A Christmas Tradition I Wish We Shared with the Brits

Many British companies, especially those in the retail segment, have a tradition of creating special holiday commercials.

Some of them are rather wonderful.

Now, my husband, The Engineer, will tell you English adverts are better overall, and I tend to agree with him, though this certainly doesn’t mean there are no stupid ones. However, for the most part, British marketing departments appear to give their customers credit for at least a modicum of intelligence.

And when it comes to Christmas … well, see for yourself.

This Christmas will likely be one we remember for a long time to come. I’m sharing these to remind us to make sure some of those memories are happy ones.

Wherever you are and however you plan to celebrate, know that I wish you and yours a very happy Christmas. And if you don’t celebrate Christmas, perhaps you can celebrate the dark nights of winter growing shorter (at least in the northern hemisphere 🌞) now the solstice is behind us.

Let me know which ad is your favorite.

On earth, peace and goodwill to all

Comfort Cooking for a Pandemic Winter: Part 9 – Misc.

And, so we come to the end of my Pandemic recipe sharing. I wish you a happy Christmas and healthy New Year, and hope you’ve found a new favorite recipe or two to keep you through the winter.

Baked Oatmeal Slow Cooker Steel Cut Oatmeal
2-1/2 cups old fashioned oats (not quick cooking)
1 cup milk
1/2 cup oil
1 egg
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp vanilla
2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
Mix all ingredients and pour into a greased 9×9 pan or round casserole dish. Bake uncovered at 350 for 30-40 min. Serve warm with milk and fresh or dried fruit.
This recipe is from a friend who got it from her college roommate who got it from her favorite hometown restaurant in Hershey, Pennsylvania. I make a batch for the fridge, warming it in the microwave for a hot weekday breakfast.

Slow Cooker Steel Cut Oatmeal
2 cups steel cut oatmeal 
6 cups water
2 cups milk
2 tbsp butter
2-3 apples (peeled and chopped, optional, might also use raisins or other dried fruit, or none)
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tsp Kosher salt
1 tbsp cinnamon
2-3 star anise (optional)
Put all ingredients in a slow cooker. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours or high for 4 hours. This type of oats has a 4:1 liquid to oats ration, so feel free to sub other liquids (oat milk, soy milk, any type of nut milk, water). Can also be cooked on the stove by bringing to a boil and simmering for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally so it doesn’t stick. 
I recently made this, adding some whey protein to up the staying power, which meant adding a bit more liquid. I’ve also made this for work breakfasts, served buffet style with coconut flakes, brown sugar, maple syrup, dried fruit, jams, yogurt, fresh fruit. 
Bob’s Red Mill has a great explanation of the different types of oats. 

Photo by Taryn Elliott on Pexels.com

Hot Fudge Sauce
Melt 1/3 cup shortening (substitute butter or ghee?) and 4 squares baking chocolate in a double boiler. Add 3 cups sugar, 1 can sweetened condensed milk, dash of salt and 1 tsp vanilla.
Although this recipe is handwritten in my mom’s writing, it says it’s from her mother, Martha Irene Sholley Armstrong. I remember Mom making this to pour over vanilla ice cream. Delicious, and no wonder — all that sugar!

Hot Spicy Toasted Nuts
I make these every year for Christmas, using a mix of pecans and walnuts. Once cool, the nuts can be stored in a tin for over a week, and I often packaged them in baking cups wrapped with plastic wrap and tied with a ribbon or yarn. The sweet heat of these treats is highly addictive. 

Comfort Cooking for a Pandemic Winter: Part 8 — Sweets, cont’d.

It’s time to bake, and my goodness there are some good recipes here! Hopscotch Cookies, Pavlova, Peanut Butter Cookies, Potato (you read that right!) Candy, Seven Layer Bars, Rum Balls … where do you begin?

Note for anyone unfamiliar with American recipes: Brown sugar is always measured by packing it into the measure so that when you add it to the recipe, it still holds the shape of the measuring container.

Honeycomb Candy
This is a fun one. Would be great to make with kids, though you’d need to watch closely because the syrup gets very hot. Unfortunately, I discovered this recipe long after our little chick had fledged, but I had fun making it anyway. Very similar to the Cadbury Crunchie Bars sold in the UK. 

Hopscotch Cookies (No Bake)
1 cup peanut butter
1-12 oz bag butterscotch chips
6 oz chow mein noodles
2 cups mini marshmallows
Melt peanut butter and butterscotch chips. Add noodles and marshmallows. Drop by spoonfuls on waxed paper. Cool completely.
Lori, one of my college roommates, used to make these. I remember her making them once, then going to class and leaving a note that said, “Save me one.” Turned out she didn’t mean that literally :-*, and I ended up buying the ingredients and making another batch for her to make up for being such a glutton. 

