Feels strange. Maybe if I keep writing it and saying it, I'll mean it come Sunday.
Cheering for the Pack is tough, because I'm a life-long Bears fan. But I'm getting on board to cheer for the favorite team of my Mom and my Grandma Host. I sure do hope they get the game in heaven for Grandma.
We'll be heading to our friends' house for the game and everyone will bring a dish to pass. In the honor of the Packers, I'll take one of my husband's favorite appetizers, Sausage Cheese Balls. They have meat in the form of sausage, for when the Packers were called the Meat Packers. And they have cheese to honor the Packers cheesehead tradition. And meaty cheesy things are what I consider guy food.
Go Packers! (I'll get there by Sunday...)
Sausage Cheese Balls
1 pound sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded
1 pound bulk sausage (my husband likes Bob Evans original), uncooked
3 cups dry biscuit baking mix (aka Bisquick)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
In a large saucepan, heat together sausage and shredded cheese. Stir together with wooden spoon until cheese has melted.
Stir in biscuit mix until smooth. (You'll need to put some muscle into it.)
Chill for about 30 minutes (so you don't burn your hands when you're forming the balls).
Shape into small balls about the size of a quarter. Place on ungreased baking sheets.
Bake at 400 degrees for 8-10 minutes. Place on paper towels to drain. Serve warm. Makes about 4 dozen.
These freeze very well, so you can make them in advance. Just bake them up, let them cool and pop them into a freezer bag and freeze. When you're ready to use them, you can take them out of the freezer, plop them on a cookie sheet, and bake them until they are hot.
Whenever I cook a ham, I'm left with odds and ends that don't add up to much, but I don't want to waste. That's when I make these yummy open-faced sandwiches. I eyeball the ingredient measurements and use what I have on hand -- odds and ends of cheese, various mustards, sometimes something onion-y, sometimes not. Just be sure to use a sturdy, flavorful bread. I especially like this with Dakota bread from Great Harvest Bread Company (which we Rochesterians knew originally as Montana Mills).
I got the recipe from my mother-in-law, who lives in the Buffalo area. I thought the name -- Open-Faced Chicago Sandwiches -- was funny, because I'm originally from the Chicago area and never had anything like them there. But since that's the way it came to me, I'll use it here.
Open-Faced Chicago Ham Sandwiches
1 cup Cheddar cheese, divided (I've also used half Swiss and half Cheddar)
1/4 cup finely chopped green pepper (I often use more)
chopped scallions, to taste (optional)
1 cup chopped ham
2 teaspoons prepared mustard (I like Dijon but ballpark yellow works too)
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
5-6 slices rye bread (also great on Montana Mills Dakota Bread)
Mix together 1/2 cup cheese, green pepper, scallions (if using) and ham. Add mustard, Worcestershire, and just enough mayo to lightly coat the mixture. Spread on rye (or Dakota) bread and top with remaining cheese. Place under the broiler (or in the toaster oven on "broil") until the cheese melts, about 4-5 minutes. Makes 6 or so open-faced sandwiches.
With the varied palates in our household, I've given up on the notion of making everyone happy at every meal. When we entertain other families, though, I like the meal to please our guests as well as my family, so that everyone can have an enjoyable evening. One of my tricks to accomplish this is to serve a relatively basic dish that is served with several condiments. That way, everyone can make it to their liking. This recipe, which I got from my Mom, fits the bill. It's the familiar ingredients you'd find in Americanized tacos, but layered in a lasagna-style casserole and served with various condiments.
The last time I served it, everyone -- parents and kids alike -- cleaned their plate. (Which, by the way, is the reason for the lousy quality of this picture -- I only had time to get off a shot or two, and didn't bother gussying up the plate.) I made the casserole, popped it in the oven as my guests arrived, and I was able to enjoy my guests instead of fussing in the kitchen. It was a fun evening for everyone -- even the cook! Mission accomplished.
Mom's Layered Mexican Casserole
2 pounds ground beef (or 1 pound ground turkey and one pound ground beef)
1 1/2 16-ounce jars medium-hot taco sauce (or to your taste)
16 ounces sour cream
8 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, sliced or shredded
8 ounces Mozzarella cheese, sliced or shredded
1 package flour tortillas, cut into eight triangles
Condiments: I usually use salsa, chopped tomatoes, guacamole, crushed tortilla chips and green onions, but you could use other Mexican-type ingredients like cilantro, pico de gallo, jalapenos, black olives, jicama, etc.
