Celebrating Holiday Foods

My final podcast of the year is a conversation with my daughter, Christine Hack. She’s a young bride working on the balance of marriage, work, home, and everything else life throws our way. She has many personal interests and cooking and baking are among them. She often sends me pictures of her kitchen triumphs.

During the Christmas holiday season, Christine and I sat down to talk over some of our favorite holiday foods, traditions, and memories. We cover the gamut from the popularity of oyster dressing at Thanksgiving, to fruitcake (paying homage to Christine’s high school freshman English teacher, the late Shari Schap), to Christmas cookies, and the origin story of our family’s French Market Donuts.

Pour yourself a hot beverage, a glass of wine, or a “wee dram,” and join us at the kitchen table while we chat. I’m sharing recipes for French Market Donuts and Cranberry Noels for you to try over the holidays. Enjoy. And here’s to abundant holiday blessings and a happy new year to all. Cheers!

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French Market Donuts (Beignets)

Yields about 7 dozen small square donuts (Note: I make a half recipe to feed a family of four on Christmas morning.)

  • 1 cup hot water
  • 1/4 cup shortening
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup evaporated milk
  • 1 package active dry yeast, dissolved in 1/2 cup lukewarm water
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • About 7 cups all purpose flour

Put shortening in large mixing bowl and pour hot water over shortening. Add sugar, salt, and milk. Give it a gentle stir. When mixture becomes lukewarm, add the yeast dissolved in water, eggs, and 4 cups flour. Beat well with electric mixer. Add the remainder of flour, knead a few times just to get the dough cohesive and smooth. Put dough in a large bowl or plastic container (lightly oiled) and place in the refrigerator over night. 

When ready to fry, heat at least 4” of oil in a deep pot on the stove or deep fryer, to 350-375º. Have powdered sugar in a sifter or in a large zip-top bag standing by. Cut off chunks of dough and roll them out on a lightly floured surface. Roll thin (about 1/8”) and cut into squares. A pizza cutter works best. Carefully drop dough pieces into hot oil. They fry very quickly so watch them. When golden brown on both sides, remove to drain on paper towel lined baking sheet. When drained, put hot donuts on serving plate and sift a generous amount of powdered sugar over all. Or, put powdered sugar in a zip-top bag, drop in donuts and lightly shake to coat. Serve hot.

Note: When fried, this dough puffs up to make an airy, yet chewy donut. The dough will keep several days in the fridge, so you can have more than one morning of fresh hot donuts!

 

Cranberry Noels

Makes about 4 dozen

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 T milk
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp of orange zest
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup chopped toasted pecans*
  • 3/4 cup shredded coconut

Beat butter and sugar with electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add milk, vanilla, salt, and orange zest. Beat until just combined. Gradually add flour, cranberries, and pecans. Mix on low speed until fully combined. 

Divide dough in half. Shape each half into 8-inch logs, about 2 inches diameter. Roll each log in coconut and then wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, at least 2 hours. 

When ready to bake, pre-heat oven to 375º. Using a sharp straight knife (not serrated), cut cold logs into 1/4-inch thick slices. Place on baking sheet about 2 inches apart. Bake 10-12 minutes, or until edges are golden. Transfer cookies to rack to cool.

*Toasting brings out the nutty flavor of pecans. Toast them whole ahead of time on a baking sheet or pan, at 350º for 8-10 minutes. I put them in a cold oven and let them begin toasting as the oven heats up. Check after 8 minutes. They’ll darken just a bit and become fragrant. Don’t over-bake. Allow to cool then chop fine for this recipe. (Tip: toast a whole bag of pecan halves at once and you’ll have a ready supply for baking, salads, etc.)

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Cranberry Noels and Christmas Cut-out Sugar Cookies

Caramel Corn in a Paper Bag

In this BONUS TRACK of the Indiana Home Cooks podcast, my daughter, Christine, and I make a quick and easy sweet treat that will have everyone standing in the kitchen crunching and munching the moment it’s done. It’s my Caramel Corn cooked in a paper bag. Click the orange play button above to hear it.

My mom made this recipe many times when we were growing up. But I had not tried it in ages. When I ran across it in my recipe file a few years ago around Christmas time, I decided I would give it a try on Christmas Day. Something fun to do while celebrating the holiday.

I remembered the caramel corn tasting good when my mom made it, but I had forgotten how addictive it can be! It is very hard to stop eating it once you start. That’s why I hurry and package as much of it as I can to give as gifts. It’s perfect to pass out to neighbors, co-workers, or as stocking stuffers.

Give it a try while the kids are home on winter break. Or if you need a snack to take to a party. It will be time well spent. Very little time, at that.

Caramel Corn in a Paper Bag  

  • 8 quarts of popped popcorn (unseasoned)
  • 1 C. brown sugar
  • ½ C. butter
  • ¼ C. light corn syrup
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp. baking soda (measure and set aside)
  • One paper grocery bag 

Note:   All microwave cooking instructions are for HIGH POWER, 1100 watts.

