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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Good luck for the New Year

As a child, growing up in the North, I don't remember any traditional New Year's foods, though I do remember my parents ate oyster stew on New Year's Eve and I hated it. Doesn't sound good to me today, though I love oysters. But now that I'm sort of a southerner, I've run into the ham and black-eyed peas tradition./
A variety of reasons are suggested for why we eat ham for good luck, ranging from it fits with the menu of cornbread and black-eyed peas to the Oriental belief that pigs are smart and therefore signify succeess in business. The most common origin of this tradition seems to be that pigs are rotund (success) and they root with their noses, so they are always moving forward. Eat pig in some variety for the New Year and  you'll move forward. Black-eyed peas signify coins, so if you want wealth in the coming year, you have to eat a whole lot of peas. Greens indicate the green of money and are also supposed to bring wealth.
When I first discovered this tradition, I hadn't yet learned to like black-eyed peas, so I made Hoppin' John, that stew of diced ham, onions, celery, black-eyed peas, and rice. We called it Hoppin Uncle John in honor of a favorite uncle. But these days I just serve peas, and since I love a good ham, I fix that. So my menu for Tuesday night is ham, black-eyed peas, cheese grits (instead of cornbread), and a spinach casserole. My daughter wants chilis in the grits but I said no because I want her son to eat them. An appetizer of cream cheese with two toppings--pesto on one small block and jalopeno jelly on the other. And for my son-in-law, who will be mightily disappointed that I'm serving spinach, I'll offer an appetizer of sliced radishes on cream cheese covered pumpernickel. He loves radishes--and surely somewhere there must be something about them bringing luck.
I'm on a new campaign to make my local grandson a less picky eater. I will tell him if he doesnt like something, please do not announce it at the table. He really doesn't like meat, and I figure he should respect that, but I figure he'll eat grits nd peas. His distaste for meat distresses his father who is strictly a meat and potatoes person. I've forbidden my daughter to hop up and get him chicken nuggets--do you know how bad those things are for him? Plus that's rude, and that sturdy child is not going to waste away. I will ask both my daughter and son-in-law to take a small serving of spinach, taste it at least once, and if they don't like it, do not mention it. I'm tired of picky eating being a conversation topic at the dinner table. My son-in-law is vegetable-challenged, and seems to think it's sort of a cute trademark. No more.
So where's my recipe for this column? Totally unrelated, here's a dip that confirmed sauerkraut haters, including said son-in-law, love:

Reuben dip

4 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup Thousand Island dressing
1/3 lb. sliced deli corned beef, chopped
3/4 cup sauerkraut, well drained
8 oz. Swiss cheese, copped

Mix cream cheese and dressing, then stir in other ingredients. Spead in a 9-inch pie pan and bake until heated through. Stir gently.
Serve with rye crackers or cocktail rye bread.

Happy 2013 everyone!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Gougere with Ham and Mushsrooms

A Facebook friend posted recently about having gougere for the first time--someone brought cheese-filled gougere puffs to a party She had never heard of it or tasted it but was enchanted and determined to try. Gougere is actually the French pate a choux and can be used lots of ways, not just for cheese-filled puffs (the puffs are also good just on their own--kind of like a popover).
The post reminded me that I used to fix a gougere ring filled with ham and mushrooms. It's perfect this time of year when many of us serve ham for Christmas or New Year's dinner and have leftovers to deal with.
So, Laurie Moore, here's another gougere suggestions for you.

Gougere with ham and mushrooms

Bake at 400 for 40 minutes

Six servings

 For the paté à choux:
 1 c. sifted all purpose flour
Pinch each of salt and pepper
1 cup water
½ cup butter, (one stick), cut up
4 eggs
1/8 lb. sharp cheddar cheese, diced or grated

4 Tbsp. butter
2 medium onions chopped, about 1 cup
½ lb. mushrooms sliced
1-1/2 Tbsp. flour
1 tsp. salt
¼ tsp. pepper
1 envelope or tsp. instant chicken broth
1 cup hot water
(This is an old recipe I’ve had for years—now days I’d substitute 1 c. good chicken broth for the water and inst. broth)
2 large tomatoes, peeled, quarter, and seeded (about 2 cups)
6 oz. cooked ham, cut into thin strips (1-1/2 cups)
2 Tbsp. sharp cheddar
2 Tbsp. chopped parsley

To make the paté à choux:
Sift the flour, salt and pepper onto a  sheet of wax paper. Heat the water and butter in a large saucepan until the butter melts. Turn up the heat and bring to boiling. Add the flour mixture all at once and stir vigorously until the mixture forms a ball in the center of the pan—this will take about a minute.
Allow the mixture to cool for at least five minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating very well after each addition. (This beating is important if you want your gougere to puff). Stir in the diced cheese.

To make the filling: Melt the butter in a large skillet; sauté onion until soft but not browned. Add the mushrooms and cook for two minutes. Sprinkle with flour, salt and pepper; mix and cook an additional two minutes.  Add the chicken broth and simmer about five minutes.
Remove from heat. Cut tomato quarters into strips and add with ham. Taste and add additional seasoning as you wish.

