Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Champions of breakfast...

Photo by Taste of Home
As I was preparing tonight’s supper -- an egg and cheese bake and a hash brown casserole, to be served with a broccoli/cauliflower blend -- I was reminded of how much I enjoy breakfast. Not that I have a big breakfast on a regular basis, but it’s definitely our favorite meal to eat out; I enjoy entertaining with a brunch; and we often enjoy, as tonight, breakfast foods at supper time. I thought it would be fun to post some of my favorite breakfast and brunch type recipes for others to try. I hope others enjoy these as much as we do!

First up, some favorite coffeecakes:

1/2 cup butter or margarine
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
3 eggs
2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 cup sour cream
Pumpkin Layer:
1 (15 to 16-oz.) can pumpkin
1 slightly beaten egg
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup butter, softened
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 to 1 cup chopped pecans
Cream butter, sugar, and vanilla in mixer bowl. Add eggs, beating well. Sift together flour, baking powder, and soda and add them to the creamed mixture alternately with the sour cream. In a smaller bowl, combine the pumpkin, egg, sugar and pie spice. In another small bowl, combine all the streusel ingredients until crumbly.

Spoon half of the cake batter into a well-greased 13 x 9” pan. Spread the batter evenly, being sure to get into the corners of the pan. Sprinkle half of the streusel over the batter. Now spread all of the
pumpkin layer over the streusel. Next, spread the remaining cake batter evenly over the pumpkin layer. sprinkle the remaining streusel over the top. Bake at 325º until a toothpick comes out clean.
Makes one 13 x 9” coffee cake.

Coffee cake batter:
2 1/3 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. salt
3/4 cup butter
2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 cup milk
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 to 1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
Cheese filling:
1 cup ricotta cheese
1 egg
2 Tblsp. sugar
1 Tblsp. grated lemon peel (or substitute 1/2 tsp. pure lemon extract)
Streusel topping:
1 cup reserved crumbs
1/2 cup finely chopped nuts (optional)
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon

To make batter, combine flour, sugar and salt in large bowl. Cut in butter until crumbly. Reserve 1 cup of this crumb mixture and set aside. Add baking powder, milk, eggs, and vanilla to dry mixture
remaining in bowl. Beat on medium speed for 2 minutes, scraping bowl often. Pour evenly into greased 13x9” baking pan. Sprinkle blueberries evenly over batter. For cheese filling, blend all ingredients together until smooth; spoon evenly over blueberries. For topping, combine reserved crumbs with brown sugar, cinnamon, and nuts if using them.  Sprinkle over cheese layer.

Bake at 350º for 45 to 60 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool slightly before cutting. Makes 1 13x9” coffeecake -- about 20 to 24 servings.


1/2 c .flour
1/4 c. sugar
1/4 c. softened margarine
1/2 c. chocolate chips
Cocoa Layer:
3 T. cocoa
1/2 c. sugar
1 c. sugar
1/2 c. softened margarine
2 c. flour
1 c. sour cream
2 large eggs
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. vanilla
For topping, combine flour, sugar and margarine in small bowl until crumbly. Add chocolate chips and set aside.
For cocoa layer, combine ingredients in small bowl; set aside.
For batter, combine sugar and margarine in large bowl; beat until blended. Increase to high; beat until light and fluffy. Reduce heat to low, add remaining ingredients, and beat 3 minutes.
Heat oven to 350º. Grease a 13x9” pan or a 9” tube pan. Spread half of batter in pan; sprinkle with half the cocoa layer. Repeat layers. Sprinkle topping layer over all. Bake 50-55 minutes. For tube cake, cool in pan 10 minutes before removing to rack. 13x9” cake will be cut in squares and served from the pan.

This is a delicious coffeecake. The recipe seems long and complicated, but it’s really quite easy to make.

