Creamed Beef on Toast

This is such a weird bit of food. My mom used to make this every so often for my dad. My sister and I were just along for the ride. I don’t think I’ve had it in 25 years or more, but it still brings to mind a great childhood food memory.

This is truly poor people food – you know stretch that beef as far as it can go. The story goes, in my family anyway, was that my dad got this to eat when he was in the Air Force. I wonder, but …. who is to say? Then I saw Trisha Yearwood make it – and it was her dad’s favorite too. Our food histories are really just too similar. Again, Southern, rural food. It’s always a good thing.

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1 pound ground sirloin
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups milk, more as needed, but it wasn’t
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 /2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
4 white bread slices, toasted

Saute the beef in a large skillet over medium heat, breaking it up and cooking until it is no longer pink. You can drain off the excess fat, but I didn’t because the sirloin was lean enough. Sprinkle the meat with the flour and stir over medium heat until the flour has coated the beef and cooked slightly. Stir in the milk a little at a time – kind of like you do with a roux to make macaroni and cheese. and continue to cook until the mixture becomes smooth and thickens to what you would like. Add the salt and pepper. Serve over toast. Freshly ground black pepper really makes it.

Source: My mom’s non-recipe recipe with encouragement from Trisha Yearwood. Both my mom and Trisha make this exactly the same, with one exception. We never, um, ever, put butter on it. But then again, my mom used margarine – ick.

Christmas Eve Buffet Cheese Ball

So I think this year, I might subject friends and family to my odd sense of nostalgia and hope I, the one who has this in my memory, am not disappointed.

For some reason, known only to herself (she never did explain it), my mother left me in charge of deciding the food for Christmas Eve. Not the making in all, or even most, cases, but the deciding. In our family which was rather large even though is was just my 3 siblings, me, my parents, and our older siblings kids, we opened presents from each other on Christmas Eve, so it was a night of perpetual snacking and in my case eating enough vanilla taffy to almost (almost, but not quite), make myself sick. Oh, and fudge too. And I don’t even like fudge (Groundhog Day.)

D&D_1499This was one of the things that I wanted every year and also made myself – not exactly difficult even though we had no food processor or mini chopper. You just did it the old fashioned way, by hand – no harm in that. I have no idea where this came from, but in my made-up back-story for it, it was a contribution to a local newspaper from some woman who would call herself by her husband’s name, you know what I mean. Instead of Mary Smith, she would be Mrs. John Smith, like she didn’t have an existence outside of him – yes, going off the rails here a bit, but that kind of thing just makes me slightly crazy.

Here for posterity’s sake.

8 ozs  cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar, room temperature
3 Tbs well-drained horseradish
1/4 cup finely chopped dried beef

Combine cream cheese, cheddar, horseradish until well blended. Make into a ball and chill. Roll in dried beef until covered. Chill several hours. Let sit at room temperature before serving. Serve with Triscuits or whatever crackers you like, but when I was 12, Triscuits is what I did. And everyone else did too.

Several questions arise – the first being do they still make dried beef in those odd little jars (not that I could tell, and I looked), where is it in the store if they do and what are my other options? I’m thinking pan fried proscuitto minced.
Also – only 1/2 cup of sharp cheddar. First, must be Cabot seriously sharp, but needs to be orange for color contrast and it will most certainly be more than 1/2 a measly cup. Please.
I will taste and check the horseradish level, but must be careful not to blow everyone’s palate. I tend to like just a click more horseradish than most people.

What I did make –

8 ozs cream cheese, softened
1 cup extra sharp cheddar, shredded at room temperature
3 Tbs well drained horseradish
1 cup minced dried cranberries
3 scallions minced
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Coating:
1 Tbs chives, minced
3 scallions, minced
1/2 cup dried cranberries, minced

Combine cream cheese, cheddar, and horseradish until well combined. Add in cranberries, scallions, and pecans. Roll into a ball and cover with plastic and chill until firm.

