A Merry Christmas morning to all of you.
We all possess talents and gifts to give to the world. For those who read this column, cooking and baking probably are among them.
And while I'm not sure I count myself among the very talented when it comes to culinary skills (I try to do my best), I am blessed to have readers who educate me and inspire me. Getting phone calls, letters and emails, and meeting you are gifts for me because it means I get to have a conversation about food, help find a recipe, answer a question and listen to stories not only about a favorite family dish, but its origins. It really is the best part of my job.
So, Shirley, thanks for the chance to sit in your kitchen, eat biscotti, drink coffee and talk about our cats -- and cookbooks, too.
Arnie, keep cooking and riding your bike (when the weather is better).
Bonny, I'd know your voice anywhere, and you never fail to ask an interesting food question.
Joyce, I appreciate the mincemeat recipe, even if I didn't get to use it.
Maggie, I hope you got to use the mincemeat recipe you asked for.
Mike at Quizno's, I really enjoyed your telling me about cooking traditional Mexican food for the holidays.
The lady who doesn't read the paper but called to "order" some recipes from me, I put them in the mail.
For those of you who tried to reach me and didn't, or I didn't respond to a request, I apologize. My desk gets buried sometimes, I lose notes and messages, and I can be forgetful.
Remember, if you look at the bottom of this column you will see my direct phone number, which I answer myself when I'm here, my email address and the snail-mail address. This job just wouldn't be the same if you didn't call or write!
I made the ever-popular potluck casserole known generally as Cheesy Potatoes last week for our newsroom luncheon. It's the only time I ever buy hash browns in a bag -- the main ingredient. Then I came across this recipe from Taste of Home.
Makeover Hash Brown Soup
2 green onions, chopped
2 teaspoons canola oil
1 package (28 ounces) frozen O'Brien potatoes, thawed
2 cups low-fat milk
1 can reduced-fat, reduced-sodium cream of chicken soup
6 turkey bacon strips, diced and cooked
1/2 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
In a small skillet, saute onions in oil until tender. In a 5-quart slow cooker, combine the potatoes, milk, soup and onions.
Cover and cook on low 6-7 hours, or until heated through. Top each serving with 2 tablespoons bacon and 1 tablespoon cheese. Yield: 8 servings, each 3/4 cup with 206 calories, 9 grams fat, 26 mg cholesterol, 520 mg sodium, 24 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 8 grams protein.
This has to be one of life's comfort-food indulgences gone mini: Grilled Cheese Croutons. I spotted it while browsing Tastespotting.com, another of the great food websites that also includes amazing photos as well. This really shouldn't qualify as a recipe because you just make grilled cheese sandwiches and cut them up. Still, in case you need help, here is a recipe from hungrycouplenyc.blogspot.com.
Grilled Cheese Croutons
2 slices of your favorite bread
1 tablespoon butter
2 slices sharp Cheddar cheese
Non-stick cooking spray
Butter one side of each of the bread slices and place cheese in between. Place the sandwich on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and spray the top with non-stick cooking spray. Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven10 minutes, flip, spray the other side and continue baking for an additional 10 minutes. Allow to cool just enough to handle and cut into 1-inch cubes.
Editor's note: Make more than you need because inevitably many will not make it into the soup.
Here's how to reach me: Phone, 239-2664; e-mail, email@example.com; or write, Suzanne Boyle, Belleville News-Democrat, P.O. Box 427, 120 S. Illinois St., Belleville, IL 62222-0427.