Family Favorite Entrees

So what’s left to share about sweet Ma Klein? How about some of my favorite memories? (hover over the images below to reveal their captions)

As the youngest Klein, many of my earliest memories are of daytimes spent playing alongside Mom while she managed our home … of course, pining for my older brother and sister to get home from school to have playmates. Mom had a way of making those days special — I remember her once making us brown sugar and butter half-sandwiches, and sharing that her grandmother had made them for her. It felt like a treat to have these shared with me, and it was the only time I remember her making them. There was a time when she took only me blueberry picking with her. As the baby, it’s easy to feel left out and incapable … too young to ride bikes with your older siblings to the garage sales … too young to stay up late with everyone else to watch “The Boy in the Plastic Bubble” movie. So when you’re selected for an activity … solo … it’s a real boost!

I admire how Mom loved each of us kids differently … recognizing that each of us had different needs. Looking back on it, I now realize what an excellent job she did of introducing us to what she thought was important … giving us strong foundations in musical training, religion, political beliefs, and principles of ethics and love of fellow person … and then, like the wonderful parent that she is, she knew exactly when to let go. To let us become the people who we are. To let us quit the music lessons when we were ready … to choose whether or not to go to church on Sunday … to choose how to vote. She often repeated a phrase her mother taught her: “Your role as a parent is to become expendable.”

Mom is the type of parent who it is a JOY to come back to, as you’ve probably already surmised. She has very gracefully made the transition to becoming a friend in addition to a parent. I will always be her daughter, but she does not make me feel like a child. Never has she pressured us kids to give her grandchildren … to approach politics her way … to practice her faith. Though we may not see eye-to-eye, her love and acceptance is steadfast, which is one of the greatest gifts I have ever received. The older I get, the more I treasure this, and the long-term influence it has had on me.

As I mentioned earlier, Mom loves to love. Like many people at her stage in life, she has some medical issues which have resulted in the need for healthcare assistance. Knowing the shifts can be long for those caregivers, don’t ya know, she assembled a book for them to read to help pass the time! It’s a collection of her favorite cartoons and articles. That Ma Klein is just the sweetest! Her love nourishes all of us lucky enough to be in her circle. ❤️

And so this mini-series concludes, and I hope these recipes nourish you. Here are my favorite entrees of hers that I grew up with, made recently when we visited for the Christmas holiday. And all of them freeze and thaw well, so as the motto says: make big batches, freeze some, and then go play! And love your loved ones!

Honey Pecan Chicken (serves 6)

  • 1 package (6 oz) Stove Top® Cornbread Stuffing Mix
  • 1 cup hot water
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 of a stick) of unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 Tablespoons orange juice
  • 6 boneless skinless chicken breast halves
  • 6 slices bacon

Heat oven to 375F.

Stir contents of vegetable/seasoning packet, butter and water in bowl to melt butter. Add 1/2 cup orange juice, stuffing crumbs and pecans; stir just to moisten.

Mix honey and 2 Tablespoons orange juice. Arrange chicken in a single layer in 13″x9″ baking pan. Spoon 1/2 of honey mixture over chicken.

Press 1/2 cup stuffing on each chicken breast and wrap with 1 slice bacon. Spoon remaining honey mixture over chicken.

Bake 40 mins or until cooked through.

*I have a fierce sweet tooth, but I really don’t like my entrees to be sweet, so I skip the honey-mixture part of this recipe. If you want to add some sweetness, I have folded-in 1/2 cup chopped craisins in the past, and found the combo to be tasty! *I cut the bacon slices and criss-cross them on top of the chicken-stuffing, so that all of the bacon gets crispy. Otherwise the bacon wrapped underneath the chicken-stuffing never cooks all the way.

 

Chicken Crescents, or as Mom calls them, “Chicken Bundles” (serves 8)

  • One 8-oz package cream cheese, softened
  • 6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and divided
  • 4 cups cooked chicken, chopped (or more)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 4 Tablespoons milk
  • 2 Tablespoons onion, minced
  • Two 8-oz cans crescent rolls
  • 1-1/2 cups croutons, crushed

Preheat oven to 350F.

Blend cream cheese and 4 Tablespoons butter until smooth.

Add chicken, salt, pepper, milk and onion.

Separate crescent rolls into 8 rectangles. Seal perforations.

Spoon 1/2 cup chicken mixture onto center of each rectangle and pull corners to top and twist, pressing together. Brush tops with melted butter and sprinkle with crouton crumbs.