When ready to serve, mix coating ingredients in a wide bowl, and roll cheese ball in to cover, pressing in as necessary. Serve with crackers or toasted bread.

23 December 2017 – for Christmas Eve.
Never hurts to try something new, esp. if it is really good – and um, it was.

Banana Nut Bread

I just cannot stand bananas. It is the texture I think, but, let’s just say, ugh. But here I am making banana nut bread from my mom’s recipe again. Just like so many years before.

I miss that I can’t make it for my dad anymore. But this, to me, more that just about anything else, is Christmas.

It would not be Christmas without toasted (under the broiler) banana nut bread slathered in too much butter for Christmas Day breakfast/brunch. Sausage balls are the close second.

D&D_2576This keeps well. And if you make a loaf and split it and put half wrapped in two layers of heavy duty foil in the freezer you can pull it out in March and it is still amazing.  That is what I did for my dad – half a loaf to eat now and the other have to save for a couple of months. You can make this anytime of year, really, but – it is just Christmas. And my family’s tradition.

8 Tbs unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups mashed bananas
3 cups sifted all purpose flour
3 1/12 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 cup chopped pecans (I upped this – my mom only used 1 cup)

Grease and line a 9 x 5″ loaf pan with parchment paper and spray again with baking spray.  Sift the flour with the baking powder, salt and baking soda – typically, I do this on a piece of waxed paper. In the stand mixer, blend the butter and sugar together. Then add the eggs, one at a time until blended. Add the mashed bananas and blend until combined. Mix in dry ingredients. Add pecans and mix well.

Turn into loaf pan and bake at 300 degrees for 1 hour and increase temp to 350 degrees for 15 minutes.

21 December 2017 – post procedure – funny, that – that is a story for a whole different day.(said in the voice of River Song from Dr. Who – the Matt Smith version). Dear lord, I am a dork of the nth degree. And obviously, the drugs are still having an impact of sorts.

300 degrees 1 hour – turn 1/2 way through
345 degrees 15 minutes – turn
20 minutes more – check with long wooden skewer – damnation – perfect.
9 x 5 inch Williams Sonoma gold-ish large loaf pan

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Work Hack – good for breakfast or lunch as long as you have Kerry Gold butter.

Spinach Dip

I did not make spinach dip this year for Thanksgiving since it was just a family meal and no need for any more leftovers than we already had, so I made this for Christmas Eve. Because for the Boy this is a requirement. You know when he runs out of Hawaiian rolls, he will use regular sandwich bread and make a sandwich out of this.

Not sure how I feel about that, but now that I am thinking on it. This might make a base for a pretty good grilled cheese (w/some cheddar or something) sandwich on some crusty Italian bread from the good old Publix. Might need to give that some more thought and surprise the Boy with it.

D&D_14958 ozs cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 package Knorr vegetable soup mix
2 packages frozen chopped spinach, drained and all the liquid pressed out
1 can water chestnuts, minced*
King’s Hawaiian Rolls

Mix together cream cheese and mayonnaise. Add vegetable soup mix, and mix to combine thoroughly. No, I mean it. This is important.
Add spinach and water chestnuts and mix. Refrigerate overnight.
Let sit at room temperature for about an hour or so before serving. You do not want it to be ice cold – not good eats. Serve with Hawaiian rolls. Sliced horizontally and then vertically, so you get 4 pieces of Hawaiian bread from each roll.

Serve and make a total pig of yourself. It is just inevitable.

*I think you can get minced water chestnuts at the store, but I like sliced and then I mince them myself. I am not sure the Boy knows they are in there, but …. we’ll just keep quiet about it then, won’t we.

There is nothing terribly special about this, but it is another of those traditions that started back in my trouble youth, as Jimmy Buffet would say – read: early 20s. Another recipe that my mom let me add to the Christmas eve tradition and it just stuck. Nothing wrong with it being vegetarian and I do not do much mayo or any sour cream – the original recipe was overloaded with it. Again my friend Marie is the one that said, put the cream cheese it – have been doing it ever since (like the late 80s – oh, lord).   I added the Hawaiian rolls a few years later and that really works well.

