Callie’s Cabin: Comfort food recipes for cold, snowy days around Lake Tahoe
When I was a girl, homemade chocolate fudge was a part of the holidays in suburbia of the San Francisco Bay Area, where I grew up. On Christmas Eve morning my mom used the stovetop, candy thermometer, cocoa powder and elbow grease to make the decadent treat.
That night, my family sat in the living room around a white-flocked tree with colored lights, a warm, stoked fire, and our dalmatian, Casey. My job was to put out a plate of homemade chocolate fudge squares on top of the glass dining room table for Santa before going to bed. Then, late at night I’d hear the words “ho, ho, ho!” and the front door close. I’d run out to see Santa and his reindeer — but only presents were left under the tree and the fudge was gone.
This season living in the mountains on the South Shore, I’m breaking tradition a bit. As a snowstorm is rolling in, it’s the perfect time to whip up comfort food. Enter shepherd’s pie or cottage pie, a dish from the United Kingdom for countryside workers back in the 18th century. It is a concoction of meat (beef or lamb) and a topping of mashed potatoes.
Also, instead of chocolate fudge, I’m giving you a no-cook fudge that a child can make. It will appease taste buds for kids and grownups.
SIERRA SHEPHERD’S PIE
3-4 yellow or russet potatoes
¼ cup organic 2 percent low-fat milk
1 tablespoon European style butter
1 teaspoon chives, fresh
1 tablespoon olive oil or European style butter
2 tablespoons yellow onion, diced
½ cup mushrooms, fresh, sliced
1 cup cruciferous vegetables (broccoli florets, cauliflower, carrots) or fresh baby spinach
1 large Roma tomato, sliced thin
1 cup beef or turkey, ground (optional)
1 cup Italian cheese mix, shredded
¼ cup parmesan cheese
Ground pepper to taste
In a large pot, fill with water and place four washed, peeled, quartered potatoes. Boil until tender. Put potatoes into a mixing bowl. Add milk and butter. Mash until smooth. Fold in chives. Set aside.
In a skillet, use oil or butter and sauté onions (add turkey and cook till brown). In individual ramekins (round or oval) place a bottom layer of onions, fresh vegetables (and meat or poultry). Spread with a top layer of cheese, mashed potatoes. Sprinkle with a layer of cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes or until cheese bubbles and top is slightly golden. Serves four to six.
LOW-FAT PEANUT BUTTER FUDGE
1 cup European style butter with sea salt
1 cup low-fat, creamy peanut butter (or use regular for richer flavor)
¼-1 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted (use a whisk if you don’t have a sifter)
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
½ cup walnuts, chopped
1 tablespoon European style butter (for greasing dish)
In a microwavable bowl, melt butter and peanut butter. Watch it closely for about one minute. Add vanilla. Stir in sugar. Fold in walnuts. Line an 8 x 8 square dish with foil. (A smaller dish will provide thicker fudge squares.) Spoon in mixture and spread evenly. Put in fridge for a few hours to firm.
On a cutting board, turn out and remove the foil and cut the fudge into squares. Cut in squares, place in cupcake paper liners, and put in container. Makes 16 pieces. Store in airtight containers; place in refrigerator or freezer.
This shepherd’s pie is a filling dish full of healthful ingredients — vegetarian or meat. The fudge is a treat where less is more. These holiday eats are a good fit for Santa and Santa’s helpers. PS: I put the fudge squares on a plate from yesteryear and a mug of hot chocolate milk (organic) on top of the now antique glass table with sweet memories of family and love.
Motto: Indulge in healthy comfort foods to treat your taste buds, and invigorate the body and spirit to feel good inside and out.
Cal Orey, M.A., is an author and journalist. Her books include the Healing Powers Series (Vinegar, Olive Oil, Chocolate, Honey, Coffee, and Tea) published by Kensington. (The collection has been featured by the Good Cook Book Club.) Her website is http://www.calorey.com.