ditch the trendy meals

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I love to cook, and I love to eat! I spend a lot of time online researching food facts, nutrition, and ingredients to create many of my own recipes. But ever since the elevation of the “celebrity chef” to near god-like status, trendy food styling and ingredients are out of control. Food topics are now “above the fold” and recipes are breaking news.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the attention given to the wonderful variety of foods available in our modern grocery stores. And we’re a long way from the meat and potatoes diet our grandparents lived on. Advances in nutritional science have created changes in that old “food pyramid” from an emphasis on carbohydrates to vegetables and fruit. It’s just those pesky trends that continue to irk me.

I don’t know about you but I‘m pretty much done with the laundry list of fads that continue to assault this foodie’s semi-purist sensibility.

Personally, I’ve had it with Buffalo-style anything, especially chicken wings—possibly the most unhealthy part of the beloved bird. Then there are chipotle peppers, chimichurri, salsa, red pepper flakes, and hot sauce in everything! Let’s dial hot, spicy foods back a bit so we can taste the delicate flavors we love.

When did cilantro become a staple? TV chefs are putting the soapy, nasty herb in dishes that never rubbed elbows with it before! When I saw a cook assaulting some beautiful grilled salmon with cilantro, I wanted to—well, let’s just say I was not happy.

And what’s up with kale? Chefs are putting it in places it’s never been before.  Cooked, it has a strong, bitter, “cabbagey” flavor; raw, it’s tough, like chewing on elephant ears. Yum. Give me more of that. Actually, I still prefer spinach, romaine, and leafy lettuces—so tender, crisp, and sweet.

Then there’s presentation. Stacking food in the middle of the plate has been a popular serving style since the 1980s, but I hated it then, and I hate it now. It’s pointless (you still have to level off everything to get at it), and it’s dangerous (ever try carrying plates loaded with towers of food to a table of hungry teenagers?).

My recipes will never ask for kale, cilantro, food towers, or trendy anything. I can’t guarantee gluten-free either. I try to buy organic vegetables, meat, and eggs, and steer away from foods that aren’t non-GMO. I’m not perfect so I leave it to you to make food choices you are comfortable with. Here’s an easy, quick, and delicious way to start. Happy eating!

easy non-trendy “tex-mex” orzo

serves: 6

Always available, always a bargain, and always easy to prepare, orzo is rice-shaped pasta kids and adults alike enjoy. Combining beans with vegetables makes a nutritious dish you and your family will love.  If you feel the need for a protein, add diced poached chicken or shrimp. No hot sauce required unless you like it!

ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced (or ½ tsp garlic powder)
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 tsp. chili powder
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 15.5-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 10-ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 1½ cups frozen  or drained canned corn
  • 3½ cups chicken broth (or vegetable broth, or whatever you have on hand)
  • 16 oz. orzo pasta

instructions:

  1. In a large pot over medium high heat, add olive oil and heat until shimmering.
  2. Add red bell pepper, green bell pepper, garlic, and onions. Sprinkle with salt and sauté for 3-5 minutes, until just softened and fragrant. Add cumin, chili powder, salt, and pepper and stir until combined.
  3. Add the black beans, diced tomatoes, corn, and orzo. Stir to combine.
  4. Slowly add the chicken stock then bring mixture to a boil, turn the heat to medium low, cover and let simmer until orzo has fully cooked through and absorbed most of the liquid, about 13 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. Serve hot with warm flour tortillas or in lettuce cups. Pass the shredded jack cheese.

Is there a food fad you love to hate? I’d love to hear from you. You can also send me your favorite recipes. If I use them in my column or blog I will credit you. Let me know at my new blog address, http://www.cooksjournalblog.com, where you can comment, follow me, and receive and print out every post sent directly to your inbox.

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romantic suppers and sweets

Shrimp pasta

I failed to post this column on time as I became ill shortly before the holiday! Sorry to all my followers! Here it is, new and improved!