Impossible Pie
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour
4 eggs
2 cups milk
1 cup coconut flakes
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla
Place all ingredients in blender and blend well. Pour into a greased 10” pie pan. Bake 350 F, 40-45 min. Coconut comes to top and browns, Center is soft and slight crust forms.
This must be another one of my bridal shower recipes. It seems to have my two favorite traits in a recipe — simple and delicious — and I’m wondering now if I’ve ever made it.

Lemon Zucchini Cookies
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup butter
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp or more grated lemon peel
1 cup shredded, unpeeled zucchini
1 cup chopped walnuts
Stir together flour, baking powder and salt; set aside. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until light. Beat in egg and lemon peel until fluffy. At low speed, or with a spatula, stir in the flour mixture until smooth. Stir in zucchini and walnuts. Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls on greased cookie sheets. Bake in preheated 375 F oven until very lightly browned. (Or, if you are lazy, like me, spread on a jelly roll pan and bake 20-25 min.) While warm, drizzle with Lemon Frost and cool on racks.  Makes around 6 doz. (If baking as bars, drizzle, cool, and then cut.)
Note on top of emailed recipe: 
“Hi Kym,
Here’s the zucchini recipe I mentioned. 
It’s summer and the zucchini are threatening once again to take over the world!! Here’s an old recipe from a magazine over 30 years ago for a delicate cooke that will use up that last cup of shredded zucchini.”
And at the bottom, as her signature line, it says “I don’t want to see the kids be grown up. I want to see the grownups be more like kids.” — Woody Guthrie
I include all of this because this recipe is from my friend Pat, who died of ovarian cancer several years ago. I miss her and coming across this emailed recipe brought her back for a moment. 

Marshmallow Treats 
This is another classic “straight from the manufacturer” recipe, but still a good one. 

Mince Pies
My recipe is to order these from here or World Market. Or go to World Market and buy them. I like to put them in the oven for a little while, so I can say I baked them. 🙂

Mincemeat Squares
1-3/4 cup rolled oats
1-3/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup melted butter
1-1/2 cup mincemeat
Place baking soda and flour in a blow and mix, then add in brown sugar and oats. Add butter and mix until crumbly. Put half the mixture in a square pan, and spread evenly with mincemeat. Place remainder of crumble on top and pack firmly.
Bake at 350 F for 40 min. Cool and cut into bars. 
Because I’m too lazy to actually make mince pies, I make these. 

Beat together until frothy, 3 egg whites, 1/4 tsp cream of tartar. Gradually beat in a little at a time, 1 cup sugar. Beat until very stiff and glossy. If desired, tint with food coloring. Spread on parchment paper on a baking sheet in a circle, heart, or whatever shape desired. May also make 8 individual shells by dropping 1/3 cup meringue on paper on baking sheet and shaping with the back of a spoon. Bake at 275 F (very slow oven) for 60 min. Turn off oven and leave in until cool. 
Fill with ice cream or fruit. Top with whipped cream if desired. Serves 8-10. Note: Meringue shells (cooled) may be loosely wrapped in wax paper and stored in a cupboard for several days. Do not place in an airtight container.
This recipe is actually called “Meringue Torte” and it comes from an old Betty Crocker cookbook I had from my mother. When I replaced the cookbook, I pulled out the recipes I liked, and this was one of them. I call it “Pavlova” because that’s what they called it in Australia, and I just like the way it sounds. The cookbook was from the fifties, and each recipe talks about the person who made it — Mrs. L. Norwood Smith and Miss Esoline Beauregard of Fort Lauderdale. 
The description for this recipe says, “A charming Minneapolis hostess has a special way of serving meringues at her delightful luncheon parties. She bakes little rounding handles of meringue to use with individual meringue shells (baked on the same paper) … then fashions meringue baskets of ice cream and fruit for individual servings.”
Sounds like a completely different world, doesn’t it?

Peanut Butter Cookies
1/2 cup butter and 1/2 cup shortening (Since I no longer use shortening, I will use all butter next time I make these)
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups flour
2 eggs, well-beaten
1 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt
Cream butter (and shortening if you are using it); add sugars, cream again. Add eggs, peanut butter and vanilla. Sift rest of the ingredients and add to creamed mixture. Make small balls (walnut size) on a cookie sheet. Flatten with fork dipped in sugar. Bake 350 F for 12 min.
I love these cookies, the only peanut butter cookie recipe I’ll ever make. 

