The Tri-City Herald Editorial Board has a Christmas tradition of taking a break from commenting on the issues of the day to offer personal reflections on the holiday. This year we each contributed a favorite recipe.
The only dish more highly anticipated by my family at Thanksgiving and Christmas than the turkey or ham was oyster casserole. For generations this has been the premier McConnell side dish. I have no idea if there’s a family recipe floating around somewhere, but this recipe from “What’s Cooking America” fits the bill well.
You can buy oysters in a can or jar but nothing beats freshly shucked if you’re willing to put in the time and elbow grease.
Oyster Casserole Recipe
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Yield: 6 servings
1 quart (30 to 40 oysters depending on size) fresh shucked oysters, drained and divided
1 cup coarsely-crumbled saltine cracker crumbs, divided
1/4 cup chopped scallions or green onions, divided
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley, divided
2 tablespoons freshly-squeezed lemon juice, divided
Salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce, divided
1/4 cup butter, divided
1 cup light cream or half & half
Paprika for dusting
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Generously grease a shallow 1 1/2-quart casserole dish.
If your oysters are not shucked, shuck oysters, and drain well.
Sprinkle 1/2 of the saltine cracker crumbs over the bottom of prepared casserole dish. Lay half of the oysters on top of the cracker crumbs, then sprinkle with 1/2 of the onions, 1/2 of the parsley, 1/2 of the lemon juice, salt, pepper, and 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce. Dot generously with 1/2 of the butter and pour 1/2 of the cream over the top.
Repeat layers with the remaining oyster, onions, parsley, lemon juice, salt and pepper, and Worcestershire sauce. Dot with the remaining 1/2 of the butter. Spread the remaining 1/2 cup of cracker crumbs for the top. Pour the remaining 1/2 of the cream over the top. Add a dash of Tabasco if desired before covering with the remaining saltine cracker crumbs. Dust the top with paprika, using enough to make it really red.
Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and serve hot.
— Gregg McConnell, Publisher
It wasn’t Christmas at my family home without a batch of a sweet Italian cookie called cialde, with its unusual licorice flavor from anise seeds.
Long after I’d left home, when my mother asked, “Anything special you want me to make at Christmas?” there were always three answers: homemade mincemeat pie, cinnamon rolls and cialde.
All are part of my family’s holiday traditions. And all take plenty of work.
My mom has since taught my son, now 16, to make the rolls. And she long ago gave me the meat grinder to churn out the pie filling — though I’ve yet to tackle that recipe.
But this year, I’ve finally made cialde, using the heavy cookie iron handed down by my grandmother.
The batter is simple but it’s a time-intensive, finger-scorching process to “bake” each cookie individually and roll them while they’re hot.
Maybe that’s what makes them special — you can’t churn out dozens at a time. And what better way to spend part of the holidays than standing in your kitchen, spending time with a relative or friend.
This Italian cookie is baked on a heavy iron griddle like a Pizzelle and then rolled while still hot into a tight cylinder. When cool, they are a crispy treat with tea or coffee
2 C. sugar
1 TB vanilla extract
1 TB almond extract
3 TB water
1 1/4 C milk (add a little more if too thick)
2 TB anise seed
3 C. flour
Combine all ingredients, except flour and anise. Sift flour and stir into mixture. Mix in anise.
Pour 1-2 TB batter in center of hot iron and shut. Bake about 1 minute each side until lightly browned. Remove and roll quickly.
— Laurie Williams, Executive Editor
The recipes that stand out in my childhood holiday memories are sugar cookies, marshmallow logs and homemade noodles — my Grandma Sadie’s noodles, to be specific. I made a lot of cookies with my family as a child but the noodles fascinated me. Grandma was the only one to tackle that chore. I’d never seen anyone make homemade pasta. It seemed like such an elaborate process and the end result was delicious, especially when combined with stock made from the remnants of a turkey carcass or bone-in Prime Rib. A couple of carrots, celery, onion and a bay leaf seemed like all Grandma needed to make delicious soup to support her noodles. I make these frequently as an adult and though I have a pasta maker, I still make these by hand, just like she did. It’s actually quite simple. For the holidays, make them in advance and send guests home with noodles and leftovers to make their own soup memories. Here’s a pro tip: Drape the noodles over hangers borrowed from your closet for easy clump-free drying.