Valentine’s Day means expressing your love for your spouse, partner, family, and friends. What better way than to say it with food you lovingly prepare? Here are two suppers and two desserts to consider.

pasta with shrimp, tomatoes and feta cheese
Who said you can’t serve seafood with cheese? Ever have a tuna melt? Crab and swiss? Here’s delicious exception perfect for a Valentine Day supper.

ingredients

  • 3 Tbs extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 lb raw large or jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 5 cloves garlic, sliced very thin
  • 1 Tbs each white wine and balsamic vinegar
  • ½ to 1 lb pasta (I usually make only half a pound since I like a higher shrimp-to-pasta ratio using linguine or bowties.)
  • 15 cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
  • ½ can of petite diced tomatoes
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • ½ tsp dried basil
  • 1 (6-ounce) package crumbled feta cheese

directions

  1. In a skillet over medium heat, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil. Cook shrimp, garlic and white wine for 4-5 minutes or until shrimp is pink. Do NOT overcook!
  2. Remove shrimp with slotted spoon and set aside. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook for 8 to 10 minutes until al dente; drain and keep warm.
  3. While pasta is cooking, place diced tomatoes and halved grape tomatoes with remaining 1 tablespoon oil, balsamic vinegar, oregano, and basil over medium heat into wine mixture in skillet until tender—10 minutes.
  4. In a large bowl, toss hot pasta with shrimp, tomato mixture, and feta. Feta will melt slightly. Serve immediately with lemon wedges and a crusty bread.

 

Chicken feta beans toms

greek chicken tenders with veggies
Prefer chicken? This dish is packed with flavors sure to spark up any evening!

for the chicken

  • 2 Tbs plus 1 tsp olive or avocado oil, divided
  • 8 oz fresh mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 lb fresh green beans
  • 1.5 lb chicken tenders
  • 2 Tbs honey
  • 3­/4 Tbs balsamic vinegar (do not substitute)
  • 1 cup grape/cherry tomatoes, halved

for the greek dressing

  • 2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
  • Juice of 1 fresh squeezed lemon
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt 1/2 tsp black pepper

directions

  1. Sauté mushrooms in large frying pan with 1 tsp of the oil, until just browning. Remove from pan, set aside.
  2. Heat 1 Tbsp oil over medium­-high, add green beans. Sauté until green beans are cooked, but still a bit crunchy. Remove from the pan, set aside.
  3. Heat remaining 1 Tbs oil over medium-­high, add chicken, salt, and pepper.
  4. Cook chicken 3­-4 minutes on both sides and remove once browned & cooked though. Remove from pan, set aside. Whisk all dressing ingredients together.
  5. In the same skillet, lower heat to medium, add dressing, honey, and balsamic vinegar. Stir and heat until bubbling.
  6. Toss in mushrooms, and green beans then the cooked chicken and tomatoes. Stir to heat through. Serve over rice or pasta.

 

easy chocolate bar fondue
This takes on a romantic hue when served with champagne. If made ahead, keep the chocolate warm in a double boiler till ready to serve.

Ingredients

  • ¾ cup heavy cream
  • 1 pound milk or dark chocolate bars, broken into pieces
  • 1 pint fresh strawberries
  • 1 store-bought angel food cake, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 8 ounces dried fruit, such as pineapple slices and figs

directions

  1. In a small saucepan, over low heat, warm the cream and chocolate. Stir until the chocolate melts. Transfer the fondue to a warm serving bowl or fondue pot.
  2. Serve immediately with forks for dipping strawberries, angel food cake, or whatever you like.

 

chocolate-cinnamon pudding with raspberries
So easy to put this together ahead of time. Kids will especially love the flavors.

ingredients

  • ½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ cup cornstarch
  • 2/3 cup plus 1 Tbs packed brown sugar
  • 2 ½ cups whole milk
  • 1 ¼ cups heavy cream
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 ½ cups fresh raspberries, or frozen raspberries, thawed

directions

  1. Combine the cocoa, cinnamon, cornstarch, and 2/3 cup of brown sugar in a heavy saucepan. Whisk in milk and 1/2 cup of cream.
  2. Bring to a boil and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until pudding is thick and smooth.
  3. Remove from heat and add vanilla.
  4. Whip remaining cream in a separate bowl with the remaining sugar until soft peaks form.
  5. Pour pudding into individual ramekins or a large bowl and press plastic wrap directly onto the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Serve warm or chill for at least two hours. Top with raspberries and whipped cream.

