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Holiday cooking with love and simplicity


Last updated 12/8/2006 at Noon

Everywhere you look it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

Maybe there are those who have lives that remain completely calm after Thanksgiving. For the rest of us there is real pressure to manage ALL the extras that come along with celebrating the holidays and not become overtired, grumpy or frazzled.

The secret for the kitchen is simplicity: be simple in your planning and add lots of loving attention to those you will be hosting.

For family meals, maybe it’s a good time to rely on family favorites, the ones that everyone likes and you can put together in 20 minutes or less. With a simple supper there is time for everyone, cook included, to enjoy a bit of family time after dinner. This may mean that the “star” of the meal is a homemade dessert such as Dutch Apple Cake.

Dutch Apple Cake makes a lovely ending to a family meal, casual entertaining and even a sweet treat for a houseguests’ brunch. And, it could be partially assembled in the morning, quickly put together as the table is set and ready to serve as the meal ends.

Dutch Apple Cake

2 cups flour

1 tbsp. baking powder

1 tsp. cinnamon

½ tsp. salt

2 tbsp. sugar

¼ cup shortening

1 egg, beaten

¾ cup milk

¼ cup butter

¾ cup brown sugar

1 tsp. cinnamon

1 tbsp. cream

2 cups sliced tart apples

Whisk flour with baking powder, cinnamon, salt and sugar. Cut shortening into flour mixture with pastry blender or two knives until measure resembles coarse meal (can also pulse in food processor). Set aside (refrigerate if done in advance). Combine beaten egg and milk (refrigerate if done in advance).

Grease an 8-inch square pan well with butter or shortening.

To prepare batter, pour egg mixture over flour mixture and stir only until a soft dough is formed. Spread dough into prepared pan.

Melt butter. Add sugar, cinnamon and cream and mix well. Arrange apples over dough. Spread with sugar mixture. Bake in a 350-degree oven for about 45-50 minutes or until done.

There are few main dishes faster than a stir-fry. This is especially true these days when we are able to buy raw shrimp that has been peeled and deveined. The rest of the main dish only takes 5 minutes. Serve with another stir-fry veggie and rice or noodles and bingo… dinner is ready.

Quick Sesame Shrimp

1 tbsp. sesame seeds

1 tbsp. cooking oil

30 shrimp (about 1 lb.), peeled and deveined

½ tsp. chili oil

½ tsp. toasted sesame seed oil

Heat dry wok for 2 minutes. Add sesame seeds and toast, stirring. Remove and set aside.

Heat dry wok for 3 minutes over high heat. Add cooking oil and swirl around wok. Heat a minute or two. Pat peeled and deveined shrimp with paper toweling. Add a handful at a time, stirring, to hot oil in wok. Cook, stirring, just until shrimp turn pink and are cooked through (cut one in half to test doneness). Drizzle with chili oil and toasted sesame seed oil. Sprinkle with reserved toasted sesame seeds. Serve hot.

Few combinations enhance a plain entrée more quickly than a vegetable stir-fry. So, pan sauté chicken breast, stir-fry shrimp or even pan-fry hamburgers or steak. While the meat is cooking, stir-fry is quickly tossed together and you’ll have a delicious and healthy dinner.

Stir-Fried Mixed Vegetables with Fresh Herbs

1 tbsp. oil

2 onions, sliced

3 carrots, peeled and cut into matchstick pieces, ½ -inch by 2 ½ inches

3 ribs celery, cut cross-wise

2 medium zucchini, cut into matchstick pieces, ½-inch by 2 ½ inches

½ red pepper, cut julienne

½ green pepper, cut julienne

1 clove garlic, minced

½ cup fresh minced parsley

2 tbsp. fresh minced basil

1 tsp. fresh thyme

1 tsp. fresh minced rosemary

1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar

Heat wok 2 minutes. Add oil and swish to coat sides well. Add onion and carrot and cook just until crisp tender, not soft. Add celery, zucchini, red and green peppers and garlic. Cook, stirring, until crisp tender. Combine parsley, basil, thyme and rosemary. Toss with vegetables. Drizzle with vinegar and serve hot.

Serves 8.

A thoughtful hostess considers her guests’ preferences. Some folks prefer not to drink. To accommodate these and even those who choose to be the “Designated Driver” for others who imbibe, here is a mock champagne.

Champagne Fooler

1 1/3 cups apple juice, chilled

1 tsp. lemon juice

1 ½ cups (12 oz) club soda

Mix apple juice and lemon juice and keep cold. Just before serving, add club soda. Pour into chilled glasses and serve.

4 servings.

Here’s another simple and colorful accompaniment to a simple family supper. For example, it’s flavorful enough to serve alongside lasagna, Swiss steak or grilled salmon.

Zucchini, Kale and Tri-Colored Peppers

4 small to medium zucchini

1 bunch kale

3 tbsp. water

2 tbsp. butter

½ red pepper, slivered

½ orange pepper, slivered

½ yellow pepper, slivered

Trim ends of zucchini and slice. Wash kale well. Remove leaves from spine. Discard spine. Roughly chop leaves and set aside. Combine sliced zucchini with water and butter. Bring to a simmer. Cook 3 minutes. Add kale and stir well. Simmer about 3 minutes or until kale is wilted. Add peppers, cover and cook 2 minutes.

4- 6 servings.


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