Monthly Archives: October 2012

Halloween Entertaining/Spice and Basic Cut-Out Cookies

Halloween is just around the corner! However you celebrate it, with adults, children or both, spookily or more “Fall Festival-ly”, have a good, safe time.

I make two types of cookie dough, refrigerated cut-outs, but I only use half of the recipe and freeze the other half to use for Thanksgiving, or, if there are too many goodies, I even wait and use them at Christmas.
I also used to make a cake, usually chocolate. I would decorate it with a twisted tree and fallen leaves, and mix or match any of the following: a jack-o-lantern, moon, cat, ghost, spider, spider web, depending on the size of the cake or my mood. However, I have not made one in years and made the half-recipe cookies because I found that with all the candy, it was real food that people would go looking for after a while. Even at church parties, and lots of kids, a large cake would not be completely gone at the end, but all of whatever meat they served would be wiped out.

Candy is the sweet of choice for Halloween.

When we moved into the house we have now, there was a ‘chicken house’ in the back yard, behind the garage and a storage barn. It was about 7X11 feet, with three or four doors on one side, (that looked like screened prison cells), and a loft. After a few years, my sons decided to make it into a ‘haunted house’ for any trick-or-treater who wanted to give it a try. It was clever, (if at times a bit cheesy), but a good time was had by all: the boys, whatever friends they had that came to help them and the brave-enough neighborhood kids who went through. And before, after and in between sets of doorbell ringers, the teenagers ate.

I would have a soup and chili, sausages, hot dogs or sliced meats, snack crackers, chips and pretzels. I’d have hot cocoa and tea and sodas, but mostly food they could eat quickly and still get warm, as most Halloweens here get cool if not cold, at least, by the time they stopped. Usually the soup would be Baby Meatball Stew or Fiesta Day Soup (September Archives).
And, of course, some cookies.

Here are two very reliable cut-out cookie recipes. The Spice Cookies are perfect for Autumn. The Basic Cookie is just that, so basic you can do anything with it. It is very popular with all ages and was the biggest seller in my bakery for any holiday and as a Sugar Cookie in-between. Both are very good with coffee, tea or cocoa.

Pumpkin-shaped cookies are perfect for Halloween with or without Jack-o-lantern features.
I often make bats and ghosts; there are many types of shapes .For Thanksgiving, I use the pumpkin –shapes without faces, turkeys and I always make Autumn leaf-shaped and colored cookies. You can make scarecrows out of gingerbread men shapes, (or as I have seen recently, mummies for Halloween.)

Basic Cookie

One cup (=2 sticks) of softened butter (preferable to margarine)
1 cup of sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp. baking powder
4 tsp half and half or whole milk
3 cups of sifted flour

Chose the flavoring:
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tsp. pure almond extract
or my favorite
1 Tbsp Brandy, plain or Apricot (Apricot is good for Easter and Spring)

In a mixer or with hand mixer, cream butter, add sugar and mix well. Add the baking powder and flavoring of choice. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl often. Add the eggs and beat until very fluffy. Add the mild or cream, blend thoroughly. Add the flour, one-half cup at a time and beat until smooth before adding the next half-cup. Beat an additional two minutes, Place in a smaller bowl and chill for at least 4 hours, (it can remain in the refrigerator for several days). Dough will be soft; do not be tempted to add more flour. If you are going to make a half-batch, divide at this point; wrap in plastic and put into a freezer bag .It will keep nicely for many months, ready to be thawed in the refrigerator and used as you need it.
When chilled, take a small amount out at a time and place on a well-floured board or clean table. Roll gently with a well-floured rolling pin, adding flour as needed, (but not too much, as it will make the cookies hard.) Roll to ¼ inch thick. Cut with floured cookie cutters and transfer to greased, cooking-spray covered or parchment paper covered baking sheets. Do not put them too close as they will rise, grow and run into each other. (If you are making sugar cookies, sprinkle with granulated sugar at this point.)
Bake in a pre-heated 325F oven for about 15 minutes or until slightly browned on the bottom and edges.
Remove, place on baking racks and cook completely. These may now be wrapped well, placed in a freezer bag with the air removed and frozen for several months, plain or iced with Royal Icing, (directions below)

Spice Cookies

1 ½ cups of butter or margarine (3 sticks), softened
1 1/4 cup of white sugar (or 1 cup white, ¼ cup brown)
½ cup mild-flavored molasses (NOT black-strap)
1 large egg
2 ½ tsp baking powder