your turn
Hope you enjoy these romantic dishes! Here is a PDF you can print out for your recipe collectionRomantic Suppers and Sweets Blog 2-16

tips & tricks – odds & ends – bits & basics

Saving time and trouble in the kitchen conserves a cook’s energy. Seasoned cooks know many of these tips and basics, but if you’re new to the culinary world, you’ll appreciate learning these.

tips & tricks (totally random)

  • Add ½ cup of water or beef broth to 1 lb ground beef (or chicken broth to ground turkey or chicken) for the juiciest burgers ever.
  • Cookie and ice cream scoops make life easy. How have I lived without them all these years! Use them to make uniform size cookies and meatballs, dip batter into muffin cups, the list is endless.
  • For sky-high muffins, let batter sit in tins for about a half-hour before baking.
  • If using coarse or kosher salt, double the amount called for in recipes calling for regular table salt. The opposite also applies.
  • Freeze ground meat packed in 1-qt zipper freezer bags, and flatten to about ½ to ¾ thick, distributing evenly. Freeze flat. This takes only a half-hour or so to defrost.
  • Wrap chicken or pork chops separately (I use cheap sandwich bags), freeze 2 hours; place in a larger freezer bag. Pull out only pieces you need. No defrosting huge blocks of meat for hours!
  • Never buy scallions for $1 a bunch again! Cut off the white root ends. Put them in a glass jar with an inch of water, place on a sunny windowsill, and they will re-grow! Keep trimming off when you need green tops, and they’ll shoot up again! Trimming encourages growth. Mine shot up 8 inches in a week. You can also plant them in a pot after a while.

freezing veggies

  • Most vegetables like peas and green beans should be blanched before freezing. Blanching means boiling for three minutes or so (varies by vegetable), plunging into icewater to “shock,” draining very well, and wrapping securely before freezing. Blanching ensures your veggies will maintain their color and won’t get freezer burn if used within a reasonable period.
  • I always blanch my bell pepper halves before making stuffed peppers because they bake up so much more colorfully. Fresh sliced, halved, or whole bell peppers, however, can be placed in plastic bags and frozen dry without any need for blanching. So can sliced apples and berries.

basic recipes i can’t live without

homemade ranch dressing is so good, and it is SO much healthier than the bottled kind, which is loaded with sugar (Really! Have you read the ingredients?) This mixes up quick and easy.

  • ¾ cup buttermilk (Shake well!)
  • ¾ cup real mayonnaise (Do not substitute with Miracle Whip!)
  • 2 tsp white vinegar
  • ¼ tsp garlic powder
  • ¼ tsp each dried tarragon and basil (Essential!)
  • Fresh cracked pepper to taste

Whisk together and refrigerate for a couple of hours if you have time. Make it on the fly, and it still tastes better than that stuff hiding in the valley advertised on TV. Add some fresh chopped chives just before serving. (Mine are coming up! So stoked!)

crumb topping can always be found in my ’fridge. I make it in triple batches and never have an excuse not to whip up an awesome pie. This topping bakes up golden-buttery and sweet and makes that second crust unnecessary. I’ve used it on apple, berry, peach, and rhubarb pies with great success.

  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ cup flour
  • ½ stick soft butter
  • ½ tsp cinnamon

Mix with your fingers till crumbly. Pile an inch or more deep on top of your pie and bake as usual. Double or triple so you always have it on hand. Store in the refrigerator in a tightly closed container. Makes a great topping for coffee cake, too!

basic quiche is a springboard for endless variations you can whip up in record time, amazing your friends and family! Well, maybe not quite that fab, but it’s a handy, delicious, and filling meal and makes great leftovers. I love my homemade crust, but I use the prepared rolled crust for my quiche. Add grated cheese (any kind), ham, cooked mushrooms, or whatever.

  • 2 cups shredded cheese (Swiss is traditional but not required)
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 4 eggs
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • Dash of nutmeg

Preheat oven to 375°. Beat eggs. Add milk and salt. Pour into unbaked pie shell. Spread cheese (or any other stuff) evenly over top. Sprinkle with nutmeg. Bake 30-40 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let sit 15 minutes before cutting. Great cold the next day!

basic crepes (pronounced kreps) are a meal or a starting point for fancier dishes. Whether served with fruit and eaten like pancakes or stuffed with savory crabmeat filling and smothered in Swiss cheese sauce, crepes are not only versatile—they are also convenient since you can make up a bunch of them and freeze for a quick meal on busy nights.

  • 3 cups milk
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 Tbs melted butter
  • 2 ¼ cups flour
  • Dash of salt

Beat well. Batter should be thin, so add more milk if needed. Prepare a 10-inch nonstick frying pan by heating to medium and spaying lightly with cooking oil. When pan is hot enough (a drop of water dances around and disappears), pour in one third cup of batter and immediately swirl pan around to distribute so batter covers entire pan surface. When top is set and edges brown and begin to curl, flip crepe carefully. Cook till second side is lightly brown. Slide on to a large plate and cover with a damp tea towel till all batter is cooked. These can be rewarmed in the microwave and served right away or stored in the refrigerator or freezer separated by sheets of wax paper or parchment and well-wrapped in plastic or foil.

basic brown butter sauce is a delicious way to transform a plain pasta or rice meal into something special, and the ingredients are usually on hand or easily obtainable. This is a basic recipe, but there are endless variations with the addition of mushrooms, Parmesan or Romano cheese, fresh sage leaves (yummy), lemons, hazelnuts, or pine nuts, vegetables like parsley, chives, blanched green beans, asparagus, artichokes or cauliflower, and proteins like lobster, mussels, crab, scallops, or chicken. I’ve been making this on the fly, so thanks for the great directions from CD Kitchen!

  • Cut 1 cup (2 sticks) of salted butter into tablespoon-sized pieces and place in a 2-quart sauce pan. Place the pan of butter on a burner over medium heat. Bring butter to a slow boil (about 5 minutes).
  • Once the butter begins to boil, stir constantly to prevent residue from sticking to the bottom of the pan. As the butter cooks, it will start to foam and rise. Continue stirring, otherwise the butter foam could overflow (about 5 minutes) and catch fire.
  • When the butter stops foaming and rising, cook until amber in color (about 1 to 2 minutes). It will have a pleasant caramel aroma.
  • Turn off the heat and remove pan from burner. Let the sediment settle to the bottom of the pan for a few minutes.
  • Pour the brown butter through a strainer into a small bowl. Do not disturb the residue at the bottom of the pan.
  • You can keep it hot over a double boiler. Brown butter can be stored in the refrigerator and reheated in a microwave as needed, but be careful!
  • Boil your pasta of choice until al dente. Drain pasta and divide into four servings. Spread with 1/4 cup of hot brown butter.

Next time we’ll post additional basic recipes you can tuck away in your recipe notebook (you do have one, right?) and pull out when you’re in a bind or on a tight schedule. Add your own personal touch, and you’ll impress even your toughest critic.

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“them that works hard eats hearty!” (part 1)

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In the mid 1700s, Anabaptists fled persecution in Europe, settling in Pennsylvania and 19 other states. They are now a presence in Aroostook County and other parts of Maine, and they have brilliantly colored my childhood memories. We are fortunate to have these talented folks in our midst. Known collectively as Pennsylvania Dutch, both sects, Amish and Mennonite share similar history, fashion style, and religious beliefs. The difference between them is lifestyle—Amish live off the grid and travel by horse-drawn carriage while Mennonites accept and use technology and embrace the convenience of motorized travel.

As a kid in Philadelphia I remember buying many delicious treats from the Mennonite booth at the flea market. Amish-style foods were available in all the grocery stores and bakeries. I learned how to prepare many of these dishes as a young girl. I enjoyed their humor, too—a humor they are famous for. We had plaques hanging in our home with Pennsylvania Dutch proverbs like, “We grow too soon old and too late smart,” “The hurrieder I go, the behinder I get,” and “Kissing wears out, cooking don’t.”

