Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A Party For Nick

Okay, it wasn't really a birthday party, but since December 31 was Nicholas Sparks' birthday, I thought I'd share some of the yummy food we prepared for our New Year's Eve celebrations. We were blessed to have my parents here to celebrate the New Year with us, and since my brother and sister-in-law had spent Christmas in Maine with her parents, they came over and we had a kind of Second Christmas. (Except for the unusually spring-like weather; Moe built a "mud" man--no snow, you see--and fed the ducks and geese.)

We had an early afternoon Christmas dinner of sorts (scaled down and more casual--click here to see what we prepared on Christmas Day): A spiral ham from Costco, and:

My mother's wonderful corn pudding:

2 15-ounce cans yellow corn

1 1/2 cans evaporated milk (18 oz)

1/2 tsp salt

2 T sugar

3-4 eggs, beaten

Beat eggs and milk together. Add sugar, corn, and salt; stir. Pour into a deep baking dish that has been lightly coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour or more until set. The top will turn brown; corn pudding is done when a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.


Green Beans with Roquefort Cheese and Walnuts (a recipe my mother-in-law gave me some years ago):

1 lb fresh green beans, trimmed

4 thick bacon slices, cut into 1/4-inch pieces

4 oz. Roquefort Cheese, crumbled (you can use blue cheese or gorgonzola if you wish)

1 cup walnuts, toasted

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 freshly ground pepper

Place green beans in boiling water to cover in a large saucepan, and simmer 3 minutes or until crisp-tender. Drain, rinse with cold water and drain. Set aside. (Grandma B says you can put them in the microwave for 1 to 2 minutes and then throw in ice water)

Cook bacon pieces in a large skillet over medium heat 5 to 7 minutes or until crisp; remove bacon with a slotted spoon, and drain on paper towels, reserving drippings in a skillet.

Saute' green beans in hot drippings in skillet 2 minutes or until heated. Sprinkle with cheese and cook, stirring constantly, 30 seconds or just until cheese begins to melt. Sprinkle evenly with walnuts, salt, pepper, and bacon; serve immediately.


Fruited Rice Pilaf, a dish I made for this blog. Click here for the recipe!


In the evening, our friends Barbara and Andy and their family came to celebrate with us (Click here and here to see what we brought to THEIR house last year!). Even though we were practically engorged with all we had already eaten, we enjoyed quite a spread of appetizers, snacks, and salads for the REAL New Year's Eve party. The main attraction? I had made a double pot of chili the day before when the boys had some of their friends over, and since I had a quite a bit left we reheated it, and it was enjoyed by all.


(Side note: Joe and the boys agree that I make the best chili ever. I'm flattered and a little embarrassed by this, because the recipe originally came from the owner's manual for my food processor that Joe's brother had given us as a wedding present. I've long since lost the manual and recipe book, but I managed to find the chili recipe online some years ago.)

2 lg. garlic cloves
2 lg. onions
2 tbsp. oil
2 lbs. lean chuck
1 (28 oz.) can whole tomatoes
1 (6 oz.) can tomato paste
3 c. beef broth
1 (15 oz.) can kidney beans
3 tbsp. chili powder
2 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. oregano
1 tbsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
Crushed red peppers to taste

In Cuisinart work bowl using metal blade, mince garlic, then chop onion with short on-off bursts. Saute for 10 minutes in large pot or Dutch oven. Chop meat in batches using same technique. (I always use ground beef instead. Already chopped.) Add meat to onions and brown. Pour juice from tomatoes in pan. Chop tomatoes in work bowl (don't puree them!) and add to pot. Add remaining ingredients and simmer uncovered 1 hour. Serve with chopped onions and grated cheese.

Between the chili and the appetizers and Barbara's seafood pasta salad, needless to say we were stuffed.

Happy New Year, everyone! (It's still the New Year, right?)

Oh, and happy belated birthday, Nick!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Choice: Mozzarella-stuffed Meatloaf and Toasted Oatmeal Cookies

It's time to wrap up our journey through The Choice with one more dish inspired by this book: Cute little single-serving meatloaves stuffed with mozzarella.

I won't be revealing the ending of The Choice, of course (if you want to see more about this story, click here, here, and here), but I will tell you that Gabby and Travis do get married and start a family. And that Gabby finally learns to cook. One night Gabby prepares Italian style meatloaf, and Travis is truly impressed and pleased.

Joe doesn't like meatloaf. Moe and I love it. Curly and Larry don't have strong feelings one way or the other. I do make it on a fairly regular basis, though; I always use the All-American Meatloaf recipe in my Southern Living At Home cookbook, with a couple of my own little tweaks. But that one isn't Italian-style, as far as I know, so I went online (and it occurred to me that I ought to ask my Italian mother-in-law how she made hers, but given the fact that Joe never liked the meatloaf his mother made anyway that might not be the best way to go) and found a recipe from Food Network's website that looked yummy and might be fun to prepare:



• 1 1/2 pounds meatloaf mix (ground beef, pork, and veal)
• 1 medium onion, grated
• 1/2 cup panko (Japanese bread crumbs) or regular dried bread crumbs
• 1 large egg, beaten
• 1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
• 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
• 1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard
• 2 teaspoons kosher salt
• 1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
• 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
• Freshly ground black pepper
• 4 thin slices pancetta (about 1- ounce), optional
• 4 small squares smoked mozzarella (about 2 ounces total)

• 1/4 cup tomato paste
• 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
• 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
• 2 cups marinara sauce, jarred or homemade, hot

Special Equipment: 4-inch round biscuit cutter, or tuna or other can, top and bottom removed

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil.

