Sunday, December 27, 2009

"La Bella Cucina" & "Family Circle Great Chicken Recipes" - (Italian) Sunday Meat Sauce and Chicken Breasts Mornay

Date I made these recipes: December 24th and 25th, 2009

La Bella Cucina – How to Cook, Eat, and Live Like an Italian by Viana La Place
Published by: Clarkson Potter/Publishers
ISBN: 0-609-60518-6
Recipe: Sunday Meat Sauce – p. 139

Family Circle Great Chicken Recipes by Family Circle magazine, edited by Patricia Curtis
Published by: Cowles
© 1968
Recipe: Chicken Breasts Mornay – p. 114

You know, just about everyone else I know stresses out about presents and family gatherings and getting the Christmas cards out on time and decorating and whatnot at this time of year but not me. I stress out about food, specifically: what do I serve for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day?

You think I’d be prepared by now given that I went through the same stress last year…and the year before…but alas, no. Guess I’m a slow learner.

You’d also think that with a cookbook collection of almost 1,150 cookbooks that this wouldn’t be a problem and again you’d be wrong. There’s something about a holiday dinner that makes me feel like I should be cooking something fancy and complicated like beef Wellington when what I really crave is a good casserole. (Actually, what I really wanted was a greasy hamburger but for that, one really needs to go out to a greasy dive to get one and good luck finding a greasy dive that was open for Christmas!). And so I pored over recipe books and finally came across a chicken and cheese sauce dish to which I added side dishes of noodles and broccoli—all the components of a good casserole had I mixed them all together.

As to Christmas Eve, it is traditional in my family to have spaghetti and meatballs (or sans meatballs depending on what the Pope had to say about meat on Christmas Eve –can you say buzzkill?) and this dish wasn’t quite that but it did involve meat and so na-na! This recipe came from one of my mom’s cookbooks, one of the few she had on Italian cooking and while it’s not our family recipe, it did in a pinch.

As far as Christmas dinner was concerned, I used another one of my mom’s recipe books – Family Circle’s Great Chicken Recipes. (My mother loved Family Circle and Women’s Day magazines and every time I see them on the shelf I think of her) I think we can safely establish that it wasn’t even close to something like Beef Wellington but I wanted comfort food and I wanted easy and so voila, mission accomplished.

Now I’m gearing up for the next cooking dilemma – what to make for my family when they come to town for New Year’s? The first order of business was to make reservations for dinner at one of our favorite restaurants in town, The Lexington, (because I have my priorities straight) and I think the rest of the time, I’ll cook yet another round of spaghetti, this time with meatballs, and a roast and perhaps even a turkey breast—or not. But while I mull over that conundrum, the Green Bay Packers are playing and so “Tally ho and away we go, see you next week in a brand new show!” (It’s from the Heckle & Jeckle [cartoon] Show in case you were wondering—and yes, I am that old! And yes, Heckle & Jeckle are two talking crows—what’s your point?!).

Sunday Meat Sauce – serves 4 to 6
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, finely diced
1 ½ pounds assorted veal, pork, beef and lamb not ground but cut with scissors or a sharp knife into small pieces or dice (ask your butcher to do this; most will happily oblige). Note: I used just beef and veal.
Sea salt and a grinding of black pepper
Pinch of hot red pepper flakes
1 fresh bay leaf
½ cup red wine
1 pound very ripe tomatoes, peeled and diced
Spring or filtered water, as needed
1 pound imported artisanal pasta (almost any shape works with this sauce except very delicate ones, but ruffled lasangette pasta is a particularly fine match)
Freshly grated recorino or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, or a mixture of the two

Heat the olive oil and onion in a braising pan our soup pot. Cook over low heat until the onion is golden and tender. Add the meat and brown over medium heat for several minutes.

Add the salt and pepper to taste, hot pepper flakes, bay leaf torn in half, and red wine. Let the wine bubble until it evaporates.

Add the tomatoes, stir, and cook, covered over low heat for 1 ½ hours, stirring regularly, until the flavors develop fully. Check often and add water as needed to prevent scorching.

Cook the pasta of your choice in abundant salted boiling water. (I can’t say as I’ve ever seen a directive to use “abundant” salted boiling water before but I like it!) When al dente, drain well and toss with the sauce. Generously sprinkle with a handful of cheese and toss again before serving. Serve with extra cheese at the table.