Bake on a parchment-lined baking sheet for 20 mins until golden brown.

*We like onion, so I use more like half of a small onion, minced. *While maintaining the sealed perforation, I find I need to stretch these rectangles to be able to accommodate wrapping the edges around the filling. *I find that I always have A LOT of leftover filling, so I pile it on toasted English muffins for lunch the following day. *I substitute cracker crumbs for crushed croutons.

 

Sausage and Cheese Strata (serves 8-12, depending on portion size)

  • One 16-oz package ground mild breakfast sausage
  • One 12-oz package English muffins, split and buttered
  • One 10-oz package extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
  • One 8-oz package mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1-1/2 cups sour cream
  • One 4-oz can chopped green chiles, drained

Cook sausage in skillet, stirring and crumbling; drain on paper towels, set aside.

Cut muffin halves into quarters, and arrange in even layer in lightly buttered 13″x9″ casserole dish. Sprinkle each half with half, each, of sausage, cheddar, mozzarella evenly over muffins.

Whisk together eggs, sour cream and chiles in a large bowl. Pour evenly over sausage, cheeses, muffins. Top with remaining sausage and cheeses. Cover and chill 8 hours.

Bake 350F for 40-50 minutes, until cheese on top is slightly browned. Let rest 10 minutes before serving.

*Though this is typically a brunch dish, I like serving it at dinner, with tomato soup and a salad. Easy to make in the morning before you go to work, then bake when you get home. *This fills a 13″x9″ casserole ALL the way to the rim, so if you have a sightly bigger casserole dish, I recommend using it.

 

Thanks for following along! She loved having the first two posts read to her for my Christmas gift, by the way! We had a wonderful visit!  😍 Happy New Year, all!

Continue Reading

Holiday Appetizers

 

Continuing in my mini-series of a tribute to my mother (Best Mom Ever) with Part 2:

**Before I go further, if you know my Mom, please do NOT mention this blog post. I’m going to write a couple “Odes to Mom” and print them to give to her as a Christmas gift this year! Shhhhhh! 🤗**

Last week I focused on her love of language, creativity, whit and enthusiasm. This week, I’ve been thinking a lot about her integrity. Which weaves through all areas of her life.

Mom taught us kids to lead our lives honorably. To be sincere and trustworthy. To handwrite letters and thank you notes. She instilled in us the importance of good manners.

She taught us the fine art of leaving off. To leave … wanting more … while being cognizant not to overstay our welcome.

She modeled forgiveness, gently reminding us, “We all have our weaknesses.” And, “Don’t keep score.”

Everything she did, she did well. She provided a wonderful example of the importance of practicing and rehearsing. Whether for a musical performance, when she was substitute organist at our church, or before delivering her Circle lesson or program to her P.E.O. sisterhood, Mom was well-prepared.

She made sure each Christmas was memorable. Our stockings were filled with neat, old-fashioned toys – such as wind-up toy mice, that we set-up to have races with after dinner. A cricket with a suction cup in the center, that provided lots of entertainment, anticipating just when it would spring off the surface … and the fun with trying to find where it landed. She read “The Polar Express” aloud to us one year, and we each got a bell with the word “Believe” on the tag.

She got the greatest pleasure in decorating and providing a festive environment. Each year in the roll of holiday pictures she developed, was the photo of the Christmas tree with all of the presents underneath, and the cat sleeping beside it. The clock on the wall behind the tree inevitably revealed she had stayed up until 2am and beyond … all to ensure the most joyous holiday possible.

Some of my favorite memories are attending the Christmas Eve midnight service at the church in my hometown. Each year, the service concluded with us singing “Joy to the World” by candlelight … simply beautiful. We’d return home to our reward for staying up so late: getting to open *one* gift before Christmas!!! All while munching on little ham sandwiches, party pizzas, and cheeseball and crackers.

Love that Ma Klein. Everything she does, she does well. And Mom loves to love.

These are my favorite holiday appetizer recipes from my childhood — lovingly transcribed exactly as they’ve been lovingly passed down to me.

Cheeseball 

  • 1 pound sharp cheddar cheese, grated
  • One 8-oz package cream cheese
  • 3/4 cup finely-chopped (ground) salted cashew nuts
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced

Everything will combine better if soft, so allow ingredients to come to room temperature, then stir to combine. Taste a little — add salt and freshly-ground black pepper, if desired. Divide into 2 parts, and shape into round discs. Roll the sides and bottom of the discs in more ground cashew nuts, then decorate the tops with pecan halves.