That said, any holiday is better with a great dip. Or two, or ten.

Stupidly – Easy Chocolate Fudge

My mom always made fudge for Christmas. She would put them in her Christmas tins, and me, being me, do the same thing. I would have a bit or two, but – again – not a chocolate person – even then, as a kid. Well, it is what it is. D&D_2579

I have tried to recreate my mom’s fudge with not a whole bunch of success.  I do not like recipes that use marshmallow stuff (fluff, cream, um, whatever), or, heaven forbid, peanut butter – dear lord, who thinks either one of those things are a good idea. Also, all fudge needs nuts and as usually, I prefer walnuts.

While this made shite-loads of fudge (in my opinion), it was also pretty damn good and it recalls my mom’s fudge – and that was enough just to make me happy. So here it is – stupidly good, really easy, chocolate fudge.  Sometime, simple is just best. Yep.

4 Tbs unsalted butter
16 ozs semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate
1 14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
1/8 tsp kosher salt
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Spray 8 x 8 inch baking pan with cooking spray. Line with parchment, with an overhang on two sides for easier removal from pan.

Place a large glass bowl over a pot of barely simmering water – do not let bowl touch water or get water in chocolate mixture. Combine all ingredients except walnuts until just melted and well combined. Mix in nuts – sorry – required.

Put fudge mixture into prepared pan and refrigerate until set – 4 hours, but best overnight. Using parchment sling, lift fudge out of pan and cut into small pieces (this is rich, so smaller is better.)

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Source: www.cookingforengineers.com via the New York Times

Pecan Tassies

Another Christmas requirement. I just cannot help myself. I need them for Christmas. No, I really need them. I am sure I have been making these for, dear lord, 20 years or more and they are still as good today as they were back then. I do have much better mini muffin pans now but I remember the good old days of making these. And they were messy days indeed. Also lots of hand washing dishes. Even though I do that now too. Please need a new dishwasher – just to be spoiled again. D&D_2545.jpg

8 oz cream cheese, softened
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 cups all purpose flour
2 large eggs
2 cups brown sugar
2 tsp vanilla
1  1/2 cups pecans, chopped (I mix both pecans and walnuts. I like the meaty texture of walnuts.

In a stand mixer, beat cream cheese and butter together until smooth. Add the flour and pat into two disks and chill for an hour or so but I usually let it chill overnight.

Lightly beat eggs and add sugar and vanilla and stir in pecans (or whatever combination of nuts).

Press dough into greased mini muffin pans and fill with nut mixture with in 1/4 inch of the top.

Bake at 350 degrees for 25 – 28 minutes turning pans half way through.

22 December 2017 – make dough, morning; 23 December – bake – 3/4 c pecans & 3/4 c walnuts. In my opinion, it needs the walnuts – it is definitely a texture thing, if that makes any sense at all.

M & M Cookies for Christmas Eve

I have no idea why my mother made M & M cookies for Christmas, but she always did. I love them and make them many more times a year. Usually for Christmas, I just make them with regular M & Ms. I do miss the tan colored M & Ms. Although I get why the blue ones go with the really weird Christmas lights we had. There were red, green, blue, and orange and the bulbs were pretty much huge. So maybe the M & M cookies made sense in a strange sort of way. But blue and orange Christmas tree lights – why?

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1 cup vegetable shortening
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla
2 large eggs
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp table salt
1 1/2 cups plain M & M’s or more as the case may be.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream together Crisco and both sugars. Add eggs, one at a time, and mix to combine. Add vanilla. In a bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, and salt. Add flour mixture to butter mixture in 2 batches, scraping down the mixing bowl as needed. Add M & M’s and stir to combine.  Use a #30 disher to scoop dough onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake 10 minutes or until golden – turning half way through.

