Cooking for the holidays does not have to be extravagant

There are so many facets to the holiday season: shopping, gifts, travel, parties, casual get-togethers and concerts. It is such a busy time.

For some it causes anxiety, but I want to remind you of what I consider the most important part of the holidays — food. We love to come together around food.

Menus do not need to be extravagant. I think simplicity and great taste are enough. All we need is a variety of ingredients in the pantry and refrigerator.

I am nostalgic, and my memories are vivid and meaningful, especially when it comes to taste, who prepared the food for me and the way eating a certain thing made me feel.

I would like to share some of the most memorable recipes from my past that represent holidays and enjoying food with family and friends. I hope you enjoy and perhaps I can spark great food memories from your past.

Throughout this column, you will see this symbol, **, which will give you holiday shopping tips.

Hot Apple Cider

The aroma of this drink simmering seems to call: “Come on in and get comfortable.” This beverage was served to me by a group of students that had to present a Christmas recipe from scratch.

  • 2 (12.5 oz /355 mL) frozen apple juice concentrate
  • 4 c. water 1 L
  • 4 cinnamon sticks

Add all of the ingredients to a large pot. Mix and warm over medium heat stirring occasionally. Yields six one-cup servings (250 mL). Keep warm in a slow cooker if desired.

Note: You can add additional spices if desired, like a dash of nutmeg or cloves. Also you can dilute the juice concentrate further if you want a less sweet drink. Just like many good old recipes, taste and adjust.

Fry’s Hot Cocoa Recipe

There is a creamy decadence about this drink you can’t get from a premix. This recipe was the one on the Fry’s cocoa can during the 1960s. My grandmother, Dolly Foster, prepared this for me often and I remember feeling so special when that mug was placed in front of me with the usual warning, “be careful, it is very hot.”

  • 1 tbsp. cocoa 15 mL
  • 2 tbsp. sugar 30 mL
  • 1 tbsp. cold milk or water 15 mL
  • 1 c. hot milk 250 mL

Blend or whisk the cocoa powder, sugar and cold milk together well.

In a saucepot, heat the one cup of milk. Once warm, stir in the mixed ingredients, and cook for one or two minutes, until dissolved and hot, stirring often. Pour into a mug, top with marshmallows or whipped cream. Makes one large cup.

Note: You can adjust the sugar amount to your personal taste. Some find it a bit too sweet. Also, you could substitute hot coffee for the one cup of hot milk to make a café mocha.

**Gift Ideas for Hot Chocolate Lovers: A mini stainless steel whisk. They are available at hardware or department stores such as Hudson Bay or from chefs such as Anna Olson Kitchen.

Toad-in-the-Hole

The same grandma who warmed me with hot chocolate also had to make this breakfast for me every time I stayed with her. Somehow, making a hole in the bread made it so much more sophisticated than just toast with eggs.

  • 1 slice of bread 1
  • 2 tsp. butter 10 mL
  • 1 large egg 1
  • salt and pepper to taste

Cut a three-inch hole in the middle of the bread and discard. In a small skillet, melt the butter; place the bread in the skillet.

Place egg in the hole (making sure that there is a layer of butter melted under the egg). Cook for about two minutes over medium heat until the bread is lightly browned. Turn and cook the other side until egg yolk is almost set. Season with salt and pepper. Serves one.

Old-fashioned cinnamon toast

My maternal grandmother, Kay Kingwell, often served warm cinnamon toast, along with cool milk or a warm drink. This simple indulgence hit the spot every time. So simple in fact that it is hardly even considered a recipe, but the effects of eating it are to gourmet standards. Great to serve for those unexpected coffee guests.

Start by toasting a slice of bread. I like flax bread but the choice is personal. Once done toasting, spread butter over top while the bread is hot. Then sprinkle brown sugar over the top of each slice. Pack slightly with a knife or fork and then sprinkle ground cinnamon over the top. Eat immediately. Make as many slices as the number of people you want to serve.

Vegetable Corn Chowder

This rich satisfying soup has been passed down through my paternal side. It is a favourite of many. I have printed versions of this soup in the past, but I feel that the original deserves the honour. Serve this soup with fresh bread, buns or crackers. Would be a great sidekick to leftover turkey buns.