Ground spices {1 tsp. cloves
1 ½ tsp. nutmeg
2 tsp. allspice
1 Tbs. cinnamon
2 Tbs. ginger
or 6 Tbs. allspice

Cream the butter and sugars plus molasses and baking powder. Add spices. Scrape bowl. Add flour ½ cup at a time, beating well between additions and scraping sides of the bowl often. Dough will be soft and firm after it is chilled (If dividing, do so now. Wrap half of the dough in plastic wrap, place in freezer bag with all the air removed. Freeze up to 4- 6 months. Thaw in refrigerator when ready to use.) Chill dough for at least 4 hours before rolling, cutting and baking as in directions above for Basic Cookies. Bake at 350F for approx 12 minutes or until firm, (finger will not leave a dent when touched). Cool and freeze or ice with Royal Icing.

Decorate with Royal Icing made with 6 Tbsp. meringue powder, or dehydrated egg whites, ¼ cup water and 3 cups sifted powdered sugar, flavorings and colorings. (Royal Icing mix is available in some areas where cake decorating supplies are sold. Original Royal Icing is made with raw egg whites and should not be used as it is unsafe with possible contaminants and also will spoil.) You may have to adjust the firmness, (more sugar or water). Too thin and the icing may run or the designs may blend; too thick and you may not be able to work with it. If your designs are not perfect, go ahead and blur them with two or more colors swirled together. This is especially effective with leaf shapes for Autumn, Christmas bells, Easter eggs…you get the picture. Use a pastry bag or a zipper-close sandwich bag with a corner snipped-off to simply outline the cookie with icing, (good for bats and pumpkins).
Or spread icing and top with nuts, sprinkles, colored sugars or jimmies.

The Chicken House was torn down a few years ago, ravaged by time and termites. Although my sons only did the Haunted House in it for three or four years over 10 years ago, the neighbors still talk about it.We’ve had fun.I hope you do, too.

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Lynn Shurr/Dressings;Cajun,Sage, Vegan;Stuffed Pork

I have another treat for you with yet another author guest-blogging! Perfect for the Thanksgiving season, Lynn Shurr has offered to spice up your dinner plates with an easy Cajun-style dressing recipe.
Whether you call it dressing or stuffing,(some people are very picky about that word),it is generally eaten in the U.S. at Thanksgiving, roasted inside our traditional turkeys. It is often the favorite part of the meal,(next to the pies).
After I let you meet Lynn and see her easy recipe, you will see my family’s traditional dressing, which can be stuffed in a turkey or chicken, or a modified version for stuffed pork,(chops or loin).I will even give you a vegan version, all of which can baked and eaten as side dishes.
So without further ado….here’s Lynn! Welcome!

I “met” Tonette on FaceBook through a mutual friend, Jeff Salter. We have authorship in common. She likes to cook. I like to eat. And we sort of look alike.
Writing under the name Lynn Shurr (www.lynnshurr.com), I have lived in Cajun Country for over thirty years, but was born and raised in Pennsylvania. I came to Lafayette, Louisiana, to take a job as a reference/interlibrary loan librarian. Eight years later, I left to run a library system thirty miles south of there. On my farewell cake, the staff wrote, “She tasted bayou water”, a way of saying I liked it here and planned to stay. That was very true. I loved the people, the customs, and the food (a little too much). No one does fried better than a Cajun. Oh, those jumbo shrimp in a light, flaky batter and deep fried, juicy turkeys for Thanksgiving. But, did I learn to cook Cajun? Not really. These folks are “from scratch” chefs, and I never had the time. Great local restaurants supply me with all I could want from alligator pasta to zydeco beans.
Though I don’t cook them, delicious imaginary meals show up in all my books which usually take place in New Orleans or Cajun Country. The newly published Queen of the Mardi Gras Ball, a 1920’s historical, contains a description of a Christmas Eve Reveillon feast. In the mystery/romance, Mardi Gras Madness, the young woman lives over a deli specializing in muffuletta sandwiches and hot boudin sausage. She worries about gaining weight, and no wonder!
However, I have learned even Cajun cooks sometimes take shortcuts, and I have used this recipe from a friend often. Rice dressing goes well with meat, fowl, or seafood, but takes over an hour to cook. A note at the end of the more simple recipe says, “This recipe is really good when you don’t feel like making dressing from scratch”. In other words, my kind of cooking. Tonette, sorry about the canned soup!