10 December 2005
24 December 2011 – apparently the Boy really likes these
25 December 2013 – for the Boy
8 June 2015 – for the Boy for Bonnaroo
14 August 2015
2 April 2016 – Easter – pastel M & Ms
14 January 2017 – 1/2 crisco / 1/2 unsalted butter
22 December 2017 – Christmas M & Ms – red/green; #30 scoop

Sausage Balls – Cook’s Country

There are just some things I MUST have for Christmas and probably the two most important things for Christmas morning are toasted banana nut bread and sausage balls. My mom always made them both. For the sausage balls she used, as most people did at the time, Bisquick, but since finding this Cook’s Country recipe that is just not necessary. I never used it for anything but this recipe, so to not have to purchase it and make do with things I already have on hand – well, it just makes so much more sense to me.

So here’s to my mom and to Christmas morning. D&D_2573

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbs unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
8 ozs bulk hot breakfast sausage
4 ozs extra sharp cheddar, grated (1 cup)
3/4 cup whole buttermilk

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

In the food processor, pulse the flour, baking powder, salt, pepper an cayenne until combined. Add butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal about 12 pulses. Add sausage and cheddar and pulse until combined, about 8 more times. Place mixture in a nice sized bowl and stir in buttermilk until just combined.

Wet your hands and roll dough into 1 1/4 inch ball (about 1 Tbs each). Space evenly on baking sheet and bake until golden brown between 20 – 22 minutes, rotating baking pan halfway through. Transfer baking sheet to a wire rack and let cool for 5 minutes. Serve warm. With grape jelly. Yum.

You can make these ahead and bake, cool, and then freeze and just reheat in the oven at 200 degree for 15 or so minutes. Just test one and see if it where you want it to be for reheating.

24 December 2014

24 December 2016 – for Christmas Day brunch/lunch

22 December 2017 for Christmas Day brunch/lunch – 375 degrees convection- 20 minutes – turn 1/2 way through – perfection! Need to double next time and freeze half (after baking). They keep well in the freezer for a month or so. Also, grape jelly needs to be involved.

These are also excellent on New Year’s Day morning too. Pretty much excellent anytime, but you get the point.

Asparagus Mushroom Pasta w/Pecorino

I just keep modifying this recipe with the hopes of perfection, but to be honest since it includes two of my favorite vegetables, asparagus and mushrooms, along with some melty cheese and some salty cheese, it starts out pretty far ahead of the game.

D&D_1340_iPhoneThis is also great left over for lunch, but you must heat it very slowly in the microwave and stir very often or heat up the oven feature on the toasted oven and put it in there to reheat. Otherwise, the sauce breaks – it still tastes good, but it is not the same.

olive oil
2 Tbs unsalted butter
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 small-ish yellow onions
1 pound cremini or button mushrooms, sliced*

8 ozs penne pasta
1 pound asparagus,  trimmed and cut into bite-sized pieces
8 ozs mascarpone
Parmesan, for serving
Lemons

Heat a pot of boiling water, and salt well. Add asparagus and cook until bright green and crisp tender – kind of the al dente of asparagus. Remove asparagus from water and set aside. Once the asparagus is finished, add the pasta and cook until al dente.

In a sauté pan, melt butter and add a little olive oil and then add garlic and cook over low heat while garlic softens and flavors the oil/butter. Add the sliced mushroom and sauté on medium until they’ve released their juices and most of that liquid evaporates.

Add the asparagus to the mushrooms. Turn the heat to low. then add the container of mascarpone cheese. Stir until it is melted and coats the vegetables. Add cooked pasta and mix together. Add the zest and juice of one lemon and then add a handful of freshly grated Pecorino cheese and stir again.D&D_2242

Serve with extra Pecorino and more lemon wedges for serving.

*Buy whole mushrooms and slice yourself. Pre-sliced mushrooms are an abomination.

When I know I am making this dish, or one similar, I usually cook the asparagus/pasta one day, typically when I’m cooking pasta for something else too. Then the bag of pasta/asparagus is ready when I’m ready for pasta. I drop in in a colander and run very hot water over it for a minute or two and let drain completely. D&D_1318

Modified several times based on a recipe by Giada de Laurentiis.