Potato Candy
Yes, it sounds weird, but it’s tasty, cheap, and super sweet. I’ve read potato candy has its roots in Irish cooking, and I’ve read it was invented in the southern U.S. during the depression. My German-descended grandmother made it, so I’ve linked to recipe that most approximates hers.
A few warnings: 
Use a small potato. You will be stunned how far it goes. 
The mixture will become watery, but keep adding powdered sugar to it until it thickens to a  dough you can roll. If it gets too dry, you can add a little milk.
My mom always put the peanut butter on, then rolled it like a jelly roll, and then rolled the jelly roll shape flat, spread with more peanut butter, and re-rolled into a jelly roll shape before slicing. 
Get creative! Search the Internet for variations. I’ve seen potato candy recipes with coconut, chocolate, and nuts. 

Salted Chocolate Toffee Pretzel Bark 
My friend Judy, who lives in IL, made this, and when I asked for the recipe, she said, “OK, but you have to promise not to over-think it. Just follow the directions and keep it simple.”  I did, and she’s right. Click through, and you’ll see what I mean. It’s simple to make and addictive so I only make it when I can give most of it away. It’s similar to graham cracker toffee, but I like the saltiness the pretzels add.

Seven Layer Bars 
1/2 cup (one stick) butter
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 cup shredded coconut
1-6 oz pkg semi sweet chocolate chips
1-6  oz pkg butterscotch morsels
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup chopped nuts
Put butter in 9”x13” pan in oven while preheating to 350 F. Remove pan once butter is melted. Add ingredients in order above in layers. Press nuts lightly in place. Bake 25-30 min. Cool before cutting into bars. Freezes nicely.
Also sometimes called “Magic Cookie Bars,” this is my Aunt Eleanor’s version of the recipe. It doesn’t get much easier, and this recipe is very difficult to mess up. In fact, for years, I made it with 12 oz bags of both the chocolate and the butterscotch, and it was fine, though I have to admit the 6 oz version is slightly less tooth-rotting. 

Sherry/Brandy/Rum Balls
This is another Phyllis recipe and another email recipe (originally sent to Darling Daughter), which I am transcribing exactly as it is written so you can get the full flavor of her personality. 

Here we go. Can’t remember which your grandmother used at my house — possibly a combination???
2 cup vanilla wafers
1 cup sweetened shredded coconut (don’t remember this item — but …)
2-1/2 cup conf sugar (divide — see below)
2 tbsp light corn syrup
1/3 cup rum 
Crumb wafers and combine in bowl with above ingredients EXCEPT use 1 cup conf sugar. Mix well. Shape into balls and roll into rest of conf sugar.

Sherry or Brandy balls
2 (7-1/4 oz) packages vanilla wafers — finely crushed
1/2 cup honey
3/4 cup sherry (or brandy — my preference)
4 cups finely ground walnuts
granulated sugar (We used powdered sugar, Helen)
Combine wafer crumbs, honey, sherry, walnuts — mix well. Shape into round balls/roll in sugar. Store in metal can or cookie jar. Flavor improves with age. 

Brandy Balls
Mix 2-1/2 cups vanilla cookie crumbs, 1 cup sifted powdered sugar; 2 tbsp cocoa, 1/4 cup brandy, 1 cup finely chopped walnuts, 3 tbsp corn syrup. Process as above. 
“YUM! Think I, too, will run out and get ingredients. Love, Phyllis”

Sugar Cookies 
1/2 cup butter + 1/2 cup shortening (or all butter)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg, beaten
2-1/2 cup flour
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp maple flavoring
Cream butter (and shortening if using). Add sugar, cream again. Add egg and vanilla. Beat thoroughly. Sift dry ingredients. Add to mixture. Roll into 1” balls, 2” apart. Flatten with glass with clean, dampened dish towel around it that has been dipped in sugar. (May use colored sugar for a seasonal touch.). Bake 350 F, 10-15 min until lightly browned. 
Another family recipe.

Swedish Cookies
Cream 1/2 pound butter (1 cup, 2 sticks), 1/2 cup powdered sugar, 1/4 tsp salt, 1-3/4 cup flour, sifted, 1 tsp vanilla, 1 cup ground nuts. 
It’s a stiff mixture. May have to mix by hand like pie dough. Drop from a teaspoon onto cookie sheet. Bake 20 min at 350 F. While still warm, shake in a paper bag with powdered sugar. Makes 5 doz. 
I’ve seen similar cookies called “Russian Teacakes,” “Mexican Wedding Cookies,” or “Snowballs,” but none have ever tasted quite as good as my mom’s “Swedish Cookies.” An English friend of ours once called them “moreish.”