Next, here are some of our favorite muffins:


2 cups flour
2/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1/2 cup butter or margarine, melted
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

1/4 cup raspberry jam
36 whole almonds or 1/4 cup chopped almonds
Sugar for tops

Heat oven to 400º. Sift together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.
In a medium bowl, combine milk, butter, egg, vanilla and almond extract. Grease 12 muffin cups and fill each half full of batter.  Place 1 teaspoon raspberry jam in center of each batter-filled cup; top with remaining batter to cover jam. Top each muffin with 3 whole almonds or 1 teaspoon chopped almonds. Sprinkle tops with sugar.
Bake at 400º for 15 to 20 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before removing muffins from cups; serve immediately. Yield: 12 muffins.

I copied this muffin recipe off a radio cooking show years ago, and it's been a favorite with my family. When all of our children were home I baked muffins at least once a week. These yummy muffins taste fancier than you'd think from their quick preparation.


1/3 cup chopped dried cranberries
2 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons boiling water
1 3/4 cups flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
1/3 cup sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon grated orange peel
Sugar for tops, (optional)

In a small bowl, stir together the cranberries, 2 tablespoons sugar, and boiling water. Let stand while proceeding with recipe.
Heat oven to 400º. Sift together flour, cornmeal, 1/3 cup sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a large bowl, beat eggs lightly. Add milk and oil; beat until smooth. Stir in the orange peel and the
cranberry mixture. Stir in the sifted dry ingredients until just combined. Divide batter evenly among 12 greased muffin cups, filling 3/4 full. Sprinkle tops with sugar, if desired. Bake at 400º for 15 to 20 minutes. Cool several minutes before removing from cups. Yield: 12 muffins.

I don't remember where this recipe came from, but it's been in my handwritten cookbook for years. When my mother-in-law worked nights, she often stopped by our house for breakfast. This was a favorite baked treat to serve her with coffee.

1 3/4 cups flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon cardamom, optional
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
3/4 cup milk
Melted butter and cinnamon-sugar for top

Sift together the first 7 ingredients; set aside. In a bowl, combine the oil, egg, and milk; stir in dry ingredients just until combined.  Batter will be lumpy. Place batter in 12 greased muffin cups, filling
the cups only half full. Bake in preheated 350° oven for 20 to 25 minutes until golden brown. While muffins are still hot, remove from tins and dip the tops in melted butter, then in cinnamon-sugar. Place on a wire rack to cool, or serve immediately. 1/4 cup margarine will be more than enough for dipping the muffins.  Yield: 12 muffins

These are some of our very favorite muffins in our family. They are quick and easy to make.

** If you don't have cinnamon-sugar on hand, you can do this: Mix 3/4 cup sugar with 1 teaspoon cinnamon. Use what you need for this recipe; store the remainder in a jar or tin for future use. **


2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup margarine, melted
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup sour cream OR plain yogurt
1/2 teaspoon coconut extract
1 cup flaked coconut
1/2 cup chocolate chips
Almonds (either chopped, sliced, or whole) and sugar for tops of muffins

Preheat oven to 375º. Grease 12 muffin cups. Sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. In a large bowl, combine margarine, eggs, sour cream (OR yogurt), and extract. Stir in the sifted dry ingredients until just combined well. The batter will be lumpy. Stir in the coconut and chocolate chips. Spoon the batter into the greased muffin cups. Top each with a sprinkle of chopped or sliced almonds (or 3 whole almonds) and a little sugar. Bake in preheated 375º oven for 18 minutes or until muffins test done. Makes 1 dozen muffins.

Almond Joy Muffins are a great favorite in our family. They make a wonderful addition to any special-occasion or holiday breakfast or brunch. I found the recipe in an old newspaper years ago and have tweaked it a bit to suit our tastes.