EASY RICE DRESSING (Cajun Style)

1 pound ground beef
1 cup uncooked rice (do not use instant rice)
1 can cream of mushroom soup or any cream soup
1 can French onion soup

Combine all ingredients very well. Line casserole dish with foil. Empty contents into dish. Place foil tightly on top of dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 90 minutes. Serve. C’est bon!

Canned is OK when we need to enjoy the family and friends, Lynn! That’s what it’s all about here; as a matter of fact,I will have a recipe below using canned cream of celery soup. If one has the time and inclination, they can make French Onion and Cream Soups, but gee, I don’t expect that to happen a lot! One day I will put up a recipe for homemade cream soups…but not today.
(BTW, we have more in common; my mother is from Pennsylvania and I spent many fun-filled summers there!)

I hope you will enjoy Lynn’s recipe and her books. Lynn is also and artist…she’s a lady of many talents.We might be able to persuade her to come back and share Football Party recipes and ideas in the near future.

 

My family’s traditional Sage Dressing was usually made with giblets, that is, chicken and turkey gizzards and hearts, cooked by simmering them with turkey necks and the liver, parsley, onion and celery, with plenty of salt and a little pepper. Cooked for at least 6 hours,(or for 12 in a slow cooker), this yields a rich broth with can be added to the dressing, used to make the turkey gravy and/or used to make wonderful Turkey Noodle or Rice soup, with or without left-over turkey meat, with or without added fresh, frozen or canned vegetables,(discard the ‘spent’ onions and celery; our  pets usually get to eat the liver). The meat of turkey necks is unique and very tasty; if you have not tried it, it is worth the effort to remove it from the bones.(If it  does not come off readily, you haven’t cooked your broth long enough). The meat isn’t pretty,(dark and in long strings), but it is delicious; family members have been know to fight over it or at least be disappointed when they don’t get any.If you don’t like the idea of giblets, you can mince the neck meat and add it to the dressing
However, most of the family now omits the meat from the dressing. Feel free to try to either way.

Traditional Sage Dressing

2 Tbs. butter or margarine
1 large onion, minced
3 lg. ribs of celery, minced
2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. celery salt
1 Tbs. ground marjoram
2 Tbs. rubbed or ground sage
1 tsp. gr. pepper (preferably white)
¼ cup milk
1/2 cup turkey broth { chicken broth or chicken bullion can be substituted
2 cups minced giblets(optional)
6+ cups cubed white or light wheat bread{Amount will depend on the texture of your bread and the firmness you desire

Melt the butter or margarine. On medium heat, sauté the onion and celery with the herbs and seasonings until tender. Add the milk and the giblets,(if using). Simmer for about 30 minutes. Stir in bread cubes. Place in turkey or chicken cavity and bake. (Cut the recipe in half for a chicken).

The texture will depend on your individual taste.I prefer mine firmer,some like it moister.Remember that baked within the bird,it will become moister, (and tastier), from the meat juices.Add more bread  or more brothto your taste, and adjust the seasonings.Fell free to add more ground sage at this point.

As a side dish, place the dressing in a baking dish that has been oiled or buttered. Dot top with butter. Cover and bake for one-half hour, remove top and bake another 20 minutes.(If you like it very moist, do not remove the cover). This can be microwaved for 20 minutes on high, but remember, it will not firm -up; make it basically the texture you want before microwaving.

Vegan Version: Use margarine and vegetable broth; omit milk,(or use almond, rice or soy milk).
These can be baked, wrapped well and frozen. One is sitting in my freezer as we speak, wrapped in foil and in a zipper close plastic bag.

Make the standard version for Stuffed Pork by first slicing 6 thick-cut pork chops or pork loin sections, (at least ¾ of an inch thick), almost half-way through. Then sear .To sear, heat butter or margarine to very hot,(do not burn butter; add a little peanut or other vegetable oil).DOT NOT COOK THROUGH; and just brown the chops on the outside. Remove from heat right away and keep warm.
Make a half-measure recipe of the standard traditional Sage Dressing, (without giblets and broth):
Increase the amount of pepper. (Option: omit the sage and add ½ tsp. thyme.)
Dressing needs to be dry. Place dressing in the cavities of the pork chops. Place flat in buttered baking pan,(preferably lined with foil or parchment; if there is extra dressing, place it along side of the chops). Mix 1 can of Cream of Celery soup with equal amount of water,(preferably from deglazing the pan) and pour over the chops. [Deglaze the pork-searing pan by adding 2/3 cup boiling water,(unless you happen to have pork broth), and scraping away all the browned particles; use with the soup.] Bake at 375F for about one hour, 20 minutes, depending on the thickness of your chops. Bone-in chops will take longer, but they will remain moister. This can also be made by layering thin chops or loin slices with dressing in between, but it is hard to sear without over-cooking the chops which can make them tough and dry.
This can be microwaved for about 20 minutes on High Power.
Please check the pork for doneness by cutting a section; it must not be pink at all.