Holiday Humor

When I watch these commercials, I often wonder what type of person actually surprises another with a vehicle. And when I think about how I would react to such a gift, I must say this Saturday Night Live sketch comes pretty close (if you subtract the extramarital flirting).

Comfort Cooking for a Pandemic Winter: Part 7 — Sweets

This post includes a lot of pie recipes. I don’t make pies, probably because I’m scarred for life from a comment a Home Economics teacher once made about my crust. 😥 However, pies loom large in my family recipes so I’ve included theses heirloom recipes in the hope that someone will perhaps enjoy them.

Aunt Barb’s Flaky Pie Crust
2-2/3 cup flour
2 tsp salt
1 cup Crisco
1/2 cup ice water
Measure flour and salt into a bowl. With two table knives, cut Crisco into flour until the size of peas. Add ice water. Mix just until dough holds together. Roll onto floured board.
I took four years of Home Economics in High School (by choice) and generally got A’s on every project. Every project, that is, except pie-making. One year, my teacher actually held up our kitchen’s pie as a bad example. Clearly, I missed out on Aunt Barb’s crust-making skill, which she kindly tried to share at my bridal shower.

Aunt Ligita’s Latvian Apple Cake by Alexandra Cohen.
This is a super easy delicious apple confection that is sure to delight the entire family and all of your friends. 
3 Granny Smith apples, cored, peeled and sliced 1 tsp lemon juice
2 TBSP sugar
3/4 cup sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
6 oz. margarine
1 cup flour
1 egg, lightly beaten
sugar for sprinkling 
Generously grease a 10­inch pie pan. Toss the apple slices in a bowl with the lemon juice, 2 TBSP sugar and the cinnamon. Spread them evenly in the pie pan. Melt the margarine over medium heat. Stir 3/4 cup of sugar into the melted margarine. Gently stir the flour and egg into the mixture as well. Pour and spread this mixture evenly over the apples covering all. Then sprinkle the top with 1 TBSP sugar. Bake in a 350F degree oven for about 40 minutes. Serves at least 6. 
Continuing with the “Aunt” theme, I have to admit I don’t know Alexandra Cohen, and I certainly don’t know her Aunt Ligita. I found this recipe on the Internet several years ago. It’s more like a cobbler than a cake, but delicious just the same. I’ve copied the recipe as I  originally cut and pasted, but I could only find variations online, not the original. So, whoever and wherever you are, Alexandra, thank you for sharing.

Best Cheese Cake (pie) Ever (It really is!)
1-1/3 cup fine graham crackers
1/4 cup butter
9 oz cream cheese (8 oz is ok)
2 beaten eggs
1 pt sour cream (16 oz)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
Let cheese and eggs come to room temperature. Mix crumbs and butter well with hands and press on bottom and sides of 9” pie pan. Bake in moderate oven (350 F) for 5 min. Cream cheese well. Gradually beat in 1/2 cup sugar. Add eggs and 1/2 tsp vanilla. Pour into prepared pan. Bake in moderate oven (325 F), 20 min or until firm. Top with sour cream topping or canned cherry or blueberry pie filling. 
Sour Cream topping: Mix sour cream, 1/2 tsp vanilla, 5 tbsp sugar, and cinnamon. Spread on pie. Return to oven and bake 5 min. Chill and serve. 
This is my Mom’s recipe, which was demanded by my cousins for every family gathering from the yearly reunion to the Christmas party. 

Melt 3/4 cup margarine and 3 oz (squares) unsweetened or semi sweet chocolate. Let cool. Add 1-1/2 cup sugar, 3/4 cup applesauce, 3 eggs, 1-1/2 cup flour, 1/3 tsp baking soda, 3/4 cup walnuts, 1-1/2 tsp vanilla, 1/2 tsp salt, 3/4 tsp baking powder. Spread on greased cookie sheet (with sides, a jelly roll pan). Bake at 350 F, 20-25 min. Ice while still warm. 
Icing: Melt 2 oz (squares) chocolate (notes say “one is enough”), 3 tbsp margarine (butter), Add powdered (confectioner’s) sugar and cold coffee until desired consistency. Add 1 tsp. vanilla.
When I was growing up, we always used this recipe — originally from a church friend, Eula — for brownies. The coffee adds a hint of mocha to the flavor profile.