NOTES: as previously discussed in my blog about The French Laundry’s lasagna, this is a bad time of year to buy fresh tomatoes so I used Pomi, a boxed product that can be purchased at an Italian grocery store or more of an upscale grocery such as Lund’s or Byerly’s (local stores). As to the meat, I diced it as small as I could but still felt the result was more like stew meat in tomatoes than a true ragu which typically consists of slow-braised meat that just falls apart after cooking.

Chicken Breasts Mornay – Makes 4 servings
I just had to hoot at the tag line for this recipe: “A nippy cheese sauce sparks bland and delicate white meat.” I don’t know if “nippy” is the right word but it made me chuckle.
4 chicken breasts
¼ cup flour seasoned with ½ teaspoon salt and a dash of pepper
¼ cup (1/2 stick) melted butter or margarine
Mornay sauce (makes about 1 ¼ cups)
2 teaspoons butter or margarine
2 tablespoons flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
½ cup milk
½ cup chicken stock
¾ cup grated sharp Cheddar cheese
½ teaspoon prepared mustard
½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon chopped parsley

Melt butter or margarine in small saucepan; remove from heat. Blend in flour, salt, and pepper; stir in milk and chicken stock. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until sauce thickens and boils 1 minute.

Add cheese, mustard, and Worcestershire sauce; continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until cheese melts; remove from heat. Stir in parsley; serve hot.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

"Homestyle Mexican Cooking" - Chicken Tabasco

Date I made this recipe: December 20, 2009

Homestyle Mexican Cooking by Lourdes Nichols
Published by: The Crossing Press
ISBN: 0-89594-861-3
Recipe: Chicken Tabasco (Pollo a la Tabaquena) – p. 127

Ah December; so much celebrating to do, so little time.

One of the things Andy and I are celebrating this year is the 20th anniversary of the first time we went out. To clarify, it really wasn’t our first “date” date, more like a meet and greet to get caught up on some mutual friends of ours, the Hartman sisters.

Older sister, Susan P. Hartman, worked with me at one of my companies and it was she who was responsible for me meeting Andy. Lisa Hartman was one of Andy’s roommates in a house he shared with three other people. Yes, you can all start singing “It’s a Small World.”

In the summer of 1989, I went across country with Susan P. to help her move back to her native New Jersey so that she could start grad school at NYU. As mentioned in a previous blog about Paris, traveling with Susan P. is a little like watching an episode of I Love Lucy. To this day, I cannot look at windshield washing fluid without thinking of the hilarity that ensued when we had to add it to her car (don’t ask), nor can I think of Lexington, KY, without thinking about this damned circle drive (from hell) that we kept getting ourselves on, over and over again. In exasperation, we finally pulled off the circle drive, went to a Hyatt Hotel and proceeded to the bar for a calming cocktail before getting better directions that got us the hell out of Lexington (not that it wasn’t lovely).

And so when Andy called in early November and suggested we get together to compare notes on the Hartman sisters, I was loaded for bear with stories. I can’t recall why we decided to meet at Pepitos, a Mexican restaurant located near my home at the time in south Minneapolis, but meet there we did; maybe we were in a Mexican phase back then? Given that I was then (and still am) a social butterfly, we were unable to meet and greet until December 22, 1989 and once we did, folks, well, it was all over but the crying. We’ve been together ever since and in May 2010, we will celebrate 19 years of (pretty much) wedded bliss. All of this, of course, is Susan P’s fault and is something that I tease her about from time to time (all in good fun, of course).

Although Andy and I do plan to revisit the scene of the crime on Tuesday, I thought it would be fun to cook something from one of the Mexican cookbooks I acquired and decided on the chicken recipe because it didn’t require a long marinade nor did it require me to go out and purchase lard—not that there’s anything wrong with lard. I tend to like lighter Mexican dishes and indeed, this cookbook was full of them.

This was one tasty dish that just capped off a day of sheer laziness on our part but hey, that’s one of the perks of being together this long. And speaking of being together a long time, Pepitos actually cleans our clock on the anniversary thing—according to their website, they have been in business since 1974 (they opened in 1971 under a different name). I guess that 20 years is nothing to them but we are happy to be able to return there on this auspicious anniversary. Congratulations, Pepitos! (And hooray for us!!)

