Happy New Year!

“And now we welcome the new year, full of things that have never been.”

Rainer Maria Rilke

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On this eve, I raise a glass of thanks to all my readers and bid you best wishes for the new year! I am extremely grateful for such loyal readers and a big thank you for your inspiration and support!

Love,
Chris

New Year Cheer!

In the last week, the ground was green and we've had a wind storm, a rain storm, and now a snow storm that has brought us more than a foot of snow! It will be a white New Year's!

In the last week, we’ve had a wind storm, a rain storm, and now a snow storm that has brought us more than a foot of snow! It will be a white New Year’s!

I always find the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day a perfect time to invite friends and family over for some cheer and small snacks. Cocktail parties are perfect any time; simple drinks and some nibblies to munch on make for an enjoyable evening (for the cook!) that isn’t focused on a large meal.

I have been making this stuffed mushroom recipe for years and always around the holidays. Relatively easy to put together, they always are a hit, and are easy travelers; you can assemble and bake when you arrive. They are, of course,  best right out of the oven, nice and hot.

The pomegranate martini is a based on one I saw Rachael Ray make on an episode of Oprah years ago. I wrote down the measurements, but through the years I’ve developed my own recipe.

However you celebrate the new year, I hope 2013 will be even better for you than 2012!

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Stuffed Mushrooms
From Prevention’s The Healthy Cook, p. 550.

16 large mushrooms, cleaned
1 Tablespoon olive oil
3 Tablespoons dry sherry or nonalcoholic white wine
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
1 Tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese
1 Tablespoon unseasoned dry bread crumbs
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ teaspoon dried thyme
¼ teaspoon dried oregano
Salt and ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Coat a 9” x 13” no-stick baking dish with no-stick spray and set aside.

Remove and finely chop the mushroom stems; set aside.

In a cup, combine the oil and sherry or wine. Pour 2 tablespoons of the mixture into a medium no-stick skillet, reserving 2 tablespoons. Warm the skillet over medium-low heat. Add the chopped stems and sauté for 6 minutes, or until the mixture is dry.

Add the parsley, Parmesan, bread crumbs, garlic, thyme, oregano, salt and pepper. Remove from the heat and stir in 1 tablespoon of the remaining sherry mixture until moistened.

Spoon the mushroom mixture into the caps. Place in a single layer on the prepared dish. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the caps are tender and heated through. Halfway through the cooking time, brush the caps with the remaining 1 tablespoon sherry mixture. Serve hot.

Pomegranate Martini
Serves 1, can be easily doubled, tripled, etc.

2 parts vodka
1 part orange flavored liquor
A splash of 100 percent pomegranate juice
Juice of a lime quarter

Cook’s Notes
• While I love Cointreau, the cost is prohibitive most of the time. Triple Sec is a good substitute that is a lot less expensive.
• For the juice, use only 100 percent pomegranate juice, no additional fruit flavors. Trust me, I’ve tried other mixtures, but the Pom Wonderful juice is the best.

Christmas Cookies-Butterballs

I felt I had to at least address the upcoming holiday somewhat this year. But with a desire to steer clear of sweets this month due to some unwanted extra pounds, I decided to revisit a recipe from last December, my hands-down favorite Christmas cookie, butterballs.

This is a family recipe that everyone in my family has made at one point or another in their lifetime. The original recipe calls them Butter Fingers, but to be easy, we always formed them into little round balls, hence their “new” name. A Christmas didn’t go by when I was growing up that we didn’t have these in the house–and it still doesn’t. Butter, flour, sugar, vanilla, and nuts, you can’t really go wrong. I recommend a nice cup of coffee or tea with a cookie or two. They are moist and yummy! And like all older recipes, the directions are sparse!

Merry Christmas to one and all!

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Butterballs
14 Tablespoons butter, softened
4 Tablespoons confectioner sugar
2 cups flour
1 cup ground nuts (I usually use walnuts, but pecans are good, too)
2 teaspoons vanilla and 1 teaspoon water, mixed

Mix and shape with hands. Bake at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes. Watch to make sure they don’t get too brown. When cool, roll in confectioner sugar.