Chocolate Chip Cookies #1 
1/2 cup shortening (butter)
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 egg, well-beaten
1 cup plus 2 tbsp flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup chopped nuts
3/4 cup chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 375 F. Cream shortening, sugars and vanilla until light and fluffy. Fold in well-beaten egg and beat entire mixture. Sift together flour, soda, and salt. Add sifted dry ingredients to creamed mixture, and stir in nuts and chips. Mix thoroughly. Drop by small spoonfuls onto a greased baking sheet. Yield: 4 doz. Bake 10 min, turning pan after five. This recipe is from Home Ec class, probably middle school because it’s mimeographed — not Xeroxed, not dot matrix or laser printed, mimeographed! It also has names next to the ingredients and directions, dividing the work between me, Lou, Carla, and Jackie. Unfortunately, I have no recollection of these girls whatsoever. On the bright side, I do have the recipe. 🙂

Chocolate Chip Cookies #2
2-1/4 cup flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup butter
2 eggs
1-12 oz pkg semi-sweet chocolate morsels
1 cup nuts (optional)
Preheat oven to 375 F. Combine flour, baking soda, and salt. In a large bowl, cream butter, sugars, and vanilla. Add eggs. Gradually add flour mixture and mix well. Stir in morsels and nuts (if using). Drop by spoonfuls onto cookie sheets and bake 8-10 minutes. Yield: 100 2” cookies.
Or spread into greased 15”x10”x1” pan. Bake 20-25 min. Let cool and cut into 35 2” squares. 
This is the classic “Nestle’s Original Toll House Cookie” recipe from the back of the bag.  

Cinnamon Cheesecake
2 pkg refrigerated crescent rolls
1 cup sugar
2-8 oz. packages cream cheese
1 tsp vanilla
Topping: 1/2 cup melted butter, 1/3 cup sugar, 3 tsp cinnamon
Spread one package of rolls in bottom of 9”x13” pa. Mix cream cheese with 1 cup sugar and vanilla until creamy. Spread over rolls, then spread second package of rolls over the mixture. Add sugar and cinnamon to melted butter and pour over pan of cheesecake. Bake at 350 F for 30 min. 
Back when we had a rental property, I got this from one of our tenants. It looks complicated and tastes delicious, but is super easy and fast to make. 

Easy English Toffee
1-1/2 cups walnuts, chopped
1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
10 tbsp butter (do not use margarine)
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
Sprinkle walnuts in the bottom of a 9” round cake tin. Combine sugar and butter in saucepan. Cook and stir until mixture reaches 290 F on a candy thermometer, stirring the toffee constantly while melting the brown sugar and butter. Remove melted toffee from the heat and cool slightly (about 5 min). Pour over walnuts and spread evenly. Immediately sprinkle with chocolate chips. Let the chips melt from the toffee’s heat, then gently spread the chocolate over the top of the hardening candy. If desired, sprinkle a few more chopped or ground walnuts on top of the chocolate while still warm. Cool at room temperature until hard (2 hours minimum), then break into pieces and store in an airtight container. 

Fantasy Fudge 
3 cups sugar
3/4 cup butter
2/3 cup evaporated (not sweetened, condensed) milk
1 tsp vanilla
1-12 oz pkg semi sweet chocolate chips
1-7 oz jar marshmallow cream
1 cup chopped nuts (optional, any kind)
Melt butter, sugar, and condensed milk, and bring to full boil stirring constantly. Boil 5 min over med heat or until candy thermometer reaches 234 F, stirring constantly to prevent scorching. Remove from heat. Stir in chocolate until melted and add remaining ingredients, mixing until blended. Pour into a 9”x9” or 13”x9” pan. Cool at room temperature and cut into squares.
Fudge is so easy (and quick!). (At least, this recipe is.)  And yet, whenever you share it, the recipients always seem so excited, though it’s straight off the marshmallow cream jar. I’ve been making this recipe for Christmas every year, and it’s so much easier than cookies. 

Famous Oatmeal Cookies 
Click through for a classic, straight from the Quaker Oats website. I made them a lot in college at The University of Akron, which is appropriate because Ferdinand Schumacher the German Mills American Cereal Company — which eventually evolved into Quaker —  in Akron in 1850. Oatmeal has some fiber, and if you add raisins or nuts, you can almost convince yourself that a cookie or two is really a healthy snack. 

