Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Christmas breakfast

So many of our Christmas traditions involve food: baking cookies, stirring up a batch of chocolate fudge, sipping a favorite holiday punch, sitting around the table at Grandma’s house sharing turkey and the trimmings on Christmas Day.

Many of us have Christmas morning breakfast traditions as well, whether it’s cinnamon rolls or a cheesy sausage and egg casserole.

For a number of years, Daddy made scrambled sausage and eggs on Christmas morning, and I’ve made the same at my house a few times. I’ve done several other things at my house as well from casseroles to a delicious cinnamon coffee cake that sits in the refrigerator overnight and is ready to bake while the family opens presents.

If you don’t have a tradition of your own, you might want to try a new breakfast casserole that I’ve made several times in recent months — once for breakfast and other times for dinner. The casserole is simple enough — made with sausage, grits, cheese, milk and eggs — and takes about 10 minutes to assemble.

I was not a big fan of grits until the last year or two, so this casserole wouldn’t have caught my attention before now. But I started seeing a number of versions of grits casseroles in cookbooks and decided to make one myself.

I don’t like a lot cheese in egg dishes, so I cut the amount of Cheddar cheese in half — from a whopping four cups to two cups (which is still a lot for me!) I also used turkey sausage instead of pork sausage, and to make the recipe even easier purchased sausage crumbles that were already cooked and ready to mix in my casserole. When I make grits, I use the instant kind in the little pouches, so I did the same for this recipe, making four pouches of grits.

You can add a number of spices and seasonings into this dish — including garlic powder and thyme — but I prefer the recipe as I’ve written it here.

This casserole is wonderful comfort food, whether you serve it for lunch, brunch or dinner. Prepare a pan of hash browns or tater tots and serve with a bowl of fresh fruit and toast with jelly, and you’ll have a satisfying meal.

If you have any leftovers, the casserole is delicious warmed up in the microwave the next day.

Cheesy grits and sausage casserole
  • 1 1/2 packages (9.6 oz. each) turkey sausage crumbles (I use Jimmy Dean)
  • 4 pouches of grits (or grits for 4 servings) prepared according to package directions
  • 2 cups grated Cheddar cheese
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, stir cheese into hot, cooked grits until the cheese melts. Whisk eggs and stir into other ingredients; add milk and stir until combined.

Pour into casserole dish, which has been prepared with baking spray.

Bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes until cooked through.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Sifting through life's pieces