Cutting the bread cubes was the job for we kids on Christmas and Thanksgiving Eve. Even the littlest was kept busy with a butter knife, cutting away at the slices of bread and filling a large pot with it. My mother always made the largest turkey she could get her hands on, never less than 23 pounds, so we cut a LOT of bread.(She once found one that was 34 + for Thanksgiving and a 36+ lb one for Christmas. Even though the oven was large, it would not completely shut. It took my strong uncle to barely lift it out of the oven, hot and stuffed). Since the dressing is cooked on the stove, she would ask us if we’d like pieces of the covered bread, the pieces that she deemed to large to do the finish product justice. Even though we always ate well, we had been smelling the dressing cooking and the soup and all sorts of goodies for days, so yes!, we wanted the dressing. After a couple of years my brother caught on and used to tell me to purposely make some bread pieces too big so that she would pull more out and give them to us!

Pumpkin Bread

Autumn is here when I am, and this year has been beautiful! Although here can’t compare to many parts of the world for colors of the leaves, we have had a good sampling of color. We had rains last month and mostly dry weather the last tow weeks which helped the colors come out and stay Today I drove through every-color leaf blowing over my car and the road; it was wonderful . Today is sunny and warm with a breeze, but it has already been cold at times, so it is time for baking, roasting, stews and soups.

With Halloween coming, Fall and Harvest Festivals going and Thanksgiving on its way,(at least here in them U.S.A.; Canada had theirs and the rest of you, bear with us!), pumpkins are on our minds. It seems everyone has pumpkin recipes up. My cousin’s son ate pumpkin pie practically the whole time he was here last Thanksgiving. One blog posted a pumpkin pancake recipe which I may try on him this year. ( I even saw a recipe for Pumpkin Caramels…I have to find time to try those!) In the U.S.,(where pumpkins were originally found), pumpkins are usually eaten as pumpkin pie. I am going to continue with the sweet pumpkin theme and post a recipe for Pumpkin Bread that is a staple at my house. I hope you try it.

For those of you around the world who may not know, Thanksgiving is celebrated in Canada on the second Monday in October and on the third Thursday of November in the U.S. Many people consider the day before through Sunday in the US as the Thanksgiving holiday ‘season’. People of all faiths or no faith celebrate it at least as a day of, well, of food, friends & family!

So now, for a fellow blogger, Lisa, who requested it, and for all of you:

Pumpkin Bread
This can be made in 2 traditional loaf pans, several more in mini loaf pans, in muffin tins, in a 9X9 square pan, or in a bundt/tube pan .Baking times will vary.

¾ cup butter or margarine, softened (6 oz)
2 cups of granulated sugar
2 large eggs
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda

2 cups or 1 lb. \plain cooked pumpkin OR
one 15 oz can of cooked pumpkin,(NOT pumpkin pie mix)

1 ½ tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ginger } ground spices
1 ½ tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp cloves
OR
Approx. 1 ½ Tbs. pumpkin pie spice

2 cups all-purpose flour (Sifted … If you do not have a sifter, use a mesh sieve to shake the flour into a bowl and then measure it.)

Butter and flour the pans, (or use baking spray). Preheat oven to 325F.
With electric mixer, cream the butter, sugar and eggs until light .Add the salt, baking powder and baking soda; mix well; add the spices, mix. Scrape sides and bottom of mixer bowl and continue to mix thoroughly.
Add the sited flour alternately with the pumpkin puree. Mix thoroughly, again, scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl and mix again.
Put into baking vessels, filling only 2/3 full,(any extra can go into a smaller baking vessel).Push the batter slightly away from the middle; it will tend to ‘hump up’ too much otherwise. Bake until done in the middle,(test the middle with a toothpick or thin knife blade, when it comes out clean, it’s done).Large pans may take 40+ minutes; muffins about 25 min.