With a nod to Better Homes & Gardens, the familiar red and white checked cookbook most of us grew up with...
Grandma Sadie’s Noodles
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
2 egg yolks, beaten
1 egg, beaten
1/3 cup water
1 tsp. cooking oil or olive oil
In a large bowl stir together 1-3/4 cups of the flour and the salt. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture. In a small bowl stir together egg yolks, whole egg, water, and oil. Add egg mixture to flour mixture; mix well.
Sprinkle a kneading surface with the remaining 1/4 cup flour. Turn dough out onto floured surface. Knead until dough is smooth and elastic (8 to 10 minutes total — I don’t have this much patience —5 minutes works). Cover and let the dough rest for 10 minutes.
Divide dough into four equal portions. On a lightly floured surface, roll each portion of dough into a 12x9-inch rectangle (about 1/16 inch thick). Let stand, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Lightly dust dough with flour. Loosely roll dough into a spiral; cut into 1/4-inch-wide strips. Shake the strands to separate; cut into 2- to 3-inch lengths.
To serve immediately, cook for 1-1/2 to 2 minutes or until tender but still firm, allowing 1 to 2 more minutes for dried or frozen noodles. Drain.
To store cut noodles, spread them on a wire cooling rack. Let noodles dry about 1 hour or until completely dry. Place in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 3 days. Or dry the noodles for at least 1 hour and place in a freezer bag or freezer container; freeze for up to 8 months. Makes 5 servings.
— Lori Lancaster, Editorial Writer
Chocolate Drop Cookies
My favorite Christmas recipe is for a chocolate cookie with chocolate frosting that is either two or three generations older than I am.
My mom’s tattered old cookbook notes titled it “Great Grandma’s Chocolate Cookies.” When I asked my older brother Bud whether he knew which side of the family it came from, he laughed heartily.
“Well, Grandma Anderson couldn’t boil water without scorching it, so I’m sure it must have come from the Robertson side of the family,” he said. I thought that had to be the case, because I never recall my Grandma Marie Anderson, a wonderfully gentle, kind Lutheran woman, to make much more than a pot of tea.
But My Grandma Robertson, whose maiden name was Maude Brodock, was the kind of cook who would set anyone’s mouth to watering. When I was too little to go to school and my Mom and I would go to visit, she always seemed to have fresh-baked rolls just out of her wood-fired oven, plus a pantry and root cellar full of treats, such as wild plum jelly, chokecherry jelly and watermelon pickles. She’d always get me out something to snack on, with a twinkle in her black eyes that still makes me smile more than 60 years later.
So, I have to believe this was one of her recipes, descended from a line of women with names like Maude, Mittie, Mabel and Edith, all stout, good-humored women who could grow a garden, shoot the black bear that raided it, then skin and butcher it to feed the family of six children Maude bore.
The recipe is simpler than it looks. But be warned: If you make a batch, your waistline will not be smaller once it’s gone.
Great Grandma’s Chocolate Drop Cookies
Cream together with a mixer one cup softened butter, 2 packed cups brown sugar, and two eggs. Then add in and mix well 4 melted squares of Baker’s chocolate, 1 cup buttermilk and 2 teaspoons vanilla. Then sift into the mix slowly 2 2/3 cup flour, 1 teaspoon baking soda and 1/2 teaspoon salt.
Then stir in 1 cup of your favorite dried fruit. I’ve used golden raisins, black raisins, Craisins and dried cherries. (The latter is my personal favorite. I usually simmer the fruit just a bit to draw out the surface sugars — which makes it less likely to scorch during baking — then dump the fruit onto a paper towel to dry off a bit.)