Put popped popcorn in paper grocery bag and set aside.

Have 2-3 large baking pans ready to cool caramel corn.

Combine brown sugar, butter, corn syrup, and salt in a microwave-safe bowl.  (1 to 2 quart capacity)  Note:  caramel mixture will expand and bubble during cooking so make sure your cooking vessel is large enough. Set aside the baking soda. 

Microwave caramel ingredients together for 2 minutes.  Stir mixture, and then microwave for 2 more minutes.  Add baking soda and stir.  Mixture will become foamy.  

Pour caramel mixture over popcorn in paper bag.  Fold closed and shake bag to distribute caramel.  Keep bag closed at all times during cooking and shaking. Place bag in microwave oven. If your microwave does not have a turntable, pause a few times during cooking to move bag around.

  • Microwave for 1.5 minutes, then shake bag.  
  • Microwave for 1 minute, shake bag.
  • Microwave for 45 seconds, shake.
  • Microwave for 30 seconds, shake.

When done, open bag carefully away from your face. Pour caramel corn out onto cookie sheets to cool.  

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The first stir.
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After cooking the caramel, baking soda is added.
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The soda causes caramel to foam. It’s ready to pour over popcorn.
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It’s all in the bag. Shake to thoroughly mix.
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It’s a close fit in the microwave.
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This bag has done its duty.
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Ready to pour out and cool.

Small Business Friends

The Saturday after Thanksgiving has become known as “Small Business Saturday,” to remind consumers to shop at local small businesses during the holiday season. I have always liked the idea. Of course, it’s not limited to this one Saturday of the year! Anytime during the holiday season, and the rest of the year, our small local businesses are ready and waiting to provide personal and expert service to one and all.

On the Indiana Home Cooks podcast, I’ve had the pleasure and honor to meet a few of these entrepreneurs around the state. Those involved in food service, craft beer and wine making, retail, and other artisans, namely: Eddie Joe’s Icehouse in West Point, Richelle in a Handbasket in Lafayette, Goods for Cooks in Bloomington, Peoples Brewing Company and Thieme & Wagner Brewing in Lafayette, Honeysuckle Hill Bee-Stro in Brazil, Smittybread in Lafayette, Butler Winery in Bloomington.

Here are a few of those podcast episodes. Click the arrow to listen:

Find all the episodes of the Indiana Home Cooks podcast on iTunes/Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, or wherever you like to listen to podcasts. (Links are also to the right and at the top of this page.) Please subscribe on one of those apps so you don’t miss an episode. And when you subscribe, you can leave a rating or review of the show. I would love to hear what you think about what you hear!

Thank you for giving Indiana Home Cooks a listen, and I look forward to bringing you more stories of the people who cook, eat, and drink in the Hoosier State.

BONUS Track–Fluffy Yeast Rolls for Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you are well prepared for the holiday feast, whether you are  hosting the meal, bringing a dish to someone else’s home, traveling many miles to celebrate with family, or keeping it low key with a small group. I’m putting up a BONUS TRACK of the Indiana Home Cooks podcast with a cooking demo featuring my mom, Barbara Mercer. She and I teamed up last Thanksgiving and stirred together our family’s traditional Fluffy Yeast Rolls. Have a listen to find out just how easily the dough comes together–no kneading required! And the recipe is below. Happy baking, and here’s wishing you and yours abundant Thanksgiving blessings.

Stay in touch here on the website, or on Instagram and Facebook. Be sure to subscribe to the Indiana Home Cooks podcast at iTunes or Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or Spotify.

See more pictures and information on the Fluffy Yeast Roll recipe here.

Fluffy Yeast Rolls
From the kitchen of Barbara Mercer, from Margaret Balder
Makes 18 rolls

Dissolve 1 pkg. active dry yeast in 3 T. lukewarm water in a small bowl or measuring cup. While that is dissolving, whisk together the following ingredients in a large mixing bowl:

1/2 C. (one stick) unsalted butter or margarine, melted
1 tsp. salt
1 C. lukewarm water
1/4 C. sugar
2 eggs, room temperature

Add yeast mixture and whisk again. To this mixture, add 3 C. all-purpose flour. Mix with electric mixer until fairly smooth. Stir in 1 C. flour by hand. (Total of 4 cups of flour) Dough will be sticky. DO NOT KNEAD. Leave dough in bowl, cover with a plate or plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Three hours before baking:
Remove dough from refrigerator. It should’ve doubled overnight. Grease muffin pans for 18 rolls. Melt 1/4 C. butter.

Punch down dough and pull off pieces of dough roughly the size of large walnuts and shape into balls (2 dough balls for each roll). Dip each ball into melted butter before placing in pan. Cover rolls with tea towels and let rise until double. Bake in preheated 450 degree oven for 5-10 minutes, until golden brown.* After baking, while still hot and in the pans, brush tops with more melted butter. Serve warm.