Grandma’s Strawberry Pie
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
Bring to boil. Mix 3-1/2 tbsp corn starch, 3 tbsp jello, 3/4 cup water, 1/4 tsp salt. Add all this to the above and cook slowly until mixture clears. Remove from heat. Add red food coloring and 1 tbsp lemon juice. Crush a few berries and place in the bottom of baked pie shell. Pour cooled glaze over enough berries for shell. Cool. Top with whipping cream or Cool Whip. 
Grandma Armstrong (my mother’s mom) gave me these pie recipes for my bridal shower. I’m putting them down for posterity, though as yet, I’ve not tried them. Perhaps it’s time to give pies a chance. 

Grandma’s Pecan Custard Pie
2 eggs
1/2 cup W Karo Syrup (Karo Syrup is corn syrup, I think the W maybe means white or light corn syrup?)
1 cup sugar
1 tbsp butter
dash salt
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 cup pecans
6 tbsp milk
Mix well. Pour into an unbaked pie shell. Bake 425 F until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean, about 45 min or longer. 

Great-Aunt Anne’s Rice Pudding
This recipe is from author Kristan Higgins’s blog, and though she’s not British, it’s the sort of dish I think of when I hear the English expression “stodgy pudding.” Click through for a warm and comforting dessert. Warning: You’ll need lots of milk on hand. It takes more than 2 quarts.

Scrappy Christmas

While I’m not really part of the “Scrap Happy” tradition started by my friend Kate and her friends, I felt I could offer another post on the subject — or at least a continuation of the first.

Since that post, I’ve continued to crochet stars as if they were needed to populate the night sky.

I’ve made at least seventy and am still going strong.

Some have gone to work with me, as thank yous to customers who donate to our staff fund for a local charity for families in need. Some have gone in Christmas cards and on presents. Some will go to my mom to give to her caregivers and friends at her facility. And some have gone on our tree.

It’s not our usual tree. But it’s going to be a weird Christmas for everyone, and things are no different here. Darling Daughter and I have not yet decided if it’s a good idea for her and Boyfriend to come home for the holiday. Somehow dragging the tree and all its ornaments down from the loft and decorating it seemed, not a waste of time exactly, but sort of superfluous.

I wanted something simpler, and chose to decorate the Norfolk Pine I’ve been growing for more years than I can remember.

I also strung popcorn for garland. (Note on stringing popcorn: After I’d already started stringing, I read it’s best to let the popcorn sit for a day or two so it doesn’t crumble so easily. This would probably make it easier. Still, the squirrels are enjoying the scraps, so that’s a good thing.)

I’ll admit I didn’t envision the tree turning out quite so Charlie Brownish. But that’s okay. I’m going to buy more lights. Twinkle lights make everything look better. (The Brits call them “fairy lights,” I think, which I prefer. I like the hint of magic in the phrase.)

In other scrappy news, three more lap rug/afghans went to my mom’s place for the residents.

One could also make an argument that my “Comfort Cooking for a Pandemic Winter” is also scrappy. Heaven knows the recipes came from many scraps of paper stuck in many cookbooks in our cupboards.

And now, though I’ve shared it many times before, I feel compelled to (once again) share the best Christmas song ever. I know you are probably saying, “Kym, that’s your opinion,” but I disagree.

It is the best Christmas song ever.

Comfort Cooking for a Pandemic Winter: Part 6 — Breads

I love bread — any bread, all bread. But these are my favorites.

Angie’s Dilly Casserole Bread
I love this savory bread warm from the oven or slightly toasted and spread with lashings of butter. So comforting!

Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day 
I’ve been making the basic “Boule” recipe from the book Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day for many winters. I keep a batch in the fridge, and we frequently enjoy a crusty loaf with soup for a cold weather meal. You’re not supposed to cut the bread until it’s cool, but I usually can’t resist. It doesn’t keep long, partly because you’ll eat it all and partly because there are no preservatives in the recipe. If you have a large family, you’ll need more than one loaf because they are fairly small. The authors of this book have also written Gluten-free Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a DayI’ve shared these books with so many people — encouraging friends to borrow them from the library (which usually ended with them buying their own copy) and given it to others as a gift. It’s great paired with a baking stone or pizza peel.