1 cup quick or old-fashioned oats
1 cup buttermilk
1 egg
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup real margarine, melted
1 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup raspberry jam

Heat oven to 350º. Lightly grease 12 muffin cups. Combine oats and buttermilk in a medium bowl. Let stand 2 minutes; stir in egg, brown sugar and margarine. Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; add to oat mixture and stir just until combined. Divide batter among cups. Top each with l teaspoon jam. Bake until done, about 18 minutes. Turn out, cool slightly (the jam gets very hot) and serve. Yield: 1 dozen muffins

Years ago, when I cooked at an inn, I often baked a variation of this recipe. I think this version is even better. If you like, another type of jam may be substituted for raspberry.

Next, here are some cereal recipes we enjoy:


1 1/2 cups quick-cooking oats
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup butter or margarine, melted
1 egg
1 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla

Warm milk
Fresh fruit and/or brown sugar, optional

Combine the first eight ingredients; mix well. Spread evenly in a greased 13x9x2” baking pan. Bake at 350º for 25-30 minutes or until edges are golden brown. Immediately spoon into cereal bowls; add warm milk. Top with fruit and/or brown sugar if desired.

Yield: 6 servings.

This is such a nice change from regular oatmeal! It’s very different, but delicious.


4 cups milk
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 cups old-fashioned oats
2 cups chopped, unpeeled apples
1 cup raisins, optional
1 cup chopped walnuts, optional

In a large saucepan, combine the milk, brown sugar, butter, salt and
cinnamon. Bring mixture to a boil over medium heat. Meanwhile, combine all of the remaining ingredients in a large bowl. When the milk mixture comes to a boil, remove it from the heat. Pour the hot milk mixture over the oatmeal mix in the bowl. Stir well. Pour the mixture into a buttered 2-quart casserole. Cover the casserole and bake for 45 minutes at 350º, or until most of the liquid is absorbed. Serve with
additional milk or cream.

I found this recipe many years ago in my favorite cooking newsletter, Cook & Tell. We have served this oatmeal to many guests over the years and everyone loves it. I will sometimes omit the raisins and/or walnuts if I know our guests have picky children, but the nuts and raisins are a delicious addition to the recipe otherwise.


2 cups old-fashioned oats
3/4 cup wheat germ
1/2 cup chopped almonds
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup vegetable oil
Snipped dried apricots, raisins, or other dried fruit (optional)

Combine oats, wheat germ, almonds and sunflower seeds in a 2-quart glass casserole. Combine maple syrup and oil; pour over oat mixture. Stir to coat thoroughly. Microwave, uncovered, 5 minutes at High, stirring twice during cooking. Cool, stirring occasionally. When cooled, transfer to a storage container; store covered. When serving granola, top with dried fruit if desired. Yield: About 4 cups.

My family loves granola.. .preferably homemade! This is a delicious way to satisfy that granola craving when time is short.

Now, here are some wonderful breakfast and brunch dishes made with eggs:


12 slices day-old white bread, crusts removed, cut in 1-inch cubes
1 pkg. (8 oz.) cream cheese, cut in 1/2‰ cubes
1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
12 eggs
2 cups milk
1/3 cup maple syrup or honey
1 cup sugar
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup water
2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
1 Tablespoon butter

Place half of the bread cubes in a greased 13X9X2" baking dish. Top with all of the cream cheese cubes. Top with blueberries and remaining bread cubes. In a large bowl, beat eggs. Add milk and syrup; mix well. Pour over bread mixture. Cover and refrigerate 8 hours or overnight. Remove from refrigerator 30 minutes before baking. Cover with foil and bake at 350° for 30 minutes; then uncover and bake 25 - 30 minutes more or until golden brown and the center is set.
For sauce:
In a saucepan, combine sugar and cornstarch; add water. Bring to a boil over medium heat; boil for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Stir in blueberries; reduce heat. Simmer for 8 to 10 minutes, or until berries have burst. Stir in butter until melted. To serve, cut the French toast into squares; serve with blueberry sauce ladled over each portion.  Yield: 6 to 8 servings

This is a wonderful breakfast or brunch dish for company! I've never tried cutting the recipe in half, but you could probably do so and bake it in a 9” square dish.

