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Meals provide some comfort
Last week Vernon lost one of its best citizens, a man who loved this town, this province, and this country.
Hearing of Patrick Nicol’s death brought sadness and memories flooding back of other personal losses this past year. Among them were the gifts of food that arrived to help us out during these stressful times. When a death occurs close to us, we often feel helpless and don’t know what to say or do.
For many decades now, I’ve found a sense of peace by cooking and delivering a meal to the family. But recently, I’ve seen first hand how different gifts are equally appreciated and I’d like to share a few ideas today.
Because immediate family are often not up to eating anything heavy at first, it’s great having vegetable and fruit trays available for munching on. Pick dishes that reheat easily or are delicious served warm or cold. Cold cuts or a ham with buns, sandwiches, salad fixings, pasta and potato salads are always welcomed. Chicken dishes, potato gratin dishes, and casseroles that will freeze are perfect for large families. Sometimes providing a few freezable individual meals is really appreciated for heating up later when someone is alone.
If there are young kids running around, a platter of chicken tenders and a tray of macaroni and cheese is perfect. However, dropping off disposable plates, napkins, glasses, cups, and drinks can be a godsend to some families. Bring the basics and don’t forget Kleenex and toilet paper, especially for large groups.
Try to get your gifts to the family in the first couple of days, not waiting for the day of the funeral. While food isn’t a healing for grief, it does serve as a small island of pleasure in an ocean of pain. Today’s recipes are perfect examples of food gifts that can be brought to a grieving family.
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small onion, diced (about 1 cup)
2 cloves garlic, minced
One 30-ounce bag frozen shredded hash brown potatoes, lightly thawed
One 10.5-ounce can condensed cream of chicken soup
1 cup sour cream
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 cups shredded sharp yellow Cheddar
1-1/2 cups lightly crushed corn flake cereal
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Heat two tablespoons butter over medium heat in a skillet. Add the diced onion and cook, stirring, until soft and translucent, about six minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant and softened, an additional two minutes.
In a bowl, toss together the cooked onions and garlic, hash brown potatoes, condensed soup, sour cream, Parmesan, salt, pepper and 1-1/2 cups Cheddar. Spread the mixture in a 9-by-13 inch casserole dish. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Top the casserole with the remaining 1/2 cup cheese, corn flake cereal and melted butter. Bake in the oven until it bubbles around the sides, about one hour.
Slow Cooker Chicken and Dumplings
1 cup onion, minced (about 1 small onion)
2 celery stalks, 1/2-inch slices
1 cup carrots, 1/2-inch slices (4 to 5 medium carrots)
1 cup green beans, ends trimmed, in 1-inch slices (about 1/4 pound) or vegetables of your choice
1-2 cloves garlic, minced or grated
3 pounds chicken breast and thigh pieces, skinless, fat trimmed, bone-in or boneless
1 bay leaf
32 ounces chicken stock
1-1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons cold butter, in pieces
2 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley
3/4 cups milk
In a six-quart slow cooker crock, combine minced onion, sliced celery and carrots, green beans (or carrots, root veggies of your choice) and garlic. Sprinkle chicken parts with salt and pepper, then add them to the slow cooker crock, placing thighs in first, then chicken breast. Add bay leaf, then pour chicken stock over the ingredients. Cover slow cooker and cook on high for one hour, then reduce to low (you can also cook on low for the entire time, just add 30 minutes to an hour to the total cooking time. Cook for seven to eight hours. If using bone-in chicken; remove 45 minutes before serving, remove the bones and shred meat into bite size pieces then return the chicken back to the slow cooker.
Begin making the dumplings. In a mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt, stirring with a wooden spoon. Add butter, and using your hands or a pastry cutter, work the butter into the flour mixture until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add chopped parsley, stir to combine. Stir in milk, and stir mixture until a sticky dough forms. Using two tablespoons, scoop up a spoonful of dough and use the other spoon to scrape the dough off the first spoon, into the stew. Continue dropping dumplings into the stew, making about 12 dumplings or as many as there is room for in the crock, leaving a little space in between so dumplings don’t stick together. Immediately ladle a little broth over each dumpling, then cover and let simmer on high for 30 minutes. To serve, place one to three dumplings in a shallow soup bowl and ladle broth and stew mixture over them.
This chicken and dumplings serves four to six people. Note: if gifting to a grieving family, package the dumpling dry ingredients separately with the recipe. This way it can be frozen for later if necessary.
Pork Chops with Scalloped Potatoes
6 (1/2 inch thick) boneless pork chops
6 medium red potatoes, thinly sliced
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup butter
1 teaspoon beef bouillon
1 cup hot water
*1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup water
* Note: I prefer to use 2 pkg. pork gravy mix instead of the flour; and add 1 cup more of water.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Heat a skillet over medium-high heat and coat with nonstick cooking spray. Brown the pork chops on each side, about two minutes, then set aside. Layer half of the potato slices, and half of the onion slices in the bottom of a lightly greased 9x13 inch baking dish. Season with half of the thyme and half of the pepper. Dot with two tablespoons of the butter. Arrange pork chops on top of the potatoes, then cover with the remaining potatoes, onion, seasonings, and butter. Dissolve the bouillon cube in hot water, and pour evenly over the casserole. Cover with a lid or aluminum foil. Bake for one hour in the preheated oven. Remove the pork and potatoes to a serving dish with a slotted spoon.
Pour the drippings into a skillet. In a small bowl or cup, whisk together the flour and water using a fork (or mix the pork gravy with water.) Whisk into the drippings, and cook over medium heat until thickened and bubbly. Serve gravy with pork chops and potatoes.
Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cake
2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups light brown sugar
1 cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350°. Coat a 9″x 13″ baking pan with cooking spray. Set aside. Using an electric mixer, combine flour, brown sugar, peanut butter, and butter. Remove 1 cup of mixture and set aside. Mix in baking powder and baking soda. Mix in milk and vanilla. Add eggs, 1 at a time, mixing well after each addition.
Transfer batter to prepared pan. Sprinkle top with reserved flour mixture and chocolate chips. Bake 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
— Cathi Litzenberger is The Morning Star’s longtime food columnist. Her column appears every Wednesday and one Sunday per month.