Bread Sauce 
2-1/2 cups milk
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
1 onion, chopped
6 cloves
6 peppercorns
2 garlic cloves
1 bay leaf
3 thyme sprigs
2/3 cup dried white bread crumbs (not seasoned)
4 tbsp single cream or mascarpone (I use whipping cream.)
Pinch nutmeg, freshly grated (Freshly grated, hahahaha. I use it out of the shaker in my spice closet).
Simmer the milk, butter, onion, cloves, peppercorns, garlic, and herbs for 20 min. Strain and return milk to pan. Add bread crumbs and simmer 3-4 min. Stir in cream or mascarpone, add nutmeg, season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve. May make up to three days ahead and heated in microwave or on stove. 
You can click on the link above for the recipe, but I’ve translated it for American cooks, who won’t know what bread sauce is anyway. The best description I can come up with is it’s like a delicious, creamy cross between stuffing and gravy. After spending many Christmas dinners in England saying, “No, thank you” to the dish, which looks, dare I say, a trifle pallid and rather unappetizing — I finally tried making it myself. Wow! I could easily spend my holiday feasting solely on bread sauce!

Dutch Baby 
I love to make this simple, but elegant dish for breakfast when we have friends or family staying overnight because the batter can be made the night before and refrigerated. Serve with seasonal fruit and wait for the compliments. 

Easy Pumpkin or Chocolate Muffins
1 can (15 oz) pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
1 box of spice cake mix or Devil’s Food cake milx
Mix the ingredients. You’ll be tempted to add water, but don’t. Mixture will be very thick. Bake in lined or greased muffin tin at 350 F until a toothpick inserted in muffin comes out mostly clean (20 min or so).
They can’t be too bad for you, right? Pumpkins are full of nutrients. Go here, if you don’t believe me. 

English Muffin Toasting Bread 
3 cups all purpose flour
1 tbsp sugar
1-1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tbsp instant yeast
1/3 cup instant dry milk powder
1-1/4 cups warm water
2 tbsp oil
Cooking spray for pans
corn meal 
Measure dry ingredients into bowl. Add water and oil and mix until there are no lumps. Spray sides and bottom of 1 8-1/2”x4-1/2” loaf pan or two 8”x3”x3” disposable foil pans. Sprinkle bottom and sides of pan(s) with cornmeal. Scrape dough into pan(s), then smooth top. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until just over the rim. When you look at the rim of the pan from eye level, you should see dough, but it shouldn’t be more than 1/4” over the edge (about 45-60 min). Once risen, preheat oven to 400F. Remove plastic wrap and bake 22-27 min until golden brown. Remove from oven, let cool five min and turn out of pan onto a rack to cool. Cool completely before slicing. 
This is a recipe from my good friend and fellow librarian, Lynne. She likes to freeze individual pieces for toasting later. 

Four Ingredient English Muffins 
2 cups flour
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tbsp baking powder
2 cups fat-free Greek yogurt
Preheat oven to 400F. Whisk together dry ingredients. Add yogurt and mash until the mix forms a dough. Turn onto a floured work surface and knead for a few seconds until smooth. Divide into 8 even pieces, then lightly roll each into a ball. Pat into a puck 3-1/2” in diameter and about 1/2” thick. Set on parchment lined baking sheet with some space between. Bake 10 min. Flip and bake another 10-12 min until golden brown. Let cool slightly before serving. Can be stored for a few days and reheated in a toaster or oven. 
Very easy. Very good.

Peanut Butter Bread
Apparently, this is the viral recipe of the pandemic — or one of them anyway. I tried it and will certainly be including it in my COVID comfort baking this winter. Easy and not super sweet as some quick breads can be. 

Yorkshire Pudding
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup milk
2 eggs, beaten

Combine flour all ingredients and whisk until smooth. These are baked until golden and puffy at 425 F in a hot pan filled with drippings from roast. 
Because we never eat roasts, I preheat oil in a largish cast-iron skillet in the oven until it’s sizzling. I also make the batter the night before and refrigerate it. When our chicken is done, I take it out of the oven, cover with foil, and let rest near where the heat comes up from the oven. Meanwhile I raise the temperature of the oven, preheat the skillet and bake the pudding. Good with gravy.
I first tried making individual puddings in a muffin tin, but the tin was not deep enough, and the oil spilled over causing loads of smoke and setting off our fire alarm. Such a pleasant way to start the holiday meal, don’t you think? The puddings tasted good, but had so much oil in them that when I tried reheating one in the toaster oven the next day, it caught fire and set off the alarm again! Now I use the cast iron skillet, which works very well. NO more fire alarms. 

Comfort Cooking for a Pandemic Winter: Part 5 — Sides/Vegetables

As you can see from the brevity of this post, side dishes aren’t a big favorite in our household, probably because we frequently eat what others would consider a side dish (Leek and Tomato Bake, Crusty Baked Eggplant) as the main meal.