This can be served alone, or with a drizzle of

Icing

1 Tbs. meringue powder or dried egg whites
¼ cup water
2 cups sifted confectioner’s sugar
(it will be thin; if it is too thin, add more sugar)
You can add spices, vanilla extract or brandy to this. You can sprinkle the top with nuts before drizzling the icing , which is especially nice if served as a bundt cake, a loaf or individual cakes.

OR
You can bake it well, and slice the bread to make

Tea Sandwiches

fill with a cream cheese filling:

3 ounces of cream cheese, softened
mix with
1 Tbs. softened butter
1-2 Tbs. confectioner’s sugar

Add: ground nuts, vanilla, any of the spices included in the bread recipe, 1 Tablespoon of pumpkin puree and /or 2 Tbs. ground dates
Mix or match

Sarah Ballance’s Pecan Pie Bars

From Sarah Ballance

I have a treat for you today; my first guest blogger! My friend, writer Sarah Ballance, has agreed to share some memories and recipe with us. Since she has put so much more into the recipe, I will let her get away with starting it with a boxed cake mix!

Sarah is a prolific writer of Romantic Suspense Novels. If  that is not your cup of tea or your  TBR (To Be Read) list is like mine, (longer than I am tall), let me suggest her supernatural short-story “Hawthorne”, which is one of my absolute favorites![Available for Kindle, Nook, iPad  and now, in print!]

Sarah is also an accomplished cook, making much of her food from scratch and with ingredients she and her husband grow themselves. As if any one of her involvements would not be more than enough for any one person, she raises pigs …and children! I don’t know how many oinkers she has, but there are six beautiful children that she even manages to homeschool!. Go, Sarah!

Sarah lends her talents to charitable works as well, (as you can see, since she is here to give me a boost!)

Please look for her at www.sarahballance.com, as you will not find her in the phonebook. “Sarah Balance” is her nom de plume; her real name is Wonder Woman!

Welcome, Sarah!

“Handy” Pecan Pie Bars

Pecan pie. Just the words bring back memories, the most prominent of which is shelling pecans. Until my fingers hurt. My grandma made everything from scratch (if the grocery store sold shelled nuts back then, they never graced her threshold), and I can barely remember eating the pie, but I remember those darn shells. Today, years later, I don’t share her aversion for ready-to-use nuts sold in plastic bags, but as a busy mom of six, I jumped at the chance to enjoy the taste without the fuss . . . or the dessert dishes. Enter pecan pie bars.

This recipe from the Cake Mix Doctor has been slightly adapted. Why, you ask? Because the last time I made these bars I handily grabbed the yellow cake mix needed and got to work. Only . . . the crust didn’t look right. It’s supposed to be the soft hue of real butter, but instead it was neon yellow and greasy. A quick look at my ingredients revealed the problem. My cake mix was only 15.25 ounces and I needed 18.25 ounces. GAH! I knew I shouldn’t have gotten the cheaper box of cake mix! So off to the store I went. Or shall I say BACK to the store with all six of my kids. For cake mix.

Only to discover they no longer have the 18.25 ounce box. Really?  So I bought an extra box and grumbled. And went home to start over. And improvise.

I didn’t weigh the mix when I tried to fix this, but after adding about ¼ of a cup of mix from the second box, I got the consistency I remembered and the bars turned out perfectly. This is noted in the recipe, which is incredibly delicious. Who knew pecan pie could so easily be a finger food? (My fingers, incidentally, prefer eating to shelling. Sorry, Grandma!)

 

Pecan Pie Bars (slightly adapted from Ann Bryne’s The Cake Mix Doctor)

 

Crust:

  • ·         16.25 box of yellow cake mix + ¼ cup
  • ·         8 tablespoons melted butter (1 stick)
  • ·         1 large egg

Filling:

  • ·         ¾ c. dark corn syrup
  • ·         ¼ packed light brown sugar
  • ·         2 large eggs
  • ·         1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • ·         1 ½ c. pecans (chopped or halves)

Directions:

  1. 1.       Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Set aside an ungreased 13×9” glass baking dish.
  2. 2.       Combine cake mix, melted butter, and egg in a large mixing bowl. (If butter is hot, don’t add it directly to the egg or the egg might begin to cook.) Blend with electric mixer on low speed until well combined, scraping sides as necessary. Dough will form a large ball. Transfer it to the baking dish and press evenly across the bottom and about ½ inch up the sides.
  3. 3.       Bake in preheated oven until it just starts to brown, 15-18 minutes. Remove from oven. Leave oven on.
  4. 4.       Meanwhile, prepare the filling. In the same mixing bowl (no need to clean it), add corn syrup, brown sugar, remaining eggs, and vanilla. Blend on medium speed until well combined. Stir in pecans.
  5. 5.       Pour the filling over the baked crust, spreading with a spatula until pecans are well distributed. Return pan to oven.
  6. 6.       Bake until the crust is golden brown and filling just begins to set, 18-22 minutes. (Bars will thicken as they cool, so it’s important not to overcook them.) Remove from oven and cool pan on a wire rack, 30 minutes.
  7. 7.       Cut into 24 bars.
  8. 8.       Freeze up to 6 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator before serving.

About Sarah Ballance

Sarah writes fiction. Why? Because she has six young children, and if she wants anyone to listen to her she’s got to make them up. Her favorite genre to write is romantic suspense, though she’s also written contemporary and ghostly things. To learn more, visit her website at http://sarahballance.com or her blog at http://sarahballance.wordpress.com/.

Zucchini and Vegan One-Bowl

Zucchini

My son brought a huge zucchini from his garden to me this summer .He said, “You’ve never seen a zucchini this big!”, but yes, I had.
When I was younger, we had a friend in the family who kept a part of his small farm going. He would bring tomatoes, string beans, squashes, massive zucchini, all sorts of produce and eggs,farm-fresh and dozens of them. We’d be overwhelmed sometimes.
At one such time, we had recently moved and need to have telephones installed. For those of you who are young, (and/or not in the U.S.A.), phones then were only land-lines and all the work had to be done by The Telephone Company. It was actually illegal to run a wire or fix a phone. We were at their mercy, but my mother didn’t mind this time, because a young, bright, good-looking Italian fellow was there doing a great deal of wiring all day.
My mother had a good time with the fellow, who must have been about 30 years old. I was home, but in and out of the room. I was about 19 or 20 and shy… and had no designs on the man and neither did my mother, but that isn’t how it looked…and he could hear her other-wise old-fashioned ideas.
After some time she did her best to get him to take some of the produce, which he wasn’t sure he should take, but he finally did. Just before he left, she offered some of the eggs to him. That was too much, no, no, he couldn’t. But she pressed him and then asked, “Are you married?” You could see the worst fears fly across his face, “I-I-I’m actually living with someone”, he stammered. My mother, who had no clue what she had done to him, just looked at him. I plucked-up every ounce of courage I had and said, “Oh, she’s not trying to match-make; she just wants to know if you have someone to cook it for you”.
“YES! Oh, YES! I DO!”, he cried in such a relieved manner, I had to turn to laugh!
My mother was mortified that I would say such a thing! After all, what had she said, what had she done? Oh, boy! My mother never realized how things sounded to others.
But out of all that zucchini came the recipe below, which she only gave to one other person, but I will share with you now. I made a lot this Summer, but only one container-full remains in the freezer and I am going to try to keep my hands off of it until the cousins come.

Zola’s Zucchini

Because my mother never measured unless she was baking, (and not always then, either;,the measurements are approximate.

2 TBSP. olive oil (pref. Extra Virgin)
1/2 cup minced onion
3 cloves of garlic,(1 TBSP dried-minced or granules, not garlic salt)
1 bay leaf
2 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. marjoram
1 TBSP. dried parsley
½ tsp. salt
1+ c. crushed tomatoes

Sauté’ all until onions are tender; then add:

3 c. diced zucchini
1 c. water

Cook on medium heat until zucchini is thoroughly tender. Slowly add more water or salt or herbs if needed. Remove the bay leaf before serving, as it is bitter to bite into and some people are truly shocked to find a leaf in their food. My mother jokingly once told a shocked young guest that a leaf must have blown in from an open window. The kid was unfamiliar with bay leaves and a horrified look came over his face. My mother had to quickly explain.

I like this served with Angel Hair pasta; it would also be good with small pasta such as tubetini, risi or orzo.

Zucchini One-Bowl (Vegan meal)

One recipe Zola’s Zucchini

Add:

½-1 cup Chickpeas (Garbanzo beans)

½ cup cooked rice, barley or small pasta ,slightly undercooked, (or ‘al dente’)

Simmer together for 20 minutes until the flavors blend. Serve.

