For a few years, three friends and I regularly attended cooking classes held at The Seasonal Kitchen. Dick and Ginger Howell gave -- and still give -- cooking classes in their inviting kitchen in Pittsford. Dick and Ginger are informative yet comedic, their recipes delicious yet approachable. Alas, the schedule demands of school-age kids brought our time at the Seasonal Kitchen to a halt, but I'm glad to see that Dick and Ginger are still going strong.
All of still use their recipes in regular rotation, and this one is a favorite. (The picture doesn't do it justice but I'm not about to delay dinner for a photo shoot.) It's a yummy way to use up leftover chicken or turkey, and is nice enough to serve to company. My friend, Marie, assembles the whole thing ahead of time and pops it into the oven for company. I'm afraid of mushy noodles, so I get all the components ready (cut-up chicken, cooked noodles, sauteed mushrooms) ahead of time, and then I make the sauce and assemble it all right before it goes in the oven.
1. The dry noodles will not look like enough when you measure it out (see the colander to the right), but it does work out just right. When you increase the noodles, you lose the creaminess of the sauce and throw the ratio off.
2. Be sure to undercook the noodles by a couple of minutes because they will continue to cook while baking.
Chicken (or Turkey) Mushroom Noodle Gratin
1 stick butter (3 Tablespoons for the mushrooms/3 for the sauce/2 on top)
1/2 lb. fresh mushrooms thinly sliced
4 Tablespoons flour
2 cups chicken stock (or poaching liquid from the chicken)
1 c. heavy cream
salt, white pepper to taste
1 T. rice vinegar or cider vinegar -- or use Madeira wine
3 c. chicken or turkey which has been poached in chicken stock and seasoned with salt and pepper (OR leftover cooked chicken or turkey), and torn into 2 x 1 inch pieces
1/4 lb. wide egg noodles cooked 2 minutes less than directions for al dente and drained (do not increase amount of noodles - even if it looks skimpy)
1/4 c. freshly grated parmesan
2 T. fresh bread crumbs
Melt 3 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring constantly, until they have absorbed the butter and wilted, but not browned. Remove them, juice and all, to a small bowl.
Melt 3 more tablespoons butter in the same pan and add the flour, stirring constantly for several minutes, until thoroughly amalgamated. Do not brown. Gradually add the chicken stock and cream, stirring constantly with a whisk. Cook until smooth and thick about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and vinegar.
Bail out 1 cup of sauce and add it to 2 tablespoons of the parmesan cheese. Add this mixture to the cooked, drained noodles.
Fold the chicken and mushrooms into the remaining sauce.
Butter a 1 1/2 or 2 quart casserole and place half of the noodles on the bottom. Cover with half of the chicken mixture, then spread with the rest of the chicken mixture on top and sprinkle with the remaining parmesan cheese, mixed with the bread crumbs. Dot with bits of the remaining butter.
Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 40-50 minutes. (It will be a bit soupy but will thicken as it sets.)
My secret was to simplify. I did not buy a single Christmas magazine; I do not need more ideas to complicate the season. I did not put out all of my Christmas decorations.
I made major changes to my baking. So that I wouldn't be tempted to eat treats throughout December, I did not bake cookies until December 22. On that day, my husband, sons, and I baked cookies together, which I hope is a start of a tradition. They each picked a favorite cookie, and I picked a couple of sentimental favorites. The final result: five batches of cookies, pictured above.
I have to credit my mother-in-law for the concept. She decided to cut back to three varieties years ago, and asked each family member to pick a favorite, and those are what she's baked ever since.
At some point, my younger son asked, "don't you usually make more kinds of cookies?"
"Yep," I replied, "are there any you miss?"
He paused to think for a minute. Finally he replied, "nope."
So here's what we made. From the top going clockwise, we made my friend Marie's Cut-Out Cookies (recipe below), molasses cookies (recipe below), peanut butter blossoms, Scotcheroos, and my Grandma's oatmeal raspberry bars.
I'm sure I'll want to bake different varieties in future years, but I will no longer feel pressured to do so. I now realize that for me to enjoy Christmas -- and to enable others do so -- I need to look out for my own sanity and well being first.
Marie's Cut-Out Cookies
This makes a relatively soft, thick cookie. It's a large batch -- according to Marie, it yields 4-5 dozen cookies.
4 cups flour
1 cup softened butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
2 beaten eggs
1/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon baking soda
Cut softened butter into flour, pastry style. Add salt. (Marie does this in the bowl of her stand mixer and uses the stand mixer for the rest of the additions to the flour mixture.)
In a separate bowl, combine eggs and sugar. Beat well.
In a third bowl, combine milk, vanilla and soda.
Add egg mixture and milk mixture alternately to flour mixture. Mix well.
Roll out to 1/4" (thicker than most cut-outs). Cut into desired shapes and place on lightly greased cookie sheets. Bake at 400 degrees for 8-10 minutes (check after 7 minutes. The bottoms should be a very light golden brown. When cool, frost with frosting below.
1/2 stick softened butter
1 lb confectioners sugar
Lemon or orange flavoring
Beat butter and sugar with enough milk to create a spreadable, but not drippy frosting. Blend in a few drops of flavoring.
Marie's nutrition calculations for 1 cookie: 162 calories; 2.6 grams fat; 52.4 grams sodium, 32.3 grams carbohydrates, 0 grams fiber, 2.6 grams protein. 4 Weight Watchers Points Plus.
Kristen's Molasses Cookies
1 1/2 cups oil
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup molasses
1 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cloves
2 teaspoons cinnamon
4 cups flour
Combine oil, sugar, molasses and eggs in one bowl. Combine the rest of the ingredients in another bowl. Then mix together both mixtures -- I find this works best in my 6-quart Kitchenaid mixer. Chill at least 1 hour.
Form into balls -- I used the smallest Pampered Chef cookie scoop, then roll in granulated sugar. Place on greased cookie sheets.
Bake at 350 for 8-9 minutes -- don't let get too brown. THIS IS IMPORTANT: remove immediately and cool on your counter (not cooling rack). Once cool, store in airtight containers.