Let’s just say it wasn’t the happiest weekend I’ve spent with my family. On the weekend before Thanksgiving, my sister, Susan, and I, along with our families, finished the very difficult task of emptying our parents’ house. It’s the house we grew up in. The house where we took our first steps, had our birthday parties and sleepovers. The house where we opened presents around the Christmas tree, where we brought home boyfriends to meet our parents, where we carried our children to be loved on by their grandparents, where we took loving care of our aging mama and daddy, who both had Alzheimer’s.
It was difficult physically as we hauled things out of the house those last weeks and difficult emotionally as we cried at every turn and realized our days at our childhood home were numbered. The oddest thing would strike a chord with one of us, and the tears would flow: a birthday card to Mommy signed in a pre-schoolers’ wobbly print; an entry in Mama’s journal announcing I was pregnant with my first child; a photograph hidden in a picture frame of our handsome daddy in his Army uniform.
Mama and Daddy kept too much, I’m sure some would say. They kept greeting cards from family, friends and politicians; church bulletins that listed one of our names; newspaper clippings; and magazines with historic significance.
Want to know how much it snowed in January 1974 or how many pints of corn my parents froze in 1983? I could have told you because it was all recorded in the stack of calendars we found in a drawer in their room. I can’t tell you anymore, however, because we threw away those calendars.
We threw away a lot of things since Mama died in February of 2010, less than a year after Daddy passed away. We started slowly. Four months after Daddy died, we went through his clothes. It was hard, very hard to get rid of suits he wore to church, colorful plaid shirts he wore around the house and the lightweight jackets he wore daily as he aged and needed something on his arms to fight off a constant chill. But we did it. It was part of the grieving process. Daddy wasn’t coming back to wear those clothes, and it gave us a good feeling knowing the people we donated them to could put them to good use.
We were slower on everything else. The house was on the market, but we had no offers, so we kept the house as-is so we could enjoy it when Susan and her family visited. That was our excuse anyway. Truth be told, we wanted to preserve that house, those memories. We didn’t want to let go, and it was keeping us from moving on.
It wasn’t until this summer, more than a year since Mama’s death, that we cleaned out the attic. Not only did it hold the keepsakes from our years at the house, but it also held boxes full of “treasures” from my own grandparents’ house. It seems my parents were unable to toss the utility bills, Christmas cards and even some items of clothing from their own parents’ house more than 40 years ago. So we went through those items of our grandparents’ as well, shared some with our Aunt Margaret and purged accordingly. But we kept my cousin Eddie’s letters from Vietnam written to our shared grandmother, Papa’s pocket knives and my preacher Granddaddy’s Bible.
I decided from the start that I wouldn’t keep too much, and I think I was good at sticking to this. I bought a 30-gallon storage bin and an accordion file folder. In the storage bin I put assorted items including a party dress or two my mother wore in the 1950s, the wooden Playskool mailbox I had as a child, a stack of letters written between my parents around the time they got married and my framed wedding portrait that Mama displayed over the sofa in the living room.
The file folder holds other special items. On a piece of fading white paper from a legal pad, Mama jotted down a timeline of what she did Monday, Oct. 8, 1979, my senior year of high school. I couldn’t toss it. On that day, she washed nine loads of clothes, fed my sister’s dog, made two beds, went to the bank and Carolina Office Equipment Company and paid a bill at Churchwell’s. She mopped up the water when the dishwasher ran over and called the pediatrician’s office about my polio shot. ”She will be suspended from school if she doesn’t get it by Thursday,” she wrote. Priceless (to me at least).
I saved a utility bill sent in error for $9,379.41 from the family’s farm house, where no one lived, and a listing of costs associated with building the very house we were cleaning out for its new occupants: Porch tile cost $74, cypress paneling was $85.40, the mailbox was $2.86 and the kitchen appliances were $615. That was 1958, the year they were married.
And also tucked into the folder is a piece of pink paper from a note pad. Daddy had written “Wheel of Fortune” Channel 7 at 7 o’clock. “Millionaire” at 7:30 on Channel 13. No clue why I saved this, but when I look through this folder years from now, I can remember how much my parents enjoyed watching those two shows each night, and it will make me happy.
I kept some other things, of course, including a few small pieces of furniture, half of Mama’s beautiful fine china trimmed in silver, a few dessert cups Susan and I both adored, a coffee cup I can use for tea, the turkey pepper shaker that is the mate to my salt shaker and a number of Christmas ornaments from the family collection. They are all things that have special meaning for me.
While we were going through things and deciding what to keep and what to toss, Susan and I decided early on to throw away or give away things they didn’t have any special meaning to us. We didn’t want our children to have to deal with items we were too sentimental or cowardly to toss, such as newspaper clippings about people we didn’t know or photos of people we didn’t recognize or the maternity clothes our mother wore in the 1960s. I’m not kidding.
But we did keep what we wanted to keep even if it sounds foolish to others. Susan and I, as well as our girls, each have a box of face powder still holding a dusting of the fragrant powder that Mama wore each day before she got too sick. All I have to do is open that box of Coty honey beige and take a whiff, and I can pretend that I’m hugging Mama and smelling the powder that colored her beautiful face.
Thank God for my memories and for my parents.
lisa@wilsontimes.com | 265-7810


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Time for tea

Before you head out for Black Friday shopping or even when you return — which could be in the middle of the night — wouldn’t it be nice to have a hot cup of tea?

I really enjoy hot tea, especially this time of year.

My favorite is chai latte, but I also enjoy teas I prepare at home.

For years I’ve made Johnny Appleseed tea in my slow cooker because my entire family enjoys it so much. It’s soothed many colds and sore throats at my house.

Now I have a new fruited tea to add to my recipe collection. I saw a recipe for marmalade tea in Debbi Baker Covington’s “Dining Under The Carolina Moon” a few weeks back. I was intrigued with the idea of mixing a jar of marmalade into a batch of tea. I’ve said before, I love experiments, and this sounded like a fun one.

I changed around several things in Debbie’s original recipe, including substituting brown sugar instead of white, just as I do in the Johnny Appleseed tea. I also didn’t have a lemon, so I used fresh orange juice, and I added a stick of cinnamon to my steaming tea mixture to add a festive flavor to my tea.

The marmalade immediately starts to dissolve when it hits the hot tea, and the little pieces of orange peel float round as you stir. Debbi mentions the tea can be strained; we didn’t mind the orange pieces.

After I had a cup of tea, I poured what was left in a favorite glass tea pitcher and left the tea in the refrigerator for more than a week. Anytime I wanted hot tea, I just poured a cup and let it warm in the microwave. If you are fixing this for a crowd, I suggest pouring the hot tea into a slow cooker and leaving the setting on warm.

I’d still love to receive Christmas goody recipes from my readers to share in this column. Send to the email address below or to Lisa Batts, The Wilson Times, P.O. Box 2447, Wilson, NC 27894.

Johnny Appleseed Tea
  • 2 quarts water, divided
  • 6 tea bags or 3 family size tea bags
  • 1 (6-ounce) can frozen apple juice concentrate, undiluted*
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons firmly packed brown sugar
Bring 1 quart water to a boil; add tea bags. Remove from heat; cover and let steep 5 minutes. Remove tea bags.