2 cups seasoned croutons
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
4 eggs
2 cups milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground mustard
1/8 teaspoon onion powder
Pepper to taste
4 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled

Place the croutons and cheese in a lightly greased 9” square pan. combine milk, salt, mustard, onion powder and pepper. Pour this over the croutons and cheese in the pan. Sprinkle bacon on top. Cover and refrigerate overnight. In the morning, bake at 350°, uncovered, for l hour. Recipe may be doubled for a 13X9” pan.  Yield: 4 servings

This is my standby breakfast recipe when we have overnight guests. I also served it at 2 pre-wedding brunches to the wedding party. So easy, but delicious!

1 pkg. brown-and-serve sausage links
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 Tblsp. flour
1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
6 eggs
1/2 cup half-and-half cream (or milk)
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

Cook sausages according to package directions. Drain off any fat and set the sausages aside.

In ungreased 1 1/2-quart casserole dish, toss together the cheddar cheese and flour. Evenly sprinkle with the Monterey Jack cheese. In medium bowl, beat together the eggs, cream and Worcestershire until well blended. Pour over cheese. Arrange sausages in spoke fashion on top. Cover dish and refrigerate up to 24 hours. About 1 1/4 hours before serving, uncover dish and let stand at room temperature 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350°. Bake casserole for 35 to 40 minutes or until mixture is puffed and egg mixture appears set. Cut in wedges to serve.  Makes 4 to 6 servings.

This is the egg dish I would always make for any special breakfast until I found that Egg Brunch recipe, which is much simpler.

And here’s a delicious hash brown casserole that goes well with many of the egg dishes:


2 cans cream of potato (or cream of chicken) soup, undiluted
1 cup sour cream
1/2 tsp. garlic salt
1 pkg. (2 lb.) frozen hash brown potatoes (shredded type is best)
1 to 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

In large bowl, combine the soup, sour cream and garlic salt. Add potatoes and cheddar cheese; mix well. Pour into a greased 13x9x2” baking dish. Top with Parmesan cheese. Bake, uncovered, at 350º for 55-60 minutes or until potatoes are tender and casserole is hot and bubbly.

Yield: 6-8 servings

This yummy brunch or breakfast dish tastes very similar to the hash brown casserole served in Cracker Barrel restaurants. I usually use the lesser amount of cheddar to make the dish lower in fat, and also use light sour cream and reduced-fat soup.

And here’s a delicious homemade sausage:


1/4 cup water
2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. rubbed sage
1 tsp. pepper
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1/8 tsp. ground ginger
2 lb. ground pork

In a bowl, stir together water and seasonings. Add pork and mix well. Shape meat mixture into eight 4” patties (or a larger amount of smaller ones). In a skillet over medium heat, cook patties for 5 to 6 minutes on each side or until no longer pink in the center.

This is such a yummy recipe for homemade sausage! I often cut the amounts in half to make a smaller batch. This sausage is very lean and not at all greasy.

And finally, this drink recipe is just wonderful for a special breakfast or brunch:

1 can (6 ounces) frozen orange juice concentrate
1 cup cold water
1 cup milk
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
10 ice cubes

Combine the first 5 ingredients in a blender; process at high speed. Add ice cubes, a few at a time, blending until smooth. Serve immediately.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

This yummy drink has an “Orange Julius” type flavor. It always goes over well. I enjoy serving this as part of a brunch menu.

Kitchen-Table Wisdom...