Brown meat and drain. Add taco sauce and simmer 10 minutes.
In a 13" by 9" pan, layer half of the tortillas, half of the meat mixture, half of the sour cream and half of the cheese. Repeat.
Bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes. Serve with condiments.
Casserole can be made ahead and reheated. It also freezes well.
Every so often I have a hankering for a fried egg, over easy with a runny yolk. That's why this recipe, which I spotted in a Serious Eats newsletter awhile back, caught my eye. Not only did it look delicious, it was also a cheap supper. (I can't be the only one recovering financially from Christmas.)
I haven't made crepes often, but these were easy. They only thing I'd change to the recipe is to add a pinch of sugar to enhance the flavor of the corn. I might also like some diced ham added to the mushrooms if there was any in the fridge.
My version of the recipe is below. I'd encourage you to read the original Serious Eats post, though. It has a good story, plus the photos are better than mine. When you're about to eat a perfectly cooked fried egg, there's time for just one shot before you dig in.
Cornmeal Crepe, Mushroom Ragout and Fried Egg
Serious Eats, which adapted from Gourmet
Be sure to plan a bit ahead -- the batter needs to rest for 30 minutes. The batter makes 10 to 12 crêpes, which is more than you'll need, but you'll have some wiggle room if the first few don't turn out right. Extra crepes can be refrigerated for a couple days or frozen for about three months. Thaw in the fridge overnight before using.
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup yellow cornmeal
(A pinch of sugar, if desired)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups milk (I used 1% because that's what was in the fridge, and it worked fine.)
3 large eggs
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Vegetable oil or melted butter for greasing skillet
1. Blend flour, cornmeal, sugar (if using), salt, milk, eggs, and melted butter in blender until smooth. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. (You can make the mushroom ragout while you're waiting.) Consistency should be that of whipping cream; if needed, thin with a little bit of cold water.
2. Lightly brush a 10-inch skillet with melted butter or vegetable oil, and heat over medium heat until hot but not smoking.
3. Hold the skillet off the heat and ladle about 1/3 cup of batter onto the pan, swirling to coat. Return skillet to flame and cook until crêpe is set and turning golden around the edges. Loosen sides with rubber spatula and carefully flip over. (I'm not a good flipper so I usually did that with my fingers - ouch! You also can slide the crepe onto a dinner plate, invert the pan over the plate, then flip so that the pan is on the bottom and the plate is on the top.) Cook until underside is set, about 20 seconds more.
4. Repeat with remaining batter, re-oiling the skillet between crepes. Stack crêpes on plate as they are finished.
Fills 4-6 crêpes
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon butter
2 shallots, minced
1 1/2 pounds mixed mushrooms, trimmed if necessary, thinly sliced (I used inexpensive button and Baby Bella mushrooms, but the recipe would be even better with more exotic mushrooms.)
1 tablespoon tomato paste (I keep a tube from Williams Sonoma in the fridge for this kind of thing.)
1/3 cup sour cream
Freshly ground black pepper
1. In a large, heavy skillet, heat the oil and butter over medium-high heat until butter is melted, and pan is hot but not smoking. Sweat the shallots in oil and butter until translucent. Add mushrooms and large pinch of salt, and sauté, stirring occasionally, until the liquid that the mushrooms give off has evaporated, 6-8 minutes.
2. Add tomato paste and stir to coat mushrooms. Cook for 1 minute.
3. Reduce heat to low, add sour cream and cook until warmed through. Salt and pepper to taste.
Putting it all together:
Allow two crêpes per person, and one egg per crêpe.
1. Fry the eggs sunny-side up or over-easy. (I used just a smidge of butter in the pan, and salt & peppered the eggs.)
2. While the eggs are frying, spoon desired quantity of warm mushroom ragoût just below the center of each crepe, leaving a one-inch border on each side.
3. Top with fried egg. Fold in sides of crêpe over filling, then fold top and bottom to enclose filling. (This wasn't my strength ... but don't worry, even if they aren't perfect, they will still taste good!)
4. Serve crêpe fold sides down. Top with sour cream or chopped fresh herbs, if you want to be fancy about it -- I left them plain for our weeknight meal.