*If using dark baking pans, reduce oven temp to 425 degrees.

 

Eddie Joe’s Icehouse

If your idea of barbecue is some form of shredded pork swimming in a thick syrupy sauce ladled onto a bun, then I’d like to suggest you make your way to West Point, Indiana. That’s the home of Eddie Joe’s Icehouse, where barbecue means SMOKING MEAT–beef brisket, pork butt, ribs, chicken, sausage, etc.  On the latest episode of the Indiana Home Cooks Podcast, I visit Eddie Joe’s and talk to owner Lee Stanish about barbecue–from his early days with his first smoker, which he built from scratch, to how he grew that hobby into a thriving business. Click the “play” button above to hear it.

Learn more about Eddie Joe’s Icehouse here.

Enjoy this little departure from all the Thanksgiving talk on all the food channels, websites, and podcasts. With Thanksgiving in mind however, I took a cue from Lee and made my first attempt at smoking a whole turkey breast on my Big Green Egg smoker. It turned out quite well. My second turkey smoke with be this weekend in preparation of the big day on November 22. I heard someone say “Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes better.” I’m always trying to get better at smoking meat, and building my relationship with the Big Green Egg. We are still in the “dating” phase, as Lee explains in the podcast.

I’ll post my progress on Instagram @indianahomecooks, so keep an eye on that. Please follow me there and on Facebook. I would love to hear from you. Happy Thanksgiving!

Note: If you have signed up to receive my blog posts in your email inbox (thanks for doing that), you may not get a version that includes the handy “play” button allowing you listen to the podcast. That is unfortunate, but not difficult to remedy. Simply click the title of the blog article you are reading in your inbox and you will go straight to the blog and have easy access to listen to the podcast. And keep in mind, you can always subscribe to the Indiana Home Cooks podcast on iTunes, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, or wherever you like to listen to podcasts. That goes for everyone–not just email subscribers! Thanks and cheers!!

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Lee Stanish at the Eddie Joe’s bar.
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The smoker, where the magic happens.
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The woodpile.
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Eddie Joe’s Icehouse, downtown West Point, IN.

Chex Mix–My way

Is there an American anywhere not familiar with Chex “Party Mix?” It is arguably the highest and best use of Chex cereal. And for me, Chex Mix is the ultimate comfort snack. I grew up eating the stuff. My mom made it not only for parties and family get-togethers, but sometimes just for fun because we loved it. I learned early on that she did not follow the recipe exactly, and adjusted the ingredients to her liking–extra Worcestershire sauce, trading out some of the seasoned salt for celery salt, no Wheat Chex, etc.

When I started making it for my family, I had already altered the traditional recipe considerably, and it’s continued to evolve over the years.  Can you really improve on a classic? I’ll bet most of us who make Chex Mix change it up to suit our own preferences, and for me, that starts with the Wheat Chex. I would rather eat Wheat Chex straight out of the box than in my party mix. Some might argue Wheat Chex taste like the box, but I wouldn’t go that far. They just don’t belong in my mix. Leave them out and increase the Corn and Rice Chex, to 9 cups total.

Mixed nuts? Does anyone really eat all the nuts in that weird assortment? I never have, and therefore they do not make the cut for my party mix. Nix the mixed nuts, and go for PEANUTS ONLY. And not a cup, like the original recipe. Just put in half the can. That might be about a cup anyway, and it’s about the right amount of peanuts only!

Then we come to pretzels. Everybody loves pretzels. A sorry one cup of pretzels I will not abide. Half a bag does the trick for me. And that’s it for the components of Chex Party Mix. No bagel chips, Cheez-It crackers, Cheerios or other add-ins. Just Rice & Corn Chex, peanuts, and pretzels.

The seasonings of course need tweaking. The original recipe in my file calls for six tablespoons of butter. Six tablespoons. It’s much easier and more streamlined to use one stick of butter. That’s eight tablespoons. Big deal.

The original two tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce are doubled in my version. And it’s a sloppy four tablespoons at that. Probably closer to five. The remaining seasonings, you can see for yourself here:

These seasonings reflect my personal taste preferences and go above and beyond the original (ho hum) seasoned salt, garlic powder, and onion powder. If you would like hold fast to the original, it’s printed on every box of Chex cereal on the grocery store shelf. It’s also here.
So if you’ve never made Chex Party Mix, here’s how it goes:
In a large baking pan (I use a roasting pan), melt the butter and stir in the w’shire sauce and all remaining seasonings. Stir the Chex cereal, peanuts, and pretzels into the seasoning mixture to coat everything. Put in a 250 degree oven, for one hour. Every 15 minutes, give the mix a stir. Otherwise it will brown on the bottom. You don’t want a lot of browning, but rather a nice even toasting of everything. When done, let it cool and enjoy. If you can wait that long.
No matter how you make your Chex Party Mix, I’m sure we can all agree that once you starting eating it, it’s hard to stop.