These can be made in advance and frozen. To serve, bring to room temperature. Best served with “Town House” brand crackers, though “Ritz” or any brand/type of cracker will certainly do.

Party Pizzas

  • 2 loaves Pepperidge Farm party rye bread
  • 2 lbs. mild breakfast sausage, such as Jimmy Dean brand
  • 1 lb. Velveeta cheese
  • 1 Tablespoon (or more) ketchup
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • dried oregano, to taste
  • 1 jar pizza Sauce (such as Ragu Pizza Quick)
  • Canned, grated Parmesan cheese

Fry sausage in large skillet. Drain off grease. Add ketchup, garlic powder, Worcestershire sauce and oregano. Mix well. Cut Velveeta in large chunks and stir in until melted. Put parchment paper or foil on 2 large cookie sheets. Cover with bread slices. Spread each slice with sausage mixture. Spread to edges of bread. Put a dollop of pizza sauce on each and spread to edges. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Freeze on cookie sheets. When solid, place in ziplock bags until needed. To serve, bake straight from the freezer on foil- or parchment-covered cookie sheet at 450°F for about 10 minutes. Makes approximately 70. (Don’t try to bake them in a microwave oven – they are soggy and terrible!)

Little Ham Sandwiches

  • 1 cup butter or margarine, softened
  • 1 small onion, minced
  • 1 tablespoon poppy seeds
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 5 (7 1/2-ounce) packages party rolls (such as Sister Schubert’s Parker House rolls)
  • 2 pounds thinly sliced ham, chopped
  • 12 ounces Swiss cheese slices
Beat butter and next 4 ingredients at medium speed with an electric mixer until blended. Split rolls horizontally without separating; spread butter mixture evenly over bottom halves. Top with ham, cheese, and remaining halves of rolls. Bake at 350°F for 15 minutes. Makes approximately 60 sandwiches. Can be made-ahead and frozen, prior to baking. Then defrost and bake, as needed.
Stay tuned for the conclusion of this mini-series, which will be some of my favorite entree recipes of hers, lovingly prepared while we’re all home for Christmas! ❤️
Continue Reading

Holiday Cookies

You may remember that I Have the Coolest Brother. Period. Additionally, I know everyone thinks they have the best Mom in the world. But I really do!  😍

**Before I go further, if you know my Mom, please do NOT mention this blog post. I’m going to write a couple “Odes to Mom” and print them to give to her as a Christmas gift this year! Shhhhhh! 🤗**

Everyone who knows my Mom, knows that she is a kind, gentle and sweet soul. Those who are lucky enough to have been in a group or organization with her have benefited from her thoughtful, clever, creative side. A collector of cartoons and articles, she has accented many a church Circle lesson and choir rehearsal with a perfectly selected New Yorker one-framer — clipped long ago and saved, in case an occasion presented itself for use. Recently, while we enjoyed a snack together, she casually quoted one: “You know, the early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese!”

A lover of language, she weaves carefully-selected words and phrases into her conversation and writing. Often times we kids received witty poems with our birthday cards, or to provide cheer when we were blue. I remember learning the phrase “to gild the lily” when we were traveling together through the Arizona desert and I cleaned my windshield at a gas station with a squeegee, followed by dispensing the car’s wiper fluid and using my windshield wipers as we pulled away from the station. Before we all carried smart phones with their instant access to information, I used to call Mom with any of my questions: “Mom, what’s the difference between an accordion and a concertina?” I called her my “Mom-clopedia” and my “Mom-tionary.”

Endlessly supportive and enthusiastic, I was the lucky recipient of many a gift or lesson, after just the slightest indication of interest. I followed baseball with my father for a little while — and a subscription to Sports Illustrated appeared in my Christmas stocking that year! When I presented an ad for a Wilton cake decorating class, not only did she register me, but bought me a kit of decorating tips and all the introductory tools for success. Her support went well past gifts. When my brother took an interest in computing back in the early 80s, his birthday cake was decorated with the Apple logo that year! Our cakes were always cleverly decorated, many times incorporating puns. For my boat-loving, sport-fishing father whose standard response to the question what do you want for your birthday/Christmas was “A 20-foot Bertram,” I remember her decorating his cake with a toy boat with twenty tiny feet attached to its base. Her support wasn’t only demonstrated with gifts and creations, but also with her compassion. If I were sick, she’d smooth-back the hair from my forehead, with the soothing phrase “poor little lamb.” Beyond gifts, creations and compassion, her love is unconditional and deeply-felt by all of us. Qualifying her to be Best Mom Ever! (hover over the photos below to reveal their captions)

The irony is not lost on me … the classically trained chef … that the recipes I make that people enjoy the most … and are most-often requested … are the ones I inherited from my Mom. During this Christmas season, I thought I’d share my holiday favorites, starting with sweets. This is the first of at least two posts I’ll share with her recipes.