{The beans and rice, barley or pasta make a complete protein)

Italian Baked Tomatoes

I haven’t had a garden in a few years, but my son had one .I had banana peppers, grape tomatoes, zucchini and squash from his garden and my next-door neighbor has been supplying me with loads of homegrown tomatoes and bell peppers all season. Yesterday I received the last batch as she gleaned her plants, and they are the most darling small tomatoes I have seen. I am going to make my mother’s baked tomatoes

and freeze them for when my cousin and family are here for the Thanksgiving holiday. Even though my cousin is from my Italian side, neither of our mothers married Italians, and neither did we, but our husbands and families all enjoy real Italian food. Which leads me to this story:

Just before World War Two one of my aunts and her husband left their hometown in Pennsylvania to seek their fortune in Washington, DC. Soon after the war began, my mother followed and found not only work but also a fiancé’. Just as the war came to a close, the married aunt and her husband, my mother and the youngest sisters, (one was the visiting cousin’s mother), took the man who was to be my father up for Thanksgiving to meet the family.
When he arrived, many people had gathered and,( according to him), there was food everywhere…breads, salads, molded salads, vegetables, pastries, cakes and the biggest bowl of spaghetti he had ever seen! It took him a moment, but, of course, they were Italian, so spaghetti for Thanksgiving made sense to him …and he ate…and he ate.
My mother’s spaghetti sauce was magical, (and you will be hearing more about it; recipes for sauce will be in future posts), but her mother’s was supposedly even better. My grandmother was so pleased that my mother brought home a tall, lean man with broad shoulders who could eat! He kept pace with my Italian uncles but after some time, the dishes cleared, and out came a huge turkey with all the trimmings! He couldn’t believe that anyone could eat any more, let alone his thin fiancée and her equally thin sisters.
As I once read: Italians don’t understand that other people don’t eat their body weight at every meal’.

As last year, the cousins will join not only us, but my sons, their children, wife and girlfriend, (only one for each, of course!), plus my brother, my sister, her daughters, her son-in-law and teenage grandson for Thanksgiving Day. Many of us will be spending time and meals together throughout the weekend. Because of the numbers of people with varying tastes, and food allergies, we will have a traditional Thanksgiving dinner at my sister’s and then buffet meals will be here and there at varying times, with me carting food there, serving food here, and generally having a ball!

I had made Chicken Parmesan for my cousins last year and they loved my sauce. I promised them stuffed shells this year, using the same homemade sauce. I will post the recipe within the next week or so , but today, I will leave you with the baked tomato
Recipe:

Baked Tomatoes

(The tomatoes can be any size, just make sure that they are all approximately equal in size so they cook evenly. The amount of mixture needed will vary.)

6 Medium tomatoes
1 Cup dried bread crumbs
2 Tbsp dried parsley
2 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. dried basil
1Tbsp. garlic granules, or 1 heaping Tbsp. garlic powder,(not garlic salt)
1 Cup oil, (pref. regular olive oil)

Mix the breadcrumbs, salt and herbs… (Taste the mixture; it should be strong. If it is not, add more salt and herbs. If you find it strong, add a small amount more of the breadcrumbs).
Cut the tops off of the tomatoes and discard. Turn the tomatoes up-side-down and squeeze lightly to remove the juice and seeds. Place a little oil in the bottom of a shallow glass or ceramic baking dish, (a pie plate will do.) Stand the tomatoes upright and fill with the breadcrumb mixture. If you spill any into the dish, it is fine ;( it is rather tasty.)
Drench the tomatoes with the oil. Start out slowly; you may want to make a slight depression in the filling, as the oil does not want to penetrate the breadcrumbs. Bake in a 375F oven, basting occasionally for approx. 40 minutes or until very done. Serve hot.

Quick version:
Use Italian seasoning in the breadcrumbs.
Quicker version:
Use Italian breadcrumbs.
But I warn you, neither of these will come out as good.

Because of the cost of out-of-season tomatoes and the fact that they just are not as good, my mother made these only in the summer. I have skipped making these many summers because it was too hot to put my wall oven on and fight the air conditioner. It took me until this past Spring to develop the idea of making this:

Baked Tomato Casserole

1 Large (28 oz) and 1 Medium (15 oz) cans of Italian plum tomatoes, drained
(or 3 Medium)

1 ½ cups dry bread crumbs
2 ½ Tbs. dried parsley
2 tsp. salt
1 ½ Tbsp.dried basil
1 heaping Tbsp. garlic granules or 1 ½ Tbsp. garlic powder (not garlic salt)
¾ -I cup of vegetable oil, preferably olive (regular.)