Whenever I'd visit my Grandma in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, she'd quickly put out "nibbles" for us to snack on. Often it was crackers and Merkts Cheese Spread, which was yummy (to our family's delight, it's now being sold in Rochester at Tops Friendly Markets). But even better was her party mix. And, like so many other things she made, her mix was better than anyone else's. I often got my Mom's evil eye for eating more mix from the bowl than was polite.
When I was making my goodies for Christmas, I thought I'd make a batch or two of her mix, but a search through her old recipe box turned up only The Original Chex Party Mix. That's good stuff, but Grandma's always had a square of something that tasted the best. Luckily, my cousin Erin immediately knew the secret ingredient: Quaker Oatmeal Squares in the blue box. In fact, Erin said Grandma used to make her batches of just Oatmeal Squares and the coating. Sure enough, Erin was right on the money. They add a slightly sweet flavor and a great texture to the mix.
For the rest of the ingredients, Erin and I had different recollections. I remembered Cheerios and she didn't. I also remembered things like cheese Goldfish and sesame sticks. We concluded that Grandma, being frugal to the core, probably used up things she had in the cupboard. So with her in mind, I'm calling her party mix...
Grandma's Extra-Special, Use-Up-The-Box Party Mix
3 cups Quaker Oatmeal Squares
4 cups Chex® cereal, preferably 2-3 flavors (wheat, rice, corn)
2 cups of whatever other sturdy cereal is in the cupboard (Cheerios, Crispix, mini Shredded Wheat, or more Chex)
1 cup assorted nuts (I prefer peanuts and cashews, but dump in whatever package is open. If there's an allergy, just add another cup of salty snacks.)
2 cups bite-size salty snacks (This could include bagel chips, pretzels, sesame sticks, Goldfish crackers. It's nice to include some cheesy crackers for flavor and color.)
6 tablespoons butter or margarine
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons seasoned salt
3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
Heat oven to 250°F. In ungreased large roasting pan, melt butter in oven. Stir in seasonings. Dump in the crunchy stuff and stir it until it's evenly coated. Bake 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Spread on paper towels to cool, about 15 minutes. Store in airtight container.
I've never bought into the idea of eating lucky foods on New Year's Day, but this year I can use all the help I can get. That's because my older son turns 16 in a few days. He's in no rush to get his learner's permit -- he may be intimidated by upstate New York's snowy winter roads -- but he'll be behind the wheel sometime in 2011. I remember what I was like as a 16-year-old driver. All I can say is, yikes.
So which lucky dish to eat? Hmmm ... my in-laws eat canned herring on New Year's Day, but that doesn't appeal to me. I've heard about cabbage being lucky, but I only like it in coleslaw and I had that a couple of days ago. I settled on black-eyed peas, because they were in a yummy appetizer I ate at picnics last summer. It was a mosaic of colorful veggies in a marinade that reminded me of my favorite bean salad, and was served with scoop-type chips. I was told it was Texas Caviar ... or maybe it was Cowboy Caviar.
Unfortunately I never got the recipe last summer. Online searches turned up spicy concoctions and I wanted something sweeter, with just a bit of heat. So here's the version I put together. I'm calling it Sweet Black-Eyed Pea and Corn Caviar because because Texans would probably disavow this sweet version, and it's certainly unlucky to tick off a Texan. If you would prefer a more authentic Texas version, I suggest you try this one, from native Texan and fellow contest cook, Barbara Hahn.
Sweet Black-Eyed Pea and Corn Caviar
This dip is great for parties as it can sit out for several hours without refrigeration.
1 cup sugar (or to taste - I may reduce next time)
1/4 cup salad oil
3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
Salt & Pepper, to taste
A few green onions, finely chopped (red onion would be good, too)
1 medium pepper, finely chopped (I used an orange one this time)
1 (15 ounce) can black-eyed peas, drained rinsed
1 (15 ounce) can pinto beans, drained and rinsed (or use a second can of black-eyed peas)
2 (15 ounce) cans bread & butter corn, drained
1 (15 ounce) can petite diced tomatoes, well drained
2 rings of jalapenos, from a jar of jalapeno rings, or more to taste
1 bag Baked Tostitos Scoops (or another scoop-type corn chip)
Mix together the vinaigrette ingredients. Stir until the sugar is mostly dissolved.
Mix together the veggies. Gently stir in the vinaigrette and and let marinade 2 or more hours. (Overnight is best.)
To serve, it looks nicest to use a slotted spoon to take the veggies out of the marinade and into a nice serving bowl.
Serve with chips.