For those of you living in the Twin Cities area, Pepitos is located at 4820 Chicago Ave S in Minneapolis. Their website is:

Chicken Tabasco – Pollo a la Tabasquena – serves 6
6 chicken quarters, skinned
Juice of 1 lime
2 tablespoons malt vinegar
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground allspice
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 medium onion, charred and chopped
4 cloves garlic, charred and minced
6 medium tomatoes, charred, peeled and chopped
1 red bell pepper, deseeded and cut into strips
2 tablespoons green olives, sliced
2 tablespoons capers, drained
2 tablespoons seedless raisins
4 ounces ham, chopped
4 tablespoons slivered almonds
2 cloves
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons cold water, divided
1 tablespoon cornstarch

Season the chicken with the lime juice, vinegar, salt and allspice, and let marinate for 20 minutes.

Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed frying pan with a tight-fitting lid and fry the chicken until golden. Remove the chicken from the pan and fry all the other ingredients, except the water and cornstarch for about 5 minutes. Drain off any excess oil and return the chicken to the pan. Add 1 cup water, cover, and simmer for about 1 hour, turning the chicken pieces frequently.

Remove the chicken to a warmed serving dish. Mix the cornstarch with the remaining 3 tablespoons cold water and stir it into the pan juices. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, until thickened. Pour over the chicken and serve hot.

Note: I didn’t drain off any excess oil because the liquid from the chopped tomatoes, onions, etc. made it nearly impossible to tell what constituted the oil and what constituted the liquid. The taste didn’t seem to suffer at all from not draining anything. Also, I used boneless, skinless chicken thighs and they were quite tasty. Finally, I made up a little rice to go with the dish; the recipe didn’t call for it but I love rice and so there it is.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Mistletoe Madness-A Holiday Party (various cookbooks)

Date I made these recipes: December 6, 2009

Better Homes & Gardens Best Buffets by Better Homes and Gardens
Published by: Meredith Corporation
© 1963
Recipe: Hot Mulled Cider – p. 50

Betty Crocker’s Hostess Cookbook – Guest-Tested Recipes and Party Plans for Every Occasion by Betty Crocker
Published by: Golden Press
© 1967, 1970 – Third Printing 1970
Recipe: Chafing Dish Meatballs – p. 136

Leisure Arts Presents The Spirit of Christmas – Creative Holiday Ideas Book Four by Leisure Arts, Inc.
Published by: Leisure Arts, Inc.
© 1990
Recipe: Layered Crab Taco Dip – p. 136

Always Superb: Recipes for Every Occasion – a collaborative cookbook from the Junior Leagues of Minneapolis and Saint PaulPublished by: The Junior Leagues of Minneapolis and Saint Paul
ISBN: 0-9729882-0-3
Recipe: Martini Dip – p. 36
Other recipes made but not featured: Layered Asian Appetizer -. 45

Betty Crocker Party Food by Betty Crocker
Published by: Wiley Publishing, Inc.
ISBN: 978-0-470-17349-7; © 2007
Recipe: Roasted Sesame and Honey Snack Mix – 26
Other recipes made but not featured: Southwestern Spiced Party Nuts – p. 14; Chex® Party Mix – p. 24 and Almond Caramel Corn – p. 21

FARM Journal Country Cookbook – Edited by Nell B. Nichols, Food Editor, FARM Journal
Published by: Doubleday & Company, Inc.
© 1959
Recipe: Holiday Fruitcake Cookies – p. 95

Well folks, here it is December 8th and I am already exhausted by the holidays! On December 6th, my husband and I decided it was high time we threw a party and what better way to kick off the holiday season than by throwing a Mistletoe Madness open house for 50 or so of our closest, personal friends!

And so just call me Betty (as in Crocker, my idol) because I was a cooking fool for at least a week making appetizers and goodies to satisfy every taste bud. And yes, I probably made too many things but given that it was our first open house party, I wanted to run a number of things up the flagpole to see how they’d fly. For the most part, all the dishes got accolades so that was good. Sadly, many of the recipes won’t be reprinted here since my own personal rule is to only publish recipes from my own collection and some of the ones I made are from borrowed library books. But I can at least give you a hint as to where I found some of them: Desperation Entertaining by Alicia Ross and Beverly Mills (I have their Desperation Dinners book but not this one); Pillsbury Best Cookies; Betty Crocker’s Christmas Cookbook; Barefoot Contessa Parties! (I already posted this recipe for her pan-friend onion dip on my blog in 2007); Feast by Nigella Lawson (also posted her parma ham bundle recipes on my blog) and a community cookbook from my home town using some of my mom’s cookie recipes.