For the next couple of columns, I will feature food from these gentle, hardworking, devoted folks. Of course, most of the dishes derive, not from Dutch, but from German cookery (Deutsch is German for German!)—usually very simple with fewer ingredients than most other European fare. But hard work deserves good food, so these dishes do not lack richness and satisfaction!

dumplings (spaetzle)
Spaetzle is a German noodle they call dumplings . Great mixed with hot buttered whole green beans or as a side with schnitzel gravy. HINT: Dropping the batter into boiling liquid using a funnel or a metal colander will make it easier than pouring from a bowl. Batter can be thinned a bit if necessary. Cooking time is not specified so taste testing is necessary! Start testing after 3 minutes.

  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp salt plus 2 tsp for cooking water

Prepare a large pot of salted boiling water or meat broth. In a large bowl, place flour. Add milk slowly, stirring constantly to keep mixture smooth. Add 1 egg at a time, beating well after each addition. Salt and mix well. When cooking in boiling salted water or meat broth, pour the batter from a shallow bowl, tilting it over the boiling water or broth. With a sharp knife or kitchen shears, slice off pieces of the batter into the boiling liquid. Dip blades in the liquid before each cut to prevent sticking. Remove from liquid using a slotted spoon or spider. Drain well before serving,

amish cucumber salad
If you’re on a salt-restricted diet, skip salting the cukes and onions. Or if you’re too lazy to do it, that’s okay, too. You will need to eat it all up the same day, though, because the water will leach out into the dressing over time. My Aunt Myrtle taught me how to make this. It disappears from the table quickly.

  • 2 medium cucumbers, pared and thinly sliced
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • Salt
  • 2 Tbs vinegar
  • 2 Tbs sugar
  • ¼ cup sour cream
  • 2 tsp chopped fresh parsley or dill (optional)
  • White or black pepper

Sprinkle cukes and onion with a teaspoon of salt and let stand for a few minutes. Pat with towel or absorbent paper to remove moisture. Place cucumbers and onions in a bowl, dissolve sugar in the vinegar, add a pinch of salt and mix with sour cream. Toss thoroughly with cucumber mix to cover. Turn out to a serving dish; dust with pepper and parsley or dill. Chill. Best eaten same day.

amish red cabbage (rote kraut)

Place 4 Tbs of bacon grease in a large heavy pot. Brown one finely chopped onion till golden. Shred one 2½ lb head of red cabbage. Mix ¼ cup vinegar with ¼ cup water and 2 Tbs sugar.

Next, place cabbage in onion and grease. Pour vinegar and sugar mixture over. Salt and pepper to taste, and combine. Bring to boil over medium high heat taking care not to scorch bottom. Quarter 1 large pared, cored apple and place on top of cabbage. Lower heat, cover, and simmer 20 minutes. Makes 10 servings.

amish scalloped spinach

  • 2 lbs fresh spinach
  • 2 cups milk
  • 4 Tbs butter, melted
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 cups bread crumbs, divided
  • ½ cup chopped bacon
  • Salt and pepper

Wash spinach and remove tough stems. Drain and cook with a little water in covered pot over moderate heat for 8 to 10 minutes. Drain and chop finely. Add milk, beaten eggs, 1½ cups of the bread crumbs, butter, salt, pepper then mix well. Sprinkle the remaining ½ cup bread crumbs and the chopped bacon, on the top. Bake in moderate oven (350 ° F) 35 minutes.

amish corn soup with rivels
Rivels are miniature dumplings dropped into soup, similar to spaetzle, to extend the volume of the meal and add taste and texture with little effort.

  • 3 cups fresh or frozen corn
  • 2 qts water
  • 1 cup rich milk
  • 1 1/3 cups flour
  • 1 egg
  • 3 Tbs butter
  • 1½ tsp salt
  • Parsley

Add corn to water and cook for 10 minutes. Mix egg, flour and milk together in a medium size bowl. Pour this batter through a colander, letting it drop into the boiling corn. Add butter and salt. Cook slowly in a covered pan for 3 minutes. Test for doneness. Garnish with chopped parsley. Serve immediately.

amish pickled beets

  • 3 lbs. whole fresh beets
  • 1 stick cinnamon
  • 1 tsp whole allspice
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 6 whole cloves
  • 1 pt. vinegar
  • ½ cup water

Prepare jars for canning by sterilizing in a large pot of boiling water or baking jars in the oven. See a book like Putting Food By (Hertzberg, Vaughn and Greene) for exact canning instructions. Remove greens and root strings taking care not to trim too closely or beets will “bleed” into the cooking water. Boil until tender. Cool a bit, remove skins, and cut into thin slices or chunks as desired. Tie spices in cheesecloth packet. Bring to a boil the vinegar, water, sugar, and spices. Add beets and boil 5 minutes. Pack in sterile jars and fill with hot liquid. Seal.

pennsylvania dutch red beet eggs
In high school I cleaned house every Saturday for a couple, both artists, who were of German descent. After working for a couple of hours, they would put out a spread on the kitchen table and their two children and I would enjoy these delicious beets and eggs along with thick slices of creamy Meunster cheese and dark pumpernickel bread. I still use their recipe for the beets to this day.

To make red beet eggs, thinly slice some red onions and add to hot pickled beets about two-thirds up in a large jar. Cool. Hard-boil six eggs. Remove shells and drop the eggs into the jar making sure they are totally submerged in the liquid. Refrigerate at least overnight. Longer is better. These take on a beautiful color and excellent flavor and are grand as appetizers served with crisp vegetables. They are also good sliced in sandwiches or salads.

Next time, I will post some delicious Amish and Mennonite desserts. Remember, “Eat yourself full!”

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holiday fare 2 colorful and tasty

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Many folks serve lasagna on Christmas Eve. Prepared ahead, it’ll feed an army. Instead, I like to make a colorful pan of stuffed peppers, and keeping all those holiday treats and calories in mind, I make it vegetarian, served with a nice salad. Double them if you’re entertaining. Here’s your complete, mostly red and green, Christmas Eve (or any eve) supper from breakfast with Overnight Coffee Cake, an appetizer, salad, and entrée for dinner, and a classic Wassail that you can make ahead.

cranberry orange cheese ball   A lovely combination and a great way to start a meal.

Ingredients for the Cheese Ball

  • 1 cup dried cranberries, chopped
  • ¼ cup frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed
  • 2 pkgs (8-oz ea) cream cheese, softened
  • ¼ cup powdered sugar

Ingredients for the Caramelized Pecans

  • ¾ cup coarsely chopped pecans
  • 1 Tbs butter
  • 2 Tbs sugar

Directions

  1. Chop cranberries in a blender or food processor. Add cream cheese, juice, and sugar, and blend till well mixed.
  2. Use a rubber scraper to turn mixture out onto a piece of wax paper and shape into a ball as best you can. Place in a bowl and wrap with the wax paper. Refrigerate overnight.
  3. Melt butter in a small saucepan on medium heat. add pecans and sugar and stir about 3-5 minutes. Do not let it burn! Spread on sheet of wax paper or parchment to cool.
  4. When ready to serve, remove cheese from ‘fridge and shape into a ball. Pat pecans on to cover. Serve with crackers, celery and carrot sticks, or pita chips.

broccoli salad   This is Trisha Yearwood’s recipe. It is very good, and the sunflower seeds are a nice touch.

Ingredients

  • 4-5 cups broccoli florets, blanched for 3 minutes, shocked in icewater, and very well-drained
  • ½ small sweet onion, minced
  • ¾ cups golden raisins
  • 1 Tbs apple cider vinegar
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ¾ cup mayonnaise
  • ½ jar pimentos, chopped
  • Salt & pepper
  • 4 slices bacon, diced and browned
  • ¼ cup sunflower seeds

Directions

  1. In a large bowl, mix mayo, sugar, vinegar, raisins, onions, and salt and pepper to taste. Add broccoli and pimentos to coat.
  2. Refrigerate 2-3 hours or overnight. Sprinkle with bacon and seeds just before serving.

saucy stuffed peppers   I make these with tempeh, a fermented soy product found in the vegetarian section of your store. Healthy, tasty, and very good for you, you won’t miss the meat. (Of course you can use ground meat if you wish.) You can make these ahead without placing in sauce, wrapping the stuffed peppers individually in clear wrap or a plastic bag. 

Ingredients

  • 3 colorful bell peppers (I use red and green this time of year!), halved lengthwise, and seeded
  • 1 8-oz block of tempeh (I like the one with flax seed), crumbled
  • 6 lg or 12 sm fresh mushrooms, chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 tsp Italian seasoning
  • 3 Tbs Progresso Italian Bread Crumbs
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • Salt & pepper
  • 1 24-oz can Hunt’s Original spaghetti sauce (or your own homemade—even better!), divided
  • ½ cup grated parmesan cheese, divided
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375°.
  2. Blanch seeded pepper halves by boiling five minutes. Handle carefully with tongs. Shock in icewater. Drain well.
  3. Cover the bottom of a 9 x 13 Pyrex dish with sauce reserving ½ cup for filling. Nest all six pepper halves into sauce, cut side up. Set aside.
  4. In a large skillet, place olive oil, and heat on medium till shimmering; add onions and garlic,, stirring often, for about four minutes till soft. Sprinkle with Italian seasoning. Add tempeh and press with a fork to improve the crumble texture.
  5. Add mushrooms and ½ cup reserved sauce, stirring to coat.
  6. Add bread crumbs, ¼ cup of the parmesan, and salt and pepper to taste. Cover and bring to a simmer for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat; stir well.
  7. Fill pepper halves with tempeh mixture, dividing evenly. Cover with foil and bake 20-25 minutes or till sauce is bubbling and peppers are tender..
  8. Mix mozzarella with remaining parmesan. Remove foil, sprinkle with cheese mixture; return to oven till cheese is melted and browning. Serve orzo pasta topped with a pepper half or two and a dollop of sauce.

Variation: If you need to double the servings to six peppers (12 halves), you can increase the filling without needing more tempeh by adding 6-8 more mushrooms, a can of well-drained petite diced tomatoes, and a half bag of washed baby spinach. Increase oil to 3 Tbs and double the breadcrumbs and cheese. Cooked rice can also help stretch it.

no-hassle wassail   Serve this tasty hot drink when the carolers come home from a frosty night of song. Or just anytime you’re in the mood for a sweet, spiced treat. You can cut ingredients in half for a smaller crowd. The rum is optional, of course!

Ingredients

  • 1 gallon apple cider
  • ½ gallon apricot nectar
  • ¼ cup lemon juice
  • 1 ½ cups dark brown sugar
  • 3 cups dark rum
  • 6 cinnamon sticks

Directions

  1. Mix all ingredients in a large pot.
  2. Simmer until a heavenly aroma fills the kitchen.
  3. Transfer to a crockpot and keep warm while serving. For a fancier look, float orange slices decorated with cloves among the cinnamon sticks.

overnight coffee cake   Serve this to overnight guests or your family on Christmas morning. They’ll think you’re wonderful!

Ingredients

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 2/3 cup butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar, divided
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • ½ cup chopped nuts
  • ¼ nutmeg
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Directions

  1. Grease a 9×13 pan. Set aside. Place flour, white sugar, sour cream, butter, half of brown sugar, eggs, baking powder and soda, cinnamon, and vanilla in a large bowl.
  2. Beat at medium speed till blended. Spread in prepared pan.
  3. Combine remaining brown sugar, nuts, and nutmeg. Sprinkle evenly over batter. Cover and refrigerate overnight or up to 24 hours.
  4. Next morning, preheat oven to 350°. Remove cover from pan and bake 35-40 minutes until it tests done.

Very aromatic, warm, and delicious.

Holidays are the perfect time to share food and fun with family and friends. I hope yours are blessed.

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