Oil the bottom of a casserole dish and layer the drained tomatoes in the bottom. Mix the dry ingredients and spread them evenly over the tomatoes. Make small depressions over the tomatoes and gently pour the oil over the breadcrumb mixture to saturate. Bake in a 375F oven for about 45 minutes. Serve warm.

Worcestershire Chicken/Hosting/No-fat

I am so excited! I received confirmation that my cousin and family are coming back for Thanksgiving again this year. We had been in touch over the last few years quite regularly; I had spoken with her husband and two kids often, but before the Summer of 2010, I had not met them in person nor had I seen my cousin since we were quite young, actually, Thanksgiving of 1976(!) I got them to agree to come up two states for last Thanksgiving and it looks like we have started anew tradition!
Now, to work on the menu. What can I make to ‘show off’, yet can be mostly made ahead of time so I can enjoy their company and not make them uncomfortable by working too hard while they are here? I also must take my cousin-in-law’s food allergies into consideration, but that will be easy.
In an earlier post I told the story of how I over-did the first baby shower I threw. I will often stress how one has to take into account a guest’s special needs, but not to the point of making them uncomfortable.

Right after we burned our bridges and moved here for an old acquaintance’s business, the woman died. An old friend of hers stayed in town after the funeral for a short time to help keep the business going.
The late boss’s husband, who was the new boss, went out-of-town and left this boss in our care…this boss who was on a strict no-fat diet…none…zilch…nada, which was new to me. I had to quickly ‘wing’ this with very little notice and with what I had on hand.
I modified a chicken recipe that my sons loved. .I made pasta which I made slightly under-cooked. ‘Al dente’ is an over-used phrase, but in this case, it fits. ( I made a chunky-type; today, I would have made it tri-colored, vegetable pasta). I kept the pasta slightly wet, since I could not add oil or butter, nor could I use a nice meatless sauce, as the man could not deal with tomatoes. I made a sliced vegetable plate instead of a salad, with olives and pickles, since I had no fat-free dressing. I had Ranch dressing on the side for the boys to dip their vegetables in. I had a purchased angel food cake, (on top of it all, the oven in our apartment was broken). I pureed raspberries with a little honey which I poured over each individual cake slice at serving time,(any earlier and the sauce would have made the cake soggy). It was a meal that all of us, even the nine and ten year old boys, enjoyed. The man, who had no idea what to expect, was so happy that he wrote for years at Christmas and always mentioned the meal. However…
I had made coffee and he asked if we had skim milk. At the time, no one in the family used it. He left that evening and was to return the next morning for breakfast. I had fruit and crispy-rice cereal which I knew the man liked to eat, (as you can imagine, the dinner conversation was about food), but I ran out that evening and bought skim milk.
The next morning, the man came and was chagrined that I had skim milk for him. He had a dinner invitation with others for that evening and refused to come to breakfast the next morning as we “had gone to too much trouble”. I had made him uncomfortable; that was not being a ‘good host’. [Topic for another time: How to be a gracious guest. After all, we had already gone to the trouble; he should have accepted the care.]
Last year I chose and modified a few of the dished I served to make sure that my cousin’s husband could eat as many of the offerings as possible. I did not, however, make anything ‘special’ just for him. The few things that included foods that he could not eat, I warned him about, but for the most part, I simply chose foods that we could all enjoy…and see, they are coming back for more!
And I hope you do, too…Autumnal recipes coming in new posts soon!

Worcestershire Chicken

1 Tablespoon butter (for the regular recipe; omit for ‘fat-free’)
1 lb. chicken tenders or breast cut into strips
3+ 1 Tbs. Worcestershire Sauce
2 Tbs. water
Salt

Melt the butter. Add the 3 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce and water. Add the chicken, salt and sauté’ until just cooked through. Remove the chicken; increase the heat, add the additional Worcestershire sauce and cook until thick. Add the chicken and brown quickly on both sides. Remove and keep warm.
This also makes great chicken for sandwiches on a crispy bun or bread with mayonnaise mixed with Worcestershire sauce, a white cheese, (Havarti, Provolone, etc) and lettuce, or for in a Chef’s salad with cheese chunks and vegetables of your choice.