Butter a 10” or 11” skillet, pie pan, etc. Spoon paté à choux around outside edge, leaving center for the filling.  Sprinkle all over with cheddar. Bake until gougere is puffed and brown and filling is bubbling. Sprinkle with parsley, and serve, cut into wedges.


Sunday, December 16, 2012

MY annual no-tree tree-trimming party

I've been doing this party every year for longer than I care to remember. We used to have a tree, of course, and I put out the ornaments on a table--miraculously by the end of the evening the tree was decorated. These days I decorate the house but don't have a tree. It's always a casual party--plastic cups and plates, no utensils needed. Blue jeans welcomed and encouraged.
But one of the joys of the holidays for me is cooking for family and friends. This year, the party was small--just a few friends. But I always do the cooking myself, which means I began baking in November and loaded the freezer--with way too many desserts and the cheeseball I've had every year most of my life--a family recipe passed down. This weekend I made spreads and loaded the refrigerator. These days I have a method--make one spread, clean up the dishes, and sit at my desk for a few minutes; repeat until finished. Otherwise my low back begins to hurt. But today I was sort of lazy and only had to unload the fridge about an hour before the party. Here's my menu:

liver pate - a wonderful recipe from an old friend; most non-liver eaters like it, though a few declined after one bite
cheeseball and crackers
an artichoke/cream cheese spread topped with caviar
a curry chutney pate
cream cheese with jalopeno jelly, served with gingersnaps
hummus with vegetables

cranberry/chocolate chip/pecan cookies
chocolate pecan bars
peanut butter cookies
gluten-free cupcakes (they were a hit, though most didn't care about the gluten free aspect)

And oops: I just realized I had a loaf of banana chocolate bread in the freezer that I forgot to serve! No matter, as over half the desserts are back in the freezer. Good thing I didn't make the Oreo truffles I meant to--but now I have an unopened package of Oreos in the cupboard. I should be set for after-school snacks for the rest of the school year.


½ lb. Roquefort
1 pkg. Old English cheese (no longer available—I use an 8 oz. pkg of Velveeta)
l eight-ounce pkg. cream cheese
½ lb. pecans, chopped fine
1 bunch parsley, chopped fine
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 small onion, chopped fine      
½ tsp. horseradish

Let the cheese soften to room temperature and mix thoroughly. Add Worcestershire, onion, horseradish and half of the parsley and pecans. Mix thoroughly and shape into a ball. Do NOT do this in the food processor, as it will become too runny. Even a mixer makes it too smooth and creamy—wash your hands thoroughly and dig in, so the finished cheese ball has some texture and credibility. Roll the ball in the remaining parsley and pecans. Chill. Serve with crackers.
And here's the liver pate. I think I've posted it before but this has slight changes:
1 lb. chicken livers
2 Tbsp. chopped green onkions
2 Tbsp. butter
1/3 c. Madeira
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. allspice
1/8 tsp. pepper
pinch thyme
1/4 c. whipping cream
1/4 c. melted butter
Saute livers and green onions in 2 Tbsp. butter until the livers are cooked through and no longer pink.
Put the mixture in a food processor and puree. Add Madeira to the skillet and cook down to 3 Tbsp. Add to livers along with herbs, spices and cream. With the processor running, slowly add the melted butter. Pour into container and refrigerate overnight.
Confession: I forgot to reduce the Madeira; I also forgot to buy whipping cream, so I used sour cream. The mixture was very liquid but hardened nicely in the fridge. I am great "make-do" cook! It was good anyway.


Sunday, December 9, 2012

Latkes Made with Love

Years ago, when my children were little and I was married to their father, a Jewish man, we always had latkes at Hanukah. They were good if you got one straight out of the frying pan; but warmed in the oven, they were greasy and not crisp. For some reason unknown to me, we served egg salad and tuna salad with them, and a friend I’d gone to graduate school with always brought his family, including his father-in-law who kept a roll of one-dollar bills in his pocket and peeled them off for the speechless children. The men always cooked the latkes--a distinct departure from traditions. But those were good times.

When I saw a picture Janie Emaus’ family’s latkes on Facebook and saw how crisp they are, I knew I had to ask her how they do it. Here’s her description of the process, some specific hints for making latkes, and the love that goes into this tradition. And note--the women do the cooking.
I love family traditions. And none holds a more special place in my heart than the day the women in our family gather together to make potato latkes for our Hanukah dinner. In fact, this day of cooking is often more fun than the dinner itself. The best part being we get to eat the latkes hot off the skillet. Not that they aren’t tasty the night of our celebration, after being heated up in the oven, but there is nothing like a hot, crispy latke to warm your soul.

For those of who you don’t know, Hanukah is known as the celebration of lights.  Upon the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem, the Jewish people found enough oil to burn for only one day.  Miraculously, the oil burned for eight days. Thus, along with lighting the Menorah for eight nights, we eat foods fried in oil.
Janie's mom and daughter
Making latkes is serious business

I find it a miracle that four generations of women in my family were together in one kitchen. As the matriarch of the family, my eighty-seven-year old mom set the tone. It was no-nonsense with her.  Get started.  Keep focused.  Get it done. As her daughter, I obliged and began peeling potatoes.