As to the recipes, let me just say that the yield on each of these wasn’t necessarily what was written. In general, any recipe that stated it made 5 or more dozen was a “liar, liar pants on fire.” On the other hand, recipes that said they made one cup usually yielded two or more. Go figure. Depending on your crowd, one serving may be enough but it’s up to you to determine that.

Finally, and I hate to disparage Betty Crocker, but here’s a little story that I had to email in advance to some of my friends who were attending (which I titled “What the hell, Betty?): one of the recipes I made was Betty Crocker’s Southwestern Spiced Party Nuts. The recipe called for ¼ teaspoon of cinnamon but I knew that one of my guests was allergic to cinnamon and so I called the B. Crocker Hotline for assistance. I asked the woman on the phone what else I could substitute for cinnamon and after putting me on hold, she came back and stunned me into silence by saying that she couldn’t advise me because they hadn’t tested the recipe.

What?! What?! What?! I could see other test kitchens not testing a recipe but this was Betty Frickin’ Crocker for God’s sake - my hero, my idol, the person whose kitchen I would readily die in. WTF? (I made it without the cinnamon and nobody was the wiser).

Lucky for all of you, I got over my distress and made all the recipes without too much ado. For one, brief shinning moment I considered just buying the Chex® Party Mix but then I caught myself and pressed on regardless. There’s too much salt in packaged stuff anyway!

And so here we go with my list of goodies. The Martini Dip was probably the biggest hit, no doubt because of the vermouth marinated olives. I did warn people but they still imbibed at their own risk!

Hot Mulled Cider – makes 10 servings
Before I get into the ingredients, I just have to say that this was found in a chapter called “Something for the boys” – Bachelor’s Feast. Let me just say that the “girls” liked it, too!
½ cup brown sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
2 quarts cider
1 teaspoon whole allspice
1 teaspoon whole cloves
3 inches stick cinnamon
Dash nutmeg

Combine brown sugar, salt, and cider. Tie spices in small piece of cheese cloth; add. Slowly bring to a boil; cover and simmer 20 minutes. Remove spices. Serve hot.

Chafing Dish Meatballs – makes 5 dozen meatballs (Ann’s note: no freakin’ way! I doubled the meat and spices and only then did I achieve 60 or so meatballs. I also used 1 and ½ bottles of chili sauce and 1 and 1/3 jar of grape jelly).
1 pound ground beef
½ cup dry bread crumbs
1/3 cup minced onion
¼ cup milk
1 egg
1 tablespoon snipped parsley
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
¼ cup shortening
1 bottle (12 oz) chili sauce
1 jar (10 oz) grape jelly

Mix ground beef, crumbs, onion, milk, egg and next 4 seasonings; gently shape into 1-inch balls. Melt shortening in large skillet; brown meatballs. Remove meatballs from skillet; drain fat. Heat chili sauce and jelly in skillet until jelly is melted, stirring sauce and jelly in skillet until jelly is melted, stirring constantly. Add meatballs and stir until coated. Simmer 30 minutes. Serve hot in chafing dish.

Layered Crab Taco Dip – about 5 ¾ cups of dip (which is about right)
My Auntie Mare gave me the book containing this dip years ago. I put it away waiting for the right occasion to use it and here it is! Thanks, Auntie Mare!

2 cans (6 ounces each) lump crabmeat, drained
2 green onion, minced
½ cup diced cucumber
½ cup diced red onion
1 medium tomato, finely chopped
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
¼ cup lime juice
¼ cup lemon juice
¼ cup orange juice
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese, softened
¼ cup mayonnaise
1 avocado, peeled, seeded, and diced
Tortilla chips to serve

Because this makes so much, I recommend skipping the cream cheese and just putting the dip in a bowl to be served with the taco chips. I also recommend skipping the red onion. I diced it as small as I could but at the end of the day, the flavor still can be a little harsh. But by all means, add the avocado!

In a glass bowl, combine crabmeat, green onions, cucumber, red onion, tomato, and parsley. In a small bowl, combines juices. Stir into crab mixture. Salt and pepper to taste. Cover and refrigerate at least 6 hours or overnight.

Combine cream cheese and mayonnaise, blending well. Spread mixture over the bottom of a serving platter. Spread avocado over cream cheese mixture. Drain crab mixture, pressing out as much moisture as possible. Spread mixture over avocado. Serve with tortilla chips.