  • 2 potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 2 carrots, grated
  • 2 finely chopped celery stocks, a few chopped leaves give flavour
  • 2 medium onions
  • 1/4 c. flour 60 mL
  • 4 c. milk 1 L
  • 1/4 c. butter 60 mL
  • 2 10 oz (284 mL) cans of cream corn
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tbsp. fresh parsley or fresh dill 30 mL

In a large pot, saute the potato, carrot, celery and onion in a bit of butter or oil. Once the vegetables are tender, add the flour, milk and butter. Stir and cook over medium heat until thickened.

Once thick, add the cream corn, salt, pepper and parsley for flavour. Makes about four to six servings, depending on portion size. Add water if the soup seems too thick.

Garnish with fresh parsley or dill and a dash of paprika if desired.

Note: I always make this soup on the stove top, but at meals where everyone is eating at different times, I keep it warming in a slow cooker.

Company Chicken

The aroma and taste of this traditional meal awakens our senses.

  • 1/4 c. butter 60 mL
  • 1/2 c. flour 125 mL
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt 7 mL
  • 2 tsp. paprika 10 mL
  • 1/4 tsp. pepper 1 mL
  • generous dash of dry mustard powder
  • 3 lbs chicken pieces (equivalent to about six breasts, with skin) 1.4 kg

Preheat the oven to 425 F (205 C) and grease a 9 by 13 inch pan. In a mixing bowl, prepare the dry mixture of flour, salt, paprika, pepper and a dash of dry mustard powder. Set aside.

Melt the butter and dip each piece of chicken in the liquid before placing in the bowl of the dry mixture. Completely coat the chicken and arrange in the baking pan (skin side down if applicable). Let stand in the refrigerator for about one hour for best results.

Once chilled, place the pan in the heated oven and bake for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350 F(180 C) and bake for an additional 40 minutes or until done. This chicken is also good cold, served with potato salad.

This recipe can also be baked on a greased broiler pan or a grilling tray. The broiler/grilling pan method helps to keep the chicken coating crispier. Serve with cranberries. Serves four to six.

Complete this menu with oven-roasted rice and a tossed salad. Having the main-course entrees roasted in the oven makes preparation so efficient and cleanup so easy.

To roast rice:

  • 2 c. converted rice 500 mL
  • 4 c. hot water 1 L
  • 2 tbsp. butter 30 mL
  • 1 tsp. salt 5 mL

Combine the rice, water, butter and salt and place in a greased casserole. Remember to use quite a large dish because the rice will expand as it cooks.

Stir well and bake covered at 350 F (180 C) for 45 minutes or until rice is fluffy and all the liquid is absorbed. Serves four to six.

Note: When roasting the rice with the above chicken recipe, add to the oven when the temperature is adjusted to 350.

**Gift ideas for help with baked dishes: Patterned Silicon Trivets. These little tools are easy to clean and are soft on glass, cast or metal bakeware. Available at hardware stores or grocery stores.

Now for dessert

If you have followed this column throughout the years, you know I love angel food cake. It is easy to prepare, can be done ahead of time and is light after a filling meal.

Top with this lemon sauce and berries for an elegant finish.

Lemon topped angel food

  • 1 prepared angel food cake
  • 2 c. berries fresh or frozen (thawed) 500 mL
  • Sauce:
  • 2 c. chilled heavy whipping cream 500 mL
  • 1/4 c. sugar 60 mL
  • 2 tbsp. finely grated lemon peel 30 mL
  • 4 tsp. fresh lemon juice 20 mL

Combine all of the sauce ingredients in medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat until soft peaks form. It can be made a few hours before serving. Cover and chill. Re-whisk before using. Serve over angel food cake and garnish with berries.

**Gift ideas for cake makers: Cutco Santoku-Style Trimmer Knife for slicing available through Costco or at www.cutco.com canada.

Banana Muffins

This is the easiest banana recipe that I have. From my mom, Myrna Foster’s recipe box, it never fails us. Great as a breakfast muffin or served as a dessert with fruit salad.