When my daughter arrived, the tone shifted slightly. To say that she is a clone of my mother would be an understatement. She definitely inherited the “control” gene. It appeared that my frying skills weren’t up to par, and thus my granddaughter and I were  relegated to lining the trays with paper towels,  emptying the trash and washing the bowls.

But it worked.

And five hours later – hours filled with peeling, chopping and frying, along with discussions about life, marriage, sex, men, and more sex (with women in the kitchen, what do you expect?) we had over ten dozen delicious latkes.

It doesn’t get any better than that. Unless, of course, there is a cleaning crew to come in to wash the stove, counter tops and floor.  Because there will be grease everywhere. But nothing that can’t be tackled after a well shaken martini.  

Here is our family recipe along with some essential tips:

4 potatoes
1 onion
2 eggs
Salt and pepper – to taste
Flour – for thickening the mixture
Vegetable oil
This will yield approximately 25 latkes

Tip #1 – Prepare and fry one batch at a time.  It is easier to fry them this way and the mixture won’t sit in the bowl for too long. Cut the potatoes and onions into even pieces.  Place potatoes into ice water until ready to use them.  Place into food processor and chop.

Tip #2 – Do not grind too finely. Pour mixture into a bowl.  Add eggs, salt and pepper.  Thicken with flour. Heat about ¼ inch oil in frying pan.

Tip #3- A cast iron pan works best. Spoon mixture into oil.  Fry until golden brown.  Flip over.  When done, place on cookie sheet lined with paper towels.

Tip #4 – It takes about 2-3 batches to get it exactly right and get the “latke” feel. Add flour to mixture as needed while frying.

Tip #5 – Have fun!

Serve with applesauce or sour cream.

Happy Hanukah to all who celebrate.

Janie Emaus is blogger and a novelist. Her current release is a young adult novel, MERCURY IN RETRO LOVE.  She blogs for the Huffington Post at   Since 2009, she has been regular columnist at, Her blog for baby boomers, takes a humorous look at life NOW as compared to THEN.

She is currently at work on a new novel and can be found at











Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Yikes! A correction for fromage fort

That's what I get for doing things from memory. If you plan to try the fromage fort I posted about Sunday night, please change

1 lb. cheese ends
1/2 lb. cheese ends

Rest of it remains the same:
3 cloves garlic
1/4 cup white wine
generous grind of black pepper

Some versions call for salt, but I think cheese is usually salty enough.

Sorry about this. I made some tonight and realized what I'd done.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

A little something to nosh on

This time of year, hosts and hostesses turn their thoughts to the cocktail party, to pick-up appetizers that aren’t too much trouble—no individual bruschetta, thank you—but are distinctive and good. Here are some random thoughts.

I ate lunch the other day in a restaurant that offered deviled eggs as a starter, but the suggestion to ask for the day’s flavor threw me. It turned out the day’s flavor was Serrano chiles, lime and I forget what else. I passed. I don’t want a spicy hot surprise with my deviled eggs. I do often devil an egg for my lunch and here’s my secret: put the egg in cold water (add a drop or two of vinegar to prevent the white from spreading) early in the morning, bring it to a boil, turn off the heat and let it sit—yes, all morning. It will be easy to peel and will divide into two equal parts. I like mine plain—add salt and pepper, mayo, a bit of yellow mustard, and a chopped scallion to the yolk and you have the filling. But the variations are endless—you can put pickle relish in, you can top with caviar, bacon, shrimp, cornichons, whatever strikes your fancy. I love deviled eggs, and they seem to be trendy these days, so enjoy! Great appetizers but don’t do them for a large crowd—too much work.

If I’ve written about fromage fort before, I apologize for duplicating, but it’s such a great appetizer I’ll run the risk of repeating. Jacques Pepin first put it into print, saying his father used to do this. But I’m not stealing or plagiarizing—it’s all over magazines, the internet, wherever. You know those odds and ends of cheese that are just going to mold and go in the trash? Catch 1 lb. of them before they go bad (you do know you can cut the mold off and they’ll be fine, don’t you?); throw them in the food processor with three or four cloves of garlic, a half cup of dry white wine, and a half teaspoon of black pepper. Blend into a paste and serve on crackers. If you use blue cheese or Roquefort, it changes the whole character—good, but the blue cheese dominates. Also great with leftover cheddar, Manchego, whatever you have. I do it every so often just to clean out the cheese drawer. And this keeps longer than individual bits of cheese.

Finally try bourbon hot dogs, long a favorite of my children. Cut two lbs. of hot dogs into ½ inch pieces. Make a sauce of ¾ c. bourbon, 2 c. ketchup, ½ c. brown sugar packed, and 2 Tbsp. minced onion. Simmer the sauce and hot dogs an hour; then serve with toothpicks (and napkins, because they do drip!)

Enjoy. And happy holiday entertaining.