Classic Holiday Green Bean Casserole 
2 cans cut green beans, drained (1 lb cans)
3/4 cup milk
1 can condensed cream of mushroom soup
1/8 tsp black pepper
1 can (2.8 oz) French fried onions
Combine all but 1/2 can of onions in casserole. Bake uncovered at 350 F for 30 min. Top with remaining onions and bake 5 min. Make six servings.
If you’ve ever eaten at Thanksgiving meal in the US, you’ve almost certainly had this dish. I got my copy for the recipe from Mom, but it’s a standard. The most difficult part about it is not eating all the onions before they make it into the casserole. I don’t make it because we try to stay away from heavily processed foods, but if I see it at a potluck (if potlucks ever become a thing again), I’ll definitely dig in!

Crusty Baked Eggplant
1 med to large eggplant
1 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs
1/4 grated parmesan cheese (I use the pre-grated kind, best available not the stuff in the green can in the pasta aisle.)
Preheat oven to 425 F. Peel and slice eggplant into 1/4” slices. Sprinkle each side with salt and lay between paper towels for 15 min to draw out water. Meanwhile, combine bread crumbs, parmesan. When the eggplant is done sweating, spread a thin coat of mayo on each side, then dredge in bread crumb mixture. Place on cookie sheet and bake, 10 min per side or until golden brown. May serve as an appetizer or side dish. Might be good with warmed marinara for dipping, but I like them plain. These also freeze well. Just place on a cookie sheet at 350-375 F until brown and crispy, but not burnt. 
I like to make these when eggplant is in season and freeze in small portions to reheat later. 

Irish Colcannon 
6 med potatoes, peeled and quartered
4 cups shredded cabbage
1 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup butter
1/2-3/4 cup milk
1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1 tbsp parsley
1 tsp horseradish (optional)
Cook potatoes in water until tender, then drain. Cook cabbage and onion together in a small amount of boiling water for 15 min. Drain. Mash potatoes (best with electric mixer). Beat in butter and enough milk to make fluffy. Add salt and pepper. Stir in cabbage/onion mixture and top with parsley to serve. 
This one is courtesy of my good friend Mary. Her notes: “This is a traditional winter Irish veggie and a favorite when we’d visit Granny Gormley in Pittsburgh. She added the teaspoon of horseradish for those who would like a little more spice.” I like this dish but don’t make it because The Engineer is not a fan. 😦

Leek and Tomato Bake
Click through to this recent addition to my recipe files. I’d purchased some leeks from the local farmer who runs the CSA we belong to, and she threw in some tomatoes. I used the finished product to make a bruschetta with a loaf of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. We ate it as a main dish, but it would be a nice appetizer. 

Sweet Potato Casserole
3 cups mashed sweet potatoes (not canned)
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup milk
dash salt
1 stick of butter
2 eggs 

1 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup butter
1/3 cup flour
1 cup pecan pieces
1 cup coconut (optional)
Boil potatoes with skins on. Peel and mash. Mix in rest of base ingredients. Place in casserole. 
Mix topping ingredients and spread over potato mixture. Bake at 350 for 3 min. 
A coworker at the library used to make this. It’s very, very(!) sweet, so of course, it was very popular. I was tempted to put the recipe in the dessert category.

Vegetable Pakoras
2-1/2 cups chickpea flour (Besan if in an Indian grocery, also more generally available now, sometimes in gluten-free section of stores.)
2 cups finely sliced onions
2 cups finely chopped potatoes (2 med)
1/2 cup finely chopped cauliflower
2 tbsp fresh cilantro, finely chopped
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tsp crushed coriander seeds
1 tbsp fresh ginger, finely chopped
2 tsp salt (to taste)
2 tsp red chili powder (Indian, I sub cayenne.)
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 cup water
Vegetable oil for deep frying
All vegetables should be finely chopped because they are being cooked in a batter. 
Mix all ingredients except water. Slowly add water to make a batter that holds vegetables together. If it gets too thin, add more flour. Heat oil for frying. It’s hot enough when a test piece floats to the top. Drop about 1 tbsp at a time into hot oil with hand or spoon. Use a slotted spoon to turn. Fry on med high until done (golden brown). May be served with tamarind chutney. 
Use only onions for Onion Bhajis.
Use just spinach and onion.
Sub zucchini, carrots, spinach for other vegetables. 
Use batter as a dip for whole vegetables, then fry. 
Can keep batter in fridge for a little while but Pakoras aren’t very good reheated.
This is another Farzana recipe from my foray into Indian cooking and is probably not the healthiest way to get your veggies. There were no leftovers to take home when we made them in class.