluffy (this takes a few minutes). Add the egg and vanilla and continue to beat. Sift the flour with the baking powder, salt and nutmeg and stir into the butter mixture.
Shape the dough into a large (1/2 inch) square and cut into 4 equal pieces. Wrap each piece in plastic and refrigerate overnight (or at least 3 hours). Let soften about 10 minutes before rolling.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Using once piece at a time, roll the dough on a floured piece of wax paper to about a 1/8 inch thickness. Cut out cookies with the cutters (if they stick, dip them in flour) and put the whole sheet of paper in the refrigerator to firm up.
Pull away the dough surrounding the cookies. Transfer the cookies to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and space them about 1 inch apart. Put the scraps together and refrigerate them to reroll later. At this point, the cookies can be decorated with sprinkles and colored sugar.
Bake until light brown, about 10-12 minutes. Cool. Plain cookies can now be decorated with confectioners’ sugar icing using toothpicks or small brushes.
Continue rolling and baking the remaining dough. Store the cookies in large tins or other airtight container.
Makes about 3 dozen cookies