Martini Dip – Yield 8 servings (Nope. Try two-martini glasses full of dip-sized servings!)
As I mentioned above, this dip was the big hit. Martinis are my drink of choice and so I just happened to have all the olives I needed on hand along with the vermouth. And some gin although it wasn’t called for in this dip. I also have a set of what I call travel martini glasses—plastic glasses with a green stem with a martini olive “imbedded” in the middle. Naturally, I used these glasses to serve seeing as how the colors fit so well with the holiday. I also decided I’d best let people know there was booze in them there glasses and so I put up little food name tags on my table—one can’t be too careful!

8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
½ cup mayonnaise
12 ounces vermouth-marinated chopped olives, drained

Combine the cream cheese, Worcestershire sauce and mayonnaise in a bowl and mix until smooth. Stir in the olives. Chill, covered, in the refrigerator until serving time. Excellent served with crackers or vegetables.

By the way, I highly recommend the Layered Asian Appetizer on p. 45 of this book. Yummy!

Roasted Sesame and Honey Snack Mix – 20 servings of ½ cup each
3 cups Chex cereal (any variety)
3 cups checkerboard-shaped pretzels
3 cups sesame sticks
1 cup mixed nuts
¼ cup honey
3 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted
2 tablespoons sesame seed, toasted, if desired

Heat oven to 275F. Mix cereal, pretzels, sesame sticks and nuts in ungreased jelly roll pan, 15 ½ x 10 ½ x 1 inch.

Mix remaining ingredients. Pour over cereal mixture, stirring until evenly coated.

Bake 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Spread on waxed paper; cool. Store in airtight container up to 1 week.

Holiday Fruitcake Cookies – makes 8 dozen (and that’s about right)
Call me sentimental but my mom used to make cookies like these when I was growing up and I loved them. But then again, we are fruitcake people. There wasn’t a time that I don’t remember Jane Parker Fruitcake being on the table. We love Jane Parker. Jane Parker is an A&P store brand but we don’t have an A&P store in my hometown anymore so my sister-in-law has had to find other (black market) sources! Kidding. A few years ago, though, we did have trouble sourcing the stuff but I just looked up A&P online and it said “Click to order your holiday Fruitcake online.” I tell you what, folks the holidays are a great thing.

Anyway, when a friend gave me the FARM Journal cookbook for my collection, it just happened to fall open to the cookie page (I took this as a sign) and decided right then and there (this was October) that this was going on the party list.

Now mind you, I didn’t tell anyone that these were fruitcake cookies because you either like fruitcake or you don’t (and most don’t) but they were still eaten and I didn’t find any balled up napkins after the fact with the remains of the day so I think we’re good. Still, the recipe does make a bazillion cookies so I hope you really do like fruitcake if you make them!

4 c. sifted flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 c. shortening
2 c. brown sugar, packed
2 eggs, beaten
2/3 c. thick sour milk or buttermilk
1 c. chopped pecans
1 c. candied cherries, cut in quarter
2 c. dates, cut up
2 (4 oz.) cans candied fruits and peels (1 c.) Note: I just bought a container of cut up fruitcake fruit and called it a day. Do they even make cans anymore?
Red or green candied cherries for top (optional)

Sift together flour, soda and salt
Cream shortening; add sugar and eggs; beat until light and fluffy.
Add sour milk and flour; then fold in nuts, cherries, dates and candied fruit.
Chill the dough.
Drop teaspoonfuls about 2” apart, on lightly greased baking sheet. Top each with a cherry half if desired.
Bake in a moderate oven (375) 8 to 10 minutes. Makes 8 dozen.

Note: these were slightly on the sweet side although they probably always were and I had just forgotten!

By the way, I just have to put in a plug for one of my favorite organizations, Arc Greater Twin Cities. Arc runs four Value Village Thrift Stores in the Twin Cities metropolitan area and every year starting in November, features a Merry Thriftmas boutique. This year I scored 3 holiday tablecloths, 11 holiday platters, 9 holiday party bowls and assorted table decorations all for about $50. To be fair, as a member of Arc Greater Twin Cities, I do get a 20% discount, but folks, probably the most expensive thing I bought came to $3.95. Most platters and bowls ranged from $.99 to $2.99. Can you say bargain?! To add to the fun, I bought a beautiful top in red silk and black velvet for...are you ready...$7.95. So if you live in the area and are looking for holiday items for your own holiday party,run, do not walk, to your nearest VV Store! Store locations and hours can be found at: