I’m not sure just how to break this news to you, but I have decided not to retire the Reader Exchange at the end of this year. Please spare me the comparisons to Brett Favre and Jay Leno. I have not officially retired yet, and changing my mind (which is, after all, a woman’s prerogative) will not displace any successor. I want to thank Scott Rada, Al Swift and the powers-that-be at the Tribune for allowing me to continue with the column.
There will be, however, a couple of format changes. The column will run twice a month, on the second and fourth Sundays. And along with requests and responses, I’d like you to consider sharing some of your old and new family favorites with us. While many recipes are available on the Internet, treasured family recipes are not. And only you can share them with the rest of us. I hope you like this change and will share some of your best and best-loved recipes.
Today’s business is more ideas for holiday entertaining. What child wouldn’t want a cup of hot cocoa cookie? They are pretty simple. I think the hardest part would be getting handles to stay put. But since you won’t be able to lift them by the handle, I might be inclined to skip that step. If you want darker “mugs,” mix ¼ cup of cocoa into the dough.
Next is a Greek quesadilla with tzatziki sauce. It’s kind of like spanakopita in a tortilla. Consider it a Greek-Mexican fusion appetizer. Being a lover of feta cheese in almost anything, I can’t wait to try this.
The final recipe is an overnight breakfast casserole, and we all know how convenient they are! Whether for Christmas or New Year’s morning — any morning for that matter, they are a very welcome dish. This one has an English muffin crust and is packed with mushrooms, onion, asparagus and red bell pepper, sure to be a winning combination. If I make this recipe, I will likely blanch the asparagus just to make sure it will be tender enough after baking.
Laurie J., a friend and frequent contributor to the Exchange has provided a website devoted to Instant Pot recipes for Traci Lecheler to peruse at her leisure. Traci was not bowled over by the recipes that came with her pot, so she asked us to help her find some others. Thanks for the helping hand, Laurie! The site is: www.everydaycheapskate.com/foodandrecipes/bestinstantpot-tips-recipes-accessories.
We also have a couple of lemony requests: An anonymous reader would like suggestions for baked goods in which the lemon flavor doesn’t bake out. One suggestion I would make is always use fresh lemon, not bottled juice, and maybe try Meyer lemons which are widely considered to be the best. Sue Bialecki remembers lemon chiffon pie with graham cracker crust as a childhood favorite. Years ago Jell-O had a lemon chiffon pudding mix but it is no longer available.
And Al Swift is trying to duplicate the potato skins that he remembers from long ago at Michael’s Cerise.
Hot Chocolate Cookie Cups
1 package refrigerated sugar cookie dough
½ cup heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons hot cocoa mix
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
12 mini pretzels
1 cup mini marshmallows
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Shape dough into 24 balls; press in mini muffin cups and press with tart tamper to make a shell. Bake 12 to 14 minutes. Allow to cool completely before gently removing from pan. As they cool, press again with tamper for cup shape. Chocolate ganache: Bring whipping cream to a boil. Stir in hot cocoa mix. Pour hot cream mixture over chips; let sit 3 minutes. Stir until chips are melted and ganache is smooth. Break off loops of mini pretzels to use as handles, attaching with frosting as “glue.” Spoon ganache into cookie cups and top with mini marshmallows. Store covered, in the refrigerator. 24 mini cookies (lifewith4boys)
Greek Quesadillas with Tzatziki Sauce
7 ounces fresh spinach
2 green onions, finely chopped
1 tablespoon chopped dill
2½ ounces feta cheese
3 or 4 chopped sun-dried tomatoes (optional)
4 large flour tortillas
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil for frying
1 cup grams plain Greek yogurt (other yogurtsare too thin)
½ small clove of garlic, minced
1 medium cucumber, minced
1 teaspoon chopped dill
1 to 2 teaspoons lemon juice, more to taste
Black pepper and a drizzle of olive oil
Filling: Wash spinach, then wilt it down in a pan (or even in the microwave) for a few minutes. Squeeze out as much liquid as possible by pressing it down into a colander or even squeezing it with your hands. Put it into a large bowl. Add onions, dill and sun-dried tomatoes (if using) to bowl. Crumble in feta; give it all a good mix together; set aside. Tzatziki: Put yogurt into a small bowl; add garlic, cucumber, dill and lemon juice. Mix together well. Grind some black pepper on top and drizzle with olive oil . Set aside. Spray a large skillet; heat to medium high. Place 1 tortilla in skillet; spread with half the spinach mixture. Top with another tortilla. Press down a little; cook until brown and crispy on the bottom. Carefully turn cook until bottom is browned and crisp. Repeat with remaining filling and tortillas. To turn tortilla: Slide tortilla onto a plate; invert skillet over plate. Holding bottom of plate, turn skillet right side up and remove plate. Cut into desired number of slices, 6 for entrée; 12 to 15 for appetizers. Serve immediately with tzatziki sauce. (scrummylane.com; inspired by a recipe from UK Olive magazine (March 2014 edition)
Overnight Asparagus-Mushroom Strata
2 teaspoons butter, or as needed
1¾ cups sliced mushrooms
5 English muffins, split and toasted
2 cups shredded Colby-Monterey Jack cheese; divided
1 pound fresh asparagus, trimmed, cut into 1-inch pieces
½ cup chopped red bell pepper
½ onion, finely chopped
2 cups milk
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dry mustard powder
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 9-x13-inch baking dish. Melt butter in skillet over medium heat; cook and stir mushrooms until liquid has mostly evaporated and they are beginning to brown, about 10 minutes. Set aside. Arrange 8 muffin halves, cut sides up, in bottom of dish. Fit pieces of remaining muffins into spaces between halves. Sprinkle 1 cup cheese over muffins; distribute asparagus, mushrooms, red pepper, and onion over cheese. Whisk together eggs, milk, salt, dry mustard, and black pepper in a bowl; pour over muffins and vegetables. Cover; refrigerate overnight. The next day, remove casserole from refrigerator; let stand 30 minutes. Sprinkle remaining cheese over casserole. Bake 40 to 45 minutes, or until knife inserted near edge comes out clean. Let stand 5 to 10 minutes before serving. 8 servings allrecipes.com)