Then use a teaspoon to drop each cookie onto a lightly greased baking sheet and bake in a 400-degree oven for 8-10 minutes or until the cookies’ edges turn light golden.
Frost with this mixture: 3 cups powdered sugar, 1 cup cocoa (scant), 4 tablespoons melted butter, 1/2 cup hot water 1 teaspoon melted butter. After the frosting is mixed, frost the cookies and, if you want, top with toasted pecans.
But be warned: My Uncle Les, who baked Grandma and Grandpa Robertson’s 50th anniversary, three-tier cake and who made creme puffs so rich you could only eat one but always wanted at least two, used to jokingly call his Mom and her sisters “the Brodock beef trust.” They all knew how to make meals to fall in love with. In large quantities. This one makes about six dozen cookies.
— Ken Robertson, retired Executive Editor
Even though I grew up in Los Angeles, every year or two my parents would take the family down to Tepatitlan, Jalisco in central Mexico to celebrate Christmas with the family. One of the most memorable traditions that I recall was that of the posadas. Posadas are short “re-enactments” of Joseph and Mary’s search for lodging (posada) on the eve of the birth of Jesus. Normally, in a barrio (neighborhood) someone in the neighborhood organizes everyone to go to three houses. Outside each of the houses the group (made up of families from the neighborhood) sings outside asking for posada and then the family inside the house replies. Following the biblical story, in the first two houses the people inside deny “Joseph and Mary” lodging, but in the third one they are allowed to stay in the manger. In addition to providing “lodging,” the host in the final house is also responsible for providing a snack to those in attendance and the food is often pan dulce with champurrado.
If you’ve never had champurrado I encourage you to try it. This particular recipe comes from the online site, “My Humble Kitchen.” As a warning, be careful that you don’t burn yourself. Since it is a thick drink, it is hotter than you might expect. Or if you don’t want to go to the trouble of making it, go to your favorite Mexican grocery store (like Supermex or Fiesta Foods) and get yourself a cup.
4 cups of milk
2 cups of water
1 thick stick of Mexican Cinnamon
1 1/2 (3 1/2 oz.)Tablet Mexican Chocolate like Ibarra
6 oz. Piloncillo or whole can sugar
1/2 cup of masa (cornmeal)
In a medium size pot, simmer the milk along with the piloncillo, cinnamon and chocolate until it dissolves. This will take about 6-8 minutes.
Mix the corn flour with the 2 cups of water until all the lumps have dissolved. If needed, use a strainer to get a fine mixture.
Add the corn flour mixture to the pot and stir. Keep simmering at low heat and keep stirring for about 8-10 more minutes until the chocolate has a light gravy consistency.
— Martin Valadez, Reader Representative
I love Christmas, but like many people, the to-do list can get a bit overwhelming -— especially for a mother of five. That’s why I am always on the look-out for simple cookie recipes that can be made fairly quickly.
Years ago when my third child was at an orientation at Young Years preschool in Kennewick (the kid is now 21 years old), there were some cookies he tried and liked so much he asked if I could make some. I asked the teacher who brought them for the recipe (I believe it was Miss Paige), and when she gave it to me, I could not believe how simple it was. These have become a family favorite and a go-to recipe for gifts, potlucks and Christmas parties. Now that kiddo of mine is in college, and this is one of his favorite treats to make on his own.
1 stick margarine, melted
1 boxed cake mix — spice flavor, any brand
Melt the margarine in a mixing bowl in the microwave. Then, crack in the two eggs and stir until well blended. Add the cake mix and stir until — voila — you have cookie dough. Drop by teaspoonful onto a cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes.
Frost with canned vanilla or cream cheese frosting when cool. Or don’t frost them — they taste great either way. Makes about three dozen.
These cake-mix cookies are great, and we have tried many flavors, including lemon, strawberry and chocolate. But the spice mix, we think, fits Christmas the best.
— Cecilia Rexus, Editorial Writer