Pour remaining quart of water and remaining ingredients into slow cook, mix in steeped tea. Set slow cooker to low or warm. Yield: 9 cups.

*I can no longer find the small can of juice. I buy the larger can and use at least half. I try to get most of the concentrated syrupy liquid that’s at the bottom of the can.

Marmalade Tea
  • 10 cups water
  • 3 family size tea bag (I use decaffeinated)
  • 12 oz. jar orange marmalade
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons brown sugar
  • Juice of one orange
  • Cinnamon stick
Bring 10 cups of water to boil. Remove from heat and steep tea bags for 7-8 minutes. Stir in marmalade, sugar, orange juice and cinnamon until marmalade is melted and well mixed. Strain tea if deserved before serving.

Serves 10.

Adapted from “Dining Under the Carolina Moon” by Debi Baker Covington

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Thanksgiving sides

This is not the column I had planned to write today. This week’s recipe didn’t turn out as planned, and I don’t mind confessing that. I was experimenting with refrigerator or spoon rolls that my readers could bake for Thanksgiving Day.

I decided to blend several recipes and come up with my own. The rolls I baked were beautiful, the texture was just right, and they rose perfectly, but they had no taste. I haven’t given up on them and will try again with more honey and salt and will share if they are a success.

After that disappointment, I went to my Facebook page and asked my friends for casserole recipes that would be good for Thanksgiving. In no time, several people posted with ideas.

So today, I’m sharing several recipes you can make next week for your family’s Thanksgiving celebration.

I tried one of the recipes, Harriet Page’s garden pea casserole. She said it was one of her mama’s recipes. Harriet said the recipe was given to Edna Ruth Thompson by Sarah Miller in 1968. She said it’s a favorite recipe for anytime, and her family loves it. She said it’s an easy recipe to double or even quadruple!

When Harriet told me about the recipe, I was skeptical; I’ll admit that too. I couldn’t imagine a garden pea casserole with a white sauce, cheese and cracker crumbs. Well, I made it Monday afternoon and was so very happy with the results.

Anna and I couldn’t believe how good it smelled as it cooked and couldn’t wait for it to cool enough for us to eat. It was delicious! I hate to tattle on either one of us, so I’ll just say we both had more than one serving!

We agree it would be such a nice addition to a Thanksgiving spread or to serve anytime as a side dish.

Garden Pea Casserole
  • 2 cans (14 to 15 ozs. each) garden peas, drained
  • 1 cup grated cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup cracker crumbs (I used Ritz whole wheat)
  • Black pepper to taste
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 4 tablespoons flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Melt butter over low heat. Add flour, pepper and salt. Stir until blended and smooth. Slowly add milk and cook until smooth and thickened.

Remove from heat; add peas. Pour half of mixture into casserole dish. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup cheese and 1/2 cup cracker crumbs. Add remaining sauce and peas and top with cheese and cracker crumbs.

Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Harriet Page

Corn Pudding
  • 3 eggs slightly beaten
  • 1/4 cup melted butter
  • 1 (approximately 17 ozs.) can cream-style corn
  • 1 (approximately 17 ozs.) can whole-kernel corn, undrained
  • 1 (8 1/2 oz.) box cornbread mix
Heat oven to 350. Grease a shallow 2-quart baking dish or 6 (10 oz) custard cups.

Combine ingredients, stir well. Pour/spoon into baking dish. Bake about 1 hour, or until set, in the 2 qt dish (40-45 minutes in the custard cups).

If using the custard cups, you can loosen them and invert the puddings directly onto a dinner plate. Serve the larger casserole directly from the dish.

Susan B. Hoffman

Broccoli and Cheese Casserole
  • 1 can (10 3/4 ozs.) cream of mushroom soup (regular or 98 percent fat free)
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 teaspoons yellow mustard
  • 1 bag (16 ozs.) frozen broccoli florets, thawed
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (4 ozs.)
  • 1/3 cup dry bread crumbs
  • 2 tsp. butter, melted
Stir the soup, milk, mustard, broccoli and cheese in a 1 1/2-quart casserole.

Stir the bread crumbs and butter in a small bowl. Sprinkle the crumb mixture over the broccoli mixture.

Bake at 350 degrees F. for 30 minutes or until the mixture is hot and bubbling.