Recently, in a Bible study I’ve been doing called “God’s Wisdom for a Woman’s Life,” I was challenged to write down my childraising principles. Even though I had a lot of principles I used when my children were growing up, I never had even attempted to write them down. The idea of doing so now -- even though my children are all grown and gone -- was so that I would be able to share my principles and thoughts with other young moms, as we older women are commanded to do in Titus 2. So I did make a stab at writing down my principles. Since this is theoretically the kind of information I might share across my kitchen table, I thought it might be good to record them here on my blog as well. I have no idea if anyone else is even reading this, but I hope it might be helpful to someone, somehow. These principles, by the way, are in no particular order, though I do believe the first one to be the most important. From then on, I just wrote them down as they came to mind. Some of these things I started out doing; others I learned along the way. Some of them have been refined a bit as I’ve learned from other older or wiser women.


1. Point children to God from the very beginning.
2. Start them on the habit of personal devotions as early as possible.
3. Make attending church services a regular part of your week -- something your family joyfully chooses to do, not something you’re obligated to do.
4. Teach your children to do their best. I relied on this bit of wisdom: “It’s not a sin to fail -- but it is a sin to do less than your best.”
5. Make sure the type of education you choose for your children lines up with your family’s Christian standards.
6. Have a “no-whining” policy with your children.
7. Have a plan in place to defuse arguments over who’s first, who sits where in the car, who got the biggest piece of dessert, etc.
8. Teach your children that delayed obedience is actually disobedience.
9. Emphasize the need to obey right away as important to their safety. (I once observed some children, for example, playing among parked cars on a busy street after church. The parents were trying to get control but the children were ignoring them. Delayed disobedience in this case could have led to injury or even death.)
10. Teach children early to begin memorizing Scripture.
11. Take every opportunity to teach children about the Christian life.
12. Make sure that you, yourself, are living the Christian life. Actions will always speak louder than words.
13. Help children to understand the important of right choices.
14. Require your children to try a tiny amount of whatever good foods are being served. If they like it, they can have more.
15. Pick your battles. Some things are just not important enough to make a big deal over.
16. Teach children to do simple chores at a very young age. As they grow, they can gradually take on more responsibilities around the house.
17. Teach kids money management -- saving, giving, responsible spending, etc.
18. Allow children plenty of time to exercise their creativity, and teach them how to clean up after themselves.
19. Factor outdoor play, fresh air and exercise into every day, if at all possible.
20. Help children to realize that they can’t always have things their way -- and that doing things God’s way is far more important to their happiness than having their own way.
21. Help children realize that life isn’t always fair -- but that God is in control of all of life, and He is always fair.
22. Teach your children to look at God, not the circumstances.
23. I didn’t allow boredom. There is always something interesting to do. If anyone complained about being bored (and my own children almost never did), they knew I’d find them a job to do.
24. Do all you can to emphasize books and reading, and to help your children learn to read well. Take them to the library and allow them to pick out books from an early age.
25. Be consistent.
26. Always follow through on what you say you’ll do, whether it’s a disciplinary action or a promise of something fun. Kids quickly pick up on it if you don’t mean what you say.
27. Help children understand that their actions always have consequences.
28. Take time to listen to your kids.
29. Appreciate each of your children as an individual. They are all different!
30. Consider either not having a television or using it mostly to view worthwhile movies of your choice. My kids grew up without one and I think it helped them learn to be creative and entertain themselves. It also helped their attention spans and reading skills.

In the study book I spoke of above -- “God’s Wisdom for a Woman’s Life” by Elizabeth George -- I found great encouragement in these words, which allude to the fact that training children takes a heart of faith. “As God’s mothers [that is, of course, mothers who love God and are seeking to walk with Him], we have to believe that, no matter how dark and discouraging things get or how many mysterious, heartbreaking turns the parenting path takes, our teaching is important .. just because God says it is.”

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Christmas Cooking and Baking...

Wow, it has sure been awhile since I posted here. Things have been going crazy ever since Thanksgiving, and it’s long past time for me to check in and report on the Christmas cooking that went on around my house. I hope anyone who happens to be reading this had a nice Christmas!

