Real Cooking

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CHERYL JOST
Yes, the house is still torn up. Actually, it’s worse than ever, but thanks for asking.



And no, we’re not ready for Christmas. Nary a gift has been wrapped-let alone purchased-and not a peppernut has been baked. We haven’t decked any halls. I mean what’s the point? Our halls are all in shambles anyway and, as far as fa-la-la-la-laing, well, we can’t get to the Christmas CDs because of the wall of boxes stacked in front of the stereo system.



One night, during an eruption of Christmas fever, I did manage to force everyone into the van for a drive to Alco to purchase a Christmas tree. I had to do something holiday-ish. The tree, wrapped with a few strands of mismatched lights, now stands in our carpet-less living room wedged between boxes of joint compound and my son’s dismantled bedroom furniture.



But living like this has some advantages. With the carpeting pulled up from the basement floor, the kids can now roller blade inside while watching old episodes of “Family Feud” being rerun on the Game Show Channel.



As for me, I’ve bonded more closely with my coworkers, who have taken to brushing the Sheetrock dust off of me every morning as I join them in the tiny classroom that we share.



And we’ve all found that trying to clean up is a waste of energy. After wiping a surface down, it will just be covered with dust in another hour or so. The other day, I reached for a plate in a closed cupboard in the kitchen and had to rinse it off before I used it. It was covered with a fine layer of Sheetrock dust.



I just feel kind of gritty, don’t you?



It could be worse, I tell myself. I could be living in a home with no running water, no heat, no electricity. I could be without any shelter at all. Or in a war zone. I should be grateful, and I am. But it will be so-o-o-o nice to have a whole house again.



I wonder when that will be?



In the past, I have-along with my friend, Melissa Bartel-led classes on how to survive the holidays. At least from a cook’s point of view. We’ve put together menus and recipes that go together quickly and have come up with holiday gift ideas that come from the heart-and from the kitchen.



But in all the Christmas pasts that I’ve put our combined tips and hints into practice, never have I had more of an opportunity to do so than this year.



With the kitchen being one of the two rooms untouched by remodeling, it has become now, more than ever, the heart of our home. And even though everything else is disrupted, the family’s shared evening meal eaten around the kitchen table is something we just won’t alter.



But I will make it easier during this time of year. And I’m not talking about making sandwiches or eating out of a crockpot every night.



For example, if I’m browning some hamburger for a dish, I’ll go ahead and cook an extra pound and stir that meat together with a jar of spaghetti sauce, some fresh garlic and whatever vegetables I have handy (tomatoes, mushrooms, onion), and put that into the freezer as a fast topping for pasta.



My family loves this type of pasta, served with the broccoli raisin salad that I think is listed in every Marion County church or community cookbook ever printed. To streamline that salad, I always use bottled or canned bacon pieces (not Bac-os) that can be found in any supermarket. I rarely chop an onion for this recipe. I mix dried minced onion into the dressing.



And have you had an opportunity to try the newest product from Smart Chicken? On one of my last visits to Vogt’s IGA, I stopped by the meat counter and noticed some whole chickens, some covered with spices some not, wrapped in unfamiliar packaging.



I caught Jerold Vogt, who gave me the lowdown on the new birds. The chickens, ready for cooking, are flavored and packaged in specially designed baking bags. The chickens can be placed directly in the oven for 70 minutes or in the microwave for 25 minutes with no fuss and with no mess to clean up afterward.



Well, we all know how much I like Smart Chicken. (No, they don’t pay me to say that it’s the best chicken on the market, it just is.) So, I was very interested in trying their new product.



I wasn’t disappointed. The first bird we tried was the one with the barbecue-spice coating. I had the time, so I put the chicken into the oven for the directed 70 minutes. The chicken was moist and flavorful and cleanup was a breeze. The spicy rub had a bit of a kick to it-I think perhaps cayenne pepper-but even the kids liked it.



A few days later, on one of those evenings when things have to happen fast, I threw the other chicken into the microwave, hit 25 minutes and hoped for the best. Here again, great chicken, plump, tender and juicy. I took the juices that collected in the bottom of the bag and stirred in some cornstarch to make an excellent gravy.



And with both chickens, there was enough meat for all four of us to be satisfied at dinner and to have leftovers for the next day’s lunch for both Keith and myself.



These birds are definitely going on my holiday grocery-shopping list. So easy and good. (And no, I receive no kickbacks from mentioning Smart Chicken in any of my columns).



* * *



When I was doing some business at Emprise Bank, Karen Jilka reminded me I had promised to share with her my recipe for broccoli soup. The recipe calls for frozen broccoli, but many times I finely chop up the fresh variety and use that instead. Fresh or frozen, this soup goes together quickly and makes a satisfying lunch or light supper.







Broccoli Cheese Soup



1 cup water



1 chicken bouillon cube



1 pkg. (10 oz.) frozen broccoli



1 medium carrot, grated



2-3 tbs. butter



3 tbs. flour



2 cups milk



1 pound processed American cheese, cubed



1 can cream of chicken soup



1 tbs. minced onion flakes



1 tbs. Worcestershire sauce



Pepper to taste







Heat water and bouillon cube to boiling. Add broccoli and carrot and cook five minutes or until tender. Remove from heat; do not drain. In separate saucepan, melt butter and slowly stir in flour. Gradually add milk and cook until thickened. Stir in rest of ingredients and heat until cheese melts. Heat through and serve. Yields 10 to 12 servings.

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