Savory Ham & Swiss Cheesecake

The MotH has a problem with me calling this a cheesecake because that just makes everyone thing dessert and I do, really, get that. But when you preface the name with savory, I hope people can somehow make the transition.D&D_2297

Definition of a cheesecake – having a firm custard-like texture, with cream cheese, cottage cheese, or both. Well, that fits.

But when get right down to it – this has an almost (almost) obscene amount of cream cheese and eggs which is what most cheesecakes do.

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
3 cups oyster crackers
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
4 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
7 large eggs
2 cups grated Swiss cheese (about 8 ounces) + some
1 cup 1/2-inch cubes ham + some
3 minced scallions
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper

Preheat oven to 300°F. Brush 9 inch diameter springform pan with 1 tablespoon melted butter. Finely grind oyster crackers in the food processor. Mix cracker crumbs, Parmesan and 5 tablespoons melted butter in food processor to blend. Reserve 1/2 cup crumb mixture for topping; press remainder onto bottom and up sides of prepared pan. Refrigerate while preparing filling.

D&D_2336In a stand mixer, beat cream cheese and eggs until smooth. Mix in remaining ingredients. Pour filling into crust. Sprinkle reserved 1/2 cup crumbs over. Place cheesecake on rimmed baking sheet. Bake until filling no longer moves in center when pan is gently shaken, about 2 hours. Cool 30 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Make Ahead: can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Let stand 2 hours at room temperature before serving. We are going to stretch this for a day for Thanksgiving, but I am pretty confident in it (see hurricane story below).

I made this the first time in 2004. It was really good. Not sure what the occasion was and we went to the MotH’s parents’ house just around the corner*, but here is the key point: We all liked it and – just to bury the lede – it was a great leftover after Hurricane Ivan took us out mostly. No, really. Just keep the fridge closed and things can stay safely in there for a day or so. This really worked, and to be honest, you do not want any kind of warm food right after a hurricane – um, ever. That is why Mandarin oranges are my go to food after a hurricane. Even at room temperature, they just rock.

That said, I have not made this since 2004 – likely out of an odd sense of “perhaps this is not a good idea,” but I am totally feeling out of hurricane season at this point. Thankfully, we dodged a big bullet in Irma, and Nate was just annoying, but no really biggie.

Source: Bon Appetit ? – will find out.
Sept 2004 – Leftover for Ivan
November 2017 for Thanksgiving

2 day method – crust mixture one day, cream cheese mixture next, assemble third and bake, serve at room temperature the next day.

Very good, yes, if I do say so myself, but my unsuspecting family testers said so. But both the MotH and is brother approved of my suggestion of serving with hot sauce – brand: Crystal.
Why Crystal? – heat, but also flavor and it does not completely blow your palate like Tabasco – which I also like, in certain applications, but not this one. The Boy has other opinions on hot sauce that usually include habaneros.

Crust is really crumbly on sides – and totally messy the entire time I was dealing with. Maybe just do bottom crust and topping – needs work, but the flavor is really good – just reduce the amount by probably half (?).

Next time with minced fresh jalapeño (The Boy) – another thought or a little pepper jelly would not go amiss at this point. Oh, pepper jelly on the top as a thin layer?? Maybe going too far afield. Nope, I don’t think so.

Or with pan-roasted mushrooms and spinach (or cress) as long as all the liquid is cooked out of both in a ruthless sort of manner. Little Dijon swirled in?
This could be a great Easter appetizer too.

Okay – and the work hack version with the cranberry horseradish relish was a revelation. Not a bad thing at all. Another really good option for some spice with this cheesecake.

D&D_1418_iPhoneAnd what to do with the rest of the oyster crackers – must be something, right?

*Might sound like a nightmare to some, but my in-laws are just the best. I love them dearly – always will. The Boy and I are very fortunate.