Mary Elliott Farmer

Spinach and Artichokes

The combination of nutmeg-scented cream cheese, spinach, artichoke hearts, and water chestnuts is irresistible. The addition of diced cooked chicken or shrimp could turn it into an entree.
  • 12 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 4 (10-oz.) packages frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon seasoning salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2 (8-ounce) cans sliced water chestnuts, drained
  • 2 (14-ounce) cans artichoke hearts, drained and quartered
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter 3-quart casserole dish. In bowl with mixer at medium speed, beat cream cheese until smooth. Reduce speed to low, beat in spinach, butter, lemon juice, salt, pepper, seasoning salt, and nutmeg until thoroughly combined. Stir in water chestnuts. Arrange artichokes on bottom of baking dish. Pour spinach mixture over artichokes. Cover with foil. Cut several slits in the foil to vent.

Bake 30 minutes. Uncover and sprinkle top with Parmesan cheese. Bake until golden brown about 15 minutes more.

Serves 12.

Debbi Baker Covington

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

There's a squash in my soup!

I had the most delicious soup last month at a luncheon at the Wilson Country Club. It was a creamy butternut squash soup sprinkled with cinnamon and served in a bread bowl.

The women at my table loved it as much as I did, and one challenged me to make my own and put the recipe in the paper. Challenge accepted!

Before the week was out, I had purchased my first butternut squash. I had no idea how big the squash should be to end up with six cups, but I decided on a 31⁄2-pound butternut and took it home with me.

I didn’t know whether my husband would even try this soup, but when I told him what I was making for supper than night, he was pleased and looked forward to something new.

The first order of business was peeling that big thing. That was no small feat. I had read suggestions online for how to peel a butternut squash with ideas that included roasting it with the peel on it and removing the peel once the squash had cooled. But my sister assured me it was easy to peel the squash if I used a vegetable peeler.

Well, that’s the route I took, first cutting the squash into manageable segments with the sturdiest chef’s knife I own. It was awkward, but I was able to get most of the peel off with my very cheap peeler. (Make note to tell my husband to buy me a nice vegetable peeler for my Christmas stocking.) Please be careful when cutting and peeling your squash. I consider it a major triumph that I did not cut myself while slicing that thing. I recommend buying two smaller squash rather than one really big one for this recipe.

I must stop to warn you of something else. I had a weird skin reaction to the squash; my sister did, too, with one she cooked recently. I researched online, and discovered many people get contact dermatitis from butternut squash. The skin on my left hand, which I had used to hold the squash while I cut and peeled it, turned a strange yellowish orange and felt extremely tight and uncomfortable. I tried washing off what felt like a waxy film, but it didn’t help. It was a few hours before the symptoms went away. I found out later that I should have applied a cortisone cream.

When I was preparing another butternut squash a week later, I held onto the much-smaller and more manageable squash with a paper towel, limiting my hand’s exposure. I had no reaction.

If you get to this point in the recipe, and I haven’t scared you too much, the rest is easy.

I looked at a number of butternut squash soup recipes and combined a few ideas, including roasting my squash instead of sauteeing it and adding a bit of nutmeg for flavor. I also decided to add in a medium sweet potato to give a little sweetness to my soup.

The kitchen smelled so good while the squash, onion and sweet potato were roasting, and I couldn’t wait to try my soup.

Once the vegetables were cooked, I combined them with the other ingredients and got a chance to use one of my favorite convenience products — an immersion blender. The soup was creamy in no time, and once I added a little half-and-half, it turned the prettiest shade of pale orange.

I sprinkled some cinnamon on top of my soup, and we were ready to eat our meal, complete with a salad of fresh greens, apple, nuts, feta cheese and strips of grilled chicken.

My husband loved the soup as much as I did. In fact, once we had finished our meal and were cleaning up, he pulled out a bowl and had some more, this time without cinnamon. He said he liked it better that way.

My soup did not taste exactly like the country club’s, and I didn’t expect it to. But it was smooth and creamy, it was delicious with a touch a cinnamon, and it was my creation.

There were plenty of leftovers with our soup and I several delicious lunches.

Creamy Butternut Squash Soup
  • 6 cups butternut squash, peeled and cut into chunks (purchase 3 to 3 1/2 pounds of butternut squash)
  • One medium to large sweet potato, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 1 onion, quartered
  • Salt
  • Olive oil
  • 3 cans (14 ounces each) reduced sodium, reduced fat chicken broth
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • Half-and-half (about 1/4 cup)
  • Cinnamon
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

On a cooking tray, spread butternut squash, sweet potato and onion. Sprinkle some salt and drizzle a little olive oil over the vegetables. Use hands to gently toss, making sure the oil also coats the pan.

Roast for 45 minutes to an hour or until vegetables are tender.

Pour the cooked vegetables into a soup pot and add chicken broth, pepper and nutmeg. Let come to a simmer. When heated through, remove from heat. Add in a few splashes of half-and-half. With an immersion blender, blend the soup until it is creamy. If you do not have an immersion blender, a conventional blender would work as well.

Pour soup into bowls and sprinkle a little cinnamon on top, if desired.