Cook & Tell is my favorite cooking newsletter and a fantastic source of new and different recipes. As usual, I used my Dec C&T’s a lot through the holiday season. There were many occasions to cook and tell, from tea parties to Christmas dinner, from refreshments after caroling to a New Years’ open house. If anyone is interested in checking out Cook & Tell for themselves, I have a link here on my blog. Back issues are still available, and a year’s subscription is $20. You’ll find the details on the C&T site.

My husband had 2 of his wisdom teeth out in early December, which meant soft foods for awhile -- not for as long as the oral surgeon suggested, but for awhile anyway! . One of my early “comfort food” meals for him as he survived on a soft diet was the Shepherd’s Pie from Dec. 98. Very tasty! Another thing I tried in that time frame was the Avocado Omelet from Dec 01. We loved it!

I tried a couple of new cookie recipes this year in addition to some of our family’s old favorites. One such was the Peppermint Snowballs from Dec 98. I made them round rather than flat and didn’t bother to roll them in confectioners sugar (it seemed unnecessary to me) -- just drizzled the glaze and sprinkled with the crushed candies. Oh, are those good! Have any of you tried the Celestial Seasonings holiday tea called Candy Cane Lane? Wish I had bought more -- that stuff is so addictive. It’s green tea with peppermint and a touch of vanilla -- actually does have a “candy cane” flavor, much more so than regular peppermint tea. Anyway, the Peppermint Snowballs have much the same flavor. I love them and will make them a regular in my Christmas baking.

Another cookie recipe I tried from another source also became an instant favorite. I found them in this year’s Country Woman Christmas magazine. They are a sort of a chocolate crinkle cookie, but when they come out of the oven you top each one with an Andes mint, wait a minute or two and swirl the melted mint into an icing. Wonderful! The icing sets and hardens into a smooth chocolate-mint glaze that holds up just fine in the freezer.

Old favorites I made this year were Sacher Torte cookies, Whipped Shortbread, Eggnog Logs, Chocolate Spritz, and Gingersnaps. I also tried another new one -- a Lime Spritz recipe (actually can be made with any flavor) made with lime jello, from a Taste of Home. Interestingly, I had several requests for this recipe from those who tasted it. It livened up my cookie plates -- I used the tree disc of the cookie press. Wreaths would be nice too.

I also did Christmas cookie baking with the grandkids... and their moms. I’m not yet brave enough to take all three of them all by myself. (And by the end of May there’ll be a fourth.) We all had such fun! We’re thinking we may try it again with Valentine cookies.

Of course, I made Double-Decker P.B. Fudge from Dec 96 (aka Heavenly Delight in our family). Made a batch for nibbling and gifting, then later made a double batchfor gifts. That is one terrific recipe. It never fails!

Special Holiday Fudge (Dec 88) also is one that I always make. Just as good as ever! This one, with its nuts, raisins, almond and orange flavoring, really tastes like Christmas to me.

I tried a new fudge recipe this year called Four-Chip Fudge (semisweet, milk choc., p.butter, and butterscotch). Oh, was that good, and the recipe made a LOT of fudge. I’m sure I’ll make it again, even though it wasn’t quite all that I hoped for, You see, when I saw the recipe in an old Taste of Home, I was hoping it might taste like some fudge a dear elderly lady used to make for our family. She never would share the recipe, even though she was otherwise a most generous soul, but she passed away some time ago. This recipe came close to tasting like her fudge -- but, as my friend Marilyn reminded me, Peggy’s fudge had streaks of peanut butter in it. We’re not sure if that was by design or if she just didn’t stir it in well enough. If anybody reading this recognizes the recipe, speak up! We would love to know how to make that fudge.

I took trays of cookies almost everywhere we were invited. For an open house at our pastor’s home, I also took along a couple of blue cheese logs (from a cheese ball recipe) rolled in toasted pecans. This is a recipe from Ken Haedrich’s book Home for the Holidays. My youngest daughter loved to make this in years gone by for different holiday events. Alas, she and her hubby did not come East this Christmas. But the cheese logs brought back some very nice memories.