  • 2 c. mashed bananas 500 mL
  • 3/4 c. sugar 175 mL
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 c. oil 60 mL
  • 1 tsp. baking soda 5 mL
  • 1 tsp. baking powder 5 mL
  • 1/2 tsp. salt 2 mL
  • 1 1/2 c. flour 375 mL

In a large mixing bowl, combine the bananas, sugar, egg and oil. Add the dry ingredients and mix well until the batter is smooth. Pour into muffin tins and bake at 375 F (190 C) for 20 minutes. Makes one dozen large muffins.

Note: Add a 1/2 c. (125 mL) of chocolate chips to satisfy chocolate cravings.

**Gift Ideas for Muffin makers: Trudeau Silicon Muffin Pans available at department or hardware stores, Cutco Cheese Knife to slice a side of cheese and the muffin (available through Costco or at www.cutco.com.) Also, trending are marble or wood cutting boards for practical cutting or for serving pieces. I have many sizes and use these most every day. The pieces feel rustic in the kitchen. Available at home decor, hardware and department stores.

Cookie Jar Ginger Snaps

These cookies are perfect to serve as a home treat, an accompaniment to hot coffee on a crisp cool morning or with a cool glass of milk after school. Also a great gift for those special people in your life. This is my big batch version.

  • 1 1/4 c. butter 310 mL
  • 2 c. brown sugar 500 mL
  • 1/2 c. molasses 125 mL
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 c. flour 1 L
  • 4 tsp. baking soda 20 mL
  • 1/2 tsp. salt 2 mL
  • 2 tsp. ground ginger 10 mL
  • 2 tsp. ground cinnamon 10 mL

Preheat oven to 375 F (190 C). In a mixing bowl, cream together the butter, brown sugar, molasses and eggs until combined and fluffy.

In a separate bowl, measure the flour, soda, salt and spices into a bowl and blend.

Stir into the creamed mixture and shape the dough into balls (about one inch/ 2.5 centimetres).

Roll the dough in white sugar and place about two inches (five cm) apart on a greased baking sheet. Bake for eight minutes. Cool.

Makes approximately four dozen.

Original Dad’s cookies

  • 1/2 c. butter or margarine 125 mL
  • 2 c. brown sugar 500 mL
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla 5 mL
  • 2 c. flour 500 mL
  • 1 tsp. baking soda 5 mL
  • 1 c. oatmeal 250 mL
  • 1 c. fine coconut 250 mL
  • Dash of salt to taste

Preheat oven to 350 F (180 C).

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter with the sugar. Add eggs and vanilla and mix until blended. In another bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, oatmeal, coconut and salt together. Add to the sugar mixture. Roll the dough into balls and place on a greased cookie sheet. Flatten with a flat glass bottom that has been dipped in sugar. Bake at 350 F for 10 to 12 minutes, until browned slightly. Makes about two dozen.

**Gift Ideas for Cookie Makers: Pampered Chef’s Mini Serving Spatula available at www.pamperedchef.ca.

Other tasty treats

I have a file called “My Haven,” which contains products I have tested that make everyday life more simple. I thought I would share store-bought high-quality pantry pleasers to help you be prepared for company over the holidays and all year through:

  • **Co-op Gold Pure Jams: All flavours are tasty but cherry is the overall winner.
  • **Co-op Gold Italian Soda: Sparkly and refreshing. All flavours are great but pink grapefruit is our favourite. However, pomegranate is the most festive. Great for those who want a non-alcoholic beverage to toast.
  • **Co-op Gold Pure Avocado Oil with Himalayan Pink Salt Chips: Great for snacking just plain or with your favourite dip.
  • **Something Special Gourmet Antipasto: Dip into this snack or appetizer with your favourite crackers. Like Christie Good Thins Rice Sesame or Crunch Master Multi Grain six seed.
  • **Something Special Red Chili Pepper Spread: Spread cream cheese on a cracker and top with a spoonful of this red chili pepper offering. A variation is to skip the cream cheese and substitute with a slice of your favourite cheese. A medium cheddar or colby is excellent but the choice is yours.

Note: The first three items are available at your local Co-op and the last two are available at Costco and select grocery stores.

Jodie Mirosovsky is a home economist from Rosetown, Sask., and a member of Team Resources. Contact: team@producer.com.

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