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. Hear our conversation HERE.

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. Hear it HERE

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.

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.

 

Italian Sausage & Lentil Soup

After a full day working on the podcast recently, I looked up and saw it was 5:00, and I hadn’t done the first thing to get dinner on. All day I had in the back of my mind I would grill salmon, so I knew I should get a couple of filets out of the freezer to thaw. But I never even got that far. And in the meantime, the weather turned breezy and rainy, so grilling was not an attractive option.

My husband and I were hosting a gathering of about dozen people the following night and my plan was to bake homemade pizzas for that group. I had a pound of Italian sausage in the refrigerator, a portion of which I would use for pizza. So why not kill two birds with one stone and cook the entire pound, reserve some for pizza night, and use the rest in…something….for dinner this night. But what would that something be?

Since the weather outside had turned from grill-friendly to chilly-damp, I thought soup would be just the thing. The first soup of the fall! With Italian sausage as the base, I began thinking of what else I needed to make soup. Onions, celery, and carrots, of course. I had plenty of onions on hand, and just enough of the other two. There was half a carton of beef broth in the fridge that I needed to either use or freeze, so I grabbed that. Canned diced tomatoes–check. And something to bulk up the soup and make it more substantial and filling. I remembered the half pound of dry lentils in the cupboard and thought that would do the trick and not take too long to cook.

You can hear the rest on the Indiana Home Cooks Podcast BONUS track, and see the recipe, and step-by-step pictures, below.

The idea is, this is soup, and soup can be a template for whatever meat, vegetables, beans/pasta/noodles, broth, and seasonings you like. If you don’t have Italian sausage on hand, but there’s a pound of ground beef in your freezer, use that, and bump up the seasonings. The great thing about Italian sausage it is highly seasoned and makes for a nice shortcut in soup. Ground beef or chicken as a base will require more imagination on seasonings, but go with what you like. Experiment and taste as you go. You can always add more herbs and seasonings but you can’t take them out!

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Italian Sausage & Lentil Soup 

Makes 6 servings

 

  • 1/2 pound Italian sausage (sweet or hot)*
  • 2 cups diced vegetables (equal parts onion, celery, and carrots)
  • 1 14-oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1/2 pound dry lentils OR 2 cans of beans—kidney, cannellini, red, or black (If using canned beans, rinse and drain before adding to soup)
  • Broth (beef, chicken, or vegetable)
  • 1 tsp dried sage
  • Kosher salt & pepper to taste
  • Chopped fresh parsley for garnish

If sausage is in links, slice through the casings and remove sausage to crumble and brown (medium to med-low heat) in a large soup pot. Once browned, remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Leave fat rendered from sausage in the pot and return to med-low heat. Add the onions, celery, and carrots, stir and let them begin cooking. After about a minute, put the lid on the pot and allow vegetables to sweat about 5 minutes. Stir occasionally, scraping up any bits of meat from the bottom of the pan. The sweating process will help loosen the stuck-on bits. You can also add a bit of the broth at this point if you need more liquid to do the job. 

After vegetables have cooked about 5 minutes, add the tomatoes, lentils or canned beans, and the cooked sausage. Pour in enough broth to cover all ingredients by an inch or so. If you need to add water to bring up the level of liquid, that’s fine. Add the sage, stir gently, cover and cook on med-low until soup comes up to a simmer. Then reduce heat to low, TASTE, and add salt and pepper as desired. Allow to simmer about an hour. The lentils should cook through and even begin to break down a bit. Garnish with parsley and serve with crusty bread or corn bread. 

*NOTE: Most Italian sausage comes in links. If you want larger chunks of sausage in the soup, cook the links, intact, and then slice them before returning to pot. And if you prefer a meatier soup, then by all means, use up to 1 pound of sausage. 

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A potato masher helps crumble the sausage.
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Lots of flavor stuck in the pot after browning the meat.
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Equal portions of celery, carrots, onions.
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After sweating the veggies, the stuck on bits have loosened.
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A little broth and light scraping gets all that meat flavor into the soup.
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Everything else in the pot. Cover with broth and cook!

 

Home Cooks Improv

My husband and I recently attended a concert performed by the Brubeck Brothers Jazz Quartet. It was swingin’ and be-bopin’ for sure. And it happened to be during the week I was putting together the newest podcast episode with my friend and guest Stephanie Hainje. Listening back to the interview, conducted over wine, caprese salad, and a fresh loaf of my sourdough bread, I realized that our discussion had the free-wheeling feel of a improvisational jazz jam session.

Well…that might be overstating it a tad….But we had a blast sharing our summer cooking experiences, tips, and ideas. It was our farewell to summer, and hello to fall. Enjoy the show (just hit the play button above) and here’s one of the recipes Stephanie is cooking this fall–Roasted Red Pepper Soup. It comes from houseofyumm.com.

You can see more of what Stephanie is cooking on her Instagram page @destinysdishes.

And speaking of fall soups, and improvisation, I performed a kitchen improv tonight for dinner. Italian Sausage and Lentil Soup. I’ll have the details soon, and a BONUS TRACK of the podcast to talk you through the recipe. Stay tuned!