Gifts of the Magi

“Cornie” starts her shift at 6 p.m. nightly in the building where I work. With quiet concern she empties our trash cans. When I’m there late we share a cup of coffee. I don’t speak a word of her language and she doesn’t speak a word of mine, but we communicate with gestures and expressions while we talk in our own languages. I show her photos of my husband and son and she makes the sign of the cross. But she has no photos to show me. Those of us who are there late say I look like a giant next to her when she hugs me around my waist. I am only five feet, four inches tall, but Cornie is about two feet shorter than I am, yet she almost knocks me over with her prolonged squeeze.

I could speculate about Cornie and what her life might be like, but she’s always humbly grateful for the coffee. I get to leave for the night but her night is just beginning. And, that’s an assumption, she might have been working all day for all I know. The coffee helps us both.

A few weeks before Christmas, I was sick. I pointed to my throat and whispered to Cornie that I couldn’t talk. I gestured not to come too close as I didn’t want to get her sick. She gave me a grandmotherly look and said something with a sympathetic tone. For the first time, I didn’t get up to make the coffee.

Several minutes later she came back and handed me a carefully-wrapped paper towel bundle. I opened it and there were several mini candy canes. She pointed to the candy canes, then to her throat and gestured something that instructed me to suck on the candy canes to help me feel better.

Selfless gifts of kindness are the best. Happy Ephiphany!

Don’t Try This Trick at Home!

I could have titled this blog “The Amazing Exploding Hungarian Noodle Casserole.” Make no mistake, this is a delicious and hardy accompaniment for a Beef Bourguignon or similar entrée. But, my first experience in serving this to my guests taught me several valuable lessons.

Lesson 1: fire and noodles don’t mix!

The scene was a dinner party at my home with a buffet table full of mouth-watering offerings. Many folks had made their first pass through the buffet table and several us were hovering around the buffet chatting when…“BAM!…SHATTER!…SPRAY!!

Stunned, we all were paralyzed, jaws dropped as we gawked at the Baked Hungarian Noodle Casserole that had literally EXPLODED!. Glass shards and noodles littered the buffet table. The dinner was ruined — glass penetrated every nook and cranny of the food and surrounding area.

Silence. No…one…said…a…word…and turned toward me.

I wanted to cry, but without missing a beat, I threw my hands in the air and exclaimed, “And now for my next trick!”

The crowd exploded (pun noted) in laughter and applause! What else could we do? Several folks helped with clean up, in disbelief that Pyrex would shatter like that! I pulled some back-up food from the fridge and brought out more wine and desserts.

Lesson 2: It doesn’t matter what you serve people, whether it’s fancy or low-key, hospitality is from the heart. The main thing is to make people feel you are glad they came. Famous chef Julia Child wrote in her autobiography that on a few occasions she served dishes that flopped and she only realized it when she took a bite along with her guests. She never batted an eye or drew attention to the food, focusing on her guests the entire time.

So what happened? I guess I had the Sterno a little too close to the Pyrex? I had no idea  Pyrex could shatter but no glass is bullet proof. For more on this topic read this article “Exploding Pyrex Cookware Mystery Solved.”

I am making this recipe for Christmas Eve dinner this year.

Lesson 3: No Sterno and no Pyrex this time.

Baked Hungarian Noodles

This recipe, from A Private Collection published by the Junior League of Palo Alto, is written to serve 24 guests because it’s suitable for a crowd. It can be easily divided by 2 to serve 12. This can be made well in advance of the party. You might question only one pound of noodles for 24 servings; be sure to use only fine noodles to get the proper volume.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 pound fine noodles
  • 4 cups cream-style cottage cheese
  • 4 cups sour cream
  • 1 cup minced onion
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic minced
  • 4 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 4 dashes Tabasco sauce
  • 4 tablespoons of poppy seeds
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • Freshly-ground pepper to taste
  • Paprika
  • Freshly-grated parmesan cheese

Cook noodles in boiling, salted water until tender. Drain. Combine the noodles with the remaining ingredients except the paprika and Parmesan cheese.

Place in two or three buttered casseroles and bake at 350 degrees until hot. Or, put in refrigerator at this point until ready to use. Approximately 30 minutes before serving, remove from refrigerator and bake until hot.

Sprinkle with paprika and serve with Parmesan cheese.

“While Visions of Sugar-Plums Danced in Their Heads”

I don’t really know what sugar-plums are but I decided they are anything sweet and delectable eaten during the Christmas season so you can have visions of them the night before Christmas. Sounds good to me.

Try this year’s version of my sugar-plums.

Ice Cream Cups, Inspired by Snickers®
An easy make-ahead dessert

  • 1 pint of chocolate ice cream
  • 1/2 cup chunky peanut butter
  • Caramel ice cream topping
  • 2 boxes of Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers (found in the baking aisle, not the cookie aisle)

Use about 24 paper cupcake cups. Place one chocolate wafer in each cup.

Soften the ice cream with a spoon, takes about 2-3 minutes. Stir peanut butter into the ice cream until well blended

Spread a tablespoon of ice cream mixture on each chocolate wafer. Top with a few teaspoons of caramel topping, top with another chocolate wafer, another layer of ice cream, then caramel topping. End with a chocolate wafer, drizzle with caramel sauce and red and green sprinkles. Put into freezer covered tightly for up to one week. Serve directly from freezer.

Nabisco Chocolate Wafers

Nabisco Chocolate Wafers

You can also use vanilla ice cream with peanut butter stirred into it. Or, use both flavors and alternate layers.

Today is National Cookie Day

December 4 is National Cookie Day, or so says the ubiquitous Internet where all things are true. So, let’s bake cookies with the flavors of the season. Here are two of my favorite Christmas cookie recipes.