Lentil Mushroom Soup with Barley

A few weeks back I was sitting with a friend in a bakery and he was eating what looked like a mushroom and lentil soup with maybe some barley in it. It looked and smelled delicious, so good I actually pondered grabbing a spoon and joining him! I actually never caught the true name of the soup, but since I was on my way to the grocery store, I added lentils and chicken broth to my list, making a mental note I had some barley in the larder.

During the month of December which is dark, cold, filled with way too many sweets, a hearty and cozy soup like this is just perfect for lunches and even dinner. I found this a perfect comfort soup; warm, flavorful, healthy, and the best thing of all, super inexpensive!

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Lentil Mushroom Soup with Barley
Makes 4-5 cups, but can easily be doubled.
Takes 30-40 minutes from start to finish

I like the heartier flavor of baby bella mushrooms in this soup; it adds a certain earthiness to the broth. To save money on the grocery bill, buy just the right amount of lentils and barley in bulk.  

2 teaspoons of olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, large, finely minced
1 medium onion, minced
2 carrots, peeled and diced finely
2 cups chopped mushrooms
½ cup brown lentils
½ cup pearled barley
4-plus cups chicken or vegetable broth, or water
A splash of white wine (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven. When warm, add the garlic, onion, and carrots, cook until the onions are transluscent and the carrots soft. Add the mushrooms and stir until they start to lose their juices. Add the broth, and lentils and barley. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cook until the lentils and barley are finished cooking. Add more water or broth to the soup to thin it out if needed. Add a couple splashes of white wine for flavor to the broth if using.

Cook’s Notes: While this is tasty without herbs, I thought perhaps some thyme might be a nice addition. Also, if you have any spinach or kale in the fridge, it wouldn’t hurt to add those as well.

Dilly Casserole Bread

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Grandma was a longtime schoolteacher, if you couldn’t guess by her perfect handwriting!

I frequently get requests to make this flavorful yummy bread this time of year and I think is perfect for leftover turkey sandwiches! And it makes the best toast, too!

This recipe has gone through five hands. My grandmother received it from her friend Marian F., according to her recipe card above; who passed it on to my mom, who tweaked it a little; and who then passed it on to me. I was curious to the recipe’s origins and decided to see if I could find it online and I did! It won the Pillsbury Bake-Off® contest in 1960! So 50-plus years later, it’s still being made!

While it’s been tweaked only slightly through the years, the recipe I’m giving you is the original from my grandma, typed as written.

Dilly Casserole Bread
This recipe makes one loaf but can easily be doubled to make two.

Soften 1 package (2 ¼ teaspoon) of dry yeast in ¼ cup of warm water.

Combine 1 cup creamed cottage cheese, heat to lukewarm. (top of a double broiler)

Add:

2 Tablespoon sugar
1 Tablespoon French’s (dried) minced onion
1 Tablespoon melted butter
2 teaspoon dill seed
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1 unbeaten egg
The softened yeast

Add 2 ¼-2 ½ cups flour to form a stiff dough, beating well. Cover and let rise until light and doubled. Punch down, turn into a regular or 2 mini loaf pans and bake at 350 degrees for 40-50 minutes or until golden brown.

Cook’s Notes:
I usually don’t cream the cottage cheese nor do I warm it; I doesn’t seem to make a difference. If you do choose to do this, don’t worry about the double boiler, a small saucepan on low and a watchful eye works just fine. 
• French’s was probably the only company that sold dried minced onion at the time; I get it in bulk from the coop.
• I didn’t realize it until I typed the recipe but this doesn’t call for a second rise in the pan. I always do that, more out of habit than anything; I think it also makes a lighter, fluffier bread. If you have the time, try it, it won’t do any damage!
• The original recipe calls for topping with melted butter and salt, which I never do, but sounds delightful! 

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