Break the meatloaf mixture into a large bowl and use your hands to lightly work in the onion, bread crumbs, egg, parsley, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, salt, Italian seasoning, garlic powder, and pepper until evenly mixed. Take care not to overwork the mixture.

Space the pancetta slices, if using, a few inches apart on the prepared pan and put the cutter on top of 1 piece. Divide the meatloaf mixture into 4 equal portions. Press a piece of cheese into the center and then press the meat around it to enclose it completely. Put a portion in the cutter and press gently so that it covers the pancetta evenly, and makes a neat, flat disk. Repeat with the remaining meatloaf mix to make 4 little loaves. Remove the cutter.

Whisk the glaze ingredients in a small bowl, and then spread about 1 tablespoon of the mixture over the top and sides of each meatloaf. Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 325 degrees F. and bake until cooked through, about 15 minutes more. To serve, ladle some hot marinara sauce into the centers of 4 plates, and set the meatloaves on top.

Cook's Note: The pancetta adds a nice flavor note to the meatloaves, but you can leave it out--shape the meat in the cutter right on the baking sheet.

Copyright 2005 Television Food Network, G.P. All rights reserved.


I used all beef instead of a combination of meats. And instead of panko, I used gluten-free bread crumbs.

Larry and Curly like their meatloaf without sauce on top. And the two on the right I made without cheese for Moe.

The verdict: They were quite good, but everyone agreed that the meatloaf I usually make is much better. (Except for Joe, who doesn't like meatloaf no matter how it's prepared.) Maybe it's because I only used one kind of ground meat (beef), but that's what I normally use anyway. Or maybe it's because it's what everyone is used to, or that making it so often has allowed me to perfect it. In any case, I think they would have looked better if I had waited until the last 10 minutes or so of cooking before putting on the glaze, but I'm not sure if that would have affected the taste, and I honestly don't think the pancetta added anything to them. They were fun to make, though, and I decided if I made them this way again I would use my own recipe, skip the pancetta, and use regular un-smoked mozzarella. And I will most definitely share my recipe with you, because we all like it. Except Joe.


I'm a bit of a rebel and a nonconformist when it comes to Christmas baking. There is usually so much to do before Christmas that baking cookies is the last thing I want to do. I do my baking after Christmas, and there are usually plenty of cookies for New Year's. This particular morning I wanted to try something different, and I found this recipe in my 1963 McCall's cookbook:


3/4 cup butter or margarine
2 1/2 cups raw rolled oats
1/2 cup sifted all-purpose flour (I used potato starch instead)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking sda
1 cup light-brown sugar, firmly packed (I like dark brown sugar; that's what I used)
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
2. In medium skillet, over medium heat, heat butter until lightly browned. Be careful not to burn. Add oats; saute', stirring constantly, until golden--about 5 minutes. Remove from heat; cool.
3. Meanwhile, sift flour with cinnamon, salt, and soda; set aside.
4. In large bowl, combine sugar, egg, and vanilla. With wooden spoon, or portable electric mixer at medium speed, beat until light.
5. Stir in rolled oats and four mixture until well combined.
6. Drop by slightly rounded teaspoonfuls, 3 inches apart, onto ungreased cookie sheets.
7. Bake 10 to 12 minutes, or until golden. Remove to wire rack; cool.

(From McCall's Cook Book, 1963 edition, p. 173)

I thought, since the cookies are mostly oats with only a little bit of flour, I wonder if I could substitute something gluten free and get away with it? I had some Ener-g potato starch flour that I had mistakenly bought instead of egg replacer one time because the boxes look almost identical, and decided to try it.

I had planned to make it with egg replacer instead of egg (See how the two boxes are similar?) but I decided to use real egg since Moe can eat them in some things now.

Whoops, I dropped a little oatmeal in my egg nog.

The dough turned out slightly runny and sticky--although I have no idea whether or not it was the flour substitution that caused that. When they baked they spread out really flat and I was afraid they would stick to the pan, but hooray! They didn't. And guess what? Everyone loved them. I will definitely be making these again.

Two cookies and strawberry ice cream in the middle was a wonderful dessert to top off a (slightly) disappointing meal.

2012 promises to be a fun year for this blog--and since there are only a few books left in my Nicholas Sparks library, I've got some fun ideas for cooking adventures from other books on our shelves. In April, the latest Sparks film adaptation comes out--The Lucky One starring Zac Efron. I can hardly wait! I've started re-reading Nick's memoir, Three Weeks With My Brother, and I'm gleaning some ideas from that as well.

Happy New Year! See you soon!