Canberry Coins
Pictured above, this recipe came from Melanie, the neighborhood Martha Stewart. She got the recipe from Martha, of course!

INGREDIENTS
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped dried cranberries
Beat butter, confectioners’ sugar, and vanilla with a mixer until smooth. Add flour and salt; beat just until combined. Stir in dried cranberries. Divide dough into quarters.

On parchment or waxed paper, shape each portion into a log about 1 ½ inches in diameter and 4 inches long. Wrap logs tightly in parchment or waxed paper. Chill 30 minutes or up to one day. (Dough can be wrapped tightly in plastic and frozen up to one month.)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. With a sharp knife, slice dough into one-quarter-inch thick rounds. Rotate log as you cut to keep it from flattening. Place rounds on parchment-lined baking sheets, one inch apart.

Bake, rotating sheets halfway through, until edges just begin to turn golden, 20 to 22 minutes. Let cookies cool on sheets on wire racks. Cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature up to two weeks.

Holiday Pumpkin Cookies
These were a mainstay every Christmas growing up. Mom made up her recipes and named them. Her naming conventions went right to the point. Thanks for the memories, Mom!

INGREDIENTS
1 cup shortening (this means Crisco, luckily, today, you can buy them in pre-measured sticks)
¾ cup sugar
1 egg
½ teaspoon orange extract
½ teaspoon vanilla
1 cup solid pack pumpkin

Cream the above, then add the following:
1-3/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (usually a mixture of cinnamon, ground cloves and allspice)
Drop and top with pecan half.

Bake at 350 degree oven for about 15 minutes.

My variation: For Christmas, top with red and green sugar and the pecan. Or do some without the pecan for non-nut eaters. However, the original version is the one in the photo.

Holiday Pumpkin Cookie photo by Cindy Dyer.

True Colors

‘Tis the season for red and green and easy-to-carry party food. Spinach stuffed tomatoes provide all the color you need and this dish is easy to make ahead (even the day before) and bake when you need it. This tasty veggie dish is also a hit when you have to take something to a party because baked-ahead tomatoes can be eaten at room temp.

Spinach Stuffed Tomatoes

  • 10 Roma tomatoes
  • 1 package frozen spinach
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 4 ounces cream cheese
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped onion of your choice (I use chopped shallots or finely-minced red onion)
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese mixed with 1/4 cup Panko bread crumbs and 2 tablespoons of melted butter

Wash tomatoes and slice a small slice off the stem end so the tomato will sit upright in a baking dish. Cut off the top of the tomato and scoop out the pulp. Lightly sprinkle the inside of the tomatoes with a little salt. Spray baking dish with cooking spray and place cored tomatoes in dish.

Cook spinach according to package directions, drain and squeeze all water out

Add butter, cream cheese, onions, salt and pepper and combine until butter and cheese is melted.

Spoon spinach mixture into tomatoes. Top with parmesan/bread crumb mixture.

Bake for 350 degrees for 25 minutes.

Can make ahead and hold in refrigerator for two days before baking.

 

 

 

 

 

Dressed for Fall

The leaves are falling this time of year….right onto your cake! Dress your pumpkin cake up with some silk leaves for a fall look and a great dessert centerpiece for a dessert table.

I used this recipe but baked it in a Bundt pan.

 

It Might Be Your Grandmother’s Gooey Dessert, But It’s NOT Your Grandmother’s Hearing Loss

Hearing loss isn’t just for grandparents. You might not be an elder statesmen, but you could be losing a little hearing. Join the crowd – one in ten people have a hearing loss in the U.S.

  • Do you often think,  “I can hear but I can’t understand.”
  • Do you have trouble hearing on the phone?
  • Do you turn up the volume on the TV?
  • Do you say to yourself, “I’ll just stay in the kitchen and cook so I won’t have to talk to anyone!”

I hope I am not making you uncomfortable by asking these questions. (Quick, skip to the recipe!)

I write about the food that brings us together, but when someone is left out of the party, the family dinner, or the conversation because he or she can’t hear, that’s NOT hospitality. If you haven’t already, do something about your hearing loss today. The holidays are coming so don’t stay home or leave the party early! I love you and that’s why I am writing about this.

The Number One charitable organization in the world for people with hearing loss is HLAA (Hearing Loss Association of America). I normally don’t ask for donations for charitable organizations on this blog, but this organization is a winner. Revlon has chosen HLAA for the LOVE IS ON 2016 MILLION DOLLAR CHALLENGE.

You have about 24 hours to make a tax-deductible contribution. Read more about HLAA and the Revlon Challenge. I’ve donated. If you think you have a hearing loss or know someone who does, you might want to as well. Click here and scroll to my photo. The LOVE IS ON! If you aren’t inclined to give (no amount is too small), just enjoy this easy recipe and peruse the blog. Thanks for reading.

Spread-the-Love Space Cake

(This is my grandmother’s gooey peanut-butter chocolate cake. Mabel Varner Space did not have a hearing loss that she admitted to, but her husband, my grandpa, sure did, as do the younger branches on the family tree!)

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 box graham crackers
  • Bananas, about 3-5 depending on the size of the dish
  • Chocolate frosting, about 1-2 cups
  • Peanut butter, about 1 to 2 cups

DIRECTIONS

Layer graham crackers in a baking pan. Slice bananas lengthwise and layer on top of graham crackers. Repeat the layers at least twice until you end with graham crackers. Frost the top with your favorite chocolate frosting mixed with peanut butter (about half and half). Cover tightly and let cake sit for at least 24 hours before eating it. It gets better with age and will hold in the refrigerator a few days after that.

[Photo by Cindy Dyer.]