Christmas Eve we had our “Christmas” with our local kids and the three grandchildren. Made our usual Christmas Eve Soup which I’ve been making probably close to 25 years. It’s just a simple potato soup (but made with cream) with carrots and celery which you garnish with shredded cheddar and crumbled bacon. This year we served cheese pizza alongside, as all the kids will eat that. My daughter-in-law brought a salad, and that rounded out our main course. My daughter brought a dessert -- a chocolate peanut butter trifle -- and I made a gingerbread trifle. Both recipes were from Quick Cooking. Of course I also put out a plate of cookies and fudge.

For Christmas dinner, we ate with my folks after church. They really don’t cook much these days, but they heated up a purchased chicken pie and some frozen peas and Dad cooked a squash. I brought a plate of ham, some mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce. For dessert we had leftover gingerbread trifle and -- what else? -- the inevitable cookies and fudge.

Five other ladies and I have been getting together for a lunchtime “tea party” each month for almost a year now. Fun! We take turns hosting the group, which includes two little children as well. For December, we decided that a progressive tea party was in order, so we could all see one another’s decorations. One of the group had family visiting from Scotland, so her mom was able to join in too. At the last house -- ours -- the spouses joined us for dessert. I made a caramel pecan pie from a Gooseberry Patch Christmas book, a cherry mousse pie from an old Taste of Home, and of course the good old tray of cookies and fudge. I also made a wonderful drink from C&T -- a delicious Mulled Cranberry Orange Juice from Dec 98. That went over very well and smelled and tasted so festive and warming. I’ll be making that again before the winter is over! I also tried something very different -- a recipe called Effortless Eggnog from a recent Taste of Home. It contains no eggs, just French Vanilla instant pudding mix, milk, vanilla and spices. What a great recipe! Everyone loved it. It tastes completely “real”, yet there’s no worry about raw eggs or the fuss of trying to cook the egg mixture.

This past Saturday we had friends over and served lasagna. I have a veggie lasagna recipe I cobbled together from a C&T recipe of years gone by and another recipe I had. This time I made it with Alfredo sauce rather than the spaghetti sauce I usually use. What a hit! Also served a regular meat lasagna, French bread (from Walmart’s bakery --really quite tasty and only $1 ) and a medley of roasted veggies -- mushrooms, zucchini, baby carrots, red & yellow peppers.

Tonight’s supper is Beef Barbecue from Dec 94. It’s sort of an Italian beef, made with a pot roast, dry Italian dressing mix (I make my own) and banana pepper rings. Quite a favorite. I’m serving it on Italian dinner rolls from the supermarket bakery, with coleslaw on the side. (The easiest cole slaw in the world is made like this: get a bag of coleslaw mix from the produce section and put as much of it as you want to use into a bowl. Add mayonnaise -- I like Hellman’s light -- until the mixture looks just a little bit too dry for your taste. Then dribble in some seasoned rice vinegar and mix until the coleslaw is as moist as you like it. That’s it! There’s some salt and sugar in the rice vinegar, and you’ll find that’s all the seasoning you’ll need. This good idea comes from the book Saving Dinner.)

A part of Christmas I always enjoy is sharing homemade goodies with others. As usual, again this year I spent time at my kitchen table packaging up treats to share. I usually try and make a bread or fruitcake in small loaves, to include with cookies, fudge, cookie mixes, etc. This year I made something new (to me) called Gift of the Magi bread. It did look jewel-like, containing bananas, cherries, and mandarin oranges, among other ingredients. I didn’t get to taste it myself, but it looked lovely and festive wrapped in brown paper with red ribbons, and I hope everyone enjoyed it.

You know, it occurs to me now that although this Christmas was different for me, and I didn’t feel as organized or ready as I often do, I may have done more cooking than usual -- and I definitely found more joy in doing so.