I am transcribing these exactly — points for the use of “blobs” in the directions below:

Applesauce Coffee Cake

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 t. baking powder
  • 3/4 t. salt
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups applesauce
  • cinnamon-sugar

Cream softened butter and sugar. Add eggs and stir well. Add baking powder and salt and stir well. Add flour and stir well. Dough will be very stiff and sticky and form a ball. Cut off 1/3 of the dough ball and set aside. Press remaining dough into a parchment-lined (or greased) 15x10x1″ jellyroll pan. Spread dough with applesauce and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Pinch-off pieces of remaining dough that you set aside, and drop evenly in blobs on top of applesauce until the dough is used up. Sprinkle again with cinnamon-sugar. Bake at 350F for 40-45 minutes. Let cool before cutting into squares. Freezes beautifully. Serve warm or room temperature. It’s even good warm with ice cream — rather like apple pie.

Notes from me: I serve this as a bar cookie, and I vary the fruit-sauce with whatever I have on-hand. These photos show nectarine and raspberry sauces, from fruits I picked this summer. I find that tart, not overly-sweet fruit sauces, such as those containing sour cherries or rhubarb, get rave reviews in these bar cookies. These actually get better over time, as they soften more each day.

Holiday Spice Cookies — like a glorified oatmeal-raisin cookie

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature & soft
  • 1-3/4 cups brown sugar

Stir together butter and sugar, until just combined — no need to whip air into the mixture.

  • 1-1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon

Add to butter-sugar mixture and stir to combine.

  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 2 cups flour

Add oats and flour to butter-sugar-spice mixture and stir to combine.  Separate 2/3 of the mixture out into a parchment-paper-lined (or very well-greased) 9″x13″ baking pan, and press to create an even crust in bottom of pan.

Pour contents of one 1-lb 12oz jar of mincemeat (3 cups) over crust, and spread evenly. In the past I bought Cross & Blackwell brand mincemeat, but now I usually only find Nonesuch brand, which is equally good.

To remaining 1/3 of butter-sugar-spice mixture, add 1/2 cup toasted, chopped nuts (I use toasted pecan pieces).

Crumble the remaining 1/3 of the mixture evenly over the top of the mincemeat.  Press slightly into the fruit compote.

Bake for 1 hour. Allow to cool at least 30 minutes before cutting.

Yield: approximately 48 bars. These freeze beautifully, and can be thawed for about 30 seconds in the microwave, and would be very good, slightly heated, with vanilla ice cream on top.

Pecan Pie Bars  I like these so much more than a slice of pecan pie, which is too rich for me. This has a better ratio of filling to crust, in my opinion.

Cookie crust: Line a jelly-roll pan (15″x10″x1″-deep) pan with parchment paper — with generous overhang of paper around all 4 sides of pan. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

  • 2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 sticks frozen butter that has been grated on the large holes of a cheese grater
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Combine ingredients in a large bowl, and use pastry cutter, two knives, or mixer to blend until mixture resembles fine crumbs.

Press crumbs evenly and firmly into parchment paper-lined pan. Bake 12 minutes. Rotate pan 180 degrees for even baking, in case there are hot spots in your oven. Bake another 12 minutes or until golden brown.

While Cookie Crust is baking, make Filling:

  • 4 eggs
  • 1-1/2 cups Karo® Light or Dark corn syrup
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2-1/2 cups toasted, chopped pecan pieces

Add ingredients in large mixing bowl and stir to combine.

  • 3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Add to above, and stir to combine.

Pour Filling over baked Cookie Crust, and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 13 minutes. Rotate pan 180 degrees for even baking, in case there are hot spots in your oven —  and bake another 13 minutes, until filling is firm, lightly browned and even slightly domed in center.

Cool completely. Cut into squares. Yield: approximately 48 bars.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this mini-series which will be my favorite appetizer recipes of hers. ❤️

Continue Reading